Audubon Afternoon Ornitherapy: For Your Mind, Body, and Soul, January 9th

Sunday, January 9, 2022
3 – 4 pm
Free but registration required.
Register here.

Watching birds- it’s not only fun, but good for you! Learn why getting your daily dose of Ornitherapy is just what the doctor ordered.

Ornitherapy, or a more mindful approach to the observation of birds, benefits our mind, body, and soul. We’re pushed and pulled in many directions, no matter our age. If we allow birds and nature to slow us down, we are practicing a form of “self-care.” Research shows that exposure to nature actively reduces stress, depression, and anxiety, while helping build a stronger heart and immune system. Birds are gateways into deeper experiences with nature, magnifying these benefits. Through observation we can learn not only about birds, but gain insight into our own lives while exploring our connection to the world around us. This fosters stewardship and bolsters conservation.

Within the program, Audubon Society of Northern Virginia‘s presenter, Holly Marker, will delve into our connections to birds, how to practice Ornitherapy for optimal benefits, and learn about the latest research in the power of nature for overall well-being. Come listen to how watching birds can bring you more than just the enjoyment.

Bird Walks-Audubon Society of Northern Virginia

Photo:  J. Quinn

Bird walks are back! Audubon Society of Northern Virginia follows the Center for Disease Control’s COVID-19 guidelines: in brief, fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing. Unvaccinated people are required to wear a face mask covering nose and mouth and physically distancing from others. As always, anyone experiencing symptoms of illness should not attend.

Walks currently require registration and may limit attendees to a number that the walk leader feels they can guide effectively. The leader may elect not to allow any participant to use the leader’s scope and may discontinue participation if they are not comfortable with the precautions.

They strive to make their walks and other events inclusive. Please refer to the Birdability map for general information on the accessibility of parks and trails in our area for those with disabilities.

Recurring Bird Walks schedule.

Earth Sangha is Hiring Conservation Interns

Want to learn more about the day-to-day operations of a native plant nursery, improve your plant ID skills, and more? Then apply to be one of Earth Sangha’s 2022 Native Plant Conservation Interns! They’re looking for two “Full-Season” Native Plant Conservation Interns (from March through November) and 1 Summer Native Plant Conservation Intern (June through August). Click here for more information.

If you’re interested in applying, please email a CV and cover letter to Matt Bright at

Skulls and Skeletons, January 15th

Lewinsville House
1659 Chain Bridge Rd, McLean, VA
Saturday, January 15, 2022
10 – 11am
$10 per person
Register here.

Ever wonder what skull or bone you saw while walking in the forest? This Fairfax County Park Authority class will teach you about the skulls and skeletons of local animals using materials found in Fairfax County parks. You will learn to identify skulls, see a variety of bones and learn how similar four-legged mammals really are on the inside.

If you have a bone or pictures you want identified bring them with you and they can try to figure out what it goes to. There will also be a chance to see some non-mammal representatives.

First Day Hikes at Mason Neck State Park

Photo courtesy of Friends of Mason Neck State Park

7301 High Point Rd.
Lorton VA
Saturday, January 1, 2022
9:30 am, Noon, or 2:30 pm

Start the New Year off right with an invigorating hike at Mason Neck State Park. The Park’s rangers will lead hikes for adults and children throughout the day. You can join them for a 2-mile round-trip walk to see the Tundra Swans at 9:30, noon or 2:30.

The Tundra Swan hikes leave from the parking lot for the Woodmarsh Trail at the Elizabeth Hartwell Wildlife Refuge, about a quarter mile before you reach the Contact Station. The Friends of Mason Neck State Park will provide hot beverages at the start of the hikes. There will be telescopes at the shelter overlooking the marsh so you can get a better look at these magnificent birds, which spend the winter here after their long migration from far northern Canada and Alaska. Parking is limited at the Woodmarsh Trail, so you’ll need to register for the hikes by calling the park staff at 703-339-2380 or emailing them at

Admission to the Park is free on January 1, and there is no charge for these hikes.

Fairfax Master Naturalists’ Donation Making a Difference!

Article by FMN Steve Wright

Plant NOVA Trees is a new, five-year drive by the Plant NOVA Natives campaign to increase the native tree canopy in Northern Virginia by promoting planting and preservation of native trees. The drive kicked off with a bang on 1 September 2021 with over 50 local organizations executing more than 100 events throughout the fall to celebrate trees. Events included tree plantings; tree rescues; conferences; webinars; tree walks; library displays; story time and art classes with youth; and many others.

Fairfax Master Naturalists was approached to support the new campaign and made a generous donation of $2,500, one of the largest donations received. Plant NOVA Trees is using the contribution to create Plant NOVA Trees promotional materials including brochures, stickers and native tree hang tags that have been used during the kick-off events and distributed to organizations, businesses and nurseries across the region.

Following a presentation about Plant NOVA Trees, the members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors agreed in October to have their Office of Public Affairs help support the Plant NOVA Trees campaign outreach efforts. The office will develop a communications strategy to include social media, sharing Plant NOVA Trees information and content, and encouraging all residents to consider participating by planting native trees.

As all Master Naturalists know, native trees are an essential part of our local ecosystem, supporting our butterflies, songbirds, and all other wildlife. The social, economic, community and environmental benefits of trees are massive, and thanks to our chapter’s “seed money,” the Plant NOVA Trees campaign is off to a rousing start.

You can find Celebration of Trees events and information about the campaign and how to protect and plant native trees on the Plant NOVA Trees website. There are many ways to help, including joining the Tree Rescuers program to survey your community for trees at risk from invasive vines, participating in the speakers’ bureau, organizing community tree plantings, and planting trees yourselves. Volunteers are also needed to approach corporations to ask them to participate in the campaign.

Burke Lake Snake Rescue Leads to Change

                                                                                                                   Cover photo – Jerry Nissley

Sometimes improving wildlife habitat does not require a task as involved or intense as, for example, a full day pulling invasive plants. Sometimes an act of kindness followed by a few well-targeted emails can make a difference to wildlife. It’s about caring enough to get involved. And so it happened like this …

Trapped Snake – Photo Barbara J. Saffir

Last August, as FMN Barbara Saffir was hiking at Burke Lake, she encountered a roughly 4-foot-long Eastern Ratsnake entangled in netting. The netting had been used to stabilize dirt along trail sides during an extensive trail maintenance project that was completed months before.  This common, nonvenomous snake could hardly move and quite obviously could not free itself. That netting had been a tripping hazard for hikers, runners, and especially little children since the repaving project completed and now an entrapment to wildlife.

Julia and Joe set snake free – photo Barbara J. Saffir

Along came hikers Julia and Joe Higgins and Barbara asked if they could help. Providentially, they were very willing to help, very knowledgeable about handling snakes, and they had scissors. They skillfully rescued the snake by holding the snake with their hands and controlling the head with a stick, while tediously and carefully cutting the net to release the snake from its bonds.

Snake climbing to safety – photo Barbara J. Saffir

Fortunately after the snake was freed, it was able to slowly slither away and climb up a big tree, stressed but apparently no worse for wear. Barbara later joked, “I’m pretty sure it had a smile on its face when it hissed, ‘Thank you, humans!’”  

After the release, Barbara decided to email Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) officials whom she thought could help provide a solution to prevent future wildlife entrapments due to this type of netting, and FMN’s Janet Quinn.  Janet forwarded her email to Tammy Schwab (FMN volunteer and FCPA employee), who provided additional key contacts. To their credit FCPA promptly responded to the emails and quickly directed development of a corrective action plan that would remove the netting. They also suggested policy changes to mandate alternatives to this netting in the future and recommended that their contractors make a concerted effort to discontinued use of this material until the mandate.

Keith O’Conner, Park Manager at Burke Lake Park replied in his email, “The project was laying asphalt on a portion of the trail and a contractor did use the netting.  Efforts to remove the material on a small scale have been challenging, due to coverage by natural material.  As we both know snakes are low to the ground and are slipping under the natural material and finding the netting.  We are formulating a plan now for a larger more effective removal of all of the netting along that project.”

Kevin Rudd with FCPA Park Operations, thanked Barbara for reaching out and said, “Our team will be out to look into how we can make this project critter friendly at Burke Lake.”

We should be encouraged by these positive actions and outcomes. It shows that even a small team, such as the three wildlife stewards that helped the snake, can make a difference. It is also a positive indicator that FCPA cares deeply for their parks, they can be responsive to public issues, and they can quickly initiate corrective action to ensure the continued safety of human visitors and wildlife residents alike. Thank you to FCPA for all they do to maintain such a wonderful park system!

In this case the animal was rescued by skilled wildlife heroes who happened to be there and were able to jump right in. However, if you encounter an injured animal or one in a precarious situation and cannot safely take corrective action yourself, help may be available at:

Wildlife Rescue League – Helpline 703-440-0800

Fairfax County Animal Protection Police – 703-691-2131

Learn more about Burke Lake Park at:

Alexandria Neighbors Bring Trees to Their Community

Photo:  Plant NOVA Natives

Trees plant themselves and replace themselves – except in our lawns. Many Northern Virginia neighborhoods that are graced by magnificent mature trees are now slowly losing their canopy as those trees die from old age or disease (or are cut down while still healthy by humans.) Each lost tree means higher temperatures and air conditioning costs on that property, more stormwater runoff, and in the case of native trees, the loss of a home and food supply to thousands of our smallest neighbors including caterpillars and songbirds.

City of Alexandria residents Lynn Gas and Jane Seward were bemoaning the fact that their neighborhood of over 30 years was so much hotter than it used to be due to the loss of tree canopy. They decided to do something about it and started the Canopy Tree Restoration Campaign. After educating themselves about trees, they talked to their neighbors and got each to sign up to have a tree installed at a deep discount. They helped each homeowner select and mark the site. They then contracted with a landscape company to install all the trees on the same day. Each of the selected tree species was indigenous to the area and thus able to contribute to the local ecosystem. They planted 140 trees that first year.

The campaign has been a labor of love for Lynn and Jane, who have learned a lot in the process. Since the project began in 2017, they have planted around 280 trees. They often send out emails to remind people to water, since landscaper-sized trees must be watered regularly until they get established, a process that takes two or three years. They have used different nurseries and landscapers, trying to find the best trees at the best prices. It took a while to understand how nurseries work and to identify landscapers that know how to properly plant trees and are willing to give a good price. It is important when planting in many different yards to organize the planting so that landscapers can plant fast without losing time on logistics. They need to make money, so Lynn and Jane think of their coordination efforts as facilitating their work.

Lynn and Jane do not describe their initiative as selling trees. Rather, they ask people to participate in the neighborhood reforestation campaign, using phrases such as “A tree in your yard benefits all of us.” They also have received generous donations which allow them to donate trees to churches, playgrounds and schools as well as to neighbors lacking funds. When they donate a tree to someone, they thank them for participating in the campaign.

This Alexandria neighborhood campaign represents one model for how to organize a local tree drive. Other neighborhoods have come up with their own plans. Neighborhoods across Northern Virginia are starting to think about how they can participate in the five year Plant NOVA Trees campaign. Some may want to emulate the professional installation approach. Others might prefer to plant smaller specimens, which are less expensive (sometimes even free) and require less watering, though they need careful protection from lawn mowers and deer and will need some simple pruning to direct their growth after a couple years.

The first step will be for residents to take the initiative to create a project for their own neighborhood. It helps to plan well in advance of a spring or fall planting, because it may take time to source the trees as well as to create enthusiasm in the community and work out a plan for watering and maintenance. Tips on how to organize can be found on the Plant NOVA Trees website. Plant NOVA Trees is the collective effort of thousands of individuals across the region pitching in to get thousands of trees into the ground.

Winter Wildlife Festival, January 2022

The annual Winter Wildlife Festival in Virginia Beach is going to have both virtual and in-person events in January 2022. This event is put on by the City of Virginia Beach and several other partners, including the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources. Check out the full schedule and additional information online. Registrations are open now!

View virtual workshops and events, including the Festival Keynote: “The Bird Way” with Jennifer Ackerman.

View in person Trips and Excursions.




Friends of Mason Neck Wintering Waterfowl Program, December 5th

Photo:  Barbara J. Saffir

Gunston Hall’s Ann Mason Room
10709 Gunston Rd., Lorton
Saturday, December 5, 2021
2 pm buffet; 3 pm program
$15 per person for members; $20 nonmembers
Register here.

You’ll hear a presentation on Wintering Waterfowl of the Potomac River.  A wide diversity of geese, ducks and other waterbirds spend the winter in Northern Virginia. Mason Neck, including both the state park and the wildlife refuge, play an important part in sustaining them through the winter.  You’ll learn about the lives of the birds, citizen science studies and the conservation needs for birds and people along the river.

The presenter is Greg Butcher, the Migratory Species Coordinator for the U.S. Forest Service International Programs. He is a PhD. ornithologist who has worked for the National Audubon Society, American Birding Association, Partners in Flight, Birders World Magazine and Cornell Lab of Ornithology. He is also Vice President of Audubon Society of Northern Virginia. Greg is a recognized public speaker and interpreter for bird conservation and ecology worldwide.

They are taking special precautions this year because of the pandemic. The Ann Mason Room can hold 125 guests, but they’re limiting attendance to just 75 people so there is ample room for everyone to spread out. They’re also asking everyone to wear a mask except when actively eating or drinking. They’ll have hand sanitizer at numerous places around the room, and you’ll be able to choose from a variety of pre-plated, delicious offerings from the buffet.

If you aren’t a member or your membership has lapsed, you can join the Friends here.