Ducks and Waterfowl Identification with Greg Butcher, January 25th

Photo: FMN Jerry Nissley


Thursday, January 25, 2024
7:00 PM – 8:30 PM
Virtual Presentation
FREE, but registration is required!

Join Greg Butcher, Audubon Society of Northern Virginia (ASNV) board member and retired migratory species coordinator for the U.S. Forest Service International Programs, for an introduction to waterfowl identification. Get to know many of the species that winter in the open waters of our region. You’ll learn how to tell a Bufflehead from a Hooded Merganser, and you’ll learn the features (and hear the call) of the beautiful Tundra Swans that winter in Northern Virginia. Strategies will include identification by shape and color pattern.

This event will be helpful for those participating in the Winter Waterfowl Count on Feb 3rd and 4th but is open to anyone who would like to know how to identify winter waterfowl!

Some good locations to see waterfowl in Northern Virginia are Huntley Meadows, Dyke Marsh and Mason Neck State Park.

Roving Trail Naturalist opportunity at Huntley Meadows

Huntley Meadows Park
3701 Lockheed Blvd.
Alexandria , VA 22306
Eight hours per month for one year
Contact Halley Johnson (Outreach & Volunteer Coordinator)

Do you love nature and getting outside as much as possible? Do you want to share that excitement with others? Join the Huntley Meadows team as a Roving Trail Naturalist!

Volunteers will work independently on Huntley Meadows trails. They will have access to biofacts and educational supplies to help support their engagement with visitors. Roving Trail Naturalists will engage with visitors of all ages and background to increase awareness and appreciation of Huntley Meadows’ resources.

Volunteers should have a passion for nature and a desire to learn more. Strong communication and people skills are a must. Patience with all visitors and a willingness to coordinate with staff required. Experience in informal education a plus, but not required. Ability to stand/walk for up to 4 hours carrying a backpack. Volunteers must attend division orientation and complete required training. There will be on the job training as well. Applications due by January 1, 2020. This position will require a background check.

FMN members win 2019 Environmental Excellence Awards for service

The 2019 Environmental Excellence Awards recipients are:

Individual Awards:

  • Catherine Ledec
  • Helen Stevens

Organization Awards:

  • Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions
  • Reston Annual State of the Environment (RASER) Working Group

County Employee Award:

  • James Hart
  • Noel Kaplan


Catherine Ledec

Cathy Ledec has worked on many local initiatives regarding natural resource protection, restoration and land use.  Cathy is an indefatigable public advocate, leader and volunteer who inspires others and works to incorporate environmental considerations and impacts into decision-making.

As president of the Friends of Huntley Meadows Park, Cathy led two conservation campaigns that resulted in the long-term conservation of natural and historic resources, including rare and globally significant resources.

One campaign challenged a local utility through the State Corporation Commission’s regulatory process, in which a transmission line rebuild project was proposed on Huntley Meadows Park property. Cathy spent hundreds of hours leading volunteers, reviewing the proposal, collecting documents to verify the presence of threatened species and habitats, consulting with experts, preparing and submitting testimony and responding to questions, all under tight deadlines. As a result of her leadership and persistence, the utility company agreed to change the project design to avoid permanent damage to a historic viewshed, reduce the transmission line collision risk for birds and ensure the protection of natural and cultural resources at Huntley Meadows.

Cathy led another campaign to remove two conceptual paved bike trails from Fairfax County plans for Huntley Meadows Park, thereby protecting sensitive park resources. Cathy compiled scientific evidence on the significance of the areas to be impacted, including the presence of rare plants, animals, and habitats. She organized community support and guided those who wanted to provide public testimony, a first for many.  This led to unanimous support from both the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors for the removal of these conceptual trails from County plans.

In addition to providing public comments to minimize the impacts of development projects, Cathy performs public outreach as a certified Fairfax Master Naturalist, Audubon-at-Home ambassador and member of the Plant NOVA Natives coalition.  She also restores habitats as a site leader for the Fairfax County Park Authority Invasive Management Area program and as the president of her homeowners’ association; participates in citizen science for the Washington, D.C. and Fort Belvoir Christmas Bird Counts; and serves on multiple advisory boards, including Supervisor Dan Storck’s Environment Advisory Committee.  She led efforts to restore habitat at the Mount Vernon Government Center, chaired Supervisor Storck’s first Environmental Expo in 2018 and was recently elected Chair of the Fairfax County Tree Commission.

Cathy has made significant contributions to the advancement and support of many of the county’s environmental goals with tangible results and motivates others to get more involved, often against difficult odds, to create a more lasting and healthy community for all of Fairfax County’s residents.

Reston Annual State of the Environment Working Group

The Reston Annual State of the Environment (RASER) Working Group, established in 2017 by the Reston Association’s Environmental Advisory Committee, is comprised of nine volunteer professionals and citizen scientists, including Doug Britt, Don Coram, Robin Duska, Linda Fuller, Carl Mitchell, Sara Piper, Claudia Thompson-Deahl, Katie Shaw, and Stephanie Vargas.

Since the completion of the RASER in November 2018, the RASER Working Group has presented the findings of the report to the public and evaluated and documented progress toward implementation of the 2018 recommendations.

The report evaluates the status of an array of environmental resources and attributes related to air, water, forests, meadows, wetlands, landscaping, urban agriculture, wildlife, hazardous materials, light and noise pollution, and education and outreach; incorporates information from more than 325 data sources and scientific reports; and describes how each attribute relates to Fairfax County’s Environmental Vision. Nearly 2,000 hours of volunteer time went into the production of the RASER and the implementation of many of its 72 recommendations.

To address the paucity of information about wildlife in Reston, the RASER Working Group recommended that Reston implement a BioBlitz to collect information on biological diversity. During the subsequent event, scientists, citizen scientists, and other interested parties were recruited and then conducted inventories of biological species in Reston.  More than 90 naturalists and volunteers (including the RASER Working Group) identified 608 separate species of plants, animals and other organisms within Reston.

The Working Group also addressed the protection of Reston’s urban forests and residential connections to their environs through 55 miles of paved and natural pathways. The Working Group noted that such connections were central to the growing Biophilic movement, which recognizes that connecting urban landscapes with nature provides physical, mental, and emotional benefits, in addition to many ecological services.

The RASER Working Group recommended that Reston apply for membership into the prestigious international Biophilic Cities Network. Reston subsequently became the first Virginia community and the first unincorporated community to be accepted into this worldwide network, joining such cities as Singapore, Oslo, Wellington, Sydney, Birmingham, Edmonton, Austin, Phoenix, Portland, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Washington DC. Reston now participates in monthly conference calls with environmental managers from other member communities.

The Working Group also drafted a “Biophilic Pledge,” listing actions that residents can take to become more nature friendly. Reston is now serving as a role model for other communities, including Arlington County, to join the Biophilic movement. Based on Reston’s lead, Virginia may soon become the first U.S. state with multiple Biophilic Network communities.

Through these and other actions, the RASER Working Group has established a strong foundation for the assessment and enhancement of Reston’s ecological resources and helped to create well-connected urban landscapes where nature and community members can thrive.

Citizen science in chest waders

Photo: FMN Jerry Nissley

David Gorsline

For the past 25+ years, I have participated in a program of monitoring nest boxes for Wood Ducks and Hooded Mergansers in Huntley Meadows Park.

FMN David Gorsline. Photo: FCPA

Our team monitors 16 boxes in the park’s wetlands. We are the people with the big boots and sticks, because almost all of the boxes are mounted on poles in one to three feet of water.

These two species of duck begin laying eggs in very late February, and the last of the eggs hatch by about Memorial Day, sometimes a little later. Both of these birds bear what are called precocial young; that is, the ducklings come out of their eggs already covered in down, ready to be on their own, and they leave the nest box with their mother after only a day or two. Thus, it’s not often that we see chicks in the nest, unlike our counterparts on the Eastern Bluebird team. But, come April, if you keep a close eye on the vegetation at the edge of the marsh, you might spot a line of little ducks swimming behind a female.

FMN Kat Dyer inspecting box #68, Huntley Meadows Park, June 2017. Photo: David Gorsline

There’s about six of us on the team, including FMN Kat Dyer. At the start of the breeding season, we clean the boxes and lay down a fresh layer of wood chips. We handle simple repairs in the field; we notify park staff if a box needs to be completely replaced. During the season, we check boxes once a week, count any eggs we find, and record hatching events. Our collected information goes on file at the park, as well as to the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s NestWatch project.

Since the 1991 breeding season, the number of boxes that we have deployed and monitored has varied between 14 and 21. Not all the boxes are used in a given season, but typically about three-fourths of them are used. Hooded Mergansers, expanding their breeding range, began nesting in our boxes in 2001.

Between the Mergansers and the Wood Ducks, the number of ducklings leaving our boxes has fluctuated year to year. Our lowest year was 2015, with only 26 fledged; our big year was 2013, with 140 fledged. The annual average for the past 28 years (I’m still compiling results for 2019) was 87 ducklings.

Clutch of Wood Duck eggs. Photo: David Gorsline

Who enjoys this birdy bounty? Everyone who visits the park. Especially the nature photographers take particular pleasure when they can document a fledging. When the monitoring team is out on the marsh, we often field questions from park visitors who wonder what we’re up to, and how the ducks are doing.

This project falls under C106: FCPA Citizen Science Programs. We’re always looking for new volunteers. I like us to work in pairs, just in case someone takes a tumble or gets stuck in the mud. What can I say? Nature happens.

For me, perhaps the greatest pleasure comes at the beginning of the season. It’s cold, there may be snow on the ground and the wetland iced over. Yet, I know that I will be giving these birds a boost in their struggle to thrive.

Let’s talk turtles

Jerry Nissley

Although I developed “Turtle Talk” as my final project for the Spring 2019 FMN training class, I have been presenting talks with live turtles to elementary students for 6 years at Engleside Christian School, in Alexandria; Evangel Christian School, in Dale City; and Calvary Road School, in Alexandria. I believe that it is important to work with children so that they appreciate and care about the environment as they are growing up and when they become adults. Immediate and follow-on feedback on the presentations has been positive in this respect. Several students have reported, through their teacher to me, that their interest in nature increased as a result, and they began visiting parks and nature centers. 

Logan Switzer helped staff the Turtle Talk station at the 2019 Ellanor C. Lawrence Park Earth Day event

Our FMN class assignment to develop an interpretive talk gave me the perfect opportunity to develop a more polished presentation. I gave the new talk twice this spring, first at Eleanor C. Lawrence Park in Chantilly, at their Earth Day event, as a “Turtle Talk” station. I also spoke at Calvary Road Christian school to about 30 students in their 3rd- and 5th-grade classes for 2 hours.

For my presentation. I built a portable display board that showcases:

  • Woodland turtle fun-facts (e.g., Turtles are omnivores, live 90+ years, have a completely enclosed shell, endure a brumation period of 6 months in Virginia)
  • A description of their habitat and their conservation status to help visitors understand how vulnerable box turtles are
  • Photos of two of the male and female turtles that I care for
  • Additional technical and pictorial resources for tailoring the presentation to different audiences

Box turtles

My presentation features three live box turtles that I rescued in the Northern Virginia area as road saves. The turtles live in a year-round outdoor enclosure at my house. I feed them a variety of food: worms, slugs, grubs, cherries, berries, and mushrooms, with a vitamin supplement called Rep-Cal. With the teacher’s permission, the children are allowed supervised handling and feeding during a class presentation. Box turtles are currently listed as “vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature species list due in large part to loss of habitat, roads, and slow breeding cycles. My goal is to create awareness of the importance of box turtles and their plight to encourage protection efforts.

Turtle Talk display

Additionally, I’ve designed and printed a tri-fold brochure to hand out as a public take-away. I also compiled various reference materials that I use to tailor a talk for a particular audience. For example, I displayed environmental information and talked about how we can help box turtles in our neighborhoods at the Earth Day event, but I would emphasize fun-facts at an elementary school demonstration. 

During the 2-hour Earth Day event at Ellanor C. Lawrence park, 38 people visited the Turtle Talk station, many of whom took brochures. Linda Fuller, an FMN colleague, organized the event.

The school presentations come under E254: Nature Presentations to Private Schools. I offered a “Turtle Talk” station in  at Huntley Meadows Wetland Appreciation Day on 5 May 2019, under the auspices of the FMN Service Project, E110: FCPA Nature Programs. Under E110, Volunteers plan, set up, lead, or assist with FCPA nature programs. Under both E254 and E110, volunteers may give interpretative talks on local wildlife and plants, lead trail walks, assist with live animal demonstrations, lead educational lessons in schools or with scouts, or assist with outreach activities. Our job as volunteers is to interact with participants, awakening their curiosity and helping them develop connections to nature and the outdoors. 

If any other FMN members are interested in creating live-animal presentations or general school presentations, I would be happy to consult, share what I’ve learned, and discuss the contacts I’ve developed. Working with children is meaningful and, I hope, it may lead to a new generation of committed naturalists and environmentally savvy adults.

Huntley Meadows Volunteering – for Nature Lovers Who Enjoy Talking to Park Visitors

Photo by Barbara J. Saffir  (c)

Huntley Meadows Park, 3701 Lockheed Boulevard, Alexandria, VA has two opportunities of greatest need at the moment. One of them may be right for you.

Greet and orient visitors as the Volunteer on Duty (VOD). It’s hugely important and lots of fun. These folks at the front desk orient visitors and do a lot of interaction. They get to hear firsthand all the creature sightings from visitors, and introduce new visitors to the park and everything it has to offer. We’re short especially on Monday and Friday afternoons at the moment.

The School Program Leader job is a blast as well! This is a weekday morning, ~9:30AM to 12:30 pm commitment – we ask for a minimum of 10 programs per year, spread through spring and fall. Training is very much “on the job” and there is a co-leading transition before folks are asked to lead hikes through the wetland on their own.

For more information, contact Halley Johnson, [email protected] or see the links below. All volunteers need to apply through the online system and go through an interview process to ensure that everyone is aware of expectations and make sure they’re in the right place for their goals and needs.
Fairfax Master Naturalists should record their service hours as E111: FCPA Nature Center Visitor Information Desk for Volunteer on Duty or as E110: FCPA Nature Program for the school programs.

Volunteer on Duty:{0D559671-5A0E-4917-BE63-1441B2F336C6}&t=Volunteer-on-Duty-Huntley-Meadows-Park

School Programs:{2F0F42BD-90CF-4468-A4A5-FDB8C29494B2}&t=Assistant-AM-School-Program-Leader-Huntley-Meadows-Park

Science for Homeschoolers at Huntley Meadows Park

Looking for a fun, hands-on way to supplement your home school science unit? Come to Huntley Meadows Park and join the Science for Homeschoolers series program! These series focus on age-appropriate science units, and all have an outdoor element. Have your child get dirty exploring ecosystems, habitats, soils, biodiversity, and so much more! The Science for Homeschoolers series will take place at Huntley Meadows Park. There are four series programs for four different age ranges.

New in January 2019, Huntley is offering a Science for Homeschoolers for four to six year olds. This hands-on class will introduce early learners to STEAM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) with Naturalist-guided support. These active nature experiments will include use of binoculars, magnifying glasses and field microscopes to deepen their investigations. This session meets for six classes beginning Friday January 11, from 10 a.m. until noon. The fee is $108.

Starting on Monday, January 7, 1:30 p.m. until 3:30 p.m. bring your six to nine year old to explore seasonal patterns, plants, animals, and observe nature in action! This series meets for six classes. The fee is $108.

For your 9-12 year old, join the series beginning Wednesday, January 9, 1 to 3 p.m., and investigate earth cycles, ecosystems, and cell processes! This series meets for six classes. The fee is $108.

Older scientists (13-17 years) can jump into hands-on field work studying natural sciences! This group will study aquatic ecosystems, soil, biodiversity, and wetlands. This class meets 1 to 3 pm, starting on Friday, January 11. This series meets for six classes and has a fee of $108.

Register for Science for Homeschoolers

Huntley Meadows Park is located at 3701 Lockheed Blvd in Alexandria, Va. For more information, call the park at 703-768-2525 or visit online at Huntley Meadows Park.

Opt outside on Black Friday and visit our parks

Embrace the cooler weather at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park as you learn about the signs of fall. Visit the Walney Visitor Center and get a fall identification chart for your park exploration.

At Frying Pan Farm Park, you can borrow a program backpack at the Country Store. Inside you will find instruction for activities at six trail stops to help your child learn about the natural wonders found at the park.

Visit Hidden Oaks Nature Center to enjoy a visual scavenger hunt along the 1/3-mile Old Oak Trail. There are options available for preschool and elementary age children and their families. Hidden Pond Nature Center is also offering a scavenger hunt to explore the surrounding trails.

Discover the plants and animals of Huntley Meadows Park. Come to the front desk in the Norma Hoffman Visitor Center and ask to borrow a scavenger hunt sheet to aid your outdoor adventure.

At Riverbend Park, families can look, listen, learn and create along the Duff N Stuff Trail. Stop by the Visitor Center to get a copy of a new Scavenger Hunt, designed by a local Girl Scout.

The county’s lakefront parks have ways to keep you busy, too. Burke Lake Park offers a tree scavenger hunt. At Lake Accotink Park, there are self-guided hikes, or you can go on a scavenger hunt at Lake Fairfax Park. Lakefront parks are open from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

All of these activities are free, and no registration is required. Please call the park offices for site specific check-in locations and activity times. Add to your day of outdoor fun by doing a little hiking, biking, picnicking or fishing on your own.

For more information and directions to each park visit Fairfax County Park Authority or please call their respective offices at:

Burke Lake Park 703-323-6600; Ellanor C. Lawrence Park 703-631-0013; Frying Pan Farm Park 703-437-9101; Hidden Oaks Nature Center 703-941-1065; Hidden Pond Nature Center 703-451-9588; Huntley Meadows Park 703-768-2525; Lake Fairfax Park 703-471-5414; Lake Accotink Park 703-569-3464; Riverbend Park 703-759-9018.

Service opportunity: Vernal pool monitor

Huntley Meadows Park

3701 Lockheed Blvd., Alexandria, VA 22306

Do you enjoy muddy boots, long off-trail walks, and learning about the life cycles of amphibians? Then this is the volunteer opportunity for you!

Purpose: To monitor vernal pools, including flora and fauna. To record pool data, record and identify species, and determine breeding cycles.

Duties: Complete survey protocol every 2-3 weeks year round. Record environmental data using monitoring equipment and identify and count faunal species including egg masses, in accordance with protocol. Follow safety procedures.

Qualifications: Must have a strong interest in nature and the stewardship of Fairfax County. Ability to work independently, off-trail over uneven terrain for up to 4 miles, in a variety of weather conditions. Willingness to learn faunal identification, including egg masses and tadpoles. Ability and willingness to enter vernal pools to complete survey. Must complete the training program. Weekday availability. Must attend site orientation and on-the-job training as required. Volunteer and Outdoor Safety Training will be provided.

ContactHalley Johnson
[email protected]

More about this and other Huntley Meadow opportunities here. 

Master Naturalists:  This opportunity falls under a pre-approved service project in the Service Project Catalog on the website.  Record your hours as C106-FCPA Citizen Science Programs. This project covers data collection on wildlife populations, native plants or other natural resources for Fairfax County Park Authority’s nature centers, such as Huntley Meadows Park, and Fairfax County Park Authority’s Resource Management Division.

Hear the Story of the Restoration of Huntley Meadows Park

Thursday, 3 May,  7-8.30 pm

 Woodend Sanctuary, 8940 Jones Mill Rd., Chevy Chase, MD

Hear Cathy Ledec, President of Friends of Huntley Meadows Park (FOHMP), tell the fascinating story of the restoration of Huntley Meadows Park in Fairfax County, VA.

From colonial farms to a failed dream for an enormous airport to road surface testing, anti-aircraft battery hosting, and Cold War radio listening station, Huntley Meadows has had an exciting past. That excitement continues into the present day, when after the federal government turned over 1,261 acres to Fairfax County for a park, beavers quickly returned to the wetland and began to change how water flowed through the landscape. Biodiversity in animal and plant species returned, and today you can walk through a beautiful, highly diverse wetland along a network of well-maintained boardwalks and trails. Humans have helped the process of restoration along, working alongside the beavers and ensuring a beautiful natural resource is open to all and showcases an amazing hemi-marsh ecosystem.

Coffee and dessert will be provided while you enjoy an inspiring presentation on how local conservation is achieved in our region.

This program is May’s Conservation Cafe, presented by the Audubon Naturalist Society (ANS).  Your $10 registration goes to support the ANS Conservation Program. Click here to register.