February 20, 2021

Great Backyard Bird Count

It was a cold and snowy weekend for the annual Great Backyard Bird Count. My counts were done with binoculars through the kitchen window so I could stay toasty. My husband (Mark) and I got into birdwatching last year with the pandemic so this is our first time attempting to do a birdcount. My husband removed the screen from the window so he could take pictures while I found new birds. I'd tell him what I found and give him directions to find the birds. Some of the birds we found were the Northern Flicker, Tufted Titmouse, sparrows (I think house sparrows but we later identified the white throated sparrow), Red Bellied Woodpeckers (both male and female), Downy Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch, American Goldfinches (tons of them), Dark-eyed Junco, Common Grackle, Blue Jays, Northern Cardinals (several pairs of male and female), Carolina Chickadee, Mourning Doves, Carolina Wrens, and Red-Winged Blackbirds. We had a lot of fun doing the bird count together and plan to continue to hone our birdwatching skills and log bird sightings in the eBird app more frequently.

January 10, 2021

Extension to Achieve Initial Certification for Basic Training Class of 2019

In the face of the pandemic and cancellation of many events to earn continuing education and volunteer hours, members of the Basic Training class of 2019 have had difficulty achieving initial certification. The VMN CRC Board has decided to extend the certification timeline for the class through December 31, 2021. Requirements for initial certification are 8 continuing education units and 40 volunteer hours. We are working hard to continue scheduling chapter events to make continuing education hours available through virtual events or small in person events until state restrictions are lifted. There are volunteer opportunities than can be achieved individually either at home or at local parks and trails. If you need ideas for volunteer hours please check the August 2020 newsletter or contact a board member.

July 6, 2020

2020 Basic Training Class

The 2020 Basic Training Class is being canceled due to the COVID 19 restrictions.  The Board will continue to monitor the situation and following guidance from the state may be able offer Basic Training during the spring semester. 

June 15, 2020

Searching for Feathers

Searching for Sheds, in a recent Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries magazine Virginia Wildlife, highlighted the time of year when White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) shed their antlers and how individuals can walk through the forest on a shed hunt, to collect those shed antlers. Many of us have come upon antlers in the woods and just after reading this article, I was awarded with a find of a freshly shed antler while on a walk in the woods. I leave antlers where I found them as I understand they provide minerals for squirrels and other residents of the woods.

Pileated Woodpecker feathers
I began to think about other things found on the forest floor including turtle shells, bones, egg shells, and feathers. I realized that I have been feather hunting while in the forest, and I’m not the only one. Like many things on the internet, entire groups of enthusiasts find each other - some are devoted to found feathers.

My interest in feathers began when I photographed a feather and included that observation on iNaturalist. I used the taxonomic class Aves, since I couldn’t determine a species from a feather. I found informed professionals and amateurs in groups formed around feathers - https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/found-feathers. I have posted images of feathers that I am unsure to identify and have been helped by folks who really enjoy feather identification. Also, the Fish and Wildlife Service has a nice feather atlas - https://www.fws.gov/lab/featheratlas/.

Recently, while walking along the Dahlgren Rail Heritage Trail, I came upon feathers scattered about. I arranged them for one photograph. I was unsure what species produced these black and white feathers. I figured maybe a woodpecker from the colors but also, maybe they were from some sort of small water bird due to the marshy area nearby.

After posting on iNaturalist, I confirmed that these feathers were from a Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus).

After a taxonomic suggestion from a “bird person,” a “feather person,” or just someone smarter than me, identification becomes obvious, many times.

I leave feathers where I found them. On this occasion, I oriented feathers for a photograph but most times, they get photographed as they exist. The U.S. Federal Eagle Protection Act of 1940 and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 seem to prohibit possession of many if not all feathers. I suspect the legal aspects are more nuanced but I follow, don’t collect feathers, just enjoy them where you find them.

Observing, identifying, and documenting feathers can be interesting, fun, and an easy activity. Feather awareness is just another layer of appreciation while on a walk outside.

May 15, 2019

Baby Barn Owl Banding

Photo credit: Corie Smith

Not even the threat of downpours could dampen the excitement of a baby barn owl viewing. Ready with boots, raincoats and umbrellas, chapter members Corie Smith and Jenna Veazey ventured across the Potomac river to Maryland to support the Southern Maryland Audubon Society’s (SMAS) banding of baby Barn Owls on May 5th.
Corie and Jenna joined a group of other volunteers and supporters that met on private property along the Wicomico River, which the group was instructed not to share the exact location of…for the safety of the owls. Barn owls are rare breeders in Maryland and are listed as In Need of Conservation. 
Mike Callahan, who also works as an interpreter at Caledon State Park in King George, is a member of the SMAS. The group had been closely monitoring an owl box on private property. Mike said there were only three known nests in Charles County, Maryland.
Their best guess was that this nest’s eggs had hatched the end of April. Barn owls incubate their eggs as soon as they the first one is laid, opposed to ducks, geese and songbirds which incubate after the last egg has been laid.  And when the owlets have grown enough feathers to maintain their body weight the parents don’t hang around the nest all day anymore. There appeared to be five owlets, but as siblicide is not uncommon the volunteers were cautiously optimistic we’d be able to tag all five on the banding day.
Photo credit: Corie Smith
Just as the rain abated, Mike climbed the ladder up to the owl box. He urged everyone to listen for the owlet’s hissing…which he said had been described as an espresso machine. Very accurate, indeed! It didn’t take long after the extraction of the first owlet for the hissing to turn into all-out shrieks. Five owlets were carefully removed one-by-one and placed into individual cardboard boxes for safe transport to the pavilion where they’d receive their ID bands. Mike then called out for an extra box…there was a bonus sixth owlet that had been hidden in previous observations!
Under cover of a pavilion, USGS licensed bird bander, Ken Smith was in charge of banding the owlets. He used size 7A aluminum bands specially gauged for barn owls, each with their own unique identifying number. He explained the owlets’ legs were already about as large as they'd get at this age and there was no worry that the bands would grow too tight over time. As he worked, he also said that while handling the owlets they had to be especially careful not to break any of their flight feathers.
Photo credit: Corie Smith
Mike pointed out that barn owls have one toe with a pectinate comb, which they use to groom the feathers on their facial discs.
Kerry Wixted, Maryland DNR Wildlife Educator and Outreach specialist was also helping out. She said that, “Barn owls are have been hit hard by habitat loss, especially in Maryland. Grasslands with abundant voles and other rodents are important for barn owls as well as open marshes.”
If you would like to support local barn owl conservation in Maryland, consider 'adopting' an owl or other species through the SMAS program: https://www.somdaudubon.org/adopt-a-raptor/

March 7, 2019

February Chapter Meeting - Upcoming Continuing Education and Volunteer Opportunities

To be certified and maintain certification every year as a Virginia Master Naturalist, volunteers are required to complete 8 hours of continuing education and 40 hours of volunteer work.  Here are some great opportunities


  Next Board meeting Thursday 3/7 @ Wegman’s 7 pm (open to all members)
  Next Chapter meeting Tuesday 3/19 @ church 7 pm

Master Naturalist Volunteer Opportunities:
  • 3/9/19:  Mott's Nature Center Volunteer Orientation - 9-11 am.  Register with Alexa at Fredericksburg Parks and Rec.  
  • 3/22/19:  Friends of the Rappahannock - Rappahannock County Tree Planting Project 9:30 - 1 pm, volunteers needed to plan trees, sign up at Friends of the Rappahannock Events page
  • 4/1/19:  Homeschool Day at Montpelier (Orange County) - volunteers needed for "Noticing Nature Table and Walks" contact Madelyn from CRVMN
  • 4/2/19:  Tri-County Aspen Grove Meaningful Watershed Educational Field Day (Rain Date April 4th -  contact Mariya at TriCounty Water
  • 4/6/19: Spring Forest Stroll at Montpelier (Orange County) - volunteers needed to answer questions during the walk
  • 4/13/19: Osprey Festival @ Caledon State Park. Opportunities to volunteer to give talking points/lead bird walk, native plant information, backyard habitat. Chapter can have a booth there. Caledon is coordinating event with Joyce from Colonial Beach.
  • 4/22/19:  Earth Day at AP Hill volunteers needed Dahlgren has asked that an Earth Day education outreach take place on April 22 at the elementary school on base. It will be from 1-3 pm. Volunteers needed.  
  • 4/27/19:  Earth Day at Old Mill Park on, rain or shine - volunteers needed
  • 4/27/19:  Earth Day in Orange, VA - volunteers needed - contact Dena from CRVMN
  • 5/18/19:  Eco Rodeo at Montpelier (Orange County) - volunteers needed for "Noticing Nature Table and Forest Walks" contact Madelyn from CRVMN
Ongoing Opportunities:
  • Widewater State Park looking for volunteers  for monthly cleanups
  • March Saturdays noon-2 pm - Salamander Survey at Jennings Farm - contact Dena with CRVMN

Continuing Education:

February 28, 2019

Paleo Walk at Stratford Hall

Harry P. was able to arrange an opportunity for the Central Rappahannock Master Naturalists to visit the private beach area of Stratford Hall (located in Westmoreland County) to learn about and hunt for fossils.  I have to admit this has been on my bucket list for years.

We met fairly early at the Stratford Hall Visitor Center, where we were introduced to our guides.  There was a discussion on the types of fossils that have been found, including the favored Megladon teeth and some of the rare finds that have been made.  While a ticket to Stratford Hall will allow access to the beach, that access is restricted to a small area.  We had received special permission to walk past the ropes and head far up the beach.  To provide a more hands on experience the two guides split us into two groups and we heading in opposite directions.
Layers of clay with visible fossils

Clay layer
Armed with waterproof boots, bucket, small shovel and an inexpensive plastic colander I followed our guide Theresa.  The weather was perfect, a bit cool but not uncomfortable.  We walked along the beach at low tide, Theresa pointing out how to look for sharks teeth, bone, fossilized shells and the like.  She pointed out the cliffs (you do not want to walk too closely, a large piece fell while we where there) where you could easily see the stratification.  Each layer of clay was from a different time period, sometimes fossils or mammal bones were evident in each layer.  She spoke of the different animals the fossils came from.  At this point I really wished I had thought to write down everything as my memory is not what it use to be.  What looked like large gray rocks and boulders on the beach, were in fact compressed clay.  Theresa said the fossils would often be found in the clay.
Fallen clay

Denise is searching
Continuing to walk along the beach and crossing a stream, my fellow naturalists continued to look sharks teeth.  I stopped at the stream where it emptied into the Potomac River and decided to use my colander to shift through the silt.  One must readily admit, I could have stayed there all day for in a manner of minutes there were some interesting finds.  Fossilized top plates from a ray, young whale vertebrae (no protrusions on either end indicated youth), a chunk of clay with fossilized imprints, pieces of tree scallops, and a number of pieces of bone.  

Sharks Teeth
Fossilized impressions in clay
Rib bone, bone fragment, whale vertebrae
Like a small child, I went off to show our guide my finds.  She explained what each one was and that all were approximately 5 million years old.  As I looked out across the Potomac I could just imagine how different the landscape must of been.  A smile spread across my face and I walked back up the beach to my vehicle and left.  What a wonderful day.