Nature Two Ways at Green Spring Gardens: A Wildlife Hike, and “Birds, Blooms, and Beasts” Photography Exhibit 

Photo of an Indigo Bunting amongst sunflowers.

By Elaine Kolish

Although the weather on January 8, 2023 was chilly and overcast, the mood of the 15 or so ARMN members who turned out for the back-to-back events at Green Spring Gardens (GSG) was warm and sunny. Organized by Cynthia Ferentinos, the afternoon began with an hour-long hike, followed by a 30-minute viewing of Barbara J. Saffir’s extraordinary wildlife photos that are on display as part of a group photography exhibit in GSG’s Horticultural Center through February 5. Barbara created the “Birds, Blooms, & Beasts” exhibit to showcase her images and those of the seven members of her Nature Photography DC/MD/VA meetup group.

A volunteer stands before a group of people amongst garden beds.
Ginny McNair explains that these beds are maintained by the Potowmack Chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society. The chapter holds a plant sale from April to October in beds behind the GSG horticulture center on the first Wednesday of each month. Photo by Elaine Kolish.

While birds and wildlife were the focus of the hike, the leaders, Ginny McNair and Carol Mullen, and participants stopped to identify and admire native plants and trees along GSG’s native trail and to discuss the advantages of keeping leaves in garden beds and retaining native pithy stems from spent perennial plants for insects as places to overwinter and lay their eggs. 

The group also worked on winter tree identification techniques (e.g., alternate vs. opposite leaves/buds; bark characteristics). The birding was successful with about a dozen species identified either by sight or ear, including Northern Mockingbirds, Northern Cardinals, Carolina Chickadees, and Black Vultures. All the species were entered into the eBird app. and the complete list is at:

Photo of an Indigo Bunting amongst sunflowers.
Publicity Photo of Indigo Bunting on a sunflower for the GSG Photography Exhibit, “Birds, Blooms and Beasts.” Photo by Barbara Saffir and used with permission.

The participants cheerfully moved onto activity two, appreciating the warmth of the indoors and viewing and hearing about Barbara’s photographs. Barbara likes to take photos in our locale to show people what can be found in their own backyards. In her outings she also learns interesting facts about bird song, noting that flocks of Indigo Buntings just a few hundred feet apart sing different songs and that baby birds learn their songs from male birds, but not necessarily their own fathers. 

Treat yourself and head over to GSG to see this amazing exhibit before it ends on February 5 and while you are there, enjoy the grounds and the gardens.

About the Event Leaders

Ginny McNair.  A long-time Master Naturalist with ARMN who has also led ARMN’s training for new members in the past, Ginny is warm, patient, and extremely knowledgeable. In short, a great hike leader. (Unfortunately, she was not available for an interview.)

Carol Mullen. Carol has been observing flora and fauna since her 20s when she worked in many National Parks, first for the concessions and later as a National Park Service Ranger. She was also a trailing spouse for 20 years abroad and got to know the local flora and fauna everywhere they lived. When she returned to the states, becoming a Master Naturalist fit her interests perfectly and provided an opportunity to fulfill her goals of meeting people and contributing to her community. 

Since becoming a Master Naturalist in 2017, she has worked on a variety of ARMN projects including stream monitoring and birding. A devoted at-least-once-a-week birder, she loves entering her observations in eBird. She has also participated in the iNaturalist City Nature Challenge for the past six years and loves taking as many pictures as possible to submit to the iNaturalist app.  

Barbara J. Saffir. Barbara is a new addition to the ARMN family but is not a new Virginia Master Naturalist. She recently transferred from the Fairfax chapter in anticipation of moving into the Arlington area. A former journalist and political researcher on the national staff of the Washington Post, she now spends much of her time helping others enjoy and photograph nature. Barbara loves photographing local birds and critters to show people what can be found in their own backyards. She and the current army of digital wildlife photographers sometimes capture behaviors that are unknown, little known, or previously undocumented by ornithologists and wildlife biologists. For example, she wrote a scientific article for the Virginia Herpetological Society when she documented spotted turtles in Prince William County for the first time while leading a hike. In 2022, she documented Northern Cardinals nectaring on cherry trees. In 2020, she documented both male and female mallards gobbling down big leopard frogs. Barbara leads photo safaris in the metropolitan DC area as well as hikes that cover a wide array of topics (natural history, American history, citizen science and fitness). She regularly delivers presentations to groups like the Harvard Club of DC, libraries, camera clubs, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, and of course, ARMN members. Barbara has already published one blog since joining ARMN that encourages us all to get outside “to discover winter’s wonders.”   

You can see 11 more of her photos at a solo exhibit at Brookside Nature Center (Birds & Beasts @ Brookside) until April 30 and later in the year at the renowned Patuxent Research Refuge as she has been granted a solo exhibit there in June 2023. You can also visit her site,

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