It’s Time to Plant Natives!

Text and photos by Kasha Helget

With longer daylight hours, warming soils, and the return of birds and butterflies, we want to spend more time outdoors. It’s a perfect time to install beautiful native plants that also benefit the critters that depend on them. So, please consider a few—or several native plants to brighten your yard, patio or deck!

Why Choose Native Plants?

Because they’re “from here,” natives are adapted to our climate and soil conditions. They are often the only or most healthful source of nectar, pollen, seeds, and leaves for local butterflies, insects, birds, and other animals. Other benefits of native plants are that they:

  • do not require fertilizers and few if any pesticides,
  • need less water than lawns, and help prevent erosion,
  • help reduce air pollution,
  • provide shelter and food for wildlife,
  • promote biodiversity and stewardship of our natural heritage, and
  • are beautiful and increase scenic values!
Photo of Black Eyed Susans

Black-eyed susans (Rudbeckia fulgida) and Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum, “Prairie Sky”)

How to Choose the Right Natives for Your Yard or Pots?

It’s important to install the right plants for your conditions (wet, dry, shade, sun, slope, bog, soil type, etc.). How do you know what’s right for you? One of the best sources is the Plant Nova Natives website:, with easy-to-follow tips, lots of photos, and additional links to learn what will work for your situation.

Photo of Christmas fern

Christmas fern (Polistichum acrostichoides)

Where Can You Buy Natives?

Most commercial nurseries do not carry a lot of native plants. If you have a favorite place that has a weak selection, tell them that you’d love if they could stock more. But no matter; this is also the best time of year to visit a growing number of native plant sales in the area (many of which provide food, entertainment, and fun for kids, too). Here is information on several in Northern Virginia and one in District of Columbia. Happy shopping and planting!

Photo of Blue false indigo

Blue false indigo (Baptisia australis)

Spring 2018 Native Plant Sales

Friends of Riverbend Park, Native Plant Sale
Pre-order through 03/16/2018. Order Online for pick up May 4
Sale 05/05/2018
8am to 11am
The Grange: 9818 Georgetown Pike, Great Falls, VA
Features plants native to the Potomac River Gorge.
Visit the Sale Site

 Friends of the National Arboretum, Lahr Symposium and Native Plant Sale
9am to 4pm
U.S. National Arboretum: 3501 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC Sale located in R Street parking lot at Arboretum.
Visit the Sale Site

Potowmack Chapter Weekly Plant Sale
From April 4th through October is a low-key WEEKLY plant sale on the first Wednesday of each month at the propagation beds behind the main building at Green Springs Garden.
10am to 12pm
4603 Green Spring Rd Alexandria, VA 22312 Park Website:
Visit the Sale Site

Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy, Native Plant Sale
9am to 3pm
Morven Park: 17263 Southern Planter Ln, Leesburg, VA
Spring and fall sales.
Visit the Sale Site

NOVA Soil & Water Conservation District, Native Seedling Sale
Order online from till 04/11/18
Pick up plants on Friday, April 20, 9am-4pm, or Saturday, April 21, 9am-noon at Packard Center, 4022 Hummer Rd, Annandale, VA.
Visit the Sale Site

American Horticulture Society, Spring Garden Market
10am to 4pm
River Farm: 7931 E. Boulevard Dr., Alexandria, VA
2 day sale, first 2 hours for members only. Includes some native plant vendors.
Visit the Sale Site

Long Branch Nature Center
Pre-order through 04/24/2017.
Order Online for pick up May 4 or 5
Sale 05/05/2018
Long Branch Nature Center 625 S. Carlin Springs Road Arlington, VA 22204
Visit the Sale Site

Northern Alexandria Native Plant Sale
9am to 2pm
The Church of St. Clement: 1701 N. Quaker Ln, Alexandria, VA Spring and fall sales.
Visit the Sale Site

Rappahannock Plant Sale at Waterpenny Farm
9am to 3 pm
53 Waterpenny Lane Sperryville, VA 22740
Visit the Sale Site

Reston Association, Spring Festival
1pm to 5pm
Walker Nature Center: 11450 Glade Drive, Reston, VA
Includes a native plant sale.
Visit the Sale Site

Earth Sangha Plant Sale
10am to 2pm
6100 Cloud Drive, Springfield, VA
Visit the Sale Site

Prince William Wildflower Society
9am to 12pm
Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church picnic area: 8712 Plantation Lane, Manassas, VA VNPS Chapter native plant sale

Green Springs Garden Day Plant Sale, Potowmack Chapter Native Plants, and other native vendors
9am to 3pm
Green Spring Gardens: 4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria, VA
Multi-vendor sale; some selling natives including the VNPS Potowmack Chapter
Visit the Sale Site


Flying Squirrels: Adorable Little Gliders in our Trees

by Kasha Helget

On a recent evening, adults and families gathered for a flying squirrel program at Long Branch Nature Center in Arlington. Naturalist Rachael Tolman shared some interesting facts about these little charmers and then led us outside to witness them in action.

There was a palpable sense of excitement when a group of children and “big kids” arrived at Long Branch on a recent Saturday evening for the local southern flying squirrels program. Naturalist Rachel Tolman stirred even more interest when she said that this was her favorite program, and it quickly became apparent why: they’re adorable! She began by sharing some interesting facts:

  • There are two types of flying squirrels in this country—our local southern flying squirrels (Glaucomys volans), which are 8-10 inches long (including their tales) and weigh on average a couple of ounces, and their sister northern flying squirrels (Glaucomys sabrinus), which live further . . . north, are a total of 10-12 inches and weigh an average of 3 ½ ounces. All flying squirrels are nocturnal which is why we rarely see them. However, Rachael stated that they are as common as our larger diurnal (daytime) gray squirrels!
  • Flying squirrels do not actually “fly” but rather glide using skin flaps that connect their arms and bodies, called a patagium. They can glide 100 yards, although they usually only “fly” from tree to tree. As gliders, they always glide downward, and generally, for every two feet high they are, they can get about one foot of gliding distance. Once they land on a tree, they usually rapidly scurry to the opposite side to avoid becoming lunch for a pursuing predator, such as an owl.
  • A way to determine if flying squirrels are in the area is if nut shells left behind have a single circular cut to remove the nutmeats. However, their diet is varied—insects in the warmer months, and other small animals, eggs, fruits, seeds, and nuts at other times of the year. They are readily attracted to bird feeders and other feeding stations during winter.
  • Flying squirrels prefer tree cavities for nesting, and are more solitary in the summer. But in the winter, they often nest together for warmth.

After showing us flying squirrel puppets, Rachael brought out the real thing: a live southern flying squirrel that was too cute for words. It has very large eyes to better see in the dark, and was surprisingly docile.

We all got to pet it as it sat patiently on Rachael’s hand.

Photo of Naturalist Rachel Tolman presenting the southern flying squirrels program at Long Branch

Rachael Tolman holding southern flying squirrel. (Photo courtesy of Meg Jonas)


Photo of Naturalist Rachel Tolman presenting the southern flying squirrels program at Long Branch

Petting the very patient flying squirrel (Photo courtesy of Meg Jonas)

At that point, Rachael took us outside to visit the center’s own flying squirrel feeding station and winter nest box in front of the nature center. She recommends that, if people feed flying squirrels (which can be very comfortable with people close by), they should set out food about a 1/2 hour after dusk on a spot at least 10 feet above the ground. The early nighttime is when they become most active. If they’re fed regularly, they will be steady visitors. Rachael then slathered some peanut butter right on the bark of an oak tree, and placed some nuts on the roof of a nest box nearby. It took about 30 seconds for the first flying squirrels to pop onto the tree and begin licking the peanut butter and working on the nuts. Others followed shortly thereafter. It wasn’t long before we saw one in full flight between trees, which was really magical! They also scurried in and out of a hole in the nest box, likely to eat in private.

There is a high mortality rate among young squirrels, which are born in late winter and then again in the summer. Some of it is because of predators (owls, snakes, foxes, raccoons, and outdoor cats), but flying squirrels may also eat another’s young. Young squirrels also need to get the hang of gliding and can often crash in the learning phase. Those that make it to adulthood can live 3-6 years in the wild, or over double that time in captivity.

Rachael provided a handout on to build a flying squirrel nest box, and there are many online sites with instructions, too. She recommends a circular opening between 1 ¼ and 1 ½ inches in diameter and surrounded by metal to keep gray squirrels from chewing the hole larger. In addition, she suggested adding a second (escape) hole in case a snake or other predator gets into the box.

A highly recommended blog is Alonso Abugattas’s Capital Naturalist. His piece about southern flying squirrels is a delightful and informative read.

Kids and adults are welcome to sign up for flying squirrel programs, which are repeated a few times each winter. There is one more at Long Branch on Feb. 18. More information is in The Snag, the Guide to Arlington County’s Nature and History Programs.

Finally, I was SO captivated by Rachael’s presentation and Long Branch’s feeding station and nest box, that I wanted one of my own. My handy husband, Michael, put one together in a couple of days with a rooftop feeding station, a pair of entrance/exit holes, and an easy open side door for cleanups after the winter roosting is completed. We just set it up and are waiting for our first furry visitors.

Photo of southern flying squirrel nest box in ARMN Member Kasha Helget's yard

Nest box in our backyard (Photo by Kasha Helget)


2018 Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service Opportunities

Martin Luther King image

The Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday is a nationally recognized day of service. ARMN welcomes members of the public to join master naturalists for various earth-friendly projects in the area to honor the spirit of Dr. King. Here is a list of habitat restoration and invasive removal activities on the weekend that includes the holiday. We hope to see you at one or more of these events that will make a significant difference to the health of our local environment.

If there is any question about the weather, where to meet, what to bring, or any other concerns, please contact the leader ahead of time.

Day Date Location Time Contact
Saturday Jan 13 Jones Point Park Potomac River Cleanup, Alexandria (Sponsored by the Potomac Conservancy) 10am-1pm Please click here to sign up.
Saturday Jan 13 Salona Meadows, Buchanan St. and Gilliams Road, McLean (Sponsored by VA Native Plant Society—Potowmack Chapter) 11am-2pm Alan Ford (for more information or to sign up).
Monday Jan 15 Culpepper Gardens, Arlington

Between the morning and afternoon sessions will be a light lunch in the auditorium and a talk about Arlington’s African American community. There will be indoor activities in case of inclement weather.  (Sponsored by Culpepper Gardens)

10am–noon, and 1:30-3:30pm (weather permitting) Linda Y. Kelleher RSVP/confirm


Monday Jan 15 Barcroft Park, Arlington (Sponsored by Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment) 10:00am–noon Please click here to sign up.
Monday Jan 15 Theodore Roosevelt Island (Sponsored by the National Park Service) 10am–2pm Trudy Roth, 202-438-6627
Monday Jan 15 Long Branch Park, Arlington (Sponsored by Arlington Regional Master Naturalists) 2–4pm Steve Young

Thank you for your service!


ARMN: Getting to Know Caroline Haynes

From time-to-time, ARMN’s Membership Committee posts profiles of our members including how they came to be master naturalists, which parts of nature they most enjoy, and how they have an impact on the environment around them. The latest biography is for ARMN’s founding member, Caroline Haynes, who established and graduated from our first training class in 2008. Alison Sheahan conducted the interview.

Photo of ARMN past president Caroline Haynes

Caroline Haynes

Tell us about the ARMN projects you spend time with.

I currently serve on the ARMN Board as a past-president, now with a purely advisory role. There is tremendous talent and enthusiasm on the ARMN Board. They are a terrific group of people—so smart and committed and fun to be with. I actually look forward to these meetings!  I enjoy the people that are drawn to ARMN, as they are so talented, and come from so many diverse backgrounds.

I’ve always enjoyed being able to sample a variety of volunteer activities: Earth Sangha (note: Caroline arrived at the interview lunch fresh from sorting seeds with Earth Sangha), Plant NOVA Natives, Audubon at Home, outreach and education events like the Arlington County Fair, presentations to community and school groups, biotic surveys like those with the National Park Service along the George Washington Parkway, invasive pulls, and restoration plantings. I also still review the applications for each new class of Master Naturalist trainees. I ran the first six ARMN training classes, so I appreciate the huge volunteer effort involved with the basic training classes and am still glad to contribute.

What brought you to ARMN in the first place?

Well, there was no ARMN until I talked to Alonso Abugattas, then the naturalist my kids and I knew at Arlington’s Long Branch Nature Center (LBNC)! Frustrated that Arlington County residents would not be allowed into a neighboring Master Naturalist program, we explored starting a chapter in Arlington. I chaired the coordinating committee back in 2007, and had lots of support from Alonso (now, the Arlington County Natural Resources Manager), Rachael Tolman, a naturalist at LBNC, other naturalists in Arlington, as well as Rod Simmons, Alexandria’s Natural Resource Manager and Plant Ecologist. It took us a year to get ARMN up and running, especially demonstrating that there would be enough demand for another program in such close proximity to the Fairfax Master Naturalist chapter. Alonso agreed to be one of our first instructors and I was actually part of the first training class in the fall of 2008, along with 24 others including current ARMN president Marion Jordan. I became president of the chapter then, and served in that role until December 2013.

My “local” journey toward finding and founding ARMN probably had most to do with our purchase of some property in West Virginia. The more time I spend in the woods, the more my curiosity is sparked by what I observe. I began taking classes in the Natural History Field Studies program at the Audubon Naturalist Society in Maryland. That is where I first heard about the Master Naturalist program forming in Virginia.

Tell us something about your childhood/adulthood experiences that shape your perspectives on nature and your work for ARMN.

Well, I grew up in Colorado! So hiking, camping, and being outside in beautiful places were always part of the deal. After earning a degree in International Finance/International Relations, I came to Washington to work in the Senate and then later as Deputy Assistant Secretary with the Treasury Department. I feel like it is my experience on the Hill that led me to see how important it is for people to “have a seat at the table” to get anything done.

I also met my husband on the Hill and we settled in Arlington, soon joined by our two daughters.

Is there anything else you’d like to share? It seems like you are always trying to get groups of people to put the naturalist perspective “on the table.”

Yes, I strongly encourage others to get engaged in their local advisory groups. ARMN doesn’t generally count this service for hours, unless it has a direct natural resources connection, but it is important to add that natural resources perspective. I currently serve as the Chair of the Arlington County Park and Recreation Commission, as a member of the Arlington Urban Forestry Commission, and as chair the Natural Resources Joint Advisory Group, which is charged with monitoring the implementation of the county’s Natural Resources Management Plan. I also serve on the Chesapeake Bay Ordinance Review Committee. We review plans by homeowners and developers when building in the resource protection area to ensure that mitigation measures comply with the Chesapeake Bay Ordinances. In addition, I am co-chair of the Plan for Our Places and Spaces advisory group, where we are working on an update of the public spaces element of the county’s Comprehensive Plan. I am also serving as co-vice chair of the Four Mile Run Valley Working Group.

Citizen action is important, now more than ever. Paying attention to plans before they gather the full weight of policy is critical if we are to develop a more environmentally-sensitive direction.

A Bright Outlook for Citizen Science in Arlington

by Louis Harrell

“The joy of looking and comprehending is nature’s most beautiful gift.” – Albert Einstein

Citizen Science is defined as “the collection and analysis of data relating to the natural world by members of the general public, typically as part of a collaborative project with professional scientists.” Why is it important? It offers many benefits both to residents of a community and local natural resource programs. While there are many citizen science opportunities in the region at large, this piece focuses on how citizens may participate in research projects in Arlington County, improve their knowledge of the local environment, and identify species resident in the County. The County gets to use the expertise of citizens to accomplish needed projects that might otherwise be delayed due to resource constraints.

What can we look forward to in the near future?  A bright outlook for citizen science!

Arlington’s First Bioblitz

 Arlington Bioblitz logo

On May 20, ARMN will be supporting the first Arlington’s Bioblitz as a key focus project for 2017. This 24-hour survey is the first of a series of annual surveys designed to document the plants and animals present in a number of parks in the county. Data collected will be used as part of the Arlington Natural Resource Management plan. Experts will provide support and advice to volunteers who will document local species.

The mammal survey component of the bioblitz will look for proof of locally rare species. Game cameras will be used to monitor species and volunteers will be needed to review photos. An entomologist will support volunteers who will collect, preserve, and send bee samples to other entomologists for additional study. Other insects will also be surveyed. Ornithologists and expert birders will conduct bird walks. Any unusual nesting activity may be included in the Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas.

Surveys of bats, fish, salamanders, and other amphibians and reptiles are also planned.  Among the locations where you can sign up to participate in the bioblitz are: Barcroft Park, Gulf Branch Park and Nature Center, Long Branch Nature Center at Glencarlyn Park, and Potomac Overlook Regional Park.  The full list of projects and more information is provided here.  Alonso Abugattas has also published an article about the BioBlitz on his Capital Naturalist blog:

There are many other projects that are longer-term and often part of a national scope. All offer participants the opportunity to deepen their knowledge of the environment and do significant field work. Below are some projects that focus on deer, birds, insects, and plants.

Deer Browse Surveys

Deer browse surveys are underway within Glencarlyn Park and Barcroft Park. Additional studies are being planned that will use existing trees and fences to create temporary deer exclosures. The exclosures will allow collection of data using different methodologies than currently used.

Game camera surveys can also be conducted over a long period to capture photos of locally rare species and monitor trends in more common mammals.

Ornithology Projects Including the Annual Christmas Bird Count

Photo of Yellow-rumped warbler (Setophaga coronate)

Yellow-rumped warbler (Setophaga coronate)

There are many wonderful citizen science bird programs, too. These include the very popular Christmas Bird Count, sponsored by the National Audubon Society in which volunteer birdwatchers contribute to the annual census of birds during the winter. Another opportunity is the eBird Project, co-sponsored by the Cornell Ornithology Lab and Audubon. It is an online database of bird observations in which anyone can enter bird lists to monitor bird species in their area or map overall abundance of a species in an area over time. There is also the Breeding Bird Atlas of Virginia program.  The second Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas (VABBA2) is a follow-up survey to the first Atlas that was published over 25 years ago and surveys all bird species breeding in the state. Data collected will help map the distribution and status of Virginia’s breeding bird community in order to provide better information for natural resource and conservation decisions.

Insect Citizen Science Projects

Photo of Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus)

Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus)

The North American Butterfly Association conducts a butterfly count in July.  The Pollinator Partnership sponsors National Pollinator Week in June to collect data on pollinators including bees and monarch butterflies and generally to celebrate pollinators and spread the word about what can be done to protect them. National Moth Week takes place in the last week in July and celebrates the beauty, life cycles, and habitats of moths. People of all ages and abilities are encouraged to learn about, observe, and document moths in their backyards, parks, and neighborhoods. There are between 60 and 70 moth species in Arlington already recorded but even more species could be identified!

Plant Citizen Science Opportunities

Photo of Bee balm (Monarda didyma)

Bee balm (Monarda didyma)


Botanists and plant lovers of all levels will also have opportunities. Arlington County is developing some exciting projects:  The Arlington Herbarium needs to be digitized in order to improve the usefulness of the collection for analysis and voucher specimens need to be collected for the State Atlas.

Whatever your interest in nature, there is probably a local or national citizen science project in which you can participate.  Go outside, look, learn, and share!

Getting to Know Ann Ulmschneider

From time-to-time, ARMN’s Membership Committee posts profiles of our members including how they came to be master naturalists, which parts of nature they most enjoy, and how they have an impact on the environment around them. Here is the latest biography of ARMN member, Ann Ulmschneider, who graduated in the Spring 2010 training class. Alison Sheahan conducted the interview.

Photo of ARMN member Ann Ulmschneider

Ann Ulmschneider.

What brought you to ARMN in the first place?

I always had a really strong interest in nature and science. A friend at church, Mary Pike, told me about ARMN and it sounded like a really good thing to do. I immediately became interested in the service projects with children because of my background.

Which is…?

I have a master’s degree in Child Development. When I first earned my degree I became the director of a child care facility in Fairfax and eventually taught parent education classes for Fairfax County Public Schools. This led to my 30-year career with FCPS Family and School Partnerships, an organization that helps schools engage parents, especially families of English Language Learners and other underserved families. I continued to teach children in various volunteer capacities and enjoyed raising our three daughters but once they were no longer young, I missed children and began to look for other opportunities to be with them.

At ARMN, which child-centered activities do you enjoy?

I lead birthday parties at both Long Branch and Gulf Branch Nature Centers. I usually do them with a partner, Mary Ellen Snyder. We work well together as a team and enjoy each other’s company.

I also work at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale, leading groups of school children during the week on planned field trips that align with Virginia’s Standards of Learning (SOL). I do the station on frogs and toads for “Metamorphosis and More,” focused on life cycles. For “Fantastic Flora and Fauna” I lead a walk in the woods looking for examples.

Photo of ARMN memeber Ann Ulmschneider

Ann teaching first graders about trees at Green Spring Gardens.

I like that both of these activities involve regular hours and have kept me in contact with groups who need leaders on a regular basis. It’s not hard to make my 40 service hours (needed for annual master naturalist certification)! Also, it helps me to keep learning. Any time I have to lead a group like this, I need to learn ahead of the kids. Understanding the information on a basic level (for instance through the books at the children’s section of a library) has been really helpful to me and less intimidating than learning lots of detail. It’s also pushed me to step out of my comfort zone, so that I recently offered a family program on squirrels for Arlington County’s “SNAG” program. I tried other activities with ARMN over the years like Stream Monitoring and the Bug Lab but I have discovered that I’m not that kind of scientist or naturalist. I’m more of a teacher and I like connecting with the families and children at the nature centers.

What was it about your childhood or other early background that you think fed these interests?

When I was a girl, my best friend and I loved to go roaming in an extensive wooded lot in our neighborhood in Cincinnati, Ohio. In middle grades, I remember going almost every day. We just walked around and went to our “hiding place” (which was probably covered with invasive vines!). I don’t remember particular observations of animals or plants, I just remember loving to be there, surrounded by the trees. To this day, the smell of the woods is imprinted on me, very positively. Then when my husband and I first met we did lots of hiking together and in 1980-82, we began taking classes at the National Arboretum on trees, wildflowers, and ferns. In 2000, I joined the Northern Virginia Bird Club and began to gain knowledge of local birds. I am still a member there along with many other ARMN members.

In summary, what do you like most about ARMN?

It allows me to combine my love of nature and working with kids and families of many cultures, and it lets me keep learning. To me, it’s satisfying just to know information about what we are seeing all around us. In Arlington, we’ve been able to preserve our little swaths of green, and we have this unique mix of people from all over the world who can enjoy it. That’s a great combination and I feel lucky to be a part of it.

ARMN Member Yu-hsin Hsu Receives Bill Thomas Award

by Caroline Haynes

The Bill Thomas Outstanding Park Service Award was established as a tribute to lifelong parks volunteer Bill Thomas and to honor and encourage residents who show passionate dedication and support for Arlington County’s programs, natural resources, and public open spaces.

Photo of ARMN memeber Yu-hsin Hsu receiving award

Yu-hsin Hsu, Bill Thomas Outstanding Park Service Volunteer Award recipient for work done in 2016, with Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette, and Park and Recreation Commission Chair Caroline Haynes.

ARMN is proud to announce that member Yu-hsin Hsu has been honored for her work this past year as an ardent supporter of Arlington’s natural resources. Yu-hsin serves in a wide range of volunteer capacities including animal care and other volunteer support with Long Branch Nature Center, responsibility in rescuing and rehabilitating the Arlington Central Library pollinator garden, participation in various invasive removal events, work at the County’s native plant nursery with the Department of Parks and Recreation Natural Resources Management, assistance in the propagation beds with the Virginia Native Plant Society, and work with children in environmental education. Yu-hsin’s incredible dedication and enthusiasm to preserving Arlington’s natural spaces makes her a perfect fit for this award. ARMN celebrates her accomplishments and thanks Yu-hsin for her service.

For a more detailed summary of Yu-hsin’s efforts, see Arlington Public Library blog post.

911 for Wildlife and How You Can Help!

Text and photos by Lisa Stern

Do you wonder what you should do when you find injured wildlife?  Read on to discover more about wildlife rehabilitation.

Ever wonder what you should do when you find an injured squirrel? Or a baby bird that has fallen from the nest? Or a turtle with a cracked shell? Or, how about a snake caught in garden webbing?

Virginia has two terrific resources that fill this vital need: the Wildlife Rescue League (WRL) and Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitators (WRs). They are on call practically 24/7 to help. It may look like an easy job; just scoop up that baby bird, or untangle the poor snake, but there are many species-specific laws and regulations governing the handling of wildlife, some training to become a volunteer with the League, and a lot of training and mentoring to become a Wildlife Rehabilitator (WR). Here is more information about each and how you can assist with wildlife rehab.

Wildlife Rescue League

The Wildlife Rescue League (WRL) is a nonprofit, all volunteer organization whose primary purposes are to operate a wildlife assistance hotline (providing the public with advice, resources, referrals to licensed rehabilitators), transport wildlife from shelters and vets to licensed rehabilitators, and educate the public on wildlife laws and how to exist with our wild neighbors, thereby preventing situations that lead to the need for wildlife rehabilitation.

The WRL volunteers field approximately 5,000 calls a year! That helpless baby bird found in the grass really may not need a human to scoop it up—it’s possibly learning to fly and the mom is nearby. Hotline volunteers help the caller determine that, in this case, intervention is not required. What about the snake?

Well, that’s a different story. If he’s cut in several places, lost scales, and is not well, he will need an intervention and transport to a licensed WR. In this case, the hotline volunteer will find a WR and arrange transport.

Photo of injured black rat snake by Lisa Stern

Black rat snake (Pantherophis obsoletus) with injuries from being caught in garden webbing.


Once an injured, orphaned, or abandoned animal is transported to a WR, it will be treated until it can be safely released.

Carolyn Wilder, Vice President of WRL, has a wealth of knowledge and experience on wildlife rescue. She got involved in the organization while transitioning out of a legal career with a trade association. She started as a transporter because of her love of animals and eventually became a hotline volunteer which she has been doing for 3 years. Because of her work in both areas, and creating relationships with WRs, Carolyn became involved on the board. She now spends her time coordinating and training transporters, offering group training for hotline volunteers, doing presentations for schools and groups, and working to make WRL function more efficiently.

Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitators

WRs are licensed by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF). Becoming a wildlife rehabilitator requires a big commitment of time and energy, need for appropriate space, and a true love of wildlife. First, anyone interested in the program must take 6 hours of approved continuing education before even filling out the application to become an apprentice. Apprentices must have a sponsoring licensed WR who cares for the species they wish to rehabilitate, spend two years working under the supervision and guidance of their sponsor, and are generally limited to caring for uninjured, orphaned wildlife. In addition, since most rehabbers work out of their homes, apprentices must have a home inspection completed by the VGDIF to ensure that there is an adequate, quiet designated area for the care of wildlife. They also complete 6 hours of continuing education annually, may be required to have a rabies vaccine, and must maintain a full record of wildlife received.

Most WRs “specialize”—choosing a species and age range that fits their lifestyle and space. For example, pinky squirrels (newborns) need more feedings per day than juveniles. Baby bunnies need to be fed only twice a day. And, how much room do you have? Enough for baby ducklings needing bins of water to swim in and heat lamps?

After two years of wildlife care experience, the apprentice can begin to care for wildlife without a sponsor’s supervision, complete 6 hours of continuing education annually, work with a licensed veterinarian, have inspections of the holding facility, and get any required immunizations based on the wildlife cared for. Additional permits are required for WRs who desire to work with most birds, eagles, and threatened or endangered species.

Rachael Tolman, the Park Naturalist at Long Branch Nature Center in Arlington, has been a rehabber for many years and has been through the certification process several times since each state and country has different regulations and covered species. While a rehabber in Australia, Rachael worked with baby kangaroos! Here in Virginia, her focus is on turtles and snakes.

Photo of Rachel Tolman (Long Branch Park Naturalist) holding turtle, by Lisa Stern

Rachael Tolman holding Woodland box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) with a cracked shell.


Photo of injured woodland box turtle by Lisa Stern

Close-up of Woodland box turtle.

However, you won’t see any of the injured critters on display at Long Branch, since they are tucked away in quiet spaces to get the rest they need for recovery and eventual release.

Though time consuming to become a licensed WR and to nurse injured animals back to health, rehabbers like Rachael find a deep satisfaction in eventually being able to return wildlife to their natural habitat.

Would You Like to Volunteer to Help Wildlife?

If so, contact the Wildlife Rescue League for more information on answering the hotline (training provided), transporting wildlife, or assisting with other activities.

If you’re ready for a greater commitment to becoming an apprentice or licensed WR, there is additional information on WRL’s website on how to begin training for the program.

In either case, you’ll sure to be rewarded by helping our furry, scaled, and feathered friends return to their homes in the wild.

ARMN: Getting To Know Sarah Archer

From time-to-time, ARMN’s Membership Committee posts profiles of our members including how they came to be master naturalists, which parts of nature they most enjoy, and how they have an impact on the environment around them. Here is the latest biography of Arlington staff employee, Sarah Archer, who graduated in the Fall 2013 ARMN training class. Sarah currently manages Arlington’s Invasive Plant Program and is involved with starting the County’s native plant nursery. She is a valuable collaborator for ARMN on a wide variety of projects.

Tell us about the ARMN projects you spend time on.

I have been able to participate in many ARMN projects over the years, but my favorite has to be the restoration of the Barcroft Magnolia Bog. The success of this project was due to all of the great work done by ARMN members.  Marion Jordan, Jim Hurley, Marty Nielson, and others were instrumental in building momentum around the restoration work through community outreach to nearby homeowners and Claremont Elementary School. We received an award from the Virginia Association of Counties for this project because of the collaboration between county staff and groups like ARMN.

I am also really excited about Arlington’s new Native Plant Nursery . We usually have workdays at the nursery every Thursday from 3 – 5 pm.  I am also involved with the RiP/ARMN supported invasive plant removal events at Tuckahoe, Ft. Bennett, Madison Manor, Long Branch, Gulf Branch, and Haley/Oakridge/Gunston (“HOG”) parks. These events are led by our ARMN volunteer site leaders and are great opportunities for community volunteers to learn about invasive plant identification and removal techniques. I am always amazed at how much drive and passion the site leaders have to act as stewards for their neighborhood parks!

Photo 1 (1)

Earth Day 2014, at an Arlington park. Sarah is second from the right.

What brought you to ARMN?/How did you learn about ARMN?

The first time I heard about the Master Naturalist program was from my mom when she took the training in Illinois. I was lucky to get the opportunity to take the ARMN course when they needed an Arlington staff member to open and close building during the training sessions.

What do you like most about ARMN?

I really appreciate the strong relationships that ARMN builds with their partner groups and how informed and motivated the volunteers are!  Arlington County wouldn’t be able to do many of our natural resource conservation and restoration projects without the support of community groups, particularly ARMN.  ARMN volunteers do so much for Arlington’s Parks and Natural Resources Division including not just invasive plant removal, but education and outreach, project planning, surveying, planting, nursery work, etc.  It’s a pretty long list of all of the different types of volunteer projects ARMN participates in. The ARMN membership is so diverse in expertise and interests that they can support almost any project that we have!

Tell us something about your childhood/adulthood experiences that shaped your perspective on nature.

I was a Girl Scout in elementary school and really enjoyed all of the outdoor activities like camping and hiking.  I actually pulled my first invasive plant, garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), when I was in Girl Scouts! I didn’t really get interested in pursuing a nature-related career until I joined the Student Conservation Association (SCA) in 2007 after I graduated from Illinois State University (ISU), and did several internships with SCA related to environmental restoration.

What is your background?

During college, I worked with a native plant landscaping company and was a gardener for a few private residents during my summers off. In 2007, I received undergraduate degrees in dance and anthropology from ISU.  After college, I went to California to work for the Bureau of Land Management as an SCA intern and then worked on a trail crew on the Pacific Crest Trail. In 2008, I moved to Maryland with another SCA internship with the Nature Conservancy, and managed invasive plants in the Potomac Gorge.

I began working with the Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation in 2009 and received a master’s degree in Natural Resources from Virginia Tech in 2012.

What would other ARMN members find interesting about the non-ARMN parts of your life?

I enjoy many types of social dance, including square, salsa, blues, and kizomba. In college, I performed as a “koken” in a Kabuki production of Othello under the direction of Shozo Sato, an internationally renowned Japanese theater director.

Photo 2

Sarah doing a fan dance (not Kabuki, but close).

I also love international travel and have a trip planned to Peru, Argentina, and Uruguay over the Christmas holidays!

2017 Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service Opportunities


The Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday is a nationally recognized day of service. ARMN welcomes members of the public to join master naturalists for various earth-friendly projects in the area to honor the spirit of Dr. King. Here is a list of habitat restoration and invasive removal activities both for the weekend prior to MLK Day as well as the official holiday, Monday January 16, 2017. We hope to see you at one or more of these events that will make a significant difference to the health of our local environment.

If there is any question about the weather, where to meet, what to bring, or any other concerns, please contact the leader ahead of time.


Date Location Time Contact
Friday Jan 13 Marie Butler Leven Preserve, Fairfax County


1–3pm Matt Bright


Saturday Jan 14 Nauck Woods, Arlington 10am–Noon Nora Palmatier RSVP/confirm
Saturday Jan 14 Fraser Preserve, Fairfax County Noon–3pm Margaret Chatham


Saturday Jan 14 Madison Manor Park, Arlington 1–4pm Jo Allen
Saturday Jan 14 Gulf Branch Park, Arlington 2–4:30pm Jennifer Soles
Sunday Jan 15 Long Branch Park, Arlington 2–4pm Steve Young
Monday Jan 16 Culpepper Gardens, Arlington 10am–3pm Linda Y. Kelleher RSVP/confirm


Monday Jan 16 Nauck Woods, Arlington 10am–Noon Nora Palmatier RSVP/confirm


Monday Jan 16 Dora Kelley Nature Park, Alexandria (N. Morgan St. entrance near N. Beauregard St.) 10:15am–12:15pm And/OR


Mary Farrah


Thank you!