ARMN: Getting to Know Susan Berry

By Alison Sheahan and Susan Berry. Photos courtesy of Pablo Nuesch

ARMN’s Membership Committee posts occasional profiles of our members, including how they came to be master naturalists, which parts of nature they most enjoy, and how they affect their environment. This latest biography features ARMN Member Susan Berry, who graduated from our training class in Spring 2012. She is active in outreach and recently helped out as a mentor for the Fall 2017 class. If you know someone in ARMN with an interesting story and think others might be interested as well, please contact Alison Sheahan (

Tell us about the ARMN projects you spend time on.

My favorite projects involve interacting with the public. I love to talk with people and so I take my very limited knowledge of the natural world (almost exclusively learned from ARMN activities) and use it to participate in education and outreach at the Arlington County Fair, library events, native plant sales, community center presentations, MOM’s Organic Market store displays, and wherever else ARMN might have a table set up.

I also adore the annual Firefly Festival at Fort C.F. Smith Park. Mostly, that is a night when I talk with people about how to glue wings on their firefly necklaces and such, but it still involves interacting with people and occasionally discussing actual fireflies.

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

A few years before I heard about ARMN, my husband and I bought some land in south Albemarle County. For those old enough to remember The Waltons TV show, our property is at “Walton’s Mountain” (actually Schuyler, Virginia).

Photo of ARMN Member Susan Berry's cabin

Susan’s cabin in Schuyler, VA.

After we bought the land, we started going to land-owner workshops sponsored by Virginia Tech. At one of them, the organizer asked that everyone who was a Master Naturalist raise their hands. All these hands went up. That was the first time I heard about the program. Then, we had a forester come out and walk our land with us, and I was overwhelmed by his knowledge and I really wanted to know more about the trees and other plants on our land. Later on, when I was looking for a volunteer activity to replace the pet therapy work I had been doing, I ran across a posting for the next ARMN class and I thought, maybe I could do that.

What has surprised you about ARMN?

I never thought that it would lead to my holding a snake at the County Fair while children petted it.

What do you like most about ARMN?

There are so many things I could choose, but one thing I love is the wonderful emails that show up in my box every day. I will never forget getting that first email asking for people to show up for Salamander Patrol. I thought, “Where else can you find a group of people who send emails like this?”  They know so much and are engaged in so many activities. Even though I cannot volunteer a lot of hours due to my work and other obligations, I feel connected with ARMN every day.

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

I grew up in Williamsburg, Virginia. My mother was a guide for Colonial Williamsburg, and I worked there in the summers and on school holidays. My mother loved gardens and was trained to give special garden tours in Williamsburg. When I was in elementary school, I had to do a report for science class, and my mother suggested that it be on the various hollies found in Virginia. We drove all over and collected specimens together, and later I proudly presented my report, which included a detailed description of Ilex vomitoria (Yaupon holly). I know very few plants by their botanical names, but I’ll never forget that one.

What is your background?

I studied theatre as an undergrad at the University of Virginia and later got an M.A. in theatre from the University of South Carolina. I worked at various small professional theatres and community theatres and eventually figured out that I needed another line of work if I wanted to eat and pay the rent. After deciding that law was the closest thing I could get to theatre, I went to law school and have now been working in immigration law for about 20 years.  I met my husband in law school. He is the one who took most of the pictures that were featured in a backyard habitat display that we used for many years at different ARMN events.

Photo of an ARMN backyard habitat display

Susan’s backyard habitat display.

What would people find interesting about the non-ARMN part of your life.

I have been figuring out how to take what ARMN has taught me into other parts of my life. I am a ruling elder at Fairlington Presbyterian Church and have been helping the church make decisions about its property. That is particularly important now because we just sold a portion of our parking lot for an affordable housing project and there will be new landscaping going on throughout our property as we shift things around, so I would like to promote the use of native plants, wherever possible. I am also in the process of helping the church become an official Earth Care Congregation within the Presbytery. I have learned that one of the things most young people care about when they are looking for a church home is how the church acts in relationship with the earth.   So, I am working to focus some of the energy of our small congregation toward being more sustainable.

Tell us something unusual about yourself.

I don’t use a cell phone.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

It was because of all I have learned with ARMN that I was motivated to convert the front slope of the home my husband and I bought in Alexandria four years ago from a bank of English Ivy to a mostly native plant garden. I got my husband on board and we both hacked away at the ivy while simultaneously collecting plants from native plant sales to install. I also got a lot of golden ragwort from a weeding party at ARMN’s demonstration garden at Potomac Overlook Regional Park. Shortly after we finished the “conversion,” we got a letter from the City of Alexandria saying we were going to be given a beautification award. We thought it was a scam until we found out that there really is an Alexandria Beautification Commission and they really do drive around the city and select properties for awards. So, we ended up receiving our award from the mayor in a very nice ceremony in the fall of 2016. If it were not for ARMN, we certainly would not have been able to achieve this.

Photo of ARMN Member Susan Berry's front yard with native plants

Susan’s yard after removal of ivy and installation of mostly native plants.

Photo of ARMN Member Susan Berry with her Alexandria Beautification award.

Susan with her Alexandria Beautification award.


ARMN Winter Book Share: Good food for the body, mind, and spirit!

by Carol Mullen, with photos by Rodney Olsen

A few times a year, folks who enjoy nature literature meet at a local restaurant for a Book Share event. Participants enjoy good food as they provide a brief overview of a book or other material that they found inspiring and useful. The most recent get-together was at Café Sazon, a Latin bakery and café in South Arlington and an enthusiastic group contributed to the discussion of several reads.

The ARMN Winter Book Share and Dinner at Cafe Sazon on Feb. 6, 2018, was a fun and informative evening. Ten ARMN members shared their favorite recently read books, magazines, authors and websites, with the primary aim of enhancing our knowledge of Virginia’s natural resources. It was a delightful hour of “A01 Continuing Education” with lively discussions on a number of topics and an opportunity to learn from each other. Cafe Sazon was an enjoyable location on a cold February night, and both the food and staff were great.

Photo of 2018 ARMN Winter book share

Book Share group enjoying the camaraderie.

Here is a list of the literature recommended by the participants at the Winter Book Share evening:

The Wonder of Birds: What They Tell Us About Ourselves, the World, and a Better Future, by Jim Robbins, 2017

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl, by Timothy Egan, 2006

Scientific American: The Science Behind the Debates, Special Collector’s Edition, Volume 26, Issue 5s, Winter 2017-2018

The Living Forest, by Joan Maloof, 2017

Among the Ancients: Adventures in the Eastern Old-Growth Forests, by Joan Maloof, 2011

Feral: Rewilding the Land, the Sea, and Human Life, by George Monbiot, 2017

The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed, John Vaillant, 2006

The Control of Nature, John McPhee, 1990

The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature’s Great Connectors, by David George Haskell, 2017

The Forest Unseen, by David George Haskell, 2013

1491, by Charles Mann, 2006

Teaching the Trees: Lessons from the Forest, by Joan Maloof, 2007

The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin’s Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World – and Us, by Richard O. Prum, 2017

The Evolution Underground: Burrows, Bunkers, and the Marvelous Subterranean World Beneath our Feet, by Anthony J. Martin, 2017

The Modern Scholar: The Biology of Birds, by Professor John Kricher, 2012

The Tarantula in My Purse: and 172 Other Wild Pets, by Jean Craighead George, 1997

A Beginner’s Guide to Recognizing Trees of the Northeast, by Mark Mikolas, 2017

American Forest Magazine

The “Plant One Million Trees” Project,

Photo of 2018 ARMN Winter book share

Participants engaged in good discussions of the materials presented.

Does a book share event sound good to you? Then look for future gatherings that will be highlighted on the homepage under “Upcoming Events.” Anyone with an interest in nature may attend and you do not need a book to share—or even be an ARMN member—if you just want to hear more about the current reads. If you do have literature to share, reviews and summaries are fitting, but consider sharing a fact, insight, or observation from the material that is applicable to ARMN’s span of work. 

Here are a few other considerations:

  • This is not a book discussion group where we all read and discuss the same material.
  • Magazines or journals (or specific articles) are fine too, as are apps, websites, or any resource that enhances your knowledge of Virginia’s natural resources.
  • This is not a book swap. Feel free to bring books or magazines to give away or share if you wish, but that is optional.
  • Please consider what you can share about the book in less than 5 minutes. If there is adequate time, you can expound beyond that.
  • The book sharing portion counts as CE for ARMN members.
  • No sign-up required this time.

We hope to see you at a future Book Share event!

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)


Salt Management Strategy (SaMS) to Address Impacts of Road Salt in Our Region

by Kasha Helget

Many people have noticed the increased use of road salt and deicing materials in our area in recent years. These products don’t just land on roadways, parking lots, and sidewalks; they also affect the landscape, and seep into the soil, groundwater, storm drains, and surface waters with adverse impacts to aquatic life, vegetation, and wildlife as well as human health from the increased levels of salt on surfaces and in drinking water.

Salt on Lester Ct. in Fairfax County.JPG

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has tracked these changes and impacts and is working on plans to do something about it. On January 17, 2018, the DEQ and its contractors, the Interstate Commission for the Potomac River Basin (ICPRB) hosted a public meeting on the development of a Salt Management Strategy (SaMS) for the Northern Virginia region. The region includes: Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William counties, and the cities of Alexandria, Manassas, Manassas Park, Falls Church, and Fairfax.

Representatives of DEQ and ICPRB described some of the impacts and challenges of snow and ice management, answered questions from the audience, and provided information on how people can get involved in the process of developing a SaMS for the region.

Origin of the SaMS Strategy

The SaMS was initiated as a result of a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) study that DEQ completed for the Accotink Creek watershed in July 2017. The study identified chloride (salt) from snow and deicing activities that contributed to water quality impairment in the creek. The TMDL was developed with a focus on implementing best management practices such as training and certification programs and improved salt application equipment and practices. Given that existing snow and ice management practices are not limited to the Accotink Creek watershed, the SaMS is being developed with the entire Northern Virginia region in mind.

Goals and Desired Outcomes of SaMS

The two broad goals of SaMS are to: (1) provide a strategy to achieve the target chloride loads identified in the Accotink Creek TMDL and the broader surrounding region, and (2) foster collaboration among all stakeholder groups involved in winter deicing/anti-icing activities to improve practices that protect public safety and lessen the effects on the environment, infrastructure, and public health.

Procedures Going Forward

Following the January 17 public meeting to introduce SaMS, there is a comment period on the proposals till February 16, and there will be working group and stakeholder advisory committee meetings throughout the development process. There will also be another public meeting and comment period at the end of the process. The SaMS process should be completed by December, 2019.

How to Provide Public Comment by February 16

Anyone who is concerned about salt’s impacts on vegetation, wildlife, aquatic life, as well as human health and infrastructure effects may provide comments by February 16 on plans for development of the SaMS, and the Report on the Impacts of Salts on the Environment, Infrastructure; and may volunteer to participate on the Stakeholder Advisory Committee (SAC), which will address the SaMS issues. To comment or volunteer for the SAC, click: HERE,


See Salt Management Strategy Summary for a brief report of the project. Complete information on SaMS is located on DEQ’s website at: Salt Management Strategy Development.

For additional information on impacts of and strategies to address road salts and deicing methods, see:

New Hampshire’s Environmental, Health and Economic Impacts of Road Salt;’s Future of Conservation: The Hidden Dangers of Road Salt;
Virginia Tech’s Study finds road salt contamination in groundwater; and
Greater Greater Washington’s, Salt with care to protect your drinking water.

Active Shooter Awareness Training for Master Naturalists and Master Gardeners

Arlington County police officers recently provided active shooter training for ARMN and Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia to help volunteers plan and react to an emergency.

by Bill Browning and Kasha Helget

It is an unfortunate sign of the times that we have to be alert to possible active shooters and other threatening situations in our world. With this sobering reality, ARMN recently hosted active shooter awareness training for its Master Naturalists and the Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia to help volunteers plan and react to an emergency. Four Arlington County police officers—Captain David Giroux, Sargent Chris Feltman, Corporal Beth Lennon, and Officer Mike Keen—presented information as part of their outreach to various businesses and organizations throughout Arlington County.

They emphasized the “RUN–HIDE-FIGHT” response method developed by the Department of Homeland Security, and the importance of planning ahead of time what to do if faced with an active shooter situation.

This method includes being prepared to: (1) run if you can and have an escape route in mind wherever you go—at work, schools, public venues, and even when volunteering at schools or in woods; (2) hide as a second alternative outside of the shooter’s view, block entry to your hiding space if possible, and stay quiet; and (3) fight as a last resort, but with everything you can muster.

The officers answered numerous questions about what to do if a shooter appears in your midst, ready to do serious harm. As group leaders, people in the group would look to us for what to do. So, it’s important to think about escape routes (or paths) ahead of time and act definitively.

For more information about active shooter awareness and to arrange training for your own organization, see:, but note that the contact, Lt. Robert (Bob) Medairos, has retired and is replaced by Sargent Chris Feltman.

ARMN Board Members Join Other Master Naturalist Boards for Leadership Day

by Kasha Helget

ARMN Board Members enjoy a day of leadership training hosted by the State’s Master Naturalist Program staff.

Members of the Arlington Regional Master Naturalists board attended an annual Leadership Day training in Gainesville on November 3rd. The event, which was hosted by the State’s Master Naturalist program staff, included representatives from the northern chapters of Banshee Reeks (Loudoun County), Central Rappahannock (Fredericksburg and Stafford, King George, and Spotsylvania counties), Fairfax (Fairfax County), Merrimac Farm (Prince William County), and Old Rag (Greene, Madison, Rappahannock, Culpeper, Orange, and Fauquier counties), and took place at the office of Wetland Studies and Solutions, Inc.

Photo of ARMN Leadership at

Presentations and discussions at Leadership Day meeting. (Photo courtesy of Kirsten Conrad.)

Among the topics addressed during the day-long event were best practices for approving and organizing projects, strategies for retaining volunteers, working effectively as a board, and the review of new and updated administrative procedures for Virginia master naturalist organizations. Board members also got to confer with individuals in similar roles in other chapters to share experiences, advice, and effective strategies.

Participants also enjoyed spending time at and exploring the WSSI office. Its building is Virginia’s first gold LEED facility and incorporates a number of innovative design and sustainability features within the building and on the grounds. These including a walkable green roof and open concept work areas. Employees’ dogs are also allowed in the workspace. (Participants were warned to hide their snacks!)


It was a wonderfully collaborative and productive day, and the ARMN board members brought home lots of ideas and recommendations to improve oversight of the ARMN program and improve volunteer service to the community.

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.

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.