Inside the Minds of Master Naturalists

Inside the Minds of Master Naturalists
May 17, 2022 by: Maureen Farrington

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Our Maryland Master Naturalists have undertaken a journey to gain a deeper knowledge and understanding of this region's plants, animals, and natural history, and then to use that knowledge to preserve and protect the world around us. 

Today we hear from Darrin Frye (you may remember Darrin from the Master Naturalist birdhouse project) and Brianna Widner, who share their experiences and insights in ways that may surprise you!

What inspired you to become a Master Naturalist?

Darrin Frye: 

I love contributing as a community scientist!  I have taken tens of thousands of insects, bugs, birds, and animal pictures and spent countless hours out in nature.  When I would see a tortise I enjoyed taking pictures of it, but then I found out that there were researchers asking for locations if one was spotted, and I contributed often.  I spotted an amazing TEGU lizard in Florida, and after excitedly capturing pictures of it, found out it was an reportable invasive species.  I notified the Florida Wildlife team and they came out and searched for it for days to remove it.  I realized I could have an impact and it was rewarding.  I continue to report every moth and butterfly I photograph to the Butterfly and Moths of North America website and feel that I am making a difference with the 100’s of pictures cataloged.  I also use my eBird to record sightings of special birds, and during outings.  Basically, I realized that I could be both a photographic spectator and regular contributor that furthers the body of knowledge of the natural world in a small way.  My hobby is more than just creating great pictures, as it can also help researchers in their own work.

Most recently, I came across a bird bander and monarch tagger at the Audrey Carroll Audubon Society Refuge in Mount Airy, MD and realized what was possible, and greatly needed!  I now tag Monarchs each season, and really enjoy seeing if one of my butterflies makes it to Mexico.  Looking for a home area to volunteer and perhaps lead photo tours, I looked into the Patuxent Research Refuge and National Conservation Training Centers (NCTC) to gain more information, and while searching the internet for potential opportunities, I saw the Maryland Master Naturalist Program.  The more I read the more excited I became, and knew it would be a great broadining experience if admitted.  I know that with the diversified experience and directed education from conservators, I would be more qualified and prepared for the future.  So, I found the best location, right effort, and class times that fit my busy schedule, and was delighted to be accepted to the Anacostia Watershed Society program.

Brianna Widner: 

Prior to moving to Washington, DC,  I was an environmental educator in Olympia, WA. In the other Washington, I could go for a walk and say hello to all the plants and animals I passed; I felt part of nature rather than a passive observer. When we moved here, I felt like I’d lost one of my senses; the flora and fauna were similar but different and it made my new home seem all that more strange. I’m taking this course, along with my husband, so we can meet our new plant and animal neighbors. 

Did you learn anything especially surprising or thought-provoking while taking the Master Naturalist course?


I’ve explored, splashed in, jumped over, trekked alongside, and fished in many small creeks across this country, as they flowed down hilly slopes, cut through towns, and meandering through farm pastures.  As a naturalist and wildlife photographer I have used the watershed rivers as a template to search beside to gain the best glimpses of bugs, butterflies, birds, crawly wonders, and furry others, to capture on film.

But, as I hiked along in the mountain trees and grassy meadows intersected by the impatient waters, rarely did I stop to think about the impurities and pressures that our society is imparting on the fragile ecosystem.  Nor, give any consideration for those dependent residents hidden from my view in the swift currents, rocky rapids, or small eddies of the gathering streams.

That is, until I became a part of an incoming Anacostia Watershed Society (AWS) Maryland Master Naturalist class of 2022, and experienced the collective wisdom and energy of those teachers and conservators dedicated to the restoration of the Anacostia River Watershed. 

Blunt nosed minnow by Darrin FryeI experienced a motivating moment and enduring memory during one of our recent field classes when our instructor pulled a sample of inhabitants from the stream we were surveying. The entire class was impressed and delighted with the diversity of aquatic creatures that emerged in the nets from what looked like a lifeless stream!   If you look intently at this picture I took of the tiny blunt-nosed minnow pulled from the suffering city stream you too will might be able to experience some of the wonder of the moment.  One could almost envision reflections of hope from the miniature striped metallic scales, and with a bit of imagination and optimism see a frowny smile of appreciation on his face!  The minnow’s mere presence acknowledges the improvements resulting from the recovery efforts from the Anacostia Watershed Society and so many others working to make things better.  While fish tales always focus on the large ones, we cannot forget about the impact of the smallest - for without them there could be nothing sustaining or bigger. 

I have an enhanced awareness of the majesty of nature’s system now, and appreciate fully the critical importance of a healthy watershed. It has solidified my desire to teach, train, lead, motivate, and volunteer with others who wish to contribute their best to making the future even greater than today.


Each session has given me something to ponder. One of the most surprising things we learned was during our mammal class. Apparently, back in 1949, wildlife managers in Idaho relocated beavers to remote areas utilizing specially designed wooden boxes that they dropped to the ground via parachute from airplanes. Pretty wild!We are also doing group capstone projects. I am part of the group comparing two meadow sites for biodiversity differences. I think what’s been most eye-opening there is the incredible amount of life you can observe in just a few minutes in a small area if you simply take the time to stop and look. After half an hour at one site staring at our roughly six foot transect line, I feel pleasantly lost in this micro-ecosystem, transported out of the hustle and bustle of the city around the park. 

It’s also heartening to be in a group of like-minded people who get excited about nature. Living in a city where most people don’t seem to care if they have a robin or a catbird in their front yard, it’s fun meeting up with a group every month who ooh and ahh over an eel and talk about how cute the cotyledon of a beech tree are. 

Finally, the Seek app has definitely been one of my favorite take-aways from the class. I’m not much of an app user, but this one has earned a spot in my phone for sure. It helps ID things in real time and has helped me plot out the wildlife in my neighborhood and beyond. My dog is not quite as thrilled with me being the one to stop us on walks now to stare at a plant for a few minutes, but it’s a give and take. It has helped me ID a few plants that would be toxic for him to eat, so it’s practical knowledge too!

What are you most looking forward to doing to complete your certification hours in the next year?


I anticipate a mixture of volunteerism – certainly clean ups, tree planting, and manual efforts, mixed with less physical efforts such recording, reporting, and surveying types of activities.   I also have a passion for education, and hope to write, record, photograph and propel the Society when possible.  Perhaps lead insect and butterfly phone photo tours, talk about the watershed and the importance of reducing pollution, maybe mix some health topics related to the watershed - both human and wildlife, and lastly find ways to partner, research, collaborate, raise money, and hopefully create enduring impacts for the Society.  Of course, whatever else comes up, I am likely interested! 


I like the wide variety of options available through the Anacostia Watershed Society to complete our hours. I look forward to habitat restoration work and invasive removals, since I love to play in the soil. I also enjoy their trash sorting days, where we sort and document the trash AWS pulls out of the river so that they can use that data to inform policy change. It saddens me greatly to see all the trash and waste we as humans create and then foist on the rest of creation. While I can do my best to live a waste-free life, the way the system is set up right now, it’s just not a practical option for most people. How many people really have the time and resources to visit a bulk good store regularly, cook all their meals from scratch, etc? I think if we can change things at a policy level so that goods we need to buy are more responsibly packaged in biodegradable, compostable, etc. packaging, we can find a better middle ground for people. If a few hours of sorting through trash can help hold the most polluting companies accountable, hand me my shovel!


Maureen Farrington

Maureen Farrington

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