The Wild Side of Frying Pan Farm Park

A Great Blue Heron stalks its prey at Frying Pan Farm Park.

A Great Blue Heron stalks its prey at Frying Pan Farm Park.

Among the parade of rolling strollers, excited kindergarteners and working farm staff, a patron visiting Frying Pan Farm Park could find themselves bombarded by truly “wild” animals. The culprits are acrobatic Aves, known far and wide as gymnasts of the air.

As a budding naturalist, I chased jobs and toured across the country. I naturalized in Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Tennessee and now Virginia. It can be challenging to leave a lovely place and adjust to the next; however I never acquaint myself to new surroundings alone. When acclimating to unfamiliar areas, I simply look for old friends: northern cardinal, blue jay, or Carolina wren. At Frying Pan, I find familiarity in a new land. Each morning, before the bevies of elementary schoolchildren disembark from their buses, I take to the woods for a period of calm discovery amid the park’s wild inhabitants.

A tree swallow rests on a bluebird nesting box at Frying Pan Farm Park.

A tree swallow rests on a bluebird nesting box at Frying Pan Farm Park.

The wild side of Frying Pan is quite diverse for a relatively small natural area. Out in the grassy field, I often observe both tree and barn swallows carving the sky. It is fantastic to watch the way they veer swiftly and precisely. These daring creatures rely on their well-adapted wing and tail shapes to snatch unsuspecting insects out of the air. The field also offers opportunities to watch incoming turkey vultures glide on air pockets while they sniff out their next meal.

The forest provides habitat for a variety of birds and animals.

The forest provides habitat for a variety of birds and animals.

Past the fields lies a wide strip of forest dominated by hickory and oak. As I walk, I find trees of varying height and girth indicating a healthy and maturing second growth forest. The area includes larger grandfather trees, short saplings, and standing dead trees or snags. When left standing, the snags provide inviting opportunities for a variety of woodpeckers. As the trees decompose, insects begin to devour the nutrients in the wood. Woodpeckers drill their heads, bill first, into trees creating cavities to slurp out insects with their long, barbed tongues. Several types of warblers, flycatchers and thrushes also reside in the woods.

Most recently, I explored the wetlands to the east of the park. In an effort to compile a well-rounded list of birds, I knew I’d need to find some type of waterfowl. With hopeful anticipation, I headed out in search of some kind of duck. Instead, I was delighted to find a large great blue heron standing stiff-legged and motionless in the middle of the first pond. It is amazing how still and patient they can be while on the hunt. I think I can learn something from this great blue bird. In addition, I found a pair of green herons displaying similar behavior and throngs of red-winged blackbirds.

A green heron perches above the wetland.

A green heron perches above the wetland.

I encourage, even challenge, you to take a step away from the predictable bustling of farm enthusiasts and drift into the untamed.  Search for your neighbors, too: the sparrow, the mockingbirds. See what you can discover. There is so much to see.

Author Patrick McNamara is a staff interpreter at Frying Pan Farm Park.

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About Fairfax County Park Authority

About Fairfax County Park Authority HISTORY: On December 6, 1950, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors created the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Park Authority was authorized to make decisions concerning land acquisition, park development and operations in Fairfax County, Virginia. To date, 13 park bond referenda have been approved between 1959 and 2016. Today, the Park Authority has 427 parks on more than 23,000 acres of land. We offer 325 miles of trails, our most popular amenity. FACILITIES: The Park system is the primary public mechanism in Fairfax County for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land and resources, areas of historic significance and the provision of recreational facilities and services including: • Nine indoor RECenters with swimming pools, fitness rooms, gyms and class spaces. Cub Run features an indoor water park and on-site naturalist • Eight golf courses from par-3 to championship level, four driving ranges including the new state-of-the-art heated, covered range at Burke Lake Golf Center • Five nature and visitor centers. Also nine Off-Leash Dog Activity areas • Three lakefront parks including Lake Fairfax, Lake Accotink and Burke Lake, with campgrounds at Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax. The Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole at Lake Fairfax, Our Special Harbor Sprayground at Lee as well as an indoor water park at Cub Run RECenter • Clemyjontri Park, a fully accessible playground in Great Falls featuring two acres of family friendly fun and a carousel, as well as Chessie’s Big Backyard and a carousel at the Family Recreation Area at Lee District Park • An ice skating rink at Mount Vernon RECenter and the Skate Park in Wakefield Park adjacent to Audrey Moore RECenter • Kidwell Farm, a working farm of the 1930s-era at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, now with historic carousel • Eight distinctive historic properties available for rent • A working grist mill at Colvin Run in Great Falls and a restored 18th century home at Sully Historic Site in Chantilly • A horticulture center at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale • Natural and cultural resources protected by the Natural Resource Management Plan and Cultural Resource Plans, plus an Invasive Management Area program that targets alien plants and utilizes volunteers in restoring native vegetation throughout our community • Picnic shelters, tennis courts, miniature golf courses, disc golf courses, off-leash dog parks, amphitheaters, a marina, kayaking/canoeing center • Provides 263 athletic fields, including 39 synthetic turf fields, and manages athletic field maintenance services at 417 school athletic fields. PARK AUTHORITY BOARD: A 12-member citizen board, appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, sets policies and priorities for the Fairfax County Park Authority. Visit for Fairfax County Government's Comment Policy.

3 thoughts on “The Wild Side of Frying Pan Farm Park

  1. Howie

    Hi, I am glad that I found this blog. I live very close to Frying Pan Farm Park, and over the years I’ve taken many wildlife photographs in the park and surrounding areas. In fact I’ve recently put up a web page for the collections of wildlife pictures I’ve taken.

    Most visitors to the park enjoy the farm, farmer’s market, equestrian activities, 4-H festivals, etc., which are all great; but Frying Pan Farm Park is more than those; it is really a place for everyone. Let’s treasure this place!

  2. Pingback: Urban Oasis | Random thoughts from a traveler at home

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