Current members will participate in a butterfly count next month. (Ann M. Efimetz / September 6, 2010)

Are you one of those folks who sees a butterfly and wonders what species it is?

Do you keep a copy of the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds on your coffee table?

If so, you may consider becoming a Virginia Master Naturalist. The Historic Rivers Chapter is accepting applications for its annual six-month basic training session starting Sept. 2 and running through next March. The group meets twice a month and participants take six weekend classes/field trips.

The statewide program began in 2006. The Historic Rivers Chapter was one of the first ten organized. There are close to 30 chapters across the state. The program is sponsored by Virginia's Cooperative Extension, Department of Forestry, Department of Conservation & Recreation, Department of Game & Inland Fisheries, Department of Environmental Quality, and the Virginia Museum of Natural History.

For those who are curious about nature and enjoy the outdoors, it may be a perfect fit.

"One of the things I like about being a naturalist, is that it is lifelong learning," said Shirley Devan, chapter president. "It is great if you are into continuous learning about the environment, the coastal plain of Virginia, and the native plants and animals that live here."

She added that those who move here may be particularly interested. "They enjoy the program because it teaches about the natural history of our area."

That was the case with Roger Gosden, who moved here in 2009 after a career at Cornell.

"I was looking for a way to get involved as a volunteer in something that was a lifelong interest but I never had the time because I was busy in my career," Gosden said in an interview. "I quickly found this group. and have been an enthusiast and volunteer and activist ever since. It has enabled me to get to know local experts and professionals and sponsoring organizations."

Gosden is the current chair of the training committee. At least 20 people have signed up every year for the classes. Completion of basic training is the first step to becoming certified. An additional eight hours of continuing education with 40 hours of volunteer service within a year qualifies the member for certification by the state Virginia Master Naturalist program. Devan said the additional requirements are easily attained.

"After basic training you have continuing education and field trips and volunteer service projects that are a great way to learn about resources and partners in the community," she explained. "We partner with public and private organizations to help them with their projects and to support our mission of conserving natural resources in Virginia."

Some of the opportunities have included monitoring blue bird trails at area parks including Chickahominy Riverfront, Freedom, Newport News and New Quarter. Members also volunteer at Williamsburg Botanical Garden, helping it to look its best.

Many members will participate in a butterfly count in the Williamsburg area Aug. 9, sanctioned by the North American Butterfly Association. Participants will count the number and species of butterflies in a 15-mile diameter and report the findings.

"It tells us about the health of the butterflies in the area," she explained. "When you put that together with data from other butterfly counts in Virginia, it paints a picture about butterflies and the plants that they rely on. Those kind of counts reveal interesting trends."

Devan said members have fun while learning new aspects of the natural world.

"We have a great time," she said with a laugh. "Every time we get together, I learn something new. You get connected with other folks who are interested in the same things you are. It is a great way to get connected with like-minded people and organizations."

"I think a lot of people find new friendships this way," Gosden added. "There are some people who have moved here recently and have a general interest in nature and find a society located here that is very friendly. That is a great bonus."

Want to enroll? Enrollment is limited to 25 people. The fee is $150, which includes all materials and instruction. The application can be downloaded at http://www.historicrivers.org or e-mail hrctraining@cox.net Additional information about the statewide program is at: http://www.virginiamasternaturalist.org