Archive for January, 2009

The field has eyes,
the wood has ears;
I will look, be silent,
and listen.

- Hieronymus Bosch


The Rusty Blackbird Winter Hot Spot Blitz is coming up on February 7-15, 2009! The Rusty Blackbird is one of the fastest declining North American birds. This is another great birding event that you can participate in. 

Based on data from the North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) and the Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC), the bird has suffered an estimated loss of between 85 and 97% of its population over the past 40 years. In Virginia the Rusty Blackbird has been identified as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need. 

Despite the species’ critical status, our knowledge of many aspects of its distribution and ecology are rudimentary. Like the BBS and CBC, the Rusty Blackbird Winter Hot Spot Blitz aims to harness the power of the birding community to collect baseline information as a starting point for future monitoring and conservation activities.  For more information on the survey visit


For Lowes Island resident Debra MacLean, home making is not just what she does for herself and her family. She also provides for Loudoun’s bluebirds. “Before the kids, my husband and I used to go for day hikes nearly every weekend,” says the mother of three, “We loved the open spaces and enjoying nature, some of which included birding. I had always been interested in birding, but only as a novice.”

Deb has turned her curiosity into a full-fledged passion.“ Several years ago, I was home schooling my children,” she recalls, “and I saw an ad for volunteers for the Virginia Bluebird Society. I thought this would be a wonderful opportunity for my children to learn about volunteering, while also learning about birds.”

A monitor for four years, Deb is now the bluebird monitoring trail leader for Algonkian Regional Park in Sterling. She currently coordinates the efforts of three other bluebird monitors. “I’d love to have more volunteers,” she says. “We always need people to fill in the occasional gaps due to conflicting schedules.”

Before she became a stay-at-home mom and part-time virtual assistant, Deb was a marketing executive for a nonprofit organization. No stranger to volunteering, she also donates time to her children’s school, her church and other groups. “I’m a busy mother,” she says, “I find my time out monitoring is extremely relaxing, even when the kids are with me. Anyone who loves spending time outdoors and watching our local wildlife would find a lot of joy in monitoring the bluebirds.”

Because the bluebird trail at Algonkian is on the golf course, Deb can make her rounds with the aid of a golf cart. She takes along a waste receptacle and a notebook for observations. First, she taps lightly on the box to give the mother bird a chance to leave. Then, she unscrews the front cover. If the nest is old and abandoned, she disposes of it. She checks for predator activity. If there are eggs, she counts them and checks for progress in hatching. If there are fledglings, she also does a count and checks for overall health. Sometimes, a tree swallow or house wren is using the nest. She leaves these undisturbed.

As a dedicated parent herself, her affection for bluebirds grows every year.“Bluebirds are good parents,” she notes. “They will continue to feed their babies even after they’ve fledged.”

Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy works in conjunction with the Virginia Bluebird Society (VBS) to ensure quality results. VBS provides specially designed nest boxes and establishes the monitoring protocol. The data gathered by Deb and other monitors is turned over to VBS which makes it available to other state and national organizations.

“More boxes could be placed in parks throughout the county,” says Deb, “but to keep the program effective, nesting and breeding activity should be monitored by volunteers. I’d love to see more scouts getting involved with bluebird monitoring, maybe for merit badges or for Eagle Scout projects.”
Deb has been a “witness to the beauty of new life,” as well as attacks by predators. Once, she came upon a foraging snake. “Bluebirds are among the most beautiful creatures on Earth,” she insists, “but they are also incredibly vulnerable.”

To become a Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy bluebird monitor for a public trail, or to start your own trail at home, contact Elizabeth Evans at for more information and join us for our Bluebird Monitoring Program 2009 Kickoff on February 28.


dsc_8687This past Saturday, eleven people participated in the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy’s free monthly bird walk at the Blue Ridge Center and found 32 species in the fields and woods near the Visitor Center.  The highlights included a single AMERICAN TREE SPARROW, a very cooperative HERMIT THRUSH, and a couple of COMMON RAVENS. 
The other highlight of the walk occurred as Germaine Connolly was checking out the various leaf (squirrel) and stick (raptor or crow) nests and spotted a raccoon sleeping on top of one of the squirrel nests.  We put the scope on the raccoon and not only saw one of its ears but watched it breathing while it slept.  In spite of our loud conversations it never stirred.

While the trails at BRCES are normally open to the public 7 days a week from dawn to dusk there are controlled deer hunts there this time of year so check the BRCES website for the dates and times when parts of BRCES are closed.
Information on the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship can be found at   Information on the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy can be found at
Here’s our list of sightings (also posted to eBird): Canada Goose, Turkey Vulture, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Killdeer, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Pileated Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Common Raven, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, Eastern Bluebird, Hermit Thrush, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Cedar Waxwing, Yellow-rumped Warbler, American Tree Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Northern Cardinal, Eastern Meadowlark, House Sparrow


Here’s a television program you won’t want to miss. The synopsis at the end of this post is straight from Monarch Watch and I’ve checked the listings – its definitely going to be on in our area on Tuesday night.

monarch-oct-6-2007-8Monarch Butterflies are an amazing insect – and I’m sure you’ve all seen them here in the summertime. As fall approaches, the Monarchs leave our area and migrate on a journey of thousands of miles to a very small forested area in the mountains of Mexico, just outside of Mexico City, where they overwinter. They cover the Oyamel pine trees by the millions and rest here from November through March.

As March and April come, they mate and the females begin their journey back north to us here in Virginia as well as points even further northward into Canada. This migration has been recognized as one of the great nature phenomena of our world yet is has also been designated as an endangered phenomenon due to the habitat loss especially in Mexico in this small forest area, but also through the US where we have been wiping out the milkweed that Monarch caterpillars eat as they develop.

This February….just a few weeks away!….I’m heading to Mexico with my dad and my husband to see the Monarchs in their winter sanctuaries, at almost 10,000 ft above sea level. (as a comparison, Leesburg is about 340 ft above sea level). We’re not going with a tour, so we’ll no doubt have some interesting stories to tell. When I get back I’ll prepare a program to share the sights, the sounds and everything else I can think of. I also hope to launch some environmental education activities and habitat restoration efforts here in Loudoun so we can play our part in helping keep this magic cycle of life in motion.

In the mean time, I hope you’ll get a chance to watch this great NOVA program. Details are below:

On TV: The Incredible Journey of the Butterflies

From time to time the monarch migration and associated conservation issues are covered in the national media, via articles in newspapers, magazines, and short clips on TV news programs. Overall, the coverage of the monarch story has been spotty bits and pieces, and Americans have not been exposed to an in-depth treatment of the amazing monarch migration, nor the people and cultures that encounter monarchs on their yearly north and south passage across the continent. This is about to change. NOVA’s “The Incredible Journey of the Butterflies” will be aired on PBS at 8PM (check local listings) Tuesday, 27 January 2009. [If you have TiVo and are planning to record it, search under NOVA for the title]


One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.

- Shakespeare


Mark your calendars so you don’t miss this really cool event!

On Monday, February 2, 7:00pm – 10:00pm at the Tally Ho Theater in Leesburg, join Loudouners of all ages in enjoying selected short films covering an array of environmental issues. Films were selected for entertainment value as well as their focus on positive examples of sustainability in action. We’ve posted the full list of films that will be shown on our February calendar.

The films are appropriate for all ages and are great for families. Teachers (especially those focused on nature and environmental education) may want to consider this as an opportunity for students to learn about and then discuss environmental issues and solutions.

This is a free event, open to the public so please feel free to pass this notice on to friends and others who you think would be interested in attending.  Be sure to arrive a little early since capacity is limited to the size of the theater. The Film Fest flier can also be downloaded here. Many thanks to the Loudoun County Committee for a Sustainable Society for organizing the film fest!

Tally Ho is located at 19 West Market Street, in Leesburg.


Monday, January 19th, being the National Day of Service, offers an excellent opportunity to rediscover the natural beauty that makes Loudoun County such a special place to live.  From scenic and windswept hilltops of the Catoctin and Blue Ridge Mountains, to wild fields and floodplains that lead to the great Potomac River, Loudoun County has some wonderful wild places to explore. 

On this National Day of Service, visit one of the many parks, nature sanctuaries or preserves, which are free and open to the public. Consider bringing a friend who is unacquainted with land conservation efforts, and introduce them to the importance of conserved land and connecting with nature.

And if you enjoy getting outdoors and engaging in efforts to conserve our natural habitats, think about volunteering for Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy.  We have volunteer needs both on our programs and behind the scenes in preparing materials and activities.  Whether you have a few hours a week, or only a few hours a year, we have a volunteer job for you.  Sign up online and we’ll follow up with you.

To find wild Loudoun places near you, browse through our Great Places pages on our website. We have information about different locations, links to great publications on local parks and preserves and short slide shows to give you a preview.  Bundle up, get outside, bring your family and friends, and enjoy our natural treasures.


Nature lovers entering grades three through seven will not want to miss the Natural History Day Camps (tentatively June 22 – 26 and July 6 – 10) taking place at the Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve this summer.  Planning is under way for two fun-filled weeks in the outdoors sponsored by the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy, Piedmont Environmental Council, Loudoun County Parks and Recreation, and the Friends of Banshee Reeks.

This is a great camp filled with environmental education opportunities. Campers will explore the woods, fields and waters of the preserve and learn about the plants and animals that live there. The camps will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day.  The cost will be only $130 per week, and space is limited.  Banshee Reeks is located five miles south of Leesburg off of Route 15. 

For more information contact LWC’s Phil Daley at 540-338-6528 or


The cloud stood humbly in a corner of sky.
The morning crowned it with splendor.

- Rabindranath Tagore, “Stray Birds”