Archive for March, 2009

In this issue, we have a spotlight on Bles Park, a great place for nature walks and other nature adventures in the hh-spring-09-1Ashburn area.  I love going there in the summer to photograph birds and butterflies as well as to listen to the chorus of cricket frogs. Its a splendid refuge for some peace and quiet with nice fresh air and the gentle trickle of the river passing by.  In this article, Bonnie Eaton talks about other hidden treasures at this great place.

Also in this issue, we have the continued adventures of Zoom and Compass as they discover worms. There’s also an interesting article on the Mourning Cloak butterfly, and a story of the lifecycle of bumblebees and their humble bumble homes (which you can build as a neat project). You can also learn about Lichens….part fungi, part algae or cyanobacteria…..oh this crazy world!

And, as always, our programs from now through July are listed along with programs offered by organizations with which we partner.

This latest edition of the Habitat Herald will be going out to our members in the next week. If you’re not yet a member, we could really use your support! You can join online. Your membership will run through December 2009!  ($20 for an individual, $30 for a family) and, it is tax deductible as allowed by the law. 

If you join soon we can get this latest issue of the Habitat Herald out to you in our next mailing – if you join after we have our mailing party then you’ll receive a copy of this issue in your New Member Information packet. The Habitat Herald is a member benefit and is published each quarter.


Mary Ann Good and Laura Weidner led our bird walk this morning.  Here’s their report brown-thrasher-apr-1-2007-2of cool birds and other sightings:

Seven people enjoyed birding the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship, but due to the occasional misting rain, found ourselves looking down as much as up.  We managed to find 35 species of birds, including our first spring Louisiana Waterthrush singing loudly, Brown Creeper, and Fox Sparrow.  Just as fascinating on a non-birdy morning were the many egg masses of Spotted Salamander and Wood Frog, pointed out by biologist extraordinaire Liam McGranaghan, as well as an unusual variety of fungi helped along by the rains, including tiny Bird’s Nest, Witch’s Butter, and large numbers of a most interesting one most of us had never seen before: Lattice Puffball.  We also spotted a Raccoon curled up in a tree hole keeping warm and dry.

The list of birds follows:
Canada Goose, Turkey Vulture, Mallard, Mourning Dove, Belted Kingfisher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker – 2, No. Flicker, Pileated Woodpecker, E. Phoebe – 5, Blue Jay, Am. Crow, Fish Crow, Tree Swallow, C. Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Carolina Wren, E. Bluebird, Am. Robin, No. Mockingbird, E. Starling, Louisiana Waterthrush, Field Sparrow, Fox Sparrow – 2, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, No. Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Brown-headed Cowbird, Am. Goldfinch, House Sparrow


earth_hourYou may have heard about “Earth Hour” – it was started in 2007 by the World Wildlife Fund and indeed is a pretty cool idea:   Basically, it’s a chance for all of us, globally, to make a statement about our concern for our planet.

On Saturday, March 28 (tomorrow), at 8:30 pm…..turn out all your lights for an hour.  I like to take it a step further and say….Turn out all your lights and then go outside for a nature walk!  Grab the kids, grab some friends, and go outside. Your eyes will adjust pretty quickly to the night and your ears will be attuned to night sounds like the rustling of leaves and calls of owls in the distance. That time of night can be pretty amazing as daytime birds are settling down and night time animals are starting to wander about, stars are making their appearance and so on. 

From a satellite, the impact of our turning out our lights can be seen and that’s pretty cool but also, this year you can go to the Earth Hour website and ”cast your vote” to  demonstrate that you’ve taken action. The organizers are hoping to have 1 Billion people participate in Earth Hour and register it on their website.

One Planet, One Future.


We have a really special treat this Sunday – Stan Shetler is doing another one of his great programs at the Ashburn Library to talk about Spring Birds and Wildflowers!  As we jump into the early days of spring and start to see warblers and other migrants come through, so too will the wildflowers be emerging, and these two groups of such different species will begin their dance of life. Come out and learn about this interwoven world!

Many of you know Stan from the wildflower and bird walks as well as programs that he has done for us in the past and know what a great presenter he is. Stan is a long time resident of Loudoun and has an incredible wealth of knowledge, not only from his scientific background but also from watching and observing the nuances of the changing seasons and the species that live here.  He has seen the changes in Loudoun over the years and often includes some fascinating photos of habitats in Loudoun that many of us newcomers never got a chance to see.

This is a free event and refreshments will be served. Please feel free to forward this to friends, family, neighbors who may be interested in coming out for this as we celebrate our leap into Spring!  Details are below:

SPRING BIRDS AND WILDFLOWERS, THEIR INTERWOVEN WORLD ― Sunday, March 29, 2:00 p.m. at the Ashburn Library.  Spring wildflowers are at their peak as spring bird migration is beginning.  Well-know local naturalist, Stan Shetler, Curator of Botany Emeritus at the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History and past president of the Audubon Naturalist Society, will introduce us to this fascinating and beautiful world and describe the fascinating relationship between spring wildflowers and birds.  Join us at 2:00 p.m. at the Ashburn Library, 43316 Hay Road, to meet the speaker and have refreshments.  This free program is sponsored by the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy.  Questions: contact Laura Weidner at 540-229-2816 or


The investigation of nature is an infinite pleasure-ground where all may graze.

- T.H.Huxley, 1871


gardening_for_wildlife_planWe have a great publication called the Gardening for Wildlife Plant List that’s really useful.  It’s filled with plants that are native to our area, talks about their benefits to wildlife and has a snapshot of information about each of the plants such as their planting requirements and special attributes.

Gardening for wildlife can be quite rewarding as you restore your backyard habitat to not only meet the needs of birds, mammals, butterflies, turtles and others but also make it beautiful to look at and enjoy. If you have children, its also a wonderful way to teach them about native plants and our whole interconnected web of life.

You can download our Gardening for Wildlife Plant List as a pdf document or you can search it online for specific wildlife and the types of plants they like.

You can also pick up a hard copy at our fair booth – we try to set up our tent at all the Loudoun fairs.


For those who have heard me talk about “Big Night” – Thursday night (March 19) is likely to be one. The temperatures will be perfect (around 50 degrees) and it’s supposed to rain.

woodfrogmigration-3_16_09“Big Nights” are the very special rainy nights in spring when amphibians (frogs, toads, salamanders) by the hundreds and thousands across our county migrate from the upland forests where they spend the majority of their lives to the wetlands (vernal pools, flooded fields, ponds, swamps) where they breed. 

Different species make these migrations at different times during the spring and summer.  Our Wood Frogs and Jefferson salamanders had a “Big Night” on Monday night when we had that slow but drenching rain. Tonight, on my way home from work, I saw numerous American Toads crossing the roads through Waterford and Spring Peepers are heading to their breeding pools too. This Thursday, I expect we will see a huge number of American Toads and Spring Peepers headed to pools as well as Wood Frogs and various salamanders leaving the pools.

Amphibians need the rains to migrate so that their skin doesn’t dry out and similarly that’s also why night time is their choice time of the day for movement. If you have any interest in Amphibians, I urge you to go out in the rain on Thursday night near areas where you hear the spring peepers.  Identify forest areas vs. wetland areas and see if you can find these migration corridors.  Often, the migration corridors are transected by roads and the frogs, toads and salamanders risk their lives to cross them – and they have to do so twice a year…once to get to their breeding ponds and once to return to their forest homes.

While you’re driving, listen with the windows cracked a bit for the call of the spring peepers, but also watch the roads. What you think are leaves rustling or laying on the pavement could very likely be a frog or toad trying to cross.

If you see a place where road crossing migrations are happening please identify it by the cross streets and let me know ( If the road is not busy and you can safely pull over, you can also help these little friends cross – just pick them up and carry them across the road to safety. You can learn more about our Loudoun Amphibian Monitoring Program and the Migration Mapping/Road Crossing Assists on our website.

Our LAMP Kickoff for this Saturday is currently full but if there is enough interest, I will plan a second session. Just send me an email and let me know that you’d be interested in participating in the second session.

Hope you all enjoy the Big Night and Loudoun’s wild nature!



At night, I went out into the dark and saw a glimmering star
and heard a frog and nature seemed to say, ‘Well do these suffice?’

- Ralph Waldo Emerson


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spi_3_15_2009For this episode of our podcast, we are joined by Mike Hayslett, expert herpetologist and vernal pools specialist. For the past 11 years, Mike has been joining Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy in an exploration of our spring wetlands and their inhabitants and has helped us learn about the really special wild places that Loudoun has to offer.

We’ve just completed a week long set of nature classes and workshops with Mike that took us from Ashburn to Leesburg to the Lost Corner of Lucketts and out to the Blue Ridge and in this interview Mike talks a bit about these interesting spots in nature. In the photo shown here, Mike and one of the participants of our Spring Pools Institute prepare to measure the length of one of the larger vernal pools we found in Ashburn.

If you’ve heard a lot of frogs calling in an area, or especially if you’ve come across a neat seasonal pool, please contact me, Nicole Hamilton, at and we’ll see about checking it out. These pools can be large, like the one shown above, or as small as just a few feet in diameter.

For those interested in helping us identify and explore these great wetlands around Loudoun, you can contact me or check out our Loudoun Amphibian Monitoring Program. Large or small, we’re interested in finding more of these interesting wetlands across Loudoun and seeing which species are using them, and we could really use more volunteers around Loudoun helping with that. This is another great way to explore nature in Loudoun.

To listen to this episode, click the play button at the top of this post and it will play now or Right Click Here to Download (select “Save as Target”).


On this past Saturday’s regular monthly Banshee Reeks walk, co-sponsored by the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy and the Friends of Banshee Reeks, and co-led by the Potomac Valley Audubon Society (PVAS), sixteen people found 45 species of birds. 

Notes: The highlight of the walk was finding a WOODCOCK in one of Banshee’s many hedgerows; someone heard fox-sparrow-nov-6-2006-12scurrying in the undergrowth & the next thing we knew we were watching a Woodcock first running away from us and then flying away.  Also nice were the numerous FOX SPARROWS (12), several of whom were singing. 

Previously, when we found this many FOX SPARROWS at Banshee we also found several BROWN CREEPERS and were surprised to find only two during this walk.  The large number of EASTERN TOWHEES (10), several of which were perched plainly in sight and singing away, was also nice.
The highlights at the Dulles Greenway Wetlands Mitigation Project were a BALD EAGLE on the nest (4th year in a row), the PIED-BILLED GREBES and WILSON’S SNIPE, the wide variety of waterfowl, and a COMMON RAVEN.

Location:     Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve
Observation date:     3/14/09
Number of species:     45

Canada Goose. Wood Duck, Mallard, Common Merganser, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, American Woodcock, Ring-billed Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Belted Kingfisher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Pileated Woodpecker, Eastern Phoebe, Blue Jay, American Crow, Fish Crow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Carolina Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Eastern Towhee, Fox Sparrow, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, House Finch, House Sparrow.

Location:     Dulles Greenway Wetlands Mitigation Project
Observation date:     3/14/09
Notes:     A couple of us checked out the Wetlands from the road before the Banshee Reeks walk and about six people did the same after the walk and Mary Ann Good actually went on the Wetlands to survey it and saw a lot more than the rest of were able to observe from the road. Number of species:     20

Canada Goose, Wood Duck, Gadwall, Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser, Pied-billed Grebe, Bald Eagle, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, American Coot, Killdeer, Wilson’s Snipe, Belted Kingfisher, Common Raven, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Red-winged Blackbird.

Included here is a photo of a Fox Sparrow taken in Waterford.