Archive for May, 2009

So you’re looking at different types of binoculars and run up against yet another factor to consider….lens coating. binoculars_objective_lens_endLens coating is the super thin layer of fluid that is applied to the glass by the maker of the binoculars.

This special coating reduces the amount of light inside the binoculars that bounces around so that the light goes directly to your eyes. Reducing the amount of light that bounces around makes what you see sharper and brighter, making it that much easier to see the fine details and beautiful colors of the wild creatures that you’re observing.

Many binoculars today will state that they are fully multi-coated (FMC) which means all surfaces of the glass used in the binocular are coated with one or more types of coating.


Spring unlocks the flowers to paint the laughing soul.

- Reginald Heber


Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Eleni just started on her first full week with us and we’re happy to have her on board for the summer. In this podcast you’ll get to hear in her own words a bit about why she wanted to take on this internship with Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy and what she looks forward to doing over the course of the summer.

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”).


birding_brces_5_23_09Twenty-six people participated in the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy’s free monthly bird walk at the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship (BRCES). The walk was led by Joe Coleman and Larry Meade who were great at pointing out birds and helping newer birders so we all got good looks.

As we walked through the meadows of the organic farm and through the forest along Arnold Road, we found 59 different species of birds and a nice variety of butterflies. It was a delightful day to be outside and the birding was great though the heavily-leafed out trees did make it difficult to find many of the extensively vocalizing birds. We had fun at one point trying to locate an Acadian Flycatcher (pictured below) that was calling no more than 20 feet in front of us, demonstrating its great camouflaging.

Our most interesting sighting occurred towards the end of the walk near noon when there were only about a dozen of us left. We came across a bird that sounded just like a GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER but looked just like a BLUE-WINGED WARBLER.  It was in an area, near the Visitor Center, where we also heard and saw two or three BLUE-WINGED WARBLERS. 

Other highlights were several vocalizing (& 1 seen) YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOOS, a HAIRY WOODPECKER, an EASTERN WOOD-PEWEE on a nest, nine warbler species including BLUE-WINGED, CERULEAN, KENTUCKY, and YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT, as well as several SCARLET TANAGERS and GRASSHOPPER SPARROWS.  As a testament to how quickly the spring migration happens, the only species we encountered that was clearly a migrant was the BLACKPOLL WARBLER, of which we saw three: two males and one female.

acadian_flycatcher_brcesFollowing is the full list of the birds heard and seen during our walk: Canada Goose, Great Blue Heron, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Red-shouldered Hawk, Mourning Dove, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Pileated Woodpecker, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Acadian Flycatcher, Eastern Phoebe, White-eyed Vireo, Yellow-throated Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue Jay, American Crow, Fish Crow, Tree Swallow, Barn Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, House Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher , Eastern Bluebird, Wood Thrush, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, European Starling, Cedar Waxwing, Blue-winged Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, American Redstart, Ovenbird, Louisiana Waterthrush, Kentucky Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow-breasted Chat. Scarlet Tanager, Eastern Towhee, Chipping Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal,  Indigo Bunting, Common Grackle, House Finch, American Goldfinch, House Sparrow


binoculars_earlyToday we take for granted that binoculars are a tool of choice when we go out into the field to investigate birds, butterflies, wildflowers or distant landscapes. But when did binoculars actually hit the scene?

Well it started in the 1600s when the first telescopes were invented. Then, people started putting two telescopes together to gain the advantages of binocular vision. In 1618, Galileo constructed a helmet with two telescopes attached and this very well could have been the start of it all.

The first true binoculars (i.e. not attached to a helmet and all) were more similar to opera glasses. Because of their design, however, the magnification was limited and they had very low field of view.

Eventually the prism was invented. And, while this advancement increased both field of view and magnification, it inverted the image…..nothing like trying to id an upside down bird! In 1854, Ignatio Porro came up with the idea of using multiple prisms and then in the 1890s, Carl Zeiss fine tuned the use of porro prisms which are still used today.

Also in the late 1800s (1870s actually), optical engineers were also experimenting with other types of prisms.  The roof prism was invented during this period. This design made for a tougher, more streamlined binocular.

Since the 1800s, there have been great advancements in glass quality and weight as well as lens coatings and other features that have enabled makers to make binoculars lighter. Outside of that though, the basic design has stayed pretty much true to its original form….minus the helmet.


We had our 15th annual meeting last Sunday and it was really a great event!  Over 100 of our members came out for it as we enjoyed some great food catered by Mama Lucci’s, chatted about nature sightings, and learned about Loudoun Owls.

People started arriving at 5pm and quickly filled up the parking areas at Rust Santuary. Helen VanRyzin and her annual_meeting1_5_2009daughter manned the check-in table as they handed out copies of our 2008 Annual Report and sold raffle tickets for some really wonderful donated artwork, books and other items.

One of the things we do at our annual meeting is honor three students who participated in the recent Loudoun Science Fair. While we had three winners, each of whom are presented with monetary award checks, only one, Emily Atchison, was available to attend the event. Emily had her science fair project set up on one of the tables in the main room and did a great job explaining her hypothesis and her findings. The title of her project was: Save the Wildlife: Bacteriological Remediation of Synthetic Pyrethroids.

Throughout the first hour or so, as we mingled and talked, Kent Knowles from The Raptor Conservancy of Virginia, and his assistant, brought out their owls to talk about the different species, answer questions, and give people a chance to see these beautiful birds close up.

Karen Stick, who is not only one of our LWC Board members but also an amazing flutist, played wonderful compositions from the stairway landing, giving us all a wonderful ambiance for this annual celebration.

As we finished up our dinner and put those final raffle tickets into the bags, Joe Coleman called the meeting to order. We gathered outside in chairs set up on the lawn. Joe began the meeting with a brief talk on the state of the organization, which continues to grow and develop. He presented the Audubon Naturalist Society with a check for $500 in thanks for the use of Rust Sanctuary and the continued partnership that we enjoy.

annual_meeting2_5_2009From here, he went on to talk about the importance of our volunteers and to describe the LWC Outstanding Volunteer of the Year Award.  This award is presented to one of our volunteers who has gone above and beyond in engaging in our programs and activities and really making a difference. Following a nice build-up, Joe announced this year’s recipient, Helen VanRyzin – and she was truly surprised. 

Helen has dedicated numerous hours to Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy.  In addition to being our Membership Committee Chair and conducting our annual membership appeals, Helen also organized our benefit concert last year, participates in our stream monitoring program, writes articles for the Habitat Herald, uses her technical skills to help improve our databases, organizes events like this Annual meeting, and consistently helps with manning the fair booth and mailing out our newsletter.  We thank Helen for all of her hard work and the great contributions she makes to LWC and our community.

To wrap up the business part of the meeting, Mike Friedman, our treasurer, gave a quick overview of the financial health of Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy and pointed people towards the annual report for more details. The event was then turned over to Kent Knowles who talked about The Raptor Conservancy of Virginia and the wildlife rehabilitation work that they do. One exciting point that he shared with us is that The Raptor Conservancy is looking to move from its current location in Falls Church, VA to a space where they can set up larger flight cages and have better facilities. While nothing is final yet, there is a proposal moving through that could make Banshee Reeks this new home for their work.

kent_knowles-with_barred_owl_by-sidney-lissnerAfter providing an overview of the work of the Raptor Conservancy, Kent gave us a wonderful introduction to the Owls of Loudoun by bringing out, one by one, six different species of owls.  All of the owls that he showed us are, of course, non-releasable due to injuries but instead serve as ambassadors for their kind in education settings such as this in order to teach people about owls.

Kent started out the program with the smallest of our owls, the Saw-whet. This owl is not a year-round resident in Loudoun but can sometimes be seen. He then moved on to showing us two screech kents_asst_with_screech_owl_by-sidney-lissnerowls – a gray-phase and a red-phase.  It was nice to see the two different colors at once. Next, he showed us and talked about a long-eared owl and then a barred owl. The barred owl acts as a foster mom to baby owls that are brought in to the Raptor Conservancy for rehabilitation and release. As with others in his care, she was hit by a car and is not releaseable but continues to have a rich life at the Raptor Conservancy.

We then met a barn owl, followed by a Great Horned Owl named Zeus. Kent was very careful with Zeus, keeping a watchful eye on him as he talked, since Great Horned Owls are very powerful. Kent’s assistant walked most of the owls around (not Zeus) so we could see them up close.

We wrapped up the program at about 7pm after a number of great questions about owls and lots of opportunities for great photos of these beautiful birds. Then, it was time for the raffle. Many thanks to Anita Colvard, Glen Cox, Helen VanRyzin, Rhonda Chocha, Debbie Burtaine and Dale Ball who donated their artwork, the books and cds and other fun items. We had well over 15 raffle items as well as some last minute door prizes of beautiful wildlife calendars and native plants that were also given away.

A great time was had by all – many thanks to all who came out for the event!  And thanks to Sidney Lissner for the owl photos shown here.


From the late 1880s through 1970, 3,000 citizen scientist birders were out and about bles-park-catbird-may-26-2008-5gathering data on migrating bird spring arrival and departure dates as well as collecting other field observations.  This is not too unlike the current Loudoun County Bird Atlas that we’re leading, except that we don’t quite have 3,000 volunteers (yet :) …we could use some more help!).

Anyway, over those 90 years, a huge amount of information was gathered. As the effort petterd out, the data was largely forgotten, with the notecards being stored in attics and basements. But what could all this data, a look back into our own not too distant past, tell us about species distributions, species abundance, migration periods, bird behavior, climate change?  Possibly, a lot.

Fast forward to this past February……the North American Bird Phenology Program was reinvigorated by the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. This program is an effort to input all of the data on these cards into an online data repository, using people from all over the world to digitize and enter the data!  You can help with this effort by checking out their website. As you check out their data from days gone by, you can also volunteer with one of our current LWC citizen science efforts here locally.  The data we gather is not only important today but can also be used by generations to come!


A hummingbird is a feathered prism, a living rainbow.
Darting out of a fairyland into your garden,
it captures the very sunlight for you and turns
it into a jewel on wings.

- Donald Culross Peattie, “A Cup of Sky”


Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

groundhog-babies-9-june-2-2006In this episode, we talk all about our local groundhogs – their life cycle, the burrows they dig, their hibernation and their raising of young.

Groundhogs play an important role in our environment. Their abandoned burrows serve as homes for other animals like raccoons, skunks, foxes and opossums; and their digging helps loosen up soils so water can be better absorbed into the earth. 

They also can help with weeding the garden as shown in this picture where our young groundhog is shown eating the dreaded Bindweed – good groundhog! 

Human conflicts with groundhogs often result from groundhogs getting into vegetable gardens. To help with that and other issues, here is a Groundhog Solutions tip sheet from the Fund for Animals that has a lot of great ideas.

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”).


Indeed, there are so many choices out there and the prices range from, under $100 to over $2000. And then, beyond price, the specs range from magnifications of 6x to 25x, and close focus ranges from 3 feet all to way to 20 feet. Then there are prism types and lens coatings to think about.  Its all enough to make you throw up your hands and just go for a nature walk….but it’s so much fun to go on that nature walk with a pair of binoculars…..

So, if you’re looking to buy a pair of binos….the big question is….what makes a good set silly_birders_april_2009of binoculars and how do you choose? I recently came across a couple of nice write-ups on this topic so over the next few weeks I’ll cover different aspects and features of binoculars and share what I learned. Today I’ll go over some of the broader features in selecting a pair for general nature adventures and birding. 

The first thing to decide upon is magnification.  Magnification for general nature observation and birding is best in the range of 7x to 10x.  8x is one of the more popular magnifications. Anything lower than 7x and you won’t have enough magnification to make using the binos very worthwhile and anything higher than 10x will be tough to keep steady when hand holding.

I’ll confess that until I was in my late 20s, I avoided using binoculars. I couldn’t understand why people used them. The pair my parents had were a high magnification and heavy and I could never focus on anything because my hands seemed to shake so much and my arms got tired from holding them. It baffled me as to why people went out with these…but then again, the pair at our house mostly sat in their case on a bookshelf. Conversely, the binoculars I had been given when I was younger was a pair of plastic kids binoculars and they wouldn’t focus either. I often wonder now….what if I had been exposed to a “good” set of binoculars when I was a kid…but that’s a post for another day….

After magnification, the next thing to think about is the lens coating. You should select binoculars that are fully multi-coated, meaning that all surfaces of the glass have been coated with the manufacturer’s special secret film. This will add sharpness and brightness to what you are looking at, making it that much better to see the fine details on bird feathers or wings of butterflies and dragonflies or petals on flowers.

binocular_nikon_monarch1The next thing to consider is the quality of the glass. Spend as much as you can afford to get the best glass possible. Ultimately, binoculars are all about the glass since that’s what will produce the image you see. Definitely try out the binoculars that you are considering by going outside of the store so you have real light conditions and try different brands and models side by side to check for sharpness.

The binoculars also need to feel good in your hands and one size does not fit all. Some binoculars are better for larger hands, while others are better for smaller hands. You’ll also want to get a good feel for the focusing ring and how fast it turns.  Some models require many rotations of the focusing knob whereas others focus with fewer rotations. This is a personal preference so you need to try them out.

Another important feature is having binoculars that are waterproof and fog proof. I’ve had the experience myself where we’ve gone out birding and it’s started to drizzle. The birds don’t care, they’re still flitting around, and I don’t care because its a nice warm summer drizzle…but then that yellow-breasted chat finally pops up out of the scrub after chatting and calling at us. We all take in that deep breath of anticipation and the binos go up and then….deflation….nothing but fog on the lens and the bird goes back into the scrub….its such a bummer. This doesn’t happen a lot but it is disappointing when it does.

Other things to consider when selecting binos are good close focus (e.g. less than 6 ft or so is terrific), good eye relief if you wear glasses and general durability of the binoculars. Take a look at the warranty that the manufacturer.  This will give an indication of durability as well as the degree to which the manufacturer stands behind the product.

So, in this economy there may not be a lot of people out buying binoculars but if you are, I hope this helps.