Archive for June, 2009

Many of you probably heard that Craig Tufts passed away on June 21st.  Craig was Chief Naturalist at the National Wildlife Federation and made a huge impact in teaching us about gardening for wildlife and the joys we receive from restoring our backyard habitats.

He wrote two excellent books, The Backyard Naturalist, and The National Wildlife Federation’s Guide to Gardening for Wildlife, which continue to be wonderful resources.

Craig was a resident of Middleburg, and a member of Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy. In the early years of our Butterfly Count, he led teams and participated in the count – helping to grow our base of butterfly enthusiasts. He also participated in our Christmas Bird Count, including this past December in spite of undergoing brain surgery earlier in the year as he fought the cancer.

Craig was a wonderful resource for Loudoun and such an inspiration to all of us. We are thankful for all he shared with us and will miss him but will continue to hear his voice as we dig in the dirt, restoring Loudoun’s wildlife habitats and continue in his footsteps of teaching others about living with and appreciating wildlife.

His obituary can be read in the Washington Post.


On Saturday, June 27, we had our monthly bird walk at the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship. Sponsored by the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy and led by Joe Coleman, 5 warbler species were found, along with 36 other species.  Highlights were 2 singing Cerulean Warblers, Worm-eating Warbler, Ovenbird, Louisiana Waterthrush, and several Common Yellowthroats.  The Wormie came in to scold us, making us wonder if its nest was nearby.  We heard several Wood Thrushes and Scarlet Tanagers, catching glimpses of both, and heard just one Yellow-billed Cuckoo.  A Black Vulture emerged from one of the abandoned houses in the old settlement, where it likely has its nest.

Following is the complete list of birds seen:
Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Red-shouldered Hawk, Mourning Dove, Yellow-billed Cuckoo – 1, Ruby-throated Hummingbird watching us from a telephone wire, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, No. Flicker, E. Wood-Pewee, Acadian Flycatcher – 4, E. Phoebe, Great Crested Flycatcher – 3, Red-eyed Vireo – 6, Blue Jay, Am. Crow, Tree Swallow, Car. Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, House Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher – 4, E. Bluebird, Wood Thrush – 6, Am. Robin, Eur. Starling, Cedar Waxwing – 5, Cerulean Warbler – 2, Worm-eating Warbler – 1, Ovenbird – 1, Louisiana Waterthrush – 1, Common Yellowthroat – 3, Scarlet Tanager – 3, Chipping Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Song Sparrow, No. Cardinal, Indigo Bunting, Com. Grackle, Am. Goldfinch


claude-moore-olive-hairstreak-jul-19-2008-111When going out butterfly watching, the key is to have binoculars that can give you good close focus.

Often when we go out on our butterfly walks, the individuals that we’re looking at are just a few feet away and while we may be able to identify them without using binoculars, when you do use them you can see so much amazing detail and color that the butterflies become that much more beautiful.

Some binoculars will focus as close as just 3 feet and this is excellent for butterflies but other excellent models will focus clearly to 5 or 6 feet and this works really well too.

In addition to looking at butterflies, close focus binoculars are great for looking at dragonflies and other insects as well as birds, wildflowers and mushrooms, among other things. There are so many incredible details in nature but we often don’t see because we aren’t focused in on them or are looking too quickly. Looking through binoculars can really help, both to slow us down and to give us the good views we need.


What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls the butterfly.

- Richard Bach


So I got home kind of late the other night (around 9pm) and as I turned into our street, I heard the loudest calls coming from our yard!

gray_tree_frog_1It was the Gray Tree Frogs that come to the little backyard pond we have set up.  Their chorus was amazing, drowning out all other night sounds by far.

As soon as I got in the house I grabbed my head lamp and camera and went back outside.

When the frogs are chorusing like this it’s incredibly easy to sit nearby and watch them (after you’ve figured out where they are). They are so intent on singing and defining territories and finding mates that even though I am only a few feet away from them they don’t seem concerned. (I also told them that I’m vegetarian and don’t eat frogs, so maybe that helps? ;) )

It’s sometimes hard to see the Gray Tree Frogs because they blend in to their surroundings pretty well. In many cases, they are actually in the brush around the pond rather than right in the water. When they move and splash a bit is when I try to hone in on their locations.

Something I noticed for the first time this night was that a number of the frogs were pairing up by the side of the pond rather than in the water where they would lay eggs. Upon inspection of the ponds this morning, I saw lots of egg masses. It will be fun to watch them hatch, grow and develop into froglets.

I’ve created a photo album on our Loudoun Wildlife Facebook page to share pictures from this big chorus night. It was really fun to go out and sit with them. At one point, as I was crouched next to the pond, getting “the shot”, I heard some splashing next to me.  There are Green Frogs in the pond right now too so I expected it to be one of them moving around but as I looked over, it was a raccoon washing it’s paws in the water. With all the frog commotion, it hadn’t noticed me, just as I hadn’t noticed it, and we both had looks of surprise when we spotted each other.

A fun wildlife night. I forgot to do a recording of the frogs that night but if they do it again in in the next day or so I’ll record them and post the audio file in the comments here or as a link off the facebook page.

In late July, I’ll be leading a night time field trip at the Blue Ridge Center to listen to and hopefully see Gray Tree Frogs. You can check our calendar for details. Space will be limited to just 15 participants and we can’t guarantee that the frogs will come out to play that night, but we sure hope they (and you) do.


binoculars_eye-reliefThe binocular makers have been working with this for ages so if you wear glasses but also want to use binoculars, not to worry. Many binoculars have either a rubber piece that folds up at the eye piece or the barrel of the eye piece rotates up, giving your eye distance from the glass of the eye piece itself.

The important piece of the puzzle to keep constant is the distance from your eyes to the eye pieces of the binoculars. So, when you select your binoculars, be sure to wear the same glasses that you would wear when you plan to use the binoculars. This will help you make sure that everything fits comfortably.

When checking the specs of the binoculars, check the “eye relief factor”. With wearing glasses, you want to have a long eye relief factor (e.g. 15-23 millimeters). If you have a short eye relief factor (e.g. a few millimeters), when wearing glasses, you will feel like you’re looking through a tunnel and this can give you eye strain and will reduce your field of view.


Flying_Squirrel_Dave_ThomasDave Thomas, who lives in Lansdowne, just sent over some great photos of a flying squirrel that has taken up residence in one of his bluebird nest boxes. 

Luckily, Dave was at the ready with his camera as this little friend came out of the box one day, and he got some amazing views of them. I’m not sure what it is about these guys, but boy are they cute!

For those who have been receiving our emails and such for awhile, this is the same bluebird nestbox that was featured on the cover of Loudoun Magazine with a beautiful bluebird flying out of it. The bluebirds are now using a different nestbox (and it’s quite likely due to this little fella (or little miss) moving in).

To share Dave’s photos with all of you, I’ve posted them to a photo album on our facebook page. As you look at the photos, be sure to notice the flaps of skin around its arms. This is what enables this little guy to “fly” (or really, to glide).

If you’d like to learn more about flying squirrels….their habits and habitats, I did a podcast on flying squirrels a little while back.

It also amazes me that we hardly ever see them yet they are all around us – numbering as many as the gray squirrels we have out and about during the daytime.


The earth laughs in flowers.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson


Bats-in-Philomont-June-2009I’ve received a number of emails over the past few weeks asking about the state of our Loudoun bats. The most recent email was today, with the title “Where are our bats?”.  We plan to do a write-up in the fall Habitat Herald on the issue but I also wanted to do a blog post now since many of us are noticing this lack of bats (or reduced numbers) and this is indeed such a grave situation.

You may have heard about the White Nose Syndrome (WNS) that was first identified about 2 years ago, up in New England. It effects bats while they are hibernating such that they wake from hibernation starving, go out in search of food, and die from the cold and lack of insects to feed on in the winter. This disease has already killed as many as 95% (yes, you read that right, 95%!) of the bats in New England and it is spreading fast. This spring, the disease was recorded in Virginia, and it continues to move through our bat populations.

Earlier this week, I received an email from Bat Conservation International, a non-profit that is spearheading the effort to raise funds for scientists to quickly study this disease and figure out a solution – before our bats become extinct. Yes, it is that serious.

I’ll paste in here an excerpt from their email:
“Millions of bats, including several endangered species, are at stake. More than a quarter of America’s 46 bat species could become endangered, and some of our currently most abundant and widespread species could face extinction. This is shaping up as the worst wildlife crisis of the past century.Unfortunately, government funding for research has thus far fallen woefully short of needs. Most of what has been spent has gone only for monitoring. There is a history of red tape delays that can take years. So far, BCI’s Emergency Response Fund has played a critical role in filling these gaps so key research can be initiated. Anything you can do to help further assist our Emergency Response Fund would be deeply appreciated.”

Locally, we have a fantastic organization called Bat World NoVaand Leslie Sturges is the wildlife rehabilitator who leads it. I definitely recommend reaching out to BCI and Bat World NoVa with questions (and donations) as appropriate.

Here are a couple of links and attachments that you can check out to learn more:
- Bats: A Historical Decline
- White Nose Syndrome Press Release
- Virginia Dept of Game and Inland Fisheries Report
- US Fish and Wildlife Service
- Science News (from Oct 2008)

If you have bats at your house or know where some reside, please be good stewards of their homes, give them privacy during the day and encourage others to be tolerant of them. This time of year they are raising their young in nurseries and in times like these when they are struggling to survive as a species, they can use any bit of compassion that they can get. Bats are amazing animals and I hope they survive into our future.

The photo here was taken by Laura Weidner at a house in Philomont last week. This wonderful little group of bats is huddled under the eave of a house, resting for the day. Bat nurseries will be active through the end of August and then the bats will migrate to their caves for winter….and we’ll see how they fare.


Just received this great note from Joe Coleman about Screechies in his neighborhood. We wanted to share:

Towards the end of April, Karen & I found Screech Owls using a cavity in a tree on my neighbor’s property – we couldn’t believe how narrow the hole to the cavity was but observed one fly in & out of it a couple of times and also call from it a couple of times.  And guess what kind of tree the cavity is in?  A Black Locust.
A few days ago we noticed a downy owlet cautiously sticking his head up in the very narrow cavity; two days ago we found two there – one at the entrance peering down at us (not so cautiously this time), the other, in the background, bobbing up & down to get a look at us over its sibling’s head.
Because I firmly believe that young birds are threatened by intrusive human behavior we’re being very cautious in our observation of this nest.  Screech Owls very conscientiously do not regurgitate their pellets at their nesting cavities so as to not attract predators (such as raccoons and larger owls).
And I can’t ever remember ever finding a Screech Owl using a cavity in any other tree than a black locust – I’m sure they do, but I’ve never seen one and have been fortunate enough to see Screech Owls in trees several times.  If I was to vote for a favorite wildlife habitat tree – it would be black locust!  The number of cavity-nesting birds that utilize it is very impressive.
Good atlasing! Joe