Archive for August, 2009

The Journey South has begun! On August 21, Monarch Watch and an organization called Journey North started getting reports of Monarch butterflies congregating in overnight roosts. This is a sign that the migration to Mexico has started!

monarch-caterpillar-on-milkweed2The Monarchs that we see now are the last generation of the season. They will fly over 2,000 miles to a very special mountain area in Angangueo, Mexico (just outside of Mexico City). They will rest there through the winter, hunkered down, holding onto the branches of a special pine tree called the Oyamel. They’ll make short flights to nearby mountain streams but otherwise will rest through the winter to conserve their energy for the great  journey back next spring.

A fun activity to do this time of year is to watch and report your Monarch sightings:

We also have a couple of programs coming up this fall to learn more about Monarch butterflies:

monarchs_flightThe first is a family program called The Mysteries of Monarch Migration. For this program, we’ll watch a great movie (45 minutes) on Monarch migration and talk about what Monarch butterflies need to thrive. While Monarchs are not an endangered species, their great migration is considered an endangered phenomena because of the habitat loss occurring here and in Mexico. Registration is requested (although not required) so we can have enough handouts and other materials for everyone.

The second is designed for kids, it’s our Journey South Workshop. We’ll see a short video and talk about the Monarch lifecycle and the great migration and then make some monarch butterflies that we’ll send (in a symbolic migration) to the children who live in Angangueo, Mexico. The children in Angangueo will care for our Monarchs through the winter and then send them back to us in the Spring when we’ll have a follow-up program. You can sign up for this program on our website. It’s free but we need to limit the size of the class.


And find that dark, too blooms and sings, and is traveled by dark feet, and dark wings.

- Wendell Berry


Blue-Gray-GnatcatcherJoe Coleman led our bird walk at the Blue Ridge Center on Saturday and sent over this report with the highlights:

Eleven birders found 45 species on the regular monthly (every 4th Sat.) bird walk at the Blue Ridge Center in northwestern Loudoun County yesterday morning.  While it was pretty damp and foggy when we started due to the high humidity & the 2″ of rain that had fallen in the previous 36 hours, the rain held off though the sun never came out. 

The species we found included a Cerulean Warbler which was associating with one of several flocks of very active Cedar Waxwings that were busy eating fruit and fly catching, a few Eastern Meadowlarks around the farm, and several young Common Yellowthroats.  We started off in the scrubby fields around the Visitor Center, took the Farmstead Loop to the Piney Run Spur, crossed Piney Run on the Little Turtle Trail bridge, and then forded Piney Run where the Old Bridge Trail crosses it for a total of about 2.5 miles.
It was a pleasant walk where our biggest problem was that many of the birds stayed high in the canopy and those of us with eye glasses kept having them fog up.  Because of the heavy cloud cover there weren’t nearly as many butterflies as the week before.  However, we did find a fascinating caterpillar with long white hairs right after we crossed the Old Bridge Trail ford.  It turns out it was an early instar of a Black-waved Flannel.  The Princeton Field Guide to “Caterpillars of Eastern North America” writes “although they appear soft and harmless, flannel moth larvae are among our most well-defended insects.  Beneath the soft outer hairs are warts fortified with hollow, poison-filled stinging spines” – glad we were careful while looking at this fascinating insect.
Information on the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship can be found at   Information on the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy and its many free public nature program can be found at

Here’s the full list of birds seen:

Green Heron, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Cooper’s Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Mourning Dove, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Chimney Swift, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Pileated Woodpecker, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Acadian Flycatcher, Eastern Phoebe, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue Jay, American Crow, Barn Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, House Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, European Starling, Cedar Waxwing, Cerulean Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Eastern Towhee, Chipping Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinalm Indigo Bunting, Eastern Meadowlark, House Finch, American Goldfinch, House Sparrow


“You’re going to count butterflies?” That’s the response many of us get when we tell the un-initiated how we’re going to spend our Saturday as the day of the great butterfly count approaches, and this year was no exception except that we had more people that ever jump in to help with this endeavor! In past years, our participants have numbered around 35 but this year, over seventy people of all ages came out to count! We were also fortunate to have eight leaders available this year so we could split up into more teams and truly cover our count circle.

butterfly_countersOur butterfly count was held on August 1stand we had a great day for it. Butterflies need the warmth of the sun to fly so having the temperatures in the 70s and 80s was perfect. Our eight teams had pre-determined meeting spots and participants met up at 9am. My team started at Ida Lee Park with the master gardener’s butterfly garden and then headed north along Route 15. Cliff Fairweather’s team started at Rust Sanctuary and then went along the W&OD trail as well as other points through Hamilton. Covering the center and north of our count circle was Mona Miller and her team as they started at Phillips Farm and then headed up to Lovettsville. Tom Raque and Eric Raun covered the Purcellville and Lincoln areas, doing justice to some great gardens, farms and parks through there. Jon Little led his team along Appalachian Trail Road and the Blackburn Center, while Bob Blakney and Larry Meade led two teams at the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship.

In all, our teams counted 4,899 individual butterflies and saw 46 different species. While we’ve had slightly higher diversity on a few of our counts, forty-six is pretty much on par. In terms of overall number of butterflies, this was the second highest in our thirteen years (in 2005 we had 5,042 individual butterflies). The higher number of individual butterflies this year may be due to having more participants spotting and identifying but we’ll have to watch this for future trends.

least_skipper_8_1_09The interesting thing about this year’s count had to do with the species that were low in number versus those that were high. Least Skippers, for instance, made a real showing. In past years we’ve averaged 20-30 individuals but this year we had 386! We had similar observations with Clouded Sulphurs (774 this year compared to 80-100 in past years), Orange Sulphurs (393 this year compared to approximately 60 in past years) and Silvery Checkerspots (227 compared to approximately 20 in past years). Monarch butterflies (193 spotted) as well as Eastern-tailed Blues (242) and Spring/Summer Azures (22), were consistent with past counts.  

Overall, the swallowtail and fritillary butterflies were low in numbers and outside of the Least Skipper, we didn’t see as many skippers in general this year. Red-Spotted Purples, while better than last year, were still low in number. Hairstreaks were also either very low or not present. In terms of rare sightings, Mona Miller’s team was lucky to find a Giant Swallowtail at Butterfly Hill Farm in Lovettsville. They are always an impressive butterfly to see.  

A big “Thank You” to our count leaders and all of our participants! We couldn’t have counted all these butterflies without you and hope you’ll join us again next August!

To learn more about our butterfly count, visit the Loudoun Butterfly Count on our website. You can also download the Butterfly Count Summary of Data to look at the trends over the years.


Are you seeing bats this year?  From my own accounts, I’ve seen a few flying here and there but  the numbers seem low. We’ve asked Leslie Sturges of Bat World NoVa to do the lead article on the state of our bats for the fall issue of the Habitat Herald, but action is needed so I wanted to share a few things with you:

On Wednesday, NPR had an interview on the current status of our bats – you can listen to it here:

Here’s the excerpt from the interview: Scientists are searching the forests of the Northeastern U.S. for bat colonies hit by a disease called white nose syndrome, but they are finding whole forests completely depopulated. Researchers now say the deadly outbreak is expected to reach as far away as Florida and the Midwest.

Your Action is Needed:

I received an email from Bat Conservation International talking about bills moving through Congress right now and the need for more funds so scientists can figure out the problem and come up with a solution.  I’ll include the text of that email here and really encourage you to send a quick note to your Representatives and forward this post to your friends and family to also take action:

White-nose Syndrome is the deadliest disease ever faced by North American bats, with mortality rates of 95 percent or more at some hibernation caves.  In just three years, it has killed a million bats in the northeastern United States and has now spread into nine states. Entire species are potentially at risk across the continent if solutions are not found soon. And Congress is doing little to help.

Please contact your Senator and Congressperson immediately and urge them to provide funds for WNS research before it is too late.

Last April, Bat Conservation International (BCI) asked you to write your elected officials to support WNS research, and you responded. Since then, BCI founder, Merlin Tuttle, and other leading bat scientists and conservationists testified in Congressional hearings about the ecological and economic importance of bats and the urgent need for research to stop the spread of this devastating disease. Unfortunately, Congress has disappointed us. The Appropriations committee has written a bill with very limited funding only to monitor White-nose Syndrome in specific geographic areas. The bill does not fund vital research into causes and solutions.  Simply monitoring the status of the disease and counting the number of dead bats will not solve this crisis.
That’s why we need your help.

Although the House has approved the bill, the Senate will not vote until early September.  We still have time to ask our Congressional representatives to amend the bill to include research funding. Attached is a sample letter you may want to cut and paste into an email to your representatives.

Individual Congressional email addresses can easily be found here:



With federal funding still uncertain, donations to the WNS Rapid Response Fund at urgently needed to support BCI’s efforts to combat WNS. As always, contributions in any amount are greatly appreciated.

Please write your representatives.

To listen to more NPR interviews pertaining to bats and White Nose Syndrome, visit their website or right click on the files below to open or download:

Scientists Say Bat Disease Likely to Spread
Bats Plagued by Mysterious ‘White Nose’ Disease
Deadly Disease to Bats Spreads in Northeast
Bat Killing Disease Spreads to More States
Experts Identify Fungus Suspected in Bat Die-Off


Butterflies are graceful, varied and enchanting, small but approachable.
Butterflies lead you to the sunny side of life.
And everyone deserves a little sunshine.

- Jeffrey Glassberg


Joe Coleman led our butterfly walk yesterday at the Blue Ridge Center and sent over this great write-up from the walk:

On Aug. 15, nine of us spent 3 hours searching for butterflies at the beautiful and diverse Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship (BRCES) in northwestern Loudoun County. BRCES ( is one of my favorite spots in the county because it includes a wide variety of habitats, including extensive wetlands, rich upland oak-hickory forests that climb up the side of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Appalachian Trail, and extensive natural meadows along the powerline. It is located in the Between the Hills Valley, only a couple of miles from Harpers Ferry and the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers.

BRCES-farm_loop_trailBRCES also includes large open fields where haying is rotated and Mountain View Farm, which is managed by Shawna DeWitt and Atilla Agoston. Atilla took some time away from farming to explain to us that all of their produce and flowers are grown without chemical fertilizers or pesticides; and that their livestock grazes in the pastures, drink spring water, are not fed antibiotics, and never receive hormones.

He explained why they plant a lot of flowers in rows next to and among their crops. The flowers attract pests away from their crops and some of the herbs attract a number of the small bees and wasps that parasitize the caterpillars that that would devour a tomato plant in 24 hours.

All of this results, as shown in our Annual Butterfly Count, in BRCES being is one of the richest spots in the county for finding butterflies. We spent almost two hours yesterday morning on the farm and around the Visitor Center. Phil Daley assisted with the walk and Ray Smith, one of the participants, shared his extensive knowledge of the natural world with us.

BRCES-Eastern-Tiger-Swallowtail-AugustAfter wrapping up at the farm we headed over to the Arnold Road trail, much of which is surrounded by heavy forest with a lush understory. While there were not nearly as many butterflies there, we did add several species that specialize in wooded habitats.

Between the two localities we found 22 species of butterflies, not a great day at BRCES, but certainly respectful. And if we had found the time to include the aptly named Butterfly Alley, the trail along the power cut, we would have surely added several more species.

We did find: Black Swallowtail Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Spicebush Swallowtail, Cabbage White, Clouded Sulphur, Orange Sulphur, Gray Hairstreak, Eastern-tailed Blue, Variegated Fritillary, Great Spangled Fritillary, Meadow Fritillary, Silvery Checkerspot, Pearl Crescent, Hackberry Emperor, Northern Pearly Eye, Monarch, Silver-spotted skipper, Least Skipper, Tawny-edged Skipper, Little Glassywing, Zabulon.

More information on Mountain View Farm at the Blue Ridge Center can be found here:


Here’s an excellent event for the whole family:

17th Annual Eastern Shore of Virginia Birding & Wildlife Festival
Sept. 17-20, 2009

eastern_shore_birding_festivalVirginia’s Eastern Shore will wow birders and nature lovers, artists, and photographers. The barrier islands seaside and the creeks and “necks” bayside are an essential part of the Fall migration for millions of neotropical songbirds, raptors such as eagles, hawks, and falcons – and for some species of butterflies and dragonflies, oh my!  These travelers may forage on the islands or necks en route, but then must converge on and pause near Kiptopeke at the southern tip of the peninsula to continue fueling up for crossing the Bay.  And that’s where the Festival activity is concentrated.  Tucked between the broad waters of the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, this patchwork of farms, forests, ponds, marshes, and creeks provides an incredible opportunity to experience these winged wonders in the most tranquil and lovely of settings. 

Come to the Festival and boat out to Cobb Bay and its marshes to see the shorebirds – oystercatchers, godwits, whimbrels – see the roosting royal terns on the inlet beaches of barrier islands — or take a boat tour on the Machipongo River, or a kayak tour on Onancock Creek. Celebrate one of nature’s most amazing spectacles, and one that is increasingly threatened – 11 of the 96 neotropical songbird species are in trouble, most others are in decline. A boat with an experienced guide is the only way to discover the Eastern Shore’s chain of remote, uninhabited (by man) seaside islands. Climb aboard and observe eagles and peregrine falcons soaring above this United Nations-designated International Biosphere Reserve.   Or watch songbird banding at Kiptopeke.   So many choices!

Please visit, for the program details and the registration and activities form, as capacities for some trips are quite limited!


On August 8th, four of us worked on the shrubs and trees that were planted along the tributary that flows into the Catoctin on the western edge of the Phillips Farm.  We were pleased to find the trees and shrubs that were planted on April 22 thriving. 

To keep them healthy we first hand weeded around the plants and then put mesh guards around them to keep the deer, rabbits, and rodents from gnawing on the stems and eating the leaves.  We managed to complete about half the trees and shrubs there but need to go back and finish the reminder there as well as work on the trees and shrubs that are near the village. That’s where we could use your help!

On Wednesday, August 19th, from 9:00 to noon we will complete this project if enough volunteers can come on out and lend a hand. 

We’ll meet at the mill and put mesh guards around the plants which are experiencing some deer, rodent, and rabbit damage and remove some of the aggressive invasive alien plants in the planting area.  We also plan to so some hand weeding around the trees and shrubs so if you have some favorite weeding tools please bring them and work gloves along.  A mallet to hammer the mesh strakes in would also be useful.  One group will finish the work along the tributary while the others will work on the trees and shrubs closer to the village.

We’ll also water the new plants with our new pump if it doesn’t rain between now and then.

Please come out and help if you can and leave when you need to. If you are planning to come, please let Joe Coleman know: 540-554-2542 or

Thanks for your help in making this restoration a success!


When you put your hand in a flowing stream,
you touch the last that has gone before
and the first of what is still to come.

- Leonardo Da Vinci