Archive for February, 2010

Bruce Lemmert, the state game warden for Loudoun County as well as past President of the Wildlife Society of VA, is a long-time member & strong supporter of LWC & Loudoun’s wildlife.

Through the years, he has helped us navigate issues such as construction situations in the presence of hawk and owl nesting and advised on issues around human/wildlife conflicts such as those with our winter vulture populations. 

He also put on two programs for Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy, helping to further share the knowledge of the great wildlife and habitats we have here in Loudoun. We truly thank him for all his effort and support (and now that he’ll have more free time….. ?) :)

He is now retiring after 21 years in his role and a celebration will be held in his honor. More information can be found in this flyer.


Just a quick reminder that we have this great program coming up on Sunday.

The Birds of Loudoun County― Sunday, February 28, 2:00 p.m. at the Purcellville Library. With Loudoun County’s wide variety of natural areas, including rich and large wet forests along the Potomac River, extensive farms and meadows, and large upland forests along the Blue Ridge that rise to more than 1,900 feet in elevation, bird life is abundant. 

Over 100 species of birds nest and raise their young here, and at least another 150 species migrate through each year.  Thousands of hawks and eagles migrate through every fall; ducks flock on the Potomac and Shenandoah in early winter and late spring; and warblers and other songbirds show up in May, sometimes for only a brief visit and sometimes to stay for a couple of months while they raise their young. 

Joe Coleman, president of the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy and avid naturalist and birder, will discuss and show slides of the birds of Loudoun County and identify the best spots to find them. Questions: contact Joe Coleman at 540-554-2542 or

For more details you can download our program flier.


Spring really will be here soon and as an indication of that – the Loudoun Soil and Water Conservation District is accepting orders for their annual tree seedling sale! They will also have rain barrels for sale (see below). You can find out more information about this and other initatives they have for spring on the Loudoun Soil and Water website but here’s the information on this particular sale in their own words:

The young, bare-rooted seedlings are well suited to Virginia soils and climate.  Tree species available this year include White Pine, Norway Spruce, White Dogwood, Redbud, River Birch, Sycamore, Shumard Oak, and Paw Paw. The shrub species this year are Indigobush and Silky Dogwood. The White Pine are $25 for a bundle of 50 seedlings and the Norway Spruce are $35 for a bundle of 50 seedlings.  The hardwood species, as well as the shrubs, are offered at $6 for 5 seedlings. Sales tax of 5.0% must be included.

Click on the link 2010-seedling-sale to download an order form  You can also call or stop by the office for an order form.   Pre-paid orders will be filled on a first come-first serve basis.  The deadline for pre-paid orders will be Friday, March 12th.   The pick-up date for the seedlings will be Friday, March 26, 2010 from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. at the LSWCD office on Catoctin Circle in Leesburg (the Wachovia Bank building).  We recommend that you plant the seedlings as soon as possible to minimize transplant stress. 

The District will also have pre-assembled rain barrels available for purchase on pick-up day at $65 each.  If you have any questions, please call the LSWCD office at 703/771-8395 (8:00 am – 5:00 pm).


So, when I thought about doing this monthly series on Monarch Butterflies and “where are they now”, I thought it’d be a lighthearted fun set of posts throughout the year, tracking them as they went from Mexico to the US and Canada and back again to Mexico.

Then, I embarked on that first post in January with the reports of the lowest number of overwintering butterflies recorded but ending the post with a ray of hope….scientists modeled that with 6 more weeks of good weather in Mexico and enough milkweed in spring in the US, the population could rebound.

Well, as February hit and we dig out from our snow storm here, I was flooded by emails on a weather event of a different type in Michoacan, Mexico:  Rains, cold temperatures, mudslides and even a snowfall hit this tiny mountain area.  The towns of Angangueo, Ocampo, Zitacuaro and others were destroyed, leaving a trail of people dead, entire towns of people homeless and the future of Monarch butterflies as we know it in question.

Before I go further to recount the February events, I want to reflect on the words of Emily Dickenson that “hope is a thing with feathers”. To take that further, hope is a thing with wings, indeed, the wings of Monarchs. In this relay of life that our Monarch Butterflies endure, the surviving butterflies will start their journey northward in the next few weeks and we (you and I) play a key role in helping restore their population. The future of monarch butterflies is in our hands and it lies in the seeds of a simple plant, one that you and I can protect and grow far and wide: the Milkweed.

In coming days, I’ll do a post just on Milkweed, but for now, let’s step back into February to understand what happened to the people and the butterflies of Michoacan:

February 4th was the first email I read and it started with this: “It has rained hard for 3 days and continues.  Angangueo’s river flooded all the way down to the Tuxpan river, and has done much damage in the area of the path of both rivers.  Also, a tornado went through the outskirts of Zitacuaro yesterday and destroyed some places we  know..…They have no electricity, which means also no water, no news….The hospitals have had to close.”

Then, Lincoln Brower sent this report:
“First killing winter storm for the 2009-2010 overwintering season.   I am just off the phone (4:30PM EST) with colleagues in Mexico 4 February 2010.   Pablo Span visited the Pelon colony when it was not raining on Tuesday 2 January and said there were more (presumably dead) monarch butterflies on the ground than he had ever before seen.   Pablo reports that the local Pelon guards told him that there are two colonies on Pelon, one called Carditos and the other La Costera.  According to our student, Raul Zubieta, there was a major winter storm occurring on the Sierra Chincua on Monday 1 February and that this likely has caused major mortality in all the colonies.

Second killer storm.  Pablo also told me that very severe weather is currently impacting the whole area.  At 6 AM on Wednesday 3 February heavy rain began falling and it is still raining at 5 PM on 4 February.  He measured the rain on 3 February at the hotel at 3.5 inches.  As of 740 PM 4 Feb, so far 15 inches of rain have fallen since Monday.  Two groups of tourists attempted to visit the butterflies at Rosario today (4 Feb). 

The first group succeeded, but the second did not because a bridge between Ocampo and Rosario washed out.  Pablo also said that the main highway bridge on Route 15 through Tuxpan washed out.  LPB tried calling Mitzi Mancilla in Tuxpan but could not get through.  Pablo also said that a colleague who lives near Crescencio Morales (located at the southern end of the Sierra Campanario – Rosario is at the northern end) reported serious flooding.  The ejido Crescencio Morales has been illegally and massively clear cut in the past 4 years.  It is likely that the erosion of the now barren former Oyamel forest area is extensive.  Another colleague in Angangueo reported frightening rain for 48 hours and still raining as of noon 4 Feb. and that a house fell down killing three children.  Little we can do…..”

While there was little to no coverage of this tragedy in our US news, there was some information gained through Mexican newspapers online and people posted videos to YouTube. Here is one of them: Angangueo Devastation

Reports show over 10,000 people impacted, 2,500 homes destroyed, hundreds injured and at least 37 killed. Dams broke, rivers overflowed, mountains deforested gave way to massive mudslides that buried homes and buildings below. The Mexican Army was deployed to help as they could. Through the rains, Monarchs clung to branches but were also pushed to the ground.

We hoped for weather above freezing so that they could survive. By February 7th, the sun was out, rubble was being cleared and Angangueo was officially evacuated. I reached my friend Mario, who guided us through the sanctuaries and took us to special places when we visited last February. He and his family were fine but had lost friends in mudslides and floods.

Information on the Monarch population has been sketchy both because roads to the sanctuaries have been out so few people have been able to get to the colonies to check and because the clusters of Monarchs have dispersed some with the storms. I’ve seen reports that maybe 10% of the butterflies have died, but there have also been hopeful reports that while there has been mortality, it’s not as bad as it could have been for the butterflies.

Here is an account from Journey North with Lincoln Brower on data that has come in so far, pretty much leaving us with the recognition that we’ll have to wait and see:

I’ll continue to follow this of course and will post again on our Monarchs in March. But in the meantime, start ordering those milkweed seeds!


No, I’m not talking about the pulls you get in sweaters or problems that crop up in your plans….no no, this is a snag of a different type…… A good kind of snag is a dead tree that’s been left standing.  I’m not sure where that term came from, but I first learned about snags when I took the National Wildlife Federation’s Habitat Steward class and picked up a flyer that simply said “There’s Life in Dead Trees.”

So what’s so great about a dead tree? Well nearly every aspect of that tree, as it goes through the different stages of decay, is used by someone for something. They’re a critical part of a healthy ecosystem. Here are just a few ways that wildlife use dead trees: 

Hollow cavities serve as homes for flying squirrels, raccoons, wood ducks and even grey tree frogs. And let’s not forget about Chimney Swifts – before we started “cleaning up” our neighborhoods and habitat, Chimney Swifts used huge old hollowed out trees for their roosts.  They only shifted to Chimneys when their natural tree homes ran out.

Woodpeckers are another big user of dead trees. They make holes more easily in them and create nesting sites that, after they’re done with them, are used by secondary cavity nesters like Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, Chickadees, Nuthatches and Tufted Titmice and Screech Owls.

Insects working to decompose the wood provide food for woodpeckers, brown creepers and other birds that forage for insects in bark.

Bats, like the Silver-haired bat, roost under loose bark to rest through the night.

Dead trees that have fallen to the ground are called “nurse logs” which help young seedling trees and other plants take hold as they start to grow.

According to a paper written by the National Wildlife Federation, “the removal of dead material from forests can mean a loss of habitat for up to one-fifth of the animals in the ecosystem.” So, we should let our dead trees stand.

I love the dead trees in our yard – they are an absolute magnet for wildlife, great and small. And it’s so much fun to keep an eye on what happens with them through the years. We have an old Sassafras tree in our backyard that died a few years ago. First, I saw tunneling around part of the base. Now I’m seeing all sorts of woodpecker holes. As cavities are made, I look forward to seeing more and more animals use them for nesting and refuge.


Birds link themselves to your memory of seasons and places,
so that a song, a glean of color,
set going a sequence of delightful reminisces in your mind.

- John Burroughs


Program on Lyme Disease – Friday Feb 26, 2010 at the Potomac Falls HS Auditorium. The program begins at 7pm but information booths open at 6pm

Dr. David Goodfriend, Director Loudoun County Health Department
Dr. Sarah Fletcher, Lyme Literate MD
Dr. Deanna Mitchell, DVM, Animal Medical Center of Cascades
Monte Skall, Executive Director National Capital Lyme & Tick-Borne Disease Association
Andrea McGimsey, Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, Potomac District

Guest speakers will present information about the prevention, dangers, symptoms, and effects of Lyme disease.  Portions of the film “Under Our Skin” will be shown.

There will be plenty of time for questions. If you have questions, please contact


Please forward this far and wide to anyone and everyone you know in Virginia and ask them to act today!  Share it! forward it! Make this action alert go viral – it’s that important! Please Email your Virginia State Senator and ask them to vote No on HB515

For those in Loudoun: Please Email Senators Herring ( and Vogel (

For those in other parts of Virginia look up your Senators’ info here: 

Our Virginia Senate is about to vote on a bill that will cripple what little wetlands protection we have here in Virginia. This will have a seriously negative impact on our Virginia wildlife and the health of our environment.

Please take one minute to send an email – Please make your voice be heard!

There is going to be a vote on HB 515, Wetlands and Stream Mitigation. The bill summary as passed by the house is as follows:

Prohibits localities from regulating the location of wetlands and stream mitigation projects that are subject to a Virginia Water Protection Permit or a Corps of Engineer § 404 permit. However, a locality may continue to determine the allowed uses within its zoning classifications.

This bill would remove a locality’s ability to require, encourage or incentivize that wetlands or stream mitigation occur within the jurisdiction that is being impacted. In doing so, this bill would also eliminate a county’s ability to enforce a “no net loss” policy for wetlands. Loudoun County has had such a policy in place since 2001, and it is important to note that Loudoun’s policy DOES NOT conflict with State or Federal guidance/regulations on the mitigation of wetlands.

This is a push by wetland engineers to force landowners to either use their services or the wetland banks they have created and haven’t been able to sell. In fact some rural land is so cheap some developers will see this as a chance to push development in Loudoun County (and other areas) and mitigate in jurisdictions far away where the land is much cheaper. The negative impact on our wildlife will be dramatic, especially on the amphibians and invertebrates that depend on smaller wetlands.

Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy is opposed to HB 515 because: 

1) Allowing a locality to regulate the location of mitigation protects a major community value, water quality, and provides for mitigation in such a way that both the watershed (broad) and local water quality impacts from development are reduced.

2) This bill would hamper a locality’s ability to meet water quality standards, such as reducing pollution in streams to meet Federal standards.

3) “No net loss” policies, such as the one Loudoun County has in place, do not conflict with higher level regulation (State and Federal). As long as this is the case, the Commonwealth should respect local authority to protect local priorities such as clean water.

4) Wetlands in locations like Loudoun County help minimize the pollution and sediment that reaches the Chesapeake Bay.

5) Wetlands, even small ones, are invaluable wildlife resources and important nurseries for a wide variety of animals. This is especially true for a number of amphibians and invertebrates that depend on smaller wetlands.

This legislation was proposed because some in the wetland mitigation business dislike county wetland policies or regulations, and they would prefer not to have to compete with other wetland banking operations. They also argue that limitations on mitigation unfairly increase the cost of development and mitigation activities.

Please contact our State Senators and ask them to oppose HB 515:
Jill Vogel at 804-698-7527 or
Mark Herring at 804-698-7533 or

Wetlands are paramount to healthy habitats and drinking water for humans and wildlife – and are critical to amphibian and other animal lifecycles. Wetlands are one of our most valuable habitats.


The spring reading selection has been selected!  Our next book is a collection of essays titled Gathering Moss by Robin Wall Kimmerer.  Yes, it is about mosses – and also the interconnectedness of all living things. 

You can learn more about our nature book club and sign up to be a part of it by visiting our Book Club page.
Although our reading group has increased to 25 participants, we have yet to gather much interest in attending meetings. Hopefully when the weather improves and the days are longer we will have more in attendance. 

Stay tuned for the date of the next meeting which will be scheduled for a date in April, location TBD. As soon as it’s been set, the information will be posted on the website. In the meantime, enjoy this great book!


But while the earth has slumbered,
all the air has been alive with feathery flakes descending.

- Henry David Thoreau