Archive for March, 2010

Give me a wildness whose glance no civilization can endure.

- Henry David Thoreau


Here’s a wonderful slide show from Journey North that talks about how the Ruby-throated hummingbird makes that huge trip across the Gulf of Mexico each year – just amazing!

As mentioned in an earlier post, our hummers have already made this big push northward – just keep your eyes peeled for them :)


The migration of the Monarch butterflies is underway!

As you know from reading the January and February report, the number of Monarch butterflies that made it to Mexico last fall was the lowest since data has been recorded in the 1970s. Then, with the storms that came through Angangueo, at least half of that tiny population was killed.

CBS News put together a nice story and set of videos on Monarch Butterflies this year:

USA Today also did a story on the Monarchs that was well done:

Now here we are as their cycle of life continues and the adults that survived are coming back north. This migrating generation, the same butterflies that left our yards seven months ago and flew 2,000 miles to the mountains outside of Mexico City, has mated and started their return flight north.

The females will lay eggs on milkweed plants as they fly north for as far as they can (generally no further than the latitude of 40N) until their little bodies finally expire by the end of April. As their young hatches, gobbles up milkweed and transforms from caterpillar to butterfly, they will continue the relay by flying further northward.

So where are they now? Well here’s a quick listing of reports I saw through March on the Monarch Watch listserv. You can also see the reports on the map to the left from Journey North (current as of this week).

The circles are sightings of migrating butterflies. The triangles represent locations where monarchs were seen over the winter, with the most significant being that one little triangle in Mexico:

March 6: sightings in the Lower Rio Grande
March 10: San Antonio, TX
March 12: Port Lavaca, TX (where milkweed plants were already healthy sprouts with some about 8″ high)
March 17: Eagles Pass, TX
March 22: Deridder, LA
March 24: Corpus Christie, TX

Planting milkweed now here in Virginia will provide the Monarchs with what they need when they get here by late May. Ask your local nursery to stock Swamp Milkweed and Butterfly Weed.


Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy is leading three great habitat restoration projects this spring at different locations in the county.  If you’d like to pitch in, just contact the leads listed below.

Audubon Naturalist Society’s Rust Nature Sanctuary
The Rust Nature Sanctuary, on the western edge of Leesburg, has a mix of different habitats on 68 acres that is home to numerous wildlife species.  On Friday and Saturday, April 9 and 10, from 9 am to noon, Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy habitat restoration volunteers will help the sanctuary remove some of the invasive and aggressive plants at boththe pond and around the pollinator garden and replace them with native plants.  If you are interested in helping please contact Ann Garvey at or 540-882-4405.

Waterford’s Phillips Farm
In the past two years, hundreds of volunteers from Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy and the Waterford Foundation have planted a thousand trees and shrubs along the South Fork Catoctin Creek on the Phillips Farm and removed a tremendous quantity of non-native, invasive plants.  To celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day, on April 22, from 3 to 6 pm, we will plant more trees and shrubs on the Phillips Farm and continue removing and controlling the invasive alien plants along the Catoctin.  If you’re interested in helping with this project please contact Joe Coleman at or 540-554-2542.

Leesburg’s Town Branch Riparian Buffer
Last June, Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy helped the Leesburg Environmental Advisory Committee/Watershed Committee and the Piedmont Environmental Council plant 350 trees, shrubs, and native perennial plants along Town Branch.  We did this to create a riparian buffer, the single most effective way to protect water quality along the stream.  On Saturday, April 24, from 9 am to noon, the plants that did not survive last year will be replaced and some additional areas will be planted.  If you are interested in helping please contact Joe Coleman at or 540-554-2542.

Questions about any of the above? Contact Joe Coleman at or 540-554-2542

You can also find out more about our Habitat Restoration projects as well as download gardening and other nature information for restoring wildlife habitat at home on our website


I’ll be posting this to our programs and field trips page shortly but wanted to get the information out to you quickly since this is a new event. Bird Atlasing is a great activity – people who have jumped into it have reported a new awareness for birds and their behaviors and have really enjoyed being part of this county-wide citizen science project.

Bird Atlas Training Session — Wednesday, April 7, 7:00 p.m. – 8:30 pm.We encourage anyone interested in volunteering with the Loudoun County Bird Atlas to attend a training session. The training will provide an opportunity to meet other atlasers and become familiar with atlasing and entering your data. A printed copy of the atlas handbook, block map, field card, and other information will be provided. The location for this training session is the Purcellville Library. Questions or to register: Sign Up On-line or contact the Atlas Coordinator, Spring Ligi, at

You can also learn more about our Bird Atlas project by listening to our nature podcast episode #9or visit the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy website.


This past Saturday, we held two different bird walks at the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship (BRCES) in northwestern Loudoun Co, near Harper’s Ferry. One, the regular monthly walk took the Farmstead Loop and the other was the field trip for an Identifying Birds class and stayed in the vicinity of the Visitor Center.
With the temperature only 26 degrees when we began things started slowly and there wasn’t anywhere near as much bird song as there had been previously.  Nonetheless, both groups enjoyed numerous TREES SWALLOWS, two of whom were already claiming one of the Eastern Bluebird boxes, a very vocal EASTERN TOWHEE, and lots of singing FIELD SPARROWS (there seemed to be on a perch almost every 100′ in the different fields). We also enjoyed two Red-shouldered Hawks doing a courtship display and think we found a COOPER’S HAWK nest along with two Coops hunting close-by.  The group on the Farmstead Loop also found a BROWN CREEPER, two CHIPPING SPARROWS, and an orange variant HOUSE FINCH.
Information on the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship can be found at   Information on the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy and its many free public activities can be found at
Joe Coleman, near Bluemont, Loudoun Co
Location:     Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship – MFF01
Observation date:     3/27/10
Notes:     We broke into two dif. groups this morning.
Number of species:     41

Canada Goose, Great Blue Heron 4, Black Vulture 1, Turkey Vulture 6, Osprey 1, Bald Eagle 2, Sharp-shinned Hawk 1, Cooper’s Hawk 2, Red-shouldered Hawk 2, Mourning Dove 2, Red-bellied Woodpecker 5, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 1, Downy Woodpecker 9, Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted) 1, Pileated Woodpecker 2, Eastern Phoebe 2, Blue Jay, American Crow, Fish Crow, Tree Swallow 12, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper 1, Carolina Wren, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle) 1, Eastern Towhee 1, Chipping Sparrow 2, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored), Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Brown-headed Cowbird, House Finch, American Goldfinch, House Sparrow


Ruby-throated hummingbirds are the hummingbirds we see here in Loudoun county from spring through fall. But where are they through the winter? Well these little guys make an amazing journey all the way down our coast and then across the Gulf of Mexico, flying over 600 miles in a single flight, to reach Costa Rica and other Central American countries.

With winter behind us and Springtime gearing up here, our tiny flying friends are now making their return trip and we should start to see the first arrivals any day! 

Reports of sightings of Ruby-throated hummingbirds in various Gulf Coast states started back on March 10th, indicating that many had already made that big flight back across the Gulf of Mexico. 

By March 17th, reports showed that our hummingbirds had reached South Carolina, along with accounts of warblers flying northward along the same migration flyways.

Looking at the Journey North website today, there have been a couple of sightings in Virginia and a little north of us. So — it’s time to start dusting off those hummingbird feeders and filling them up!  Remember, the solution is 1 cup water to 1/4 cup white granulated sugar. You can use really hot tap water to dissolve the sugar rather than boiling water and all that – it’s quick and easy. Boiling the water, though will help slow the spoiling of the nectar.

The males will arrive first and establish territories but will be closely followed by the females. We typically see hummingbird activity increase around April 15th as more and more of these little bundles of energy push northward into our area and points north. During the slow time, remember to clean and refill your feeder once a week so the sugar water doesn’t sour and mold.

In coming days, I’ll post more information about the Ruby-throated hummingbird but I thought it’d be fun to start this year off with a great activity – for kids and adults alike – and that’s to put together a Hummingbird Journal. You can use this journal to track their migration through watching data come in from fellow citizen scientists south of us on the Journey Northwebsite, record weather conditions and see how that effects their pace. and watch for signs of the seasons where this great interrelated web of life comes together (flowers with nectar, sap running, small insects emerging and so on).

New updates on the great migration are posted every Wednesday by Journey North and as soon as you start seeing them here in Loudoun, you can enter your hummingbird sightings as well.


Let’s do our part here in Loudoun to Bring Back the Monarchs!

I’ll be doing my monthly blog post on the state of the Monarch Butterfly population shortly but this is pretty urgent so I wanted to share the report below with you from Monarch Watch and ask that you jump on in and plant some milkweed as well as nectar plants in your garden this spring! You can also certify your garden as a Monarch Waystation though Monarch Watch and be recognized as being a part of this important effort! 

You can purchase milkweed seeds through online companies like Prairie Nursery (that’s where we buy our seeds for the waystation kits we put together) and you can also ask local nurseries to order and stock milkweed plants. Prairie Moon, another company that sells plants/seeds, is also having a sale right now on some of their Butterfly Weed milkweed plants.

Milkweed plants that are great for our local area include: Swamp Milkweed, Common Milkweed, Butterflyweed

Nectar plants that you should also plant as part of your waystation include: Ironweed, Sweet Joe Pye Weed, Purple Coneflower, Blackeyed Susan, Goldenrod, New England Aster

Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy will have Monarch Waystation seed kits at our fair booth at the Leesburg Garden Festival, Earthday@Loudoun, Arbor Day and other events in April. Check our programs calendar for details. I’m also doing a program on Monarch butterflies in June in the Ashburn area and it’s free and open to the public – Waystation kits will also be available at the program.

The number of Monarchs this year was already low before the devastating weather events set in. With only half of the remaining population still alive, our monarch waystations are more critical than ever in helping bring back the monarch!

The rest of this blog post provides the report from Monarch Watch:

Storms in Mexico
There has been a disaster of extraordinary proportions in the heart of the monarch overwintering area. Unprecedented rainfall from 31 January – 4 February led to flooding and landslides that resulted in the loss of many lives and the near destruction of the towns of Angangueo and Ocampo, the two municipalities that serve as hubs for those visiting the monarch colonies at Sierra Chincua and El Rosario.

The community of El Rosario was also hit hard with a major landslide that buried more than a dozen residents and destroyed bridges and homes. The consequences of this disaster will be felt for years by some and for a lifetime by others. Angangueo will never be the same – the one we remember before the flooding is gone.

The monarch colonies were also strongly impacted by the rainfall but the monarch population will recover – how long this recovery will take is a question that can’t be answered at this time.

We have posted a series of articles about the storms in Mexico, the status of the monarch population, etc. via our blog:

A few quick facts:
1) An unprecedented amount of rainfall in eastern Michoacan in the first four days of February led to landslides and massive flooding in Angangueo and the surrounding area. About 50 people lost their lives in landslides and Angangueo was severely damaged. The story of the storm and the aftermath are extensively chronicled on our Blog.

2) A series of storms in January and February have taken a toll on the monarch population. The final estimate on the mortality suffered by the monarchs is not yet in but it is clear that over 50% of the overwintering population died as a result the harsh winter conditions.

3) Because of the severe mortality at the overwintering colonies, the number of monarchs returning to the breeding areas this spring will be fewer than at anytime since the colonies became known to science in 1975. These numbers are so low that they are certain to impact the number of monarchs that return to Mexico next fall.

Bring Back the Monarch Campaign
In response to mortality suffered by the monarchs in Mexico we will be launching a “Bring Back the Monarch”campaign by encouraging a nationwide expansion of the Monarch Waystation Program and the planting of milkweed on private and public lands. This effort will be supported in part by the Monarch Joint Venture, a new nationwide program whose mission is to foster monarch conservation. We will post more information about these efforts in the coming months, in the meantime you can learn more about our Monarch Waystation conservation initiative at


Earth Hour is an annual event (although you can certainly do your own earth hour at any time during the year) where we turn off all our lights and other electronic devices for sixty minutes as a show of our concern over climate change.

earth-hour-logo1Earth Hour was started in 2007 by the World Wildlife Fund in Sydney Australia when 2.2 million people turned out all non-essential lights. In 2008, millions of people in 400 cities participated and its grown from there….

Last year, hundreds of millions of people across 88 countries in 4,000 cities world wide participated in turning off their lights! Power demands saw noticeable dips, demonstrating further the power of the people when we want to do something.

Let’s make a statement again this year and lets make it even louder! Turn out your lights and other non-essential electronics for an hour, from 9:00-10:00pm and talk it up to your friends and neighbors too. Sixty minutes really isn’t all that long. 

Take the kids outside on a nature walk and drink in the night sounds. I bet you’ll hear some birds calling, perhaps an owl or two, maybe you’ll encounter some frogs or toads hopping through the yard, and you no doubt will spook some deer or raccoons on their evening routes, wondering what the heck you’re doing outside!  Enjoy the darkness!


Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy has been partnering with the Virginia Bluebird Society for many years now as we develop and manage bluebird trails across Loudoun county, monitor nest boxes, and report our data to VBS so it can be analyzed regionally and further reported onward at the national level to the North American Bluebird Society.

It’s a great activity that not only has helped bring back the Eastern Bluebird but has also served as a great way to learn about our local cavity nesters.

Bluebirds (as well as Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Tree Swallows and others) will start nesting in the next couple of weeks so if you’re interested in learning more about this, this is a great time to jump in and see what happens through the spring and summer seasons.

To learn more, the Virginia Bluebird Society develops a great newsletter pertaining to nest box monitoring and the different bird species we encounter when we monitor boxes and the latest issue has just come out. This issue has a nice spring checklist for getting nestboxes ready for the season as well as information on predator guards and other bluebird news. Check out their website to view their newsletter – both current and past issues.

And, if you’re interested in doing some bluebird nestbox monitoring here in Loudoun – either by setting up a couple of nest boxes at home or joining one of our teams that monitors at public parks and other locations, check out our Bluebird nestbox monitoring page.  There’s also all sorts on information and some fun and games provided on the page that you can download.