Archive for August, 2010

I received a great email from one of our members in Leesburg about a bluebird nest they’d been watching at their house.  Wanted to share it with you here:

From Betty:

How often does one see a bluebird hatching in a natural setting?  

Luck!!  For some reason, Bill decided to check on our deck rafter bluebird eggs.  We witnessed a hatching!  It’s hard describe the joy of watching this baby bird struggling out of his shell.  Next day 3 had hatched…one to go.

Thank you Bill for the great photos!


Friends, it’s sad news for our local bats.  I received an email update from Bat Conservation International (BCI) last week and I wanted to share it along with some links with you here.

When I first moved to Loudoun, we had bats flying through our yard every summer night. I bought a bat detector so I could hear their echolocation and it was marvelous!  Now when I go outside to listen for the bats it’s radio silence – reminiscent of the folks trying to search for life on other planets, listening to nothing more than the hiss of the atmosphere. 

I hope we’ll see the return of the bats in our lifetime.  Here’s the information from BCI:

“As Bat Conservation International continues our fight against White-nose Syndrome, research being published in the journal Science predicts the outcome we feared: regional extinctions.

The study forecasts that the little brown myotis, until now one of our most common species and one that is often seen roosting in barns, old buildings and attics, could be reduced to barely 1 percent of its current population in northeastern states within two decades.”

Learn more about bats, white nose syndrome and what you can do to help our bats:
Latest news:
BCI email newsletter: 
BCI Facebook page: 

Spread the news about the bats so more people are aware of what is happening and what we are losing. If you encounter people looking to exclude bats from buildings, Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy has developed some resources that can help both educate people on the situation and enable them to act humanely. BCI and Bat World are also fantastic resources. In times like these, we need to do everything we can to help bats, and part of that is learning to live with and appreciate them.


So, last Saturday we were at a picnic in Round Hill celebrating the nuptials of two dear friends.  As we stood in the field sipping lemonade at about 5pm, a number of us noticed all these flying insects.  They weren’t biting and were high enough over our heads that no one was bothered by them. So, we continued with our chats, hoped for some bats to come through and put on a show, and soon forgot about the insects.

The next day, I received an email through our Loudoun Widlife Conservancy yahoo group from Jim W asking if anyone knew about some insects that emerged around 4pm also in Round Hill. He wrote:

“we noticed hundreds of flying insects all throughout our yard, flying near the ground or as high as 10-20 feet above the ground. As we walked into our grass, we noticed lots (hundreds if not thousands) of mounds of ants (we think they were ants), as well as larger insects with wings among the ants. These clusters of ants and insects were everywhere it seemed. The winged insects among the ants were the ones that were flying around. We needed to leave, and when we got back home about 6:30, everything was gone.”

Then, we heard that another member, Beth A., had the same experience in Lovettsville, also on Saturday afternoon.

Curious, we called in the experts (Cliff Fairweather, Phil Daley, Joe Coleman) and inquired.

Cliff responded back with the answer to our mystery of what insects they were:

“I’m sure Phil has already answered the question, but the phenomenon Jim reported was the emergence of reproductive forms of ants. During most of the year, a queen ant produces sterile, flightless workers, but from time-to-time she produces a generation of flighted males and females that disperse in swarms and, if they survive, mate. The males die soon after mating and the females lose their wings. Like other social hymenoptera, fertilized females go on to found new colonies, assuming they survive and find a suitable colony site.”

Jim posted a photo on our yahoo group page for anyone interested:

Did anyone else notice this occurrance?


At the regular monthly bird walk at Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve  south of Leesburg, about 18 people enjoyed a cooler morning and a  flurry of activity right next to the parking lot that produced the  best 20 minutes of birding of the morning, including the first of two  male Blue Grosbeaks, a perched Red-tailed Hawk, Eastern Kingbirds,  Pewees and Phoebes, a drop-by Red-eyed Vireo, Brown Thrasher, many  Bluebirds, 2 Cedar Waxwings, Eastern Towhee pairs, Field Sparrows, and  Orchard Orioles. 

Later we found a pair of Wood Thrushes carrying food  to a nest about 25 feet off the ground. 

Early likely migrants  included 2 female Redstarts. 

Following is the list of 36 species:

Canada Goose,Great Blue Heron, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, No. Flicker, E. Wood-Pewee, E. Phoebe, E. Kingbird, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue Jay, Am. Crow, Tree Swallow, Barn Swallow, White-breasted Nuthatch, E. Bluebird, Wood Thrush, Am. Robin, Gray Catbird, No. Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, Eur. Starling, Cedar Waxwing, Am. Redstart, E. Towhee, Field Sparrow, No. Cardinal, Blue Grosbeak – 2 male, Indigo Bunting, Orchard Oriole, Am. Goldfinch

Mary Ann Good, with co-leader Del Sargent


Camp Out in Your Backyard!

Camping is a great way to establish a love for the outdoors and to learn to appreciate wildlife.  Parents, consider taking your kids camping this weekend.  Kids, if you can’t get to a campground, plan a camping trip to your backyard!  While you probably won’t hear as many nature sounds in your backyard as you would at campsite in the forest, camping in your yard is a great way to get used to sleeping in a tent, cooking your food over a fire and learning to identify those eerie nighttime noises.  Here are some things you’ll need to gather.
• Tent
• Sleeping bag or other bedding
• Sleeping pad or air mattress
• Warm clothes
• Flashlight and extra batteries
• Insect repellent
• Bottle of water

If you don’t have a tent, try making one using a tarp attached to a tree, the side of your house, or a clothesline.  If you aren’t able to fashion a tent, check the weather report and consider sleeping out under the stars- at least for a little while.  The advantage to camping in your backyard is that the comforts of home are just a few steps away.

Here are some things you might want to bring for fun, whether you’re going on a longer trip or just into your backyard.
• Checklist of animals and plants that you might see or hear
• Playing cards or games
• Something to read
• Musical instruments and song books
• Camp chairs
• Snacks
• GPS device
• Binoculars
• Camera

If you’re lucky, while you set up your site you might see birds, butterflies, squirrels and wildflowers.  As it gets darker, look for fireflies and bats and listen for rustling birds and owls calling whowhoo.  Remember to have fun, respect nature and keep an open mind.


Skippers are the toughest of the butterflies to identify.  Similar to the birding world where that unknown bird gets put into a lot called ”LBB” (little brown bird”), with butterflies we have our own LBBs, and they are the skippers. 

Identifying them is so rewarding though because it makes you really look at their markings, pick up on subtle cues, watch their behavior, and put together the clues. They have great names, too, like “Dreamy” and “Sleepy” and “Long Dash”.

Mona Miller emailed me a great website that helps with Skipper Identification so I wanted to share that here with you in case you’d like to try your hand at Skipper identification: Skipper Butterflies  I bet you have some in your garden!

Today is our 14th Annual Loudoun Butterfly Count and in a couple of hours over 70 of us will be heading to our team meeting spots and starting off the great count. We’ll no doubt encounter our share of skippers throughout the day.

Either tonight when I get home or tomorrow I’ll start posting some photos and news from our count day.  In the meantime, wish us luck!


It’s wonderful when teachers provide experiences to children that open them up to new ideas and broader perspectives.  That’s just what happened when local teacher, Natalie Pien, took her students to Limestone Branch stream for some stream monitoring. 

Two of her students were so moved by this experience and all that they’ve learned about the importance of riparian buffers that they created a YouTube video.  You can watch that video here: Smarts Mill Middle School Students Speak Out for Riparian Buffers


This just in from Monarch Watch (see report below). It will be interesting to see what we find through our butterfly count this Saturday and compare it to previous years. I’ve only had a couple of encounters with Monarchs this year and I’ve been looking!  Our intern, Erin Snook, took this great shot of a Monarch caterpillar at Banshee earlier this season.

Status of the Population

The 2009-2010 overwintering monarch population in Mexico covered a forest area of only 1.92 hectares. This figure represents an all time low for overwintering monarchs and is well below the long-term average of 7.44 hectares (1994-2010).

We worried about these low numbers because of the possibility that a devastating storm could drive the population even lower. And then it happenedŠa storm of the worst possible dimensions hit the overwintering area starting on 2 February.

Accounts of the flooding and landslides can be found on the Monarch Watch Blog at

Attempts to find out how the monarchs fared following these winter storms were unsatisfactory. We estimated that at least 50% of the monarchs died during the winter months, recognizing that this value could have been low.

Fortunately, the conditions encountered by the monarchs that reached Texas were favorable. The result, in spite of the low number of returning monarchs, was a substantial first generation.

These butterflies colonized much of the northern breeding area from late April to mid-June.

It appears that the monarchs are making a modest recovery and we expect the overwintering population will measure close to 3 hectares.

For a more detailed status and updates throughout the season please visit the Monarch Watch Blog at


Make a Wildlife Collage

You’ll need:
- a base: construction paper, cardboard, poster board
- old magazines, newspapers, pictures
- scissors
- glue or paste
- items you’ve collected, respectfully with permission, from the outdoors

A collage is a piece of artwork or a poster that is made of many different images or objects.  To make a wildlife collage, first choose a theme, animal or habitat.  Try Red Fox, Birds of Virginia, or Forests.

Now, search old magazines and newspapers for pictures related to your theme.  Cut them out and arrange them on a piece of construction paper, cardboard, or poster board. 

To make your project more exciting, collect things outside that might relate to your theme.  Make sure to respect nature and only collect things that you find on the ground or in your own yard. 

Creatively glue your pictures and other items on your base.  You might decide to arrange objects on your base so they form the shape of a raccoon, you might glue dried leaves on a poster about caterpillars, or you might find lots of pictures of birds and arrange them by colors.

If you want to go more in depth with your project, choose an animal or plant and think about the ecosystem they are part of.  If you are interested in Northern Ringneck snakes, for example, a little research will tell you that they live in hardwood or pine forests.  Glue on some pinecones!  These snakes eat voles, carpenter ants, and copperheads.  Try to find a picture of their prey or cut out the shape of an ant and affix it to your poster.  Attach some paper coils to represent the Northern Ringneck snake’s defense mechanism of coiling its tail when threatened.  They are also nocturnal, so you might choose a black background or paint your poster before you attach your items.

For more collage theme ideas check out the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy’s Habitat Herald Archives to read a short article about something that interests you before you get started.  Be artistic with your science!


As we head into the final days before our big Butterfly count, I thought I’d share this Butterfly Identification website that Mona Miller, one of our count leaders, sent over.

Click on the wing shape and a series of photos pops up with common butterflies that look like that.  There are also colors that you can click on in order to narrow in your id from that direction. 

A nice tool for use as you learn the butterflies.

Norm Gresley took this beautiful shot of a _____ Butterfly at the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship a few weeks ago.

Can you identify it? After you try your hand at using the id site, hover over the image here and you’ll see what species it is.