Archive for March, 2011

Water is the most expressive element in nature. It responds to every mood from tranquility to turbulence.
- Walter Phillips


This just in from Christopher S. Hobson, VA DCR – Division of Natural Heritage:

 The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation – Division of Natural Heritage (DCR-DNH), with funding from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is developing an atlas of the rare dragonflies, damselflies, butterflies, skippers, and moths in the state (see below).

The final product, a series of 193 species fact sheets and county occurrence maps, will be made available to the general public, naturalists and scientists on a web site. We have two years to develop the database from field work, museum records, literature citations, and with your help and input, personal communications from area naturalists.

We would appreciate your assistance in any way, particularly with the following two tasks.
First, if you are still active in the field, we ask that you keep an eye out for the species we are interested in (see list below) and report them to us?

Second, we ask that you read through the species list and send us any records that you may already have from Virginia.

In both cases, the more information you can send (date of observation, location, numbers observed, habitat conditions, etc.) the more complete our records will be. Photographic vouchering would be appreciated if possible.

If you have any population information, for example you return to a site every year, or you make observations throughout the flight season of a particular species, that would be useful information.

Written accounts would be best and could be in the form of copies of field notes, emails, letters, photos, etc. Inclusion of maps indicating the exact location and/or latitude and longitude coordinates would be most useful.

In addition to the internet product, where county level information will be made available, the information you provide about most of these species will be added to the Virginia Natural Heritage Program’s database and used to inform conservation decisions such as our environmental review process, potential land acquisition, and management plans. If you are hesitant to reveal some locations, we can indicate that the information is ‘sensitive’ and limit access to the information.

We cannot complete this project adequately without help and input from the naturalist community. I hope you will take some time to read through the list of species and consider how you might participate in this project. Please feel free to contact me [Chris Hobson] via phone (804) 371-6202 or email if you have questions, or if you have information that can be useful in completing this atlas project.


As we head into the warmer days of spring, many of us will be getting out our spades, trowels, garden gloves and knee pads, ready to dig in the dirt!

As we select plants, we have a choice – native or non-native.  When I first started gardening, I was astounded to learn that the majority of the plants sold in nurseries were actually from Asia, and while there may be some pretty plants, it’s so much more fun to look past just the pretty and look at the big picture of how wildlife and plants evolve and develop together.

By selecting plants that are native to our area, you can provide wildlife and our habitat writ large with greater benefit.

To help with selecting plants this season, we’ve put together a Gardening for Wildlife Plant List.  You can download it in it’s entirety or use our search feature to create specific lists that you can then go shopping with.

We also have other information and resources to learn about gardening for wildlife that you can use.


In case you missed it on the news, here’s a nice 2 minute expose by CBS on the status of Monarch butterflies.;vid

It’s all about the milkweed this time of year!


Smart’s Mill Middle School Teacher Natalie Pien and the Smart’s Mill Ecology Club Receive 2011 Tolbert Environmental Achievement Awards
Leesburg, VA (March 17, 2011) – The Leesburg Environmental Advisory Commission (EAC) is pleased to announce the two recipients of the 2011 Tolbert Environmental Achievement Awards. This awards program recognizes students, community groups, and individuals that conduct or participate in activities that benefit the Town’s environment. The Leesburg Town Council will present the awards at the Council Meeting on Tuesday, April 26, 2011.

The first 2011 Tolbert Award recipient is Natalie Pien. Ms. Pien is a science teacher at Smart’s Mill Middle School in Leesburg and sponsors the school’s Ecology Club.

The EAC selected Mrs. Pien for her exemplary leadership and for her dedication to community service on environmental projects. Ms. Pien has led innovative environmental stewardship projects at Smart’s Mill Middle School to treat polluted runoff before it enters Town streams and to create wildlife habitats. These projects give students hands-on learning experiences about the effects of pollution of the local environment. In addition, Ms. Pien volunteers her service on the Leesburg Watershed Committee, assisted on several additional Town planting events to reduce pollutants in stormwater runoff, and monitors local stream quality.

The second recipient of the 2011 Tolbert Award is the Smart’s Mill Middle School Ecology Club. These students helped with several projects in the Town of Leesburg that protect the environment and beautify the town. Examples of their work can be seen in the Freedom Park rain garden; the flower and shrub plantings at what was a grassy island at the entrance to the middle school; and in the recently-planted riparian buffer along Town Branch. Over the past several years, Ecology Club students have donated many hours to these projects as well as to environmental education outreach efforts in the local community. In one of their outreach efforts, the Club demonstrated the effects of water pollution through the use of watershed models.

“The Environmental Advisory Commission is very pleased to recognize Ms. Pien and the Ecology Club for their efforts,” said Neely Law, chair of the Leesburg Environmental Advisory Commission. “We sincerely appreciate their time and effort to make a difference that benefits the community and the environment specifically. Their efforts will be seen and appreciated long into the future.”

The EAC and the Leesburg Town Council will host a brief ceremony to present these two awards on Tuesday, April 26, 2011 at 7:30 p.m. The ceremony will take place at the beginning of the Council’s regular meeting in the Council Chambers at Town Hall.


I thought this would be fun to share with everyone…. an underwater view of wood frog eggs from last week as well as some photos from yesterday of the newly hatched wood frog tadpoles.

Remember those rain events around March 5-10?  Well in spite of the chilly temperatures, Wood Frogs (along with Spotted and Jefferson Salamanders) migrated by the thousands to vernal pools tucked in and around forests near you.

They likely braved crossing the road (twice!) and moved from the woodland habitats where they live the majority of their lives (up to 1/4 mile away) to the vernal pools where they were born to mate, lay eggs and then return to the forest.

Over the past two weeks, this new generation of frogs and salamanders has been developing….. the cold nights we had a couple of times froze eggs that were on the surface of the water and killed those individuals, but the ones below the water continued to develop, and now have hatched!

I love this time of year (ok, I love every time of year for all it’s natural wonders, but this time is especially fun for amphibian life)! Things are happening so fast yet on the surface we may not notice all the changes that are going on. 

The photos here are from the little pond we have in our front yard (yes – ponds and gardening for wildlife can and should be done in the front, the back and the sides of our yards :) )

Over the next few weeks, these tadpoles will develop from aquatic beings to terrestrial froglets, growing legs (hind legs first since frogs hop), and breathing air. They’ll leave our little pond and head into the forest where they’ll live the rest of the year, hopefully to return next March to breed and continue this amazing cycle! Stay tuned for more photos as I try to catch them at different stages.

You can create a pond for your yard too – it’s really easy. Here’s the write-up I did awhile back right after we set up the ponds at our house: Build a Frog Pond. Remember – just let the amphibians come to you, resist the urge to have instant frogs by buying them at the nursery (they’ll eat your native population of frogs and disrupt the balance)


We had our last of three amphibian monitoring program kickoffs this past Saturday.  This one was held at Algonkian Regional Park and it held some really great sightings!

To start the morning, Casey Pittrizzi, the naturalist at Algonkian Regional Park, let everyone have up close looks at a Wood Frog, Spotted Salamander, American Toad and Gray Tree Frog, that NVRPA has temporarily for education purposes. This was a great way to start off the program and start learning about our amphibians!

After our classroom session, where I basically gave everyone the run down on the different habitats amphibians use (forests and wetlands) and talked through the 25 different species we have here in Loudoun, we headed out into the field. [check out the photo album]

Our first stop was the little man-made pools at the mini-golf course.  To our excitement, we spotted numerous strings of American Toad eggs. 

That was special since we haven’t really heard the toads calling yet but they have obviously had an opportunity to get to the pools for breeding.

We also saw spotted salamander egg masses and hundreds of wood frog tadpoles, already hatched from their eggs.  We also spotted a newt in one of the pools, possibly eating frog or toad eggs.

From there, we headed out along the trails to look at the different wetland habitats – both vernal pools and swamp areas.

Here, we found an adult American Toad, obviously very cold and still in hibernation.  We also did a little dip netting and found lots of FAIRY SHRIMP! This is an obligate species for vernal pools and is only the second documented occurrence here in Loudoun.

Many thanks to all the participants for being a part of the day and to all the new volunteers for jumping in to the amphibian monitoring program this year!

Algonkian Regional Park is definitely one of our great places here in Loudoun.  Casey has some fun nature hikes and other programs lined up through the spring and summer, and we look forward to partnering on more events together!


We had almost 200 people come to our program last Tuesday [photo album], where Dr. Tallamy talked about how the choices we make in planting around our homes can make a huge impact on the populations of birds, butterflies, and other wildlife.

What an absolute inspiration!  Personally, I plan to plant 3 oak trees this spring to add to the mix of black cherry, birch and other trees around our house.  I’m also excited to get into the garden and make sure my host and nectar plants for butterflies are in prime form – ready to be gobbled up and enjoyed by caterpillars (who in some cases will be gobbled up by birds).

“Garden as if Life depended on it” — When Dr. Tallamy signed my book, he included that inscription, and I can’t think of a better, more succinct message.  Let’s do it! Because it does!

Dr.Tallamy’s website has an excel spreadsheet that you can download that shows which plants will bring the greatest wildlife benefit to your yard.  Use this, along with our Gardening for Wildlife Plant list and other materials.

Let’s talk with our neighbors and start converting our wastelands of lawn into thriving rich habitat of native plans – they’re beautiful and exciting! Let’s Bring Nature Home!

If you missed the program, keep an eye on his website for upcoming lectures and check out his book.


Stream Monitoring was one of the first citizen science programs we created when Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy stood up in 1995.

Since then, we have gathered huge amounts of data on the state of Loudoun Streams, published reports on quality of water running through our neighborhood streams, and used the facts to speak out at County hearings for the need to restore the habitat that surrounds our waterways. 

If you would like to be a part of this important citizen science effort, you can volunteer to monitor with one one of our existing stream teams. By doing this, you’ll learn the monitoring protocol, and learn how to identify different indicators for water quality.

We monitor just twice a year, so if you volunteer at a time between monitoring windows, we’ll still line you up on a team and you’ll just need to hold tight for the next window.  

We are using VA Save Our Stream Protocol.  You can learn more about the protocol at


From Joe Coleman: Twenty-two people showed up yesterday for our regular (4th Saturday) bird walk at the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship.  After starting together and birding for about 2 hours from the end of Sawmill Road to the trail to where Sweet Run intersects with Arnold, we split into two groups. 

Del Sargent took one of the groups and looped back to where we parked and I took the other group to Gordon Pond and the old dry lakebed along Piney Run.  While it was a beautiful, sunny day it started out cold (25 degrees) and was about 38 when the second group finished at 11:45 am. 

The highlight of the trip was a BARRED OWL who silently flew over us at about 10:30 am and then briefly perched in a tree.  A few people caught a glimpse of a Turkey and an Osprey flew directly overhead as we were returning to the cars.  What was most notable were the birds we did not see such as swallows and mimids.  And while there were a lot of sparrows there weren’t nearly as many different species as I had expected.
Number of species:     41

While the trails at BRCES are normally open to the public 7 days a week from dawn to dusk there are controlled deer hunts there this time of year so check the BRCES website for dates and times of when parts of BRCES are closed.

Information on the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship can be found at   Information on the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy and its many free activities can be found at

Joe Coleman, near Bluemont, Loudoun Co
Canada Goose, American Black Duck, Mallard, Ring-necked Duck, Wild Turkey, Great Blue Heron, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk (Eastern), American Kestrel, Mourning Dove, Barred Owl, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted), Pileated Woodpecker, Eastern Phoebe, Blue Jay, American Crow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, European Starling, Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle), Eastern Towhee, Field Sparrow, Fox Sparrow (Red), Song Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored), Northern Cardinal, Brown-headed Cowbird, American Goldfinch, House Sparrow.