Archive for March, 2012

As reported in the latest issue of the Purcellville Gazette, students of Emerick Elementary School met with the Mayor Lazaro of Purcellville last week and challenged the Town of Purcellville and it’s residents to join together and participate in tonight’s Earth Hour.

Will they do it?

Let’s wait and see.

As they say, “every journey starts with a single step,” and it’s exciting to see the students speaking up and encouraging our local towns, businesses and residents to take that first step.

I expect next year will build upon this one, and that’s all good. 

Many thanks to those kids!  The future is looking bright (but tonight at 8:30, I hope it’s dark)


Join millions of people across the world tonight at 8:30 p.m. and Turn Out your lights for an hour!

Join in this amazing world wide event: Earth Hour 2012

“Every individual has the power to change the world they live in”


Monarch Rearing Kits and Tagging Kits
It’s that time of year again – Monarch Watch is now accepting preorders for Monarch Rearing Kits and Tagging Kits.

They will begin shipping Monarch Rearing Kits to people who want to raise monarchs at home or in the classroom the first week of April. As usual, Tagging Kits will be sent out in the fall (typically beginning the last week of July) in time for the migration in your area – please place your orders early as they will have a limited number of tags and will definitely run out.

These items (and more) are available via the Monarch Watch Shop at – where each purchase helps support our educational, conservation, and research programs.

Note: You must have fresh milkweed for your caterpillars. Please make sure you have a fresh, uncontaminated source before your caterpillars are shipped.

You can buy milkweed at the Native Plant Sale on May 5th at Rust Sanctuary in Leesburg. More info here.


Monarch Watch Monarch Waystation Initiative
As many of you know, “Monarch Waystations” are places that provide resources necessary for monarchs to reproduce and sustain their migration. Most of these habitats are simply specialized gardens at homes, schools, businesses, zoos, nature centers, parks, and other unused (or under used) plots of land.

Since Monarch Watch announced this initiative in 2005, more than 5,000 habitats around the world have been registered with them as Monarch Waystations.

This is a certainly a good start, but we need to do more.

In the United States we are losing 6,000 acres per day to development – a major contributing factor to the decline of monarch butterfly populations. To assure a future for monarchs, conservation and restoration of milkweeds needs to become a national priority.

By creating and maintaining a Monarch Waystation you are contributing to monarch conservation, an effort that will help assure the preservation of the species and the continuation of the spectacular monarch migration phenomenon.

Complete information is available at and you can view the online registry of all 5,000+ habitats at

Please consider establishing and registering a Monarch Waystation this year and encourage others to do so as well – thank you!


Yesterday, Linda Sieh and I explored the many trails of Horsepen Run Preserve at Countryside in Sterling and it was amazing.

Our objective for the exploration was to check out the many vernal pool and swamp areas that run through the preserve and in spite of low water levels, we were not disappointed. 

We found lots of Spotted Salamander eggs, American toad tadpoles, Wood Frog tadpoles, Green Frogs and Green Frog tadpoles, Jefferson Salamander eggs (99% sure but tough to tell at this stage of development), Gray Tree Frogs (heard), and Pickerel frogs.

In addition, the Spring Beauty was blooming all along the forest floor, Jack-in-the-Pulpit was up, and Trout Lily were just starting to show their yellow faces along with blue violets.

Butterflies were out too and we were treated to great views of the Falcate Orangetip butterfly, a species that only comes out in the spring for a short period (sorry, no pictures of this but I’ll try again before their flight period is over.)

An encounter that left both Linda and me speechless was a flock of 75-100 Rusty Blackbirds. Here is Linda’s account of our sighting:

We came around the corner of the trail and could see through the trees to a black, boggy area covered in last Fall’s leaves.  And we could see birds.  Lots and lots of birds.  A few of them were Robins.  A few of them were Red-Winged Blackbirds.  But most of them … we estimated 75-100 … were Rusty Blackbirds.  Yes, I did Say 75-100 Rusty Blackbirds. 

It was surreal. We listened to a recording of their call and looked at a picture to confirm, and there was no doubt.  They clearly were a mixed flock of males and females, and they kindly hung around for a long time scratching through and turning over both wet and dry leaves in search of some tasty morsels.  Some of them also sat in trees where we could see them from a different angle than on the ground.  Yep, still Rusty Blackbirds.

After we decided to move on and after another 45 minutes or so, we came upon the flock again.  They were in a different spot, but still scratching through and turning over leaves.  They again hung around for a while, allowing us to once again get a really good look at them. 

It’s great to see birds in their natural habitat, doing what they’ve done for generations. I’m still learning about this linkage between Rusty Blackbirds and seasonal pools, but I wonder if their migration and flocking has anything to do with the timing of these pools and the incredible amount of food (aquatic insects) that they offer. The web of life that we live in sure has some wonderful connections.

Photos from our exploration can be seen here in our Facebook album.


The Friends of the Blue Ridge Mountains ( is holding a volunteer day at the Blue Ridge Regional Park on Saturday, March 31, from 1 to 4 pm. 

They will be removing invasive plants from the park and we thought some of you might be interested in helping.  This is also a wonderful opportunity to see this regional park which is rarely open to the public.  It is on top of the ridge and only accessible from Rte 60, Blue Ridge Mountain Rd.
They will be working on removing Garlic Mustard, Oriental Bittersweet, Mile-a-Minute, and bamboo.
Everyone is welcome but they are really int’d in a couple of people who know the above plants and can guide each team in their removal.
If you are interested let me know (  & I will send you directions and let the Friends know.
Joe Coleman, Acting Chair, Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy Habitat Restoration Comm.


Do we do that? ;)


They stopped selling it at Starbucks. It’s getting pretty tough to find in supermarkets. You have to really search for it online. Why the roll-back of such a great product?

Well, when we were on our raptor birding trip last January, we stopped at Starbucks for a rest break and Joe asked the question. 

The response he got from the barista was that there was too much demand and they had to stop selling it. (what?? does that make sense??)

So a few of us emailed letters to Starbucks and asked them to “Bring Back the Shade Grown Coffee!”

Here’s the email that one of us sent in:

I stopped by one of your Leesburg Virginia stores yesterday to pick up a bag of your Organic Shade Grown Mexico coffee and was told you would no longer carry it.

If this is so I am deeply disappointed as this is the only coffee I have been buying by the bag from you for several years.

Shade-grown coffee plantations protect many of the birds that winter in Central and South America and protecting these plantations is very important to the ability of these birds to continue to survive.

If you do discontinue this coffee you will have given up on a very important part of your responsibility to the environment and one that will disappoint bird watchers throughout the US and Canada.I hope you won’t.

Why all the fuss about wanting shade grown coffee?  Well, it’s good for the birds (OUR birds…that winter in Central and South America) because it provides habitat for them. It also eliminates the need for all sorts of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers that are used in the now “traditional” coffee plantations.  These chemicals all end up in the water supply.

So, you’re probably wondering what the response from Starbucks was from the couple of emails sent in.  Well, it was a pretty generic one — basically saying ”thanks, we’ll look into it.” We did notice in the past week or so that they are offering shade grown coffee via their website, but that isn’t enough to make real change happen.

If enough of us write in, Starbucks may see that they need to fix their supply chain and get us the coffee we want at the point of purchase and that it needs to go mainstream, not be just a specialty item. 

Why is Starbucks so important?  Well they’re big and they buy a lot of coffee beans. Their buying power could help change the face of how coffee is grown – AND how habitat is managed and cared for.  The excuse that we received of the demand being too high just means that they didn’t want to invest in fixing the problem. 

Furthermore, this could be the tipping point! If there’s such demand for it then this could be the time when change will happen (or be squelched) – fix this supply chain problem and I bet more and more coffee farmers will switch over.

What if one day we didn’t even need to check our bags of beans for the shade grown, bird friendly symbol? (the image shown here is just one of a couple different ones used). 

What if shade grown was the common practice instead of this post-industrial practice of slashing forests and spraying?

What if?

Well, let’s get typing and send in our comments to Starbucks.  There are two departments that need to hear from us:

1) Retail Stores Department (determines what we get at the retail stores)

2) Company Information Department (handles social responsibility)

Even better – get social and vocal on the topic – make a posting to the Starbucks Ideas page:  After you post your comment here, share it with your friends via facebook – let’s get Shade Grown coffee back on track!

Here’s what others have said about wanting shade grown coffee in the shops — we’re not alone but our voice needs to be louder:

And, if you visit any other coffee shops in our area, ask them if they offer shade grown coffee.  If they say no, ask why, and let them know that you’d buy it if they offered it. The marketplace responds to the demands of the consumer. We just need to speak up.


Yesterday morning 11 of us, including four visitors from the Augusta Co Bird Club, showed up for Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy’s regular monthly (every 4th Sat.) bird walk at the Blue Ridge Center. 

We walked approx. two miles on the northern portion of the property and afterwards four of us drove a couple of miles on the southern side of the property along Arnold & Sawmill Roads. 

While there was a rather low ceiling when we started it did not begin drizzling until we were well into the walk and it never rained enough to cut down on the birding. 

The highlights of the walk were two Barred Owls perched close to each other on the Farmstead Loop near the log cabins, at least 4 Louisiana Warblers singing in different locations along both Piney Run & Sweet Run, four singing Eastern Towhees, more than 20 singing Field Sparrows, and at least 3 singing Chipping Sparrows. 

After we finished at BRCES the four of us who were left (three from Augusta Co & myself) drove over to Bloomery Rd in Jefferson Co, WV to drive along the Shenandoah River where we added several more species. 

We found a mixed flock of 11 Horned Grebes, one Lesser Scaup, and one Ruddy Duck.  While none of the Horned Grebes were in breeding plumage several were pretty close. There were also a couple more Horned Grebes in other spots, a couple Pied-billed Grebes, a couple of Wood Ducks, a number of Common Mergansers, one female Hooded Merganser.  At every location we stopped along the river there were Rough-winged and Tree Swallows.

We found 43 species at BRCES and added 9 more along the Shenandoah.
I’d like to thank Matt Orsie of Jefferson Co, WV for scouting the Shenandoah River for us yesterday.
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

See below for complete list of bird species seen at the Blue Ridge Center as reported to eBird:

Canada Goose, Wood Duck  2, Mallard  2, Great Blue Heron  2, Turkey Vulture, Red-shouldered Hawk  1, Red-tailed Hawk  1, Killdeer  1, Mourning Dove  1, Barred Owl  2, Red-bellied Woodpecker  4, Downy Woodpecker  2, Hairy Woodpecker  2, Northern Flicker  1, Pileated Woodpecker  4, Eastern Phoebe  6, Blue Jay, American Crow, Fish Crow, Tree Swallow  4, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper  1, Carolina Wren  3, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird  1, European Starling  X, Louisiana Waterthrush  4, Eastern Towhee  4, Chipping Sparrow  3, Field Sparrow  20, Song Sparrow  3, White-throated Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird  1, Common Grackle  1, Brown-headed Cowbird, House Finch  2, American Goldfinch  1, House Sparrow.


The USGS is holding a talk on fracking through their USGS Public Lecture Series

Wednesday, April 4, 2012, 7:00 PM at 12201 Sunrise Valley Dr. in Reston

Title: Science or Soundbite? Shale Gas, Hydraulic Fracturing, and Induced Earthquake.

Flyer is available at

Hydraulic fracturing is the process of injecting wells with water, sand, and chemicals at very high pressure. This process creates fractures in deeply buried rocks to allow for the extraction of oil and natural gas as well as geothermal energy. Why is this process in such wide use today? How does hydraulic fracturing affect water resources? And does hydraulic fracturing cause earthquakes? Join us to learn the answers to these questions, and about USGS research into the opportunities and impact associated with hydraulic fracturing.