Archive for December, 2012

I just had to share this great song about Monarch Butterflies.  Laura McGranaghan stumbled upon it while doing “research” and sent it over.  It makes me smile and dance every time I listen to it! I hope you enjoy it too!

['s also...educational! ;) ]


I bet you’ll be singing along with it too…. “I’m gonna fly fly fly down to Mexico!”


The Potowmack Chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society invites you to the following event:

Celebrating the Natural Communities of VA:

Plants and Their Neighbors: A Community Context

Thursday, January 10, 2013 7:30 – 9:00 pm

Green Spring Gardens
4603 Green Spring Road
Alexandria, VA
703 642-5173

Native plants are best understood and enjoyed in the context of the plants and the environment they have evolved with. Join Charles Smith as he shares patterns we can use to identify and appreciate the many Natural Communities of VA. Charles is a native of Arlington, VA.

For the last twenty years he has been a park professional and is currently the Manager of the Natural Resource Management and Protection Branch for the Fairfax County Park Authority. Charles is a board member of the Prince William Wildflower Society and past board member for the Virginia Native Plant Society.

VNPS programs are free and open to the public. No reservations are necessary. Potowmack Chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society PO Box 5311 Arlington, VA 22205 and


No! An outer beltway will mean significant habitat loss through Loudoun! Back in April 2011, we did and Action Alert on this topic and you helped raise our voice on this issue. It looks like we need to raise the flag again and get back out there.

Does this affect you? YES - this in your back yard (or in many cases – in your front yard!)

We just received this update from Piedmont Environmental Council on upcoming meetings that VDOT is having.  Yes it’s over the holidays, how convenient!  Please attend if you can. The “Open House” being hosted by VDOT is on December 18th, 6:30pm at Stone Bridge High School (43100 Hay Road, Ashburn).

More information from PEC is below:

Dec 18: Outer Beltway ‘Open House’

Outer Beltway proponents have been pushing for the project piece-by-piece. The Maryland ICC was part of it, the Belmont Ridge expansion was one, now they’re looking for the part between Manassas and Dulles Airport.

For the past few years we’ve let you know about VDOT’s renewed push for an ‘Outer Beltway’. Plans are moving forward to build this mega-million dollar north-south highway that would go from I-95 north into Maryland. It would open up new land to residential development, cross through Manassas National Battlefield Park, and turn Loudoun into a trucking route for areas north and south. All at the expense of investments in better east-to-west traffic solutions.

VDOT has been busy this fall, largely behind closed doors, lining up support for the project. And now, they’ve decided to slip in ‘open house’ meetings for the public, just one week before Christmas.

What’s really going on?

We’re skeptical about the timing and not sure what exactly they will be presenting. But recent VDOT presentations confirm what we have been saying for some time: the new highway will be designed to carry freight and other cargo at speeds in excess of 65mph — splitting neighborhoods from their schools, and greatly increasing sound and air pollution.

VDOT will accept written comments on their December 18th presentation — and have indicated that those comments will be due by January 2nd. We cannot say we’re surprised by the timing of this public input period, because sadly it’s true to form. The holidays are a common time to solicit public opinion when you’re not particularly interested in public opinion…

All the more reason to show up. Attending these sorts of meetings is the only way to get informed, pressure the system and ultimately, make a difference. So that is exactly what we’ll be doing! We hope you can join us on the 18th in Loudoun or attend the meeting on the 19th in Fairfax. The meeting announcements have just been posted online. If you can’t make the meeting, send an email to to share your thoughts with VDOT.

Check back on our Loudoun page for updated information on further meetings they may have at the beginning of January.



2012 Central Loudoun Christmas Bird Count
by Joe Coleman

Have fun and make a difference at the same time – for over a century thousands of people have participated in the longest citizen science project in the world and counted every wild bird they can find on Christmas Bird Counts.  The information from the more than 2,000 bird counts is sent to the National Audubon Society (NAS), which works with the Cornell University School of Ornithology to create a database of the sightings from which bird populations can be studied.  People explore the country’s natural and not-so-natural areas.  Counters share their wonder of the wild beauty of feathered creatures with like-minded people, and sometimes they find truly rare birds. 

hawk1Join us for the Sixteenth Annual Central Loudoun Christmas Bird Count on Friday, December 28 as we participate in this annual event.  Our count-circle has a 15-mile diameter and covers 177 square miles of Loudoun’s countryside: north to Waterford, south to Aldie, east to Ashburn, and west to Purcellville.   The circle includes a number of very special natural areas such as the Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve, the Dulles Greenway Wetlands Mitigation Project, Beaverdam Reservoir, Morven Park, Ball’s Bluff, several private large estates, about five miles of the C&O Canal and Potomac River in the vicinity of White’s Ferry, and much of still-rural western Loudoun County.  Everyone is welcome — beginners are teamed up with experienced birders, and every eye helps! And after all the counting is over we will meet at Morven Park’s Carriage Museum for a Tally Rally where we’ll find out who saw what and share stories about the day’s highlights.  If you are interested in participating for the whole day or just a portion, Sign Up Online or contact Joe Coleman at 540-554-2542 or

Calmes Neck Christmas Bird Count ― Saturday, January 5, 2013.  There are other Christmas Bird Counts in Loudoun County besides the Central Loudoun CBC which you can find out about by visiting  The Calmes Neck CBC includes much of far-western Loudoun County as well as Clarke County.  Its count area includes a wide variety of habitats ranging from mountain forests to rural subdivisions to old farm fields and meadows, with the Shenandoah River running through it.  If you want to help with the Calmes Neck CBC, contact Margaret Wester at 540-837-2799 or   Also, Joe Coleman (540-554-2542 or and Phil Daley (540-338-6528 or are sector leaders for the Calmes Neck CBC.   Phil’s area includes Round Hill and north, and Joe’s area includes Bluemont south to Bloomfield.  If you are interested in joining either of them, please contact them directly.

To see what has been found on previous Central Loudoun counts visit  ; to find out what has been found on other counts or compare the Central Loudoun to other counts, visit


We Need You!

The status of the Monarch Butterfly population is not looking good. Drought in the Midwest, habitat loss at home, use of “Round-up Ready” seed crops, and deforestation in Mexico are taking their toll on Monarch butterflies. The population reaching Mexico this year is estimated to be the lowest ever recorded in their continued downward spiral. But we can help them! (We need to help them!)

Hope lies in the future generations: in the fact that each female can lay over 200 eggs and that everything changes, so at some point the drought through the midwest will end.  Whatever population makes it through this difficult period – however many years it takes – will be the ones to rebuild the population to its once great numbers. But there must be milkweed and fall nectar plants (and good forest habitat in Mexico) to support them!  Here in Loudoun (and other parts less effected by drought) we can play a big role in this relay of life that the Monarchs go through.

Our job is to make sure that healthy habitat exists so that the future generations have the best chance possible to bring back the magic.

In 2013 (just a few short weeks away!), Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy is kicking off a Monarch Butterfly campaign that will crisscross the County with educational programs, habitat restoration activities, native plant sales, artistic endeavors, blogging from the Monarch Sanctuaries in Mexico, and setting a challenge to raise and release more than 2,013 Monarch Butterflies in Loudoun this summer!

But we need your help to pull this off! 

If you would like to be a part of the organizing committee for this campaign and/or participate in these activities, please email Nicole Hamilton at  We have two meeting dates set up [Jan 26 and Jan 31] to get things rolling – email Nicole for more information. Please help keep this magic alive!


Sorry I’m posting this late but we still wanted to share some of the fun we had exploring the Blue Ridge Center. It’s one of Loudoun’s really great places — please support it as you can.

Field trip report by Jim McWalters, November 10, 2012:

Unseasonable mild temperatures made for a really nice walk around the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship this past Saturday.  Paul Miller and Jim McWalters led a small group around the Farmstead Loop past Wortman Pond, Demory field, and the old historic cabins before ending at Mountain View Vista.  The group spotted several bird species including a White Throated Sparrow, Turkey and Black Vultures, Red Shoulder Hawk, Cedar Wax Wing, White-breasted Nuthatch, Blue Jay, Dark-Eyed Junco, Carolina Wren, Pileated Woodpecker, Crows, and a Downy Woodpecker.

Along the way, we spoke about some of the invasive plants that grow in the area such as the Multiflora Rose and the ailanthus (tree-of-heaven).  The group also discussed the many tree species and plants that lined the trail including Honey Locust, Hackberry, Hickory Nut, Spicebush, Black Raspberry, Greenbrier, Ironwood, White Oak, Black Walnut, Fox Grape Vine, Sycamores, Yellow Poplar (Tulip Poplar) and Beach trees.  Despite it being the second weekend in November, several butterflies were even spotted including a Buckeye and a Sleepy Orange.


This past weekend, we led a walk with a pack of scouts at the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship. It was a great day to get outside and explore nature – and we think the kids had a great time too!  Here are a few photos from the day:


A Good News Story
by Nicole Hamilton

It was March 2007 and we had just started our Loudoun Amphibian Monitoring Program. With the excitement of the program launch, people started telling us about special spots where amphibians may live and breed. One of the leads I got was from Liam McGranaghan for an area in Lucketts known for its undulating forest habitat and sink holes.

After asking for permission to visit Gum Farm, Mike Hayslett of the Virginia Vernal Pools Program, John DeMary and I ventured out. It was 10:00pm, 45 degrees, and there was a cold steady rain coming down. This was my first official night foray for amphibian monitoring, and I will never forget it.

The three of us met at the Lucketts Community Center – it felt like we were on a mission – and indeed we were. With headlamps donned and winter coats zipped, we carpooled to the site and headed into the woods. As we approached the vernal pools, what we encountered was simply magical.

1,000+ eyes reflected back at us through the darkness of the pool. The calls of Wood Frogs and Spring Peepers filled the night. Salamanders swam through the water. The woods and the ephemeral wetlands kept secret in their midst, were alive, and a rhythm of life that has gone on for thousands of years in this forest was playing out before us.

In days that followed, we determined that these woods and pools were home to Wood Frogs, Spring Peepers, Jefferson Salamanders, Spotted Salamanders, Marbled Salamanders and Fairy Shrimp. It was magnificent both in species diversity and the sheer number of individuals thriving here. We also discovered that this property was in the midst of being developed. The pink tape that ringed the trees around the pools told the story.

Mike Hayslett and I stood at the edge of one of the pools. Knowing that these amphibians spend 360 days of the year living in the forest habitat, I asked him, “How much of the forest needs to be saved to save these amphibians?” He gazed at the habitat and said, “All of it.” My heart sunk. I had seen other special places developed and knew the likelihood of this property being preserved was slim.

Nonetheless, we looked at options, offered ideas, and even looked at ways to purchase at least the forested wetlands. We worked with David McCarthy, Mike Kane of Piedmont Environmental Council and others and helped keep the dialogue going.

I share this story because today, 5 ½ years later, something amazing happened. Susan Lee and her son Jeremy Lee who own Gum Farm, engaged the Land Trust of Virginia to discuss conservation. Working with John Magistro of the Land Trust, the family not only put the 42 acres of wooded wetlands (identified as a Globally Rare Wetland Habitat) under conservation easement but their entire 239 acres! These additional acres are rich with bird life that includes Savannah Sparrows, Grasshopper Sparrows, Field Sparrows, Barn Swallows, Scarlet Tanagers, vireos, Wood Thrush, Wild Turkeys, Red-tailed Hawks, flycatchers, orioles, and more. The milkweeds in the field support Monarch butterflies and the grasses are rich with insects.

The property is also rich with cultural significance. Being situated on James Monroe Highway (Route 15), it is part of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area and protects one of Loudoun County’s oldest known cemeteries, the Oxley family cemetery, which has been cared for by the family since Isaac Dyer and Gertrude Yeager Gum purchased the property more than 100 years ago.  Indeed, this is one of Loudoun’s Great Places.

The Land Trust of Virginia, with input from Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy and the Piedmont Environmental Council and widespread support from the community, filed the conservation easement just before Thanksgiving. This easement marks a historic move by the Lee Family that needs to be applauded and celebrated by all of Loudoun. It is a gift to the future generations of Loudoun that we are thankful for and is a model for conservation and historic preservation that I hope other families and developers will follow.

Please read the Press Release from the Land Trust of Virginia here: and if you know of great places in Loudoun that should be protected, refer landowners to this example as a model to follow. And, join us in our monitoring programs ( as we identify more special habitats. The beauty and richness of nature surrounds us, and through efforts like this, it will into the future.

Thank you, John Magistro, for leading the negotiations and process for establishing the easement.

Thank you, Jeremy and Susan Lee, for this great gift.