Archive for March, 2013

Discovering Willowsford – March 24, The Grant

Field trip report by Donna Quinn

20130324 discovery walk (31) correctedIt was cold! And the forecast called for snow! But despite the chill and threat of precipitation, 12 hardy adventurers gathered for the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy’s Discovering Willowsford walk in search of signs of early spring.

We headed to an area in the Grant where we might find vernal pools. Vernal pools are shallow depressions filled with water in spring. Because vernal pools go dry in summer and do not support fish, amphibians use vernal pools to breed. This provides protection from fish that would eat their eggs. The storm drain ponds in the Grant are an example of animals using habitat that is available. Even though the storm drain ponds are not vernal pools, they are probably located where vernal pools once were, or are in the path of the amphibians to their past vernal pools.

We found Wood Frog egg masses in the pond and learned even though we don’t often see Wood Frogs, we can find their egg masses in the spring. The eggs we saw were getting close to hatching. We could see little tadpoles developing in them!

Amphibians have a fascinating life cycle. You can read more in the Habitat Herald article, The Big Night:

After everyone had a good look at the Wood Frog eggs, we headed further down the trail to see what else we could discover. It wasn’t long before we heard an interesting bird call. When we looked up we were thrilled to spot a pair of Red-headed Woodpeckers, a bird found in open woodlands and wetlands. It’s hard to miss a Red-headed Woodpecker – the color of their head is something you just have to see for yourself to believe how red red can be. Red-headed Woodpecker populations have declined in recent years due to loss of habitat. It is very exciting the Grant is home to Red-headed Woodpeckers! (Photo of Red-headed Woodpecker from Cornell Lab of Ornithology, )

We also spotted signs of spring on the forest floor. This is Hepatica, a beautiful harbinger of spring. It gets its name from the three lobes of the leaf, which resemble liver; it is also called liverwort. Hepatica’s beautiful flowers can be blue, pink or white. We must go back soon to see it in flower!

This is Crane-fly Orchid, the leaf disappears late spring and it has no leaves when it blooms in summer. Yes, it is truly an orchid.

We crossed creeks, hiked over logs and had a grand time exploring the woods along the trail in the Grant. We even forgot how cold and raw it was – discovering interesting things along the trail can do that! Come join us on our next walk on April 21, rain or shine. We’ll have fun either way.


GBH_Rookery_20130329-41This morning, at the request of Chairman York, there was a fireworks test at the stadium to see exactly how loud the fireworks will be and what the impact would be on the Great Blue Herons.

We arrived at 9:30 and about 45 minutes later the first set of fireworks were set off. We watched the herons through binoculars and spotting scopes and did not see any signs of disturbance. This test was followed by two other tests – all conducted at the stadium.

For the final test, noise monitors were set up at the rookery to measure sound levels and the Supervisors and developer were present. Again we watched the herons for their reaction and the herons did not react.

We were happy with these results but did ask both the developer and the Supervisors if there was any chance that the fireworks would be set off any closer to where they were done today. They all said no.

We were especially eager to hear this response because the One Loudoun Property does stretch to an area across the street from the rookery and any locations closer than what we experienced today may not be acceptable.

So, in summary, we were satisfied with the test results as they were performed today at the stadium with the shell sizes used, but still want to see that specific geographic location with the distance to the rookery used in the today’s test specified in the proffers. Currently the proffers simply state that fireworks can be set off anywhere on the property and this leaves too much opportunity for them to be set off close to the rookery in the future.

GBH_Rookery_20130329-23If the developer and Supervisors are so sure that the fireworks will always be set off from the location used today, then they should not have a problem with making sure that is specified in the proffers.

We think this is critical because in 10 or 20 years from now, Supervisors and even owners of this development may move on and verbal agreements will be forgotten.  The proffers, however, are binding documents and we believe having this specified in writing would assure the protection of the herons.

This rookery is a treasure of the County and it will continue to be a key stop on our late winter and spring bird walks as we watch the goings on at nests through our spotting scopes and continue to teach increasingly more people about this wonderful colony.

As the stadium opens next year, we will continue to monitor this site, gather data and make sure that there are indeed no adverse affects; and of course, we will continue to share our photos, videos and stories from the field so that you can stay engaged.


GBH_Rookery_20130327-6I went out yesterday to check out the Great Blue Heron Rookery off Loudoun County Parkway in Ashburn and was excited to count over 70 nests – with some herons still building nests, others standing on their masterpieces declaring their territories, and others clearly hunkered down likely sitting on eggs.

It was a windy chilly day and I was photographing through my spotting scope so the photos are not the best but do tell the story of this thriving rookery. We started observing this rookery in 2007 and back then there were 40-50 nests. It’s been wonderful to see the rookery expand and grow to its size today.

But what of its future?

As you know, the One Loudoun Stadium/the Hounds plan to set off fireworks during the nesting season and while we recommended that there be restrictions such that there would be no fireworks during the core nesting period of March 1 through June 30, the developer and President of the Hounds plans to proceed with them and we expect that on April 3rd, our Board of Supervisors will approve that.

It’s a shame because we’re quite sure that baseball fans are going to the games to enjoy baseball, and this small compromise would not diminish that experience.  If you’re a baseball fan, let us know – would you still go to a baseball game from March though June if there were no fireworks? or is that a deal breaker for you? would you sacrifice fireworks for a few months knowing that you would be helping the birds of this rookery raise their young?

GBH_Rookery_20130327-12I think as a community we should consider these values.

While the rookery still thrives today, I’ll continue to go out with my spotting scope and watch these majestic birds as they build nests and raise young.

The photos I got yesterday were a little blurry due to the wind so I’ll head over again in the next day or so to try to do a better job at documenting this county treasure.

If you’re interested in seeing them, grab your binoculars (you need binoculars or a spotting scope to spy into their world) and drive over to Loudoun County Parkway. There’s a small pull-off where the parkway intersects with Marblehead Drive, and you can watch them from there. It’s a lot of fun.

The beauty of nature surrounds us….for now.



Here they come!  Check the link below and send in your sightings so we can watch this cool migration unfold. We generally see Chimney Swifts here in early to mid April :

In early March, the first Chimney Swifts of 2013 had been spotted on the Gulf Coast.

Once again this year will be plotting the swifts’ movements northward over the nxt few months.

Please let them know when you see the first ones in your area by sending an email here:  The results will be posted on their website at:


Spring is  here and it is time to start planting flower beds and gardens.  What better way to water your plants than with a rain barrel?  Rain barrels are an economical and practical way for homeowners to conserve water and save money. In addition, they reduce runoff as the water is collected before it picks up sediment and other contaminants that pollute our streams and rivers.  Our local creeks, streams and rivers drain to the Potomac River and eventually to the Chesapeake Bay.

The Loudoun Soil and Water Conservation District will be offering a number of rain barrel workshops this spring.  Residents can come make a rain barrel to take home or purchase one already made.  Workshops are scheduled for the following:

Tuesday, April 9, 6:00 p.m. in Lovettsville, at the Lovettsville Community Center (pre-registration required) Lovettsville Registration Form

Tuesday and Wednesday, April 16 and 17 , 6:00 p.m. at Tuscarora Creek park in Leesburg (pre-registration required) Leesburg Registration Form

Saturday, April 20, 9-12 a.m. at Fireman’s Field Parking lot in Purcellville. Purcellville Registration Form

Tuesday and Wednesday, May 14 and 15, 6:30 p.m. at Tuscarora Creek park in Leesburg (pre-registration required)  Leesburg Registration Form

The workshops are open to all Loudoun residents.  Find the date and location that works best for your schedule, complete the registration form and send in with your check made payable to Loudoun SWCD.  The cost of a make-your-own rain barrel is $55 each, plus 5% tax, ($57.75) and a pre-made barrel is $70 each, plus 5% tax ($73.50).  If you have any questions, please give us a call at (571) 918-4530.


EarthHour is tonight, 8:30 – 9:30 pm.  Join the Party!

Will you be turning your lights out for an hour?


In celebration of World Water Day (yes, that’s today!), we invite you to join one of our stream monitoring teams!

Stream monitoring is fascinating and fun! You get to learn about and see all sorts of tiny animals that not only live in our streams but also tell us the story of water quality.

Stream monitoring takes places 3 times per year: Spring, Summer and Fall. Teams meet at their designated stream with the stream team leader and follow the Save Our Streams Protocol that we’ve adopted.

After collecting specimens from the stream, you sort the different insects by type into ice-cube trays. Then we count them.

It’s fun and it’s easy — and it’s a great way to put on your Citizen Scientist hat and contribute to wildlife and habitat protection and restoration.

Learn more about our Stream Monitoring Program and Sign Up here.


Currently being fast tracked through the County planning process is a rezoning application to allow a stadium at One Loudoun in Ashburn.

GBHNest_staffphotosWhile we are not opposed to baseball stadiums in general, the location of this proposed stadium is in a highly sensitive environmental area. The Great Blue Heron Rookery located on Loudoun County Parkway, just 4,600 feet from the proposed stadium, is the largest known nesting site for Great Blue Herons in Loudoun, supporting approximately 60 nests.

The developer currently plans to set off fireworks in April and May — this is prime nesting period for the Great Blue Heron. Fireworks being set off there during the nesting season can cause adult birds to abandon nest sites and young birds to spook, fall from nests and die.

We believe baseball fans will still attend the baseball games even if fireworks are not set off during the Great Blue Heron nesting period. [Let Bob Farron (, President/CEO of the Loudoun Hounds, know that you want the stadium to be a good neighbor to the Great Blue Herons and that you can still have a great time without fireworks during the period we're requesting]

Your voice is needed to convince the Board of Supervisors and the developer to ensure protection of the Rookery. Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy sent a letter to the Board of Supervisors asking that they deny this rezoning application unless the developer agrees not to use fireworks or similar loud noises during the Great Blue Heron nesting period (at minimum March 1 through June 30).

Great Blue Heron Rookery in Ashburn Recognized as a “Critical Wildlife Resource”

This rookery, located in Ashburn off Loudoun County Parkway, is recognized by the State of Virginia’s Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) as a “Critical Wildlife Resource.”

Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy has monitored this site for the past seven years and has documented the fact that the number of nests not only persists but is thriving as the number of nests increase each year.

VDGIF recommends limiting disturbance of the rookery from March 1 through July 30 [ref: Zadnik, February 2007]. Our recommendation to not use fireworks or other loud noises from March 1 through June 30 is already a compromise.

Birds are Highly Sensitive to Fireworks

Wildlife (and domestic animals and pets) are highly sensitive to fireworks especially because of their likeness to gun shots. There are many documented instances of fireworks causing mass confusion in birds, collisions and bird death.

Fireworks cause adult birds to leave the nest, leaving eggs or young birds exposed to the cold, or to abandon nests altogether. They also cause fledgling birds, not yet ready to fly, to spook and fall from the nest where they die.

We have provided the Board of Supervisors with a sampling of reports documenting this issue.

GBHNest2_staffphotosPrecedent for Rookery Protection is Already in Place

Since 2007 when the issue of protecting the Great Blue Heron Rookery was first raised, developers in the area agreed to institute protections. The goodwill of these businesses and their stakeholders should not be undermined by the developer of One Loudoun.

1) Kincora recognized this sensitivity and agreed not to set off fireworks from March 1 through June 30. They also agreed to proffers in the amount of $1.89M to implement environmental improvements to protect the Rookery.

2) Loudoun County Wetlands Bank Phase 3 was established to provide additional natural habitat in the area. Estimated value: $1.2M.

3) Potomac Radio Towers agreed to replant 3.38 acres of forest, 1.08 acres of shrubs and 2.71 acres of meadow. They further agreed not to perform any land disturbance activities from February 15 through July 31 and to use the auxiliary generator during the nesting season only in emergency situations when electrical power has been interrupted.

What We are Asking for Is Minimal: As stated previously, Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy is not opposed to baseball stadiums. It is the desire of this developer to set off fireworks during the Great Blue Heron nesting season that is the issue. We are asking the Board of Supervisors to deny this rezoning until the developer agrees not to set off fireworks or similar loud noises between at least March 1 and June 30.

This rookery is an iconic symbol for Loudoun, a “Critical Wildlife Resource”, and it cannot be replaced once abandoned.

GBHNestlings_staffphotosPlease Email Your Supervisor and the Full Board Now

Scott K. York (Chairman At-Large):

Shawn M. Williams, Vice Chairman, (Broad Run):

Suzanne M. Volpe (Algonkian):

Ralph M. Buona (Ashburn):

Janet S. Clarke (Blue Ridge):

Geary M. Higgins Office (Catoctin):

Matthew F. Letourneau (Dulles):

Kenneth D. Reid (Leesburg):

Eugene A. Delgaudio (Sterling):

Full Board:

If you would also like to speak on this issue, the Public Hearing on this rezoning application is scheduled for March 25, 6:00 PM @ Farmwell Station Middle School


Once again this year, Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy sent representatives to the annual Loudoun County Regional Science & Engineering Fair (RSEF).

This is the 32nd year for this event, which brings together High School students from all 13 High Schools to show their school science projects and to be judged both for Category awards and Special awards.

This year saw 187 exhibits in 17 categories; a broad cross-section of students with projects ranging from Aerodynamics to Water Quality.

A group of seven from Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy, led by Marcia Weidner, spent the day evaluating the exhibits to select winners for the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy Special Award.

After reviewing all 187 exhibits, and interviewing the students at 17 of the exhibits, we determined three winners based on their application of scientific research principles to projects relevant to Loudoun County, Nature and Conservation.

First Prize of $350 was given to a pair of Seniors from Loudoun Valley High School. Cara Broshkevitch and Anne Richards worked together on a project entitled “A Future with no Landfills,” researching environmentally-sustainable ways to biodegrade high-density polyethelene plastic (HDPE) from grocery bags, using various combinations of manganese stearate, thermal radiation, a fungus, and two bacteria.

Second Prize of $250 was awarded to Mohini Singh, a Senior from Briar Woods High School, for a project showing “The effect of Wolbachia (bacterium) on the Apis mellifera (honeybee) Population.” Her study involved collecting dead bees from a sampling of honeybee hives, and using DNA PCR testing to analyze the presence of Wolbachia in each hive, as a predictor of Colony Collapse Disorder.

Third Prize of $150 was given to Christopher Whimpenny, a Freshman from Broad Run High School, for his project on “The Effect of Housing Development Age on Soil Organic Carbon in Suburban Developments in Loudoun County, Virginia.” This study involved taking a large number of soil samples from each of a large number of areas in Loudoun County, and analyzing the percentage of organic carbon in each sample in a lab. This was then cross-referenced to the age of the housing development when land-clearing occurred, to graph the amount of Carbon which is present in the soil initially, and then over the subsequent years.

Each years’ Science Fair is open to the general public in the evening, after judging is complete, and it can be a very enjoyable few hours touring these exhibits just to see the quality of work, and the wide range of interest, of tomorrow’s scientists.

The winners of the Science Fair will put their exhibits on display at the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy’s Annual Meeting on May 19th and they will be presented with their checks during the business part of the meeting.

Thanks to all the students and their mentors for another great science fair!


Magic_Monarchs_FlyerThe Magic of Monarchs — Wednesday, April 10, 7:00 p.m., Morven Park in Leesburg.

Nicole Hamilton and six friends traveled to the mountains of Mexico to visit the Monarch sanctuaries this past February.

Come hear their tales of adventure, learn about the status of the Monarch population, and gather materials and information to jump in to the 2013 Monarch Butterfly campaign for people across Loudoun to plant Monarch Waystations and raise and release 2,013 Monarchs this summer and fall!

Registration required: Sign Up Online.

Questions: contact Jill Miller at

Download the flier here