Archive for August, 2013

Every fall thousands of hawks migrate south, many of them following the Blue Ridge Mountains on their journey.  There are several official hawkwatches in Virginia which monitor their numbers from year to year. The closest one, manned solely by volunteers, is the Snickers Gap Hawkwatch, on the border of Loudoun and Clarke County.  It is affiliated with the Hawk Migration Association of North America (HMANA), which compiles the migration data of over 200 such sites located in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

Typically, about 12,000 raptors are counted at Snickers each season.  The highest seasonal count was just shy of 41,000 in 2011.  The birds are generally observed traveling in a southwesterly direction either directly over the ridge line or just off to either side, at varying heights and distances depending on weather conditions. Many can be seen with the naked eye, but binoculars are required for identification and, when possible, age and sex.

The Snickers Gap Hawkwatch season has officially begun and will continue until December 1. As a volunteer site counters are needed as many days are still not covered. Both volunteers with experience and those willing to learn are welcome.  The Hawkwatch is also a great place to observe hawks and learn how to identify them especially on weekends.

If you are interested, contact Joan Boudreau or Bob Abrams at 703-734-1238 or or just come on up (if no one is watching when you arrive start counting!). The Hawkwatch is about 10 minutes west of Purcellville where Route 7 crosses the Loudoun-Clarke County line and the Appalachian Trail (AT) near Bluemont.  The watch is adjacent to the highway (take a left at the top of the ridge on Rte 601 and an immediate right into the parking lot) and is conducted from the parking lot serving both commuters and AT hikers.


Here’s a wonderful walk through a garden and a look at the different species that live there.

Our Fall Native Plant Sale is coming up on September 14th – all the plants you need will be available!


Liz Dennison provided this amazing article on the Broad Winged Hawk Migration – And the opportunity we have right here in Loudoun to experience it!

Rea_Farm_Broadwing_Hawk-October 09, 2010-1-2

The spectacular autumn migration of Broad Winged Hawks ranks near the top of birders “must see” lists. Beginning in late summer, hawk watchsites will be set up throughout North America to observe and count broad wings and other raptors along their migratory routes. The Hawk Migration Association of North America (HMANA) compiles data from over 200 watchsites from Canada to Panama for use in monitoring populations and determining areas to be conserved. September 1st marks the beginning of the three month season at our local hawkwatch site at Snicker’s Gap with some of the best days in mid September. Each year thousands of hawks pass over this ridge at the Loudoun-Clark county line and are counted by a very dedicated group of volunteers. Help is always welcome so if you’re interested in participating in this very valuable citizen science project, contact Joan Boudreau or Bob Abrams at 703-734-1238 or or just come up and join us.

Even as we’re enjoying the heat of summer, Broad Winged Hawks are becoming restless in anticipation of their long migration to Central and South America. These relatively small buteos will attempt to make their journey of thousands of miles with barely the flap of a wing, relying on late summer thermals and updrafts off the mountains to carry them. They are often seen in kettles of tens, hundreds, or even thousands as they spiral upward using every bit of lift the atmosphere will provide before setting into a southwesterly glide only to repeat the process many times until they reach their destination.

My first hawk watch experience was in 2011. Mid September was chilly and damp but it was a spectacular time for observing hawks at Snickers Gap. A total of 37,520 broad wings were counted along with hundreds of Osprey, Bald Eagles, Northern Harriers, Cooper’s Hawks, Red Shouldered Hawks, Red Tailed Hawks, and American Kestrels. There were even a few Northern Goshawks, Golden Eagles, Merlins, and Peregrine Falcons. But one day – September 18th – really stands out. Between 8:30 AM and 5:00 PM observers counted more than 13,952 Broad Winged Hawks. I was awestruck but I can’t describe it any better than the account recorded by Joan Boudreau and Bob Abrams on the HMANA website,

“This was a day to remember. We had the second highest count ever on a single day at Snickers Gap, and the biggest day either of us has seen here. The numbers tell most of the story. The amazing sight that ended the day for us was something that none present had seen before. The last group of Broadwings that came over the eastern ridge totaled 45 birds. About 15 of these hawks continued on down towards the Shenandoah Valley. The remaining birds dropped down through the tree tops on the south facing slope of our eastern ridge to roost [for the night]. Some glided in slowly and others plummeted in as if diving after prey. Several of the birds that had passed came back from the west and went into the forest as well. Surreal, serene and fitting for the last birds of the day. May the skies open a similar path for our friends again tomorrow!”

September 19th brought 8574 hawks followed by 4765 on the 20th. The best days for observing broad wings at Snicker’s Gap are September 16th through the 23rd with possible good days on either side of that. Counts are usually done between 9:30 and 4:00. This is a volunteer site and new observers are always welcome. You will usually find a friendly group of experienced people eager to provide guidance and let you peer through their scopes at distant birds. Not every year will be like 2011 but even if the broad wings don’t show up in large numbers, you might be entertained by stories of past migrations or the playful antics of the local ravens.

The Hawkwatch is about 50 minutes west of the Washington Beltway and 10 minutes west of Purcellville, VA where Route 7 crosses the Loudoun-Clarke County line, and where the Appalachian Trail (AT) crosses the road just west of Bluemont (formerly Snickersville). The watch is adjacent to the highway and is conducted from the parking lot serving both commuters and AT hikers. Take a left at the top of the ridge on Rte 601 and an immediate right into the parking lot. There are no facilities at the site, so bring a snack, drinks, and a chair. Birds are often seen from a distance so bring a scope or good pair of binoculars along with a bit of patience. As with most things in nature, those who wait patiently are often rewarded.


ButterflyID-0219(8-17-13BRC).On August 17th, we held a Blue Ridge Center butterfly walk. We found 18 species of butterflies on the walk, most on Mountain View Farm, the organic farm that leases land from the center.

Because Mountain View does not use any pesticides or herbicides and relies extensively on Integrated Pest Management techniques it is always a great place to find a rich variety of butterflies and yesterday was no exception.

We began the walk on Mountain View Farm and then went by the old farm pond and a short ways down the Old farmstead Loop. Most of the butterflies that are more shade tolerant were along the latter along with the caterpillars. The Zebra Swallowtail was seen by a couple of the participants as the rest of us were driving off.

Not everyone stayed for the entire walk, which started at 9 am and concluded at 11:45 am but all told there were about 25 participants on the walk at one time or another.

Zebra Swallowtail, Black Swallowtail, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Spicebush Swallowtail, Cabbage White, Clouded Sulphur, Orange Sulphur, Eastern-tailed Blue, Summer Azure, Silvery Checkerspot, Pearl Crescent, Hackberry Emperor, Northern Pearly-eye, Silver-spotted Skipper, Clouded Skipper, Little Glassywing, Northern Broken Dash, Zabulon Skipper

Thank you Teresa McAllister for the photo of the Clouded Skipper!


Lori Berry led her girl scout troop #458 in setting up a Monarch Waystation at Morven Park in Leesburg VA this past June. As the wrap up of their project they produced this video to help share the accomplishment.

Here’s the video:

This waystation has been absolutely incredible in terms of productivity -Monarchs, Zebra Swallowtails, skippers, Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, Red Admirals, Assassin bugs, aphids, lady beetles, hummingbirds, a variety of bees, lacewings, gosh, I’m sure I’ve seen more there too.

It’s a wonderful garden. Some female Monarchs clearly found it suitable…we’ve found well over 100 caterpillars in this little patch! :)


The highlight’s of the regular monthly bird walk at the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship on Sat., Aug 25, attended by 14 people, were numerous flycatchers, many unidentified, and at least eight dif. hummingbirds.

A tall dead tree on the edge of one of the meadows was populated while we watched by a number of very mobile Cedar Waxwings, both adults and juveniles; a few mimids including at least one Brown Thrasher, Catbird, and a mocker; a few dif. flycatchers, including a Great Crested,  a pewee or two, and some pretty active empidonax flycatchers. And while we tried to make at least one of the flycatchers into an Olive-sided Flycatcher, we did not succeed.

Two more mixed flocks in other edge habitat also included a variety of dif. flycatchers including at least one Traill’s, an Acadian & what were probable Acadians, a couple of Pewees: as well as numerous nuthatches, chickadees, and titmice and, in one location a well-seen Yellow-billed Cuckoo. At least three other heard cuckoos were heard in a variety of dif. locations.

Also, while there weren’t a lot of sparrow species there were numerous Chipping Sparrows and Field Sparrows of all ages, and in a couple of dif. locations, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds zipping around and occasionally perching.   Saturday morning’s bird walk was led by Joe Coleman & Del Sargent who were assisted by several good birders in the group.

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

The complete list follows:

Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship – MFF01, Loudoun, US-VA Aug 24, 2013 7:45 AM – 7:00 PM Protocol: Traveling 1.5 mile(s) Comments:     The group walked from the Education Center to the two meadows and on to the Farmstead Loop, returning partway on the Piney Spur Loop. The highlights of the walk were the many unidentified flycatchers and the numerous hummingbirds (at least 8 were seen). 43 species (+2 other taxa)

Turkey Vulture, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk  1, Rock Pigeon  1, Mourning Dove, Yellow-billed Cuckoo  4, Chimney Swift  6, Ruby-throated Hummingbird  8, Belted Kingfisher  1, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker  1, Pileated Woodpecker  3, Eastern Wood-Pewee  8, Acadian Flycatcher  1, Alder/Willow Flycatcher (Traill’s Flycatcher)  2, Empidonax sp.  5, Eastern Phoebe  2, Great Crested Flycatcher  3, Red-eyed Vireo  4, American Crow, Common Raven, Barn Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher  2, European Starling  3, Cedar Waxwing  15, Blue-winged Warbler  1, Common Yellowthroat  4, Chipping Sparrow  10, Field Sparrow  15, Song Sparrow  2, Northern Cardinal, Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting  12, Red-winged Blackbird  1, Orchard Oriole  2, American Goldfinch.


Well we couldn’t get up to the Adirondacks to see Chip Taylor in person but he just gave this great talk on Monarch Butterflies at The Wild Center and they were kind enough to record it so we could share it with you!

In his talk he discusses not only the population trends but also causes like Climate Change and the use of GMO crops and herbicides.

Excellent program, about an hour long so settle in and enjoy!


Piedmont Prairie Development at Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve

How Banshee Reeks is using an ecological approach to develop a native Piedmont Prairie

 Saturday, September 21

9:30 am to 12:30 pm


Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve

21085 The Woods Road
Leesburg, VA 20175


VNPS programs are free and open to the public, however space on this trip is limited and registration is required.


Native grasslands in Virginia are semi-natural plant communities which develop as a result of some disturbance regime, and are generally a transitional state to an Eastern deciduous or pine forest unless they are actively managed to remain a meadow.

While old farm fields have certainly undergone a “disturbance regime”, active management is required to create a native meadow at these sites due to the entrenched fescue and invasive exotic plants.  This can be so challenging that managers often resort to extensive use of herbicides to clear the old fields.  There are obvious downsides to this approach, making it unsuitable for a wildlife preserve.

At Banshee Reeks, the manager is following an ecological approach and is working to establish a native Piedmont Prairie or Savannah.  We will follow the development of this prairie/savannah for at least three years.  In this first visit, the Preserve Manager, Ron Circe, will host us for a brief overview of the long-term plan and describe what has been done to date, including lessons learned thus far. We will then visit the newly established meadow next to the Visitors Center.  Optionally, we can bring a picnic lunch and spend the afternoon exploring the fields and forests of this wonderful place.


About the Native Piedmont Prairie Community Type

Visit the VA Natural Heritage site for a description of this natural community:


About Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve

Banshee Reeks is a hidden gem in nearby Loudoun County – home to every major habitat found in the Piedmont.  The Preserve is actively managed to increase and maintain the highest biodiversity possible. Over 200 species of birds, 100 species of native bees and 250 species of native plants have been identified by Citizen Science Projects, including some species rare to VA.  A native plant nursery has been established by the Master Naturalists, with support from Earth Sangha.


About Ron Circe

Ron Circe has earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in Biology, Ecology and Geology, and has worked as a research scientist, a principal in environmental consulting, and an adjunct professor.  He has published multiple journal articles and is a member of numerous ecological societies, including the Botanical Society of America.


350 Loudoun set up this great opportunity to see Carbon Nation — details are below:


 “Excellent.” The Los Angeles Times

“Lively and Fun.” The Seattle Times

“Entertaining … endearing … and exceptional.” The Huffington Post


carbon nation’ movie screening
Please join us on Monday, August 26 for a local screening of ‘carbon nation,’ a climate change solutions movie.

DATE:  August 26, 2013
LOCATIONS: Meeting Room, Rust Library

380 Old Waterford Rd NW, Leesburg, VA 20176



Watch the trailer here About the Film:
Tired of the doom-and-gloom news about climate change? ‘carbon nation’ is an inspirational, optimistic, solutions-based, non-preachy, non-partisan, big tent film that shows tackling climate change boosts the economy, increases national & energy security and promotes health & a clean environment.

Narrated by Bill Kurtis, the cast includes: Richard Branson (CEO, Virgin Group), Thomas L. Friedman (The New York Times), Former CIA Director James Woolsey, Van Jones (Founder, Green For All), Col. Dan Nolan, U.S. Army (Ret), Bernie Karl (Geothermal pioneer from Alaska), Denis Hayes (Founder of Earth Day), Cliff Etheredge



This short video (5 minutes) talks about Monarch migration routes both in the fall and in the spring and the overwintering activities in Mexico: