Archive for April, 2014

Saturday, May 3 at the Walker Nature Center in Reston there is a plant sale from 1-5 in the afternoon.  We couldn’t find any more information about this online but Nature-by-Design will be there selling native plants. 

Randy tells us that the sale is much smaller that the one that we just held, so he advises that if you would like plants from him then preorder to ensure availability (but of course that is not required).  Nature-by-Design will accept any preorders that come in by the end of business on Friday, May 2nd.  Nursery phone number is 703-683-4769 and our email is

Walker Nature Education Center
11450 Glade Drive, Reston, VA 20191
(703) 476-9689



Birds can be heard and seen all over our area; they must know it’s almost International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD)!

This month’s Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy bird walk at the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship was cheerfully led by Bruce Hill and Mary Ann Good.

All participants enjoyed the beautiful surroundings and a number of “First Of Spring” (more widely dubbed as FOS) birds and some hangers-on.

Returning residents included Great Crested Flycatcher, Yellow throated Vireo, Purple Martin, Wood Thrush, Gray Catbird, Blue-winged Warbler (well-seen by all), Cerulean Warbler, Am. Redstart, Ovenbird, Hooded Warbler, Scarlet Tanager glowing in the sun, and Grasshopper Sparrow.

Passers-through (again, they must know it’s almost IMBD) or hangers-on included Blue-headed Vireo, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Swainson’s Thrush, Swamp Sparrow, and lots of White-throats.

Other exciting highlights were a Sharp-shinned Hawk taking a grab at a swallow– the swallow actually got away, 2 Common Ravens vocalizing throughout the walk, and a really close look at a singing White-eyed Vireo.

Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy’s monthly bird walks are FREE and open to the public of all ages.  In fact, as the summer months find our kids out of school, we encourage families to join in the fun with their children.  Children are naturals at seeing the slightest movement and hearing the higher pitched song birds; with a little instructional help from our wonderful guides, birding can become a wonderful family activity to be shared life-long. Think about inviting your neighbors and their kids to join us in May.

Also, as previously mentioned, IMBD is almost here!  Take a look at the online Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy IMBD events and REGISTER for some sure-to-be amazing bird walks.

Here is a preview of some of our upcoming events:
Celebrate Birds, Go Birding! International Migratory Bird Day
Saturday, May 3 – Sunday, May 11.

During the spring, thousands of migratory birds move through North America to their nesting territories. Some will stay and nest in our area, while others will spend only a few days here replenishing their energy before continuing a journey that may be thousands of miles long. To celebrate and highlight this natural phenomenon and the importance of natural habitats,

Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy has scheduled several IMBD walks between May 3 and 11. All walks begin at 8 am and require registration except for Birding Banshee.
Registration required: Sign Up Online
Questions: Contact Jill Miller at

  • Birding Elizabeth Mills Riverfront Park, Tuesday, May 6. Led by Bill Brown & Joe Coleman
  • Birding Camp Highroad, Friday, May 9. Led by Linda Millington & Christine Perdue
  • Birding Algonkian Regional Park, Saturday, May 10. Led by Bill Brown & Larry Meade
  • Birding Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve, Saturday, May 10. Led by Del Sargent, Dori Rhodes, & Joanne Bradbury.
  • Birding Waterford’s Phillips Farm, Sunday, May 11. Led by Bruce Johnson.

Eyes to the sky,
Sarah Steadman
(Report submitted by Mary Ann Good)

The full list of birds seen from this walk follows;
you will be AMAZED at how many species were seen in such a short time:

  • Canada Goose
  • Black Vulture
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Mourning Dove
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • No. Flicker
  • Pileated Woodpecker
  • Am. Kestrel
  • Great Crested Flycatcher
  • White-eyed Vireo
  • Yellow-throated Vireo
  • Blue-headed Vireo
  • Blue Jay
  • Am. Crow
  • Common Raven – 2
  • Purple Martin
  • Tree Swallow
  • Barn Swallow
  • Car. Chickadee
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Carolina Wren
  • House Wren
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • E. Bluebird
  • Swainson’s Thrush
  • Wood Thrush
  • Am. Robin
  • Gray Catbird
  • No. Mockingbird
  • Brown Thrasher
  • Eur. Starling
  • Blue-winged Warbler
  • Cerulean Warbler
  • Am. Redstart
  • Ovenbird
  • La. Waterthrush
  • Com. Yellowthroat
  • Hooded Warbler
  • Scarlet Tanager
  • E. Towhee
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Field Sparrow
  • Grasshopper Sparrow
  • Song Sparrow
  • Swamp Sparrow
  • White-throated Sparrow
  • No. Cardinal
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • E. Meadowlark
  • Com. Grackle
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • House Finch
  • Am. Goldfinch

Bird report by Mary Ann Good



Check out this excellent article and Improve Your Curb Appeal! – in it, Doug Tallamy takes all the big native plant myths head on:

Morven_Ruby-throated_hummingbird_20130808-6Myth 1: Native plants are messy — MYTH BUSTED
Myth 2: Native plants cannot be used formally — MYTH BUSTED
Myth 3: Dense plantings cannot be attractive — MYTH BUSTED
Myth 4: Native plants will be destroyed by insects — MYTH BUSTED
Myth 5: Native plants are not as pretty as non-natives — MYTH BUSTED
Myth 6: Native landscapes will be scorned by your neighbors — MYTH BUSTED
Myth 7: Native plants attract vermin — MYTH BUSTED
Myth 8: Native plants are too expensive — MYTH BUSTED



Do You Need Milkweed for Your Garden?

Yes! We Know You Do!

If there is no milkweed, then there are no Monarch butterflies. Let’s plant milkweed and nectar plants and keep the magic alive!

BRCES_Monarch_Aug_6_2008_22Please spread the news far and wide and mark your calendar!

We’ve lined up a couple of special sale dates!

We will have Common milkweed, Swamp milkweed and a small number of Tuberosa (aka “Butterflyweed”)

All plants are $3 each
and they were all grown pesticide free!

We will have free handouts on planting Monarch waystations and caring for milkweed as well as a few items for sale such as our Monarch t-shirt ($20, organic cotton), Rearing Monarchs book ($7), and Monarch rearing cages ($15 for the large, $10 for the small)

Questions contact: Nicole Hamilton:

Saturday, May 17, Morven Park, Turkey Hill, 10:00 – 1:00
On May 17th, we will be planting a huge Monarch Waystation at Turkey Hill with the help of almost 70 girl scouts and other volunteers. Stop by after 10am (after we have gotten started) to see the waystation planting and buy milkweed plants and more. Be aware – you will need to park in the main parking area and walk to Turkey Hill. There is no parking at the location.

Sunday, May 18, Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship, 2:00 – 4:00
On May 18th, with the help of 30+ girl scouts and their families, we will be planting a waystation near the visitor center. Stop by after 2:00 (after we have gotten started) to check out the waystation and buy milkweed plants and more.

Monarch_20130701-2Tuesday, May 20, Morven Park – in the Big Parking Area, 3:30 – 7:00
This is the big sale that we hope you’ll make it to! Tell your friends and neighbors! We’ll pull out all the plants, and will be set up right in the big parking lot so there’s no walking involved. If we have any extra nectar plants they will be available for sale as well. Inch by inch, row by row, let’s make milkweed and Monarch butterflies grow!

Sunday, June 1, Pre-Meeting Plant Sale, 2:00 – 4:00 at Morven Park’s Carriage Museum
On June 1st, we’ll be holding our 19th Annual Meeting but before the meeting gets started, you are welcome to come out for a plant sale. We will have both milkweed and nectar plants available. Be aware – there is no parking at the location so you will need to walk to it from either the small parking area or the main one.


The quick answer is because that’s what nurseries sell and landscapers design with. I remember when I first learned that the plants sold in most nurseries were not from here. It was a rude awakening – and we threw away our landscaping plan (not the design but the plant list) and replaced the plant selections with native ones.  You can do this too.

Need some advice on your landscaping? Contact us for a visit by an Audubon at Home Ambassador. We also know a few local native plant landscape designers and can give you those contacts as well.

Here’s a great write-up  by Dr. Leah Knapp that talks about how we got into this non-native fix. An excerpt is below: 

Let’s take a look at a little history of the garden in America.

When Europeans first came to the New World, they were too concerned with growing food crops (and, ironically, tobacco, for sale back to Europe) to worry about gardening. When they did grow plants for pleasure, they preferred what was familiar from their homes back in Europe – tulips, foxgloves, hollyhocks, daisies and the like. As a species we tend to feel suspicion or discomfort from what is unfamiliar, and the sheer wildness of this “untamed” continent was sometimes disturbing or even frightening to the settlers after the intensely human-controlled Europe they’d left behind. Planting what was familiar provided a comfort and a sense of control.

As European settlement of America grew, Colonial gardeners favored the formal geometric gardens that were popular in Europe at the time, such as we can now see in historic sites such as Williamsburg. Following the Revolutionary War to the mid 1800’s, the preferred garden style became the “natural look”, which sometimes incorporated some native plants. Thomas Jefferson was a fan of natives, planting many at Monticello. As trade with other parts of the world expanded, plants were imported to the US and Europe, creating a thirst for more color and large exotic flowers, particularly tropical and subtropical plants from South America, Africa and Asia.

The development of greenhouses allowed for easy propagation and sale of these plants, and the interest in what were, in America, annuals, meant even more profits for growers as people had to replace many of the plants each year. The Victorian craze for “bedding out” with blankets of petunias, begonias, geraniums and other such profusely blooming tropicals spread from Europe to the US, displacing the use of native plants that had previously gained some popularity.

Now it’s up to us to turn that tide – be proud of our native natural ecosystems and fear not the plants that were here before our founding fathers. Native plants are basic elements in a healthy environment. Pull out those non-native invaders and replace with landscaping that knows our soils, our climate and our wildlife.

Ask your local nursery where they have their native plant section — and ask if they are pesticide free. Native plants are our best friends!


International Migratory Bird Day!!  And it’s almost here – and so are the birds! 

2014_Art_EnglishWarblers, tanagers, orioles, swifts, swallows, and more – all flying back from their winter in central and south America.  Some will stay here to breed while others will just stop in to feed, take a rest and continue their flight northward to their breeding grounds. It’s a wonderful time to tune in to this great rhythm of nature!

Join us as we celebrate International Migratory Bird Day with a series of great bird walks from May 3-11. 

All walks begin at 8 am and require registration except for Birding Banshee.

To Register: Sign Up Online. Questions: Contact Jill Miller at
- Birding Elizabeth Mills Riverfront Park, Tuesday, May 6. Led by Bill Brown & Joe Coleman
- Birding Camp Highroad, Friday, May 9. Led by Linda Millington & Christine Perdue
- Birding Algonkian Regional Park, Saturday, May 10. Led by Bill Brown & Larry Meade
- Birding Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve, Saturday, May 10. Led by Del Sargent, Dori Rhodes, & Joanne Bradbury.
- Birding Waterford’s Phillips Farm, Sunday, May 11. Led by Bruce Johnson.

Also during this week, a series of teams will be doing the annual Birdathon — you can form a team or  sponsor any of these teams and show your support for conservation and action!


Please report your Monarch sightings to us ( and post it to Journey North ( — they’ll show up on a map — the data is so important, especially this year! 

Plus, when we report our data we can see the migration play out before us – it’s happen right now you know!


Here is a great write-up from Wild Ones that focuses on the most popular milkweed plants in our area (most popular with us as gardeners/habitat stewards and with the Monarchs :) :

Milkweeds are different underground

Different milkweeds (Asclepias) have slightly different flowers, though they have many similarities. But there are more prominent differences below ground. These differences aren’t visible to you (or to the monarch butterflies), but they do make a difference in how you select and maintain your milkweeds.

Swamp milkweed

Swamp milkweed’s (A. incarnata) roots are the most conventional looking; they simply radiate out from the center as a clump. Additional stalks the plant develops as it matures are connected to roots, so it’s possible to divide the plant in a conventional way. They will often reseed, too, but in a modest way.

Butterflyweeds (A. tuberosa) have taproots, which helps them thrive in dry, poor soil. Taproots cannot be divided! They will occasionally reseed, but generally not as often as we’d like.

Common milkweed

Common milkweed (A. syriaca), on the other hand, spreads underground by rhizomes. That’s why you’ll see plants popping up here and there, forming a colony. Although this may not be convenient in a formal garden, they can be accommodated if you reserve part of your landscape for more natural landscaping, perhaps pulling up extra stalks. And they’re a monarch butterfly favorite!

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As we enjoy spring and summer and look to the skies and our gardens for Monarchs, it’s really important to resist the urge to buy Monarch caterpillars through butterfly breeders. If you want to raise & release Monarchs – find them in the wild on your milkweed plants.

BRCES_Common_Milkweed_20130707-7Plant your milkweed and nectar plants this May/June, and watch for Monarchs. Check for eggs & caterpillars in August – that will be our best window.

Bring Back the milkweed and nectar plants and the Monarchs will do their part!

Lincoln Brower and his colleagues summed it up best and we’ll simply share the reasons here – bottom line up front: Mass breeding inevitably encounters more disease. Releasing Monarchs with disease into a wild population that is already on the brink could be the final straw that ends this.

Please deter anyone you know (especially teachers) from buying Monarch caterpillars!  [Last year we heard about a local school system that purchased hundreds of Monarch caterpillars - most died - a terrible experience for the kids - and those that lived were released - but very likely with disease]

From the Journey North website:

Concerns about Mass-rearing and Selling of Monarchs
By Sonia Altizer, Lincoln Brower, Elizabeth Howard, and Karen Oberhauser

Can we help monarchs by buying and releasing captive-reared individuals? With the reports of low monarch numbers, many people are considering purchasing monarchs from commercial operations and releasing them to augment local populations.

We suggest that this practice is unlikely to benefit monarchs, and could actually hurt them, for the following reasons:

1. Disease
Mass-production of monarchs makes it easy to transmit disease. Monarchs did not evolve under conditions in which they developed in large groups, and are very susceptible to diseases that can be transmitted among larvae. There are no requirements that breeders follow specific disease-preventing protocols, nor are there outside agencies that routinely test captive stock for diseases. In our research labs, we raise only a fraction of the numbers of monarchs that breeders sell, and use hospital-like sterile conditions. Even under these conditions, it is hard to keep pathogens in check. The most common monarch pathogen, Ophyrocystis elektroscirrha (Oe), is the easiest to screen for and keep out, but doing so requires constant vigilance. In the recent past, we have noted that some commercially purchased monarchs were heavily infected with this parasite. We occasionally get unknown pathogens affecting monarchs in our labs (suspected Serratia, Nosema and cytoplasmic virus that have been introduced from wild-caught material); these pathogens often kill 30% or more of our monarchs. Three of us have been rearing monarchs from wild material for over two decades, and these die-offs in our study animals only started happening to us in 2004-05. While we don’t know why this is, it coincides temporally with increased releases of commercially-bred monarchs. We wonder if there are pathogens that are common in wild monarchs now that can be traced to these releases. There is strong evidence that the dissemination of commercially-bought bumblebees used to pollinate glasshouse tomatoes has helped spread two key pathogens, Crythidia and Nosema, into wild bumble bee populations in North America, and this appears to have driven at least one species extinct in the wild.

2. Genetic diversity
The loss of genetic diversity among wild monarchs is also a concern. We don’t know how many parents are contributing to the genetic stock of any given purchase, and it seems likely that breeders will share stock to augment their breeding colonies. Thus it is very possible that many of the released monarchs could be related. The release of large numbers of individuals with low genetic diversity could contribute to further declines due to inbreeding depression.

3. Deleterious genetic adaptations
Studies in species as different as fruit flies and fish show that animals can adapt to captive conditions in as short as one or two generations. When this happens, researchers see a high frequency of alleles that would be harmful or have reduced survivorship in the wild. The more captive generations, the more extreme this effect. Here is a quote from a review paper on this topic:

“In captivity, species adapt genetically to the captive environment and these genetic adaptations are overwhelmingly deleterious when populations are returned to wild environments” (Frankham 2008).

For all of these reasons, we do not advocate for the release of purchased monarchs to help restore the eastern monarch population. This could do more harm than good, especially if done on a mass-scale.