Archive for August, 2014

Snickers Gap Hawk Watch is in need of volunteers, and we’re pretty sure you would LOVE such an extraordinary experience to view so many hawks!

Every fall, thousands of hawks migrate south, many of them following the Blue Ridge Mountains on their journey.  There are several official hawk watches in Virginia which monitor their numbers from year to year. The closest location to those of us here in Loudoun County, manned solely by volunteers, is the Snickers Gap Hawk Watch, on the borders of Loudoun and Clarke Counties.  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 Gap 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. Some can be seen with the naked eye, but binoculars (and when possible, a tripod and telescope) can be required for identification.

Peregrine in flight.  Photo by Liam McGranaghan

Peregrine in flight.
Photo by Liam McGranaghan

The Snickers Gap Hawk Watch season officially begins September 1st and will continue until November 30th. At this time, volunteer site counters are needed since many days are still not covered. Both volunteers with experience and those willing to learn are most welcome and encouraged to take part in this fascinating citizen count effort.  The Hawk Watch is a magnificent place to observe hawks, especially if you would like to learn to identify them. Volunteers are sure to find regular participants on the weekends, especially between 10am and 2pm, who take great pleasure in sharing their experience and knowledge.

Osprey in flight. Photo by Liam McGranaghan

Osprey in flight.
Photo by Liam McGranaghan

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 Hawk Watch 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. Directions and a map can be found here at the site online.

Report by Joe Coleman
Edited by Sarah Steadman




868 VineyardHeading into our butterfly count this year, many people were asking, “Where are all the butterflies?” Across our area, other butterfly counts had already taken place and numbers were very low. Why? Well, remember that polar vortex and those extreme cold temperatures that we had last winter? And remember that cooler wet spring that we had?  Those environmental factors really took a toll on our butterflies and other insects.

Most of our butterflies overwinter as chrysalides or caterpillars. Some overwinter in the egg stage and a few, like the Question Mark and Comma, overwinter as adults. The harsh temperatures may have just been a bit too much for many of them and the cooler spring delayed some of our plants. The earlier butterfly counts revealed the impact of these conditions.

But what about our Central Loudoun Count? Eighteen years ago, Bob Lyon tracked butterfly populations in Loudoun and determined that the first week of August is the peak for us in terms of butterfly diversity and numbers, and so we hold our count on the first Saturday in August each year. This year that decision was particularly pleasing because while the year started out slow, when it came time for our butterfly count, we had a good showing that, while lower than some years, was still decent.

Ida_Lee_Pecks_Skipper_20140802-2So what happened on August 2nd, 2014? For starters, we had really nice weather. Temperature were high 70s to low 80s and it was sunny. We had 8 teams manned by 76 people covering our count circle and by the time the day was done, we had spotted, identified and tallied 3,063 butterflies across 55 different species!

How does this compare to the past 5-6 years? Well, with the exception of last year during which we experienced a downpour, our count has averaged about 3500 butterflies. So we are a little below that. In terms of species diversity, however, our average is about 50 and this is only the second time that we have ever reached 55 species!

What were the standouts this year? There was a Giant Swallowtail at the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship that got everyone’s attention! We spotted a total of 63 Monarchs, giving us an indicator that Monarchs may see a modest recovery this year.   

Silver-spotted Skippers and Eastern-tailed Blues were out in force and our teams found 424 and 487 respectively! We also had the highest number of Zebra Swallowtails (58) ever spotted on our count but other swallowtail numbers were down.

We also saw very few hairstreaks although we did have 5 Juniper Hairstreaks at one location. Fritillaries were also lower.

You can look at the data and compare our results across the years by downloading our summary sheet here:

BRCESWe want to give a big thank you to all our team leads for scouting their sectors, coordinating their people, gathering the data, and teaching new people about butterflies: Larry Meade, Sheryl Pollock, Dirck Harris, Jon Little, Phil Daley, Tom Ramsay, Bob Blakney and Nicole Hamilton. 

We also want to thank all the people who joined us for the count – spotting and identifying and having a great time: Bob Ryan, Jo-Anne Burlew, Caroline Kuhfahl, Bob and Tamie DeWitt & Tom Gray, Bill Cour, Norma Wilson, Jane Yocom, John Magee, Gary Myers, Laurie Proulx, David Pollock, Mildred Porter, Barb Good, Kim Norgaard, Albert Ho, Irene Ho and Angela Ho, Donna Quinn, Carol & Chris White, Thomas Dombrowski, Heather Olson, Amy Ritter, Donna Travostino, Fred Gillis, Carol DiGiorgio, Monica Neff, Gail Gillis, Nancy Goetzinger, Tess McAllister, Pidge Troha, Jennifer Lieberman, Tony Murdock, Sarah, Jeff, Carter & Sam Steadman, Michael Seymour and family, Mary Price, Laura and Liam McGranaghan, Marcia Weidner, Janet Locklear, Paula & Chuck Myers, Ashley & Michael Brody +2 children, Jill Miller, Teresa Barth, Candi and Casey Crichton, Teresa Davenport, Donna MacNeil.

And a big thank you to all the people that not only keep terrific butterfly habitat but also allow us to visit year after year (VanHuyck, Kurtz, Wilson, MacDowell, Taylor, Gregory, Lohman, Hamilton, Cochran, Dawson) and all the managers of the public properties, parks and businesses we visited too!

What a great day it was!

Keep Calm and Butterfly On!

[photos: Team action shots by David Pollock, Peck's Skippers by Nicole Hamilton]


Thirteen birders came for our monthly (second Saturday) birdwalk at Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve in Loudoun County.  It was a nice (for August) day and the birding was about average for the walks at Banshee in August. Excellent views were seen of three different YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO and several BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHERS.

A total of 36 species were seen as follows:

Turkey Vulture, Red-shouldered Hawk, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Ruby Throated Hummingbird, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Eastern Wood-pewee, Eastern Phoebe, Great-crested Flycatcher, White-eyed Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue Jay, American Crow, Barn Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, European Starling, Prairie Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Eastern Towhee, Field Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, House Finch, American Goldfinch.

Del Sargent and Mary Ann Good


Spicebush_ST_Bergamot_20140803Landscape for Life

This five-week course in sustainable gardening is a course that shows you how to work with nature, whether you garden in a city, suburb, or rural area.

The US Botanic Garden and the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center designed the course.

This course will be useful to home gardeners concerned about supporting native wildlife, limiting runoff into the Chesapeake Bay, increasing their family’s wellbeing or just having a positive impact on the world through their garden.

The course also complements the training of Audubon At Home Ambassadors.

Even one home garden can begin to repair the web of life!

Lead instructor: Nan McCarry.
Location: Morven Park, 17263 Southern Planter Lane, Leesburg.
Cost: $20.

Choose from one of the two sessions:
Thursday evenings, Sept. 4 through Oct. 2, 6:45 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Saturday mornings, Sept. 6 through Oct. 4, 9:15 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

Registration Required: Please contact Ann Garvey at for questions and registration.


Monarch_20140804-24Interested in learning how to raise and release Monarch butterflies from caterpillars found in your garden?

Join us this Saturday for this free workshop:

Saturday, August 9, 2:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Raising and releasing butterflies can be a great way to not only learn about the life cycle of Monarch butterflies but also see the direct relationship between plants and animals.

We’ll share tips for finding eggs and caterpillars and for raising and releasing Monarchs through the summer and fall.

Rearing cages, milkweed plants and the book “How to Raise Monarch Butterflies” will be available for purchase.

The workshop will be held in the Carriage Museum at Morven Park (17263 Southern Planter Lane, Leesburg). Registration required: Sign Up Online ( Questions: contact us at


milkweed-plants-sale_20140719-2If you love Monarch butterflies then you must love milkweed. It is the only plant that the Monarchs lay their eggs on and the only plant that they eat as caterpillars.

The two favorites of the Monarch are (in this order) Common Milkweed and Swamp Milkweed — and we have both available for you to buy this weekend.

Saturday, August 9, 10:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monarchs are here and they’re laying eggs in gardens across Loudoun – even on plants that were just planted this past spring! If you need more milkweed plants (common milkweed or swamp milkweed) come to our plant sale and get what you need.

All plants are $3 each and are ready for planting and welcoming in the monarchs! We’ll have Monarch handouts and rearing cages available.

You’ll find us at Morven Park in the big parking lot on Southern Planter Lane. The address is 17263 Southern Planter Lane, Leesburg. Questions: Contact Nicole Hamilton at

These native milkweed plants are perennial – so plant them now and they’ll not only grow and thrive this year but also come back year after year to welcome the Monarchs to your garden.

All plants are $3 each.

Monarch_Joe_Pye_weed_20140802-11In addition to planting milkweed at home, look around — do you see an open sunny grassy spot?

Those spots are wastelands — but you can convert them to a rich healthy habitat by planting a native garden that will come back year after year.

If you go to a church or live in a community with shared open space/landscaping, chat with people you know about creating a Monarch waystation together. It can save maintenance money and look beautiful.

Here are two quick tip sheets to help with planning:

10′x10′ sample garden plot — a rough estimate of cost, number of plants and a grid to plan a 10′x10′ garden (

Top 15 native plants list — Milkweed plus native nectar plants make a waystation — easy and perennial! (