With the passing of Otto Gutenson last week, Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy and the region as a whole has lost a valued environmentalist and volunteer.

As noted in his obituary, Gutenson, 68, passed away September 20 of complications of Parkinson’s disease.

He was “a very dedicated conservationist and wildlife activist,” said Phil Daley, who worked closely with Gutenson since the inception of Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy’s stream monitoring program in 1996.

“As a long time advisor to Loudoun Wildlife’s Board and stream team, he will be sorely missed. I will miss his wit, knowledge and friendship,” Daley said.

Through Gutenson’s many contacts with federal, state and local officials “he kept our ‘stream team’ abreast of trends in monitoring and data collection requirements,” Daley said. “Otto was key in establishing Loudoun Watershed Watch as a widely recognized advocate for water quality within Loudoun County and the state.”

“He used his professional experience to inform his volunteer participation and inform those of us who didn’t have that background,” recalled Gem Bingol, Clarke and Loudoun County Land Use Officer with the Piedmont Environmental Council.

Daley and Bingol said Gutenson helped Loudoun Wildlife’s stream team adopt the more volunteer-friendly Virginia Modified Save Our Streams system of gathering insects and evaluating the health of Loudoun’s streams.

“He felt that it was important that the process be easy, yet reliable enough for anyone to do. He helped us see how our work fit into the bigger picture,” Bingol said.

But it wasn’t just Gutenson’s expertise that left a mark; his wit and personality shone through as well.

David Ward, who currently heads Loudoun Watershed Watch, and his wife, Carol, began their stream monitoring under Gutenson’s guidance.

“Occasionally joined by other volunteers, we cherished our time with Otto as he entertained us on a myriad of subjects,” Ward said.  “With pipe in hand, Otto never missed the opportunity to share his thoughts and political ramblings. His twinkly-eyed dry humor made collecting and identifying macroinvertebrates an enjoyable event.

“One monitoring event coincided with Otto’s birthday, so we presented him with an oversized magnifying glass and a ‘King of the Bugs’ baseball cap,” Ward said.

“We will miss Otto’s ‘streamside’ manner, uncanny wit – our mentor and our friend.”

Photo by David Ward

Photo by David Ward


Here’s another chance to help pollinators!

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and several local groups, including Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy, have planned a Habitat Planting for the Park and Ride Lot near the intersection of Rts. 50 and 340 in Clarke County on Thursday, September 22.

There will be 2,500 native plants that need to be put in the ground, including milkweed and at least 15 other species, and we’d be thrilled to have your help for any or all of the time that day. The planting is scheduled to go from 10 a.m. to about 2:30 p.m.

Monarch butterfly

More native plants help more pollinators

Please wear sturdy shoes, bring a trowel if you have one, and pack a lunch if you can stay long. There will be water available and there are several convenience stores nearby.

For more information contact Steve Carroll at sbc3p@eservices.virginia.edu

RAIN DATE: The decision to go ahead or not will be made the day before. In case of cancellation the rain date is Tuesday, September 27, 10 a.m. to about 2:30 p.m.


Her name was Meredyth but everyone knew her as Merry, “just like in Christmas,” she told one person.

When she died last week from a rare blood disease, Merry Breed was park manager at Claude Moore Park in Sterling, part of the Loudoun County Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Services.

“Merry was always interested in nature. She loved going on hikes and walking on trails,” said Phil Daley, a past president of Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy. “She even talked me into going on a night hike without a flashlight!”

Daley said that while she was still a pre-school teacher at Sterling Community Center, Merry worked with him to set up natural history camps in the 1990s for the Piedmont Environmental Council. “She later went on to work as a naturalist at Claude Moore Park,” said Daley.

A longtime member of and volunteer with Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy, Merry shared her knowledge and her love of and joy in nature with fellow supporters of the organization, as well as with park visitors and parishioners of her beloved St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Sterling.

Merry Breed, children planting waystation

Merry Breed and friends after planting a waystation.

Here, in appreciation, are some Loudoun Wildlife tributes to Merry Breed.

Nicole Hamilton, Executive Director

Merry was an amazing woman. Her love of nature and passion for sharing it was infectious.  I knew her best through our Monarch campaign.  She rallied the people at St. Matthew’s to convert lawn in front of their church into a Monarch waystation garden that became alive with pollinators and welcomed Monarchs.

She made Monarch lifecycle costumes and put on plays for her congregation and others to share the Monarch story.  She worked with her team at Claude Moore and with teachers at Sterling Elementary School to plant milkweed, raise Monarch caterpillars and inspire others to do the same. She and I often talked about Monarchs and how the magic of it all never gets old.

Merry was fearless, would speak for wildlife and habitats and the human connections.  She shared her knowledge so freely.

Last February we did our amphibian program kickoff with her at Claude Moore and we walked through the woods at night in order to hear and see frogs. Bats flew through the trees as we shuffled along the path; toads and frogs called from the pond.  She was in her element and I will always remember and cherish those moments together.

Merry was keeping the magic alive every day and we know she continues to smile with us with every wild encounter and every heart touched by nature.

Sarah Steadman, Youth and Family Programs Chair

Most people know that Merry’s nickname comes from her name Meredyth, but I always imagined it could be short for ‘merriment.’

In everything she did, in every class she led, in all the classroom walls, nature center features, and event tables she crafted, and always in her wide-eyes and in the enthusiasm of her voice — especially when engaging with children — Merry was joyful! She gifted so many with her mirthful light and teaching.

I first met Merry when our Monarch conservation paths crossed, but we really bonded over our shared passion for environmental education and youth.

Evermore, when I visit Claude Moore Visitor Center, especially the beautiful Monarch waystation she established there, I will tip my hat to this master educator, passionate conservationist, and loving grandmother.

Ann Garvey, Audubon At Home Coordinator

It was at the very first orientation for volunteers on the Plant NoVA Natives campaign that I meet Merry. That evening in 2014, Merry was tooling around with one leg on a scooter recovering from a recent leg surgery.

She said, ‘Hi I’m Merry, just like in Christmas, and I’d like to help on this campaign.’

And help she did working the Loudoun Wildlife Native Plant Sale at Morven Park, handing out Plant NoVA Native guides. Whenever there was an event at Claude Moore Park, there was a display of information on Plant NoVA Natives that Merry had arranged.

She lived what she preached about the importance of native plants for our animals by helping to establish monarch waystations at Claude Moore, her church and her home.

Like many people, I will miss Merry as will the plants and animals she cared so much for.

Katherine Daniels, President

I worked a long shift with Merry at one of our plant sales a couple of years ago. She and I were exhausted as the event finally ended. We were two of the few left to clean up.

I was limping with sore knees and feet. She told me about her rheumatoid arthritis and immunologic treatment. She had such a great attitude regarding how much the latter helped her. She stayed and helped until we were done. It inspired me to push, too.

She was a very kind person who really loved nature!



leesburg_Loggerhead_Shrike_2008A five-year statewide effort is under way to document the bird species that breed in Virginia. The project is the 2nd Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas (VBBA2), the first such  survey since the first VBBA was completed 25 years ago, and you can help.

The data collected will help document species distribution. This is important so it is known how factors such as climate change and development are affecting bird communities and that in turn will affect natural resource and conservation decisions.

The project involves the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the Virginia Society of Ornithology, bird clubs, Master Naturalist chapters and, as a citizen science project, will need lots of volunteers to help collect data over the next five years. The project divides the area into 12 regions. Each region is broken into blocks, each of which is surveyed.

If you volunteered to help count for the 2009-2014 Loudoun County Bird Atlas, here’s your chance to get out again as the breeding season gets going. If you did not take part then but enjoy watching birds, here’s a chance to contribute to this very important effort. You can team up with friends to count, including the species that show up at your feeder.

If you’d like to find out what kind of information is gathered, check out the Loudoun County Bird Atlas summary and species lists at loudounwildlife.org/Bird_Atlas.htm.

For more information about the Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas and how to get involved, visit the website here. You can also follow the progress on Facebook – just search for the  2nd Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas page.



By Ann Garvey

Casey Crichton was an active volunteer for Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy and other organizations over the past eight years. Casey passed away on March 19 after a brief, but brave, struggle with brain cancer. He was 66.Casey

Casey’s love of nature was evident from his enthusiasm for helping to educate, restore habitat and work on citizen science projects for the environment. One of his passions was trees, not only identifying them but realizing all they provide to the animals and to humans.

He was the “bird man” at the Native Plant sales. Along with fellow Virginia Master Naturalist Dori Rhodes, he helped people learn about the native plants that support native birds in our community. In the Audubon at Home program he served as an Ambassador for clients, pulling from his background as a land developer and property manager. For several of our ambassadors he served as an excellent mentor.

He loved to tell the story of being at Allegheny College and having Doug Tallamy, noted entomologist and author of “Bringing Nature Home,” as one of his classmates. Like Tallamy, Casey liked to recommend the white oak as a tree to plant for the animals.

Every August Casey and his wife, Candi, could be found participating in the butterfly count and in December they took part in the Christmas Bird Count. Helping with the Civics program for 7th grade students at Morven was another of his activities. Along with all his days volunteering for Loudoun Wildlife he also was president of the Friends of Banshee Reeks for four years and an active member with the Master Naturalist chapter.

A ready smile on his face, Casey’s frequent greeting was “Hello, sunshine,” which is exactly what he provided for so many people. He will be missed by so many of us and certainly by the animals and habitats he loved working to support.


For our February installment of Volunteer Connection, we’ll be featuring Ed Clark, whose work with Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy will have you ready to welcome warmer weather, even as the cold of winter continues to nip at our noses. Ed, a self-dubbed good-natured naturalist, is best known to Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy as the beloved leader of many of last year’s “We’re Going Wild” family nature walk programs. As a trained biologist employed by the US Department of Agriculture, Ed studies insects at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center. You could call Ed a life-long student as he earned his Masters of Science in Biology at George Mason University in 2001, and continues to teach himself about the natural wonders of the world through research to this day. His most recent homemade curriculum of study? Spiders.

Ed’s obvious excitement for the outdoors manifests itself in a host of ways: as an avid birder, passionate botanist, and as we’ve discovered…a natural teacher with a talent for engaging children. His vast wildlife knowledge and easy manner, coupled with his inner child-like curiosity, makes him a real treasure for our growing Youth and Family Programs efforts. Each month of the year, we invite kids of all ages and their families to join us as we trek through some of Loudoun’s great places, parks, and nature centers with Mr. Clark as our “Ed-u-taining” guide. Whether it’s birds, bugs, or botany, Ed joyfully imparts an appreciation for wildlife, habitat, and stewardship…the responsibility of learning about and being connected to our natural world. Teaching the basics, Ed has these budding naturalists observing with all the senses, noting important finds and modeling the value of field journaling, and even follows up later with pictures and reports of the day’s observations to foster deeper learning at home. He’s planting seeds in these youngsters, sowing inquiry and wonder into their lives.


Wild walk MAy group


We are grateful for volunteers like Ed who seek to share their experience with students of every age. If you think you’d be interested in leading or co-leading, fill out our volunteer form here. We look forward to seeing you out in the field!


Co-authors: Sarah Steadman & Hannah Duffy



Happy New Year, all! I absolutely love the first few weeks of January. It’s a time to be optimistic, motivated, and inspired to do great things in the coming months, and it’s easy to be inspired when you’re surrounded by incredible volunteers, as we are at Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy. This month in Volunteer Connection, I have the privilege of featuring just such a volunteer, Ms. Dori Rhodes.

Dori is and has always been an avid birder with a heart for all things, flora or fauna. Many families have their own pastimes and traditions, and Doris’ was the love of nature. One particularly influential person was Dori’s grandmother, a keen gardener, who planted her garden just for the birds. With that, Dori went on to earn her degree in Zoology from Drew University with the hope of one day being able to share her passion.  One of her first jobs was working at Turtle Back Zoo in New Jersey where she did programs for groups and schools.

About 10 years ago, she moved up to Leesburg from North Carolina, ready to get involved in her new community. She came upon Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy, as well as the Virginia Master Naturalists. Only a few years later she served as president for our county’s Virginia Master Naturalist Banshee Reeks Chapter! Dori’s incredible efforts have brought experience and education to our community in so many ways through her various projects with Loudoun Wildlife. She has served as a bluebird monitor, a native plant community liaison, a birder during our Christmas Bird Count, a walk leader at Banshee Reeks on many occasions, and she is currently loving her work as an active ambassador through our Audubon@Home Program.

Dori 2

Like so many of our volunteers, Dori’s motivation comes from having the platform to share her passion through teaching. With such a plethora of programs offered by Loudoun Wildlife, she is always being challenged to learn something new or to share her experience with new friends along the way.


So if you’ve resolved to give back more in 2016, we have many projects that are looking for enthusiastic hands! Not sure where to start? We’ll be having a Volunteer Orientation & Opportunity Showcase on Sunday, January 31 at 1pm at the Carriage Museum in Morven Park. Click here to sign up or here to sign up for a volunteer opportunity now!


This month in Volunteer Connection, we are featuring Sharon Plummer, the Managing Editor of our beloved Habitat Herald newsletter. While Sharon has served in this position since April of this year, she’s actually been volunteering with us since 2011. Initially, she came to be interested in our work when she noticed that our mission aligned very much with her own – she wanted to promote the conservation of wildlife and their habitat for their own sake as well as for future generations through education. Having been a teacher of environmental education a few years back, Sharon has always tried to live her mission to its fullest, and recognized that we can all give a little to meet this goal, be it through time, money, or energy.

While her hands may be more on the keyboard these days, Sharon still loves to get out in the field to get her hands dirty. “I [love] coming home tired and filthy dirty every night, knowing that I [have] done as much as one can do in a day.” Before she found us here in Virginia, Sharon volunteered with the California Conservation Corp and worked several projects such as planting trees and removing invasive plants. As active as our own Habitat Restoration team has been, it’s easy to say she can still have her cake and eat it too.

So what keeps bringing her back time and again to serve Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy? Like so many of our volunteers, Sharon’s motivation comes from knowing that the work she does is needed and meaningful. She specifically wanted to contribute to the Habitat Herald because in her own words “I love that it highlights the passion for the natural world in our own backyards. I think it reminds people to tune in to their own surroundings and helps inspire them to take better care of our habitats.” It’s easy to become overwhelmed sometimes with all the threats facing the environment, but as Sharon and the Habitat Herald so eloquently remind us: real change begins at home.

If you share our mission and wish to serve with us, click here for our volunteer page. Don’t have time to spare, but still want to help? Consider becoming a member or making a donation here.


Sharon and her daughter Sierra at 2012 Xstream


Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy volunteers are a very active bunch. You’ll find us in the field monitoring, at annual events and fairs getting the word out on local conservation issues, along creeks and stream edges restoring or putting in riparian buffers, or even at schools empowering students to lead the way in protecting wildlife. So who are these volunteers? Who are these dedicated citizens that want to make their world a better place, and why do they do it? Volunteer Connection will be a monthly piece profiling a different Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy volunteer each month so we can get to know the names and faces of our neighbors who have committed themselves to environmental stewardship.

This month, we are featuring Rick Hardin. An outdoorsman at heart, Rick had a keen interest in conservation as he and his wife, Danné Hardin, have always enjoyed the natural world and all of the exciting beauty it offers. From hiking and cycling in various parks to learning about how individual species of wildlife interact with their natural environments, Rick has always had the environment in the back of his mind. It was likely this interest that informed his decision to choose geography and geo-environmental studies in his formal education. He later went on to work with the Water Resource Division of the US Geological Survey in Pennsylvania, which focused on several surface water projects, including stream monitoring efforts, turning his attention to surface water issues in particular. Currently, Rick works with the US Department of Agriculture as a Geographer, where he provides information on the farming industry, and studies the how the farming industry varies throughout the country as well as the challenges that exist between farmers and the environment.

His past volunteer work has included The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and The Nature Conservancy, but what brought him to us here at Loudoun Wildlife was seeing our local legacy. Researching the cache of information handy on our website and valuing our pro-active attitude reflective in our regular projects (including stream monitoring!), Rick and Danné thought Loudoun Wildlife would be a good fit. Rick has already completed some useful statistical work with our Bird Atlas Project!

After business hours, and between wooded adventures, you may find Rick and Danné, self-proclaimed sports junkies, in the stands at a baseball, hockey or football game cheering for our local teams. Still, wherever you see them, make sure to stop and introduce yourself because they are now part of our incredible Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy family!

Rick and Danné Hardin at Blackwater Falls State Park in West Virginia

Rick and Danné Hardin at Blackwater Falls State Park in West Virginia


If you are looking for ways to get involved like Rick and Danné, check out our volunteer page here.


Huge thanks to all the volunteers who planted 9000 native plants for Monarch butterflies! The planting occurred Sept. 29 at the Dale City rest area at mile marker 156 of I-95 heading north – and yes! Monarch butterflies heading south were seen and wished a safe journey.

Way to go, Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy, VDOT and VA Dominion Power for teaming up to keep the magic alive.

We are making a difference!







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