Entries tagged with “Bird Atlas”.

Mary Ann Good went out yesterday to survey an area in Lincoln for the Loudoun County Bird Atlas that we’re developing, and during her foray, she came across two baby Barred Owls.

Here’s her story and a couple of shots:

…..I heard the hissing sound that Barred Owl babies do, very near.  I backed into a farm lane, and there they were, two of them, looking down at me!  They watched me set up my scope so I could digiscope them (didn’t really need the scope for views, they were very close), taking turns making that strange hissing sound while I snapped away.  After awhile the one I was focused on started getting very sleepy, but his sister kept disturbing his nap with her periodic hiss.


Upcoming Virginia Society of Ornithology (VSO) Foray looking for volunteer birders

Every year the Virginia Society of Ornithology conducts a foray (survey) of the birds within a county of Virginia.  This year, they will conduct the foray right here in Loudoun County to assist with the 2009-2013 Loudoun County Bird Atlas by surveying areas that need more coverage. The foray will be held from June 9, 2012 to June 17, 2012.

For those who have never participated in a bird atlas, it could seem overwhelming, but it could also be a great learning opportunity and a new way to use one’s knowledge of birds. The atlas website set-up by the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy provides a lot of information about the protocols required to complete the atlas.

The website address is: http://www.loudounwildlife.org/Bird_Atlas.htm. After going to the website, scroll down to the heading “Resources for Bird Atlas Volunteers”. Under this heading, one can select the “Atlasing in a Nutshell” document or field cards used to collect data.  

The documentation of species seen during the atlas is slightly different from the typical VSO foray or a Christmas Bird Count. For example, rather than noting the number of individuals for each species observed, the behavior, especially that indicating nesting, of each species is noted on a field card.

Atlas blocks to be covered during the foray will be assigned to participants, but input from participants regarding which areas they prefer to cover will also be used to determine assigned blocks.

Any amount of help with the foray is appreciated, whether it is half a day or the whole foray period (or anything in between).

If interested in helping with the foray this year or if there are any questions, please contact Elisa Enders at elisaenders@hotmail.com or Spring Ligi at sligi@loudounwildlife.org as soon as possible.  Thank you!


It’s time for another season of Project FeederWatch – a great program organized by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

It’s easy to do because you can do it from the comfort of your home and it’s a great way to get to know the birds that live in your neighborhood.

Cornell charges a small fee to cover some of their expenses but you get some really nice resources when you sign up.  You can enter your data online too which is nice because then, if you continue year after year, you have a nice repository of information about your backyard birds.

By participating, you’re also contributing to a growing body of knowledge about the birds across North America and you can contribute it to our local effort to document species by signing up for our Loudoun County Bird Atlas project.


Spring just sent over the latest bird atlas tips so I wanted to share some snipits here:

Congratulations to all our volunteers on completing our third breeding season for the atlas, bringing us past the half way mark of this exciting 5-year project!  As fall approaches, we can shift our focus to the migrants passing through our area. Earthquakes…hurricanes…anything is possible!

August Highlights

1.     Swallow-tailed Kite observed in the Lincoln 4 block.

2.     The Poolesville area continues to be productive with reports of Pectoral Sandpiper, Horned Lark, Cliff Swallow, Yellow-throated Warbler, as well as Turkey, Grasshopper Sparrow, and Dickcissel fledglings. A Dickcissel was also reported in the Waterford 3 block.

3.     Loggerhead Shrike observed on top of a roof in the Purcellville 4 block.

4.     Broad-wing Hawks observed passing over Snickers Gap Hawkwatch (Bluemont 1).

Atlas Progress
71 atlasers have spent 3,085 hours in the field documenting 34,550 sightings. You have recorded 233 species, with 100 of these species having a confirmed nesting status. Field cards have been reported for 46 blocks and 4 blocks are considered “complete”.

Interesting in the Loudoun County Bird Atlas Project?  Read more about it here and sign up with our coordinator, Spring Ligi.


On Sunday, June 12, Nicole Hamilton, while monitoring the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy Bluebird Trail at the privately owned Dulles Greenway Wetlands Mitigation Project, discovered and photographed a female HOODED MERGANSER with four ducklings among lots of Wood Duck and Mallard ducklings as well as 11 GREAT EGRETS and a number of other birds.
During our Mid-week walk on Wednesday, June 15, the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy sponsored a 7 am walk at the Dulles Greenway Wetlands Mitigation Project and a 9 am walk at the nearby Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve; both were led by Joe Coleman and Mary Ann Good. 

The highlight at the of the two walks on Wednesday was definitely the HOODED MERGANSER ducklings, a first for Loudoun County.  When the Gold Book was published there were only four records of nesting Hooded Mergansers in the Piedmont so this is a really nice addition to the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy’s five-year birding atlas.
The other highlights for the 11 participants at the Dulles Greenway Wetlands were the nesting BALD EAGLES with at least one nestling visible, Great Egrets, Green Herons, Yellow-Billed Cuckoo, Willow Flycatchers, a pair of Cedar Waxwings, and both Yellow and Prairie Warbler.  Terry Hoffman uploaded his photos from the walk to share here.
The highlights for the 8 participants at Banshee Reeks walk were a flyover Cooper’s Hawk, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Willow Flycatcher, Northern Parula, both Yellow & Pine Warbler, Ovenbird, Louisiana Waterthrush, and a couple of Yellow-breasted Chats.
See below for the complete list of birds seen at both walks.
For information on the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy’s many free programs and field trips visit www.loudounwildlife.org.

Dulles Greenway Wetlands Mitigation Project, Loudoun, US-VA
48 species

Canada Goose, Wood Duck, Mallard, Hooded Merganser (mother with four ducklings), Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Green Heron, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Bald Eagle, Cooper’s Hawk, Killdeer, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Chimney Swift, Belted Kingfisher, Downy Woodpecker, Willow Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Blue Jay, American Crow, Fish Crow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Tree Swallow, Barn Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, House Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, Gray Catbird, European Starling, Cedar Waxwing, Yellow Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Field Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Indigo Bunting, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, Orchard Oriole, American Goldfinch

Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve – MFF08, Loudoun, US-VA
Jun 15, 2011 9:00 AM – 11:00 AM
52 species

Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Mourning Dove, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Chimney Swift, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Acadian Flycatcher, Willow Flycatcher, Eastern Phoebe, Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue Jay, American Crow, Fish Crow, Tree Swallow, Barn Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, House Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Eastern Bluebird, Wood Thrush, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, European Starling, Cedar Waxwing, Northern Parula,Yellow Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Ovenbird, Louisiana Waterthrush, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow-breasted Chat, Eastern Towhee, Field Sparrow, Scarlet Tanager, Northern Cardinal, Indigo Bunting, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, Orchard Oriole, American Goldfinch


Winter is a great time to find owls because our winter resident population swells with an influx of migrants from the north that think our Virginia temperatures are quite nice (though they may be having second thoughts this winter).  We can always use more owl sightings for our Loudoun County Bird Atlas Project so this month’s email, inspired by Paul Engman’s recent Natural History of Owls program, will be devoted to owls.  

January Highlights

1.  An atlaser was treated to a Short-eared Owl on her property in the Round Hill 4 block.

2.  The LWC-sponsored Birds of Prey trip provided fantastic looks at a Barred Owl, Kestrels hovering for mice, Northern Harriers hunting, and a flock of Horned Larks.

3.  Pine Warbler documented during the Central Loudoun CBC in the Lincoln 4 block.


1.  The atlas training/refresher session is scheduled for Sunday, February 6th from 1:30 – 3:00 p.m. at the Rust Library in Leesburg. If you haven’t already, please Sign Up if you plan to attend. 

2.  If you observe/hear a Rusty Blackbird while atlasing between Jan 29th and Feb 13th consider entering your sighting for the Rusty Blackbird Blitz.  See http://nationalzoo.si.edu/scbi/MigratoryBirds/Research/Rusty_Blackbird/blitz.cfm for more information.

Tips for finding Owls (provided by Paul Engman)

1.  Your best bet for finding owls is to look for roost sites in the daytime. Habitat is important!  Dense stands of conifers in the winter are good for thermoregulating, especially when in association with farmland and open fields. 

2.  Check tree cavities for breeding owls and look for pellets (regurgitated, indigestible material).

3.  Look for crows or other birds mobbing an area and you may find an owl roosting.

4.  Be respectful of owls (and all creatures); do not surround them or flush them.  Flushing a Screech Owl during the day may result in him becoming a tasty meal for a Cooper’s Hawk!

5.  Great Horned Owls entered into safe dates on December 15th.  They’ll be laying eggs this month and raising their young in March.  One advantage of being an early nester is that the young learn how to hunt when their prey are inexperienced newborns (i.e. easy pickin’s).

Species of the Month – Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)

  • Prefers open grasslands and extensive broomsedge fields.
  • Most diurnal of our owls in Loudoun. Best time to look for them is from late afternoon until dark on cloudy days. They fly low over open ground when hunting, locating prey by ear.
  • Often roosts communally with Northern Harriers so if you see a Harrier during a daytime atlas trip check back at that location before dark for the Short-eared Owl.

Information taken from Paul Engman’s Natural History of Owls program held on January 12, 2011 at the Purcellville Library. This program was hosted by the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy.

Atlas Progress
57 enthusiastic atlasers have spent 2,260 hours in the field documenting 24,580 sightings. You have recorded 225 species, with 97 of these species having a confirmed nesting status. Field cards have been reported for 39 blocks and 3 blocks are considered complete. 

Happy Atlasing,

Spring Ligi
Loudoun County Bird Atlas Coordinator


Be a Citizen Scientist – it’s really fun

Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy offers many opportunities to participate in programs that promote the collection of important environmental data. Training and 2011 kickoffs for many of these programs start up in February – check the Programs Calendar for information.

Stream Monitoring
Interested in what you might find in a stream near you?  Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy monitors our local streams for all types of bacterial and invertebrate life to assess and track water quality.

Sign up on our Stream Monitoring page to join a team in the search and identification of species that tell the tale of the quality of Loudoun’s streams and habitat.

Monitoring occurs three times a year between April and November and takes about 4 hours each time. It’s a great way to learn about water quality in our local streams.

Bluebird Nestbox Monitoring
Bluebirds, some of our most beloved songbirds for their beautiful colors and cheerful songs, need our help to thrive.  2010 was a very hard year for Bluebirds as significant numbers perished in the winter storms we had. Through monitoring last summer, we saw the effects of the hard winter. In 2011 we look forward to seeing their numbers rebound.

Join Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy’s Nestbox Monitoring program and observe the nesting behavior of this magnificent species as well as other beautiful songbirds that use the boxes like the Tree Swallow and House Wren.

As a nestbox monitor, you provide valuable census information on the local population of bluebirds. Visit our Bluebird Nestbox Monitoring page to become a part of this rewarding experience. Monitoring takes place from mid-March through August. The season kickoff is taking place in February and you can sign up now.

Amphibian Monitoring
Frogs, toads, salamanders and newts – They are all important natural indicators of the health of our habitat and they have fascinating lifecycles.

In order to gauge just how well these fascinating creatures thrive in Loudoun County, we launched the Loudoun Amphibian Monitoring Program (LAMP).

Help monitor the health of our amphibious population through call surveys, site surveys, and migration mapping.

You’ll learn to identify frog and toad calls, know when and where to look for egg masses and how to identify different species in different cycles of their lives. To volunteer for any of these subsets of our amphibian monitoring program, or for more information, visit our amphibian monitoring program page. Monitoring takes place from March through about July although you can monitor into the fall as well if you want to. Our season kickoff is happening in March if you’d like to sign up.

Bird Atlas
Participate in Loudoun County’s unique bird atlas program, in which volunteers track and record the species and numbers of birds found in Loudoun. We have a number of blocks throughout the county where no one is collecting data — we really need your help.

The county is divided into 75 blocks, and each of these 10 square-mile blocks is assigned to a different individual or group to ensure countywide coverage. The atlas has been an ongoing project since 2009, and is set for publication in 2014.

We need your help across Loudoun to document our bird species!  It’s easy and fun. For more information, please visit our Bird Atlas page.

Other monitoring activities
In addition to the programs listed above, we also do one-day events that are a lot of fun.  There’s the Annual Butterfly Count (August), the Christmas Bird Count (December) and the International Migratory Bird Day Count (May)

Join us for some monitoring fun!


Here’s the latest from Spring:

Happy New Year!  2011 will bring the halfway point of our five-year Bird Atlas.  We are making good progress thanks to the hard work of each and every one of you, but still have some work ahead of us to make the atlas a success. 

At this point in the project, several of you may have completed your assigned blocks.  If you think your block has been adequately covered (remember to check the target species list for your block), please contact your regional coordinator or myself for confirmation. 

We will thank you for your hard work and give you the option of choosing another block to atlas.  Remember that you can continue to add sightings to a block even though it’s considered “complete.”

December Highlights

1.  We added another species to our atlas list!  A Brant flew over Snickers Gap Hawkwatch in the Bluemont 1 block.   
2.  An atlaser was treated to a Black-capped Chickadee visiting his feeders in the Bluemont 4 block.
3.  The Central Loudoun Christmas Bird Count was a success with over 100 participants and great weather.  A few of the highlights that I remember from the Tally Rally afterwards include Snow Goose, Redhead, Common Goldeneye, Horned Lark, and a flock of at least 7 Brown Creepers spread across 3 or 4 trees. 

Atlas Training Session
I’ll be holding another training/refresher session in late Februrary/early March. If you are interested in attending please let me know (see the Bird Atlas page for contact info). I will contact those who express an interest to choose a date and location that fits the most people’s schedules. 

Invite your Friends to Join the Fun
If you know of someone that may be interested in atlasing please let me know.  We can use atlasers at all levels of involvement – whether it’s taking ownership of a block, contributing backyard sightings when convenient, or volunteering for a day of “blockbusting” (i.e. choosing one day to survey a block with no coverage and record data for as many species as possible). 

Species of the Month – Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca)

  • Significantly larger than other sparrows.
  • Scratches in leaves for insects and seeds, often making so much noise that they sound like a much larger animal.
  • Adults known to perform a broken-wing display to lure potential threats away from the nest.
  • A group of Fox Sparrows are collectively known as a “den”, “flock”, and “slyness” of sparrows.
  • Named for the coloring on its back.

Information taken from: 
Weckstein, Jason D., Donald E. Kroodsma and Robert C. Faucett. 2002. Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca), The Birds of North America Online (A.Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online

Atlas Progress

56 enthusiastic atlasers have spent 2,160 hours in the field documenting 23,790 sightings. You have recorded 226 species, with 97 of these species having a confirmed nesting status. Field cards have been reported for 39 blocks.


Dave Thomas, who brought us those great shots last spring of the nesting red-shouldered hawks, is at it again with his “eagle eyes”!

Last week he sent over a couple shots of a pair of Bald Eagles hanging out near Elizabeth Mills Riverfront county park, not far from Lansdowne.

The Bald Eagle sighting was in the Sterling 1 atlas block, which has had no previous reports of Bald Eagles. So this is great news and a valuable addition to the Loudoun County Bird Atlas!

Our Bird Atlas coordinator, Spring Ligi, entered his sighting into the database but said that this area hasn’t received much coverage yet.

So, if you happen to observe/hear other uncommon species (or would like to become part of the Bird Atlas brigade and report all your bird sightings) please let us know.

Spring will likely be doing training for the Bird Atlas in early 2011 and if you sign up to be part of this birding brigade she’ll make sure you have the info for training dates.