Entries tagged with “birdathon”.

Whip-poor-wills, Owls, Warblers, and More! That was the siren that went out as the Birdathon team known as Shrike Force scoured Loudoun County in their search for as many species they could find last Saturday. Read about their adventure in their report below:

Whip-poor-wills, Owls, Warblers, and More!
by Shrike Force

Shrike Force, comprised of Laura McGranaghan, Gerry Hawkins, Mary Ann Good, and Joe Coleman, competed in the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy’s Birdathon this past Saturday. We met at 3:45 am in far western Loudoun County in hopes of finding Whip-poor-wills and owls and wrapped up at the Dulles Greenway Wetlands Mitigation Project near Oatlands almost 18 hours later.

While we missed whips at our first stop, we did hear at least four Barred Owls. However, at our next stop, near where Appalachian Trail Road intersects with Rte 719 north of Round Hill, we heard not only a couple of Whip-poor-wills but two Great Horned Owls calling to each other. We next traveled to another location close to Bloomfield in the southwestern corner of the county where we heard two Screech Owls as well as a few other early risers. We were off to a great start and so excited!

Our next two stops were up on the ridge a little south of Snickers Gap on the very far western edge of Loudoun County, where we not only watched a beautiful sunrise over Loudoun Valley but ticked off 12 different warbler species including Chestnut-sided, Magnolia, Cape May, Hooded, Worm-eating, and the first of several Yellow-breasted Chats. We also found Wood Thrushes, a Veery, and the first of several flocks of Cedar Waxwings.

After a brief stop along the Potomac River immediately downstream of Harpers Ferry where we picked up Common Merganser, we spent a little over three hours at one of Loudoun’s most special natural areas, the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship. There we not only added a number of species to our count, we made some of our most exciting non-avian finds of the day.

Among the many birds we found were another Barred Owl, a Red-headed Woodpecker, White-eyed Vireos, a Yellow-throated Vireo, Blue-winged Warblers, a couple of Cerulean Warblers, Kentucky Warblers, and more Yellow-breasted Chats. We also first heard and then had great looks at two Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Blue Grosbeaks, and Scarlet Tanagers. It was wonderful to watch a dragonfly dancing in the riffles along Sweet Run while it laid its eggs in the rapidly moving water as well as numerous butterflies, including two Monarchs, along Butterfly Alley.

We were thrilled to find large flocks of Bobolinks in two different locations, at least 50 in a field along Edgegrove Road west of Hillsboro and more along Ebenezer Church Road near Bloomfield. Unfortunately three of us missed a Wild Turkey crossing a farm lane because we were concentrating on the Red-headed Woodpeckers which are common in the area around Bloomfield.

Scouting these areas earlier in the week certainly paid off as both a Willow Flycatcher and one of the flocks of Bobolinks were exactly where they’d been the previous day; unfortunately neither the Osprey nor the Pied-billed Grebe were still around. We also found one Wilson’s Snipe where there had been four a few days earlier.

After spending most of the day in western Loudoun County we headed over to the Broadlands Wetlands, which is right off of exit 6 of the Dulles Greenway, where the previous day’s scouting also paid off handsomely, adding several species there including Blue-winged Teal, Least and Pectoral Sandpiper, Prairie Warbler, a Savannah Sparrow, and another flock of Cedar Waxwings. And as we were getting back on the Greenway an immature Bald Eagle astounded us by flying alongside the car and almost joining us in the car!

At our last stop, the Dulles Greenway Wetlands Mitigation Project, we added a few more species such as Greater Yellowlegs and Swamp Sparrow, watched the Bald Eagles feed their two nestlings, and heard a couple of Virginia Rails when we met up with the Raven Loonatics. We also got great photos of a Luna Moth. Unfortunately only two of us were able to ID the Lesser Yellowlegs that were also on the wetlands and therefore were not able to add them to the team’s total.

After wrapping up at the Wetlands we headed into Leesburg for a bite to eat and to pick ticks off of ourselves while celebrating matching our previous high count of 113. Our final team total included 21 species of warbler, eight species of sparrow, and seven species of shorebird.


Gerco, one of the Raven Loonatics, sent over this great report from their big Birdathon day on Saturday – exciting times and 118 species!  Many thanks to everyone who sponsored the team and cheered them on!  Here’s Gerco’s report (below) and you can see photos from the day here: http://www.pbase.com/sheger/bat2012

This week the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy is hosting its annual Birdathon. In this annual fundraiser a bunch a crazy, obsessed, fanatical or maniacal birders (depending ones point of view) are trying to find as many bird species as possible during a 24 hour period within Loudoun County. Proceeds of the event support the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy.

Last Saturday was the kickoff of this event. The Raven Loonatics (Bruce, Larry, Donna and Gerco) started at a leisurely time of 5 am on our quest of at least 110 species. That is one more compared to our total from last year.

Migration was in full swing and we were not disappointed. We started out in Algonkian regional park along the Potomac river. A funny looking post turned out to be a Barred Owl. We observed the bird for several minutes while the owl was staring back at us.

Along the river we found several Great Egrets (a species that eluded us in the past 2 years), a few Hooded Mergansers and a Mute Swan. Across the river an American Bittern was calling but this bird was not heard by all. Warblers were out in force. We quickly located Blackpoll, Redstart, Magnolia, Chestnut-sided and the various black-throated something Warbler.

Next up was Horsepen Park. A Green Heron was our best bird there. After birding the first few hours in nature, it was time to explore the suburbs. The various lakes in Sterling and Ashburn were productive. We picked up Common Loon, American Coot, Ruddy Duck, and flyovers of Broad-winged Hawks. One of the birds was a very dark morph. Way cool.

Quickly leaving the suburbs behind, we visited Ball Bluff and were greeted by a Ovenbird. We had a hard time finding an Acadian Flycatcher, but we did manage. Naturally after that we tripped over the bird at nearly all other stops. Funny how that works. The far northern part of Loudoun County is fortunately not too built up and various grassland birds were found in these rural areas. Our best birds were Horned Lark, Worm-eating Warbler, Bobolinks, Dickcissel, Bald Eagle and Osprey.

Following a mad dash across the county to Blue Ridge Center we managed to find Yellow-breasted Chat, Blue-winged Warbler, a turkey we couldn’t count, more Grasshopper Sparrows (those birds were everywhere) and Indigo Buntings. Along one of the creeks were got stellar nearly eye-level looks of Cerulean and Kentucky warblers. Both birds were curious and showing of. That was awesome.

Another mad dash back to the east side of Loudoun brought us to the Broadlands Wetlands (the van metre preserve or something like that is its official name). This small park with a fantastic boardwalk is a great location for migrating shorebirds. We found Greater Yellowlegs, Least Sandpiper, Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers, but the best of all was a Pectoral Sandpiper. Not too impressed by all the sandpipers ruling the wetlands, a pair of Blue-winged Teal were resting under a few brushes. Cha Ching!

It being close to 730pm it was time for our last stop-the Dulles Wetlands. This area is not publicly accessible, but you can visit it during a LWC hosted walk. At the wetlands we scored Lesser Yellowlegs, a few more Blue-winged Teal, and eventually a Virginia Rail. By 8:30pm we were done and hungry as a bunch of wolves. Must remember to bring more food next year.

We recorded an amazing number of 122 species in Loudoun County. Our team total, following the Birdathon rules, was 118! That was for most of us, our biggest US birding day ever. Pretty amazing that we found that many species. Misses we had too. Most notably were Hairy Woodpecker, Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawk, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Tough birds were Ruby-throated Hummingbird (only seen by two team members), Blue Grosbeak and American Kestrel. Funny how this works, some days you trip over them but other days they must be hiding behind the bushes.

As always we had a blast doing this. We shall do this again next year.

Photos: http://www.pbase.com/sheger/bat2012

Raven Loonatic


Who is on your team? Rocky Fera, Paul Miller, Phil Daley – note: we are soliciting possible assistance from two other elderly, but distinguished , qualified grumps.

What day are you doing your birdathon?  Tuesday May 8th-rain date: Wednesday May 9th. Start at 5:00 am—end: Whenever we run out of gas (not necessarily petrol)

How many species to you hope to get?  We hope for 80-90 species (We do not aim too high, as, at our ages, we do not want to shock our systems—or embarrass the youngsters)

How much money do you hope to raise as a team? $400-$800-(see # 3 above)

What bird(s) are you stretching to get this year? All/any we find

How long has your team been doing this? Too long

Do you have different roles on your team? If so, what are they? (e.g. spotters, ear birders, etc)  No, but we do try to have the designated driver keep his eyes on the road—at least until we see a bird.

What’s the best part of the birdathon? The end

What’s the toughest part of the day? Getting up in the morning of the Bird-a-thon—-and the next day too.

Why do you/members of your team do the birdathon?  For FUN!

What do you do in preparation for the count?  Answer this questionnaire

What place do you most look forward to birding during the birdathon and why?  Loudoun County-Does anyone have any suggestions for some good places??

Anything else you want to add about the birdathon? Let’s everyone get out there and have some fun-or be a sponsor.

You can make a pledge and support the Grumpy Old Men here.


Who is on your team? Nicole Hamilton and Joanne Bradbury

What day are you doing your birdathon?  May 8th, starting at 7:30 am.  There’s so much going on this week with International Migratory Bird Day that we decided to take advantage of the IMBD walk at Algonkian Park with Bill and start our big birding day there. 

How many species to you hope to get?  We’re shooting for 65-70 species

How much money do you hope to raise as a team? $500, we can use all the encouragement from friends and family we can get so we hope you all will sponsor us!

How long has your team been doing this? This is our first year doing it together

Do you have different roles on your team?  Given that there are just the two of us, we’ll both be spotting and identifying everything we can find

What’s the best part of the birdathon? Being out there with friends, figuring out the identification of some of the less common birds and seeing all the new arrivals making their great migration and using Loudoun either as a stopover in their journey or their breeding grounds

What’s the toughest part of the day? The afternoon when the birds settle down for their siesta

Why do you/members of your team do the birdathon?  Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy is such an important resource for the community and birding for Loudoun is a lot of fun. Plus, we love getting outside to explore nature – it’s rejuvenating.

What do you do in preparation for the count?  We’re going over the bird list, looking at the target species and thinking about locations in Loudoun that we’ll need to go to find them on our Big Day

What place do you most look forward to birding during the birdathon and why?  All the places we’re going to visit are amazing.  The spots near the river like Algonkian and Bles and Balls Bluff are pretty birdy so those will be great but the Blue Ridge Center offers great woods and fields for different species that we may not see elsewhere

Anything else you want to add about the birdathon? We hope more people will join in on the fun this year. The birdathon is especially fun because it’s all what you make it – it can be a casual day (or a few hours) or serious all-day birding, or anything in between. It’s for all experience levels, and a great way to make sure you get outside with friends to enjoy this wonderful springtime.

You can make a pledge and support the Raucous Robins here.


Who is on your Birdathon team?  Do you have different roles on your team? Bruce Hill (missing from the pic), Gerco Hoogeweg, Larry Meade, Donna Quinn.

Donna is the Designated Driver who somehow manages to stay on the road even while looking for birds through the sunroof. Special talents include making abrupt U-turns while eating a snack and drinking tea.

Gerco is Birder Extraordinaire and also has the sacred role of Keeping the List.

Larry usually finds One More Bird which has made all the difference.

And Bruce, well Bruce can hear a bird from the car going 45 miles an hour. He is our Location Expert and knows every nook and cranny we might find a bird and what that bird is.

When are you doing your birdathon?  Saturday, May 5, rain date May 6. We usually start around 4:30 AM and bird until 8:30 PM or so.

How many species to you hope to get?  Two years ago, Mary Ann Good put together a list of the birds seen by all the teams in the Birdathon. Combined, we found 125 species. Raven Loonatics would like to find as many as we possibly can – 125 would be nice. We always hope to beat our number from the previous year so this year we will hope to count at least 110 species.

How much money do you hope to raise as a team?  We are so grateful to all Birdathon sponsors for their generosity and support. It would be fantastic if the teams could collectively raise $10,000 for the birds!

What bird(s) are you stretching to get this year?  We always make extra effort for Loggerhead Shrike and Red-headed Woodpeckers as they are hard for us to find in the eastern part of the county.

We like to get our namesakes, ravens and loons. We always hope to see as many owl species as possible, just because it’s so cool to see owls.

How long has your team been doing this?  This will be our 3rd year.

What’s the best part of the birdathon?  Running around like chickens with our heads cut off. Being together – birds of a feather…

What’s the toughest part of the day?  Listening to Larry’s puns such as, “Remember, never eat a bittern. It will leave a bittern taste in your mouth!”. Watching Gerco eat Cheetos. Imaging the pain tall Bruce must experience sitting in my small car all day. Being a female with three males and roughing it without a bathroom all day. Around 2 pm the ’Loonies’ hit us – we begin to hallucinate we won’t see another bird for the rest of the day. They pass when we (finally) see a new bird species.

Why do you/members of your team do the birdathon?  We love birds and want to protect bird habitat in Loudoun County.

What do you do in preparation for the count?  The Birdathon gives us a good excuse to go birding, ‘We HAVE to go birding because the Birdathon is in (x) weeks!’

What place do you most look forward to birding during the birdathon and why?  Seeing the sunrise over the Potomac is a very special way to start our day. In the past we’ve finished the day at the Dulles Wetlands which is a peaceful and beautiful place to end our day – and usually provides a couple more birds for The List.

You can make a pledge and support the Raven Loonatics here.


Who is on your Birdathon team?   Spring, McKenzie (age 5), and Addison (age 2) Ligi

What day are you doing your birdathon?  Thursday, May 10th, we’ll do it from approximately 9:00 – 10:30 am

How many species to you hope to get?  20-25 species

How much money do you hope to raise as a team?  $250

What bird(s) are you stretching to get this year?  A Great Blue Heron because this bird reminds the girls of dinosaurs, which they love

How long has your team been doing this?  This will be our fourth year. We started in 2009 when McKenzie was 2 and I was very big and pregnant with Addison

Do you have different roles on your team? The girls are the spotters. They spot all kinds of things…worms, sticks, ponds, and occasionally birds.  We try to identify the birds together using our children’s bird guides.

What’s the best part of the birdathon? Experiencing the joys of nature with my girls – watching their faces light up as they spot a bird or correctly identify it

What’s the toughest part of the day?  Keeping the girls from jumping into the pond while I’m watching a bird :0)

Why do you/members of your team do the birdathon? To share my passion for birding and the great outdoors with my girls and raise money to protect important wildlife habitat

What do you do in preparation for the count?  We watch the birds in our backyard and try to identify them using our field guides. We also line up Grandma and Grandpa to provide back up on our big day. They’re great at keeping the girls from jumping into the pond and poking each other with sticks while I take a moment to identify the trickier birds.

What place do you most look forward to birding during the birdathon and why?  The Rust Sanctuary in Leesburg – it’s a beautiful place with a kid-friendly path for hiking through different habitats and observing different birds

You can make a pledge and support the Ligi Nestlings here.


Who is on your Birdathon team?  Do you have different roles on your team? 

Joe Coleman – Joe is our fearless leader.  Among many strengths he’s the planner, planning our route and schedule to maximize the potential sightings.  He’s a superior all-around birder and has a wealth of natural history and local area knowledge.

Laura McGranaghan – Laura is our spotter and cheerleader.  She has enough enthusiasm for us all, in the unlikely case any of us are lacking any, and probably is the one to spy more birds than the rest of us put together, whether driving along or trying to find a hidden singing bird.

Mary Ann Good – Mary Ann has the uncanny ability to name nearly every bird vocalization we encounter.  What’s even better, she’s often proven right!  Such as, when she didn’t have to eat her hat, as promised if the mystery bird we were hearing along a deep woods stream proved NOT to be an Indigo Bunting.

Gerry Hawkins – Gerry, along with superior skills at identifying birds by sight and sound, has an encyclopedic storehouse of bird information in his brain.  He probably has four complete bird field guides/references memorized so that he can make snap calls on sparrows and flycatchers.

When are you doing your birdathon?   Saturday, May 5; rain date May 6. We usually start around 4:30 AM and go until after 9:00 PM.

How many species to you hope to get?   113+ to beat our previous standing record

What bird(s) are you stretching to get this year?   Our “most wanted” bird is always our namesake, Loggerhead Shrike, which we’ve gotten only once on our actual birdathon.  We’ve tried hard and unsuccessfully for Whip-poor-will and Long-eared Owl.

How long has your team been doing this?   This will be our 7th year.

What’s the best part of the birdathon?   Team Shrike Force—we have such fun!  Sparkling early mornings, ringing with bird song.  Mid-afternoon chocolate cake break at Joe’s house!   Best of all, birds, birds, birds.

What’s the toughest part of the day?   Getting out of bed at 3:30.  The mid-afternoon doldrums.

Why do you/members of your team do the birdathon?   To support a great organization, to beat other teams (we’re very competitive), but mostly because we love birds and birding!  For all of us, it’s the highlight of the year.

What do you do in preparation for the count?   Incantations and secret rituals (otherwise known as planning and scouting).  We can’t give away our best secrets though!

What place do you most look forward to birding during the birdathon and why?   

Mary Ann and Joe most enjoy the warblers and thrushes, and the view, up on the mountain, right after sunrise. 

Laura’s favorite is the Blue Ridge Center where we have so many great memories, how do you choose one? 

The Dulles Wetlands is Gerry’s favorite birdathon spot, as we always get some surprise there, such as 3 Glossy Ibis one year and a Woodcock another.

You can make a pledge and support Shrike Force here.

Here are some shots of the team in action:


As we kick off this year’s Birdathon, we thought it would be fun to introduce you to some of the teams that are working hard to find all the birds they can and raise money for Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy.

We’ve put together some team highlights and tried to squeeze out them some of their best birding secrets.

Watch the blog over the coming week to Meet the Teams and please help encourage them by making a pledge and cheering them on! 

Your donations are tax deductible as allowed by the law and make a difference to wildlife and habitat right here in Loudoun!


Raven Loonatics
2011 Birdathon Summary
109 species and No R-Egrets

The Raven Loonatics (Gerco Hoogeweg, Bruce Hill, Larry Meade and Donna Quinn) conducted their 2011 Birdathon on May 9, 2011 from 5:00 am to 8:30 pm.  Weather gave us a nice assist and conditions were calm, partly cloudy with comfortable temperatures in the 60’s.  We logged 145 miles by car and 10 miles by foot.

We started our day before dawn with a brief stop at Bles Park where we heard a Barred Owl and many Prairie Warblers.  Although we heard Barred Owl in several locations later in the day, we did not list another owl species. 

By the time we were treated to a glorious sunrise over the Potomac, we had checked off many of the ‘expected’ county birds.  Spotting a pair of glowing Prothonatory Warblers entering and exiting their nest hole in the deep green below the canopy was an Algonkian highlight.  Despite 68 ticks at the park, we left wondering where were the warblers?

Bles Park proved to be a gem yielding the fine sightings of a pair of Northern Shovelers hiding in the pond in the middle of the park, a large flock of Bobolinks flying overhead, Ruby Throated Hummingbird, Redstart, Yellow Breasted Chat, Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting just to name a few highlights. 

We wished we could find the Rose Breasted Grosbeak reported there by the IMBD birders, but unfortunately this bird ended up on our ‘missed’ list.  Also on the list of misses, a White Crowned Sparrow at Bles seen by only two Raven Loonatics.

Friday’s scouting proved valuable as we spotted a Wild Turkey behind the Loudoun water facility and a Red Breasted  Merganser in the Verizon ponds which remained in their general vicinities after being spotted by Bruce on Friday. 

This year’s route included the Belmont 14th hole golf lake where we did not see a Pied Billed Grebe, one of those tease birds that show up from time to time but is never there when you need it. 

Beaver Dam Reservoir was a popular fishing and boating destination due to the nice weather and therefore not productive birding.   We made some changes to our route this year including the Lucketts area which yielded only three new species – Yellow Warbler, singing Meadowlarks and a fortuitous flyover by an Osprey.

We arrived at Blue Ridge Center late afternoon with high hopes of finding our missing warblers.  We found Blue-winged Warbler right where it should be but it seemed many of our migrating warblers decided to linger in the south. 

For the most part, we were disappointed in warbler species despite covering at least 4 miles of trails.  We had a couple of ‘almost 100% sure’ birds during the day, but without 100% certainty, we couldn’t add them including a tantalizing ‘almost Black-throated Blue Warbler’ that teased us behind leaves in low light.  We left BRCES with 10 additional species but disappointed and still wondering where were the warblers?

With daylight fading the pressure was on to locate the notorious Loggerhead Shrike – and once again, it was a Shrike-out for the Loonies.  Next target bird – Red-headed Woodpecker.  We fared better than we did with the shrike as we scored a timely Red-headed ‘car bird’ – a bird spotted from the car on Little River Farm Lane.

We concluded our day at the Dulles Greenway Wetlands Mitigation area which proved quite rewarding.  Wetlands birds included Virginia Rail, Sora, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Least Sandpiper, and a sneaky Swamp Sparrow which tried to evade detection but was finally caught by all four of us.  Absolute highlight of the location and day was a surprise sighting of 4 Common Nighthawks appearing as dusk set in, a nice lift at the end of a long day.

We eliminated Banshee Reeks this year but stopped by the landfill as we had a bit of light left.  Unfortunately, it was covered and quite sterile.  Further route adjustments will be made next year.  Does anyone know a popular county gull hangout?

One of the truly great things about the birdathon is experiencing our county from the perspective of the birds – being in the fields and woods before sunrise and hearing their songs, witnessing migrating flocks flying north overhead, watching them rest and feed by our waterways, and observing their intense usage of our parks and preserved natural areas. 

We can only imagine the devastation of discovering a former safe haven has become a shopping center or condo complex to a tired bird just returned from winter grounds.  However, it seems despite the continued destruction of habitat, birds have found sanctuary in the green spots dotted amongst habitation and retail, where they have a fighting chance at finding refuge and food.  Its clear that without these protected areas, our county birds would have little hope of survival which only deepens our commitment to preserving Loudoun county’s natural areas.

Perhaps the biggest surprise this year was the absence of migrating warblers we hoped to see but did not.  This being our second team birdathon, we had certain expectations, perhaps unwarranted.  In general, our count is more a reflection of the common birds to be found in the county, rather than uncommon or rare birds. 

As always, there is the element of luck and mystery in a big day such as this.  There were missed birds seen during the previous day’s scouting, and missed birds posted by others from the same locations that very day.  A Great Egret was seen scouting and spotted by others, yet eluded us for the second year in a row despite being a bird almost impossible to not see. 

That we could find 109 species, and that they are more commonly seen birds, is credit to the diversity of birds in our county.  Of course this only makes us wonder how we would do if we had both our typical county birds as well as a nice migratory push through the county.  Before our day even ended we were talking about next year…

Respectfully submitted,

Bruce Hill, Gerco Hoogeweg, Larry Meade, Donna Quinn
Team Raven Loonatics


Spring Ligi provided this great report of the birdathon that she and her kids did on behalf of Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy last week.

Our team, the Ligi Nestlings, had a fun and successful morning, documenting 24 species!  Please check our blog  for the complete species list, highlights, and pictures.

We did our birdathon this morning and the girls did great. They both hiked all around the Rust Sanctuary and never once asked to be carried. 

My best bird was a gorgeous mature male Bald Eagle getting mobbed by several crows.  McKenzie’s favorite bird was the Canada Goose on the pond and little Addy was impressed by the Tree Swallows in the open field.  She kept shouting “bird!”  and proudly pointing them out to me. 

We saw 24 species altogether and managed to document a few nesting behaviors for the Bird Atlas despite all the chaos.

I’m proud to say we raised $254 for the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy to help identify and protect important bird areas throughout Loudoun County. 

We appreciate all of your support and generosity.  If you haven’t given us your money yet, please mail us a check payable to “Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy” for the appropriate amount.  Let us know if you have any questions.

Special thanks to Grandma and Opa for joining us on our adventure and helping to keep the girls safe and dry.  Bird-watching with a preschooler and toddler is challenging (to say the least), but it’s so nice to share my enthusiasm for birds and nature with them.  We’re already looking forward to next year!  Go wild! Go Birding!

Thanks again,
Spring, McKenzie, and Addison