Willowsford Conservancy Bluebird Monitoring Kickoff!


A current VMN trainee :), Iris Gestram would like us to know about this opportunity.  This is in conjunction with the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy who will have two presenters at the program kickoff.

Here’s what you need to know if interested:

The kickoff date to remember is March 20th.

Join Us! 2016 Bluebird Monitoring Program Kick-off
When: Sunday, March 20
Time: 1:00 PM – 3:00 PM
Where: Syacmore House
Ages: adults and children 8+
Cost: free!


Fishers at Banshee Reeks?


Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve is beginning a project on fishers (Martes pennanti) with the assistance of two Master Naturalists (Kathy Neal and Mike Manning), Ashley Greer (an intern from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute), and biologists from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. There have been two unconfirmed sightings over the past two years by hunters in the area. Fishers are considered an extirpated species in Virginia. Ron Circé, BNRP Manager, states, “We will be conducting a camera trapping survey using 15 new cameras. Project plans have already begun and it is hoped that the preliminary site selections will be done within two weeks and cameras set in one to two weeks.”

According to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries website, “habitat destruction, excessive trapping and shooting” have all but eliminated fishers from Virginia. “Wanderers from West Virginia are now appearing along Virginia border areas, (Highland, Rockingham, and Rappahannock counties), but there is no evidence of reproductive populations in Virginia.” The website also states that fishers were “probably formerly widespread in the mountains of Virginia”, and that “it survives best in extensiveforest and wilderness areas for its home range is large – 15 to 35 square km.” An article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from 2007 states that the West Virginia Division of Wildlife Resources released 23 fishers from New Hampshire in 1969. In just three years, “the population had grown large enough to support a legal trapping season.” Currently, fishers are frequently seen in forested areas of the state. If verified that fishers are at BRNP, biologists from various state agencies, e.g., the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the Department of Conservation and Recreation, and the Department of Environmental Quality will be notified and sent copies of the data. Several federal agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey, will also be notified and sent copies of the data. The confirmed presence of fishers here will rewrite the current natural history of fishers due to their range expansion and coming back as an extirpated species. The data will be published in a scientific journal. Evidently fishers are populous in other states: Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Wisconsin even have a fisher trapping season in the late fall every year. David Cazenas and Ron Circé contributed to this report.


American Coot


The American Coot (Fulica Americana) or Mud Hen, is a fascinating and unique bird. A migratory bird inhabiting most of North America, the coot is a winter non-breeding resident to our area. This time of year, I always look for coots and usually spot them easily while they are walking chicken-like on the ice rather than waddling like a duck. Unlike web feet of ducks, coots have broad lobed scales on their lower legs and toes that fold back with each step. To me they look like oversized chicken feet which gives the coot a chicken-like gate and supports the bird on muddy ground. An awkward flier, they require long takeoff runs and look like they are trying to walk on water while flapping their wings furiously. The coot is seen in the company of ducks but doesn’t sound like a duck. Its call is a single reedy noted KRRRP. The coot is a plump dark bodied bird that is easily identified due to its sloping head with white wedge-shaped bill, red eyes and sometimes, a small red patch on its forehead. Their closest relatives are the Sandhill Crane and Rails.


Coots eat mainly aquatic plants including algae, duckweed, eelgrass, wild rice, sedges, hydrilla, wild celery, waterlilies, cattails, water milfoil; when on land they also pick at terrestrial plants. You may also see them eating insects (beetles, dragonflies, and others), crustaceans, snails, and small vertebrates such as tadpoles and salamanders. In our area, which is out of the breeding season, coots fall prey to great horned owls, northern harriers, bald eagles and bobcats. In fact, coots may locally comprise 80% of a bald eagle’s diet.

One aspect of coots I find interesting is that during the breeding season, they display “conspecific brood parasitism”. That is, it will lay eggs in other coots’ nests. Unlike the brown headed cow bird who will use the nests of any bird species for their eggs, coots stick to their own species. Brood parasitism is usually done by females that either do not have a territory (coots are monogomous) or whose clutch has been destroyed, and is most common among females trying to increase their total number of offspring. The American coot, unlike other parasitized species, has the ability to recognize and reject conspecific parasitic chicks from their brood. They learn to recognize their own chicks’ “ornamental plumage” by imprinting on cues from the first chick that hatches. The first evidence for parental selection of exaggerated, ornamental traits in offspring was found in American coots. American coot chicks have conspicuously orange-tipped ornamental plumes covering the front half of their body that are known as “chick ornaments”, which eventually bleach out after six days. This brightly colored, exaggerated trait allows coot chicks to be selected by parental choice.


American Coot are common and widespread, and populations appear to be stable, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Because they live in wetlands, coots can accumulate toxins from pollution sources including agricultural runoff, industrial waste and nuclear facilities. Because coots are so common and widespread, scientists sometimes monitor them as a way of evaluating these problems in the environment at large. Why is it called a “coot”? The American coot’s genus name, Fulica, is a direct borrowing of the Latin word for coot. Go figure. So if you see a duck that looks like a duck, but doesn’t walk or quack like a duck, it’s probably a coot.