2nd Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas


Today, we attended a workshop at Riverbend park sponsored by the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia that trained us on survey techniques for the Breeding Bird Atlas project.  The breeding bird survey is a 5 year “survey of all bird species breeding in the state. Data collected will help map the distribution and status of Virginia’s breeding bird community in order to better inform our natural resource and conservation decisions.”  A previous Virginia breeding atlas was done 25 years ago, so this new atlas will help us understand how birds’ behavior and their environment has changed in that time.

For citizen scientists it provides a fun and easy way to help study and conserve birds.  Birders often think of the spring and fall as the highlights of the years for birding – migration brings many more bird species temporarily into the area;  because of this birders often don’t spend as much time birding in the middle of the summer.  This project provides a great opportunity to focus on the birds in the heart of the summer.  For most birds, the middle of the summer, June and July, are the time when most breed and so therefore it is also the best time to visit the field.

at Morven Park

Eastern Kingbird on nest at Morven Park

Participation is super easy – get out and watch birds!  Watch them to see if they are exhibiting breeding behaviors and then report the results.  There are many more details to the protocol as shown on their website, but here are some useful things to know:

  • the state has been divided into blocks, so you need to pay attention to your location and report which block you observed the behavior in
  • there is a set of codes to describe the behaviors
  • the data is entered into a specialization of eBird website called the Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas Portal
  • the goal is to upgrade as many birds to ‘Confirmed’ breeding in each block as possible, thus ‘completing’ a block
  • anyone can contribute to any block during breeding season in next 5 years.

During the workshop, we walked for a couple hours trying to find breeding behavior.  Riverbend (like several parks) is divided between two blocks – Seneca SE (a priority block) and Rockville SW.   During the walk, we spotted breeding behaviors on dozens of bird species (including the lovely Louisiana Waterthrush) and it gave participants a opportunity to learn more about some of the more subtle behaviors like counter-singing and territorial defense.  The survey coordinator (Ashley Peele) walked everyone through the data entry, useful tools on the website and encouraged us to spread the word and get others involved!

For anyone going to the 2016 Virginia Master Naturalist conference, they will be hosting another workshop at the conference.


Upcoming VMN Training Class Schedule published


The Banshee Reeks chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalist program just published its upcoming class schedule.  The What You’ll Learn section of the Virginia Master Naturalist website provides a good high level overview of what the classes cover.

The Banshee Reeks chapter’s upcoming classes start on September 17th, 2016 and run through April 2017 on Saturday mornings at Banshee Reeks.  The classes generally contain both a classroom and field portion on the same day, which provides a great way to apply your learning in the field.

If you are interested in joining the upcoming class, please fill out an application (word/pdf) or contact us via email.


Sunflowers Galore!


One of our favorite places to visit in the middle of the  summer is actually in Montgomery County, Maryland.  Just across the river, near Poolesville, is McKee Beshers WMA.  They have a wonderful set of fields of Sunflowers that they plant every year and we try and schedule a trip up to visit them in peak bloom.  This year, the expected peak bloom time is early to mid July.


The habitat with the sunflowers is mostly open field, but surrounded by woods and close to the Potomac River, so it can be a good place for a variety of wildlife.  American Goldfinches are abundant and chowing down on all the sunflower seeds.  When we go, we typically see a good selections of butterflies.  Along with the Eastern Tiger Swallowtails (Papilio glaucus), Zebra Swallowtails (Eurytides marcellus) and various skippers, we almost always encounter one of my favorite butterflies, the Hackberry Emperor (Asterocampa celtis).  It comes across as a particular social butterfly because it often lands on people.  They land on people to drink the sweat for its minerals.  You’ll also seem them landing frequently on the ground for minerals from pools of water and from dung.

While in the Poolesville area, two other great places to visit are the Hughes Road Polo fields and Violettes Lock.  The Polo fields are a common place to spot birds that love fields.  The fields themselves are private, but the road is public and you’ll often see birders out there looking for the most recent rarity.  Over the winter (in February), a Lark Sparrow (Chondestes grammacus) was visiting for several weeks.  More recently a Dickcissel has been the bird to see.  While visiting recently, we also saw Indigo Buntings, Grasshopper Sparrows, Eastern Kingbirds and Bald Eagle.

Lark Sparrow

Lark Sparrow

Violette’s Lock is one of several locks along the C & O Canal’s towpath.  Because of its accessibility, it is a favorite with hikers, bikers and birders.  The most recent uncommon bird spotted along the path is a singing Kentucky Warbler (Geothlypis formosa).  While visiting to see the Kentucky Warbler recently, we saw several natural delights, including a dragonfly dogfight, a Great Blue Heron close flyby, several turtles, a Green Snake, and a baby Prothonatory Warbler (Protonotaria citrea) being fed by its parent.

To get to these lovely places in Montgomery county, we typically take 15 North to White’s Ferry and take the ferry across the river.  We’ll take White’s Ferry Road (which turns into Fisher Ave) into Poolesville and then turn right on Budd Rd which ends into Hughes Road.  The polo fields will be on your right on Hughes Road.  To get to McKee Besher, follow Hughes Road down to River Road and turn left; there will be a parking lot on your right.  To get to Violette’s Lock from McKee Besher, follow River Road further east until you take a right on Violette’s Lock Road.



Virginia Working Landscapes is looking for volunteers


They are working on recruiting citizen scientists for the upcoming field season:


Training includes information on pollinator life history, survey collection protocols in the field, identification of the most common bumble bees and butterflies, and specimen preparation for taxonomic identification. Surveys involve pollinator traps (one trap per site, emptied every 2 weeks) and butterfly surveys (4 surveys, 20 minutes each). Citizen scientists are expected to store specimens properly, fill in survey sheets, and deliver -or coordinate delivery- of samples to survey coordinator. Participants will have the opportunity to participate in identification of specimens under the guidance of trained para-taxonomists.

Training Date: May 14th 1pm-4pm • Survey Period: June-August


Training includes protocols, identification skills, and specimen preparation. Volunteers work in pairs to identify and count plant species within seven 1-meter quadrants for a total of 21 plots in each field. Each site takes approximately 6-8 hours to survey. Must be able to commit at least 5 days (30-40 hours plus travel). All supplies and equipment is provided. There is no need to be an expert, but we do ask that you are familiar with Virginia flora and have the ability to key out unknown specimens with a dichotomous key and our reference collection. It is possible to pair with a more experienced person.

Training Date: May 14th 9am-12pm • Survey Period: May-June

To sign-up, visit http://www.vaworkinglandscapes.org/get-involved/citizen-scientist


Dragonfly resources







Eastern Amberwing

Eastern Amberwing


VMN State Conference Details


The 2016 VMN Statewide Conference and Training will be held August 26-28, 2016 at the Skelton 4-H Educational and Conference Center.  It will be hosted by the Blue Ridge Foothills and Lakes (BRFAL) chapter.  As part of the Statewide Conference, there will be a  Photo Contest. The rules can be found on the conference website at: www.regonline.com/vmn2016conference, click the Photo Contest tab.


For more information, visit the conference website at http://www.regonline.com/vmn2016conference.    Early registration opens on June 20th.


Ichnology CE on Sat April 2nd at 1pm


Saturday afternoon beginning at 1pm, there will be a CE on Ichnology , the study of Ichs!!

It will last 1.5-2 hours and the entire chapter is invited.

For those that may not know what Ichnology is, here is the official definition:

Ichnology is the branch of geology and biology that deals with traces of organismal behavior, such as footprints and burrows. It is generally considered as a branch of paleontology; however, only one division of ichnology, paleoichnology, deals with trace fossils, while neoichnology is the study of modern traces.

Should be a great class! Hope to see you there.

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