Red-footed Cannibalfly

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I’ve been taking a lot of pictures of dragonflies recently;  Not only are they beautiful, but it really helps to have a picture when trying to ID them.   Recently, I was a Horsepen Run, when I came across what I thought was one dragonfly eating another one;  I had heard that it is not uncommon, but I hadn’t seen it in person before.  I just got a quick look before the eater flew off and the ‘dragonfly’ doing the eating didn’t look right.  I snapped a picture and figured I would try and ID it when I got home.   Here’s the picture:

Red-footed Cannibalfly

Red-footed Cannibalfly

As you can tell from the caption, it wasn’t a dragonfly, but is actually was a very large robber fly called the Red-footed Cannibalfly (Promachus rufipes).  That’s one heck of a fly!  The genus Promachus‘s greek translation is ‘who leads in battle’ – it certainly seems appropriate for such a giant fly that can take on dragonflies.  Robberflies get their common name because of their aggressive nature and tactics – they generally wait for their prey to fly by and then stick them up – well, they stick the prey with their proboscis.  Through their proboscis they inject a neurotoxin (to paralyze) and digestive enzymes.  There have even been reports of them trying to eat hummingbirds!

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Get your free trees! – Stream buffer planting

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One of the places that we visit frequently is a private 370 acre park, called Horsepen Run.  It’s part of the Countryside HOA, so to visit you need to be part of the HOA or a guest of a member of the HOA.  It’s a wonderful property sitting on the Potomac River and abutting Algonkian Park.  It’s full of a variety of different habitats, including meadows, wetlands (with vernal pools), and mature forest.  There is a good variety of birds, butterflies, herps (Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy has held a couple herp walks there in the past), and mammals (including possible sightings of bobcats!).

As the name implies, Horsepen Run contains a watershed that runs into the Potomac.  A little over a year ago, the HOA took advantage of a fantastic program to do a riparian buffer planting.  Allison had attended a seminar like this one and presented the idea to the HOA.  In the early spring, after some deliberation and meeting with the Loudoun Soil and Water Conservation District experts, a plan was put together.  In the late spring of 2015, the HOA paid (and was fully reimbursed by the county through the stream buffer program) a landscaping company to come in and plant 156 trees:

  • 19 Hackberry
  • 24 Black Gum
  • 24 River Birch
  • 18 Sweet Bay Magnolia
  • 12 American Hophornbeam
  • 12 American Hornbeam
  • 12 Redbud
  • 12 Blackhaw Viburnum
  • 13 Loblolly Pine
  • 10 Eastern Red Cedar
Buffer Stream Planting (day 1) at Horsepen Run

Buffer Stream Planting (day 1) at Horsepen Run

Trees - a year later

Trees – a year later

The trees that were chosen are all native to our area and as such provide a lot of value in terms of wildlife.   Allison added some labels (laminated to protect them from the weather) to some of the trees that described the tree species and what benefits it provides to wildlife.

Sweetbay Magnolia sign

Sweetbay Magnolia sign

As you may recall, that summer of 2015 was hot and pretty dry, so watering needed to be done to help the trees through their first year.  A pump and a really long hose allowed us to pump the stream water to take care of the tree’s needs.  The first summer we also had to add a little extra dirt to some of the trees, but the watering was the bulk of the first year care.

As the winter came, we worried when the big heavy snow came that the trees wouldn’t handle the weight, but they did fine.  The program requires that a year later that more than 75% of the trees are still alive – we met that easily with more than 95% surviving the first year.  The trees came with a warranty, so for the small number of trees that didn’t survive (some just didn’t ever really take to their new home), the vendor replaced them.  So in the spring, we got a few new trees and added a few new species (Chestnut Oak, Pin Oak and Tulip Poplar) to our burgeoning forest.

Sweetbay Magnolia a year later

Sweetbay Magnolia a year later

As summer approached, some of the trees were out-growing their deer fencing and needed some weeding, so a few volunteers have replaced a couple dozen deer fences and weeded about a third of the trees so far.  We hope to weed the rest in the next couple weeks.  Fortunately, there has been good rain for the spring and early summer, so we haven’t had to manually water them yet this year.  We’re hoping that by the end of the summer, we won’t have to do much more maintenance at all.

We’re very excited about the benefits to water quality and the benefits to local wildlife of converting what was once just a field of turf grass into a forest of beautiful native trees!   It is likely that the program will be offered next year if you want to get some trees of your own and help out with water quality.  You can visit the Loudoun Soil and Water Conservation District website for more information.

Loblolly Pine a year later

Loblolly Pine a year later

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Bluebird box monitoring

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For the last several years, we have been monitoring a bluebird trail in Loudoun.  It is a great volunteer opportunity.  It gets you outdoors on a regular basis;  you get to watch the whole lifecycle of birds;  you get to help out local native birds;  and sometimes you get access to some great habitat.  For example. one of the monitoring sites is the Dulles Greenway Wetlands Mitigation site – where it requires permission to visit and the bluebird monitors have permission to visit!  In Loudoun county, there are currently about 50 trails – so there is probably one near to you.

Our trail has not been very successful with respect to bluebirds.  We haven’t had any bluebirds nest in our boxes, but we have had other wonderful native birds species – Tree Swallows and House Wrens.  It’s a lovely experience to think that the Tree Swallows flying overhead are the ones that you played a part in their survival.

House Wren babies on a nest

House Wren babies on a nest

Boxes are generally checked one a week over the course of the spring to the fall.  Most trails probably take an hour or less to visit and inspect.  In the spring and fall, you clean out the boxes making sure they are ready for nesting – occasionally you need to fix something about the houses (replace a screw or noel guard) or move them based upon the previous season’s successes.   Then during the breeding season, you mostly just watch and record the nest state, number of eggs and number of juveniles.  You get to see the different nest materials and the eggs up close and you take some pictures of adorable little babies now and again.   All in all, it is very rewarding.

The program in Loudoun County is run by Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy.  You can find more information at http://www.loudounwildlife.org/Bluebird_Monitoring.htm .

 

I just found this fantastic article on the main VMN website about Clark Walter building bluebird boxes – http://www.virginiamasternaturalist.org/home/on-the-wings-of-bluebird-diplomacy

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2nd Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas

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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.

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Upcoming VMN Training Class Schedule published

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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.

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Virginia Working Landscapes is looking for volunteers

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

POLLINATOR SURVEYS

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

PLANT SURVEYS

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

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