Your VMN Banshee Reeks Newsletter has just been published. Interesting articles on Ovenbirds and your mind on nature are inside!
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
The spring copy of the newsletter was just published: Spring 2016 Newsletter
Inside find a memories of Casey Crichton a beloved member who recently passed away.
Also it contains a member profile of Zoe, a profile on Julie – the new Banshee Reeks naturalist on duty, and articles on plants, insects and more.
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.
Friends of Banshee Reeks is privileged to have an exceptional informed speaker accompanied by subject matter experts in archaeology with displays of pre-historic and colonial artifacts discovered at Banshee and surrounding areas. A portion of the presentation will be considered continuing education for VMN members. An RSVP is required as the venue is the Education Annex where there is a 40 person limit. The presentation will start promptly at 6:30 PM, March 23, 2016. If you will be coming, please register athttp://bansheereeksnp.org/event-2167188 by this Sunday Noon so we can get a good head count.
In this program Hayden Mathews, current President of the Banshee Reeks Chapter of the Archeological Society of Virginia (BRASV) will present an overview of the archeological work that has been done at Banshee Reeks Preserve since its creation. This program will discuss some of the representative archeological finds at Banshee and what they have revealed about the human presence here over the last 15,000 years and the soils, geology and topography of the Preserve and how they likely influenced human occupation on the land. Representative artifacts from pre-colonial settlement by First Peoples as well as post-colonial European occupation will be shown in the program.
Our winter newsletter was published – Bug Bytes Newsletter Winter 2016.
Check it out! We are always looking for more articles and article ideas.
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.