February 2012
In This Issue
Great Backyard Bird Count
Christmas Bird Count Results
Gardening with Deer
Field Trips
Advocacy Update

Upcoming Events

Conservation Counts
Join Jim Waggener in his ongoing wildlife surveys at two of Northern Virginia's best birding spots. Surveys alternate between Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and Meadowood Special Recreation Management Area on Mason Neck.

Each survey is limited to four participants, and reservations are required. More information is available on the ASNV website.

Contact Jim via email or phone (703-567-3555) for more details or to reserve your space.

Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge
  • February 29
  • March 28
Meadowood on Mason Neck
  • March 14

Eakin Park Bird Walk
Hidden Oaks Nature Center (FCPA) sponsors weekly bird walks along the Accotink Stream Valley.

We meet every Monday morning (weather permitting) at the parking lot on Prosperity Ave. about half way between Routes 50 and 236 (Little River Turnpike). We begin at 7:30 AM December through February, and 7 AM the rest of the year. No need to sign up. The walk generally goes for a couple hours but can vary depending on how "birdy" it is and the weather. If you have any questions please contact the leader, Carolyn Williams, at 703-273-1961.

Audubon at Home needs you
People-oriented volunteers are needed to help spread the word about the Audubon At Home Wildlife Sanctuary Program at community and regional events. We schedule the dates, provide all the materials, and brief you on our message -- you supply the enthusiasm!

To volunteer or for more information, contact Cliff Fairweather via email or phone (703-256-6895).

Help make a difference!
The National Audubon Society invites all Auduboners to join their e-activist network. When you subscribe to their newsletter, you'll receive alerts about important Congressional actions and information about how you can affect legislation by contacting your Members of Congress. Visit www.audubonaction.org to learn more.

We also need passionate volunteers across Virginia who can help us persuade our U. S. senators to support a strong climate change bill. If you would like to help us make a difference with climate change and other important issues, please contact Glenda Booth.
Message from the ASNV President

Hello everyone!

A couple of things this month, but first on the list is our Audubon Afternoon to be held on March 11th at the beautiful Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria.  1,400 acres of fresh water wetlands, smooth walking paths, and a great boardwalk extending out into the marshes so bring the kids and have a great afternoon. Another reason for bringing the kids and yourselves is because we are going to be talking about parks in Fairfax County because it is a serious issue for you and your kids. The issue is how to use our finite amount of green space in Fairfax County, and our featured speaker is known to many of you.  Charles Smith is a senior naturalist with the Fairfax County Park Authority who will discuss the state of our parks and their future. So, if you've ever wondered about, or been annoyed at some development with a local park, this is your opportunity to learn or ask about it but to also enjoy Huntley Meadows. Come on out!

Secondly, we would like to expand our relationships and programs with other environmental organizations in neighboring Prince William, Fauquier and Loudoun counties, and we'll be discussing that in future announcements. For the moment, I'd like to hear from members in those counties regarding what they'd like to see in terms of expanding our Audubon at Home program, additional or new field trips or bird walks, or other cooperative efforts with organizations apart from Audubon. 

Thanks, and please stay in touch!! 

Join the Great Backyard Bird Count
February 17 - 20

Watch for snowy owls and early migrants

Warmer temperatures and lack of snow in parts of North America are setting the stage for what could be a most intriguing 15th annual Great Backyard Bird Count, coming up February 17-20. Reports from bird watchers across the U.S. and Canada may help answer interesting questions about bird movements.

Will geese start migrating sooner? Will some species, such as the rough-legged hawk, move southward and in greater numbers than usual? And where will the "Harry Potter" owl turn up next? A "baby boom" generation of young snowy pwls has been dazzling bird watchers since last fall as these Arctic residents seek out new territories and food supplies-some venturing as far south as Kansas and Missouri.

We may gain further insights into these questions when Great Backyard Bird Count participants tally the numbers and species of birds they see during the four-day count. The goal is to watch birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count then enter tallies at www.birdcount.org. Anyone can participate, it's free, and no registration is required. Participants can count anywhere they wish, not just in backyards, but in neighborhoods, parks, nature centers, or anywhere they see birds.

To learn more about how to join the count, get bird-ID tips, downloadable instructions, a how-to video, past results, and more visit: www.birdcount.org. The count also includes a photo contest and a prize drawing for participants who enter at least one bird checklist online.


The Results are In!
2011 Manassas-Bull Run Christmas Bird Count

The 30th Manassas-Bull Run Christmas Bird Count was conducted on December 18, 2011. We started the day with temperatures below freezing and breezy winds, but a warming sun gave good viewing light and many interesting birds. A total of 103 people participated, counting 78 species and 21,177 birds.

Overall, our total bird count was slightly less than last year (by 330 birds) and we had six fewer species; however both numbers are consistent with a "normal" year for our count. While we did not have as many species as some years, we did have quite a few interesting finds.  We had a green heron (seen by Jenny Vick, Maria Kelly and Jeff Wright) and a lesser yellowlegs (seen by Gerco Hoogeweg) both first ever sightings for our count circle. Additionally, we had ten all-time high counts (pied-billed grebe, black vulture, Cooper's hawk, red-bellied woodpecker, fish crow, Carolina chickadee, tufted titmouse, white-breasted nuthatch, Eastern winter wren and chipping sparrow). The WBNU and CHSP were the second year in a row we set all time highs for those species.  And we had four ties for all-time high counts (bald eagle, downy woodpecker, common raven and palm warbler). We also had (relatively) high numbers for gadwall, yellow-bellied sapsucker, American crow, Eastern bluebird, cedar waxwing, and Eastern meadowlark). Our American crow count was influenced by one observation of a stream of more than 1450 birds flying over late in the day likely heading toward their roost.

In terms of species trends, we are seeing blue jay, American crow, Carolina chickadee and tufted titmouse near the upper end of our historic numbers for them. This is a welcome trend compared with seven years ago. Bluebirds seem to have rebounded from the harsh snows of the past couple of winters. Northern harriers are seen much less often than 10-15 years ago, not surprising with the development of open land in our count circle. American kestrel and Merlin are hanging on with a few of each species reported each year.

Copies of the full results for the count are available from the ASNV office, from any of our sector leaders, or from the compiler, Bob Shipman. We also plan to post them on the ASNV website.  

We gratefully thank all the enthusiastic people who came out this year and counted so well!  


Habitat Gardening with Deer

By Terry Liercke & Cliff Fairweather

As hard as it is to believe today, whitetail deer were once extirpated from Virginia and much of the east. They've made a huge comeback in recent decades. In that sense, the return of deer can be seen as a conservation success story, but one that has become a case of too much of a good thing. Human activities, especially eliminating predators and creating vast amounts of deer-friendly edge habitat in the form of suburban landscape, have set the stage for an overabundance of deer.

Large deer populations present a number of ecological, health, and safety issues. They also pose a challenge to homeowners trying to create native habitat for other wildlife on their properties, as many Audubon at Home participants have pointed out to us. Deer populations in Northern Virginia are unlikely to significantly decline in the near future, so habitat gardeners need to adapt.

Three strategies of deer deterrence available to homeowners include: deer resistant native plants, repellants, and physical barriers. With deer resistant plants, the key word is resistant and no plant is entirely deer proof, especially if the deer are very hungry. Nonetheless, plants with strongly aromatic qualities (e.g., spicebush, mints), that contain natural toxins (e.g., milkweed), or have rough leaf surfaces (e.g., ferns) are less likely to browsed heavily. Visit the ASNV website for a list of 10 native and deer resistant plants

Repellants sprays usually contain putrescence of egg and need to be applied frequently, especially after rain. One spray, Deer Out, uses mint as the active ingredient and might be a better choice in areas where people will be in close proximity. Dried blood, which is available commercially, can be sprinkled around plantings but is more effective for potted plants. Motion activated sprinklers work for open areas where wind-jostled plants won't set them off. Wireless Deer Fences consist of battery powered units mounted on short stakes that give deer a mild electric shock. Repellent clips and hangers for use in tree or shrub branches are available and materials such as bright plastic tape waving in the breeze might provide some deterrence.

Physical barriers can also help, but extensive fencing tall enough to exclude deer is expensive and can be unsightly. Individual saplings can be protected with tree tubes (be sure to use a bird net, if needed) or chicken-wire. This also prevents bucks from scrapping their antlers on the plant. Bird netting can also provide protection to beds, shrubs and small trees, but it needs to be inspected regularly to ensure that no birds are trapped within. Use hoops and stakes to support the netting.

You'll probably need to employ more than one strategy if your local deer are persistent or abundant, but at least you're not entirely helpless against onslaught. We will be scheduling an Audubon at Home workshop on deterring deer in the spring or early summer, so keep an eye out for the announcement. And let us know if you've found a way to deter deer in your garden (email Cliff with your tips: cliff@audubonva.org).

Coming Soon - Audubon at Home Native Plant Starter Kits: Details in the next Potomac Flier!


Field Trips and Birdwalks

Registration is not required for field trips, unless noted. Contact the ASNV office at 703-438-6008 or info@audubonva.org for more information. Participants should dress for the weather and bring binoculars. Visit our website for more information about these and other upcoming field trips.

Riverbend Park
Sunday, February 19, 8 AM
We're happy to welcome Jenny Vick as a new leader for ASNV. We will walk along the river, upstream and down, checking for wintering waterfowl and keeping an eye out for winter birds in the woods.

Lake Fairfax
Saturday, February 25, 7:30 AM
Meet Bill Brown in the parking lot by the visitor center and explore the varied habitats in the park and around the lake.

Occoquan NWR
Sunday, March 4, 8 AM
Join leader, Carl Kikuchi, to explore this mix of habitats.
Register with the ASNV office.

Algonkian Regional Park
Sunday, March 11, 7:30-10:30 AM
Reminder-Daylight Savings Time starts today.
Jenny Vick will lead this walk through the park's varied habitats, which include riverside, meadows and forest. 

Snakeden Stream Valley, Reston
Sunday, March 18 7:30 AM
Meet Carolyn Williams at the Nature House for a walk through the woods and the stream valley. 

Bles Park, Loudoun County
Wednesday, March 28, 7:30 AM
This park along the Potomac and Broad Run can turn up some interesting surprises. Meet Bill Brown in the parking lot.

New! Magee Marsh, Ohio
Friday, May 11-Tuesday, May 15.
Kenn Kaufman called Magee Marsh the "epicenter of birding in spring...a magical place to watch birds..." It's a place where warblers forage around your feet, perch at arm's length and flit around your head.  On this trip we will spend time on the boardwalk each day, plus birding in Ottawa NWR, Turtle Creek Bay, Cedar Point Marsh, and Maumee Bay State Park.

Limit 10. Cost $40 per person. Travel will be by car. We will try to match up single participants who do not wish to drive with drivers who have space to share. A block of rooms is being held at the Maumee Bay Lodge and Conference Center, 15 minutes from Magee Marsh.

Reservations required. Contact Carol Hadlock via email or phone (703-437-7451) to reserve your space. After making your reservation, please send your check for $40 per person, made payable to ASNV, to ASNV, 11100 Wildlife Center Drive, Suite 100, Reston, VA 20190.

More information is available on the ASNV website.


Take the LEAPP!!
Learn More About the Natural World

The LEAPP® (Learn, Enjoy, Appreciate, Preserve, and Protect) program offers the opportunity to learn more about the natural world and be informed, active stewards for its care and protection. To register or for more information, please visit our website, email us or call the ASNV office at 703-438-6008. Don't miss out - register early! Please note that registration is not complete until payment is received. Visit our website for more information about these and other upcoming LEAPP programs.

Sunday, February 26, 10 AM - 3 PM
Geologist Dr. Barbara Frank will teach a course with a general introduction to earth materials and geologic time followed by a hike to see folded mountain features, igneous activity dating back to Paleozoic Period. Present day processes, such as erosion and weathering, in particular pothole formation, frost-wedging will be covered. 

Flying WILD
Saturday, March 10, 11 AM - 3 PM
If you would like to learn about birds and how to provide some fun birding activities to kids and adults, sign up for Flying WILD. Flying WILD is a conservation education guide featuring interdisciplinary hands-on classroom and outdoor activities. You will receive a guide and curriculum that contains activities and lesson plans. Key concepts include migration, adaptation, the importance of habitat, and bird conservation efforts. The curriculum was originally designed for middle school teachers and students, but the guide contains activities suitable for anyone who wants to teach about birds.

Amphibians of Northern Virginia
Class: Saturday, March 24, 2-3:30 PM
Field trip: Saturday, April 7, 7-8:30 PM
Join expert naturalists for an "up close and personal" look at amphibians in our region. We will explore local frogs, toads, and salamanders through a slideshow and with live specimens! Be prepared to learn calls, habits, and life cycles of these amazing animals. Please note: The class session is mandatory for those wishing to go on the field trip.  

Spring Wildflowers
Class: Thursday, April 19, 7-9:30 PM
Field trip: Saturday, April 21, 10 AM - noon
Did you know that ants are the seed dispersers for 30% of spring wildflowers? Learn how to pronounce myrmecochory, how to identify some common spring wildflowers and plant families, and the folklore associated with plants in this area. The field trip will be held at Riverbend Park, Fairfax County Park Authority's only riverfront park which has over 400 acres of forest, meadows, and ponds. Riverbend's location along the Potomac River makes it a naturally unique and sensitive area with spectacular spring wildflowers.

Introduction to Birds and Birding
Class 1: Wednesday, April 18, 7-9 PM
Field trip 1: Saturday, April 21, time TBD
Class 2: Wednesday, April 25, 7-9 PM
Field trip 2: Saturday, April 28, time TBD
In Class 1 -- Basic Ornithology -- you will gain a basic understanding of taxonomy and species; bird biology; the natural history of birds, including behavior, reproduction, migration; and the great diversity of birds and habitats. In Class 2 -- Beginning Birding -- you will learn how to choose and use binoculars, explore various field guides and learn the language and tricks of identifying birds in the field. Please note: Participants must register for both Basic Ornithology and Beginning Birding.

Introduction to Local Stream Life
Class: Saturday, May 26, 1-3 PM
Field trip: Saturday, June 9, 2-4 PM
Join Potomac Overlook naturalists for an exploration into the world that exists in our smaller local streams. Common fish, amphibians, birds, insects, crustaceans, amphibians, and other invertebrates will be covered through an interpretive slideshow. Live specimens will also be on hand for participants to observe. Please note: The class session is mandatory for those wishing to go on the field trip.


Advocacy Update
Conservation Depends on You!

State Legislature Could Cut Conservation Funds
The Virginia General Assembly will meet until early March. A major issue to be resolved before they adjourn will be Governor Bob McDonnell's transportation bills, SB 639 and HB 1248. The Virginia Conservation Network and the Virginia League of Conservation Voters say these bills would be adverse to the environment because they would divert what is called "general fund" money to roads, thus leaving less for natural resource protection, public safety, schools and other functions.

Virginia May Stay in Potomac River Commission
Governor McDonnell's plan for Virginia to pull out of the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin (ICPRB) appears to have been thwarted, at least for now. The House of Delegates so far has not gone along with the Governor. Auduboner Rob Hartwell from Fairfax County is a commissioner, appointed by Governor McDonnell, and has worked hard to stop the withdrawal plan.

The commission works to ensure an adequate water supply, provide clean water and to restore the river. Learn more about ICPRB by visiting their website: www.potomacriver.org.

Sunday Hunting Ban
Some conservationists have been concerned about bills to repeal the current ban on hunting on Sunday, arguing that people who enjoy being out in nature should have one day of the week without encountering hunting. SB 464 would, in brief, allow people to hunt or kill any wild bird or wild animal on Sundays. The Senate approved the bill on January 26 on a 29 to 11 vote. Many Richmond observers expect the House of Delegates to pass it and the Governor to sign it.

Note: A House of Delegates' subcommittee voted to not advance the bill. It is unlikely that it will be considered again in this session. As we go to press with this newsletter, the final outcome of this bill is unclear.

Get Involved!
Here are a few tips for Auduboners, who may wish to express their opinions to their legislators:

How to Find Bills and Legislators
Information Resources on Virginia Legislation
Be a Contact for Your Legislator
The Virginia Conservation Network needs people in the district of every state senator and delegate to occasionally call, write or meet with them, especially during the session. To learn what's involved, visit the VCN website.

One state senator has said, "If I hear from five people on a bill, that's a lot." If legislators don't hear from you, they assume no one cares. Find your state legislator by clicking here.

Offshore Wind in Virginia and Birds
U.S. Interior Secretary Salazar and Governor Bob McDonnell have announced steps to build offshore wind energy facilities off Virginia's coast.

National Audubon's position on wind energy is that while it can be a valuable clean, renewable energy resource, facilities should be appropriately sited, to, for example, minimize hard to migrating birds and other animals.

The American Bird Conservancy (ABC) says that the government estimates that approximately 440,000 birds are currently killed each year by collisions with wind turbines and that the expansion of wind power will likely result in the deaths of more than one million birds each year by 2030. Wind energy projects are also expected to adversely impact almost 20,000 square miles of wildlife habitat.

ABC has petitioned the Department of the Interior to develop regulations to safeguard wildlife and reward responsible wind energy development. The more than 100-page petition for rulemaking (pdf download), prepared by ABC and the Washington, D.C.-based public interest law firm of Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal, calls for establishing a mandatory permitting system for the operation of wind energy projects and mitigation of their impacts on migratory birds.

ABC is asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to hold a public comment period so that the public can weigh in. If you wish to express your views, please click here.