July/August 2019

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ASNV welcomes two new board members.

Jessica Garduño, who recently moved to Northern Virginia, is a veterinary nurse and previously served on the board of Central New Mexico Audubon Society.

Tom Wood is an Associate Professor of Integrative and Interdisciplinary Studies at George Mason University. 

Congratulations to our Birdathon Winning teams!

Two Drakes, a Hen, and a Chick won the “Most Species Seen” trophy with 110 species. 

The Board Birders won the “Most Funds Raised” trophy.

Centreville School wins ASNV Conservation Grant

Centreville Elementary School will revitalize their walking trail and natural vernal pond with support from ASNV’s conservation grant program. The vernal pond has suffered from run-off, and salamander which used to spawn there have disappeared. The $1,250 ASNV grant will support adding native plants to improve stream filtration and help attract native species of birds and amphibians. The work is being accomplished by the student-led Green Team. Once the restoration is completed, students will identify and count the native amphibians in the vernal pond area to determine how many have returned.


Conservation Counts

Join Jim Waggener in his ongoing natural resource 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. From April through October, surveys are conducted primarily for butterflies and dragonflies at those two locations and two others—Occoquan Regional Park and Julie J. Metz Memorial Wetlands Preserve.

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

Contact Jim for more details or to reserve your space.

Meadowood on Mason Neck 

(7:30 a.m. - noon)
  • July 17
  • August 14
  • September 11

Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge 

(7:30 a.m - noon)
  • July 31
  • August 28
  • September 25

Butterfly and Dragonfly Surveys 

April through October
(8:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.)
  • Occoquan Regional Park: July 5, August 2, August 30, September 27, October 25
  • Occoquan Bay NWR: July 12, August 9, September 6, October 4
  • Meadowood Recreation Area: July 19, August 16, September 13, October 11
  • Metz Wetlands Preserve: July 26, August 23, September 20, October 18

Make a Difference!  
Speak Up!


E-Activist Network 
Volunteers Needed

The National Audubon Society invites all Auduboners to join its e-activist network. When you subscribe to the Society’s newsletter, you'll receive alerts about important congressional actions and information about how you can affect legislation by contacting your members of Congress.

Advocate Against Climate Change

We need passionate volunteers across Virginia who can help persuade elected officials to support actions designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If you would like to help make a difference with climate change and other important issues, please contact Glenda Booth.

Got a Hot Story? Let Us Know!

The Potomac Flier wants to deliver local bird-centered news that matters to you. Therefore, if there’s something you want us to write about, let us know at communications@audubonva.org.

President's Corner

by Tom Blackburn

Last week I toured the just-opened Fossil Hall at the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History and was reminded that birds are not just related to dinosaurs -- they are dinosaurs. The mass extinction of 66 million years ago wiped out 75% of all species, including all dinosaurs except birds. That event led to a huge increase in the number of bird species, as adaptive radiation resulted in birds evolving to fill numerous new ecological niches and to take over places previously filled by other species. What surprised me (and may surprise you) is that there are now more species of birds – over 10,000 – than there were species of dinosaurs. Birds are one of the great success stories of evolution.

Why am I writing about dinosaurs in an Audubon newsletter? Because summer is an ideal time to see “dinosaur” species you haven’t seen before. Migration season is over for birds, but it’s just beginning for us humans. So, if the birds don’t come to you, you can go to the birds.
  • Will you be going to the southwestern United States? Look for an impossibly cute, tiny resident of desert and scrubland, the Verdin, whose numbers are in steep decline.
  • Going to Maine? The rocky coastline is home to numerous birds you aren’t likely to see in Virginia this summer, including Common and King Eiders.
  • South Florida? Wood Storks and Roseate Spoonbills are always a treat.
  • The Atlantic beaches are a great place to spot the bright red bill, yellow eye and black head of the American Oystercatcher.
  • If you are going to Hawaii, be sure to get away from the towns and cities to see three species of tropicbirds; a small cousin of the Canada Goose, the Nene; and several other birds found only in Hawaii.
  • Are you staying in the area this summer? Check out the oversized nests outside the Museum of Natural History, including one that could have been built by a giant version of a Village Weaver.  
While some of us may plan our vacations around birds, most of us will not. But wherever your summer plans take you, try packing a pair of binoculars in your bag and staying alert to all the natural wonders around you. Spending even a few minutes watching a bird you don’t normally see helps connect you to nature. Enjoy your summer!

Reston Association's Central Services Facility Native Plant Garden Achieves Wildlife Sanctuary certification

The Audubon at Home program is happy to announce that the Reston Association's Central Services Facility (CSF) native plant garden has achieved certification as a Wildlife Sanctuary. RA developed this 3-acre site to serve as a demonstration site to educate Metro developers on how native plants can be integrated into areas near Metro stations.  

As you plan for the fall planting season, ASNV urges you to consider creating more wildlife habitat. Volunteer Audubon at Home Ambassadors are ready to pay you a free visit to advise on which native plants will work best on your property—and our definition of “property” includes homes, HOAs, schools, faith communities, parks, or commercial properties. After the property owner has observed at least 10 of the over 40 Wildlife Sanctuary Species that breed in Northern Virginia, Audubon at Home will certify the property as a Wildlife Sanctuary. Species that are particularly affected by loss of habitat in our area have been selected as these Sanctuary Species. 

Our Audubon at Home Wildlife Sanctuary Program embraces the principles of the National Audubon Society’s Bird-Friendly Communities and promotes citizen participation in conserving and restoring local natural habitat and biodiversity. To learn about the program and to request a visit from an AAH Ambassador, go to: http://audubonva.org/wildlife-sanctuary-program.

Upcoming Classes and Events

Marine Birds and Mammals of the Southeastern United States Workshop Field Trip

Date: Saturday, July 6, 2019
Location: Outer Banks, NC
Fee: $175 (includes gratuity; participants are responsible for accommodations)

For more information and to sign up, click here.


Chesapeake Bay Ecology 
Dates: Saturday, August 17, 9:30 a.m. – Sunday, August 18, 11:00 a.m.
Description: The Chesapeake Bay provides the ecological, cultural and historic foundation of our region. To understand the bay, its seasonal narration, complex history and stewardship needs each of us should be grounded in this place. For over 150 years, our stewardship of the bay region has been disrespectful to the complex natural systems. Water quality, indigenous species, and even people living around the bay have suffered from the impacts of mistreatment. With increased public awareness, public policy has slowly changed, and some progress has been made. Join Dr. Tom Wood on this experiential learning weekend to explore this national treasure.
Leader: Dr. Wood is an Associate Professor of Integrative and Interdisciplinary Studies in the School of Integrative Studies at George Mason University. He conducted his doctoral research at the Smithsonian and helped create the Smithsonian-Mason Semester and directed the development of Mason's joint program with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. 

Location: In this outing, we will explore Calvert County, MD. We’ll meet at 9:30 a.m. at Battle Creek Cypress Swamp, where we’ll explore one of the northernmost naturally-occurring bald cypress stands in North America. Then we'll head to Solomon's Island for a guided tour of the Calvert Marine Museum and private charter on the Dee of St. Mary's, one of the few remaining skipjacks on the Chesapeake Bay. We finish our visit with an early Sunday morning visit to Calvert Cliffs State Park (state park fee $7/car), the site of astonishing quantities of prehistoric marine fossils. Although Calvert County is close by, it still seems remote and is a treasure to visit.

Fee: $95 members, $115 non-members, includes guided tour of Battle Creek Cypress Swamp, lunch on Saturday, admission and special presentation at the Calvert Marine Museum, and a two-hour private charter on the Dee of St. Mary’s. 

Upcoming Classes and Events (continued)

Group Limit: 15 participants. 
Hotel Reservations: A block of rooms has been reserved at the Holiday Inn Solomon’s Conference Center and Marina at a rate of $109 (not included with fee.) 
Participants will receive an email providing additional details about the trip and how to make a hotel reservation. For any questions, please email info@audubonva.org.

To register, click here


Raptors of the East Coast Region

Classroom Instruction:
Date: Thursday, September 26, 2019
Time: 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.
Location: National Wildlife Federation, 11100 Wildlife Center Drive, Reston 20190
Field Trip:
Date: Saturday, September 28, 2019,
Time: beginning at 9:30 a.m.
Location: Waggoner’s Gap (At top of Kittatinny Ridge, near Carlisle, PA)
Fee: $50 members, $60 non-members
Join us on Thursday, September 26 for Stacia Novy’s presentation on birds-of-prey. She will discuss flight characteristics, identification and migration patterns, focusing on raptor species of the East Coast region. The presentation will be followed by a field trip to Waggoner’s Gap, PA on Saturday, September 28 for a day of hawk watching. We’ll apply knowledge learned in the workshop by observing kettles of Broad-winged Hawks, falcons, and other migrant raptors making their way south for the winter.

Stacia Novy has been involved with wildlife conservation projects for over 30 years, specializing in birds. She is on the Board of Directors for Save the Prairie Society, an organization that saved Wolf Road Prairie Nature Preserve from urban development in Westchester, Illinois. She has conducted avian surveys for Wolf Road Prairie, the Audubon Center at Riverlands, Missouri, and the USDA Henry White Experimental Farm. She collected nesting data on Elf Owls, Gilded Flickers, and Yellow-billed Cuckoos for Tucson Audubon Society and Sonoran Audubon Society to establish Important Bird Areas (IBAs) for those species in Arizona. Stacia has also worked with Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge biologists to band birds, radio-track ocelots, and conduct nocturnal surveys of mammals. In Texas and Belize, she assisted in releasing endangered Aplomado Falcons and Orange-breasted Falcons for The Peregrine Fund

Stacia has presented wildlife-related topics in both popular and scientific forums. Her articles have been published by the Illinois Ornithological Society, the Wilson Journal of Ornithology, the Illinois State Academy of Science, the North American Falconers Association, American Falconry, and the American Birding Association. She has a passion for raptorial birds, and is one of only about 500 women in the United States to hold state and federal falconry licenses to keep birds-of-prey in captivity.

To register, click here.  



Fundamentals of Avian Biology: The Study of Birds
Fall Session

Classroom Instruction:
Dates: Thursdays, 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.; October 3, 10, 17; December 5, 12, 19
Location: National Wildlife Federation, 11100 Wildlife Center Drive, Reston 20190

Field Trips: October 12; December 14
Location: TBD 
Are you new to birding and want to learn more or just want to dig deeper into the subject? Then this class is for you! This course is designed to include beginners, but it is by no means restricted to them.
Fundamentals of Avian Biology: Fall Session, will feature close scrutiny of the modern theory and field methods used to interpret the life of birds. Topics to be covered will encompass basic avian biology, life histories, evolution, behavior, ecology, geography, migration, and human socio-cultural relationships. Whenever appropriate, contrasting perspectives will be offered, including some controversial views, and distinctions made between different historical approaches of professional ornithology and birding. Classroom presentations will include PowerPoint slides, auditory or video supplements, and some participatory exercises.
Instructor: Dr. Chris Haney's expertise straddles the fields of ornithology, including: marine science, climate change, wildlife biology, ecosystem management, and conservation policy. His projects and scholarly work have taken him to Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Bahamas, Lesser Antilles, several countries of southern Africa, and the former Soviet Union. He has authored over 80 peer-reviewed journal articles, book chapters, and technical notes, and over 150 reports, abstracts, and testimony. He has delivered more than 150 seminar, conference, and workshop presentations. Dr. Haney’s knowledge and enthusiasm in the classroom is contagious!
Limit: 30 students. Don’t delay, this class will sell out quickly.
Fee: $250 members, $275 non-members
Registration: Opens July 1, 2019
This course is designed and presented at a university introductory level in two separate sections (Fall and Spring) with a total of 12, two-hour classroom sessions. The two sections are independent and field trips will focus on birds that are present during the season. The Spring Session will begin in late winter 2020, there is no prerequisite for this section. 

To register, click here.


Recovery of the Peregrine Falcon-A Conservation Success Story

by Lisa Mackem

In July 2015, two Peregrine Falcon chicks were found on Market Street in Reston Town Center (RTC). They were taken to the Raptor Conservancy of Virginia and safely released into the wild. No one realized Peregrine Falcons nested in Reston but the chicks prompted a discovery that two adult peregrines were nesting in RTC. The pair has continued to nest there for five years. 

The Reston Town Center peregrines have perhaps found an ideal environment for a nest site: inaccessible, protected from rain and harsh sun, and facing south. The surrounding area is full of prey all year, while tall building roofs nearby provide safe landing areas for fledglings.

The Center for Conservation Biology in Williamsburg, VA monitors Virginia’s Peregrine Falcon population. Last year, the center’s director, Dr. Bryan Watts, and Reston resident and raptor biologist Steve Potts banded the four RTC peregrines’ offspring, assisted by a team of volunteers. Boston Properties, which owns the building with the nest, allowed access for the banding. They allowed access again this year, when four more chicks were banded.

Peregrine and other raptor and avian banding is a management tool and the United States Geological Survey licenses master banders. Virginia peregrines receive green bands with alphanumeric coding that identifies the birds. Both banding and satellite tracking allow study of the peregrines’ migratory status. Approximately half of the Virginia peregrines migrate south to establish winter territories ranging from North Carolina to Colombia, South America. Remaining birds establish winter territories within the mid-Atlantic region of the United States from Virginia through New York. 

The Peregrine Falcon was almost extinct in the eastern United States and listed as endangered in 1970. In 1975, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service appointed an Eastern Peregrine Falcon Recovery Team to develop and implement a recovery plan. A key part of the recovery strategy was the production and release of captive-reared falcons. (Cade and Fyfe 1978, Cade 2003.) From 1975 - 1985, 307 captive reared birds were released from sites on the Virginia Coastal Plain, as well as Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey. Additional birds were released in Washington, DC and coastal North Carolina. This breeding population helped populate the eastern peregrine population so much that they were removed from the U.S. Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife (Mesta 1999).  

The historic population of Virginia peregrines nested in the mountains, but modern birds depend primarily on man-made structures for nesting. Peregrines usually nest in towers, but are also found on bridges and buildings. Less common structures include abandoned shacks, water towers, military ships, and active smokestacks at coal-fired power plants. Peregrines are vulnerable to expected risk factors in urban areas, but the Virginia peregrine population has consistently prospered since the first successful breeding between 1979-1982. In 2018, Virginia supported 32 known peregrine breeding pairs – the highest peregrine population recorded in the state. The population continues to grow at an 8% annual rate. Ongoing management activities might partially explain the increase in reproductive rates observed over time. Artificial management structures include added gravel, nest trays, nest boxes, and predator guards. Peregrine pairs nesting within boxes or on trays produced more than twice as many young as pairs that did not. The peregrines’ health can also be monitored. If a young falcon shows signs of disease that can easily be treated, it can be cured, and returned to the nest. Birds of prey suffer mortality rates of up to 70%, so all available monitoring is extremely helpful.

Peregrines are often reported to be the fastest bird in the world, increasing their average cruising flight speed of 24 to 33 mph to 67 mph when in pursuit of prey. When stooping, or dropping on prey with their wings closed, it's been calculated that Peregrine Falcons can achieve speeds of 238 mph. 

Dr. Carla Dove, Program Manager at the Feather Identification Lab at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, analyzed bird remains found in the RTC nests in 2018 and 2019 and identified 12 prey species: Blue Jays, Common Grackle, European Starling, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, House Sparrow, American Robin, Cedar Waxwing, Eastern Bluebird, and American Woodcock. 
For more information about the peregrine falcon, see

For information about raptor mortality, especially lead poisoning, see




Special thanks to Dr. Bryan Watts, Steve Potts, and Robin Duska for their contributions to this article.


ASNV is primarily a volunteer-driven organization. We rely on people like you to carry out most of our organization’s functions.

If you would like to volunteer your time to help support birds and the environment, check out the following opportunities. If you are interested, please send me an email at president@audubonva.org and if you have other ideas about projects you’d like to undertake, let me know about those too.

Volunteer Coordinator: We need an enthusiastic person to help us manage our volunteers. You would keep a roster of volunteers, publicize volunteer opportunities in our newsletter and website, coordinate the volunteers’ activities, and help ensure that their volunteer experiences are good ones.

Speaker: We receive requests from time to time for speakers who can talk about birds, wildlife, habitat, and conservation. Let me know if you would like to join our Speakers Forum. ASNV can provide some training, access to photographs from the National Audubon Society website, and an already-prepared slide show of common birds that you can use or modify to suit your preferences. 

Public Events Representative: ASNV attends festivals and conferences, where we set up a table with information about our organization and items to purchase such as hats and books. We also have a wide variety of children’s activities. You would pick up materials for the event from the National Wildlife Federation building in Reston and be our representative to the public, discussing ASNV’s mission and current activities and encouraging people to join. 

We have a specific need coming up at Ellanor Lawrence Park 12:00 to 2:00 p.m. on May 11 to celebrate World Migratory Bird Day. This year’s theme for WMB Day is “Protect Birds: Be the Solution to Plastic Pollution.” Let us know if you can help.

Finance Committee Member: We need one person with some financial/investment experience to help us manage our investments. You would meet, either by phone or in person, with our other committee members four times each year to discuss whether we should update our investment strategy.

Tom Blackburn


Take Action

by Glenda Booth

Elect Conservation-minded Officials

Virginians will elect the entire Virginia General Assembly this year and local officials in some jurisdictions. It’s important to elect candidates who support conservation and the environment. Primary elections to elect the candidates for the Democratic Party in all jurisdictions and for the Republican Party in some jurisdictions will be held on June 11. Information on the election and candidates can be found on the website for each county and city. 

Posing questions and expressing your views to candidates is critical to encourage them to support strong conservation policies. Check your candidates’ websites or call them for information on town meetings and other appearances. 


July/August Bird of the Month: Brown-headed Cowbird

by Elise Brosnan

Brown-headed Cowbirds love cows. True to their name, they can often be found alongside herds of cattle or horses, eating insects that much larger animals flush from the grass. Historically, Brown-headed Cowbirds followed bison herds across the Great Plains, but the spread of livestock farming has expanded their range across North America. 
Their arrival has been unfortunate news for many species of birds. Brown-headed Cowbirds reproduce by being brood parasites; instead of nesting and raising their own young, they lay their eggs in the nests of other bird species, which the hosts then raise until adulthood. 
Most brood parasites are specialists, meaning they lay their eggs in the nest of only one other bird species. These eggs closely mimic the hosts’ eggs, and their hatchlings closely mimic the hosts’ hatchlings. Because their young make for convincing changelings, the hosts are tricked into caring for them.
However, Brown-headed Cowbirds are generalists and are known to have parasitized over 200 species of birds. Most of these birds have young that look nothing like Brown-headed Cowbirds, so why do they choose to raise offspring that are clearly not their own? It turns out that Brown-headed Cowbirds are even bigger bullies than previously thought.
In what researchers call “mafia behavior,” birds that eject Brown-headed Cowbird eggs may be subject to retaliation. In one study, researchers identified several hundred Prothonotary Warbler nests, some of which had been parasitized by Brown-headed Cowbirds. They removed the cowbird egg from some of these parasitized nests, and then protected some of the nests from harassment by cowbirds.
When a cowbird egg was removed from an unprotected nest, the nest had a 56 percent chance of being destroyed, including any eggs or nesting chicks. When the cowbird egg stayed in place, an unprotected nest had only a 6 percent chance of being destroyed. All of the protected nests were undisturbed. Because of this behavior, Prothonotary Warblers that raised a Brown-headed Cowbird had 60 percent more reproductive success than Prothonotary Warblers that had a cowbird egg removed from their nests. Brown-headed Cowbirds are unwelcome guests, but kicking them out may make them even worse.





Twin Branches Trail, Reston, VA
Sunday, July 7, 7:30 to 10:30 a.m.

Wrap up your weekend with a bird walk in the cooler morning hours and see what breeding birds you can find with leader Robin Duska. Sponsored by The Reston Association, the Bird Feeder of Reston, and ASNV.  

Getting there: From I-66 west, to exit 60 to go north on Route 123. Turn left on Hunters Mill Road/ Route 674. Turn left on Lawyers Road, Route 673. Turn right on Twin Branches Road. Park along Glade Drive near the intersection with Twin Branches. Meet at the corner.


Sky Meadows State Park, Delaplane, VA
Sunday, July 14, 10:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. 
State Park Fee Area
Optional BYO Picnic lunch afterwards

Come to the meadows of this beautiful state park and its cool, but sunny higher elevation. Look for butterflies with Leader Mary Alexander, Master Naturalist and Roving Naturalist with Fairfax County Park Authority. Bring hat, sun screen, insect repellant, water, and binoculars. Those who pack a lunch are welcome to picnic at the park after the walk. Entry requires State Park Pass or Fee.

Getting there: From I-495, take I-66 west 42 miles to exit for Route 17 North (Delaplane, Paris). Go north on Route 17 for 6.5 miles to Route 10. Turn left into park and proceed 1 mile to Visitor Center. Meet leader in Parking Lot. 11012 Edmonds Lane, Delaplane, 20144.

Huntley Meadows, Alexandria, VA
Saturday, August 3, 7:30 to 10:30 a.m.

Join leader Dixie Sommers at Huntley (Visitor Center side). We’ll enjoy the woods, boardwalk, and if lucky, maybe find some southbound shorebirds. 

Getting there: From I-195, take Route 1 south for 3 miles. Turn right on Lockheed Boulevard and in 0.5 miles turn left into park entrance. 3701 Lockheed Boulevard. Meet in parking lot.


Buttermilk Creek Trail, Reston, VA
Sunday, August 4, 7:30 to 10:30 a.m. 

We’re mostly in the woods for this walk along the creek and some of the shore of Lake Fairfax. We’ll look for fledglings among our summer residents and maybe some shorebirds near the lake.

Getting there: From the Dulles Toll Road West, exit north on Wiehle Avenue. Go about 1.5 miles to the second entrance to N. Shore Drive on the right. At the intersection of N Shore with Ring Road, turn into the parking lot for the swimming pool and tennis courts. 11032 Ring Road, Reston.


Bles Park, Sterling, VA
Saturday, August 17,  8:00 to 11:00 a.m.

Come out for a walk before the summer’s gone! Join leader Jean Tatalias for a walk over easy terrain around the marsh and woods edge.

Getting there: From the intersection of VA Route 28 and VA Route 7, travel west on Route 7 for 1.3 miles and turn right onto Loudoun County Parkway. Turn right on George Washington Boulevard, then left on Riverside Parkway. Bles Park will be on your right at the end of Riverside Parkway.

Recurring Bird Walks

Several parks in the area have established year-round weekly bird walks. These walks are not run by ASNV, but may be of interest to ASNV members. They can be found here.       

Other News

Bird Feeder in Reston

This store offers a 10% discount to current ASNV members, good on all purchases excluding optics and sale merchandise. When you visit, just tell them you are a member of ASNV and ask for the discount. 
1675 Reston Pkwy, Ste J, Reston, VA 20194. (703) 437-3335 
Copyright © 2019 Audubon Society of Northern Virginia, All rights reserved.