March 2019

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Shout Outs

Audubon at Home thanks Board Member Doug Everhart and volunteer Phil Divine for updating our GIS map of Certified Wildlife Sanctuaries with data through November 2018. A process of regular updates will soon keep the map current.

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. - 12 p.m.)
  • March 13
  • April 13

Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge 

(7:30 a.m - 12 p.m.)
  • March 27
  • April 27

Butterfly and Dragonfly Surveys—will resume in April

(8:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.)
  • April 4, Metz Wetlands
  • April 12, Occoquan Regional Park
  • April 19, Occoquan Bay NWR
  • April 26, Meadowood Recreation Area

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.

AAH Seeks Driver To Deliver Tabling Supplies

Audubon at Home seeks a volunteer driver to pick up supplies from the ASNV office at the National Wildlife Federation headquarters in Reston, to deliver them to a site for tabling events in Fairfax or Arlington County, and to pick up unused supplies afterward for return to ASNV in Reston. Drivers will be needed for up to three events per month. Trips can generally be made outside rush hour at the driver's convenience and will be scheduled by driver and AAH participant using a Doodle poll or via phone call. Interested? Write AAH@audubonva.org.

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

Our Christmas lights were gone, the winter birds were all too familiar, and nothing was blooming in our yard except an early witch hazel. It seemed like the perfect time to head south and see some “distant relations” we hadn’t seen in a while. Last week my wife, Brenda, and I traveled to a cloud forest in the Santa Marta mountains of northwest Colombia, where we found Blackburnian Warblers, fattening up for their migration north. I may be biased in favor of my namesake bird, but I think the Blackburnian is the most striking of all the warblers. 

This tiny warbler accomplishes an astonishing feat twice each year. It winters as far south as Peru and summers as far north as Hudson Bay, Canada. Despite weighing just over 1/3 of an ounce, it flies up to 2,500 miles to reach its nesting ground in spring and then heads south again in late summer. Along the way it encounters disorienting artificial lights, weather that may blow it far off course, and habitat loss, which deprives it of the insects it must consume for its long journey. 

Why does it do this? Other warblers we saw, such as the Rufous-capped Warbler and the Slate-throated Redstart, summer in Mexico; and the White-lored Warbler and Yellow-crowned Redstart never leave the Santa Marta range. Something in the Blackburnian’s distant past, probably relating to food sources or competition during breeding season, caused it to evolve to travel such long distances.  

The Blackburnian Warbler’s territory in the Santa Marta mountains is part of the Cuchilla de San Lorenzo Important Bird Area (IBA). IBAs are areas identified by Bird Life International as globally significant for the conservation of birds and other biodiversity. Bird Life International works with partners in each country, including the National Audubon Society in the United States, to protect IBAs. ASNV has “adopted” the Lower Potomac River IBA and works with public landowners to protect and enhance habitat in our IBA.  

Blackburnian Warblers and other migratory birds need protection in their winter territory and beyond; they need help all along their migration routes since they stop numerous times to rest and eat.  As you consider where to send your conservation-related donations, think about supporting Bird Life International’s efforts to establish and protect more IBAs, as well as ASNV’s work in the Lower Potomac River IBA.  My namesake and other birds will appreciate it. 

Manassas-Bull Run Christmas Bird Count Summary

by Phil Silas

The 37thAnnual Manassas-Bull Run Christmas Bird Count on December 16, 2018 had 115 hardy birders doing their best to count 13,562 birds. The species count of 78 is a few below average and a great accomplishment considering the wet, muddy, drizzly, flooded conditions.  It was not as rainy as the day prior when three inches fell! The average number of birds observed over the past 10 years is over 21,000, so this year was about 33% below that and far below last year's record high of over 33,000 in far more favorable conditions. 
Highlights included all-time highs of White-throated Sparrows, and Brown Thrasher, while Blue Jay, White-crowned Sparrow, and Red-breasted Nuthatch were way above average. Also, all 7 of our potential wintering woodpecker species were observed, and the Northern Shrike was seen and photographed in the Sully area, where it has chosen to winter for the third consecutive winter. Other interesting species included 3 owls (Eastern Screech, Horned, and Barred) and 2 of our local falcons (American Kestrel and Merlin), as well as 9 sparrow species, which included Swamp, Fox, and Chipping.  
It isn't surprising that several species were at all-time lows, including: Sharp-shinned Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Carolina Chickadee, and Yellow-rumped Warbler (just 3!). Two other species that were close to all-time lows were Tufted Titmouse and Golden-crowned Kinglet. Bald Eagle sightings counted only 8, which is well below the past 10 year average of just under 18.
Extra special thanks to Carol Hadlock for 20 years as leader of Sector 1. She has decided it’s time to “retire” from leadership but definitely not from participation in this Christmas Bird Count. Thanks for the support of all the route leaders and especially the rest of the sector leaders: Greg Butcher, Dixie Sommers, Toby Hardwick, and Carolyn Williams.
Copies of the full results for the count are available on the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia (ASNV) website by clicking here or from the compiler, Phil Silas. We gratefully thank all the enthusiastic birders both new and returning; we hope y'all had a good time and will be back for next year’s count, which will be on Sunday, December 15, 2019.      

Audubon at Home Hosts a Successful Ambassador Brunch

by Barbara Tuset 

ASNV’s Audubon at Home (AAH) hosted their 4th annual Ambassador Brunch on February 9th to celebrate a successful 2018 and prepare for 2019. AAH Ambassadors work with members of the public to create wildlife habitat in urban, suburban, and rural landscapes. Ambassadors hailed from all over Northern Virginia, including Arlington, City of Alexandria, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William County. 
With a beautiful backdrop of woods outside the window and a delicious pot-luck buffet, 60 Ambassadors enjoyed each other's company and shared client visit stories, tips, challenges, and resources. This was the best attended brunch so far and shows the growing interest and ownership of this all-volunteer program. AAH and our partners count more than 100 active Ambassadors in our 4 county area. Among the attendees were guests Mike Myers, the new Executive Director of the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy, our AAH partner organization in Loudoun County, and Joanne Bauer, ASNV Secretary on the Board of Directors.
The formal program began with updates from County Coordinators, who gave highlights about projects they managed in their counties in 2018. From poetry and information architecture to demonstration gardens and school projects, we learned of the many different ways Ambassadors engage with property owners and partner organizations throughout the region.

Our guest speaker was Carol Heiser, who is the Habitat Education Coordinator for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Her passion and continued commitment to her work is contagious. She reinforced the importance of planting native plants to support collapsing insect populations, which in turn support birds and other wildlife. Using actual case studies, Carol engaged us in a lively conversation about how to create wildlife habitat, protect water quality, teach healthy habitat practices, and meet homeowner’s interests. She also included a challenge to everyone to step up their efforts to engage local organizations and officials to bring the goal of habitat creation to more people.

Bird of the Month: Gynandromorphic Birds

by Elise Brosnan

This past February, a very unusual Northern Cardinal was spotted in Erie, Pennsylvania. Its right side is brilliantly red, while its left side is a modest brown, with both sides perfectly split down the middle. The reason for the color split is remarkable; the left side is biologically female, while the right side is biologically male. Genetically, the two halves are as closely related as brother and sister.
The cardinal’s rare genetic mutation is known as bilateral gynandromorphism. Bilateral gynandromorphs have been recorded in crustaceans, insects, some reptiles, and many species of birds. All these animals share what is known as the ZW-sex determination system. Scientists are not entirely sure how gynandromorphs occur. Biologist Michael Clinton of the University of Edinburgh theorizes that there are two characteristics of the ZW-determination system that combine to make gynandromorphism possible:
The first characteristic is that the mother’s genes are responsible the sex of the offspring. Having ZW sex chromosomes causes an embryo to develop into a female, while having ZZ chromosomes causes an embryo to develop into a male. The mother contributes either a Z or W chromosome, producing either a male or female child, respectively. Clinton believes that female birds have a biological mechanism that causes them to overwhelmingly contribute either Z or W chromosomes in certain environmental conditions. This would explain the incredibly skewed gender ratios seen in some species; for example, it is not uncommon for some female parrots to hatch 20 male or 20 female offspring consecutively. If this biological pathway goes awry, a female bird might produce an egg cell with both Z and W chromosomes. This egg cell is then fertilized by two normal sperm cells, getting two more Z chromosomes. The fertilized egg now has full male and female genetic information, causing it to develop with both ZZ male and ZW female DNA.
The second characteristic is that animals with the ZW-sex determination system do not appear to rely on hormones to develop primary sex characteristics. This is the opposite of what is seen in animals with the XY-sex determination system, such as humans. Humans can be physiologically male and have XX chromosomes, or be physiologically female and have XY chromosomes. These genetic abnormalities are caused when certain hormones are not created or absorbed, or when certain hormones are created when they shouldn’t be. However, a bilateral gynandromorph is able to maintain perfect male and female halves, even though both its halves are soaked in male and female hormones manufactured by its mismatched testis and ovary. Sex differences in gynandromorphs even extend to their brains; in a gynandromorphic zebra finch, the male half of its brain contained the neural pathways to sing courtship songs, while the female half did not. (Sex-specific brain structures are not seen in humans, who do not have categorically male or female brains.)
Probably as a result of these brain differences, many gynandromorphs are unable to properly perform the social behavior of either gender. They are often are shunned or even attacked by their peers. Fortunately, the Erie, Pennsylvania cardinal is an exception; she/he is frequently in the company of another male bird. Researchers suspect that her/his left ovary might be viable, so she/he may even become a mother/father in the spring.
Robson, David “These Animals Are Male on One Side and Female on the Other.” BBC Earth. Last modified Sept. 22, 2015. http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20150916-these-animals-are-male-on-one-side-and-female-on-the-other
Seaberg, Maureen “Rare Half-Male, Half-Female Cardinal Spotted in Pennsylvania.” National Geographic.Last modified Jan. 31, 2019. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2019/01/half-male-half-female-cardinal-pennsylvania/
Weintraub, Karen “A Rare Bird Indeed: A Cardinal That’s Half Male, Half Female.” The New York Times.Last modified Feb. 9, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/09/science/cardinal-sex-gender.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=Science

Advocacy Report

by Connie Ericson

Proposed Bike Path Changes in Arlington

On January 28, ASNV sent comments to Arlington County staff (and Board members) on a proposed Bicycle Element to the County’s Master Transportation Plan (Bike Plan). County staff report that they will make changes to the Bike Plan to answer concerns ASNV raised about two proposed off-street bike trails that would endanger natural resources in Glencarlyn and Barcroft Parks. This marks a success for ASNV, assuming the proposed changes are finally approved by the Board. 
ASNV continues to have concerns about proposals calling for widening and adding lighting to the W&OD and Four Mile Run trails in natural areas of Arlington parks and plans to submit additional comments on the revised Bike Plan.

2019 General Assembly Session Ends

The General Assembly ended the 2019 regular session on Sunday, February 24. For a summary of the outcome of environmental legislation, visit the Virginia Conservation Network at www.vcnva.org and the Virginia League of Conservation Voters at https://valcv.org/
Environmentalists are particularly pleased that the legislature passed a bill to tighten up coal ash storage at power plants. Bills to strengthen tree protection and create a wildlife corridor plan were killed in the House of Delegates.
All members of the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates will face elections on November 5, 2019.  It’s never too early to “educate” them about stronger environmental protections and the importance of more natural areas.

Take Action


Want More Natural Areas? Local Governments Set Priorities

Local governments manage local parks, waste, land use, schools, development, stormwater control, and more. Local governments are now considering their 2020 fiscal year budgets and seeking input. Check your local government for schedules on hearings, votes, and opportunities to influence the budgets. This is the time to weigh in and elevate conservation in local governments’ budgets.


Audubon at Home Seeks Friendly Volunteers

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 us here.


Report Loggerhead Shrike Sightings

The loggerhead shrike, or butcher bird, has seriously declined over the last half century, with current numbers estimated to be only a quarter of what they were in 1966. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) is currently working to understand what is driving the decline. You can report banded or unbanded shrikes to dgifweb@dgif.virginia.gov or call 804-367-0143. Try to identify the color bands and provide date, time, location (the more precise the better), and other pertinent information—behaviors, for example. Photos are welcome but not required.

Want to learn more? ASNV’s own, Glenda Booth, has written an excellent article about these unusual birds.

Upcoming Classes and Events

Early Spring Birding
Thursday, March 28, 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.
Fairfax High School Room A139, 3501 Rebel Run, Fairfax, VA 22030

Late March can offer spectacular birding, marking a transition between winter and spring, Many of our winter birds, such as waterfowl and sparrows, are still around, but they are joined by early migrants returning to breeding territories. In this workshop we will discuss birds that occur here at this time of year, with a special focus on species that are migrating into our region and their arrival dates. An ancillary field trip offers a chance to encounter many of these birds in their natural settings. Register here. $30 members/$40 non-members
Instructor:  Larry Meade is ASNV Education Chair and president of the Northern Virginia Bird Club.


How to Lead a Bird and Nature Walk
Saturday, April 6, 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
Location TBD

Back by popular demand! Do you love birds? wildflowers? frogs? fungi? or some other aspect of nature? Do you ever think you might like to share that love with others in an organized way, but are not sure how to do it?  If so, this workshop will answer a lot of questions and give you good tips on how to be a successful leader. We will spend some time in a classroom setting and follow that up with a walk to practice what you’ve learned. Register here. Limited to 15 students. $10 members/$15 non-members
Instructor: Dixie Sommers has been an Audubon member since 1986 and became a serious birder after moving back to the Washington area from Ohio in 2006, adding to her long interest in nature photography and travel. She is an avid e-bird user and enjoys using photography to help learn the birds, and sharing her photos on www.ddpix.smugmug.com. In addition to favorite places in Virginia, her recent birding travels include Alaska, Cuba, Ecuador, Ohio, South Florida, Antarctica, and Argentina.  Dixie lives in Alexandria, Virginia, and retired from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics after a long career of counting jobs and workers. Now she counts birds!  


Birding by Ear Boot Camp
Saturday, April 14, 7:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Julie J. Metz Wetland Preserve and Leesylvania State Park, Woodbridge, VA

New location and instructor! Spend a full day learning bird song in the field and on the trails with birding expert Greg Fleming. Some basic birding knowledge is a prerequisite, such as being able to identify some common local birds by sight. Bring a bag lunch, we'll be out in the field all day but will break for lunch at Leesylvania State Park. This class will fill up quickly! Register here. Limited to 15 students. $50 members/$60 non-members

Instructor: Greg Fleming

Marine Birds and Mammals of the Southeastern United States
Tuesday, June 4, 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.
Tuesday, June 11, 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.
National Wildlife Federation, 1100 Wildlife Center Drive, Reston, VA 20190
Outer Banks Field Trip TBA in Late June

Marine birds have feathers, and marine mammals breathe air. But in almost every other way, these ocean denizens bear almost no resemblance at all to their counterparts on land. This workshop introduces participants to the identification, foraging strategies, behavior, and nesting/breeding ecology of marine birds and mammals typical of the southeastern Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States. There will be two classes and a full-day pelagic field trip. Registration will open mid-March.

Instructor: Dr. Chris Haney is a doctor of oceanography and the founder of Terra Mar Applied Sciences.

Bird Walks

Buttermilk Creek, Reston, VA
Sunday, March 10, 8:00 to 11:00 a.m.

Our path will take us through the woods and along the shore of Lake Fairfax. Robin Duska Huff and Kris Lansing lead this ASNV-sponsored walk.
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.

Brown’s Chapel/Lake Newport, Reston, VA
Sunday, March 17, 7:30 to 10:30 a.m.

The edge of Lake Newport and the brushy woods around the Chapel grounds make a fun and easy walk. Linda Fuller leads. Sponsored by the Reston Association, the Bird Feeder of Reston, and ASNV.

Getting there: From Route 7, go west on Baron Cameron Avenue, and turn north on Village Road. (opposite Lake Anne Village Center). Make an immediate right onto Brown’s Chapel Road. and park by the ball field. 1575 Brown’s Chapel Road.

Royal Lake, Lakeside Park, Fairfax, VA
Wednesday, March 20, 8:30 to 11:00 a.m.

The walk around the lake, with views of waterfowl from various points, makes a fun birding morning. Phil Silas leads. Sponsored by the Northern Virginia Bird Club.

Getting there: From I-495 take exit to VA 620, Braddock Road going west and continue 2.36 miles. Turn left onto Route 651 Guinea Road and continue 0.64 miles. Stay straight at intersection with Commonwealth Boulevard. (Do not turn left to follow Guinea Road) Go 0.4 miles and turn left on Pommeroy Drive, and then turn right at the intersection with Bronte Drive to the entrance leading to the parking lot. 5216 Pommeroy Drive, Fairfax 22032.

Eakin Park, Fairfax, VA
Wednesday, March 27, 8:30 to 11:00 a.m.

Eakin offers lots of woods and some stream edges as well as bordering fields.
Jean Tatalias leads for the Northern Virginia Bird Club.

Getting there: From Route 50 outside the beltway, take Prosperity Avenue South one mile to the entrance to the parking lot on the left (east) side. 3401 Prosperity Avenue, 22031.

Bright Pond, Reston, VA
Sunday, April 7, 7:30 to 10:30 a.m.

Welcome April with a walk along woods and pond edge in a beautiful part of Reston. Robin Duska Huff leads. Sponsored by the Reston Association, the Bird Feeder of Reston, and ASNV. 

Getting there: Take the Reston Parkway north from the Dulles Toll Road or from Baron Cameron Avenue. Turn right on Bright Pond Lane and park around the cul-de-sac and along the street.

Claude Moore Park, Vestal's Gap Visitor Center, Sterling, VA
Wednesday, April 10, 8:30 to 11:30 a.m.

Join us to explore this park's trail and pond in nearby Loudoun County. Jean Tatalias. Can be muddy after rains. Sponsored by the Northern Virginia Bird Club.

Getting there: From the beltway, take Route 7 (Leesburg Pike) west for about 12.3 miles. Use the left 2 lanes to turn left onto VA 637 (Potomac View Road) In 1 mile, turn left onto VA 1794 (Cascades Parkway). In 0.2 miles, turn left onto Old Vestal's Gap Road. Drive to the Visitor Center parking on the left. (Do NOT use the entrance from Loudoun Park Lane which serves the ball fields and Community Center.)

Tuckahoe Park, Arlington, VA
Saturday, April 20, 8:00 to 9:45 a.m.

Looking for a walk in the Arlington/Falls Church area? Mary McLean will lead this walk along the wooded trail in her favorite neighborhood park. Sponsored by ASNV.

Getting there: From Arlington, take I-66 West to exit 69 for VA 237 (N. Sycamore). The park is about 0.5 miles on your left. From further west, take I-66 East to exit 69 (Fairfax Boulevard/Washington Boulevard) Turn left to go north on VA 337 (Sycamore Street). The park on the left at 2400 North Sycamore. Or take the Orange Line Metro to the East Falls Church Metro Stop and walk north one half mile on Sycamore Street.

Laurel Hill Equestrian Center, Lorton, VA
Thursday, April 25, 8:30 to 11:30 a.m.

The scrub fields of Laurel Hill are rich with birds as their type of habitat gets harder to find in our closer-in suburban areas. Phil Silas leads. Sponsored by the Northern Virginia Bird Club.

Getting there: From I-495, take I-95 South about 13 miles to Exit 163 (Lorton Road) Continue 1.4 miles west on Route. 642 (Lorton Road) Turn left on Route 611 (Furnace Road) and then immediately right onto Dairy Road Proceed to the parking lot where we'll meet.

Lower Glade Stream Valley, Reston, VA
Sunday, April 28, 7:30 to 10:30 a.m.

The trail is usually a great place for woodland and stream-side birds, and this time of year should be great for finding them. Joanne and David Bauer lead. Sponsored by the Reston Association, the Bird Feeder of Reston, and ASNV.

Getting there: From I-66 West, take 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 near intersection with Glade Drive and meet leaders at the corner.

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 
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