March 29, 2022

Montpelier Seasonal Woods Walk - April 7, 2022

Montpelier is hosting its seasonal woods walk on April, 7. It is a 2-hour walk through the oldest non-logged forest in the eastern US. Cost is $12 per person and the registration available on-line at https://www.montpelier.org/events/seasonal-woods-walk.

March 27, 2022

2022 Master Naturalist Basic Training Course

Planning is underway for the 2022 basic training course. The training generally starts in late summer or early fall. Please check back with us later for more information.

February 20, 2021

Great Backyard Bird Count

It was a cold and snowy weekend for the annual Great Backyard Bird Count. My counts were done with binoculars through the kitchen window so I could stay toasty. My husband (Mark) and I got into birdwatching last year with the pandemic so this is our first time attempting to do a birdcount. My husband removed the screen from the window so he could take pictures while I found new birds. I'd tell him what I found and give him directions to find the birds. Some of the birds we found were the Northern Flicker, Tufted Titmouse, sparrows (I think house sparrows but we later identified the white throated sparrow), Red Bellied Woodpeckers (both male and female), Downy Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch, American Goldfinches (tons of them), Dark-eyed Junco, Common Grackle, Blue Jays, Northern Cardinals (several pairs of male and female), Carolina Chickadee, Mourning Doves, Carolina Wrens, and Red-Winged Blackbirds. We had a lot of fun doing the bird count together and plan to continue to hone our birdwatching skills and log bird sightings in the eBird app more frequently.

January 10, 2021

Extension to Achieve Initial Certification for Basic Training Class of 2019

In the face of the pandemic and cancellation of many events to earn continuing education and volunteer hours, members of the Basic Training class of 2019 have had difficulty achieving initial certification. The VMN CRC Board has decided to extend the certification timeline for the class through December 31, 2021. Requirements for initial certification are 8 continuing education units and 40 volunteer hours. We are working hard to continue scheduling chapter events to make continuing education hours available through virtual events or small in person events until state restrictions are lifted. There are volunteer opportunities than can be achieved individually either at home or at local parks and trails. If you need ideas for volunteer hours please check the August 2020 newsletter or contact a board member.

July 6, 2020

2020 Basic Training Class

The 2020 Basic Training Class is being canceled due to the COVID 19 restrictions.  The Board will continue to monitor the situation and following guidance from the state may be able offer Basic Training during the spring semester. 

June 15, 2020

Searching for Feathers


Searching for Sheds, in a recent Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries magazine Virginia Wildlife, highlighted the time of year when White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) shed their antlers and how individuals can walk through the forest on a shed hunt, to collect those shed antlers. Many of us have come upon antlers in the woods and just after reading this article, I was awarded with a find of a freshly shed antler while on a walk in the woods. I leave antlers where I found them as I understand they provide minerals for squirrels and other residents of the woods.


Pileated Woodpecker feathers
I began to think about other things found on the forest floor including turtle shells, bones, egg shells, and feathers. I realized that I have been feather hunting while in the forest, and I’m not the only one. Like many things on the internet, entire groups of enthusiasts find each other - some are devoted to found feathers.

My interest in feathers began when I photographed a feather and included that observation on iNaturalist. I used the taxonomic class Aves, since I couldn’t determine a species from a feather. I found informed professionals and amateurs in groups formed around feathers - https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/found-feathers. I have posted images of feathers that I am unsure to identify and have been helped by folks who really enjoy feather identification. Also, the Fish and Wildlife Service has a nice feather atlas - https://www.fws.gov/lab/featheratlas/.

Recently, while walking along the Dahlgren Rail Heritage Trail, I came upon feathers scattered about. I arranged them for one photograph. I was unsure what species produced these black and white feathers. I figured maybe a woodpecker from the colors but also, maybe they were from some sort of small water bird due to the marshy area nearby.

After posting on iNaturalist, I confirmed that these feathers were from a Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus).

After a taxonomic suggestion from a “bird person,” a “feather person,” or just someone smarter than me, identification becomes obvious, many times.

I leave feathers where I found them. On this occasion, I oriented feathers for a photograph but most times, they get photographed as they exist. The U.S. Federal Eagle Protection Act of 1940 and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 seem to prohibit possession of many if not all feathers. I suspect the legal aspects are more nuanced but I follow, don’t collect feathers, just enjoy them where you find them.

Observing, identifying, and documenting feathers can be interesting, fun, and an easy activity. Feather awareness is just another layer of appreciation while on a walk outside.

May 15, 2019

Baby Barn Owl Banding

Photo credit: Corie Smith

Not even the threat of downpours could dampen the excitement of a baby barn owl viewing. Ready with boots, raincoats and umbrellas, chapter members Corie Smith and Jenna Veazey ventured across the Potomac river to Maryland to support the Southern Maryland Audubon Society’s (SMAS) banding of baby Barn Owls on May 5th.
Corie and Jenna joined a group of other volunteers and supporters that met on private property along the Wicomico River, which the group was instructed not to share the exact location of…for the safety of the owls. Barn owls are rare breeders in Maryland and are listed as In Need of Conservation. 
Mike Callahan, who also works as an interpreter at Caledon State Park in King George, is a member of the SMAS. The group had been closely monitoring an owl box on private property. Mike said there were only three known nests in Charles County, Maryland.
Their best guess was that this nest’s eggs had hatched the end of April. Barn owls incubate their eggs as soon as they the first one is laid, opposed to ducks, geese and songbirds which incubate after the last egg has been laid.  And when the owlets have grown enough feathers to maintain their body weight the parents don’t hang around the nest all day anymore. There appeared to be five owlets, but as siblicide is not uncommon the volunteers were cautiously optimistic we’d be able to tag all five on the banding day.
Photo credit: Corie Smith
Just as the rain abated, Mike climbed the ladder up to the owl box. He urged everyone to listen for the owlet’s hissing…which he said had been described as an espresso machine. Very accurate, indeed! It didn’t take long after the extraction of the first owlet for the hissing to turn into all-out shrieks. Five owlets were carefully removed one-by-one and placed into individual cardboard boxes for safe transport to the pavilion where they’d receive their ID bands. Mike then called out for an extra box…there was a bonus sixth owlet that had been hidden in previous observations!
Under cover of a pavilion, USGS licensed bird bander, Ken Smith was in charge of banding the owlets. He used size 7A aluminum bands specially gauged for barn owls, each with their own unique identifying number. He explained the owlets’ legs were already about as large as they'd get at this age and there was no worry that the bands would grow too tight over time. As he worked, he also said that while handling the owlets they had to be especially careful not to break any of their flight feathers.
Photo credit: Corie Smith
Mike pointed out that barn owls have one toe with a pectinate comb, which they use to groom the feathers on their facial discs.
Kerry Wixted, Maryland DNR Wildlife Educator and Outreach specialist was also helping out. She said that, “Barn owls are have been hit hard by habitat loss, especially in Maryland. Grasslands with abundant voles and other rodents are important for barn owls as well as open marshes.”
If you would like to support local barn owl conservation in Maryland, consider 'adopting' an owl or other species through the SMAS program: https://www.somdaudubon.org/adopt-a-raptor/