Breaks Interstate Park (BIP) is home to a variety of unique and beautiful moths. These moths play an important role in the ecosystem of the park. Adult moths and their caterpillars are food for frogs, toads, lizards, bats, birds. Caterpillars are an important source of nutrition for baby birds. Two birds found in the park eat a lot of moths: the Eastern Whip-poor-wills and Yellow-billed Cuckoos. Moths also pollinate flowers while feeding on their nectar, which benefits the wildflowers at BIP.
The diversity and quanitiy of moths found in BIP provides insight into the health of the environment of Breaks, Virgina. They are an indicator species because they are sensitve to changes in air quality and use of pesticides.
Monitoring moths at BIP can be easily accomplished by anyone with the free citizen science tool, iNaturalist (avaiable on the Internet and as a smartphone app).
At night, moths are attracted to the lights of buildings throughout the developed section of the park. Keep an eye on these areas at night, and first thing in the morning, and you will observe many species of interesting moths.
Snap a photo of any moths you observe and upload all photos to iNaturalist to share your observation with the world. Who knows? You may even find a moth species no one else has seen at the Breaks!
Catlett SW Breeding Block – Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas 2 (2016-2020) (known as Catlett Block 5 during the Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas 1 1985-1989)
During the current Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas (2016-2017), thirteen breeding bird species have already been confirmed for Catlett SW. This already represents an increase from the first breeding bird atlas as only seven were reported to be breeding from 1985-1989. Results so far:
• The only species that was found during the first atlas that has not been confirmed for the second atlas is: American Kestrel. All other species from the first atlas have been re-confirmed during 2016-2017.
• The current atlas has already identified seven newly observed breeding species: Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, House Finch, Eastern Blue Bird, Great-Crested Flycatcher, Northern Cardinal, Eastern Phoebe, Red-bellied Woodpecker, and Chipping Sparrow.
Catlett SW Breeding Block – Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas 2 (2016-2020)
(known as Catlett Block 5 during the Virginia Breeding Atlas 1 1985-1989 -Fauquier County.)
This block contains most of the Weston Wildlife Management Area and the a woodland area of C.M. Crockett Park.
So far for 2017, one additional species is breeding in this block: Blue-gray Gnatcatchers!
During the first year of the current Virginia Breeding Atlas (2016), ten breeding bird species were confirmed for Catlett SW. This already represents an increase from the first breeding bird atlas as only seven were reported to be breeding from 1985-1989.
Results so far:
Only three species so far have been found breeding during both atlas periods: Carolina Wren, American Robin, and Barn Swallow.
The current atlas has already identified eight new breeding species: Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, House Finch, Eastern Blue Bird, Great-Crested Flycatcher, Northern Cardinal, Eastern Phoebe, Red-bellied Woodpecker, and Chipping Sparrow.
Three species were identified during the first atlas that were not found breeding during the first year of the second atlas (however four years still remain to confirm these species): American Kestrel, Blue Jay, European Starling.
Next month, a new garden will open to the public in Schulyer, VA, at a former soapstone quarry. The property is being converted into a native plant garden by the owners, Armand and Bernice Thiebolt. I got a preview tour of the park organized by Amber Ellis of the James River Association.
The Thiebolts hosted our tour taking us around the garden on the main trail, which is approximately one mile in length around the perimeter of two water-filled former quarries.
At the end of the tour, a small group of us opted to continue with an additional walk of the adjacent woodland trail that transverses different ecosystems, including a rare hardwood wetland.
The Center of Urban Habitats conducted a survey of the property, and according to Bernice, identified over 300 plant species. The property includes 14 ecozones and seven conservation zones.
On August 11, 2016, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) hosted an early evening public stroll on their Brownsville Preserve located in Nassawadox, VA. Brownsville is the headquarters for TNC’s Virginia Coast Reserve. It is a beautiful property of over 1,000 acres near the water. On the property is a 3-mile trail known as the William B. Cummings Birding and Wildlife Trail. The trail winds through marshes, forests, grasslands, and tidal creeks.
TNC Land Protection Manager, Jim McGowan led the stroll along TNC Outreach and Education Coordinator, Margaret Van Clief. Before the stroll, Jim showed participants a map of coastal Virginia and provided an overview of TNC’s extensive land holdings that provide critical habitat for birds, especially migratory species. The area is also an important fish and shellfish habitat.
TNC’s Virginia Coast Reserve has 14 barrier islands along with mainland property, and works with private landowners to promote conservation. TNC is actively protecting the Virginia coastal areas through land acquisitions and conservation easements.
During the stroll, Jim and Margaret explained the history of Brownsville Preserve. We learned about the family that used to own the land and how TNC acquired the property. We walked through fields, wetlands, and an area with beautiful trees.
When we reached the former family house, we learned about how it is now used for TNC programs.
We eventually, made it to the shore where TNC docks two boats. These boats are used to take school children and others out on educational trips.
The Virginia Coast Reserve is a great spot for birding. According to TNC, at least 380 resident and migratory species have been found on the reserve. Although birding was not the focus of the stroll, TNC had binoculars to loan out to participants.
Egrets and ibises passed over head while we walked through the Brownsville Preserve. There were also Red-headed Woodpeckers and Great-crested Flycatchers taking advantage of some of the older trees on the property.
Have you birded C.M. Crockett Park? It definitely is a birding hot spot. Records in the eBird database show that 168 species have been found at this park.
It is worth the effort to travel to this park as it has a number of bird habitats within its boundaries.There is a large man-made lake in the center, Germantown Lake (named for the town that was submerged when the lake was created). Great Blue Herons can be found at the edge of the lake often. On occasion, Ospreys and Bald Eagles can be spotted fishing the lake or perched in the trees. Rare visitors, include seagulls, grebes, and terns. Of course, you will likely see some Canada Geese on the lake.
There is a large grassland area at the top of the parking area. At the edge of the grassland, there is a small woodlands section. The grassland is busy during breeding season. There are numerous Indigo Buntings, Eastern Meadowlarks, Grasshopper Sparrows, swallows and more. The woodlands section hosts Carolina Wrens and Chickadees year around. During breeding season, Yellow-billed Cuckoos can be spotted in the woods although often they are only heard calling.
Yellow-billed Cuckoos have also been spotted in the parking area. The trees that are in the parking lot are surprisingly productive for birding at times. Neotropical migrants can be found in these trees. During breeding season the Chipping Sparrow, Northern Cardinals, and Northern Mockingbirds, are often in the trees in this area. This past spring, a Prothonotary Warbler turned up in the parking lot…a rare visitor to this area.
At the bottom of the parking lot is the entrance to a circular trail around a field with picnic areas. There are trees in the picnic areas and on the perimeter. Finally, there is a large woodland area on the far end of park behind the outdoor amphitheater. When there are few people, this area makes for productive birding.
Pileated Woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers, Eastern Nuthatches and Brown Creepers have been observed in the trees in the picnic area. Most of the woodland species can be spotted occasionally in the picnic area. If you venture into the woods, there is a greater chance to see neotropical migrants during spring and fall migration. Also, this is where you will find the Wood Thrushes, Acadian Flycatchers and Eastern Wood Pewees during breeding season.
eBird Stats for C.M. Crockett Park
2016 – 143 species seen between January 2016 and August 3, 2016
During the last 10 years, eBird shows 168 species have been observed
Personal Observations for Period of July 2015 to August 2016
Mysterious Disappearance of Song Sparrows
Song Sparrows used to be common. I would see them during most visits. For reasons unknown they have almost disappeared. The last Song Sparrow reported to eBird for the park was seen on June 9 by another birder. I have not seen Song Sparrows since March when I spotted one in the parking lot.
Where did the Gray Catbirds Go?
Gray Catbirds showed up in April, however, the last time anyone reported seeing one was my sighting on May 31. No breeding was seen. The previous year they were seen throughout the summer. Their absence was noticeably and I wonder what caused it. Predation? Did they move on to another area?
Most Successful Breeding Birds
Chipping Sparrows, Northern Mockingbirds, and Northern Cardinals. Each species was observed with fledglings throughout the breeding season. Some probably had more than one brood.
Examples of Some Rare Birds Seen Observed Spring 2016
A group of Purple Martins arrived early in the breeding season, however, the traditional Purple Martin houses (there are two on the farm property at the entrance to the park) were being visited by European Starlings and House Sparrows. The Purple Martins seemed to settle in and did build nests, however, they abandoned these nests with no fledglings seen. The European Starlings and House Sparrows moved right in.
A pair of Tree Swallows had an active nest with eggs in an old nest box that was missing its top. There were significant rain storms during this nesting period. This nest failed. Reason unknown. Suspect the major downpours into the nesting box and/or predation with the box being easily accessible from the top.
A pair of Northern Cardinals had a nest with young tucked in a tree in the parking lot in a bad spot. This nest failed for unknown reasons but it also was active during the heavy rainstorms. Nest predation could have also left the nest empty
I did not see how this confrontation began. What I saw was a Great Blue Heron in the lake moving around erratically. At first, I was confused as to what bird I was observing. Then I realized it was a Great Blue Heron. Then suddenly a Bald Eagle swopped down at the heron attacking it. The heron struggled to defend itself with is massive beak. The eagle swopped down a few more times and then appeared to be discouraged by the heron fighting back. However, the eagle landed in a tree and intently watched the heron. The heron swam back to the shore and struggled on to land. It was unable to stand at first and was very wobbly. The eagle started to launch an aerial assault on the heron and eventually landed right next to it on the bank of the lake. They began fighting with their beaks until the eagle again flew up to the tree.
I contacted a conservation officer to see if help could be sent to rescue the injured heron. There was no one able to respond. I also spoke to the staff at the lake who also were not able to respond. I returned the next morning to see if I could find the heron or the eagle. Neither were present. I am guessing that the eagle eventually ate the heron.
Threats to Wildlife at the Park
C.M. Crockett Park is very popular with fishermen. There is a boat launch and you can rent boats seasonally. Fishermen also fish from the banks. Unfortunately, many of these people leave their trash included fishing tackle on the ground here. I am constantly picking up monofilament fishing line.
Other Creatures Found in the Park
The most common animal in the park is the Gray Squirrel. White-tailed deer are rare. I have only seen them inside the park once. Chipmunks are extremely rare. Eastern box turtles can be found occasionally. There are snakes. In 2016, I spotted an adult garter snake and a juvenile copperhead snake. Sometimes, skinks may be seen.
Visiting the Park
The best time to visit C.M. Crockett Park is early mornings, especially on weekdays. Also, during winter there are few people. During nice days, you will find the place is often very packed with people having picnics and fishing. It is best to avoid the park at these times as the birds go into hiding and it is often very noisy.
The park is free during off season. Seasonally, there is a charge for non-Fauquier county residents. (On weekdays, during high season, they often do not have anyone collecting fees.)
Meadowview Biological Research Station held an open house in March to inform the public about their preservation projects to restore bogs and associated ecosystems in Virginia and Maryland. I had recently learned about Meadowview being a hotspot for birds in Caroline County, Virginia. I was curious about the spot, but knew that you needed permission to bird at Meadowview.
Curious to learn what Meadowview was researching, I went online and found their Facebook page. I learned that Meadowview is a non-profit organization focused on preserving and restoring rare wetland plants, habitats, and associated ecosystems. They specialize in an endangered habitat known as pitcher plant bogs or seepage wetlands. These unique areas are endangered, because many of them have been drained for development. The plants found in these wetlands are threatened with extinction, unless conservation efforts are successful. Meadowview’s goal is to return Yellow Pitcher Plants (Sarracenia flava) and Purple Pitcher Plants (Sarracenia purpurea) to their historic ranges in Virginia and Maryland. They are also planting longleaf pines. Meadowview advertised their open house through Facebook. I am glad I was able to make it to the event, where the staff and volunteers did a great job organizing and hosting. Attendees toured the greenhouses and open planting areas to see the plants that are propagated there for eventual reintroduction into the wild. We also toured the back woods where their plants are growing. My tour was led by a long-time volunteer, who shared stories of Meadowview’s goals and pointed out plants as we walked and learned about the rare gravel bog located there. While at Meadowview, I learned that that there is another site they maintain in Sussex County, Virginia. This preserve is known as Joseph Pines Preserve and is 232 acres of land where Meadowview is restoring the longleaf pine/pitcher plant ecosystem. This preserve is unique and quite special as it contains the last remaining yellow pitcher plant populations in Virginia.
Meadowview hopes to attract the rare Red-Cockaded Woodpecker to Joseph Pines Preserve. This species of woodpecker lives in longleaf pine stands and its population has declined drastically with the loss of this habitat. Meadowview also hopes that the preserve will attract Bachman’s Sparrow, an enigmatic resident of mature pine woods and open habitat.
Meadowview’s headquarters in Caroline County is a bird hotspot for both local and migratory birds. When I was there, I looked across the road to Meadow Creek and saw a Bald Eagle perched in a tree. The research station is home to a variety of wetland birds. During migration season, it is a stopover spot. There is a pond on site that was full of birds, and I was told that owls can be found in the woods behind the station. Meadowview welcomes birders to their headquarters in Woodford, VA. Please call them ahead of your visit to make arrangements.
Meadowview sells plants to the public through an online catalog. Meadowview is located in Woodford, VA. It is supported by membership donations and volunteers. They conduct research, preserve and restore wetlands, and promote the preservation of our natural heritage through education.