Willowsford Conservancy is actively engaged in a number of different wildlife management programs. Read on to learn more about them and find out how you can help!
With their marvelous coloring and cheerful song, Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) symbolize happiness and are harbingers of spring. The male’s bright-blue plumage and the female’s elegant grey and blue appearance make them a favorite of birders.
The plight of the bluebird stems from a loss of habitat, the over-use of pesticides and the introduction of competing non-native European sparrows and starlings. Bluebirds naturally build their nests in the cavities of old and standing dead trees. With the loss of such habitat we need to supplement by adding bird houses specifically designed for bluebirds. The nesting box and monitoring program is one step we can take as a community to ensure that future generations can enjoy the sight and sound of bluebirds.
Willowsford’s nesting box program is part of a national effort organized by the North American Bluebird Society, and locally coordinated through LWC.
There currently are two bluebird nesting box trails at Willowsford – maintained with a dedicated group of residents and help from Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy (LWC). The nesting boxes around Pin Oak Park in The Grove and along the Farm Loop in The Grange encourage a variety of native cavity-nesting songbirds, including bluebirds, chickadees, tree swallows, house wrens and titmice.
It is wonderful to watch them build their nest, lay eggs, and fledge young. Surrounding habitat is what attracts these birds to nest in the area, and our Willowsford Farm team appreciates the birds' help in curbing certain crop pests.
Nesting boxes support declining populations of native songbirds and provide opportunity to watch beautiful and beneficial wildlife at home. Provided you follow the HOA-approved guidelines when installing and maintaining a nesting box on your property, no HOA Design Review application is required. Please only install a nesting box if you will regularly monitor it—at least once per week during nesting season—following the guidelines on Installing and Monitoring Your Bluebird Nesting Box.
Volunteer and help the Willowsford Farm team. Please contact the Conservancy to volunteer!
Deer are a beautiful and fascinating species native to our forests. An overabundance of this large, voracious herbivore can, however, have detrimental effects on native vegetation in ways that dramatically alter forest habitat and impact many other wildlife species.
The Willowsford Conservancy’s Deer Population Management Program aims to balance the deer population on Conservancy property relative to other habitat and wildlife land management objectives. Lower densities of deer:
In accordance with the Conservancy’s Mission, our goals for the Deer Population Management Program are to (a) ensure that healthy deer exist on Conservancy land; and (b) to sustainably manage the deer population, balancing the requirements of a biologically diverse ecosystem with the needs and expectations of the human community.
The Conservancy uses hunting as the primary deer population management method where safe and appropriate, within the guidelines set forth by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Hunting opportunities are designed to be safe, sportsmanlike and ethical, and program regulations meet or exceed applicable laws and regulations.
Everything has a purpose in nature, but not everything is good for us humans. Stay safe while exploring the great outdoors by following some of the prevention tips below.
While there are over 900 kinds of ticks worldwide, three species are found in Northern Virginia: the American dog tick; the Lone Star tick; and the black-legged tick (formerly known as “deer tick”), which transmits Lyme disease.
Lyme disease is caused by Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria that are spread through the bites of infected black-legged ticks, primarily at the nymphal stage.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), transmission of Lyme disease from an infected tick to a person generally occurs after the tick has been attached to the person’s body for at least 36 hours. While there is no single method that can completely prevent Lyme disease, there are several safe, effective, low-cost ways to reduce the risk.
Checking for ticks during and after outdoor activity and prompt removal of attached ticks is the most effective way of preventing infection! Check frequently as ticks, particularly nymphs the size of a pin head, may go unnoticed.
The CDC recommends using repellents that contain 20-30% DEET, especially on shoes, socks, and the lower portion of pants. The human toxicity of DEET appears to be relatively low compared to other chemicals. However, because DEET is used so much, it has been found in wastewater and other bodies of water, affecting wildlife and the environment.
Ticks cannot fly or jump, and don’t “parachute” from trees. They crawl from lower vegetation onto people’s legs. Wearing light-colored clothing with long sleeves, and long pants tucked into socks, makes ticks easier to detect and keeps them on the outside of the clothes. Ticks are attracted by the CO2 we exhale, but also by perfume and cologne. Avoid wearing these while outdoors.
Permethrin-treated clothing appears to be effective against ticks. However, thought to be carcinogenic, the pesticide can transfer from clothing to the human body, and is toxic to wildlife.
Black-legged ticks are found mainly in densely wooded areas and in edge habitat between woodlands and open areas which provide the relatively high humidity required by the nymphs. Fewer ticks are found in ornamental vegetation and in open or sunny lawns. Sunny lawns and play areas near the house can be surrounded with cedar wood chips or a 3’ gravel barrier, to separate them from tick habitat and impede crossing by nymphs. Lawn alternatives include butterfly gardens, herb and vegetable gardens.
Controlling invasive plants like Japanese barberry near the house can help reduce total tick numbers and infected ticks by reducing dense, shady microclimate for ticks, and by removing habitat for small rodents such as white-footed mice which are a major carrier of B. burgdorferi and a primary food source for tick nymphs.
There is no indication that using pesticides reduces Lyme disease though it can reduce the number of ticks. Many pesticides are toxic to humans, fish, birds and pollinators.
At off-leash areas, Willowsford uses “Tick Free”, a Cedar oil-based, organic tick control solution that is safe for pets. We mow trails every few weeks and monitor wooded trails to keep vegetation from encroaching. We remove accumulated leaf litter and woody debris from the vicinity of play areas.
Ticks have four stages in their life cycle: egg, larva, nymph and adult. At each the larval, nymph and adult life stages they feed on a different animal host. 98% of Lyme disease cases are caused by nymphs of the black-legged tick, which are most likely to carry Lyme disease. Tick larvae and nymphs become infected with B. burgdorferi when they feed on an infected host, e.g., small mammals including mice, chipmunks and shrews.
Adult ticks feed on medium to large mammals, including deer, raccoons and skunks. Most adult black-legged ticks feed on deer, and deer are key to tick reproduction. However, deer do not infect ticks with Lyme disease bacteria.
Tick abundance and Lyme disease prevalence seems to be determined more strongly by white-footed mice than deer. Keeping mice away from the house, such as sealing foundations, moving firewood away from the house, and cleaning up bird feeders, may help protect from Lyme disease.
Commercially available “tick tubes” have shown no reduction in infected tick nymphs. In addition, the chemicals used in tick tubes are toxic to birds, fish, aquatic invertebrates and pollinators. Encouraging natural predators like black snakes, owls and fox can help control rodents. However, tick infection with B. burgdorferi may not be tightly linked to one particular host species, and may depend on the entire community of hosts in a habitat.
Recent research on Lyme disease points to a whole new paradigm, suggesting that we focus not on culling one or two species, but rather on fostering life for many species.
One way to promote wildlife diversity is by replacing exotic invasive plants with natives, and by restoring overall habitat health. Reducing over-browsing by deer is a key element in restoring habitat diversity. Another is to avoid habitat fragmentation which tends to favor a few species while reducing populations of other species.