A chilly breeze whipped across the field, moving through the tall Indian grass but the tufted titmouse didn’t notice as they cavorted gleefully around the branches of the sycamore, chattering excitedly as they chased each other with wild aerobatics.
I added them to the list of bird sightings that Penny Warren and Diane Holsinger had identified so far on this brisk but sunny February morning at the White House Farm.
We stopped suddenly on the path in the riparian buffer as Penny turned and raised her binoculars.
“Diane, did you hear that?!”
“Sounded like a pine siskin!”
They both scanned the tree line of osage orange next to the South Fork of the Shenandoah River, then searched the nearby field.
Diane softly whistled, encouraging the small songbird to take flight so they could positively identify it and add it to the list of sightings.
The 52-acre riparian area has a mixture of native warm season grasses such as big and little blue stem, Indian grass, and switchgrass. In addition, a mixture of forbs and their seeds provide food for winter birds, plants such as wingstem, coreopsis, pokeweed, sweet annie and, of course, the ubiquitous Canada thistle, among many others. With the diversity of plant material we also have a mixture of habitat including the row of trees which border the river.
Diane and Penny believe that even the ailanthus, an invasive “weed” tree (which had been treated by the “hack-and-squirt” method two years ago) is a valuable resource to our avian friends by providing perches in the dead snags and food in the form of the many insects who are busy breaking down the woody material.
We are experimenting in the riparian area with different management techniques to encourage a richer habitat. We’ve held two burns with the Virginia Department of Forestry and are planning a third any day now. Burns help rejuvenate native warm season grasses by reducing the amount of debris at ground level. This in turn increases the liklihood of quail returning to an area. As ground-nesting birds, they feel safest being able to peek around the clumps of native warm season grasses, as opposed to cool season grasses like fescue that blanket a field in a more thick, uniform mat.
We look forward to additional bird surveys to determine how our management techniques are benefiting the ecology. Many thanks to the expertise of Penny Warren (who also writes book reviews under our resources tab) and to Diane Holsinger – both very knowledgeable naturalists who have also helped with our butterfly counts and plant identification.
Below is the list of birds which Diane and Penny identified on their survey February 6:Junco Canada Geese