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Wild Loudoun: The Constant and Private Red Shouldered Hawk

March 4, 2014 by Andrea Gaines Farm and garden, Lifestyle Be the first to comment
Red-Red shouldered hawk inside

A female red-shouldered hawk is one of my most constant wild companions here on the farm. Three or four times a week I see her perched in a willow above the pond, on the fence line or in one of the larger trees on the property. With open fields, water sources and mature trees, it’s good habitat for her; more often than not she is flying off with something in her talons. She is exceptionally cautious as I drive down the driveway – private and wary somehow. She doesn’t really like me to pause and take a picture, most times flying off to a spot several hundred feet away – especially if she is in the middle of a meal. So, I’ve named her “Wary.”

Red-tailed hawks are common in my area, too. But, the bird I see has distinct reddish-brown shoulders, peachy under parts streaked with white and the dramatically banned tail characteristic of the red-shouldered hawk. Red-shouldered hawks are smaller than the bulkier red-tail, as well, and I notice that size difference, too. … Continue Reading

Wild Loudoun: Snowy Owl – Interrupted Beauty, Flashing White

February 6, 2014 by Andrea Gaines Farm and garden, Lifestyle Be the first to comment

Imagine winding your way to Dulles Airport on one of our recent cold January days. You can’t wait to get on the plane and wake up in sunny Florida the next day. Palm trees, warm breezes, ahhhh. But, as you drop off the last highway ramp and into the parking lot you notice a large snowy-white bird perching on an airport fence. It’s big. And, “Wow,” you think, “What the heck is that?”

Once in the airport, sipping your coffee and waiting to board your flight you see the news report about a snowy owl that was sighted in Washington, D.C. near a Washington Post building in January, and then taken to a local wildlife hospital after being hit by a bus. The bird appears to be OK, and veterinarians hope to release it, soon. Wow, you say to yourself, I just saw one of those birds. Wow. … Continue Reading

Wild Loudoun: Killdeer: Protective and Assertive Winter Beauty

January 8, 2014 by Andrea Gaines Farm and garden, Lifestyle Be the first to comment

Nature is beautiful, inspiring and accessible no matter the season. Still, it was a bit of a challenge to decide what part of wild Loudoun to feature in this January 2014 edition of the Blue Ridge Leader.

My question was answered at Franklin Park a few weeks ago. The park is one of my dog’s favorite haunts, with lots of varied natural areas and habitats, lots of places to sniff and lots of trails to follow. As we were enjoying a sunny but cold afternoon there just before Christmas, both she and I stopped and looked up at the sky, reacting to the sharp sound of a small, fast-moving bird, swooping, calling and circling as it finally landed in a wet, snowy area on the edge of a parking lot near a large pond.

The park has quite a bit of what would formerly have been wetland and spring-type areas, and I’ve always been on alert as to what kind of wildlife that might attract, including birds you would find around water. … Continue Reading

Wild Loudoun – Reindeer. Here. But Neither By Day Nor By Night. By Dreams.

December 3, 2013 by Andrea Gaines Farm and garden, Lifestyle Be the first to comment

On one of those quiet cold Loudoun nights to come – a night when the winter storm has blown through and you have stepped out for a few minutes to sweep the snow off the front steps before going to bed – you might have imagined a deer-like creature looking at you through the dark.

The softly glowing eyes – a pale blue – are there for a moment and then they are gone. So, you set your broom aside, take a last look into the dark and head inside and up the stairs to bed. Climbing under the covers you bury your face into the pillow … still seeing those softly glowing eyes. And, while you sleep soundly, you wake in the morning wondering why all of the more wild lore associated with Christmas – including flying reindeer – are dancing in your head. … Continue Reading

The White-Footed Mouse: Beauty in Miniature

November 6, 2013 by Andrea Gaines Farm and garden, Lifestyle Be the first to comment

I can’t imagine that the soft drumming sound I might have heard coming from a woodpile, or the faint buzz I’ve heard in grassy areas could have been coming from the common, white-footed mouse … but I like to think it might have.

All wild animals have what we’d consider to be mysterious behaviors, and many of those behaviors help them survive. The white-footed mouse – common to nearly every county in Virginia, including Loudoun – drums its feet rapidly when alarmed, and replicates this behavior on hollow reeds, creating a sort of buzz. The normal drumming biologists know indicates that the mouse is afraid of something. The reed drumming is something else – no one really knows why mice do it. … Continue Reading

Wild Loudoun: Trumpet Vine – Zesty, Assertive Beauty

October 2, 2013 by Andrea Gaines Farm and garden, Lifestyle 1 comment

It can cause a rash. Plant or cultivate it in the wrong place and it can take down your house. It tends to crowd out other plants. And, its nectar is a closely guarded secret – not many animals and insects can reach far enough inside to take advantage of it.

So why do I love the North American native known as trumpet vine?

Well, both the foliage and the flowers are stunning in their color – a deep, emerald green and a hot and zesty orange. It has a strong constitution. Older vines develop thick, woody trunks that can grow up to seven inches thick and thirty feet high. It has a sort of prehistoric look, with large, curved, tubular flowers, spiky leaves, and oversized pods that use the wind to disperse hundreds of brown papery seeds. And, it greatly benefits both bees and hummingbirds, two living things that could really use our help right now. … Continue Reading

Wild Loudoun: Harvest Moon

September 4, 2013 by Blue Ridge Leader Farm and garden, Lifestyle Be the first to comment

By Andrea Gaines

We’ve all heard the term “harvest moon.” But, what exactly is a harvest moon, when does it occur and what are the wild residents of Loudoun County doing during this time?

A harvest moon starts with what’s known as an “equinox.” Derived from the Latin term ?aeguus, meaning equal, an equinox marks two times during the year when night and day are approximately equal in length. A vernal equinox occurs in the spring and an autumn equinox in the fall, marking the beginning of that season in the northern hemisphere.

A harvest moon occurs when there is a full moon on the same day as the autumn equinox. The 2013 harvest moon for the northern hemisphere comes on the night of September 18-19. … Continue Reading

Wildflowers … Nature’s Buffet Table

June 4, 2013 by Andrea Gaines Farm and garden, Lifestyle Be the first to comment
Birdsfoot Violet 2 by MAG

Wildflowers delight the senses in so many ways. They present us with exquisite colors and delicious scents. Sometimes you want to reach out and touch their soft or spiny leaves and blossoms – just to imagine what it would be like to be them, swaying in the breeze or carpeting a forest floor.

But, nature is a both a beautiful and a practical sort. The bee, the butterfly or other insect, the bird, or the small mammal might be alerted to a wildflower because of its color or scent, but it goes there for the nourishment the plant provides.

Indian Pipe (or “Ghost flower”): This is a beautiful and very unusual wildflower that grows in the shade on forest floors. It lacks chlorophyll, the green substance plants create from the sun, and so it is white – occasionally with black flecks or a blush of pink. It secures its nutrients from the fungi associated with different types of trees. Butterflies and small bumblebees feed on the Indian Pipe flower’s nectar. … Continue Reading

Wild Loudoun: Flight of the Monarch 3,000 Miles on the Wing

May 1, 2013 by Andrea Gaines Farm and garden, Lifestyle 3 comments

What is more arresting … the warm kaleidoscope colors of a Monarch butterfly’s wings, or the mind-blowing fact that the insect you are looking at might have flown 3,000 miles to get where it is?

Monarch butterflies start out life as tiny, fragile eggs laid on the underside of a milkweed leaf – eggs just about the size of a sesame seed. Female Monarchs rely exclusively on milkweed to lay their eggs. Part of a survival strategy, milkweed contains a natural toxin that makes Monarch caterpillars and adults inedible, or at least unpalatable, to predators.

Four days or so later the life force in the egg produces an inconspicuous little “worm.” But, with the milkweed’s leafy nourishment, that worm will grow into a chubby and very distinct green and black striped caterpillar – a voracious eater on it’s way to gossamer wings. … Continue Reading

Wild Loudoun – Our Magnificent Backyard Birds

March 5, 2013 by Andrea Gaines Farm and garden, Lifestyle Be the first to comment

Looking out my snowy, overcast window in late February I was transfixed by the incredible color pecking and swooping and snacking at my backyard birdfeeder. I’ve seen perhaps dozens of species of birds on this farm. And, although it is a real thrill to see a soaring red-shouldered hawk or late night owl, it is equally captivating to watch common, everyday wild backyard birds feasting on the mix of sunflower and safflower seeds in my birdfeeders. … Continue Reading

The Bobcat – Our Wild, Stub-Tailed Feline

January 9, 2013 by Blue Ridge Leader Around Virginia Be the first to comment
bobcat for article

By Andrea Gaines

Loudouners out enjoying nature, whether hiking the Appalachian Trail or taking a walk along a local mountain ridge, might just see sign of a Bobcat (Lynx rufus). It might be a quick dash of a spotted animal with upright, tufted ears … some “scat” (if you know what you are looking for) … or the silhouette of a small cat-type creature sitting quietly on an RV path – taking in all the sounds and scents of the woods – looking for its next meal.

The RV path cat was the subject of a recent Youtube video taken just over the Potomac River in West Virginia, delighting the couple that stopped their vehicle and were lucky enough to capture it on their cell phone.

Described as a medium sized cat with a total length of two to three-plus feet, and a weight of 10-25 pounds (a big house cat!), Bobcats have a very short tail, long legs and long, loose fur. The face is framed with longer cheek fur that forms sideburns, similar to some domestic cats such as Maine Coon. The cat’s upper body is reddish-brown, spotted and streaked with black. The lower body is white, spotted and streaked with black. … Continue Reading

Wood Ducks

December 5, 2012 by Blue Ridge Leader Farm and garden, Lifestyle Be the first to comment
Drake and Hen

By Andrea Gaines

There’s a wide rambling creek and large wetland area near my house, about 3 1/2 miles south of the town of Purcellville. The creek is called Crooked Run, the same small waterway that runs through some of the last remaining farmland in the town, Crooked Run Orchard. It is part of the larger Goose Creek system of Loudoun County waterways and connects to both the Potomac Watershed and the Chesapeake Bay.

One late spring morning I was walking along a dirt road there, and glancing towards the trees edging the wetland, I saw a large bird emerge out of a hole in a dead tree and float in a half-graceful-half-plunge to the shallow water below. The bird hit the water and joined what looked to be a mate, disappearing into some marsh grass. … Continue Reading

Wild Loudoun – The Life & Times of Wild Turkeys

November 7, 2012 by Blue Ridge Leader Farm and garden, Lifestyle Be the first to comment
male turkey for web

By Andrea Gaines

Early last spring I was heading north on route 340 towards Berryville – leaving Clarke County and heading into Loudoun County.

I’d heard lots of friends talk about how remarkable it was to come upon a flock of wild turkeys. But, this, this was amazing! A huge group of what looked to be 75 or 100 mini dinosaur-like birds, fanning out across an old cornfield, oblivious to the cars zipping by them, methodically combing the ground for food.

Turkey is such a common mass-produced food to us all, particularly around the holidays, that we forget this ground bird is also a fairly common wild animal.

In the early 1930s wild turkeys were on the verge of extinction. But, today, thanks to wildlife restoration and protection programs, wild turkey are fairly abundant. 200,000 wild turkeys are estimated to occur in the state of Virginia, alone. … Continue Reading

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Sustainable Planet

Pungent Curry

9 Apr 2014


The latest version of the IPCC report is published and once again it will go unread by the great masses of climate science deniers and unreported by the media. So it might be useful to revisit the fundamental physical realities …

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Ask Dr. Mike

Understanding Teen Suicide

1 Apr 2014


By Michael Oberschneider, Psy.D. Northern Virginia has recently experienced several teen suicides. Last month, two Langley High School students took their own lives just a day apart from one another, and this month it appears two students at Woodson High …

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Virginia Gardening

Spring Is Coming

4 Mar 2014


By Donna Williamson March is an in-between month – some cold and the return of glorious warmth now and then. One way to bring some delight inside is forcing spring-blooming branches. You can cut branches of forsythia, cherry, crabapple, kerria, …

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Sushi's Corner

An Easter Swim

1 Apr 2014

Screen Shot 2014-04-01 at 11.10.56 AM

I felt like a silly nim “cow” poop with these Easter bows in our hair. Okay Nelly, maybe you didn’t because you’re a girl. But me, a Mighty Cairn Terrier male? – PLEASE! Pleasing Mrs. B for Easter pictures was …

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Amy V. Smith's Money Talks

What Baseball Can Teach You About Financial Planning

1 Apr 2014

Amy Smith-BRL

Spring training is a tradition that baseball teams and baseball fans look forward to every year. No matter how they did last year, teams in spring training are full of hope that a new season will bring a fresh start. …

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Go Take a Hike

Blandy Experimental Farm

6 Jun 2012


By Molly Pinson Simoneau It’s no secret that I love a challenging hike. I’ve written here about hiking sections of the Appalachian Trail and Shenandoah National Park. I’ve taken vacations with my family to Colorado where I’ve attempted to conquer a “fourteener” (a summit that is higher than 14,000 feet), …


Real Estate Ticker

A Buying Opportunity?

6 Nov 2013

Carl Fischer headshot

By Carl Fischer As a direct result of the uncertainty that has arisen from national and regional politics, with its unsettling effect on the Northern Virginia area, for the past two months there has been a market slowdown which has …

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From the Farm

From the Farm

5 Jul 2012

From the Farm

When the heat index reaches 110 degrees, as it has been doing recently, I try to keep in the shade, or stay indoors. But my lavender, about halfway from full bloom, seems to thrive in it. Hot and dry, I …

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April 2014
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: Art Gallery Reception for Featured Artists -- Abstract painter Evelyn Lopez de Guzman and contemporary painter Sandra Iafrate


April 12, 2014N/A

Meet Evelyn and Sandra and other gallery artists during a free, open to the public reception for this month's Featured Artists' exhibit "Living Color,” showcasing two accomplished painters Evelyn Lopez de Guzman and Sandra Iafrate, in a vivid and dynamic presentation of color, shape and our surroundings.

Evelyn Lopez de Guzman’s vibrant paintings awaken the viewer to connect with nature and the modern world through an interplay of shape, color, and textural materials.

Sandra Iafrate’s combination of realistic and surrealist interpretation of flowers, foliage and landscapes on spacious canvases convey a sense of movement and playfulness.

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Easter at "The Park"


April 19, 2014

Celebrate Easter at historic Morven Park with crafts for kids, an egg hunt in the formal gardens plus a traditional egg roll on the Davis Mansion lawn. Have a family photo taken with the Easter Bunny. Children should bring a basket for the hunt and a large spoon for the egg roll. $10/participating child (ages 2-12), $3/adult. Register at www.MorvenPark.org.

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VAL's Pals Kids Club


April 30, 2014

Join Inova Loudoun Hospital as the present their Beamer the Dog Program.

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May 4, 2014

Scouting for Bricks is an exhibit showing the Love for everything LEGO® . Come see amazing LEGO® creations by Fans of LEGO®, LEGO® trains, Mindstorms robots. We will also have live Star Wars Stormtroopers and an interactive play area with over 100,000 LEGO bricks. Scouting for Bricks is fun for the Whole Family! Visit us at www.ScoutingForBricks.com.

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View From the Ridge

Rural Loudoun Is Different, and We Say Dark Skies Do Matter

4 Mar 2014


In February of this year a sell out crowd gathered at the county public seat in Leesburg to provide feedback to the Loudoun County Planning Commission on the idea of adding additional sports lights to the upper athletic fields at Franklin Park. Franklin Park includes a really wonderful performing arts …



Steady and Nobull

4 Mar 2014

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Park and Ride Lots for Western Loudoun

4 Mar 2014


In 2003, the county purchased 22 commuter buses to serve a growing demand for bus service to Washington D.C. The demand has grown exponentially ever since. The county now owns or leases 65 large commuter buses (with plush seats and on board restrooms) and more are being added every year. The buses are often filled to standing room only as …



Sadie’s Race 5K and Fun Run Scheduled for Sunday May 18

9 Apr 2014


Sadie Smile Foundation is putting on the third annual Sadie’s Race/Walk and Kids Fun Run to Benefit Smile Train in Purcellville Sunday, May 18th this year. The race starts at 8:00 a.m. at the train station at 200 N 21st Street in Purcellville. Sign up at Active.com. When Sara Ablard lost her five year-old daughter, Sadie, two years ago, she …

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Dr. Joseph Rogers Dies at Family Farm

1 Apr 2014

Dr. Joseph Megeath Rogers, 90, died on Saturday March 8, 2014 at his Hillbrook Farm near Hamilton following a stroke. Physician, farmer, businessman, rural land conservationist, philanthropist and expert horseman, Dr. Rogers was a tireless advocate and practitioner of country living whose contributions in a broad range of interests were made quietly and with little fanfare. His public persona was …

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Zoldos Presented Citizen of the Year Award

1 Apr 2014


At the biweekly March meeting of the Lovettsville Town Council, Mayor Bobby Zoldos was presented the 2013 Citizen of the Year from the Lovettsville Waterford Ruritans. Presenting the award was Rick Adams, current president along with Board Member Peter Mullally and  Vice President Jeff Boogaard. Adams said, “On behalf of the Lovettsville Waterford Ruritans, we would like to present the …

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Around Virginia

Wolf Won’t Seek Re-election


Rep. Frank Wolf (R-10th) today announced that he would not seek election to an 18th term in 2014. He released the following statement announcing his decision: “I have decided not to seek re-election to the U.S. Congress in 2014. It has been an honor to serve the people of northern …

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Virginia Can and Should Work Harder to Combat Hunger


By Congressman Frank Wolf Last year, the USDA reported a record number of Americans are struggling to put food on their tables. Across the nation, 49 million people – including 17 million children and six million seniors – are going hungry, a number that has grown substantially over the last …

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Kaine Statement on Navy Yard Shooting


U.S. Senator Tim Kaine released the following statement on today’s shooting at the Washington Navy Yard: “My thoughts and prayers are with everyone impacted by today’s tragic shooting at the Washington Navy Yard. As we learn more about the horrific events that unfolded this morning, my deepest sympathies go out …

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Nominate Your Hometown Hero

9 Apr 2014


Upper Loudoun Little League’s Hometown Heroes scholarship closes on April 21, 2014. The application is available online at ULLL.org. The scholarship is open to all graduating seniors who played baseball for ULLL at some point in their growing up years.

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Lady Vikings Give Back

10 Feb 2014

The Loudoun Valley Girls basketball team held an event on Friday, February 7 at LVHS. The Lady Vikings celebrated “Pink Night” by honoring those who are battling breast cancer or have been affected by breast cancer. The event was held in conjunction with an event held at Woodgrove earlier this …

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Medicaid Expansion Battle Heating Up

4 Mar 2014


Did you know that there’s a very real possibility that a DC-style budget battle and government shutdown could come to Virginia? The Medicaid expansion battle …

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Endorsing for Profit Businesses?

4 Mar 2014

town of purcellville sign

I recently received an automated email message from the Town of Purcellville soliciting nominations for volunteer award recipients in cooperation with the Purcellville Business Association …


Another Vote To Overrule Purcellville’s Board of Architectural Review

4 Mar 2014

town of purcellville sign

The Purcellville Town Council, foolishly, in the view of many and perhaps most, has overruled its Board of Architectural Review and approved Mark Nelis’s and …



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