Vol. 6 Issue 3, Summer 2001
By Cliff Fairweather
What good is a stream? You might think the answer to that question is pretty obvious. After all, streams are an important source of drinking water in our region. They also provide recreation — fishing, canoeing, hiking, kayaking, or just watching the water go by. But consider also what good a stream is to a little bird that links our region to places far away.
One day in mid-April this year, I was walking along a small stream when I heard my first Louisiana waterthrush of the year. Or, I should say, Louisiana waterthrushes, for there were two of these birds locked in a singing contest. As I watched and listened, their contest quickly moved from sound to fury.
Within seconds, the two birds tangled claw-to-claw in mid-air. They then broke apart and a short chase ensued, followed by more tangling and more chasing. I don’t know who won, but the prizes of the contest were clear: a female waterthrush and a stretch of clear, tumbling stream. A male waterthrush needs both to breed successfully.
Now, the need for the female is obvious, but a stream? A stream is an absolutely necessity for these birds, which aren’t thrushes at all but a kind of warbler. They nest under overhanging banks or other protected locations along streams. They also forage in and near streams for the insects, mollusks, worms, amphibians, and small fish that they eat and feed to their young.
Louisiana waterthrushes have linear habitats almost entirely restricted to streams. And not just any stream will do. They need streams with clean, clear, and preferably moving water that supports the aquatic life they feed on. This means streams that are unpolluted and don’t carry a heavy load of silt.
Right now, most of Loudoun County’s streams are in pretty good shape and can provide Louisiana waterthrushes and many other animals, as well as us, the good water we all need. But we can’t count on these streams staying that way.
Growth in the county threatens to degrade more local streams if it isn’t intelligently planned and effective measures to protect streams aren’t adopted. Loudoun County is starting to move in the right direction in many areas related to stream protection, but it is only a start.
A Louisiana waterthrush can’t speak out on behalf of its stream, but you can. There has never been a more important time than now to let your county officials, co-workers, neighbors, and friends know what good a stream is.
By the end of August, the Louisiana waterthrushes I watched in April will be well on their way back to Mexico or Central America. Let’s do what we can to make sure they have healthy streams along which to make their summer homes next year.
Clean Water …….. Your Constitutional Right
“It shall be the Commonwealth’s policy to protect its atmosphere, lands and waters from pollution, impairment or destruction for the benefit, enjoyment and general welfare of the people of the Commonwealth.”
Article XI, Virginia Constitution