Humans of Brambleton: Karla Etten- Bluebird and Garden Club

Posted October 9, 2015


Humans of Brambleton: Karla Etten, Brambleton Bluebird and Garden ClubDid you know Brambleton has a bluebird trail? Thanks to the efforts of Brambletonian Karla Etten, the Brambleton Bluebird and Garden Club (BBGC) has dedicated volunteers who monitor the Eastern Bluebirds throughout our community in over 40 nest boxes along the neighborhood trails. (And they’ve discovered that other species, including chickadees, tree swallows and wrens, also have successful fledge rates from these boxes)! The Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy and Virginia Bluebird Society has noted that Brambleton had the 2nd largest monitoring program in Loudoun County last year, with over 1,000 bluebirds being successfully fledged countywide!

This month’s Human of Brambleton, Karla Etten, is putting Brambleton on the map with her passion for gardening and nature!

How old were you when you first became interested in nature?

I believe my interest in nature matured due to countless hours of my childhood spent in the Shenandoah Valley, especially the Bryce Resort area.  My family has had a presence at Bryce since the early 70’s.  I would ride my horse and play in the woods all day long.  I ​fondly ​ remember my mother and I starting a vegetable garden ​when I was 5 years ​old.

What prompted you to help start a bluebird trail in Brambleton?

Prior to moving into Brambleton in June 2006, I did some research to see where gardening clubs were located.  Low and behold, John & Loretta White were listed as the founders of a gardening club in Brambleton!  I called to introduce myself and to inquire about the club. Loretta was the very first Brambletonian I ever spoke to. John White is the founder and promoter of establishing a bluebird trail, I just facilitate.  Thus in 2008 the Brambleton Bluebird and Garden Club was officially established.

​​How many nests are there now and how successful has this season been?

Over the years the BBGC membership has grown ​and​ we now have 4 trails with 10+ ​​ nestboxes.  The 2014 season was productive with 139 fledged bluebirds and 67 other protected species such as Chickadees, Tree Swallows and House Wren.  ​This year we fledged a total of 146 nestlings from 42 nest boxes.  Sadly only 17 were bluebirds.  The 2015 season has been most unfortunate for our Brambleton bluebird population due to ​the previous extremely cold winter, ​aggressive competition from house sparrows and other factors.  Much lower numbers of fledged bluebirds have been reported all over the mid-Atlantic region. ​However, we are finding ways to mitigate the bluebird competition and we are pleased to announce that Brambleton will be the first community in Virginia to incorporate a 2-holed nest box design ​​that will vastly improve a bluebird’s ability to protect itself and family.

​​We also hear you have a wonderful garden in Brambleton! What have you had the most success in growing?

My garden is my passion! I am so honored that neighbors have enjoyed visiting our yard.  Perennials, tomatoes and peppers are my most prolific plants.

​​What do you love the most about gardening and do you have any advice for someone who might be planning to start a garden?

​​Gardening is a calming labor of love that provides a distraction from the stresses of life and allows me to create using plants as a visual medium. It’s wonderful to spend time outside surrounded by the beauty I’ve imagined and to look forward to all the possibilities in the coming seasons. Starting a garden in any form may seem like a daunting task to many self starters. Start small, focus on one area, and plan.  Define what kind of garden you might enjoy and reach out to other local gardeners or consultants for assistance.  Think about maintenance and budget.  Do not be disappointed by a minor set back; there will always be successful and less successful years.

​​What other great programs are there that you are passionate about?

Besides being obsessed with gardening, this year I accepted a volunteer position as the Virginia Bluebird Society (VBS) Loudoun County ​​Monitor Coordinator as supported by the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy.  ​As Monitor Coordinator​, I will facilitate the establishment, monitoring, and maintenance of nestbox trails throughout Loudoun County. Monitoring nest boxes involves weekly visits ​​and collection of information to determine the status of our native cavity species during their active nesting cycle. The data from our trails feed into the VBS collection system that tracks population trends in Virginia.  If interested in becoming a trail monitor feel free to contact me at ketten@​.

​​Do you have a favorite tradition in Brambleton?

Every year on Halloween night the families on our street congregate for a pre trick-or-treating group photo!

Humans of Brambleton is our blog feature that focuses on one of the many interesting personalities who calls Brambleton home. If you’re interested in being a future Human of Brambleton, email us at