2017 SPRING TRAIL KICKOFF. NESTBOX CHECKS ON MARCH 9 and 12, 2017.


Greetings bluebird lovers and nature fans. Happy March 2017 – the new nesting season along the trail has commenced!  This winter went by so fast. It was a milder one, but March has roared in like a lion! My first checks for the Season 2017 — March 9 and March 12, 2017.

First…I have nests … 6 to be exact all bluebird except for one. No eggs yet. I think the females know it’s still too cold. This beloved and therapeutic hobby of mine of monitoring nesting Eastern Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, Carolina Chickadees, House Wrens….and more…commences again as of March 9 (Thursday). The Woolwine House Bluebird Trail now has 44 nestboxes is located in the Blue Ridge Highlands elevations 4 miles south of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Currently, the trail has 6 boxes active with bluebird nestings. One nest has the nest cup perfectly and deeply formed ready for the first egg of the 2017 season. If we get any early eggs laid prior to this upcoming winter blast and snows scheduled here starting Monday night, March 13 and continuing for two more days, the good news is that nestbox has the ventilation plugged to deter frigid air dropping down from the top by the roof to the nest cup. One box has another native species building, the House Wren, but it could be a “dummy nest”. I will watch it closely. If it is a dummy, it will be removed very soon so another native bird can use that nestbox. Seems a tad early for the House Wren since it is a migrator, but the males may be arriving now and are stuffing any cavity they find with sticks. For me, this is one of the fun parts of landlording a bluebird trail; that is, the observational troubleshooting variations from year to year. I am hoping to add a few nestboxes soon. My goal is 50 nestboxes max for the trail. Only 6 more to install and I’m there! I am including 4 pictures. One picture is one located along my trail and just up my own road…photo taken last year on March 10, 2016. This nestbox was the first one on my trail to have the FIRST EGG LAID in 2016, Nestbox #27. That Mrs. Blue is resting safely inside the entry hole guard (called the Noel Guard). The next set of pictures shows Mrs. Blue entering a “winterized nestbox” still from the winter. In November I add pine needle bedding for roosting birds during the cold nights and winter weather. I also plug the ventilation holes and slots at the top of the box to keep cold drafts out. I leave the ventilation plugged through mid-April. The photos inside this nestbox show the white pine needles I put there in November and the pine needles she just added to build her early nest. This is one of the 6 boxes that have active nestings going on as of my trail check March 9, 2016 and then again on Sunday, March 12 – THANKFULLY NO EGGS YET. All final nesting records of the trail are shared annually in September with three ornithology organizations…the scientists use them to compare the nesting and population trends. OK, so here we go into the new nesting season. I’m excited, as always.

Such a beautiful setting for a bluebird couple to raise a family.

My added needle bedding in November is shown here under the nest Mrs. Blue built. I winterize my trail boxes, thus I add the natural pine needles to help keep bellies warm when using the boxes for shelter during the winter months.   The boxes are plugged at the top in the ventilation holes and slots and will remain that way until mid-April.

I am glad no eggs are laid yet. A wintry arctic is here and a storm is coming for the next two days!  

2016 FINAL NESTING RESULTS and a FEW WORDS IN SUMMARY


It is winter already?  My results for 2016 are below.   Stay warm and happy and see you next Spring!

Copyright - Photo by David Kinneer

Here is my trail summary essay points…..final bluebird stats are 66 nest attempts total (which means at least one egg was laid per nest), 288 eggs laid, 243 eggs hatched, 217 young fledged.  Not my best year for the trail, in spite of the fact that last year I fledged 211 bluebirds.  I had many more challenges and a higher percentage of eggs and nestling losses this year and smaller clutches. The trail fledged less Tree Swallows and Carolina Chickadees compared to last year, as well. One House Wren active nest and fledging ONLY this year. Absolutely NO House Sparrow issues this year. Good!  Every year is different.  Last year — my best ever.  This year, not so great.   Now I look forward to the 2017 nesting season!

ORNITHOLOGY ABBREVATION LEGEND: 

EABL – Eastern Bluebird

TRES – Tree Swallow

CACH – Carolina Chickadee

HOWR – House Wren

HOSP – House Sparrow

 

1. One box had a sudden roof fail and I moved the nest and nestlings to a newly installed box nearby. Parents accepted and fledged young.

2.  Two broods died on nest and I could NOT determine why.  NOT BLOWFLIES, NOT STARVATION.

3. I had two boxes that I had to eradicate hornets’ nests. One was built over TRES eggs during incubation it appears, but I got that nest and eggs moved to a new box nearby. The TRES incubating female accepted and hatched them a couple of days later.

4. Snakes got past several remaining 6-inch wide stovepipes and one 7-inch wide stovepipe. I am replacing those with 8-inch wides for 2017.  NO PREDATIONS at any of my 8-inch widths.

5. I had one box that had a late season nesting, only one brood, and they fledged.

6. I had some dead hatchlings removed by parent birds. I find this marvelous! This is possible if they are small enough to get out the 1.5″ entry holes. To remove the dead is progressive and good action by parent birds. This is not possible when the young grow larger, unfortunately.

7. Carpenter bees occupied two boxes during nestings, but no problems for the eggs or young, amazingly. I did try to eradicate nonetheless.

8. TRES attempt but evicted by bluebirds. TRES left area, too late to add another box in a paired setup.

9. I witnessed a premature fledging take place at one box due to human workers in vicinity of the nestbox. Age was 14 days old when fledging. Most made it barely up to a tree. Two went to ground and I flushed them up to tree when I did not see parents fly down to them within a reasonable amount of time.

10. I still had one box on a fence at one private owner’s location with no predator guard …. EXCEPT a pronged out Noel Guard. SUCCESS in fledging! I still do not recommend NOT using a wobbling stovepipe baffles, which increases success rate of fledging because it deters climbing predators.

11. Using heat shields on a few boxes with nestlings seemed to really help this year when the temps were above 90 degrees. I only needed those on my original 10 year old boxes, that had a bit less ventilation at the top. The newer boxes are Carl Little designs which have adequate ventilation at the top — I’ve not ever had nestling losses due to heat in those designs, nor in the 2-Hole Mansion, either.

12. Diatomaceous Earth applications worked on all nests but one — the hardy larvae got past the DE on the side of one nest and the whole brood died. Other nests, the larvae did not have enough strength to get past the DE and the bluebirds broods survived a lightweight amount of the blowfly larvae. I know this from the dissected fledged nests in the bucket by how many larvae are still alive and how many are dead inside the nest.

~~~

A few photos from 2016 follow below.  I did not caption them this time.  If you have questions, leave a blog note here and I’ll respond.  I hope you have enjoyed the end-of-year update of the results for the Woolwine House Bluebird Trail.  I hope you have safe holidays and a wonderful winter.  See you next Spring!

How I remove unhatched eggs. I use a plastic spoon. I only do this if it does not disturb the hatchlings; otherwise, I leave them. If they can be removed, I will then do it -- simply and quickly.

ABOVE:  How I remove unhatched eggs. I use a plastic spoon. I only do this if it does not disturb the hatchlings; otherwise, I leave them. If they can be removed, I will then do it — simply and quickly.

One of several styles of mealworm feeders I use. I feed live mealworms during the nesting season and dried ones mixed with suet nuggets and soaked cut-up raisins in the winter.

ABOVE:  One of several styles of mealworm feeders I use. I feed live mealworms during the nesting season and dried ones mixed with suet nuggets and soaked cut-up raisins in the winter.

Look how beautiful this Tree Swallow is coming out of this nest box! Even its bill is iridescent!

ABOVE:  Look how beautiful this Tree Swallow is coming out of this nest box! Even its bill is iridescent!

Hello Mrs. Chickadee. I hope I'm not disturbing you too much.

ABOVE:  Hello Mrs. Chickadee. I hope I’m not disturbing you too much.  (When this happens, I quietly and quickly close and secure the box and walk away to leave her in peace and not stress her too much.)

ABOVE:  One Tree Swallow to its mate: “May the Winged Force Be With You.”

ABOVE:  This native paper wasp is not aggressive. I chased them out of the box without incident and made sure they didn’t want to return.

AVOVE:  Here’s Pop with some yummy grub! See how they like the Noel Guards? It’s like a front porch!

ABOVE:  AHEM….yep, carpenter bees. Sigh.

ABOVE:  Oh my goodness, this is a beautiful brooding, incubating Tree Swallow. They are brave when we check on their nest. I love this bird!

ABOVE:  OOOPSY….removing a small hornets nest over this Tree Swallow nest of eggs. This is not a usual thing on the trail, but this year, I had to get rid of TWO hornets nests.

A Tree Swallow guarding its nest on the “front porch”, which is the entry hole guard called the Noel Guard.

ABOVE:  I am installing a new Two-Hole Mansion (designed by Linda Violett — to spec!). So easy peasy…I can do this myself.

ABOVE:  Pretty blue egg. Just one is a sight to behold.

Looking down on the Ron Kingston stovepipe baffle. Simply the best.

ABOVE:  Looking down on the Ron Kingston stovepipe baffle. Simply the best.

NESTBOX MONITORING PROTOCOL ON THE TRAIL – LEARNING and EDUCATION TO OTHERS IS KEY ON THIS WEBSITE.


Recently, I have been active on various bluebird Facebook pages on monitoring the cavity nesting birds in the nesting boxes.  Here is a post I did today regarding when to stop opening the boxes when the nestlings inside are at a certain age:

I use Day 13 as my guide as last day. I use an auto-visor mirror always to hold at the top of the box to look down at the nest.  At 12 to 13 days old, I just crack open enough and use that mirror and stay diligently fast and efficient to check on their health, development, do the headcount, and look for a potential nestling death (if that happens, it is still a safe time to remove the dead one if at all possible–by this age, the percentage is low).  After Day 13, I do observations of activity at the boxes by the parent behaviors in surveillance method from afar–a great indicator how the kids are doing!  There is a time when human monitoring at the nests so close up has to cease for the fullest safety for all.  I do not want to open up the box when the nestlings are starting to get active inside as they move around, stretch their wings, exercise their legs…to gain strength for fledging….while getting the confidence that they can fly for the first time into the world they know nothing about!  Some fecal sacs are not picked up yet by the parents so  it’s not good to have any natural bird odors from the boxes get into the air circulations to attract predators (specifically the common black rat snakes here in the South that have keen smelling ability close or from a distance–they feed night or day).  This is another reason why I do not open the boxes every single day, which is a bit excessive as nestbox micro-management by humans, in my personal opinion.  I do not even approach too close to the boxes during fledging process dates between 16 and 19 days.   I use a chair or my car and some binoculars and watch the action of the parents going to the nestbox for feedings.   The anticipation then sets in and I use nature’s way with the awesome parent birds to take over without my interventions, if at all possible.  Average fledging age on my trail is Day 17, but sometimes it can be the 18th day.  Oldest age ever was 22 days due to a nest change for the nestling to recover from blowfly larvae infestations.  That was in 2008.

Bluebird Nesting Guide from Virginia Bluebird Society

With that, I also have cross posted this on those same Facebook pages.  It is not only fitting to share this on the topic, but imperative for educational purposes.  Here is that text:

I am cross posting at a few Facebook pages Cornell’s NestWatch monitoring protocol guidelines and principles of birding ethics, the Code of Conduct, in human monitoring all nests in the wild, including our nesting boxes.  The advice and guidelines are easy to read and is based on the American Birding Association’s birding ethics and protocol (find them at www.aba.org).   I participate and am certified in NestWatch.  It’s an excellent source of information!  If you haven’t yet, take some time to look around the NestWatch website.  While you’re there on the Code of Conduct page, look to the left and click on the links on Nest Monitoring Protocol and Nest Monitoring Manual and FAQS, which is great for new bluebirders to learn from.  Enjoy!
http://nestwatch.org/learn/how-to-nestwatch/code-of-conduct/

I also follow all state and federal laws on my 43-box bluebird trail and all other birding adventures in my locale (such as monitoring a Northern Mockingbird nest at my neighbor’s house), based on the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 ( in particular, I am referring how I handle native birds and non-native invasive species).    Here is that website from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: https://www.fws.gov/birds/policies-and-regulations/laws-legislations/migratory-bird-treaty-act.php

Here is a recent photo of Mom Blue who did not flush off the nest during a box check.  I never force her off.   However, with my quick skill one-handed with my small digital camera with the box panel door cracked open so as not to startle her too much (I never use flash photography on live birds inside the boxes), I was able to capture her on her egg clutch.  The natural lighting also captured the brilliant blue feathers on this incubating female.

Mom blue Incubating 2016 at Nestbox 15

Here is a picture of a lone bluebird baby among 5 other unhatched eggs.  Though I do possess the appropriate state and federal permits to handle young and eggs, it also challenged me to safely handle the situation to remove the unhatched eggs that would and could have been devastating to this nestling for various reasons….the eggs could crack and break and get sticky embryo contents on the nest, thus getting on the nestlings feathers, legs, etc., and attracting predators….OR….possibly causing leg splay issues as the nestling continually gets cramped in growing sizes among the eggs, which could develop into a deformity and fledging problems.  Here is a picture — this bluebird nestling in 2014 was sitting on one of the unhatched eggs — no more room in that cup for the little one.  Age of the nestling is at 5 days old.  We don’t want it to grow any larger.  I have posted this before, in 2014.  Perhaps you recognize it?

"The Lone Child"

I very often go through my yearly photo journals on my computer to review the photos I’ve captured to remind me on what I’ve learned through the years helping the nesting birds while applying the code of ethics associated with human monitoring of nature’s nests.

Here is a recent photo I took of 13-day olds.  No more opening the box after the 13th day!

13 Day Old EABL

Questions and comments welcomed — faster responses if you go to my ABOUT page and fill out the form, which is sent to my Email address, at which point I can respond back to you on your Email.   

The response form information submitted stays private between you and me….always.  The form is designed for faster replies to you personally and privately.  NOTE TO SPAMMERS:  WordPress is so developed, it’s set up to SCREEN YOUR SPAM.   I will not get it to my Email in-box. Thank you, WordPress!

All the best to you as you continue your birding ventures and adventures.  Happy Birding.  Have you joined in on the trail’s Facebook page yet?  C’mon over — lots of posts and action there!  https://www.facebook.com/WoolwineHouseBluebirdTrail

Feel free to share this post away on the public sites.  Education is key in properly appreciating and handling birds in human monitoring and Citizen Science protocol.  Happy and safe birding!

Best regards always,

Christine

 

Video

MID-NESTING SEASON REPORT – Date of Report is July 9, 2016


This is a a mid-season report I posted on the trail’s Facebook page.  I am duplicating it here, including an attached video of removing the unhatched egg from Nestbox #12 on July 9, 2016.  Only 1 of the two eggs hatched.  Unhatched eggs can be removed AFTER 72 hours from hatching of the remaining eggs in the nest.  

Four species using the boxes. Note: Still pending eggs, hatching, and fledging in the numbers indicated below for Bluebirds and House Wrens. This is as of trail check dated July 7 and two boxes were checked today, July 9, 2016. 3rd broods started thus far in 6 nestboxes. I expect a few more. Let’s say I am NOT happy with these results. The challenges have been astounding this year. Last year of 2015 was my best ever year in 10 years of the trail. This year 2016 is my worst ever. All the reason to continue to want to help these birds succeed. This is a shortened report for halfway through the nesting season. Every year, there is something NEW I LEARN. The trail is at 43 nestboxes. 3 boxes went unoccupied.  Last year, all boxes were eventually occupied. It’s not too late for them to be used, however, as I’ve seen late nestings in unoccupied boxes.   You know the 4-letter avian abbreviations?  They are as follows:

EABL:  Eastern bluebird, CACH:  Carolina Chickadee, TRES:  Tree Swallow, HOWR:  House Wren

…..EABL: 63 Nest Attempts / 270 Eggs Laid / 203 Hatched Thus Far and Pending More Hatchings / 155 Fledged Thus Far

…..CACH: 2 Nest Attempts / 9 Eggs Laid / 9 Hatched / 7 Fledged

…..TRES: 6 Nest Attempts / 27 Eggs Laid / 26 Hatched / 26 Fledged

…..HOWR: 1 Nest Attempt / 6 Eggs Laid / Pending Hatching. I should mention this nesting HOWR couple caused no havoc to native bird nestings. In the nestbox before them were bluebirds, which fledged successfully. After fledging, the HOWRs moved in within one week.. This is unusual. Competition is what would be expected. HOWRS’ migration arrival here was later than before.

……..1. RAT SNAKES ARE ON A RAMPAGE! 4 Nestboxes raided. 2 nestboxes armed with 6-inch wide wobbling stovepipe and pronged Noel Guard / 1 Nestbox armed with 7-inch wide wobbly stovepipe and pronged Noel Guard / 1 Nestbox armed with smooth (and waxed?) 4-inch PVC sleeve over wood post. This is the worse ever in 10 years regarding snakes — the very large rat snakes are challenging to hold back even 7-inch wide baffles. So far, no predations on the 8-inch wide wobbling stovepipe baffles. My trail is being updated with the 8-inch on remaining original setups. All new installations are higher at 6 feet high.

………2. BLOWFLY LARVAE INFESTATION WORST EVER IN 10 YEARS – 2nd broods were the worst affected. I am *increasing* on the food-grade organic diatomaceous earth application amounts in the nests of any remaining 2nd brood and all 3rd broods started. Some larvae got past the diatomaceous earth application (does that mean I did not add enough or these larvae are tougher than previous years? — a serious and chronic issue on my trail year after year!)

………3. Total number of missing or dead young—for all reasons—is now at 32 as of July 7. That is a very high number for my trail. Note: regarding missing young in a nest of surviving nestlings was not to predators; moreover I believe a hatchling died and the parent birds removed the deceased if they are small enough to pull through the 1.5 inch entry and exit hole from the nestbox.

I removed an unhatched egg today. I created a short video of how easy (and fast) I try to do this (attached). Only 1 of 2 eggs hatched.  See that below.  The nestling is growing slowly and is 72 hours old.   It is VERY hot outside right now.  Mom is holding her own.  I have not seen Pop Bluebird.  

MONITORING: EASTERN BLUEBIRD NESTLING DAILY DEVELOPMENT GUIDE from CORNELL’s NESTWATCH


Eastern Bluebirds on Hatch Day.

Eastern Bluebirds on Hatch Day in 2014.   It never gets old seeing this during monitoring.  Be fast so that the naked and unfeathered young don’t get chilled on a day below 75 degrees.  That may be warm to us with clothes on, but these guys need to stay draft free as much as possible.  Take your photos quickly and move on.

 

This is an excellent daily photo journal of the nestling development and some behaviors of the young each day as they progress.  Here is the NestWatch page:  NestWatch Eastern Bluebird Nestling Development (Daily Nest Photos)

Please remember some good monitoring protocol for the safety of the nestlings and “courtesy” to the parent birds caring for their broods:

  1.  If you keep your own photo journal, try to abstain using flash after the young start to open their eyes on the 7th and 8th day — the flash photography is intrusive on cavity-nesting bird young. I set my small digital camera to the macro setting, which automatically turns off flash and adjusts focus for closeup photography.  Long periods of video photography could be intrusive.  Attempt to keep videos short-term.
  2. Please also be quick at the photos using a steady hand and try not to leave the box open too long — this will aid in keeping the smell of the young and any odors from the nest from unpicked up fecal sacs by the parent birds from floating into the air and attracting potential predators towards the young in the nest (snakes!).  I try to do all I need to do my checks in 45-60 seconds and close the box securely and leaving quietly. This includes using my auto visor mirror first for inspection, shut the box, ready my digital camera in the macro mode, reopening the box and shooting two photos and then closing the box again SECURELY and carefully and doing my skedaddle from the area so the parents and get back to business of caring for their young and keeping their stress level to a minimum.
  3. Also remember to abstain from opening your nesting boxes after the 13th day to avoid premature fledging of the nestlings.  Do your final check on the 12th or 13th day of the nestling’s age and stop at that point and do your behavior surveillance up to Fledge Day from a distance using binoculars in a comfy chair or bench in the vicinity of the nesting box — not too close because the parent birds won’t like you being there near this time and will delay fledging until they feel comfortable it’s safe for their offspring to make their maiden flights successfully–even wobbly so!–to the safe haven inside a tree and it’s foliage.  Yes, even you, the monitor the bluebirds have come to know still don’t want you nearby during the fledging process of their kids.  It’s just nature’s way of survival.
  4. Always keep good monitoring (accurate) records.  This will aid you determine their age, of course.  Monitor about 2-3 times a week for best accuracy of the goings on inside the nest box and for troubleshooting problems as they arise, BUT AT LEAST ONCE A WEEK MINIMUM…. but not too often (like every day unless the nesting box has problems) so you are not over-managing the birds.  After all, they are still wild birds–not your adopted pets.
  5. Send on your records to your local state bluebird society or ornithology organization like NestWatch or Audubon group!  They need the records, even from a back yard nesting box.  Find them online and see if there is a County Coordinator near you and contact them and introduce yourself.  You may make new friends at these wonderful NABS-affiliated non-profit, all volunteer cavity-nesting bird organizations.   You can also participate in Cornell’s NestWatch.   Here is their page to get started:  Cornell NestWatch Main Page

Happy Bluebirding to all!  More action on the trail’s Facebook page.  Questions directly to me are easier to access there and get quicker responses.  Come join us and the discussions there:  Woolwine House Bluebird Trail’s Facebook Page

Any questions?   Contact me directly here:  CONTACT ME BY EMAIL  or leave a blog note here.  I will do my best to answer as best I can.  I am out in the field often, so my office time and cell phone time is limited.  Thanks to all for the support.

Beautiful Tree Swallow (TRES) eggs!

Beautiful Tree Swallow (TRES) eggs!

 

A gaping chickadee. Helps with headcount if you can get them to do this for faster box checks.

This hornets nest was built in one week's time in an active Tree Swallow Nest. This is another excellent example why we need to monitor manmade nesting boxes.

This hornets nest was built in one week’s time in an active Tree Swallow Nest. This is another excellent example why we need to monitor man-made nesting boxes.  THIS IS THE SECOND BOX with a hornet’s built this size within one week’s time.   If you see this or wasps attaching their materials to the ceiling, soap the box ceilings.

 

 

TRAIL UPDATE – APRIL 27, 2016 – WE ARE ON OUR WAY TO A GREAT NESTING SEASON!


This Tree Swallow couple is having a blast, it appears.

Greetings this Wednesday, April 27th!  The trail is well on its way as of this date.  I have been very active on the Facebook page, but I would like to report in where we are thus far on first broods of the species — especially for those not following me and the trail activities on Facebook.

I am definitely seeing less species nesting on the trail this Spring with less nestboxes occupied — we’ve had a decrease of bluebird numbers in past three years in Virginia.  I am seeing less Tree Swallows and less Carolina Chickadees nesting, as well.  Of my 43 boxes, I have ten (10) NOT OCCUPIED by any species of bird at all.  This is a tad disappointing to me.  NO House Wrens and NO House Sparrows thus far.  But I am not saying they won’t try to nest.  I do know both species are in the area. The bright side of things are that my stats to date for first broods and species are as follows:

EABL: 121 EGGS, 81 HATCHED, 13 FLEDGED thus far–still have eggs to hatch and young to fledge.
CACH: 2 BOXES WITH 2 NESTS and 9 EGGS, both presently under incubation.
TRES: Late start! 4 BOXES WITH 4 NESTS started, no eggs yet.

Pop btinging in a large piece of insect for his 7-day olds. Down the hatch!

Pop is bringing in a large piece of delicious insect for his 7-day olds. Down the hatch!

WHBBT-#29-EABL3-DaysOld-April 26-2016

Darling 3-day old Eastern Bluebirds. Can you see all 5?

WHBBT-Nestbox #43-12-Day Old EABL

Ahhhh, we have here 12-day old Eastern Bluebirds looking very snug and fed.

One reason we NEED to monitor at least weekly is to take care of problems! If I did not take care of this issue, no birds will use this box, will they?

One reason we NEED to monitor at least weekly is to take care of problems! If I did not take care of this issue, no birds will use this box, will they?

Ooops....another problem....this box is being taken over. No problem. This is the native species paper wasp and quite docile. I told them to go elsewhere.

Ooops….another problem….this box is being taken over. This is the native species paper wasp and quite docile. I told them to go elsewhere.

Pretty Mrs. Chickadee is being brave.

Pretty Mrs. Chickadee is being brave.

Wait! Let's not forget Mrs. Bluebird, too! Look how beautiful she is!

Wait! Let’s not forget Mrs. Bluebird, too! Look how beautiful she is!

 

BUY A SHIRT / SAVE A BLUEBIRD! – Fundraiser Campaign to Support Bluebirds – Deadline is April 11, 2016.


I’m getting the word out for my bluebirding friend and colleague, Alyce, a member of the Roanoke Valley Bird Club, a longtime birding fan and monitor of bluebird trails in Virginia.  If you love the Blues, you’re going to love this shirt!    I’m ordering a couple for myself and a couple as gifts.  Orders can be placed until April 11! …. the deadline to order for this campaign.  THANK YOU for your support!

T-shirt comes in Khaki color. Fabric is a poly-cotton blend, 50/50--are pre-shrunk and run to size.

Fabric is a poly-cotton blend, 50/50–pre-shrunk and run to size (unless otherwise noted).

BUY A SHIRT / SAVE A BLUEBIRD!

A mere 50 years ago, the Eastern Bluebird suffered a steep decline in population, enough so that scientists feared for its survival.  This decline was due in part to severe weather, but also to human activities.  Habitat loss, removal of dead trees, the introduction of invasive species, pesticide use, cars, hunting, and collection of eggs all contributed to this decline.  Fortunately citizen scientists reversed the trend by introducing artificial housing in the form of nest boxes.  Now there is a large network of bluebird trails around the country, monitored weekly from spring through late summer.  The bluebird population has rebounded and stabilized.  With the purchase of this t-shirt (or two or three!), you can be a part of the effort to conserve bluebirds for many years to come.  Proceeds will be donated to organizations that help support Eastern Bluebird habitat.  Wouldn’t it be a great gift for all the bird lovers in your life?

Buying a shirt is easy.  Just go to https://www.bonfirefunds.com/buy-a-shirt-save-a-bluebird and follow the steps to place an order.  Shirts are $18 each, or $20 for a ladies slim fit.  We need a minimum of 20 orders by the end of the campaign on April 11 for the shirts to be produced and sent out.  If you’re unable to order online, just contact Alyce Quinn at twoquinns@yahoo.com or 540-719-0109 and she can order one for you.

Show your support–order your shirt(s) today!

‘KINGSTON’ STOVEPIPE BAFFLE — STOP GROUND PREDATORS GETTING TO NESTING BOXES.


This is the Ron Kingston Stovepipe guard.

This is the Ron Kingston Stovepipe guard.

This nestbox was recently treated for ants!

This nestbox was recently treated for ants!

On the cusp of this Leap Year month, the nesting season is soon among us once again, and we must be sure our nesting boxes are protected so our beautiful native cavity-nesting birds can successfully fledge their young without sabotage and interruption.   It is up to us as humans — when installing manmade bird housing, that is — to add this protection.   We cannot do this in natural habitat in natural cavities much higher into the trees, but as stewards helping the native cavity-nesting birds, we can help by providing safe locations  for them to bring their young into the world when we install and lure the birds to use our manmade bird housing.  Predators from the ground are and can be, depending on your location:  Snakes, Raccoons, Cats, Opossum, Rats, Mice, and Squirrels.  Have I missed any?  (Will not stop ants.)  Mr. Ron Kingston and I keep in contact often.  Mr. Kingston, being the designer of this guard, has created an inexpensive-to-make but highly effective wobbling stovepipe guard to easily install under nesting boxes.  This design has been tested over and over on bluebird trails for many years.  He recently sent me this colorful PDF online document with more info with some awesome photo graphics on making this guard, including some nice info about Ron himself!  Thank you!   I have never seen it before. Here it is and linked from the Purple Martin Field Day (which occurs in June each day in Louisa County, Virginia):    Click here:   From the Purple Martin Field Day website

Yo, mama! She is guarding her egg clutch. The eggs can be counted on another day. If she sits right on the egg clutch when you open the box for monitiring, leave her be and quietly close the box and secure it. The eggs can be counted on another day! She is the boss and must be left to attend to her Mom duties. Please use predator guards so that Mrs. Blue will get attacked by snakes or climbing mammals like raccoons and cats. (Photo is by me in 2013, at a top-opening nestbox).

Let me know if you have questions either by posting here on this blog post or contacting me privately through the CONTACT ME page.  I will be duplicating this document on my “Deterring Predators and Pests” page also.  I am also linking the plan below how to make it in a PDF file, viewable and printable online below.  

Find the plans here (if the links are not live, just cut and paste the URL in your browser separately):  

 1.  From the Nestbox Builder website:  

 2.  From the Virginia Bluebird society website:  

3.  From Cornell’s NestWatch page on predators (includes info on the wonderful Noel guard): 

Photo by Richard Hess. What's not to love? A successful fledging from a nestbox is goal #1. PLEASE USE PREDATOR GUARDS.

Photo by Richard Hess. What’s not to love? A successful fledging from a nestbox is goal #1. PLEASE USE PREDATOR GUARDS.

Suggestion: I install as high off the ground as possible so I can still reach the tops of boxes to monitor fast and efficiently without too much fuss during nestings so the birds can get back to business away from my human presence to tend to their nest and young.  I use an auto visor mirror to look down onto the nests to count eggs and young and to check for any possible problems with the young so I can troubleshoot how to help, just in case.  I install the stovepipe guards under my nestboxes fairly high from the ground–where the tops of my boxes are at about six (6) feet above ground.  Boxes installed too low, such as 4 feet (even 5 feet is low if you are installing a box on an incline terrain or hill), are too easy for snakes, raccoons, and cats, to get past the guard.  Feral cats can jump 6 feet!  (NOTE:  I prefer all my boxes to be off of flat terrain as much as possible.)

Here is a YouTube Video I made regarding one of my first boxes on my trail and using this guard:  

Ground Climbing Predator Baffle-Kingston with Illustration

 

 

 

Image

CELEBRATING THE SUCCESS OF THE TRAIL — CHECK OUT THE RECORDS.


MY FAVORITE QUOTES (note I like the early year quotes the best!):

A man’s interest in a single bluebird is worth more than a complete but dry list of the fauna and flora of a town.”  ~  Letter, November 22, 1858, from Henry D. Thoreau to Daniel Ricketson, in The Writings of Henry David Thoreau, 1906

And when he sings to you, Though you’re deep in blue, You will see a ray of light creep through,  And so remember this, life is no abyss, Somewhere there’s a bluebird of happiness. Life is sweet, tender and complete, when you find the bluebird of happiness.” 
~  Bluebird of Happiness, lyrics by Edward Heyman & Harry Parr Davies, 1934

“As the pressure of population increasingly regiments us and crowds us closer together, an association with the wild, winged freedom of the birds will fill an ever growing need in our lives.”  ~ Edwin Way Teale, introduction to Songbirds in Your Garden, 1953

“The birds richly repay you for the trouble you take in attracting them and looking out for their interests.”   ~ Joseph H. Dodson, Your Bird Friends and How to Win Them, 1928

“The bluebird carries the sky on his back.” ~   Henry David Thoreau, Journal, April 3, 1852

This graphic below:  here is a pretty good indication of a bluebird trail success from Year 1 (2008) with the first 14 nestbox installations–though the trail planning and building stage actually started in 2007–to this year, 2015.  The more nesting boxes you put up and monitor, the more native cavity-nesting birds you can fledge!  This gives me great satisfaction for the hard work that has ensued from year to year.   The satisfaction of knowing I’ve helped fledge birds is worth all the effort, for sure.

WHBBT TOTAL BIRDS FLEDGED--ONE PAGE

It’s important to keep accurate records. I can look back on this and feel good about my past 10 years. That is really when I started keeping an eye out and monitoring bluebirds and other cavity-nesting birds….in 2005 and 2006….that’s when it really started for me.

TIME TO WINTERIZE YOUR NESTING BOXES!


I hope you find this helpful.

I hope you find this helpful.

Here is a document you might find handy.  I have posted before on this topic.  Go to the SEARCH feature in the sidebar and keyword in “WINTERING NESTBOXES” to find my original posts on this.  I hope you find this document handy.   BETTER YET, to see all of my demo photos, go to the Facebook page for the trail.  I have details there step by step!

 

FINAL RESULTS for the 2015 NESTING SEASON — SUMMARY


Incubating Eastern Bluebird

Incubating Eastern Bluebird

Incubating Carolina Chickadee

Incubating Carolina Chickadee

Incubating/Brooding Tree Swallow

Incubating/Brooding Tree Swallow

WOOLWINE HOUSE BLUEBIRD TRAIL FINAL TRAIL RESULTS 2015 – SUMMARY 

The last set of bluebirds fledged early on Sunday, August 30, 2015.

43 Nestboxes Monitored 1-2 x Per Week (5 Were Unoccupied)

EASTERN BLUEBIRDS:

– 52 nest attempts

– 241 eggs laid

– 215 eggs hatched

– 211 bluebirds fledged

CAROLINA CHICKADEES:

– 3 nest attempts

– 16 eggs laid

– 15 eggs hatched

– 15 chickadees fledged

TREE SWALLOWS:

– 8 nest attempts

– 36 eggs laid

– 31 eggs hatched

– 25 tree swallows fledged

Predators:  

2 HOSP attack on Nextbox #34—destroyed TRES egg and 1 TRES fledgling killed just before fledging.  Neck and head pecked with huge hole behind head on top of neck area.  I chose not to post a picture, but I have one.  The hole on the back of the neck is huge.  It appeared the attack took place within a 48-hour period of time of my box check.

NO LOSSES due to blowfly larvae.  DE applied to all nests, all broods.  Only two or three nestings had no blowfly larvae found inside nesting material on nest inspection after fledging.  I will say some nest inspections still showed a few live larvae; obviously not enough to cause harm to the young.

1 Snake at PVC 6-inch width guard (a private nestbox by a homeowner) – resulted in loss of 4 EABL young after 13 days old.  Sometimes the PVC sleeve works; other times not.  The sleeve needs to be smoothed out and waxed periodically.  Sometimes any weed wacker around the base of the sleeve or mowing has cut grass clippings and thrown up dirt sticking to the PVC, creating a grip for predators.  Snakes will grip using their scales to that to cleverly maneuver their way up the sleeve.  The box is at 5 feet off the ground.   The box otherwise did well and fledged another brood after.  Appears to be a hit or miss on the snake there, probably the black rat snake, a native snake that I refuse to kill.   We need snakes to keep our rodent population down in the biological balance of things.  Other note is the rat snakes, being an expert climber, gets to other birds’ nests in trees and shrubs — much of nature we do not see at all.  If you use a PVC sleeve, try a wider one, keep it clean and smooth from any natural materials sticking to it, and use a carnauba car wax all the way top to bottom and buff it smooth.  This might help in future.  Keep wiping it down as necessary with a cloth to keep it free of debris.

Dead or Missing Young

8 — Either I removed or the parent birds removed.  One clutch of 5 feathered 12-day old TRES young died—inspected thoroughly for cause—NO TRAUMA and fully feathered–possibly starvation–possible poisoned from insecticides–do not know for sure.  Perhaps one or both parent TRES were killed and during a period of 3 days of rain, making it difficult for them to find flying insects to catch on wing.

Missing or Destroyed Eggs:   

5 — 1 TRES egg was destroyed and removed by HOSP in the school nestcam box.  The rest were removed by parent bluebirds or chickadees.

Unhatched/Unviable Eggs found on or inside nest:  

21

Other Interesting Notes and Events: 

I HAD ABSOLUTELY NO “ACTIVE” House Wren nestings and NO HOUSE WREN ATTACKS (predations) on other species eggs and young.  This is very unusual on my trail as last 3 years I’ve lost bluebird eggs and hatchlings due to House Wren attacks.  I did see a few sticks here and there dropped inside the nestboxes–one stick was dropped on 1 day old bluebird hatchlings.  Perhaps the parent bluebirds fought them off.  Theory only as I did not witness it.  I removed stick on top of the hatchlings.

I HAD ABSOLUTELY NO PREDATIONS of snakes, cats, or raccoons in my *protocol boxes* of pronged out Noel Guards and 8-inch wide wobbling stovepipe baffles.  This is cause for celebrations for me – a FIRST.   Last two years, I’ve had roaming housecats and possibly feral cats cause death to adult bluebirds (many with new hatchlings) getting ambushed on the ground while finding insects to feed their young.  This year, I did not find evidence of cat-caught bluebirds.  It does not mean it did not happen; however, usually I find the remains on the ground near the nestbox.  I was wondering if there was a loss of a parent bird at a few of the nestboxes.   Something got them, but I can’t determine what exactly:  either hit by a car, taken by a hawk, or taken be a cat, or killed by eating insects laced with pesticides.   I do not know.

I HAD ABSOLUTELY NO DEATHS to adult native cavity-nesting birds using my boxes due to HOSP attacks.  I did, however, lose one tree swallow ready-to-fledge in a brood of 4 by a HOSP attack.  Unfortunately this took place at the local elementary school’s nestcam box.   The better news is this attack did not take place while school was in session on live video projection!   This took place on or around the fledge date of the tree swallows near the date of July 20th.

I HAD ABSOLUTELY NO DEATHS to any species nestlings due to blowfly larvae, with thanks to puffing inside the nesting material food-grade organic diatomaceous earth.

I HAD NO Tree Swallow vs. Eastern Bluebird competition for nestboxes this season.  However, I did have a good year with increased tree swallow nestings.  Unfortunately, I did lose one brood of 5 12-day old tree swallows due to either eating insects laced with pesticides or from starvation.

~~~~~~~~~

AND MORE! …… READ ON BELOW:

The 2-Hole Mansion is in its 6th year of success EASTERN BLUEBIRDS vs. HOUSE SPARROWS.  No deaths of adult or nestlings from HOSP attacks.   The Mansion fledged 5 bluebirds this season.

I did have to remove two dead young from one nestbox (standard box) manually.  I was not able to determine cause of death.  It was in a box by a pasture — the removed nest was inspected and only dead blowfly were found inside the nest.  Perhaps those two young did not get enough food.  No trauma found on the remains.

What I thought was a nestbox setup knockdown by a bear with live tree swallow young was really a tractor during mowing.  The box, in a public park, is installed on a slight grade.  The mower evidently was on wet grass and slipped down and knocked the whole setup down with live young.  When I arrived (do not know how long it had been), the young were still inside alive and the parent birds were stressed flying around the area.  I was able to reinstalled the setup, all bent up, and get it back so that the parent birds could continue care for the young, which fledged 3 days later!  By the way, how I discovered this is one monitoring week or so later, I saw the mowers and wanted to introduce myself.  It was then they mentioned it to me when I told them I thought a bear knocked it down.  I gave them my contact info (a biz card I keep for my bluebird volunteering effort) and asked them to contact me by phone locally if they notice something wrong with my box setups in the park.   I do have a label with my phone number on all my boxes.

One nestbox had a mixed white and pale blue eggs.  I tried to determine if two females were laying, but could only witness one female bluebird at the box location during the week the eggs were laid, 1 by 1, each day.

Another box had a female bluebird lay 5 eggs, then another female bluebird entered a week later and laid her 4 eggs and buried the first female’s clutch.  There is a possibility they had a fight over the box or the first female bluebird was killed and the 2nd female found the nestbox soon after and used the nest.  The second clutch of 4 did hatch and fledge.  I found the first 5 eggs inside the nest material when I cleaned the box out.

In spite nesting was a month later this year than average, I had several nestboxes with 3 broods.

Latest fledge ever of bluebirds on the trail since 2007:  August 30th

I had a good year for Carolina Chickadee nestings.  Only 1 egg of 16 did not hatch.  All others hatched and fledged successfully.

Two nestboxes NOT my protocol and not my property were monitored that existed on installations with no predator guards.  One was a fence line/wood post on a local church’s grounds and the other was on the school property’s ball field on a utility pole.  Box boxes were at about 5.5 feet high off the ground.  Once I established species and final egg clutch laying completed, I fastened securely Noel Guards at those two nestboxes, pronged them out, and conducted twice-a-week surveillance of the nestboxes for activity using binoculars.   Both boxes fledged birds successfully—species were bluebirds.

I know from witnessing this that bird species WILL remove dead young if they are small enough to lift and exit from the 1.5” entry holes.   This is also true for unviable, unhatched eggs, though mostly either the eggs remain in the nest or get buried inside the nest by a parent bird.  In the instance I can do so, after the 4th day, I will try to manually remove unhatched eggs myself using a plastic spoon.

I am no longer experimenting with hardware cloth screen on nestbox floors.  Though I agree it helps with keeping nests drier, I do not find them helping keeping blowfly larvae from young as the larvae still sit inside the nest material at night, not falling below the nest through the gaps in the screens.  I am only using diatomaceous earth in ALL nests, all broods, to eradicate ALL parasites inside the nest material, mostly to eradicate blowfly larvae, but also mites and ants.

Due the nestboxes being well designed – the Carl Little Design – I have had NO WET NESTS from rain water getting inside the boxes and NO HEAT deaths due to inadequate ventilation, even with boxes in the sunlight.   The hottest day I logged this year along the trail was about 96 degrees.  Once it gets higher than 98, I would be concerned and would attempt to shade the boxes manually.  This was not necessary this year.

I did notice some nestboxes always occupied every year were NOT occupied this year.  I am thinking it is because we had a loss of bluebird populations in our area, all over Virginia, to severe winter weather and repeat freezing temperatures (enough to freeze homeowner’s pipes!).

I had one newly-installed nestbox by request of a neighbor that was late in the season (Memorial Day weekend).  It went unfound and unoccupied this year.  Next year, I expect it to be discovered and used.

~~~~

By:  CBB    Owner-Manager of the Woolwine House Bluebird Trail, Est. 2008.

Pretty Eastern Bluebird egg clutch.

Pretty Eastern Bluebird egg clutch.

OK, so you see us here. Please feed us!

OK, so you see us here. Please feed us!

Pretty Eastern Bluebird young soon to fledge. Don't you love their color? I never use flash on the young birds inside the nestbox. That is very intrusive!

Pretty Eastern Bluebird young soon to fledge. Don’t you love their color? I never use flash photography on the young birds inside the nestbox. That is very intrusive!

Mixed color clutch. I watched this box daily. I did not see more than one female laying in this box. Each egg was laid consecutively each morning, one by one. It appears the first egg was pale blue, the second egg was even paler blue, than the next 3 eggs were white. Perhaps her pigment gene in her oviduct was weak--possibly a first time laying female.

Mixed color clutch. I watched this box daily. I did not see more than one female laying in this box. Each egg was laid consecutively each morning, one by one. It appears the first egg was pale blue, the second egg was even paler blue, than the next 3 eggs were white. Perhaps her pigment gene in her oviduct was weak–possibly a first time laying female.

This is the nestbox that had live tree swallow young in -- knocked down to the ground by a tractor mower!

This is the nestbox that had live tree swallow young in — knocked down to the ground by a tractor mower!  NOTE THE PICTURE WAS ORIGINALLY CREATED THINKING IT WAS A BEAR THAT KNOCKED DOWN THIS SETUP WITH LIVE BIRDS–IGNORE THE TEXT IN THE PICTURE THAT SAYS “BEAR” attack.

When I opened the box, this is what I found. I reinstalled the nestbox with the young stil inside and readjusted the nest. The parent TRES returned to feed and the young fledged 3 days later!

When I opened the box, this is what I found. I reinstalled the nestbox with the young stil inside and readjusted the nest. The parent TRES returned to feed and the young fledged 3 days later!

NOTE THE PICTURE WAS ORIGINALLY CREATED THINKING IT WAS A BEAR THAT KNOCKED DOWN THIS SETUP WITH LIVE BIRDS–IGNORE THE TEXT IN THE PICTURE THAT SAYS “BEAR” attack.

2-Hole Mansion in its 6th year of success. See 2-Hole Mansion page for story. EABL vs HOSP. I plan to replace the mansion, either refinished or with a new one. I may refurbish this one as a display to educate others about this nestbox option where trapping HOSP is not possible.

2-Hole Mansion in its 6th year of success. See 2-Hole Mansion page for story. EABL vs HOSP. I plan to replace the mansion, either refinished or with a new one. I may refurbish this one as a display to educate others about this nestbox option where trapping HOSP is not possible.

Typical successful nestbox setup on my trail. Note the one-inch conduit, 8-inch wide wobbly stovepipe (blowing slight in the winds in this picture), stovepipe set up high on the one-inch conduit and just under the nestbox, the Carl Little nestbox design, with a vinyl-coated Noel Guard over the entry hole and PRONGED out to help deter any possible predator like slithering snakes that would get past that stovepipe. This nestbox is a new install for 2015. Pretty scenery.

Typical successful nestbox setup on my trail. Note the one-inch conduit, 8-inch wide wobbly stovepipe (blowing slight in the winds in this picture), stovepipe set up high on the one-inch conduit and just under the nestbox, the Carl Little nestbox design, with a vinyl-coated Noel Guard over the entry hole and PRONGED out to help deter any possible predator like slithering snakes that would get past that stovepipe. This nestbox is a new install for 2015. Pretty scenery.

I use a shallow white bucket to clean all fledged nests out of the nestboxes, including any detritus. I then dissect the used, soiled nests to see what's going on inside that nest during the nesting cycle. What I find inside is very educational. In this picture, you'll see DEAD BLOWFLY LARVAE. Thank you diatomaceous earth!

I use a shallow white bucket to clean all fledged nests out of the nestboxes, including any detritus. I then dissect the used, soiled nests to see what’s going on inside that nest during the nesting cycle. What I find inside is very educational. In this picture, you’ll see DEAD BLOWFLY LARVAE. Thank you diatomaceous earth!

When I install new nestboxes, this is what my car looks like. I can do this all by myself!

When I install new nestboxes, this is what my car looks like. I can do this all by myself!

A box on a utility pole? This is a huge accident waiting to happen for nesting birds. I added a pronged out, sturdy Noel Guard--pronged out--and did a surveillance of activity on the box after I counted the final clutch of eggs. The baby bluebirds fledged. It is MUCH better to install boxes on poles and use predator guards under and on the nestbox. Installing nestboxes on 4x4 wood posts, fences, sidings of buildings, tree trunks, and on utility poles generally will not fledge bird families. It is just too easy for predators to get to this type installation. What's the point? This box is at 5.5 feet high off the ground. Again, note the Noel Guard is pronged out and away from bird feathers and is applied with 4 screws and washers on each corner.

A box on a utility pole? This is a huge accident waiting to happen for nesting birds. I added a pronged out, sturdy Noel Guard–pronged out–and did a surveillance of activity on the box after I counted the final clutch of eggs. The baby bluebirds fledged. It is MUCH better to install boxes on poles and use predator guards under and on the nestbox. Installing nestboxes on 4×4 wood posts, fences, sidings of buildings, tree trunks, and on utility poles generally will not fledge bird families. It is just too easy for predators to get to this type installation. What’s the point? This box is at 5.5 feet high off the ground. Again, note the Noel Guard is pronged out and away from bird feathers and is applied with 4 screws and washers on each corner.

Equipment on the trail. Nest inspected and dissected.

Equipment on the trail. Nest inspected and dissected.

THE 2015 NESTING SEASON IS ROLLING! 43 NESTBOXES ON THE TRAIL DOING WELL.


"As long as there are bluebirds, there will be miracles and a way to find happiness." - Shirl Brunnel, I Hear Bluebirds, 1984  ..... One of Mr. Kinneer's splendid captures of Eastern Bluebird courtship.

“As long as there are bluebirds, there will be miracles and a way to find happiness.” – Shirl Brunnel, I Hear Bluebirds, 1984 ….. One of Mr. Kinneer’s splendid captures of Eastern Bluebird courtship.

Greetings to all.

The 2015 nesting season started later than in past years, but that is not a bad thing at all.  It tells me the birds waited for a reason. We had a harsh, cold, frigid winter late in the season 2014-15; and our early spring also was cold and dreary.  There appears to have been a few losses of bluebirds roosting in nestboxes — many reports are coming through to me of dead adults found inside the nestboxes this early February and March when the monitors were opening the nestboxes again.   The location of my trail, being in the Southern-Southwestern end of the state, has shown some results of some of my most successful nesting boxes not getting occupied thus far.   I have 42 installed setups on the trail now; of those 42, I still show at today’s date six nestbox setups not used by birds at all.   I am not disappointed, however; the rest of the trail is all good news.   I have nesting Eastern Bluebirds, Carolina Chickadees, and Tree Swallows.  I have had no House Sparrow attacks on young or adults and no havoc from the House Wren species.  As a matter of fact, I have NO House Wren sticks dropped inside any of my nestboxes – none!   This makes me wonder if this species, a migrating bird species, has had some issues this year.  Strangely, the past 3 years shows results of House Wren havoc on the Woolwine House Bluebird Trail.  This year, I show NO House Wrens.  I am not saying they won’t nest anytime soon. I have heard them singing in the trees attracting mates. I find it interesting the troubles housing this native species is not causing the usual concerns and worries I have had in past years.  We will see as time goes on for the rest of May and June this season.

For the followers of this site, my postings will be more few and far between as a blog setup as I try to maintain and keep this site going as an informational space about the joys of a bluebird trail, and all the challenges faced each year.  It has turned out the communications of my trail activities are going very well on Facebook, so if you want to see more weekly, even daily, postings of happenings on the trail, you can view the Facebook page, which is public, anytime, whether you are a Facebook user or not.  May I invite you to see the photos, videos, and challenges there in a more regular basis.   This page will be used as a “blog” with interesting reports that will come through from time to time.  Did you Know? … this blog started when I was telecommuting to my McLean, Virginia, position?  Something clicked when I worked from home, and what was happening outside my window made me realize the difference of working in an office—which I loved—to seeing the great outdoors.  I appreciate your support through the years.  The trail is celebrating its existence of fledging birds since my introduction to bluebirding in 2005 when I found an old weather nestbox in the back yard of our new home.  This box was on a 4×4 wood post without any predator guards.  As you may know, both bluebird broods failed miserably in that nestbox soon upon my arrival to the home.   That is how bluebirding with that fiery passion started for me.  The first of the bluebird trail of the first 14 nestboxes commenced with the planning during summer of 2007.  The boxes were built in the workshop (locally) during December and January 2007-08.  The 14 were installed February 2008.  Today, I have 42 nestboxes — many I install myself with no assistance.  I really think a total of 50 nestbox setups, all with two efficient predator guards, are not far-fetched. I have three active builders I work with throughout the state who do marvelous work and who I give credit to for allowing me to utilize their wonderful artistry and craftsmanship of creating super housing and the predator guards consisting now of 8” wide stovepipe baffles under the box and the Noel Guards on the entry holes to input successful results on my trail every year.  Thank you all for your assistance to make the Woolwine House Bluebird Trail a special place the native cavity-nesting birds enjoy rearing their families.   Many thanks also goes to the local homeowners who host the nestboxes and allow me to access the caretaking and monitoring required to make them work. The best reward for me is seeing this nesting action so close-up and being involved in seeing the young fledge into our world.

I am now a Certified Virginia Master Naturalist – received this honor in February 2014 by completing the requirements, including the volunteer hours to get certified.  Basic Training began August 2013.  This is giving me two naturalist course attendances and certifications during the last 3 years. This is coming very handy in me educating others on conservation of all of our natural resources, not just bluebirds.   I have many more things to learn as I continue on in my endeavors.   I am retired and I’m using my new time of choices to the max.  Taking care of cavity-nesting birds is just one of the many things I love in my life. There is no such thing as boredom. I have more time constraints than ever, it seems; and I’ve picked up even more hobbies, such as macro photography.  My favorite subject for macro is the wildflowers. I have three field guides in wildflowers in the Southern Appalachians.   I also want to learn more about one of the oldest creatures existing in my region – those magical salamanders.   Life is precious.  I vow to do the best I can to take care of myself first, and then do all I can to take care of others, human or critter.   For some reason, the natural calls me.  For sure, see the Virginia Master Naturalist main website to see all the great works the volunteers do — yo may want to consider training in your own State’s naturalist organization and become a Master Naturalist yourself.   http://www.virginiamasternaturalist.org/

Wishing you a beautiful season as spring is turning soon into summer. Feel free to use the Contact page to send me a private message, or reply to this blog with questions—better yet, if you want a faster response to questions, come to the Facebook page.   Best wishes to all.

~~ Christine, Owner, Manager of the Woolwine House Bluebird Trail, Southwest Virginia’s Blue Ridge Highlands ~~

My nestbox setups today.  8" wide wobblilng stovepipe baffle and the Noel Guard made from PVC coated hardware cloth.

My nestbox setups today. 8″ wide wobblilng stovepipe baffle and the Noel Guard made from PVC coated hardware cloth.

My first box.  No predator guards.  Both broods failed.

My first box. No predator guards. Both broods failed.

FINAL RESULTS – 2014 BLUEBIRD TRAIL SEASON IS COMPLETED!


WHBBT-#5-CACH - May 24-2014

Carolina Chickadee Nestlings

WHBBT-BBs Near Fledging

Eastern Bluebird Nestlings

WHBBT-#12-TRES5Nestlings-June 7-2014

Tree Swallow Nestlings

House Wren Nestlings

House Wren Nestlings

Woolwine House Bluebird Trail Final Results for 2014: 

All 36 Nesting Boxes Occupied (Written Summary Essay Forthcoming) … more details forthcoming on challenges, successes, and disappointments … what was different this year from the past years … etc.

 

Eastern Bluebirds:  38 Nest Attempts; 221 Eggs Laid; 161 Eggs Hatched; 148 Bluebirds Fledged

Carolina Chickadees:  4 Nest Attempts, 19 Eggs Laid, 16 Eggs Hatched, 16 Chickadees Fledged

Tree Swallows:  4 Nest Attempts; 18 Eggs Laid, 13 Eggs Hatched, 12 Tree Swallows Fledged

House Wrens:  8 Nest Attempts; 41 Eggs Laid, 22 Eggs Hatched, 22 House Wrens Fledged

 

House Wren Predation:  6

House Sparrow Predation:  2 (broken eggs only)

Snake Predation:  1 (6” wide wobbling baffle/unprongedNoel Guard)

Raccoon Predation:  0

Human Vandalism Predation: 0

Unknown Predation:  2

Dead Adults:  0

Missing and/or Dead Young Combined:  11

Missing and/or Destroyed Eggs Combined:  49

Unhatched Eggs Found in Nest:  31

Video

EARLY FEEDBACK OF THIS NESTING SEASON 2014


The nesting season is starting to wind down. Of 36 nesting boxes, I still have 9 occupied presently with Eastern Bluebirds finishing 2nd broods. I have not seen 3rd broods started (yet). Since they started a month later last year and again this year (due to the colder weather), I doubt I’ll see 3rds this year. I have two nestboxes finishing up on House Wrens. My nesting boxes have had these species enter and attempt to nest. Only the House Sparrow was not allowed to reproduce in the boxes: House Sparrow, House Wren, Tree Swallow, Eastern Bluebird, and Carolina Chickadee. I was hoping to see this year at least once a White-Breasted Nuthatch, Brown-Headed Nuthatch (rare in our location but they are coming closer to our area in search of their specific habitat which is the Southern pine forests), or a Carolina Wren (sometimes will nest in nestboxes). Of all 36 monitored, not one nestbox went unoccupied. I’d say that’s “success” for housing 4 native cavity-nesting species of birds this season. The work to install them for occupancy has been tweaked just right by strategizing and accessing the usages year after year–always a work in progress when you start a bluebird trail. I will report back final nesting data in late August to early September.

Image

CAROLINA CHICKADEE NEST AND EGGS IN INCUBATION


“Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

Is this not the softest bed you ever laid eyes on?  Wouldn't you love to take a nap here?  I know I would!

Is this not the softest bed you ever laid eyes on? Wouldn’t you love to take a nap here? I know I would!

Video

EASTERN BLUEBIRD WARBLE — NESTING SEASON 2014 HAS BEGUN.


My trail is finally in active nestings!   There were days of warmth, then snow.  Then very cold nights and more roosting birds without nests.  These guys know what to do.  Nesting and laying eggs is not one of them when it’s too cold out!   I think winter is over now.  Nest cups are formed and the first eggs have been laid in one of my boxes on March 31 as the date of the first egg laid.  However, the House Wren beat that, but I don’t have a date of that laid clutch, unfortunately.  Surprisingly, I’ve not witnessed ANY species competition among the nestboxes…yet, that is.  I expect to see those soon.  Fastest House Wren I’ve ever seen!

Presently, my early trail stats are as follows for the 2014 nesting season:

Eastern Bluebird (EABL):m 14 partial or completed nests thus far.

Carolina Chickadee (CACH):   1 with no eggs laid yet.

House Wren (HOWR):  1 with 5 eggs

Tree Swallow (TRES): 1 –  It’s either a TRES or EABL.  Need to go back to confirm.

 

Here is a video.  Enjoy.   Woolwine House Bluebird Trail First Eggs for 2014 Season

 

Hoping you’re getting some great action now. Enjoy your nesting birds!

 

BLUEBIRD TRAIL MONITORING — TOOLS OF THE TRAIL! WHAT’S IN MY TRAIL BAG?


Check out all the tools and "stuff" that helps me on the trail.  Can you guess what everything is for?  This is pretty typical of my 1-2 x a week monitoring tools I take to each nestbox.

Check out all the nifty tools and “stuff” that helps me on the trail. Can you guess what everything is for? This is pretty typical of my 1-2 x a week monitoring tools I take to each nestbox.  FYI, if you have a backyard nestbox, this won’t be necessary.  When I check my bluebird trail, I need everything handy in one place to save me time and effort.

I am posting this picture (above) to show you what’s inside my bluebird trail tool / tack bag — current from 2013 and for what I’ll use for 2014.   You can look at my contents, and I’ll repost in two weeks with the full list and what I use everything for.  HINT: This does NOT include what I keep in the back of my car, which is reflected in the picture below.  My trail bag is shown in the second picture–it is yellow and black and made by Stanley (top left of second photo).   I can tell you I use all items within one nesting season — March through August.   It is hard to believe all this can fit in a small bag, but it does.   If it helps you understand, it has taken several years to tweak what I need and what I don’t need.  This might be more than some would use–perhaps not enough for others.   This will vary on your own nesting boxes you monitor and how many and the problems you have to deal with.   Best to start small and add on as you get experienced.  What might be fun for you experienced monitors:  add your thoughts to this blog before I come back in two weeks.  What is missing here that you use often on monitoring your bluebird trails and why do you need that item?  Have fun with this.  I hope I spark some questions on this post!  See you in two weeks.  I will post the list of items and what I use them for.  See you soon!   Today is February 25th (2014) and I’ll be back on March 11th!

I have a rolling workshop!   This is the back of my car--the things I don't carry in my trail bag but have handy on the trail, if needed.

I have a rolling workshop! This is the back of my car–the things I don’t carry in my trail bag but have handy on the trail, if needed.

GEARING UP — BLUEBIRD NESTING SEASON FOR 2014.


Nestbox Installation on the Woolwine House Bluebird Trail - February 2014 - may be more soon!

Nestbox Installation on the Woolwine House Bluebird Trail – February 2014 – may be more soon!

Have you seen plenty of fluttering of wings on with those brilliant blue males establishing breeding territory and sitting on your existing nestboxes?   It’s that time.   Is it still just too cold for that and are you laden with snow cover and ice?  Are your boxes ready–cleaned, repaired, and ready for those new, fresh nesting materials and for the human monitoring we need to do?

I have been spending time educating others in public talks and in training others on the joys and sometimes challenges in monitoring nestboxes.  Now I need to get my own monitoring sheets ready and get my notebook updated.  I’m adding more nesting boxes this year–not too many more–I need to maintain weekly monitoring and keep those accurate records.

Thank goodness for the volunteers from the Virginia Master Naturalists, who will be getting some training in my local area to help me on my own bluebird trail and other trails in our area in Southwest VA on public lands!  I’m very grateful for such hard-working folks who volunteer their valuable time to help our natural world, whether it is birds, mammals, native plants, water monitoring so much more and whatever is needed.   I, too, am close to certification myself as a Virginia Master Naturalist by just a few more volunteer hours.   It’s a good feeling to accomplish tasks that is highly worthwhile and to keep learning!

I will do all I can to keep you up to date on the Woolwine House Bluebird Trail and also on the Facebook page, which is a very informative page for many who are active on social networking and can get updates to their News Feeds from my trail happenings.   As soon as I get my first egg, I’ll report in!   Thanks for your continued support.   All the best to you and your birds during our upcoming spring.   By all mean, let me know if I can help in any way.  I’ll do what I can to answer your questions on this site or on the Facebook page.   Happy Spring to all–whenever it gets here. We had 21 inches of snow a few weeks ago–unusual for our area–and we were snowed in for 5 days. Then it got up to 65-70 degrees for two days — the Polar Vortex has now returned!    The birds will pace themselves when they feel the time is right–the incubating female can hold egg laying until she’s comfortable doing so.  I’ve seen her lay a couple, and then delay a few days during very sudden cold snaps, and come back a few days later and lay a couple more to complete the clutch.

The photo is a recent installation I did this month (February).

BLUEBIRD BANQUET (Suet Recipe) – WINTER 2014


Of the many wonderful photo by Mr. Kinneer, this is my favorite icy scene.  Look how skilled birds are to hanging onto iced branches!   Thank you for sharing your beautiful photography on my site!

Of the many wonderful photos by Mr. Kinneer, this is my favorite icy scene. Look how skilled birds are to hanging onto iced branches!

How are your bluebirds doing?  Are you feeding them live mealworms, roasted mealworms, bluebird nuggets, or soaked raisins?   How about some shelled sunflower seeds or chips?  Easy eats!  What type of feeders do you serve your mealworms in?  Are other native birds enjoying your donations during this cold period of time?  Here is a good homemade suet recipe (crumbly mixture) specifically for the Blues:

“BLUEBIRD BANQUET” – SUET RECIPE FOR THE KITCHEN

Credit:  Audubon Workshop Online ListServe “The Bluebird Box”:

http://audubon-omaha.org/bbbox/ljrecipe.htm

MIX:

1 cup peanut butter

4 cups yellow cornmeal

1 cup unbleached or whole-wheat flour

 ADD:

1 cup fine sunflower seed chips

1 cup peanut hearts or finely ground nuts

½ to one cup currants (preferred) or soaked raisins cut in halves

 DRIZZLE AND STIR IN:

1 cup rendered melted suet

 LET COOL.

Resulting mix will be crumbly and should have bean/pea sized lumps from the drizzling of  the melted suet. If too sticky after cooling, mix in a bit more flour. If too dry, drizzle in more melted suet.  Refrigerate any mix you are not using – to prevent suet from turning rancid. I use a commercial pure bird suet cake. You can render you own suet. Grind or cube butcher store suet. Melt over low heat. Watch carefully as suet is a fat and can start on fire with too high heat. A microwave can be used. Strain out the stringy bits (cracklings). Cool. Remelt a second time for the recipe.

Nutritional Analysis of Bluebird Banquet – One Recipe

Analysis by Felicia Busch, RD

Calories 7663.1
Protein 189.2 G
Carbohydrates 683 G
Fiber 87.5 G
Fat total 487.3 G
saturated 142 G
mono 208 G
poly 114 G
Cholesterol 223 mg
A- carotene 258 RE
A- preformed 0.5 RE
A- total 259 RE
Thiamin B1 7.68 Mg
Riboflavin B2 2.9 Mg
Niacin B3 74.5 Mg
Vit B6 4.88 Mg
Vit B12 0.001 mcg
Folacin 763 mcg
Pantothenic 9.82 mcg
Vit C 4 Mg
Vit E 78 Mg
Calcium 463.8 Mg
Copper 6.68 Mg
Iron 51.43 Mg
Magnesium 1585 Mg
Phosphorus 3350 Mg
Potassium 5002 Mg
Selenium 134 mcg
Sodium 1973 Mg
Zinc 25.9 Mg

The food mix is meant to be a dietary supplement to a healthy, free ranging bird. The food is NOT sufficient to be a complete diet. It is also not meant to be a food for abandoned nestlings. The food will not harm such a bird, but would require additional protein (ground dry cat food, dog biscuits, or monkey biscuits), additional calcium (finely powdered egg shell or oyster shell), and vitamin supplement (bird vitamins from vet or pet shop). Please consult an expert (Licensed Rehabilitator) in the care of injured or abandoned nestlings. Remember, nursing or caring for young or injured wild birds requires a Federal/State permit and special training.  A healthy, free ranging bird will balance its own diet.

I like to mix dried (or roasted) mealworms with soaked cut-up raisins and "bluebird nuggets".

I like to mix dried (or roasted) mealworms with soaked cut-up raisins and “bluebird nuggets”.  I boil water and let the raisins soak for a few minutes and then really dry them well.  I find some, not all, bluebirds WILL go for this if I don’t have live mealworms available.  The other native birds like this, too.  The Carolina Wrens go crazy for this!

My strategy to keep bluebirds hanging out around the yard and by the house without ordering live mealworms so far seems to be working--by serving a mix of the suet nuggets, dried mealworms, and soaked raisins (generic brand raisins). They like this domed feeder on a shepherd's hook underneath a big pine tree. Another open platform feeder has sunflower seeds added in for the other birds to enjoy, too. Raccoons are not accessing these setups below (yet). These are seen from the house windows, so I can keep watch!

My strategy to keep bluebirds hanging out around the yard and by the house without ordering live mealworms so far seems to be working–by serving a mix of the suet nuggets, dried mealworms, and soaked raisins (generic brand raisins). They like this domed feeder on a shepherd’s hook underneath a big pine tree. Another open platform feeder has sunflower seeds added in for the other birds to enjoy, too. Raccoons are not accessing these setups below (yet). These are seen from the house windows, so I can keep watch!

 Berries are getting scarce now.  This is a great time to supplment food.  I like to keep the mealworms handy through the at least the end of April because of the cold snaps and ice storms we can get here.

Berries are getting scarce now. This is a great time to supplement food. I like to keep the LIVE mealworms handy through December through at least the end of April because of the cold snaps and ice storms we can get here.

2013 TRAIL RESULTS ARE COMPLETED. ESSAY SUMMARY FORTHCOMING.


HAPPY AUTUMN!

I’ve finalized and 3-times checked my statistics for fledging numbers for the permanent records. I’m going to write an essay and a “summary” in near future with more details; in the meantime, here are the final numbers of the Woolwine House Bluebird Trail for Year 2013. 34 monitored nestboxes. Only 1 box was not used. 5 boxes had partial nests and no eggs laid. 1 box I could not monitor due to an unforeseen circumstance. You will note a difference of # of eggs laid to # of birds fledged. Bottom line: The birds had a tough year with issues to deal with–some on their own and some with my help. Some won over the issues; some did not. My last bluebirds fledged late, on August 29, 2013.  NOTE:  A nest attempt means at least one egg is laid.  Questions?  Leave your notes here on this post and I’ll answer!

Reminder, too….lots of interesting discussions going on through the Facebook page!  If you are on Facebook, join us.  Keyword on Facebook Search:  Woolwine House Bluebird Trail or go to this main page and click on LIKE.

2013 RESULTS:

EASTERN BLUEBIRDS: 43 Nest Attempts

Eggs Laid: 192
Eggs Hatched: 146
Young Fledged: 138

CAROLINA CHICKADEES: 5 Nest Attempts

Eggs Laid: 19
Eggs Hatched: 8
Young Fledged: 8

TREE SWALLOWS: 1 Nest Attempt

Eggs Laid: 5
Eggs Hatched: 3
Young Fledged: 3

HOUSE WRENS: 2 Nest Attempts

Eggs Laid: 11
Eggs Hatched: 6
Young Fledged: 6

INVASIVE HOUSE SPARROW: 3 Nest attempts

Eggs Laid: 9
Eggs Hatched: 0 (removed nest/eggs)
Young Fledged: 0

PREDATIONS:

Snake: 3 (all at boxes with no predator guards–I plan on changing this on these private properties for 2014)
Cat: 1 (at a box with no predator guard)
House Wren: 4
One adult death is unknown predator (My studies indicate an attack outside of the nestbox)

PESTS:

Earwigs: 2
Ants: 3
Wasps: 4
Spiders: 3
Unknown Winged Insect: 1
Blowfly Larvae: 10 (some WITH and without hardware cloth risers–more on this in detail soon)

OTHER HAPPENINGS:

` Thorny overgrowth up a pole (fastest growth I’ve seen yet!)
` Hypothermia to nestlings (wet nest–OLD nestbox on private property–nestbox should be replaced)
` Fallen stovepipe baffle (and repaired using galvanized wires–will replace before February 2014)
` Messy bluebird couple not cleaning nest daily (unusual but it can happen)
` White egg clutch (this is always a pleasure!)
` Bear knocking nestbox setup flat to ground (immediately after fledging – phew!}
` Roof needing repair (thankfully, the repair was before birds started nesting)
` Utility pole nearby with fresh creosote application. This is a long story.
` House Wren attacks on eggs and nestlings (worse year ever on this problem)
` Dead nestlings (not due to weather but other issues)
` Broken eggs (by House Wrens)
` Missing Eggs (this is the time I wish I had a live cam in every nestbox)
` 2 Dead Adults, both female (from a cat and one unknown attacker which was NOT House Sparrows)
` Several Carolina Chickadee vs. Eastern Bluebird competition (ongoing for several years)

THOSE CAROLINA CHICKADEES ON THE BLUEBIRD TRAIL!


This native species is very shy and stealth and sensitive to intruders.  However, check out how one female CACH laid all her eggs in the cup and left them wide open with no “blanket” over them and the other buries them under the hair and fur blanket to hide them from potential predators.  Even this picture I took is a result of my finger very carefully pulling back the hairs so I could count the eggs.  I put the hairs back over them the way she left them after I took this photo and quickly secured and left the area of the nestbox.

No blanket of fur and hair on this nest on a clutch of 7.  Photo of this nest was taken April 21, 2013, in one nestbox.

No blanket of fur and hair on this nest on a clutch of 7. Photo of this nest was taken April 21, 2013, in one nestbox.

This female CACH is very careful to cover her eggs.  There was more fur over them than you see in this photo.

This female CACH is very careful to cover her eggs. There was more fur over them than you see in this photo.  This is from another nestbox taken April 26, 2013.  When I opened the box, I could barely see the eggs.  

CAROLINA CHICKADEE NEST READY FOR EGGS.


Photo taken April 16, 2013.

Photo taken April 16, 2013.

The Carolina Chickadee (CACH) loves nestboxes! That is the species of chickadee we have here. They only have one brood per year–many times they win over a nestbox with the bluebirds. But you see, that is A-OK….all native species are welcome. Manmade nestboxes; that is, those that are monitored and cared for, are prime real estate for the cavity-nesting birds!  Chickadees seem to struggle to survive.  Ornithologist are still studying why their numbers seem to be declining.  In some areas, they are thinking West Nile Virus is the culprit.  Loss of habitat, predators, and other reasons has been known–just like bluebirds. I’m waiting for the chickadee eggs to be laid.  The cup is in the upper right corner of this photo.  The chickadee can build a nest quickly but seem to take more time to get to the egg laying cycle.  Just look at all those plant and animal fibers!  Mosses, grasses, small dried leaves…so many interesting articles in the nest.

WINTERIZING NESTBOXES


Winterizing Material 2

I will be out on my trail next week to winterize all the boxes so that the bluebirds and other cavity nesters can roost in the boxes. 

What is winterizing?

The ventilation areas of each box will be plugged to keep cold drafts and rain and snow out of the boxes while the birds keep warm in them.  The only sections NOT plugged will be the drainage holes in the box floors and the entry holes, of course!

Winterizing Material for NestboxesWinterizing Material 1

See  a series of pictures below of winterized boxes on my trail.  You’ll see how the materials help keep the boxes warm!

Also next week, two of my boxes will be moved to new locations.   My criteria for changing is the current box locations were not used by cavity nesters this past season.  It’s good to tweak the trail each year for best use of all nestboxes available for the birds! BBIce-AllRightsResered-DaveKinneer-UsedWithPermission-CBoran2009The Virginia Bluebird Society’s  website  helped me when I went to Lowe’s Home Improvement to get the supplies…  cost was $14 for everything and all the materials can be recycled again for the next winter season! CLICK ON LINK below:  

http://www.virginiabluebirds.org/about-bluebirds/winterizing-nest-boxes/

Tack Box and Tools for Winterizing:  Foam-tubing weatherstripping, foam air-conditioning strips, old and newly fallen pine needles, gloves, and scissors.

Tack Box and Tools for Winterizing: Foam-tubing weatherstripping, foam air-conditioning strips, old and newly fallen pine needles, gloves, and scissors.

Photo of foam in front-opening box in ventilation.

Pine needles, gloves, ventilation plugging materials.

Bucket of local pine needles, gloves, ventilation plugging materials, cordless drill, galvanized wire.

Repair your nesting boxes between September and January!

Repair your nesting boxes between September and January!

About an inch of grasses or pine needles for the floor should be placed.

Photo of foam tubing on narrower ventilation areas (top of box).

Photo of foam tubing on narrower ventilation areas (top of box).

I run across this during winterizing....mud dauber wasp nests.  There are pupae inside these mud tunnels.  Remove with scraper.

I run across this during winterizing….mud dauber wasp nests. There are pupae inside these mud tunnels. Remove with scraper.  The nests are built in the late summer and early fall for larvae to “overwinter” and hatch in spring.   Destroy mud nests and larvae (I just crush in the ground thoroughly with my boots!)