“THE TRAIL MONITORS” – A Poem by “Bluebird Bob”


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

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

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THE TRAIL MONITORS

A Poem by “Bluebird Bob” Walshaw

 Out they go, rain or shine, Checking on their Bluebird line. Helping out those birds of blue,  Walking in the grassy dew.

Opening nestboxes one by one, Reveling in the morning sun. Finding nests and eggs so blue, Spring’s promise coming true.

Another nest with little ones, Waiting for the parents to come From east, west, north or south, With insects for each open mouth.

One more nest -oh so sad! A roving Black Snake has been bad. Predator guards work in many ways But nature can have a different say.

Another nest with babies strong, Showing that it won’t be long Before their growing wings they’ll try And out into the world they’ll fly.

They continue to check nest after nest, Enjoying successes and fighting pests. Enemies with beak and claw, Sharing the Bluebird’s luck of the draw.

But they know from day to day That all their efforts lead the way  To bringing the Bluebirds safe and strong Back where all can hear their songs.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Video

ASSERTIVE BLUEBIRD EVICTS CHICKADEE. FUN VIDEO.


I found this enlightening….bluebirds will hold their own and protect their territory. The bluebird nest was started, so they were first. Upon returning, it was discovered this chickadee appeared “interested” in this box. See what happens. Who says bluebirds are ALWAYS kind and gentle creatures? Well, OK, usually they are. Enjoy seeing what competitors do to keep prime real estate–our manmade nesting boxes, of course! Humorous and educational material here. Good job on the video making, I say.

TREE SWALLOWS HATCHING!


All of these lovely feathers--such a cozy place to come out of the environment of a shell to this softness and caring of the tree swallow parents.  So tiny--so in need of care and protection of a nest.

All of these lovely feathers–such a cozy place to come out of the environment of a shell to this softness and caring of the tree swallow parents. Son tiny–so in need of care and protection of a nest.

Here is my first Tree Swallows on the trail–hatching started June 10, 2013. I’ve waited a long time to have this species nest on my trail. I hope they do well.

FEMALE INCUBATING GUARDS HER CLUTCH.


I always give the nesting birds warning when I approach–I speak softly or whistle my favorite Snow White tune, even tap lightly before opening.  When I open, like I did at this box, and she does not fly off the nest, I will NEVER force-flush her off just so I can count the eggs!   Look at her expression–determined and brave girl!  She is doing what comes naturally to her–even put her own life on the line (such as a predator attack which can end in tragedy) to protect her clutch.  Who am I to tell she has to leave?  I will close the box and leave her be to do her motherly care as she incubates her eggs.  I will try again next box visit.  Afternoons are good during incubation periods–she is more apt to leave the nest to take a break and find something to eat.

Periodically, I like to post these to show how steadfast incubating females are on their clutch. If she doesn't fly off during monitorings, best to leave her alone and come back another day.

Periodically, I like to post these to show how steadfast incubating females are on their clutch. If she doesn’t fly off during monitorings, best to leave her alone and come back another day.

 

PAINTING POLES AND BAFFLES, DEALING WITH WEEDY GROWTH, AND FLEDGING BABY BIRDS.


I really like this setup--and so do the nesting birds.  This is an Eastern Bluebird nest in progress.  Wahoo!

I really like this setup–and so do the nesting birds. This is an Eastern Bluebird nest in progress. Wahoo!

 Like my paint job?  Once the weedy growth was mowed farther away from this setup, the bluebirds returned--a very successful nestbox again for 2013.

Once the weedy growth was mowed farther away from this setup, the bluebirds returned–a very successful nestbox again for 2013.  LIke my paint job?  Would you believe I painted the conduit and the stovepipe AFTER this nestbox was already installed?  How?  Very carefully, when birds were not using it, and taping small pieces of newspaper all over the nestbox, that’s how!  See this post on materials used, including the primer info.   Yes, I primed the galvanized stovepipe, and then spray painted.   I’m pretty happy with the results so far.

This second photo here was taken late summer (August) 2012.  That tall weedy growth grew suddenly (fast spreading in the South) in 2012 was a problem being too close to the nestbox that was installed in 2009.  This nestbox is usually very successful–consistent 2-3 broods until the weeds grew up around it.  The bluebirds did not like it and did NOT nest in it during the 2012 season–AT ALL!  It was tough stuff to deal with, let alone getting chiggers and ticks on me. This year, it’s being mowed down in a wider swatch around this nestbox–not all of it but a large circle around it is being cleared, thanks to my neighbor, Carl, using a weedwacker and also me using a hand-grass and weed cutter (I had to cover myself up in long sleeves and pants and camp hat and put some bug deterrent on my face and neck).  Getting chigger bites and ticks is not fun.   I don’t find this nestbox with two predator guards unsightly at all.   The Noel Guard seems to disappear in this photo.  What is most beautiful to me, however, is successfully fledging native baby birds–a big YES to bluebirds (as you can see in the first photo! Do you like my spray paint job on the pole and galvanized stovepipe baffle? I used Rust-Oleum Ultra Cover 2X Primer and 2 X Semi-Gloss spray paint: http://www.thepaintstore.com/ULTRA_COVER_2X_s/273.htm

In these photos, one Noel Guard is unpainted galvanized 1/2″ hardware cloth (looks grey) and the other is vinyl-coated green 1/2″ hardware cloth.  I like the vinyl-coated best.  Please also note I am experimenting with different designs of stovepipe baffles — the Ron Kingston (most effective (!) using hardware cloth inside the stovepipe and an 8″ width), and the less wide 6″ stovepipe baffle with a duct cap at the top.  I’m keeping notes as I see effectiveness for both designs.   I’m also trying the 7″ width on my trail.  Nonetheless, please USE something to deter ground predators.   Raccoons and Black Rat Snakes, even mice, can climb smooth conduits and even PVC slipped over conduits.   If you grease them, whatever the grease you use, becomes ineffective in time, so you have to keep that up.  I cannot keep that up with 34 nesting sites.  I do NOT grease any of these stovepipe designs.  I will check back at the end of the nesting season to report my findings if any predators got past any of the designs.  It can happen, yes…..they are not 100 percent foolproof…….but 99 percent isn’t too shabby of a record!

All bird species using the nesting boxes on my trail do not mind entering the nesting boxes and actually like the Noel Guard–this is what makes me the happiest (and gives me peace of mind using the guards).  I know the extra effort is helping them, but I don’t want to take the time to install nesting sites like this and monitor weekly and find failure–that’s wasted effort, in my humble opinion.  When I visit the boxes, I want to put in my notebook “FLEDGED” and then send on those records to the Virginia Bluebird Society, the North American Bluebird Society (gets the data from the affiliate bluebird clubs from each state), and Cornell’s NestWatch, which I participate, as well.  I’m pretty busy these days.   I need to be sure I get my rest.

Happy (and safe) Bluebirding!

Video

VIDEO: TESTING THE NOEL GUARD TO KEEP OUT RACCOONS.


We have completed first broods–I have had five species of cavity-nesting birds use my nesting boxes on the trail! Second nestings have started, some egg clutches laid.

I am sharing this fun video of the Noel Guard efficiency, in particular, in deterring raccoons from getting inside nest boxes and taking out eggs and nestlings. I just posted this to my Facebook page and want to share it on my website/blog. Raccoons are in rural areas and suburbs and can get inside back yards that are fenced. This is an excellent, humorous look at how crafty the raccoon is to getting inside nestboxes pulling out eggs and nestlings for a “midnight snack”. I keep this Noel Guard (made from sturdy 1/2 inch hardware cloth–note the length) on all of my nestboxes except my two-hole mansion (which is deeper). This guard also keeps out roaming housecats, feral cats, and large avian predators. I get all bird species inside nestboxes, including roosting birds in the winter, so I know they do NOT deter the birds. What surprised me on this was at the end showing the bluebirds figuring out the extra “obstacle course” that was installed inside the Noel Guard. Bluebirds are just as smart and just as agile as raccoons. Since my nesting boxes have two predator guards, I can attest I have 99 percent success on my bluebird trail from most predators. I do not care one bit that some people do not find them “pretty”. The bluebirds like them, and that is good enough for me. Also note that the Noel Guard does not keep out House Sparrows (also a predator) or House Wrens (a harasser bird to other cavity-nesting birds’ eggs and young). I am dealing with House Sparrows and House Wrens, however, so I’m not problem-free, for sure. Tip: When installing this guard, be sure it’s installed using washers and screws–raccoons are strong creatures. Staples are not strong enough. Fun 9 minute video–truly hope you enjoy it to some bluegrass music. Sharing from the Virginia Bluebird Society’s FB page (thanks for posting!). As far as I am concerned, I’m in enjoying cavity-nesters and in a conservation effort for species like the bluebirds and even chickadees that have only one brood per year. I feel by providing a safe nesting site for them using predator guards, they can succeed in a more stress-reduced place to raise and fledge their families.

Please share it with your other birding friends! How to make and install this guard? See VBS website for the PDF printable plan: http://www.virginiabluebirds.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/BB_Guards_12-11-2012.pdf

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.  

HOW ‘BOUT THIS? A CLUTCH OF SIX WHITE BLUEBIRD EGGS!


EGG-CITE FOR WHITE!

WHITE BLUEBIRD EGGS? It happens. Approximately 5% laying female bluebirds are missing the pigment gene to color the eggs blue as they pass through her oviduct. The eggs are just as fertile, generally, as the blue ones.  Note the slightly pinkish hue.  I’ve seen them before actually pure white.  When I first saw those feathers, I thought Tree Swallows.  But no, they are bluebirds.  There are not enough of the right feathers for TRES and I saw the pair in the tree above me anyway.   To read up more about white bluebird eggs, here is a great page for that: http://www.sialis.org/whiteeggs.htm

White Bluebird Eggs

NESTCAMS AND BLUEBIRDS IN SCHOOLS–PROVIDED BY THE VIRGINIA BLUEBIRD SOCIETY.


Grant money helps pay for these live video nestcam boxes to be installed for educational purposes in Virginia schools — thanks to the Virginia Bluebird Society.  Here is one I have worked with recently in getting installed at a local school.  To be continued…..this is really fun!   It will run nonstop for the whole school to enjoy!  Is that not the coolest thing to have a live nature cam at school?  All native cavity-nesters are welcome!  Wish I was a kid there.

Want to learn more about the grant program with VBS?  Click here:  http://www.virginiabluebirds.org/about-vbs/grant-programs/

Lots of thought went into making these!

Lots of thought went into making these!

Everything loaded in my car.

Everything loaded in my car.  Note the predator guards–a must.

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.

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MY PLACE!


My Place!

This Mrs. Bluebird says a big “Hiya! Do you see me?” along the bluebird trail. She’s liking her nesting digs and seems to appreciate getting some attention here. No fear at all, can you tell? This weathered box is about 15, possibly 20 years old. Painted white and looking rather pretty weathered, actually. Fledging young successfully will be priority this season. I will report my findings to the owners–adjustments will be made, if necessary.

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HEY, I’M INCUBATING!


HEY, I'M INCUBATING!

This pretty lady says “No way am I budging!” …. brave one she is. I took the photo and decided to count the eggs in this clutch on another day. I will not force her from her important Mom duties. When I left the box, I thanked her for her patience with me. This was taken on Friday, April 12, 2013, in a top-opening nestbox.

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FINALLY HERE…THE FIRST EGGS FOR NESTING SEASON 2013.


THE FIRST EGGS FOR NESTING SEASON 2013 HAVE ARRIVED!

First egg laid April 5, 2013. Compared to last year, the first egg laid on the trail was March 8, 2012! The birds waited for the weather to improve–much colder this spring. I can wait–no rushing these pretty blues.

STILL HAVE SNOW AND COLD? GET SOME MEALWORMS.


Get some live mealworms–great fact sheet about them:  http://www.nabluebirdsociety.org/PDF/FAQ/NABS%20factsheet%20-%20Mealworms%20-%2024May12%20DRAFT.pdf

Many thanks to NABS (the North American Bluebird Society) for putting together these great Fact Sheets. Want more fact sheets about other topics relating to bluebirds? Well, you’ve got them!

Get them here:  http://www.nabluebirdsociety.org/Fact/bluebirdfacts.htm

Great photo of bluebirds at their designated mealworm cups taken by photographer, Mr. David Kinneer. 

"Hi, honey pie!   It sure is cold!   I can't find any more berries to eat, can you?  Aren't ya glad we have these yummy mealworms?"

“Hi, honey pie! It sure is cold! I can’t find any more berries to eat, can you? Aren’t ya glad we have these yummy mealworms?”

WHAT’s IN MY BAG?


Coming soon…..”what’s in my bag?” upcoming post….photos and explanations of what I carry with me when I monitor the bluebird trail.  A work in progress–there will be three parts to this series on this topic:

~ Part 1 (first post) is the bag I use and what’s in the bag and why I carry the items on every nestbox check.

~ Part 2 (second post a few days later) will be what I keep in the car on most nestbox visits (but not always carried to each box when monitoring them).

~ and Part 3 (third and probably the last post in the series ) will be the extra stuff to keep on hand, if needed — what I found helpful to have around for different circumstances…and why.

Every monitor has tools they like the best–for different reasons.  Not everyone will be the same.  Some tools might be what every monitor will always have.  This will be mine–am happy to share with you what I like to use.  I started monitoring nestboxes in 2006 and 2007.  The Woolwine House Bluebird Trail started February 2008.  As the monitor and caretaker of this trail and after all these years and experiences, I’ve tweaked my bag.  Stay tuned!  Here is a sneak preview–the bag I’ve used thus far that really works for me!  It’s new–just purchased it this winter.  Bottom line:  use what works for you!  The point is:  MONITOR your nestboxes.  Use the tools to make it work for you.  The native cavity-nesting birds need you to do so to help them succeed in case there are problems with the manmade nestbox you put up for them.    Do you need more info on monitoring?  Here is a great place to start (North American Bluebird Society Fact Sheet on Monitoring) — PDF file is downloadable and printable!  http://www.nabluebirdsociety.org/PDF/FAQ/NABS%20factsheet%20-%20Monitoring%20-%2024May12%20DRAFT.pdf

This Stanley-brand bag is perfect for me to carry what I need!   Not expensive!  It's about the size of a ladies handbag.

This Stanley-brand bag is perfect for me to carry what I need! Not expensive! It’s about the size of a ladies handbag.

Quote

Spring is nature’s way of saying, “Let’s party!” ~ Robin Williams

That party started on the bluebird trail a week ago with 4 of the 33 nestboxes getting some of those wonderful bluebirds building nests.  However, the creation of those nests have stopped (at least in one of the 4 boxes per a check yesterday) due to the spring party being postponed a tad.  We’re getting sleet, snow, and ice.  Heavy flakes floating here and there and sticking.  Indeed, it’s is very pretty.  The bluebirds and other nesters are saying, “we need to go back to roosting mode.  I’m not raising my kids in this cold weather!” 

…. and so we humans will wait until they are ready.   What the birds decide is A-OK with me!  

 

Spring is natur…

HERE COME THE NESTINGS!


March 19 – 2013:   Nestbox checks searching for new nestings has official commenced for 2013 season.  I visited all boxes on the trail.  Out of the 33 nestboxes I am care-taking, four (4) had new bluebird nests started.  I am thinking they are one or two days into building time.  You know, when Mr. Blue does good husbandry and helps find nest materials and drops them inside the box, it is faster for her.  I am waiting to see tree swallows and chickadees (really hoping for those swallows this year).   I am expecting some house wrens in another location.  Here are two new photos.  The first is the one nestbox that has the most materials–grasses being dropped and arranged by Mrs. Blue in that circular design.   The other photo is the latest addition to my trail–the last nestbox (#33).  You will note the 8″ width, spray-painted stovepipe wobbling snake/ground critter guard on the conduit and the extra predator guard (original called the Jim Noel Coon Guard) made of hardware cloth over the entry hole.   So, here we go, folks!   Wishing everyone a blessed bluebird year!  “May All Your Blues Be Birds” !  by B. Zimmerman

#18 - This box had the most amount of materials of the 4 that had nests started.  This is much later than last year.  I'm sure the colder weather is making a difference when these birds decide to start the raise-the-family thing they do!

#18 – This box had the most amount of materials of the 4 that had nests started. This is much later than last year. I’m sure the colder weather is making a difference when these birds decide to start the raise-the-family thing they do!

Nestbox#33-A

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IS THIS A PERCH? ABOUT THOSE FUNNY-LOOKING NOEL GUARDS…


It is recommend not to install perches on nestboxes for bluebirds.  You’ve seen them–the small cylinder pieces of wood added right underneath a birdhouse’s entry hole.   They are not really necessary, and the bad news about them is perches can serve the predators by allowing some extra leverage for them to sit by the entry hole and pull out eggs and baby birds!  Even wrens and chickadees and most cavity nesters don’t need perches.   Take a look at these two photos I took of this male Eastern Bluebird sitting and investigating this nestbox at — and on — this Noel Guard (made from hardware cloth).  Question:  is this a perch?   The answer is:  No….it’s a porch!   Do the bluebirds mind  these guards?   Not only do they like “mind” them — they like them!   I’ve had nothing but great results using them.   Same answer for the other cavity-nesting birds using bluebird nestboxes.  They have no issues with these guards.  This “cat and raccoon” guard (originally designed by a gentleman by the name of Jim Noel) are also guards to ward off some avian predators, as well — starlings, hawks, owls, jays, etc.  I’ve used the vinyl-coated hardware cloth–like the coated better than the plain galvanized hardware cloth — smoother for the birds’ feet and feathers and easier on human hands during the building process.  What you see in this picture is plain galvanized.  Once you’ve lost bluebird babies and adults to predators inside your backyard bluebird nestbox or on your bluebird trail, you will realize how this guard adds added safety and success to the occupants raising their young until they fledge from the box and into the world.

See how to make them herehttp://www.virginiabluebirds.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/BB_Guards_12-11-2012.pdf

This male says "howdy do to you!"

This male says “howdy do to you!”

"Hmmm, wonder if my gal will like these digs?"

“Hmmm, wonder if my gal will like these digs?”

Video

UPDATE ON A PROBLEM NESTBOX.


The link below will connect you to a video of a nestbox on my bluebird trail that had a “critter” nest in it — turned out not be a mouse nest but a squirrel (could get in by using overhanging branches as a bridge).  Once a rodent-type mammal occupies a nestbox, the inside of the box has to be thoroughly scraped and “sanitized” using a bleach-water solution, rinsed again, and allowed to dry.  Birds will not use a nestbox that has been soiled by rodents.   Additionally, I had to move this once successful box to a new location.  Too much brushy plants from scrub trees and morning glory kept growing up near and around the pole and through the stovepipe baffle and into the nestbox!  It was too difficult to maintain it–too much energy to keep cutting back the overgrowth.  The first three years, this installation would have 2-3 broods of bluebirds.  The last three years had none.  It was time to make a change–the bluebirds did not like the brushy surroundings in spite of it being near an open field.   This is why we trail managers have to make periodic changes to the nestbox locations.  One time, a great location was lost due to construction of a parking lot.  That was a disappointment for me as that box was highly successful.    The good news is in a rural area like where I live, it’s fairly easy to find new places to install moved nestboxes; ther e are many wonderful property owners who support my efforts!  I am willing to work with the people and the birds to keep everyone happy — including myself, in there, last but not least, of course!

Video link –click below:

http://youtu.be/LF32BGvqpk8

Here is photo of the same nestbox below (moved from that location):

This is one year after installation.  Not too much brush is behind it when it was installed, as you can see.   I experimented with an artificial nestcup for a couple of years.

This is one year after installation. Not too much brush is behind it when it was installed, as you can see. I experimented with an artificial nestcup for a couple of years.

“BLUEBIRD” – A POEM BY JOHN BURROUGHS


BLUEBIRD – by Naturalist John Burroughs (1827-1921)

Copyright - Photo by David Kinneer

A wistful note from out the sky,
‘Pure, pure, pure,’ in plaintive tone,
As if the wand’rer were alone,
And hardly knew to sing or cry.

But now a flash of eager wing,
Flitting, twinkling by the wall,
And pleadings sweet and am’rous call,-
Ah, now I know his heart doth sing!

O bluebird, welcome back again,
Thy azure coat and ruddy vest
Are hues that April loveth best,-
Warm skies above the furrowed plain.

The farm boy hears thy tender voice,
And visions come of crystal days,
With sugar-camps in maple ways,
And scenes that make his heart rejoice.

The lucid smoke drifts on the breeze,
The steaming pans are mantling white,
And thy blue wing’s a joyous sight,
Among the brown and leafless trees.

Now loosened currents glance and run,
And buckets shine on sturdy boles,
The forest folk peep from their holes,
And work is play from sun to sun.

The downy beats his sounding limb,
The nuthatch pipes his nasal call,
And Robin perched on tree-top tall
Heavenward lifts his evening hymn.

Now go and bring thy homesick bride,
Persuade her here is just the place
To build a home and found a race
In Downy’s cell, my lodge beside.

RECENT ICE STORMS – NESTBOXES ARE SHELTERS.


The ice pretty much covered everything, including the stovepipe baffle and the Noel guard.

The ice pretty much covered everything, including the stovepipe baffle and the Noel guard.

One of the joys of being a County Coordinator for the Virginia Bluebird Society or any bluebird conservation group is getting nestbox monitors in your area to send you photos! Here are two recent photos sent to me after the Christmas 2012 ice storm in Floyd County, Virginia. As I studied the pictures, I could see several bluebirds sitting on and inside the iced branches of the pretty pine tree next to the nestbox. Upon reading her notes, I am thinking several of the bluebirds piled inside that nestbox during the storm for shelter and to use their bodies huddled close together to keep warm. I need to write to her and ask her to look inside this box and tell me what she finds. Since bluebirds eat mostly fruits in the winter (what fruit is still available at this time of year!), what is left behind inside a nestbox they roost in can help a person see what they are eating–generally bluebirds leave small seeds–not a huge mess at all. I think she told me last year that she puts out roasted mealworms. It really helps the birds during very cold and harsh weather like this to feed them. I put out “bluebird nuggets”, a softer, smaller suet mix made in the size of peas, rich in protein, fat, and fruit — made especially for bluebirds, but most birds will enjoy the nuggets. I mix those with the roasted mealworms and soaked cut-up raisins, which softens them up and is easier for them to eat. I will be ordering live mealworms shortly. I am sharing the two photos the monitor, Karen, sent me. I took the photo of the iced nestbox (you see to the right) and cropped it so you can see it closer. Thanks, Karen, for sharing! It’s tough being a bluebird. Thanks to those keeping your nestboxes up during the winter — it provides shelter to roosting birds during bad (and very cold) weather! I also included a photo I took of the mix I put out, specifically made for bluebirds. This photo does not include live mealworms, which I will be ordering shortly. Presently as of today’s date, we are in a major frigid snap. VERY COLD for birds. Really, it’s tough being a bird in the winter.  Happy bluebirding!!

Karen's words:  "I have seen the BBs going in and out of the nestbox and sitting on top of the nestbox, too.  I took the picture from inside the house, since it was very icy, so I am glad they turned out as good as they did."

Karen’s words: “I have seen the bluebirds  going in and out of the nestbox and sitting on top of the nestbox, too.  I took the picture from inside the house, since it was very icy, so I am glad they turned out as good as they did.”  Be sure to see the other photo Karen sent below.

It's tough being a bluebird!

It’s tough being a bluebird!  How many can you count in this tree?

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!  By the way, these suet nuggets are not specifically labeled for “bluebirds”.  The nuggets below are.  Their content is slightly different.  The nuggets below have more fat in them and added protein and fruit.  I like those the best.

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

ABOUT THOSE LIVE MEALWORMS: 

Good places to order live mealworms:  …. or raise your own!  It’s much cheaper to raise them.  There are more good places to order online.  These give you a 10% discount if you are a North American Bluebird Society (NABS) member.   You might have places in your location that will sell them cheaper (locally grown).  Do some research about it.   Live Mealworms are the bluebirds favorite of all.

The Nature’s Way:   http://www.thenaturesway.com/

Grubco:   http://www.grubco.com/

I have also ordered from Fluker Farms (without the NABS discount):  http://www.flukerfarms.com/

A FRESH, NEW WEBSITE LOOK.


This website commenced while I was teleworking to my Northern Virginia position from my relatively new home in Southwest Virginia. My first official post on this website/blog was dated May 25, 2007! That was quite a while ago! The story of that first post consisted of me looking out my office window and seeing bluebirds and what a distraction it was that afternoon from getting any work done!

I thought it was time to change the look of this site. I hope you like it. I spent some hours looking at different designs. I wanted a crisp, clean feel, easy to read and follow, and easy for the readers to maneuver around it. I decided I didn’t want too much fancy and fluff because, really, it’s the birds I want to highlight, not my website design choice. I am particularly fond of being able to customize the backgrounds to the pages as well as the usual changes to the main header photo. It is also now “mobile friendly”. I’m going to have fun with the new feel. Do leave a note here on this post if you have any suggestions. And while you’re at it, let me know if there is something in particular you are thinking about bluebirds you would like to know more about and see discussed here. I’m here to assist the best I can. I love talking about the bluebirds, as you probably already figured out.

Before we know it, those males will be out and about checking out nestboxes!

JANUARY — OK, TIME TO PREPARE FOR A NEW BLUEBIRD YEAR.


Whoa, is it January 10th?  This is going to be a bluebird afternoon! 

Happy New Bluebird Year!  I’m working on my next presentation to be shared with a local Ruritan Club and re-installing a repaired nestbox.   My expanded trail–33 nextboxes–must be checked this month to be sure they are ready by February 1.   Mixed flocks of bluebirds start to separate and the males establish breeding territory.  In February–varies on the date every year–I enjoy anticipating the watching of that first male entering in and out of the manmade cavity and showing his lady love some new, cool digs and watching her accept it–then those first nesting materials to be dropped inside, which I watch for and date in my notebook–mostly the female does but he helps!   Will they be grasses, pine needles, or both?   That varies on the female and the habitat.   Usually it is one or the other — either all grass or all pine needles, but I’ve seen some mixed together.  Generally, if the pine needles are available, it appears that is the favorite material to be used.

This was taken with my smartphone's camera.  I was not expecting completed nests or eggs that week, so I was checking the trail unprepared--no camera on me.  I have learned...ALWAYS bring the camera on trail checks.

This was taken with my smartphone’s camera. I was not expecting completed nests or eggs that week, so I was checking the trail unprepared–no camera on me. I have learned…ALWAYS bring the camera on trail checks!

Last year was the record-breaker for me since I started watching and monitoring my Eastern Bluebirds in 2006.  Last year, the first nest-building commenced on (or even before) March 1st; that nest was completed and had its first egg laid by March 8!  That was the day I actually started checking all the boxes for activity on the trail for the season.   That was a pleasant surprise–I still remember it well.  This year,I will start checking them for action much earlier.  Since we’ve had a fairly mild winter so far, this “early-bird-catches-the-worm” bluebird attitude and activity could very well repeat itself!

I’m excited about my expanded bluebird trail.  Yes, more work; yes!, more records to keep.  It’s still a joy to do it and even cooler for me personally to have more records to compare notes.  Here is a photo (below) I took September 2012 of some new installations ready to be loaded in the car–I like September to do this as shade is still coming forth from those trees — I install all (or most) new nestbox setups in afternoon shade as much as possible in the habitat that I think will work the best.

Have any questions?   Join us on the Woolwine House Bluebird Trail on Facebook!   …. it is a great place to have a discussion with others or ask your questions for quicker responses.     Happy bluebirding!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

MY “SOAPING” METHOD: NEW NESTBOX CEILINGS IN AUTUMN (NOT JUST IN SPRING).


The summer is over and the autumn prep continues on the bluebird trail.  I don’t just soap the ceilings in early spring to deter wasps; I also soap any new nestboxes fresh out of the workshop and installed in late summer through autumn before winter sets in.  Here is why.  In my location, we can still have warm days in late October into November.   One autumn day few years ago, I found this mud dauber wasp species(see photo below) and some spiders building nests in corners of the nestboxes by the ceiling.   This happened after the nesting season was completed and no more birds were using the nestboxes.  Unoccupied nestboxes can get re-occupied fast by other species.  After all, it’s a “house”.  It has a roof.  Fresh wood is attractive to insects to overwinter (like the mud dauber wasp does) and for spiders’ cottony webs, an easy stick to untreated wood.   My method of soaping comes from my days as a kid remembering how goopy soap bars can get in soap dishes, even with just a little water that collects in the bottom of the dish.   So I create a soap (think paste) mixture using gentle Ivory soap.  I put two small bars of the Ivory brand bars in a plastic Ziploc container (not a Ziploc bag) that has a screw-top which is leakproof and add a little water.  I use a pastry brush to create the perfect thin soap paste to then “paint” on the inside walls and ceilings of nestboxes (I do this in spring for all nestboxes and fall for new nestboxes).   This deters insects from adhering their nests to the wood.   When I soap, I also soap the outside  sections underneath the nestbox floors.  This is particularly helpful in the summer.  I’ve had carpenter bees try to bore holes on the undersides of the nestboxes.  The photos below show my method.    I find this way so much easier and less hassle than taking bar of Ivory soap and attempting to rub it on the ceiling with my hand–it’s awkward.  It does not cover well and it’s difficult to get in those corners by the ceiling.  By the way, I should mention if boxes are soaped in the spring, I need not add another thin soap layer UNLESS it’s problematic and has recurring wasp problems.  I’ve found I can paint a thin layer on or around March 1 (maybe earlier in warmer weather), and most nextboxes are good to go through the full nesting season.  I don’t have to reapply any soap again (such as between each nesting).   The goal is to have as many nestings in a nestbox in a season.  Once wasps, hornets, and bees use a nestbox, the birds will not.  Some incubating females have been known to abandon a nest with a clutch of eggs.   My philosophy is DETER the problems; thus I soap all my nestboxes in the spring–hopefully just one application is needed.

Other for preparing the nestboxes for roosting birds for those cold winter nights,  my tasks for the nestboxes will be completed until next February, anticipating yet another nesting season in Southwest Virginia on the Woolwine House Bluebird Trail — now at 30 monitored and maintained nestboxes with the trail expansion recently completed.  I might increase it to 33!

This is what I found one October day a few years ago before attempting to “winterize” the nestbox. Inside the mud tunnels (look like organ pipes) are the mud dauber wasp species larvae. The larvae overwinter in the mud tunnels (one larva per tunnel) and free themselves from the tunnels in the spring. When I find these, they are easily removed with a metal paint scraper.

Two bars of Ivory and some water and a pastry brush.   That’s it.  This setup goes in a plastic bag and is taken with me on all nestbox visits.  I keep it in the car in case I need to reapply a problematic nextbox.

 …soaping under the eaves, inside the upper sides of the walls, and all of the ceiling. You can see a thin layer of Ivory soap has been “painted” on the one wall (it’s shiny).  NOT TOO THICK!  Once soaped, make sure it is dried before birds enter the box. It does not take long to dry.  I only do this in unoccupied boxes.  The trick is to have a fairly slick surface with a THIN layer of of the soap film that won’t get on the birds’ feathers when they flap their wings inside the nestbox.  It takes a bit of practice.  I also soap the eaves as I’ve seen insects like spiders build webs in there over the Noel hardware cloth guard but under the roof.  Spider webs are easily removed, actually.   I find using a small stick I find nearby on the ground is a good method to remove spider webs and other cottony insect nests–the web material sticks to this natural tool–easy to throw back on the ground right then and there. Wearing gloves, like garden gloves, is a precaution as I may not know what species of insect it is.  It’s how I do things–better to be safe than sorry.  I doubt any mud dauber wasp can build in this nestbox now!

I soap here on the underside of the OUTSIDE section of the nestbox. This is a good deterent of female carpenter bees boring holes or hornets attempting to attach their gray, cylinder-shaped paper nests here.  I do this section usually just in the spring.  Also, this picture is a good example of good drainage of the nestbox–in the corner sections.  The wood I’m soaping here is western red cedar–the roughcut side.  I keep the insides of the nestbox smooth and put the roughcut sides out.

HERE THEY ARE — THE 2012 TRAIL RESULTS ARE IN!


WHAT A SEASON!  – WOOLWINE HOUSE BLUEBIRD TRAIL — WOO-HOO FOR BLUE!

The TRAIL FINAL RESULTS FOR 2012 – SEPTEMBER 4, 2012

These Eastern Bluebird youngsters are enjoying Mr. Kinneer’s garden decoration!

At this time of year, adult bluebirds start their annual “molt”, and the fledglings become juveniles and molt their spotted “camouflage” feathers to their adult feathers. This male adult is molting, as you can see — what a great picture! We know how brilliant he will look this winter–even more beautiful in the late winter and early spring as he seeks his lady-love for a new nesting season!

Here is final data, interesting observations, and highlights for 2012 nesting season on the WHBBT.  Only two species nested and laid eggs and fledged young: 

Eastern Bluebirds:  30 nest attempts, 128 eggs laid, 100 eggs hatched, 87 fledged.  13 nestling deaths, 19 unhatched and retrieved eggs, 9 missing/destroyed eggs.

Carolina Chickadees: 3 nest attempts, 15 eggs laid, 15 hatched, 14 fledged.  1 nestling death.

Results of Predation, Deaths of Nestlings, and Missing/Destroyed Eggs:  1 snake, several house wren attacks, chickadee nest takeovers,  a 3-night freeze snap early in season, and 2 predations are “unknown” reasons:  possibly flying squirrel, snake, starvation/abandonment (death of one or both parent bluebirds), or death due to excessive heat, or house wren—I could not determine cause in two cases.  Chickadees also took over 2 bluebird nest attempts in early season—they destroyed bluebird eggs and nested over those bluebird nests (eviction).

Eggs Missing/Disappeared inside nests: 9 eggs unfound or unaccounted

Unusual Observations/Results on the trail for 2012:   What surprises me the most this year is the number of nestling deaths and unhatched eggs!  …. fourteen (14) dead nestlings and nineteen (19) UNHATCHED eggs, all retrieved by me during the nesting cycle or after nesting cycles were completed and soiled nests removed and dissected and nestboxes cleaned out.   The rest of the eggs were missing/unaccounted for. 

The Good News:  I again fledged more bluebirds this year than the year before.  It has been consistent that I fledged on or about 20 more bluebirds per year since my bluebird trail officially commenced in February 2008’s nesting season.  My records show a number fledged for 2008, and then 20 more bluebirds fledged in 2009, and then approximately 20 more in 2010, and again in 2011.  I went from 14 nestboxes in 2008 to 19 presently.  I installed two more nestboxes in early July this year to bring the count to 21 nestboxes on the trail for 2012; however, House Wren dummy nests were built in those boxes, so that data is not included for this year.  For 2012, I fledged 11 more bluebirds than last year.  I strongly believe that the number of nestling deaths (14), the number of unhatched eggs (19),  and the fact that one very successful nestbox in past had to be removed after the first brood fledging because of that location turned into new a construction site made an impact on the fledging totals this year.  I was honestly expecting a larger number of fledgings of bluebirds this year.  Considering it’s still 11 more than last year makes me feel satisfied.

What I have learned, will continue doing, and will do differently:

1.  Blowfly Deterrence–a chronic issue on the trail:  I will continue my careful application of diatomaceous earth to the bases and centers of nest materials in completed nests, BEFORE eggs are laid if possible.  I will continue this successful method along with creating hardware cloth bases for ALL nestboxes for future years.  Note:  The hardware cloth bases will be added after a partial nest is started or after completion of a nest.  I will not leave them inside vacant nestboxes.  The reason behind this is so that the female will not be confused by the bases.  The purpose of adding them is for air circulation on the bottom of the nesting material in nests infested with blowfly larvae.  This will also give me access to brushing out dead larvae that fall through the bases to the wood floors underneath.

2. Monitoring:   I will continue, if possible, twice-a-week monitoring–all will depend on weather and other factors, of course.  This is the ideal schedule for me.  I get accurate records (those dates!) and better chances to troubleshoot issues and problems and possibly be able to save baby bluebirds by doing so instead of ONCE a week.   This is not always possible for every nestbox, and I’m happy with once-a-week checks.   Experience has told me how I lose control of monitoring nesting cycles if I let two weeks pass by without checks.   This will happen “once in a blue moon” due to illness or severe weather.  Another goal for monitoring is to find a back-up person who knows my trail in advance and is willing to step in and help me monitor in the event I cannot (such as hospitalization, as an example).  I plan on contacting the Virginia Master Naturalist program in my area to get a volunteer or two who is looking for building up their own volunteer hours for certification in the program.  See info on the Virginia program here:  http://www.virginiamasternaturalist.org/

3.  Installations of More Nestboxes:   The trail is expanding!  I expect to have 30 nestboxes for 2013, and will expand to 40 nestboxes by 2014–IF THAT IS POSSIBLE (that’s the key!).  I will stop at 40.  I cannot effectively monitor more than 40.  I may find 30 is my limit.  At that time, and I know I have my limit to what I can take care of, I will conduct further outreach to train others to monitor the boxes by themselves on their own premises and to just submit their data to me.   I am realistic about this–as much as I encourage it and I will train, I do not want anyone to feel “obligated” — this is a big commitment.  However, a back yard bluebirder who has one or two nestboxes will find it’s not as complicated as it seems at first–usually they will find they get great joy out of doing it through a little experience, and that it is fun!  If two predator guards are used, there will be less risk to the birds and more success in monitoring the birds, as opposed to finding deaths due to predation (which is not pleasant to deal with, no matter what the predation is).  My point still stands:   Manmade nestboxes is not true nature.  A natural cavity is.   If man puts up a nestbox and invites birds to use it, it is my position to make it as safe for the birds for DETERRING predators and not inviting predators to get the birds.  What is the point of taking effort to put up housing and then setting the birds up to fail at successful breeding?   The purpose in this effort is “bluebird conservation”.   ADDITIONAL COMMENTS:  I assure you if I had too many failures in fledging baby bluebirds, I would not be doing what I am doing today.  That is how I know deterring predators is the right thing to do.  Natural cavities also have predators, but man cannot and is not involved in that true setting of nature.  That I accept when it comes to bird losses.  However, it’s been proven for many years now that the bluebirds have suffered through the years, their numbers declined almost to an extinction, in past.  It hasn’t been until the 1970’s when the nestbox projects took off that bluebirds have proven to come back to healthy numbers.  That math is good enough for me.  It is not just the loss of habitat to building of housing developments and sprawl, removal of snags on farmland, parks, meadows, and even back yards, usage of pesticides and herbicides (RoundUp) killing adult birds and young or causing them to hatch deformed — but it is the introduction of non-native species of birds The English House Sparrow and the European Starling that prey on our native cavity-nesting birds, destroy their eggs and young, and take over the natural cavities that do remain in North America.  The starlings will strip all fruit food sources in minutes from a tree or shrub.   Read on more about this here:  http://www.nps.gov/miss/naturescience/bluebird2.htm

4.  Nestboxes in Afternoon Shade!   This is my #1 priority for future installations–if it is possible for the new sites.  After this horridly hot summer in Southwest Virginia, I saw nestlings suffer in the heat, attempting to breathe and keep cool.  Thankfully, I did not have many nestling deaths due to the heat.  Good ventilation in the nestboxes is the reason most survived.   I will also make a few heat shields for 2013 to have ready for emergencies.  I will try to make them inexpensively but easy to install for the few boxes in full sun in the event of excessive heat.  By installing future boxes in afternoon shade, I can eliminate this problem altogether.  This is why I want to get my boxes installed this month–while the leaves are still on the trees and I can see where the shade will fall.   Installing heat shields is only a last resort.  The less boxes in full sun, the better, as far as I’m concerned.  This is not always possible, however.

Summary Observations and Tidbits:

This has been the most challenging year yet on the Woolwine House Bluebird Trail regarding observing and troubleshooting unusual activities.  I dealt with absolutely zero blowfly infestations during the first two broods (usually in my location it’s every brood–no matter what time of year) and then third broods got smacked hard with a super-strong and powerful blowfly population—as if they were on steroids.  Other problems were ants attempted to infest one nestbox (and corrected by me), excessive heat caused some weakness and slower development even in well-ventilated nestboxes (but no deaths due to heat), a freeze snap for three nights in a row in early Spring caused starvation due to lack of insects (and thus protein and hydration to one hatchling—that is the only death to the cold snap), one snake managed to get past a stovepipe guard (this happens at least once each year), a couple of House Wren attacks at a location of two nestboxes, chickadees fighting bluebirds over nestboxes at a location of two nestboxes—chickadees destroyed bluebird eggs; and last but not least, there has been an unusual number of nestling deaths and unhatched eggs.  One nestling death was a chickadee–all chickadees in that brood fledged except one—could not determine cause—no blowfly larvae found—possibly starvation.   Out of 19 nestboxes on the trail, three were unoccupied this season.  Surprisingly, two of those three unoccupied nestboxes were very successful last year in fledging birds and the years before (average 2-3 broods fledging bluebirds).  Therefore I will not move these two boxes for 2013.  I was able to keep blowfly infestation controlled in all boxes except for two nests.  One brood of 4, in spite of my method of control, did not succeed–the infestation was too large and larvae too strong and thus survived deterrence—those 4 nestlings died quickly from weakness due to anemia (low blood cells) thus disabling them (weakness) to take in food from the parent bluebirds before I could save them.  Upon dissecting the infested nest, I counted quite a few live, gorged-with-blood larvae.  The other nest showed the same symptoms, so I conducted a nest change-out—this is moving the weak nestlings carefully by hand from the infested nest to an unused-unsoiled-abandoned previously built nest by bluebirds made of grasses– those nestlings survived the nest change and fledged at age 18 days old.  I dissect all nests, except unused nests which I keep for emergencies.  By dissecting used, soiled nests, I find interesting things about them, how many blowfly larvae survived my deterrence method, how many did not survive, how many infested the nest, finding uneaten food given to the fledglings but not consumed at fledging time.  This year a dead baby skink or newt and a large dead bumblebee were found on top of the fledged nests.   I also had two nests with the same parent bluebirds, one brood after the other, that appeared to be completely unskilled (lazy?) at removing the fecal sacs left by their nestlings and upon cleaning out the nestbox, I found those nests severely crusted with the nestlings waste matter—wet and sticky.  I was surprised to find the nestlings fledged, but they did.  I look at the sides of the walls and the front of the box for clues of successful fledging.

The following nestboxes are worth mentioning certain observations:

Interesting Data – Nestbox #1:  The first bluebird brood’s 4 eggs were pushed down inside the nest by something I have not been able to pin down.  It appears to have been another bluebird female that wanted to use that nestbox—evicted the other female or perhaps the first female abandoned the nest or was killed.  The eggs were not destroyed, and I was able to retrieve them upon cleaning the nestbox after the nesting cycle was completed.

Interesting Data – Nestbox #3:  This box has been very successful with 2-3 broods consistently, except this year—it was completely unoccupied.  I have not been able to determine reason.  It will not be moved for 2013.

Interesting Data – Nestbox #7:   One brood of three nestlings died inside the nest—do not know why; possibly the parents were killed and the nestlings died of starvation.  Interestingly, I discovered this data late as I left the nest in the box thinking the female would come back and lay a new clutch.  At first look inside the nest, I thought a snake had taken the nestlings.  It turned out they died inside the nest, and were “covered up” by some nesting material.  Because of the age of the deaths soon after hatchling (1-2 days), they could not be seen when I looked upon the nest with my mirror.   It wasn’t until I removed the unoccupied nest a month later that I found the dead hatchlings while dissecting the nesting material.

Highlight – Nestbox #8:   This nestbox was unoccupied by any species for two years straight.   Instead of pulling it up, I decided to give it another chance this year; I knew it was in great bluebird habitat.  This year, my hunches were correct–it produced THREE broods this year, though one brood had a clutch of 4 unviable eggs laid on or before July 24th and thus never hatched as of August 31, 2012.  Those four eggs have been included in the unhatched egg count total for this nesting season.  I “candled” the 4 eggs—all were clear showing no development; therefore it appears they were unfertilized.

Interesting Data – Nestbox #9:  This has been a successful box since the day it was installed.  This year, one brood fledged and the box had to be removed due to the location going under construction; therefore, no more data of fledged birds could be included from that nestbox in this year’s eggs and fledgings count.

Interesting Data – Nestbox #10:  Strangely, this box did very well in past two years. This was the nestbox that fledged 2-3 broods of chickadees and bluebirds, including the laying of my first ever clutch of white eggs.  This box was totally unoccupied this year.  The good habitat for bluebirds has not changed.  The box will remain to see how it does next year.

Interesting Data – Nestbox #12:  This nestbox has been consistently my highest yielding of bluebirds in years past.  This year, we had some troubles.  First brood had one unhatched egg; the rest of the nestlings were taken by a snake–first time for this box to have snake predation.  The second brood had one unhatched egg; the rest of the nestlings were attacked by wrens.  One nestling was taken out of the nestbox and dropped, which ended up in the Noel guard and, unfortunately, died there.  The other two nestlings survived the attack inside the nest and fledged.  Both incidents this year is very unusual for this nestbox, which is in open habitat with beautiful white pines trees in front of it–not close to brushy areas, which attracts the wrens.

Interesting Data – Nestbox #13:  This was a good box for bluebird habitat and had successful bluebird fledgings until past two years.  This being a hay field, the growth of vegetation surrounding the field where the box is located has caused too much thickets nearby.  In spite of my two years of efforts keeping this nestbox trimmed of overhanging tree branches and vegetation growth, including fast-growing Morning Glory, I cannot maintain this box any further and keep those thickets trimmed away from the nestbox.  It will be moved to a new location for 2013 to attract bluebirds in better, more open habitat.  It is obvious the bluebirds did not like this nestbox being close to thick vegetation and hay grasses being too tall for long periods of time, which makes it more difficult for parent bluebirds to stay close to the nests to find insects (bluebirds go to ground most of the time to pick up insects off the ground).

Highlight – #15:  The same nestbox had the earliest egg laid on my trail— two years in a row:  March 11 in 2011 … and March 8 in 2012.  This nestbox truly has become the most successful nestbox on the trail today.  It makes me ponder if this is the same bluebird couple this year from last or perhaps bluebirds that fledged from it last year returned this year early to raise families in it.

Highlight — Nestbox #16:  The 3-Year Test-Two Hole “Mansion” (from Linda Violett, Yorba Linda, CA) was a MAJOR winner this season! THIS YEAR, absolutely no House Sparrows (HOSP) attempted to nest in this area where the HOSP built nests and laid eggs (removed by me) in 2010 and 2011 which later bluebirds fledged one brood each year — this without me intervening with gadgets like Sparrow Spookers or HOSP trapping.  A total of 12 bluebird young fledged this box this year, in spite of a blowfly issue in one nest and house wrens entering the nestbox while the bluebirds babies from Brood 3 were attempting to fledge.   My first bluebird nesting material dropped inside was discovered on March 16 with a partial nest built.  The first egg laid was March 27th.  The third brood bluebirds fledged on August 14th!  This is 5 months of bluebird activity!  More information in detail and a summary report will be coming to the website to conclude this 3-year test, written by Linda Violett and me.   I expect to have this online by end of September (or sooner).  I have many thanks to make:  to the homeowner who supported me in this nestbox project and to Linda Violett for mentoring and supporting me during this test.  The nestbox will remain for 2013, with permission by the homeowner.   This nestbox has proven to be the second most successful on the trail, not far behind Box #15 as the top producer of Eastern Bluebirds on my bluebird trail!

See my 3-year test results and Linda’s comments on the Violett’s Bluebirds website here:   http://home.earthlink.net/~lviolett/testwoolwine.html

Taken today, September 4, 2012…..the Flowering Dogwood berries are a favorite of bluebirds. This is such a good time for the juvenile bluebirds–warm enough for insects to be plentiful but berries appearing in colorful array, easy to find, in August and September.

Quote

Bluebirds not only accept the help of humans, they absolutely need it.
~ Steve Grooms and Dick Peterson, Bluebirds, 1991

Month of September 2012: Floyd and Patrick-VA

Hello Monitors!  I am shouting out to all the wonderful people I work with in monitoring the birds that it is time to send in your nestbox data to me, please; while the information is still fresh and your trail data is close by on your desk and in your trail notebooks. As you know, as County Coordinator, I collect all data for compilation for the various organizations, specifically for the Virginia Bluebird Society, that keep the records permanently by County on Eastern Bluebirds and the other cavity-nesting birds using our manmade nestboxes. Thank you for all you do to help our local bluebirds! I’m very proud of all of you.  Email me directly if you need my snail-mail address to send your two summary pages.

This is the time I’m really amazed at our birds and how they fight for survival and keep their fledglings fed and safe until they are on their own. It certainly shows how our accurate records help us, as caretakers, and the ornithologists in Virginia and beyond, gather and summarize trends on the health and status of our breeding birds.

~ Christine

BLUEBIRDS NOT ONLY ACCEPT…

EMPTY NEST SYNDROME AND THE CYCLE OF LIFE.


(Due to technical errors in the WordPress original post today, I am reposting.)

Not only am I experiencing the emotional empty-nest syndrome but truly my last nestbox became empty, not to bluebirds fledging, but to a clutch of 4 unhatched eggs. I watched this female stay true on these eggs from July 24th through August 3oth. The female Eastern Bluebird laid and stayed on these eggs, turning them daily, with no hatching action. It was a strange experience for me, wondering why. I checked this nest almost every day, taking photos as the eggs were turned.  It has become apparent she finally gave up and abandoned the nest. I removed the nest.  NOTE in the photo below all the very large seeds from the late-summer berries she consumed that have been deposited inside the pine needle nest by this incubating female (see right side and underneath eggs).  OK, so, I have plans for the eggs — nothing goes to waste! — they will go in the gorgeous cedar and Plexiglas “display nestbox” handmade for me by a very talented woodworker using the Virginia Bluebird Society’s suggested nestbox design. Once I place the eggs in the display, I will dissect this nest and count the number of seeds deposited by this female.  I enjoy learning what does a late-in-the-season incubating Eastern Bluebird eat other than the overabundance of grasshoppers, katydids, beetles, spiders, moths, grubs, butterflies, and slowly-floating bumble and carpenter bees?   Bluebirds eat mostly insects during the spring and continue throughout summer.  As summer ends, more berries become available.  Dogwood berries are red now and pokeweed berries have been available for several weeks.  In winter months, depending on the locale, berries are the main diet since insects become less available in the colder weather.  Bluebirds in the northern parts migrate south to have access to the berries available in the warmer winter climates.  Most bluebirds in Virginia do not migrate and are year-round residents.

Empty-nest syndrome, for me, also includes the migration watch in spring and also in the late summer for our ruby-throated hummingbirds.   I consistently make a gallon of sugar-water per day to accommodate the hundreds we have here at our house.   Most have left and the migrators from the north are showing up, some singly, and some in numbers during stops.  The overnight rests allow me additional joys as I watch the tiny, hovering, mystical fairies.   Once they are gone, there is a somewhat bittersweet feeling of knowing nature is working and now I must wait to see them again.   The miracles of nature will always comfort me as I continue the glorious days of living in the mountains of the Blue Ridge.  House Wrens, Carolina Chickadees, and Eastern Bluebirds were the species in my nestboxes this year.   Thankfully, the House Wrens caused minimal damage to bluebirds eggs laid this year.    As always, the chickadees struggle to fledge successfully one brood per year.   The past two years showed me how the chickadees seem to become more aggressive for nestbox usage with other species.  This must be the survival instinct to procreate their species.

My website/blog here is under new material and layout of information.  Since I’m expanding my trail to a goal of 30 nestboxes by February 2013, I am holding off posting photos of the nestboxes.  More good news comes with the successful deterrence of House  Sparrows using the Two-Holer Test Mansion, which fledged THREE BROODS OF EASTERN BLUEBIRDS!    No House Sparrows attempted to nest this year, and the bluebirds won the territory of that nestbox!   That is truly GOOD NEWS.  That page on my site is currently being worked on for a summary of this 3-year test.   I plan on revamping the TEST RESULTS page, and more.   The Facebook page has become a great success—I’m finding it easier to post photos there as well as update followers.  It allows others to ask questions and have me answer in an easier-to-use format.

As September is now upon us, I am collecting my own data, monitors in my two counties, and will be submitting these details soon to the Virginia Bluebird Society and others, including Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  As I remember all the interesting details from this year from my trail and others, I will be sending through another post here to explain all the new interesting happenings.  Year after year, there is always something new!

My first ever full set of unviable eggs.

This is my display I use for educational purposes. Only unhatched eggs are used.

From Cornell Lab of Ornithology

LONGEST NESTING SEASON EVER FOR THE TRAIL.


This has been the longest bluebird nesting season yet for the Woolwine House Bluebird Trail. The earliest egg laid was March 8, 2012. That means earlier nest building–probably that box claimed in February this year by the male and shown to his mate and gladly accepted–nest-building in late February-early March. I have several third broods going on presently. One female is still incubating a clutch of 4 eggs in Box #8.  I expect hatching any day now—as a matter of fact, I will be checking that box today!

 

So I have more news and tidbits ….

The trail is expanding. I hope to have 30 nestboxes by spring 2013 installed within my community in perfect bluebird habitat. Perhaps the year after…or by mid-season 2013…even earlier I can have more than 30 nestboxes on my trail…..it could be more than 30. Can I monitor more than 30? That remains to be seen as I have driving to do here and there in my mountain community to monitor all the boxes properly.  I also like to spend extra time watching the birds from my car to see interesting behaviors.  I find monitoring about every 4-5 days creates a much better success rate in fledging baby bluebirds and for excellent care for the boxes, as I get more opportunities to “nip in the bud”  those problems that arise.  A question I keep asking myself:  Can I monitor 40 boxes twice a week?  I know many monitors monitor 50, 75, even 100 nestboxes.  Are those boxes on a prescribed “route”, down a road that is easy to access from a vehicle?  Do they have assistance from someone?  Do they monitor once a week or more often?  Maybe I can train others to do this in my locale on a volunteer basis.  I need to call my local Chapter for the Virginia Master Naturalists and see if anyone is looking to fulfill volunteer hours for their certification.  I hope to find someone to help me with this project I love so much.  It is always good to have a backup in case I can’t monitor the trail for a few weeks.  One never really knows if there will be an interruption for one reason or another.  So!  This is a new goal of mine for 2013.  Note:  I will never install more nestboxes than can be monitored at least once a week.

I have so many people to thank for making my bluebird trail possible.   Many thanks are consistent going to Carl, my local neighbor who builds the nestboxes, helps me with moving boxes to new locations when needed, repairs to existing nestboxes and stovepipe baffles, and installations (pounding the conduit into the ground!), and general advice on just about anything.   I also have the residents and businesses to thank for letting me install the nestboxes on their grounds and giving me access to the nestboxes for monitoring the birds and getting the records on paper in my notebook, maintenance and care of the nestboxes, and in late fall to prepare the nestboxes for roosting during cold winter nights and in early spring to prepare for the new nesting seasons, including soaping the ceilings to deter the paper wasps from building nests inside the nestboxes.  I start this in mid-February and have them ready by March 1-15.  These are people who support me and my bluebird endeavors!  You ALL are appreciated—SO THANK YOU year after year!  The bluebirds also are doing well because you give them a place to find that make it possible for them to raise families.

By monitoring twice a week—depending on weather, I also get much improved ACCURATE data, such as time between a completed nest cup to the time it takes for the female to lay the first and last egg in a single clutch. This will vary depending on weather and when she wants to lay.  If I can get approximate hatching dates, this helps me know how the nestlings are developing.  This in turn helps me get an accurate date of fledging datesDid you know:  a female bluebird can store sperm for about a month? …. as I learned recently while attending the North Carolina Bluebird Society’s annual conference May 2012. This was the most surprising fact I learned all-around in past years about bluebirds’ reproduction cycles and behaviors. I learned that from a fascinating lecture by Dr. Lynn Siefferman, Associate Professor at Appalachian State University. To read more about the past conference, see the NCBS’s newsletter online, dated Spring (May) 2012: http://www.ncbluebird.org/pdf/NCBS-BluebirdNotes-Spring2012.pdf

My next post in future will be about my experience attending the conference and questions I was asked at the table I had on behalf of the Virginia Bluebird Society at that conference. Joining these state bluebird societies are worth every penny–the memberships are inexpensive and it’s great to see how other bluebirders do what they do to assist successful nestings by these beautiful cavity-nesting birds.

My TEST Two-Holer Mansion project—a three-year test I’ve been conducting on bluebirds successfully holding territory in a House Sparrow location (competition) without trapping or gadgets is coming to full fruition of data showing this has worked.   This has been such an interesting experiment.  Many thanks to Linda Violett for her guidance on conducting this test these past 3 years.  I like experimenting!   It has been a pleasure for me to conduct this test.   It has been quite a learning experience watching this actually work.  Year three is about completed as I watch a third brood of bluebirds fledge babies.  Presently, 7-day old baby bluebirds are developing in that test box.  See Linda’s website on my test here:  http://home.earthlink.net/~lviolett/testwoolwine.html

Never a dull moment on this bluebird trail!  Thanks for following the WHBBT!   I can only hope you find this website interesting AND inspiring!

 

 

THIRD BROODS: HOPING FOR BLOWFLY DETERRENCE AND SUCCESS IN FLEDGING.


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

Here is another 3rd brood–3 days old.  Presently on the trail, I have four nestings on third broods!  This bunch appeared a tad weak and hot yesterday.  Growth size observed the same for all three nestlings.  Both parent birds are very active in feedings.  Good!  Since only three here, there is more food for all.  Will watch them closely–about every 2-3 days of “looking in” on them.  Worried about another ” macho” bunch of blowfly larvae–have treated the nest for deterrence of larvae surviving while hidden inside the nest during the day.  I have two clean unused grass nests saved similar to this one.  I will use one for a possible emergency nest switch-out on next visit tomorrow.  I ONLY micro-manage nestboxes where problems may be evident and only then.  I let nature provide as much as I think will provide for the birds and intervene only when necessary.  Sometimes it’s a tough call because time is of the essence in some circumstances.   Photo taken July 27, 2012.

The heat is hard on our cavity-nesters. These three nestlings appear to be holding their own so far. The parent birds are active in caring for them. I am hoping my blowfly deterrence will work on these little guys. The more bluebirds, the better! How can we not wish them the best? It’s all part of the monitoring process. It’s worth all the work and time helping bluebirds succeed. The more bluebirds fledge, the more chances we will have them return to the same nestbox where they were born. The average fledgling generally has a 50% survival rate within the first year of life in the world. Therefore, we can never have enough bluebirds!  Never.

FIRST BROOD LOSS TO BLOWFLY INFESTATION SINCE 2008.


My efforts for blowfly larvae control in nests have been successful, until quite recently.  This set of larvae were so strong and in large numbers, the nestlings became too anemic and weak to survive the amount of feedings they were ingesting from Mom and Pop Blue.  They were 9 days old when death came knocking at their nestbox door.  The last time I lost a whole brood to blowflies was Spring 2008.   Not all happenings on the bluebird trail are happy ones.   I will continue my two methods of control:   (1) hardware cloth bases below nesting material (helpful but not as effective as the only method of control) and (2)  the use of puffing some organic food-grade Diatomaceous Earth inside the center of the nesting material and underneath the nest on the wood floor of the nestbox before bluebird eggs hatch. The key is to eradicate the larvae while very young, right after they hatch, which nature usually times around the same time the birds’ eggs hatch. I had treated this nestbox with the DE, like I have all others.  This year and at this nestbox, I must not have applied the right amount of the DE to take care of the number of hatched larvae to cause the damage they did.  Below are a set of photos of different methods I’ve used  in past and presently (applying DE) and another method of using leftover hardware cloth from making the Noel Guards for my boxes for the bases to slide underneath completed nests.  Captions will explain the pictures.  Warning:  The last photo in this series is not a pleasant one.  I cropped out the dead bluebirds, but I wanted you to see the larvae that killed this brood.  You will note how large the larvae got, some gorged with blood, and a dead bumblebee–which obviously was the last-ditch effort of feeding the parent birds attempted to make for their 8-day old kids, too weak to eat.  This is a good representation photo of what the larvae looks like when healthy and successful feeding on the nestlings at night.   I had to dissect the pine needle nest to find this big patch of them.

I put a clean washcloth on top of nest with eggs. I use a mustard/ketchup type squeeze container with tip and insert a few puffs in three sections inside the center of the nest. THIS IS DONE BEFORE HATCHING.

I then repeat a few puffs underneath the nest material on the bare wood floor. I use the metal paint scraper to gently lift the nest up to apply. Note the clean washcloth remains on top of nest. This keeps any DE powder off the top of the nest.

I keep the box open for a minute to let any DE powder settle. Before I remove the washcloth, I use a clean paintbrush to remove any powder residue from the sides of the nestbox. THEN I peel back towards me and out the washcloth, close and secure the box, and quickly leave the nestbox area.

I’m making bases made of leftover hardware cloth from the construction of the Noel entry-hole guards. I use tin snippers to cut and shape to fit the inside of a nestbox. These are slid in an already completed nest. If this can be done after nestcup is completed but before eggs are laid, that’s ideal. If not, you can slide it in after the eggs are laid, but be gentle!

I’m experimenting with one-half inch off the nestbox floor AND one inch off the nestbox floor. This pictures shows a tad higher than one-half inch.

This is about one inch off the nestbox floor. I am finding I like this much better. I can always remove some of the nesting material if it brings the nest up too high close to the entry hole. Also it allows easy brushing out of blowfly larvae when it’s an inch off the floor.

Here is an active bluebird nest with the one-inch high base. I slid this in a nest with eggs. I also applied a thin layer of DE to the bottom of the box. Look closely; you can see the eggs! This box fledged baby bluebirds.

You’ll note dead bumblebee–brought in by the parents but not eaten by the nestlilngs. Larvae are plump, some gorged with blood. This larvae killed 8 and 9 day old bluebird nestlings.

HAPPENINGS ON THE TRAIL – UPDATE SUMMER 2012


 Greetings from the trail.  This has been a significant year for interesting data!

Looking good!

For a few examples, observations include how the nestlings survived in a three-day freeze snap after a warmer winter and earlier than usual egg laying, the number of unhatched eggs on my trail as well as other bluebirders around my locale, a loss of a nest site mid-season due to construction, no blowfly larvae infestations first two broods, the terrible heat the nestlings seems to be struggling with this summer, new nestboxes getting installed to expand the trail, and much more. I will be updating here, both on this main page as a new blog post as well as on the Two-Hole Mansion Test page, a results summary of the three year test as a success! … and WHY it succeeded.  This will be formatted as an easy read of the explanation of why this test took place.  Thanks goes to Linda Violett in California for her support these past three years on the Two-Hole Mansion Test in Southwest Virginia. She has been instrumental in mentoring and guiding me along the way through this test. She will be assisting me the summary report of the Virginia test at the close of this nesting season.  If you haven’t seen Linda’s page for this test, please take a look and see this effort of how the bluebird is able to establish territory on his own in House Sparrow locations without the use of trapping or gadgets.  It is a fascinating test.  I’ve worked with Linda on this and I know it works.  It is important to read about the Keys to Success that is necessary for this test to be conducted properly and to have the success we were looking for and attained.  In my case, the test HAS been shown a success—truly I’m amazed. See link of the test page on Linda’s website below.  MANY thanks to the homeowner who has been so cordial to have allowed me to continue this test at her property.  There will be more information coming about this on the Facebook page for the trail, as well.

Linda’s Page on the test Mansion Two-Hole Nestbox on my trail:  http://home.earthlink.net/~lviolett/testwoolwine.html

 There have been many questions and discussions I’ve received through my new Facebook page for the trail. Thank you for your participation. It’s a good place to ask questions and has made it quite easier for me to address the questions and issues much faster and easier for me and the followers. I’ve received 69 LIKES so far there. I appreciate the support. This website is under revamping and organization. I appreciate your patience as time permits me to update it.  As things start to wind down now in July, I’ll be actively supplying more information here and reports. WordPress is a great program;  I do need to delete some graphics and reorganize some so that the program continues to run smoothly.

I’m happy to also report I’ve spent some time in studies this past June and July to attain certification with Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources under the guidance of the Conservation Management Institute’s Ecologists as a new naturalist. I’ve completed the requirements of hours, both in classroom and field work and written and field exams, to attain the points necessary as a Certified Naturalist. Many thanks to those who supported me in this effort.  It took me away from many things–worth every moment of my time, of course. I’m quite grateful I had this opportunity to be better educated about our natural environment and natural history including geology, culture, music, plant and tree species, how to use dichotomous keys for ID-ing species, learning about birds, bats, insects, herps, mammals, and so much more—specializing the focus on the Southern Appalachians.  Many thanks to the Virginia Tech/CMI instructors and fellow students for leadership, support, and laughs through the learning process, some of it quite grueling.  I told myself I could do this, and I did.  I have been quite proud to be a part of this adventure—thanks to Primland in Meadows of Dan, VA, for hosting this course on the lovely Appalachian mountain acreage and natural surroundings.  Please see this Virginia Tech news release, dated June 4, 2012.  I highly recommend this to anyone in my area.  It was worth it.  See some photos below–the catch and study of the Cedar Waxwing in a mist net, Primland’s own Field Guide, and a photo I took at the overlook where I was staying during studies.

About the course:   http://www.vtnews.vt.edu/articles/2012/06/060412-cnre-primlandnaturalistcourse.html

Cedar Waxwing caught in a mist net, studied, and released.

Field Guides, Pressed Tree Leaves, and some music.

Primland View

IT’s ALMOST HERE! PURPLE MARTIN FIELD DAY — JUNE 22, 2013 –LOUISA COUNTY, VIRGINIA: FREE EDUCATIONAL EVENT IN VIRGINIA on the CONSERVATION OF THE FABULOUS PURPLE MARTIN


Photo by Kathy Laine

Purple MartinSEE FASCINATING VIDEO on YouTube!      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fcD8LXQn8nQ&feature=youtu.be

In Virginia, it’s that time again for the Annual Purple Martin Field Day, Louisa County, The 19th Annual Event … please come and bring all your birding friends and family or anyone you think might like to see what Purple Martin colonies are all about!  This special gathering in 2011 was a huge success with a gathering of over 100 attendees from four states.  So here is the scoop for this year–it is coming up–don’t miss out:

Scheduled this year to meet on June 22, 2013.   Main presentation begins at 10:00 a.m. Please try to arrive before 10:00a.m. Scheduled activities end by 2:00 p.m.

The 2012 event was a huge success with 130 attendees from six states!

Mark your calendars for this fascinating event about those amazing Purple Martins!  If you find bluebird nestboxes fascinating, you’ll love seeing a strategically built Purple Martin colony in action!  You’ll meet expert birders at this event, hear lectures, get free materials, learn what creates a successful colony of Purple Martins and why they need to be cared for and monitored–why the use of predator guards towards their breeding and fledging success of a colony, and how to get them to return and bring joy year after year.  This is located in central Virginia–in Louisa County. Take a look at this website for more info on this event, maps and directions, and more!  Look at these beautiful birds live and talk to great bird people dedicated to this marvelous cavity nesting bird, the Purple Martin.   http://www.purplemartinfieldday.org/

No registration.  Event is FREE, but donations will be appreciated to help cover expenses.  Bring: Lawn chairs, binoculars, notepad, camera, lunch (feel free to eat on the grounds).  Drinks and snacks provided.  The hosts request that guests do not bring pets.  Thank you. 

For more information, contact (434) 962-8232 or kingston@cstone.net

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT PURPLE MARTINS see:

www.PurpleMartin.org