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Making the Nestbox Rounds

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

One of the big excuses for going down Duck Creek Road is checking a couple of boxes I just put up at the Washington County Fish and Game headquarters. It's a private organization you can join for only $30/year. They have lots of woods that's open for hunting, but also walking and botanizing and stuff like that. I joined this year because I wanted to help their bluebirds and tree swallows. Plus, I've always loved their pond, and they have some very special streams in their woods. 

We check the subject of the Perfect Bluebird Intervention of April 12.  You'll recall that we took a rotten box off a tree,  and moved the nest that was in it to a new, protected box just before the female was to lay her eggs. 

Four beautiful two-day-old bluebird babies. Yesss!!

Glowing with pride, I walked over to the pond to see who was about.

On this beautiful May 6 morning, Chet and I found seven kildeer in the lawn (three of them week old babes!), then two spotted sandpipers, four solitary sandpipers, and four least sandpipers on the mudbar!

What a treat, at least for me, to see shorebirds in my land-locked county. Seriously. I never, ever get to see shorebirds unless I travel to a coast. Which seems to happen less and less.

Chet was less enthralled, and retired to the picnic table's shade to rest while I birded.

I have taken to tucking a bikkit in my pocket when we go on longer runs. Chet has figured out that I will give him the bikkit if he asks nicely.

That's a sweet smile, Bakie. Way to ask nicely. Bonus point for gutteral piggy grunt as you hoist yourself into the air. Here you go.

 Little monkey boy claims his prize. There's something to be said for a mature dog who retains the appeal of a puppeh.

Tree swallows have claimed the second box I put up, which I mounted to take the pressure off the bluebirds who I moved into the first box. Here, you can just see the female perched on the low wire to the right, and the male flying by on the left. This was taken May 6, 2015.

They've been adding to their modest nest, and sleeping and pooping in their box. Hoping they'll finish up their nest and start feathering it. I wonder if they're a young pair...very slow starters. But all my tree swallows are slow to start this year. Perhaps the flying insects are not yet at sufficient abundance to trigger nest-building.

Baker and I keep on heading down the May road, counting birds. We'd count 76 species this day!

Blue phlox lights up the woods. Mayapples are about to bloom beneath their green umbrellas. So much to protect from garlic mustard...

We finish our beautiful morning on Duck Creek and head through Whipple to Bonn to check more nest boxes. This morning, we'll check them all...

but not before saving my first of year box turtle (FOY BOTU, for those who love acronyms).

My heart sighs to see he met a car tire sometime last fall. The break is not fresh; it's partially healed. The turtle seems to be breathing with a little difficulty, and I watch him for awhile, but at length I decide that if he's made it through hibernation in such good weight and he knows where he's going, I'll just help him across and wish him well. Not much I can do for him at this point, and hauling him into care would only mess with his chances to mate this spring.

 It's a damned hard world for box turtles. We've laced their ancestral territories with busy roads, and expect them to "learn" not to cross. To look both ways and watch out for cars. Well, they haven't, and they won't, because they are wise and wonderful and knowing creatures, but they simply can't compete with traffic. And if we don't stop and help them across, they don't make it. Box turtles belong to slower, kinder times.

I check Biehl #4, to find the most artful tree swallow nest I've ever seen. They much prefer to insulate their nests with soft white waterfowl body feathers, but will take whatever they find. In this case, common grackle, mourning dove, and one goose feather. Whee! What a crazy nest! No eggs yet, but coming soon. These tree swallows have more than a touch of noir in their interior decorating tastes.

And in Biehl #1, where on April 23 there were three white eastern bluebird eggs, something had thrown them out when I checked again a week later. Today, May 6, I see evidence that tells me who dun it: tree swallows, who have brought a mourning dove tail feather and a piece of white Hollofil, as well as some trademark green grass and straw. The bluebirds have moved to Biehl #3, where the female has laid two more white eggs.  I know all this because I keep careful notes, and the white eggs are sufficiently rare that I'm sure it's the same female from Biehl #1. Otherwise I'd never figure out what's going on here. Sure enough, tree swallows harrass me as I make more notes at this box. They'll work it all out. With luck we'll have one pair of bluebirds and two of tree swallows in one yard: pretty darn good! I'm happy to help them all.

There are more Easter baskets to come, as we check Stanleyville Road and Indigo Hill. Stay tuned!


I really enjoyed going along with you on your rounds today!

76 species! Cool! And nesting shorebirds!

What a beautiful turtle! The nest with the artsy touch cannot have been an accident. Those birds had to purposely search out just the "right" feathers to include in the d├ęcor.

I feel refreshed after your walk.

Thank you.

I've always admired the way Archie Carr summed up his findings on the Common (or Eastern) Box Turtle (terrapene carolina carolina), as follows:

"Economic Importance: Except for the poisoning of a small percentage of the few people who eat them, this turtle probably has as little material significance for mankind as any other. It is, however, an altogether appealing animal, a "quaint element in our fauna," as Pope puts it, and certainly one to preserve. There exists a curious lot of witless or psychopathic characters who love to run over box turtles on the roads to hear them pop, and there is probably nothing much that can be done about these people except to hope they skid."

Blessings on the damaged box turtle you observed on your rounds; may he heal, reproduce and reign long over his little kingdom.

Posted by Gail Spratley May 12, 2015 at 1:00 PM
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