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Peeking Into Nests

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Having left Duck Creek, we're going down Stanleyville Road.  It's still May 6, a whopper of a day checking all my bluebird boxes. Warren #1 has five brand-new hatchlings. It's hot, and they're panting as the sun pours in the front of their little slot box. They'll be fine. A bluebird baby has a resting body temperature of 104.

Warren #2 has five two-day-old baby bluebirds (below), also dumping heat through their mouths. It's such fun to find all my bluebird boxes "full of meat," as my Dad used to say. When I got into bluebirds upon moving to Connecticut right after college, I came home and put boxes up for him on the old farm where he kept his huuuge collection of antique cast iron hit-and-miss gasoline engines in a chicken house out west of town that he rented for a pittance. He loved having that place to go to, where Mom couldn't holler at him for bringing grease upstairs from the basement. So I put up four bluebird boxes there, and he called me a few weeks later and said, "When I checked my boxes every one of 'em was full of meat!" Ha ha ha ha ha. He had a way with words. I laugh just remembering that.

I'm sure without even checking that the farm and DOD's ramshackle chicken house have long been sold and rolled under by housing developments. I'm not going back to Richmond to look. If ever there were a place you can't go back to again, the horse and orchard country west of Richmond, Virginia, would be it. I'm glad it was largely intact when I was growing up, but seeing it fall to development changed me. Watching them smash the fragant pineywoods for Circuit City stores and bulldoze the horse pastures and orchards for giant megachurches when I was a teenager made me who I am today: a rural hermit with a ferocious love for the land and country living. Protective of the things I hold dear. Old barns, woodland, meadows, bluebirds, to name just a few.

Hm. I was checking bluebird boxes. Right. Back to it. Warren #3 still has eggs, which by my calculations should hatch May 7. I hold them to the sun--my way of candling them--and see dark embryo and large gas space in all five...looks good. They should all hatch. I'd like to show you that, but I can't hold the camera and an egg at the same time without fumbling and maybe breaking an egg. Bluebirds come first.

Warren # 4 got started early. These chicks are six days old already! Hmm. She laid five eggs--let's see what's under these rather high-sitting babes. I tease down into the pile and unearth two unhatched eggs.

 Two of the eggs haven't hatched, and they won't now. They're infertile. I remove them, carry them off to the asphalt road and break them to see if the embryo ever started. Nope. Just yellow slush in there. I see that a lot, but it's usually only one egg that fails to hatch. I always break them to check, because I'm curious, and there's no chance they'll hatch after the other chicks are a couple of days old, because they won't get the direct heat from the female's brood patch, and besides if they were viable they would already have hatched. So I get them out of there lest they break when the babies get old and start jumping around, and make a sticky mess in the nest.

Note how big and fat these three Day 6 chicks are. That's because Mom and Dad have fewer mouths to feed. 

That finishes Stanleyville's four boxes. Now I've got 13 more to check on our road and farm.

On my way there, I see a frog leaping, those huge, high, desperate leaps frogs do when they are in trouble. It's 11 AM on a hot, dry, sunny day, and this frog has come up from Fergus' pond, climbed a very steep hayfield hill, and is crossing the road into another enormous dry hayfield. There's no water where he's headed. I cannot imagine why he's doing this.

The creased lines running from eye to tail mean he's a green frog--a good guy. Not a bird-eater like bullfrogs. I cannot leave him on this dry ridge in this withering sun. I'm amazed how wet he still is, but it seems to be just his own slime keeping him moist. Has he leapt all the way up the hill?

I can't leave him here. He's headed to nowhere, frogwise. So I impulsively drop him in a Solo cup I keep in the car for just such things, and pour some cool water over him. And I head home. Once there, I dump him out on the rock by my water garden. I lost Raoul, my 20-something green frog, in the horrible winter of 2013, and I miss him badly. I hope this is my next Raoul. I have a giant bullfrog in the pond I need to rehome. I'm pretty sure this sizeable green frog is too big for the bull to eat, but you can never be sure with bullfrogs. Ugh. Bullfrogs. Click the link if you want to know why I say Ugh. Bullfrogs. 

The frog seems stunned and amazed to have been teleported. He's got his back hunchd defensively, and he's frozen. Gently, I nudge him with my finger to face him toward the pond, and in a single leap he knifes into the cool dark water. See you later?

More babies and surprises anon!


Reading your blog is the best education ever.
Many thanks.
(btl -- Boston Terrier lover)

I work with children teaching nature programs. One of our big programs is using dip nets to find tadpoles and dragonfly nymphs in the pond. We always find enormous bullfrog tadpoles. The kids love it. We hear the adults sometimes, the kids enjoy that. I had never thought of them as sinister before.

When we first built our pond in the backyard, we tried introducing bullfrog tadpoles to it. Usually, one or two would survive, then disappear by the end of the season. I guess that they were eating their brethren, then moving on when they ran out of easy pickins, knowing what I now know about them. I hadn't known that they were so villainous. Thank goodness they didn't hang around!

Posted by Anonymous May 14, 2015 at 6:50 PM

We have been peeking into nests, too - a cardinal nest right outside an upstairs window and dangerously close to our dogs. Fortunately, we noticed the first fledgling leave the nest this morning, moved it outside of the fence, and got the dogs inside. The other two babies are now safely out of the nest and out of the fenced yard as well, and the humans are delighted! The bluebirds in our fenced vegetable garden are much better off!

Posted by Anonymous May 15, 2015 at 5:43 AM
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