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Spring Cleaning

As I was drinking my coffee, I noticed a pair of Eastern Bluebirds checking out one of the bluebird nest boxes near our house.  They’re back!!!  That means it’s time to get the Hess Bluebird Trail ready for the 2014 nesting season.

IMG_9733-1-1{websized}Preparing the boxes is a fairly simple process, but with 26 boxes spread over two miles it takes some time. I check the boxes to make sure they are all in good shape, making any necessary repairs, cleaning them out, and making sure they are facing east to protect them from the cold northerly spring winds. Usually repairs are very minor, but I found one box that had been run over by our local electrical cooperative maintenance truck – grrrr.  In the picture, I am adjusting the height of the predator guard and cleaning out the boxes.

I remove the nest and clean out the boxes at the end of summer when the bluebirds are done nesting. Although some bluebirders open the doors on the nest boxes throughout the winter, I leave them closed; this provides a refuge for birds that are here during the winter. I am always pleased to see that many of the boxes showed signs of being used over the winter. One had a layer of berry seeds on the floor!

During the nesting season we monitor the boxes on a weekly basis, sending the weekly results to the Lafayette County Bluebird Society (LCBS) and an annual report to BRAW.  It’s a lot of work, but also a lot of fun and it’s healthy too as I ride my bike to check the boxes.

This tool I am using to clean the box was made by Carol McDaniel’s (President and founder of Lafayette County Bluebird Society) granddaughters and given out to every person who attended the annual meeting of the Bluebird Restoration Association of Wisconson (BRAW). These make scraping the bottom of the boxes easy and ensures the bottom is left clean.  What a thoughtful and useful gift!!

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Christmas Bird Count

The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is an event that Jim and I look forward to each year. It’s part of our holiday tradition. This year it was cooooold!! The morning started with 6 degrees, which only increased 4 degrees by the time we finished that afternoon with wind chills of -5!!!

The CBC is grassroots citizen science sponsored by The National Audubon Society. Every year between Dec 14 and Jan 5, citizens all over the US take a poll of every bird they see within a given territory. Jim and I have been on counts in Dane County and Columbia County for about 10 years and just this year, we worked with a count in Green County; it’s much closer to our home! The count is conducted in a variety of ways; some folks count from their car, others count feeders at their home, and others count on foot or with snowshoes, depending on the weather. And then there’s those who do a little of all of it! It’s great fun!

The CBC originally began as a time to shoot all the birds and then count them. We’re certainly glad that has changed. The data collected helps to ascertain trends in our bird populations. These trends are then used to create conservation strategies and policies.

It’s well organized so there’s no double counting. A Count Compiler is assigned to a certain 15-mile diameter territory (called a Count Circle). It’s a fun day of being outside with nature and helping our bird friends. Our Green County count met for lunch so we could get to know each other better and compare notes on the birds we had seen.

In 2013, Jim and I found 25 different species in our 57 miles of driving and 1 mile of walking. It was a bit cold for the birds and the wind wasn’t helping either! Some of the unusual birds that Jim and I counted this year include 3 Rough-legged hawks, 1 immature Bald Eagle, and 1 Northern Shrike.




LCBS Visits the Driftless Prairies

The Lafayette County Bluebird Society (LCBS) held their annual bluebird trail hike at the Driftless Prairies on Thursday, August 1, 2013.  We are 1 of 7 trails in the Lafayette County area that report our numbers to LCBS.

The Lafayette County Bluebird Society, Inc. was started in 1981 and is dedicated to the conservation of the Eastern Bluebird and other native cavity nesting species. They have assisted with nesting sites for purple martins, counts of red-headed woodpeckers, and pileated woodpeckers.

It was a great evening with 27 of us attending. We shares a potluck dinner first then went on a hike to a couple of the bluebird boxes around the prairie. The weather cooperated beautifully, making the evening very pleasant and comfortable.

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As we hiked by the Berry Prairie, some had to stop to nibble on the mulberries! They were sweet and yummy!

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Next we passed the bee hives where Jim explained how the bee hives are established and the social behavior of bees.

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Jim was a great tour guide! The explained about many of the prairie plants that were seen as the tour progressed around the prairies. The evening ended with a hike through the woods, then a viewing of the bats as they exited the bat house for their nightly foraging.

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Bluebird Trails

Since 2005, Jim has monitored 16 bluebird boxes, known as the Hess Trail.  In the 3 years we have monitored, we fledged a total of 94 babies. Click on the Hess Trail and you’ll see up-to-date numbers. In 2011, we have expanded to 24 boxes and he plans to ride his bike to check them! Keeping it eco-friendly where we can! When he checked on Sunday, we had 6 nests and 4 eggs.

Boxes need to be placed about 100 yards apart. Most of our boxes are along the highway on the land of our wonderful neighbors. This is ideal because Eastern Bluebirds like open country. They are ground feeders and like to fly from their perch to snap up some tasty insect on the ground.

We love hearing their cute little “cheer cheerful charmer” song and seeing the babies trying to fledge. It wasn’t that long ago that Eastern Bluebirds were a rare site. On Sunday, April 17, we attended the 30 year celebration of the Lafayette County Bluebird Society. When this group began, there were only 4 documented mating bluebird pairs in Wisconsin. With the 94 total members and 27 total trails, they have fledged into the thousands of bluebirds over the years; in 2010 the total count was 549. Thanks to the many individuals who monitor trails, the bluebirds are back and here to stay!

Our boxes are inhabited by tree swallows and chickadees as well. Sometimes, we have wrens who take over. We discourage this by moving the boxes further from a wooded area. Wrens and bluebirds are not friends; the wrens are very aggressive toward bluebirds and will kill the young and sometimes the female sitting on the nest.

These pictures are of pairs checking out the boxes for this year. I love the “liquid warble” as I call it, of the tree swallow song.



It’s Turkey Time!!

It’s mating time for the Wild Turkey. I never tire of seeing these guys. To me, they are a fascinating critter and mating season is a super cool time. We can hear the turkeys for miles around as they “gobble, gobble, gobble.” Some evenings, it can almost be called raucous, although I tend to reserve that description for the Sand Hill Cranes.

Turkeys crossing the road
75 total turkeys crossing the road

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This turkey was huge!

We often will see a group of these guys crossing the road, single file. You just stop the car and watch! We call it the “turkey turnpike.” It’s good to see so many around; it’s proof that the restoration efforts are successful. Hard to believe that in the late 1800s, the wild turkeys were extirpated and had to be reintroduced, but it validates my excitement at seeing something most folks think of as commonplace.
To listen to their calls, go to All About Birds



Wonders of the American Woodcock

The American woodcocks have been serenading us with their wonderful sounds since March 14. It’s certainly not an early record for Wisconsin, but it’s an amazing event. And more amazing to step outside the backdoor and enjoy it! Many people have traveled distances to witness their flight dances only to find they weren’t performing. Their sounds involve a “peeeeent” call note, ground strutting displays, and the spiraling flight dance, which is a twittering created by their wings and vocalizations. These performances are given at dusk and dawn.

Woodcocks migrate at night from southern US states. They also go by the name Timberdoodles. They usually nest further north but they will perform their mating ritual dances in route. (A wonderful thing for us!!) They nest in open and young woods by creating a slight depression in the ground or leaf litter typically at the base of a tree. Their colorations disguise them well. In fact, if you flush one, you’ll still be hard pressed to find the eggs for their colorations camouflage them equally as well!

These birds are very unusual! They are considered a shorebird and a game bird. Their long beak, used for prying out earthworms, is flexible and while they are digging in the ground they can be on the lookout for predators because their eyes are at the upper portion of their heads. Their brains are on the back underneath side (where our nape is) and their ears are between their eyes and brain.

Unfortunately, their numbers are declining and many states have them listed as “species of greatest conservation need.” Like other critters on the decline, loss of habitat is the number one reason. Incredibly, it remains legal to hunt them. The good news is that listing them with a “conservation need” status prompts more research, more awareness, and more efforts to reverse this downward trend.

Print by Bruce Taylor
Print by Bruce Taylor

The photo is some artwork that we have. It was painted by Bruce Taylor in Mt. Horeb, WI. It shows how camouflaged the woodcock and their eggs can be.