It’s Opening Day … and I bet you think this post is gonna be about baseball, huh? Not a chance.
I made a few brief notes over on the My Bluebird Journal page. But because it’s Opening Day, the day I opened my Bluebird nest boxes for the 2012 breeding season, I thought it was deserving of some detail here. The first day of the Bluebird monitoring season always brings excitement and a little apprehension, too. Who knows if there will be any successful Bluebird nests and fledgings. Will I even spy any Bluebirds on my route? Only time will tell, so keep watching the My Bluebird Journal page for entries as the season progresses.
I planned to go to the local garden show today, but when it dawned sunny with a forecast for a 60F high temperature, I knew I had to get out there and get the nest boxes ready. This is the warmest Opening Day I’ve had. Last year was sunny and 54F. But previous years had me preparing Eastern Bluebird nest boxes on cloudy, cold, windy and wet days.
So, here is how Opening Day went. I arrived at the site 8+ miles from home around 9:45 a.m. I parked in front of the “do not park” sign at the entrance to my trail remembering to place my “Forest Preserve District Volunteer Parking Permit” cards in the front and back windows. Oddly, one of the first things I saw was a bright red helicopter roaming the area and doing touch-and-goes from the nearby hilltop. Once it left the area, I heard a bird sound. A Red-winged Blackbird! How good to hear them again!
I worked the trail with eight nest boxes from south to north. At each stop I removed the duct tape I had placed on the inside of the box to seal the entrance hole over the winter. I removed what little remained of last season’s dust and nest material (having emptied the boxes of the used nests last autumn). I cleaned the nest boxes with a weak bleach/water solution and gave them a final rinse. Lastly, I rubbed a bar of soap on the top inside of each box to prevent wasps from finding it a comfortable place to attach a nest.
At every stop I lingered, taking pictures and watching and listening for wild birds. I encountered Red-winged Blackbirds, Cardinals, a Red-tailed Hawk. I kept on hearing a bird sound I could not identify but could never see the bird. Along the trail I also spotted a coyote dashing into the brush at the bottom of a hill as I started down.
Finally at the last box site, the sound of the still-unidentified bird grew more loud and seemed to be coming from different directions. I scoured the naked trees and could not see a bird. It sounded like a large bird. Then I looked straight up into the sky and there it was! A Sandhill Crane! Native Americans called them “echo makers” because of their sonorous calls. That’s what I heard during the morning but was unable to identify! I felt so honored to see one flying low and hear it call! It’s time for them to be migrating toward their breeding grounds in the north.
Having finished opening the boxes, seeing some beautiful wild things like that coyote, Sandhill Crane, and fresh moss growing bright and green on the forest floor, I retraced my steps along the trail back to my car. The sun grew warmer. Then, as I approach the trail’s end … stop … shhh. What’s that I hear? It sounds like … like a Bluebird. There! A female and in another tree a male! There they are! They seem to be teasing and playing and flirting with each other as they flit and fly among the trees. Welcome to my woods, Bluebirds! I hope you find a nest box to your liking and have a happy, successful summer here.
Moss grows on a dead tree limb on the forest floor.
Finally, I want to add a note about a friend of mine named Gary. I met Gary in Costa Rica on a hummingbird study trip. He lived in Castlegar, British Colombia, Canada and was an avid Bluebird Monitor and licensed bird bander. After our study in Costa Rica, one day I received several Bluebird magazines (Bluebird is the “Journal of the North American Bluebird Society”) from Gary who knew I was embarking on a Bluebird Monitor volunteer effort. While Eastern Bluebirds are found in my area, Gary monitored and banded Western Bluebirds and Mountain Bluebirds. Gary kept in touch by email and shared some great photos and helped me along the way in my first year. Gary passed away after a sudden, brief illness a couple of years ago. I thought about Gary today. Thanks Gary, for the friendship and mentoring you offered in my novice year as a Bluebird Monitor – before I hardly had an opportunity to know what it entailed.
Gary’s Mountain Bluebird