Every birder needs a mechanic’s mirror. Well, okay, not literally every birder. But certainly most bird spies, aka, bird “monitors”.
When I first began volunteering as a Bluebird monitor for my local forest preserve district, someone said, or somewhere I read, that a mechanic’s mirror would be a useful tool for looking inside bird nest boxes. I could intellectualize why, but at first I didn’t seem to have a use for one. I opened the shoulder-high bird nest boxes and either there was something in the box or there was nothing in the box. If there was something in the box it could be a scrap or two of dead grass, a couple of sticks, maybe a shallow nest, perhaps a deeper nest with feathers or eggs or baby birds. But, generally, I could see what or who was occupying the box. No need for a mirror.
But as my rookie Bluebird monitor season wore on, I knew my job would have been easier with not only a mechanic’s mirror, but also a small flashlight. Yep! Mirror and flashlight! Sure does make it sound as though one is preparing to look up under and behind a car’s struts from the relative comfort (or discomfort) of an auto mechanic’s creeper, doesn’t it?
The need for the mirror and flashlight in my experience, was that it was very difficult, if not just plain impossible, to monitor what was happening down inside the nests of house wrens who built very high and very deep nests from very unbending little sticks in some of my bird boxes. The deep cup of the house wren nest is usually toward the back of the box and it’s quite a tangle to negotiate. One can easily disturb a nest like this by trying to move it in order to be able to see way down in the deep dark back of the nest. The alternative is to, well, just not really know what’s going on down in there…an unacceptable situation.
It so happened that the House Wrens on my Bluebird trail (the House Wrens either could not read or did not care that the words “Bluebird Nest Box, Tampering is a Federal Offense” were stenciled boldly on the front of the box below the opening) also seemed to prefer a box in a deeply shaded area so that even bright natural sunlight was no help in penetrating the deep, dark recesses of their nests.
So, off I went to the local automotive supply store after work one evening. One of the nice store clerks asked if he could help me. But at the time I couldn’t even conjure up the exact name of the item for which I was looking. Yes, I could have described it to him and he would have been able to point me right to it, but I love to “window shop” in whatever store I find myself. “No thanks. Just looking,” I said.
After wandering the automotive store aisles and taking a close look at floor mats (mud on boots after tramping on wet forest floors and forest preserve trails is a subject for another story), leather cleaner, car wash, wax and chamois, I found what I came in for….the “mechanic’s mirror”! The prize! Aha! I was so proud of myself after making the purchase and finding how much easier using the small mirror at the end of a telescoping handle made my Bluebird monitor’s job! It made it more fun, too. The perspective it gives of the delicate eggs and baby birds is more than worth the small cost of a basic mirror.
One day I found myself taking over a route for a fellow monitor as he was unable to tend to his nest boxes for some time due to a family priority. That is when I really found out how indispensable the mirror is. Two boxes along his route were set higher than most and it would have been impossible for me to peer into the nests in those boxes without being able to reach up, mirror in hand, to make my observations.
I must admit that when I have one hand holding my mirror and the other hand holding my flashlight, I am at a loss for another hand to gently probe inside the nest to count eggs or hatchlings or to point and shoot my little digital camera in hopes of getting a cool bird picture.
The “I need a third hand” dilemma leads me to make this addition to the birding items on my wish list…a mechanic’s mirror with lights! When I get one and have a little experience using it under my belt, I’ll give you a report.