Monday, April 16, 2012

Bluebird Expo & Bluebird Trail, Week Three

This was a fun week -- no tragedies, quite a few eggs, and on Saturday, April 14, Dave and I attended the annual Bluebird Expo, our first, which was held in Byron, near Rochester, Minnesota.

Speaker in front of screen showing chicks in nestbox

At the Expo, we heard lots of good advice for successfully fledging bluebirds from people who have impressive records of doing just that. We also saw some wonderful video footage of wood ducks inside their nest boxes, learned about best practices in purple martin housekeeping, saw a wonderful presentation from the Raptor Center (a red-tailed hawk, a great horned owl, a peregrine falcon and a bald eagle), and laughed at stories from writer/humorist/birder Al Batt, known to many as Al B of Hartland in the Pioneer Press's Bulletin Board feature. You know all that honking Canada geese do when they're flying? It's the females asking the male in the lead why he doesn't just stop and ask for directions. Thanks for the laughs, Al.

Display of recommended bluebird nestbox styles

We bought some bluebird monitoring equipment (a nestbox cleaning tool, a sparrow trap), plus a Bluebird Recovery Program cap so we'll look official when we go around checking nestboxes. I got to see my blog friend Ruth, of Nature Knitter, and I was pleased that fellow Northfield newbie bluebirders Robbie and Griff Wigley also attended. Another friend we encountered there was Dan Kahl, the naturalist at Mount Olivet Retreat Center, who has been my Christmas Bird Count partner in Northfield the past two years. We were impressed by the planning and dedication that clearly goes into these bluebird conferences. Thanks to all involved. The Rochester Post-Bulletin covered the event in a story headlined State's bluebird population headed toward new high.

Three eggs in this nest Sunday, but cool, so not incubating yet

Now for the trail report: We had eggs in two additional nests this week, for a total of 18 eggs in four nests. In one location the mama was in the nestbox when we took it down to check it, though we had gently announced our presence with our voices and tapped on the outside of the box. She flew out in a hurry when Dave looked into the box! He thinks she was the more surprised of the two of them. She watched us from an overhead wire while we quickly assessed the eggs and attended to our other task of the week (more on that below). Perhaps next time she'll recognize the sounds of our approach and leave sooner, though we hear that sometimes a female will remain on the eggs during the nest check.

Five warm eggs - incubating

The task we did for each of our sites yesterday was to polish the metal conduit mounting pole with fine steel wool and then apply car wax to it, to make sure the pole was good and slippery to deter climbing by a cat, raccoon or other predator. If there were eggs in a nest, I carefully held the nestbox and covered the opening as best I could to minimize heat loss while Dave polished the pole, so the eggs wouldn't be jostled.

Chickadee nest - made of moss, not dried grass

In one of our two newest nestboxes, we had some moss last week. County coordinator Keith Radel helped us out by putting a chickadee sleeve on this nestbox, which reduces the size of the opening so larger birds like house sparrows can't get in and cause damage. This Sunday there was enough moss to make quite a cozy looking bed on which to lay tiny little chickadee eggs. We will eagerly await that occurrence!

Here's the full report for the week. Boxes retain the same numbering all season, so even though two boxes have been taken over by another monitor we keep them in this list so the numbers will stay correct. Calculations of incubation time are based on Sunday's nest check.
  1. Empty
  2. (Paired with #1) This is the nest box where the house sparrow killed the chickadee. Box continues empty but we have removed the sparrow trap because there is now a chickadee sleeve on the nestbox, in case another chickadee wants to use this location.
  3. Partial nest (a bit further along than last week)
  4. (Paired with #3) Nest about complete, with some feather lining (more developed than last week)
  5. Last week I reported a complete bluebird nest with feathers lining the grass nest. This week we found three eggs (see top nest photo above), but they were cool to the touch, so incubation has not begun.
  6. (Paired with #5) Partial nest (no change)
  7. Partial nest (no change)
  8. (Paired with #7) A few strands of grass (no change)
  9. Bluebird nest that had five eggs last weekend had five warm eggs, so incubation should be about halfway complete.
  10. (Paired with #9) Complete nest, no eggs (no change)
  11. Discontinued
  12. Discontinued
  13. Complete nest (more developed than last week)
  14. Bluebird nest with five warm eggs. Female was on eggs when box was opened and then flew to nearby overhead wire. There were no eggs in this nest last Sunday, so since bluebirds lay one egg a day the incubation started at most a day or two before our nest check.
  15. Bluebird nest 75% complete (no change)
  16. Five warm eggs in nest; a week ago this nest had three eggs, so incubation is probably five days under way. 
  17. Last week this box had a small amount of moss; this week there was a substantial nest of moss. Chickadee nest; chickadee sleeve applied.
  18. (New box this week, paired with #17) - Empty

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