Saturday, July 29, 2017

Bluebirds: Summer's second brood? #phenology

Three bluebird hatchlings! That's the occupants of the nest in the bluebird house that, earlier this Summer, appeared to have been taken over by tree swallows, which haven't been seen for some time. The picture I took this morning suffers from bright sun / dark nest box / limited compensatory photography skills. If you're interested, here's a series of what the nesting sequence looks like over 21 days. It's unclear if our nest box holds a second brood or a very late first brood. Bluebird necks are too short to carry bright colored bands the way some swans do so we don't know if it's the pair that arrived last Spring.

bluebird nestlings: 1 gaping, 2 hidden
bluebird nestlings: 1 gaping, 2 hidden
Photo by J. Harrington

I was at first really encouraged when I read about bluebirds eating insects. The local deer fly population needs severe thinning. Unfortunately, further reading yielded that "Insects caught on the ground are a bluebird’s main food for much of the year. Major prey include caterpillars, beetles crickets, grasshoppers, and spiders." No mention of deer flies, which, to my knowledge, are rarely, if ever, found on the ground, unless they're trying to bite me and I'm on the ground. Sigh! Maybe adding more bat boxes for next Summer would help.

The maple sapling we planted a couple of years ago is starting to show hints of color on some of its leaves. The tree swallows appear to have migrated. Large flocks of starlings or blackbirds were feeding in the stubble of a nearby small grain field that was being harvested. We're still waiting to see the first training flights for this year's waterfowl fledglings. Summer's started its downhill run but has a long, ideally smooth, run to go.

The Exposed Nest



Robert Frost, 1874 - 1963


You were forever finding some new play.
So when I saw you down on hands and knees
In the meadow, busy with the new-cut hay,
Trying, I thought, to set it up on end,
I went to show you how to make it stay,
If that was your idea, against the breeze,
And, if you asked me, even help pretend
To make it root again and grow afresh.
But ‘twas no make-believe with you to-day,
Nor was the grass itself your real concern,
Though I found your hand full of wilted fern,
Steel-bright June-grass, and blackening heads of clover.
‘Twas a nest full of young birds on the ground
The cutter-bar had just gone champing over
(Miraculously without tasting flesh)
And left defenseless to the heat and light.
You wanted to restore them to their right
Of something interposed between their sight
And too much world at once—could means be found.
The way the nest-full every time we stirred
Stood up to us as to a mother-bird
Whose coming home has been too long deferred,
Made me ask would the mother-bird return
And care for them in such a change of scene
And might our meddling make her more afraid.
That was a thing we could not wait to learn.
We saw the risk we took in doing good,
But dared not spare to do the best we could
Though harm should come of it; so built the screen
You had begun, and gave them back their shade.
All this to prove we cared. Why is there then
No more to tell? We turned to other things.
I haven’t any memory—have you?—
Of ever coming to the place again
To see if the birds lived the first night through,
And so at last to learn to use their wings. 


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