This year we completed the first translocation since 2016. This marks the beginning of a second round of translocations to revive the population. We continued to improve, maintain and monitor the Nest Box trails established to replace lost nesting habitat. Our trail monitors and staff collected 1825 observations and found 75 nests of various native bird species using our boxes. To promote stewardship of the Garry Oak habitat so important to the success of Western Bluebirds, we reached out to the community both in person and online this year. We cherished the ability to get our message out in person again but also loved being able to reach a wider audience through podcasts and Zoom events.
- One of the Cowichan raised female Western Bluebirds was found nesting on San Juan Island this year. This is a great sign for the future as one of the goals of reintroducing Western Bluebirds in the Cowichan area is to re-establish connected populations throughout the Georgia Strait area. Visit https://sjpt.org/ to learn more about the San Juan Island bluebird recovery efforts.
- No sightings of returned Western Bluebirds were recorded this year in the Cowichan Valley or Victoria Area. This points to the importance of renewing our translocation efforts to bring the population to a sustainable number.
- One pair of Western Bluebirds along with their six nestlings were brought to the Cowichan Valley from a healthy population in Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.
- These nestlings all successfully fledged and the released family are currently residing in the Cowichan area.
- Due to the stress added to the birds during what turned out to be a very lengthy delay at the border, further translocations were postponed until next year when we hope that the border restrictions will be lifted.
- Supplemental mealworms were provided to the translocated bluebirds on a daily basis, for 7 weeks.
Nestbox Stewardship and Citizen Science
Upon taking ownership of the bluebird project in 2017, the Cowichan Valley Naturalist Society (CVNS) developed a keen and skilled community of volunteers to monitor nestboxes.
- Volunteers attend a monitoring workshop early in the spring and have regular access to project personnel for advice.
- Monitoring nest boxes is a huge component to this project. Nearly 260 nestboxes are located throughout the Cowichan Valley. Over the breeding season of 2021, volunteers collected 1825 data points on the occupancy and status of these nest boxes.
- Much of this dataset contains information on the breeding status of many native passerines, such as the Bewick’s Wren, House Wren, Tree Swallow, Violet-green Swallow, Chestnut-backed Chickadee and (of course) Western Bluebirds. This data collection will be submitted to the Project NestWatch database.
With the current population of WEBLs, even small, random predation events can be extremely detrimental to the recovery of this species. As a result, project personnel, nest box hosts and volunteers implement several predator-guarding techniques to deter carnivores and invasive species from accessing our nest boxes.
- 24 nest boxes were equipped with a stucco-wire mesh guard on the roof functions to deter raptors (particularly owls) from harming nestlings.
- 10 boxes were equipped with a sealed PVC sleeve that prevents mammalian predators (raccoons, cats, squirrels, etc) from climbing up and accessing the nest box. These efforts are critical in ensuring that our provided nest boxes provide a safe nesting habitat that will not increase the likelihood of predation.
- House Sparrows continue to pose a significant threat to nesting bluebirds and thus we encourage monitors to remove HOSP nests amidst construction.
- When bluebirds are nesting, nest boxes are equipped with a Sparrow-spooker that flutters on the top of the nest box and deters HOSPs from accessing the box and harassing the bluebirds.
- Decorative boxes can become a danger for native cavity nesting species. We replaced these boxes with boxes recommended by the North American Bluebird Society.
Many of our protection techniques have been inspired by groups such as the North American Bluebird Society and Bet Zimmerman’s website www.Sialis.org, and have been refined by project staff over the years. The stucco-wire guarding technique was provided by Bruce Cousens and Charlene Lee of the Western Purple Martin Recovery Foundation who have had success with this method at deterring raptors from killing juvenile Purple Martins.
There isan established network of nest box trails in the Victoria area, including individual trails in the Blenkinsop Valley, Cordova Bay Golf Course, Uplands Golf Course, Sidney Island Air strip and Highland Golf Course. Over 26 nest boxes were monitored throughout the breeding season by Victoria Natural History Society members and more boxes are being installed this fall.
Outreach and Education
As over 95% of Garry Oak Ecosystems have been lost completely or significantly degraded, it is imperative that the remaining habitats are appreciated, studied and protected. The Western Bluebird is a very charismatic species that, through their conservation, draws attention to the many rare and often endemic plants, insects and other biota that thrive among Garry Oak Ecosystems.
This year’s outreach was a mixture of online and outdoor as safety permitted. By inspiring the public to become involved in Western Bluebird conservation, we hope to encourage the restoration and preservation of the remaining Garry Oak Habitat the Cowichan Valley is so fortunate to have. To do such, project staff and volunteers hosted (or presented at) 15 events in 2021 that include:
- Zoom presentations through the Rocky Point Bird Observatory,
- Podcast on the Babbling Bird podcast site,
- Wildwings Festival,
- Cowichan Exhibition,
- Nature walks by Genevieve Singleton,
- Presentations at Junior Golf Camp
- Trail monitor gatherings
- End of season appreciation event.
Discussions and presentations at these events focussed on avian conservation, natural history and the ecology of the imperilled Garry Oak Ecosystem. Through these events the bluebird project directly interacted with over 500 members of the project, all of whom met the project with support and interest.
Project staff wrote regular blog posts that discussed project updates and interesting information. These updates were distributed through our email list (230 individuals), Facebook (330 followers) and website (600 visitors over the year). Project personnel also published articles outlining recent project happenings that were featured in the CVNS’s Newsletter. We have an Instagram page (cowichan_valley_bluebird) as well as a publicly available Facebook page (Bring Back the Bluebirds).
While the indoor Beer and Burger fundraiser had to be postponed one more year, we were delighted to host our End of Season Appreciation Event outdoors with only a little well needed rain that not one person complained about.
This marks the tenth consecutive year the Bring Back the Bluebird Project has operated within the Cowichan Valley. In 2017 the project was transferred from the Garry Oak Ecosystem Recovery Team (GOERT) to the Cowichan Valley Naturalists’ Society (CVNS). In late 2019 the project was then transferred from CVNS to the British Columbia Conservation Foundation (BCCF). Western Bluebirds (Sialia Mexicana) were extirpated from Vancouver Island by the mid 1990’s. Due to their extirpation, the species’ recovery relies extensively on the translocation of family groups from a healthy population in Washington State. This international project is supported and advised by Gary Slater, Ph.D. of the Ecostudies Institute. Gary is an experienced ornithologist and reintroduction specialist focused on conserving at-risk songbird populations.
A very special thank-you to our volunteers and supporters
In 2021 our volunteer community contributed over 300 volunteer hours to the success of the Cowichan Valley’s Western Bluebirds. Additionally, 68 nest box hosts contributed to Garry Oak meadow stewardship. A huge thank-you to Gary Slater, whose efforts to bring bluebirds across the border this year were met with incredible challenges and to Genevieve Singleton for helping so much with our outreach. Thank-you to our entomologist, Ted Leischner, for his many hours culturing high-quality mealworms to feed our bluebirds. We greatly appreciate the Cowichan Valley Naturalist Society and our many trail monitors, mealworm feeders and other field-workers: Alison and Grace Rimmer, Bruce Coates, Carol Blackburn, Carol Milo, Barry Hetschko, Hazel Nielsen, Angela Atkins, Bob and Helen Nation, Gill Radcliffe, Genevieve Singleton, Deb Cleal, Caroline Deary, Jim and Lyn Wisnia, Willie Harvey, Theresa Middlemiss, Jennifer Goodbrand, Dave Brummit, Bary and Joy Beck, and Ron and Moira Elder. Thank you to both our past and present staff, including Helen Anderson, Brielle Reidlinger, Ryan Hetschko, Hannah Hall, Braden Judson, and Julia Daly. Thanks to the VNHS volunteers who monitored their nest boxes and are helping us to expand our Victoria Trails including Ann Nightingale, Bryan Gates, John Costello, Jody Wells and others.
We would like to extend sincere thanks to the following funders for their financial contributions that supported this project in 2021: Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, TD Friends of the Environment Foundation, Sitka Foundation, McLean Foundation, Victoria Natural History Society, BC Ministry of Transportation, Thrifty Foods and numerous private donors. Many local supporters donate supplies, storage space and in-kind support including: Polster Environmental Consulting, Ecostudies Institute, CopyCat Printing Ltd., Pacific Northwest Raptors, the Cowichan Land Trust, the Nature Conservancy of Canada, the North American Bluebird Society, the Cowichan Bay Pub, and Keating Heritage Farms. Without such support, this project would not have been possible.
BCCF 2021 Summary Report written by Jacquie Taylor
You can follow us at https://www.facebook.com/CowichanValleyBluebird and you can also donate to the project online at https://www.canadahelps.org/en/dn/58165 To learn about the history of the project, visit: http://www.goert.ca/activities/bluebirds/ and to learn about the work of Ecostudies Institute, visit: https://www.ecoinst.org.