Once the nest boxes are all cleaned and the data all entered, it is fascinating to take a moment to really look at how the season went. We try all kinds of methods to improve our nest box trails for local species and speculate on how things are going but until we can look at the data as a whole we don’t know. This year was a great example.
There is more detail in the Summary Report attached but I will give a brief synopsis. I will start with what we did know before data compilation. We had three of the Western Bluebirds from last year’s translocation return to Vancouver Island, two of them established territories in Cowichan Valley. Two new pairs were translocated from a healthy population in Washington. A total of 12 fledglings were raised over the season. What wasn’t clear until we looked at the numbers was that native species using the boxes doubled their number of successful nests this year! And there were half as many attempts by House Sparrows to take over boxes. No matter how many bluebirds we bring over, they will only be successful if their nesting habitat is safe so I find this news especially encouraging.
On the less encouraging side, an Avian Flu swept across North America this year, dashing our plans to bring more families of Western Bluebirds over for this season. It is lucky that the two pairs that did establish territories were so successful. There wasn’t a single mortality this season! We will continue to bring bluebirds over next year so that we can reach population numbers that are more resilient to the winds of chance.
Give a moment to look over the Summary Report if you are curious. It is time to wish our bluebirds safe travels and hope the winter treats them well.
It is always such a bittersweet time when the field season ends. This year marks ten years of avian conservation for this project. As befits such a birthday, we celebrated in the sunshine on Friday with cake and special gifts to the volunteers that work so hard on recovering Western Bluebirds. One of our volunteers, Joan Richardson, generously shared a lovely watercolour and ink piece that she created using a photo of one of our bluebird fledglings. We made prints to share. My sister, Shelley McLeod-Garner, created a felt/quilt pillow for us to gift. Genevieve Singleton, a volunteer that has dedicated so many hours since the very beginning of the project, shared stories of how this initiative took root. My heart is warmed by the dedication and passion of this group of volunteers. So many thanks to all of you!
We’ve had quite a busy few weeks here, hence why this update has taken so long!
To start with, our second clutch of 5 nestlings was banded several weeks ago, and they all flew the nest a week later. It was quite bittersweet, as we will miss getting to peer in at sleepy bluebird nestlings over the winter. However, we have since spotted them stretching their fresh new feathers while they follow their parents all over the neighbourhood, and it’s been a lovely sight watching these experienced parents hunt for them.
We also have had the exciting reappearance of the male that we originally brought over this spring (who was ousted by the current male). He must have stuck around all summer, a lone bachelor, enjoying our meadows and grubs.
It’s quite fun to watch the feeding station and try to predict which bluebirds will show up each day, as currently the bluebirds from both sites seem to be sharing the same feeder. Thank goodness for those coloured bands. We now have a confirmed population of 18 bluebirds in the Cowichan Valley for this year, over double of last year’s population of 8!
As for the rest of our cavity nesters, nesting season is officially drawing to a close, and our faithful trail monitors are all cleaning out their boxes and turning in their data. We will compile this data and submit it to Project Nestwatch, so that we can contribute to the data on our native cavity nesting populations.
We have been busy bees in other ways as well, as we are sprucing up our aviaries and giving them a fresh coat of paint. This will help to improve their longevity –hopefully next year’s bluebirds will enjoy their fancy, newly renovated digs!
It has been a real pleasure to watch our bluebird fledglings reaching certain milestones as they continue to grow, and they have been enjoying the warmer weather as of late. Over the last week or so, we have seen two more nestlings fly into the safety of nearby oak branches, and their parents have been dutiful and attentive feeders, particularly the male. Today they were viewed following the male around the meadows while he hunted for them. They sure grow up fast!
The older fledglings that have been out for several weeks now are starting to fly greater distances, and even hunt and feed themselves! Although, like many other adolescents, they can still be seen asking mom and dad for attention. It’s slightly comical to know that they are perfectly capable of feeding themselves at this point, but they’re not quite ready to let go of being babied.
Mom and dad’s attention is going to be even more in demand from now on, as yesterday they welcomed four more babies into the world! These scraggly little ones are 50% neck at this point, and are cuddled up in their warm grass nest under an oak tree.
On a sadder note, we had an unfortunate complication with our planned translocation last week that resulted in Gary having to turn around en-route due to an exclusion zone for avian flu near the Washington border that we were unaware of. We were deeply upset by this turn of events, especially after all the hard work of our wonderful volunteers and supportive landowners to set up our aviaries in preparation.
However, we must remember to celebrate what has already been a very successful nesting season with our two bluebird families, who have between them produced 7 healthy fledglings, and four more nestlings! This was indeed a significant stroke of luck, as we never know if a released pair will simply take off and fly home, let alone stay and raise two clutches. And so, we remain thankful and optimistic.
Fledglings are so delightful! For the first couple of days they hunker down in a tree absorbing the vastness of their new world and being brought food by their parents. But now that they have had a few days to get used to being mobile they can’t get enough! They follow their parents, practice hunting, and chase their siblings. Today one particularly precocious young one even landed on Helen! We are lucky enough to have five new fledglings in the Valley, with two more freshly banded and getting ready to join them.
Banding day for our first clutch of the season!! The first pair to settle in to a box has now raised 5 young nestlings (3 females and two males). We give them 3 coloured bands and one aluminum band each so that we can identify them when they return next fall. Volunteers helped out with the banding day and as a lovely bonus, provided us with these great photos to share. Photo credit to Jody Wells, Thanks Jody!
Welcome back Helen! I am thrilled to say that Helen has returned for another summer of Bluebird madness. This week she has been kept running looking after our bluebird pairs and the trails. We now have two clutches of eggs!! Keep checking for updates, chicks are hopefully soon to hatch!
The first Bluebird nests of the season are begun! Our first released pair has not wasted any time in starting a lovely clutch of eggs. When the second pair was released, the male decided to leave the area but the female has stayed and is mated with the returned male from last year’s translocation. They have begun nest building, preferring a slightly less traditional mixture of grass and moss over the strictly grass nest.
Look waay up! There in the branches of the tallest tree is a pair of bluebirds newly released to the Cowichan Valley. They are a little frightened at the moment, hopefully a night’s sleep will give them time to consider staying a while. Please keep your eyes open for them in the coming days as they decide where to make their home!
The other pair was quicker to get down to the business of choosing a nest box as soon as they were released yesterday, I will do my best to get some photos of them in the coming days. I certainly don’t want to interrupt such important work.