First translocations!

The first pairs of the season have been successfully settled in to their aviaries! Gary braved the Easter weekend traffic and ferry delays to bring two pairs of Western Bluebirds from Joint Base Lewis McChord (a healthy population in Washington) to the Cowichan Valley. In a couple of weeks we will release them and cross our fingers that they choose one of our nest boxes to start a new family. To minimize disturbance, I snuck these photos quickly while feeding them breakfast through the little door made for this purpose. It doesn’t make for the highest quality shots but if you look closely there is a pair in the background in each one.

April 10 update

Running around purchasing supplies to get started on the field season was a great reminder that funders are an important part of what makes this project possible.

I would like to take a moment to thank all those that have contributed financially to this season’s work:

We have a new funder this year! The BC Conservation and Biodiversity Awards Foundation has made a generous contribution to the project. They are a relatively new foundation created to support conservation based initiatives in BC.

Also contributing this year are: Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, Sitka Foundation, the Ministry of Transportation, the municipality of North Cowichan, Victoria Natural History Society. The TD Friends of the Environment hasn’t announced their grant recipients yet but have been generous supporters for several years.

I am also grateful to the many individual donors from our community, it all adds up!

Thank you all so very much!

Now…can I fit all this in my car?

April 1 update

So much to share this week, I don’t know where to begin!

I have to start with the news that the Western Bluebird family that we brought from Washington last summer has returned to the Cowichan Valley!

With our Trail Monitor Workshop that took place last Saturday, we can officially say that our field season has begun. It was so heartwarming to see the dedicated volunteers that monitor the project nest boxes in person this year as we stocked up on supplies, went over our goals and welcomed a new monitor to our group.

Then our aviary builders, Larry, James, Rodger and Warren got to work making a safe space for our translocated Western Bluebirds to stay while they adjust to their new home in the Cowichan Valley. No sooner had they completed the first aviary when the family of bluebirds we brought over last year showed up to remind us that this was their territory thank you very much! Larry and crew very generously moved the aviary to a new location on Monday and erected a second aviary on Wednesday.

The week finished with the exciting news that all of the pieces are in place for the first translocation to occur. On April 14 we will bring two pairs of Western Bluebirds across the border.

Our Trail monitors braving cool, wet weather to listen to Genevieve share about the beautiful Garry Oak ecosystems we work in. photo by Genevieve Singleton
New home for the first aviary after our bluebirds reclaimed the first location
Aviary builders hard at work on the second aviary

New trail!

The folks at Sandown Centre for Regenerative Agriculture have welcomed the Bring Back the Bluebirds Project on their land as part of their aim to take care of ecological health while engaging in sustainable agriculture.

Many thanks to Jen Rashleigh, Keisha (in photo), and Ennie. Together, we mounted 8 new boxes in beautiful oak/meadow habitat.

Sandown Centre for Regenerative Agriculture

First Western Bluebird Sighting of 2022!

Excited to share this post by Jeremy Gatten about the first sighting of a Western Bluebird this year!! The Western Bluebird is unbanded so not one of our translocated birds returning but a sign that Western Bluebirds will roam away from their birth territories. This is great to see because this kind of dispersal means that nearby populations can help support each other.

I was curious about the mixed pair of a Western and a Mountain Bluebird so I did a little research. Turns out mixed pairs do occasionally happen and sometimes produce fertile hybrids. It’s much too early to say that these two are more than just travelling companions though.

Post from Jeremy:

Today was marked with quite an extraordinary sighting for Vancouver Island. Seeing one species of bluebird is great, but seeing two species together in the winter… astronomical! I hope you all enjoy a shot of this rare encounter – here’s a female Mountain Bluebird with a juicy morsel on the left and a male Western Bluebird on the right.

Location: Blenkinsop Valley

Date: February 5, 2022

Season’s Greetings

While our bluebirds are off in search of the best winter berries, I hope you are all nestled somewhere warm and cozy with loved ones, enjoying the season. Looking forward to the return of the light and the return of our blue feathered friends that the New Year will bring.

Warm wishes for a Happy Holiday!

The Joys and Despairs of Bringing Back Bluebirds

We live in interesting times. Times when a person could come to hate the word “unprecedented”. It is at times like these when you might stop and wonder why we choose to put hope in the things we do. Why protect this species, why fight for this group of trees, why join this particular climate action?

My moment to question came when no Western Bluebirds were sighted on Vancouver Island this spring. This was not shocking, numbers have been decreasing over the past few years. The population desperately needed more translocations but border closures due to Covid prevented us from bringing more bluebirds across from the healthy population in Washington. Our population needs to reach a critical level before it has any possibility of sustaining itself and it clearly wasn’t there yet. Many caring naturalists in both the Cowichan Valley and Victoria have worked for years on this project and I needed to remember why.

The answers came to me over the summer, bit by bit. When I saw that the boxes we replaced on one nest box host’s property were now housing Violet-green and Tree Swallows instead of House Sparrows. When I watched numerous nests of local species go from eggs to fledglings, nests that wouldn’t have had a cavity without this project. When we spoke with community fair goers and heard their delightful tales of backyard stewardship and were able to support them with the information they needed. When we had the encouragement of seeing one of our Cowichan raised bluebirds nesting on San Juan Island, someday these populations may help to sustain each other as birds travel back and forth.

I was also buoyed up by the successes of others who have done this work before us. The San Juan Island Western Bluebird Project has gone through this before; they brought Western Bluebirds from Washington for years only to suffer a population collapse when translocations were paused. But they persisted with more translocations and have now had a stable population for three years after stopping translocations. Eastern Bluebirds in Ontario were once listed as a “species of concern” as their numbers declined to dangerous lows. Nest box trails were established and succeeded in bringing the population back up to the point where it is no longer listed as a concern.   

The biggest moment of joy this season came as we released a family of Western Bluebirds, one pair and their six nestlings, to a beautiful patch of Garry Oak habitat in the Cowichan Valley. In the big picture, this translocation is a small thing. One family does not rescue a population. But it was a good reminder that successes are built of many small things sustained over time. Not one of us alone has the power to fix the problems we face. We need everyone to bring their own skills and passions to sustain their own small things, we need everyone to choose hope.