FIELD NOTES: DISGRUNTLED BIRDS — August 2018

Jack McShane with some of the birdhouses destroyed by the bear

By Jack McShane

Raare black-billed cuckoo

Nesting activities are mostly over now for the majority of our avian species. But at its peak back in June, I found it quite easy to find myself inadvertently in a location too close to an unseen nest, and in each case causing, I shall call it, great avian disgruntlement. Early on, I had placed one of my Adirondack chairs for my afternoon relaxing. When I finally found time to do that relaxing, which was about three weeks later, I was subjected to this very loud, consistent and seemingly never-ending chirping of a robin who had built a nest too close to my private chair. No relaxing. Had to leave. Another time, another place, similar scenario, high on the hill on the other side of the road I settled into my chair, only to discover that I had apparently passed by another nest, this time of an unknown species. They initiated this very truculent and incessant chatter which could only be interpreted as “Get the H ouda heah.” This time I ignored the uproar and enjoyed my cigar. Chatter loud to your hearts content, I had fun interpreting.

Sometimes the warning cries can be very threatening and one should take heed. In one instance I and many others did. It was an incident back ten or twelve years ago when I was doing a lot of hiking. This occurred at the beginning of the Kelly Hollow trail off Millbrook Road which required passing a thick patch of coniferous forest that apparently held the nest of a pair of goshawks. The screaming would start and a very disgruntled hawk would fly right over one’s head. A very alarming and threatening warning, especially when it happened to a first-time, unsuspecting hiker. No one that I know of was ever actually struck, although I believe this made many a temporarily terrified hiker move with great haste out of talon reach.

On a good news note which may seem odd, is the fact that I have been delighted to see a certain excrement scattered around our breezeway floor. The ceiling of the breezeway has old barn beams that are not structural, but are there for aesthetic design. In numerous places there is a sliver of space between the beam and the actual ceiling giving ideal refuge for little brown bats. Why the joy over a few bats in the belfry? Country-wide their numbers have been ravaged by a fungus called white nose syndrome and they are now considered an endangered species. The loss can have great impact on the number of flying nocturnal insects; you know, those lovely mosquitoes, etc. Ten, twenty years ago the dynamic was the swallows doing their due diligence flitting and diving over the pond harvesting bugs, and then as dusk would set in the swallows would leave and the bats would pick up this important task. These days the mosquitoes are proliferating, one of their major control agents having been greatly diminished. I have even installed a bat house on our pole barn to encourage the bat population. As to the bat poop on the breezeway floor, Nancy does the sweeping and is, well, somewhat disgruntled.

Bluebird painting by Nancy McShane

The returned bluebirds, after two years of no-show, had a very successful nesting this year having laid five eggs. They brooded them well, which resulted in five hatchlings, two of which I actually watched fledge. After my long vigilance and the last fledge I went to the box just to see if any remained: None did, all out. I was really amazed at the cleanliness of the nest and box. Bluebirds clean their nests removing egg shells and hatchling poop which is deposited in a little sack of fine membrane, carried off and dropped a distance from the nest by the parents. This is far different from the tree swallows that also use the boxes set out for the bluebirds and leave it quite a mess. Maybe this is why they are not liked as much by many birders. Bluebirds are known to have a second and even on rare occasion, a third nesting, so I did remove the old nest, as some feel it may get them to rebuild and start over. I also read somewhere that the young of the first set will at times help the adults with the feeding operations of the second batch. We will continue vigilant monitoring and we shall see what happens. Heard that before? By the way, as I was leaving the box after removing the nest I was attacked by the adult male. Maybe this was a good sign, as he was still guarding his empty nest box. He was obviously disgruntled!

A quick update on the local critters: The pair of geese had four goslings, remaining for two days as caught on trail cam, then disappearing. A rare black-billed cuckoo survived a window hit and was properly identified by my neighbors who are ardent birders. The EDG (Emotionally Disturbed Grouse) is alive and well, continuing his love/hate relationship with me. And, finally the bluebirds failed to have a second nesting at least in the box used the first time. Maybe they have moved up the road to one of my friend Lori’s many available home sites.

Taking the time to observe the natural world allows us to slow down, let go, and open our senses so that we can better connect to that world.~