Yesterday Neil Paprocki and myself accompanied Al on his first trip of the season to the Owyhee Bluebird Trail. Cheryl Huizinga, a member of both the Southwestern Idaho Birder’s Association and the Golden Eagle Audubon Society, joined us as well and was kind enough to volunteer her vehicle for the trip.
The first nestboxes that we checked are at the lowest elevation along the trail and these bluebird pairs are usually the earliest nesters. Sure enough, the second box we checked had bluebird chicks old enough to band! Al measured the wing chord of each chick and used his unique formula to determine an approximate age of 13 days old. Al had commented to us on the drive out that it seemed to him that the bluebirds had returned a bit earlier than usual this spring, and this nest confirmed his suspicions. This was the earliest date that Al could remember having bluebird chicks old enough to band on the Owyhee trail (of course he’ll be checking his records to confirm this). To me this highlights to importance of Al’s 35-year data set – as our ecosystems adjust to climate change, having baseline data on nesting bluebirds becomes increasingly meaningful.
As we continued along the bluebird trail we found lots of nests with eggs and many nests in various stages of construction. We found one additional box with chicks that had already hatched, but at only 4 days old they were too young to band. There is a relatively small window of time when the chicks can be banded so Al must return to the Owyhee trail in approximately 11 days otherwise these chicks will fledge without receiving their obligatory US Fish and Wildlife leg bands.
Now is the ideal time of year to catch adult female bluebirds. When it’s still cold (it snowed on us briefly during the trip) females that are incubating eggs are reluctant to leave their nest and Al likes to get these adults in the hand whenever possible. Once an adult bluebird is trapped it receives a leg band and its wing chord is measured. If a bird is already banded Al records the number on the band and can use this to determine exactly where and when that bird fledged.
It was a busy day with over 100 nestboxes checked and lots of bluebird nesting activity documented. We found two nestboxes that had fallen to the ground and were re-attached to their designated juniper trees, and one missing box that was replaced. Despite the amount of time that I spent out on Al’s bluebird trails last season the density of nesting bluebirds along his trails continues to amaze me. Almost all of the 108 nestboxes that we checked showed some evidence of bluebird activity and despite the cold weather we saw quite a lot of bluebirds.
It may go without saying at this point, but Al has definitely hooked both Neil and myself on bluebirds and I’m sure that we’ll be returning to these trails for many years to come.
Tags: al larson, birds, bluebird man, bluebird trail, bluebirds, citizen science, conservation, Idaho, mountain bluebird, owyhee mountains, Owyhees, wildlife