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Weasels and birds

A pair of bluebirds has been nesting here for over a month.  They laid a clutch around May 25 which didn’t hatch until several weeks ago (unless perhaps, when I go to inspect the box, they built a nest on top of the old unhatched eggs).  From what I’ve seen and read, bluebird eggs should hatch within about two weeks so this was very unusual.  I had been checking the 5 eggs every few days, till finally, on June 25, they hatched.

The father is an especially watchful and concerned dad.  He is always checking on the hatchlings, and he was always checking on the eggs too.  Three eggs hatched and lately, as they’ve been growing, the parents have been busy feeding those hungry youngsters.

Concerned dad

Long-Tailed weasel

I just returned from a Bioblitz over the weekend in the Pryors.  I headed out to check my trail camera in the woods and upon my return the bluebirds were really upset, making a big racket right outside their box.  I stood watching fairly close, wondering what the fuss was about.  Then I saw.  A head popped out of their house, and suddenly a long-tailed weasel emerged.  He ran off into a ground squirrel hole quick as a flash. Then I went to check on the babies.  One had fledged and was alive in the grass, but the other two were dead in the box.  If only I’d been a bit quicker I might have scared that weasel off.

I watched the birds for the next several hours.  The weasel returned for his prizes and carried them back into the hole, while the fledgling made his way through the grass uphill into deeper cover.  While the upset parents kept an eye out for the weasel, they also fed and protected their only baby that was left.

fledging hiding in bushes, making it’s way farther from the nest box

Meanwhile a menagerie of other bird species were coming around, interested.  Juncos, a female bluebird, and especially a pair of chipping sparrows wondered what the fuss was about, sometimes helping to scare off the intruder.  One of the most fascinating things was to watch the response of all the neighboring birds over the course of the several hours the bluebirds were upset.

That weasel, or its offspring, may have been the one that ate my pika two years back.  Oddly, he seemed to know exactly when to make his move for the birds–when they were just about to fledge, still helpless yet nice and plump.

mom still feeding the one chick left in the bushes

I rarely see weasels although I know they are around.  But being opportunistic carnivores, they have impeccable hunting skills.  Since I’ve watched this pair of bluebirds year after year, I feel a kinship with them and wanted to drive off that weasel.  I even tried to get my dog to flush him out.  Maybe the fact that the dog and I were gone for 3 days gave this weasel his bold chance.   Yet nature has it’s own ways and my human interference, well-intentioned though it may be, is probably more of the problem than a solution.

A busy spring rolls in

It seems to be busy around here.  There’s a nesting pair of bluebirds in a box right outside my front door.  I was sure they were going to leave last week because of all the noise around here.  I needed to work on my driveway because, surprise, this winter I couldn’t get in.  I was able to plough it initially, but everytime there was a melt, the ruts just got deeper and deeper.  Pretty soon I was parking down the road at my neighbors for the last few months. There’s been some pretty big equipment happening all week, taking giant scopes of limestone and rock from my personal ‘quarry’–my hill–and laying it all along the road.

But this morning a head popped out and there was madame Bluebird.  She must be sitting on her eggs now, because she hasn’t moved.  I’ll be leaving for a few weeks on Monday for California and then the Greater Yellowstone Coalition Annual Meeting in Jackson, so she’ll have some nice peace and quiet.

When I snagged the photo, I didn't see the butterfly till I printed it.

When I snagged the photo, I didn't see the butterfly till I printed it.

Several hawks came through while I was watering today.  A pair of red tails soared by.  I know there’s a nesting pair down the road by the bridge so they might be the ones.  An unidentified buteo–two toned black underneath which I think was a Merlin–visited.  And a kestrel snagged a ground squirrel (or something the equivalent in its mouth) while I watched from the front yard.

Ahh, motherhood

Ahh, motherhood

So cute!

So cute!

A moose popped in this afternoon.  I was working in the shed sanding a table when Koda started barking.  It was the kind of bark you just know its not a person.  I keep Koda on a shock collar usually.  That’s in case a wolf or bear comes along.  But around the house he’s usually off-shock.  Luckily, he responded nicely, came when called, laid down and stopped barking.  The moose seemed pretty unperturbed.  A barking dog is like an annoyance when she’s used to dealing with wolves.  She was alone and I know there’s a pregnant cow down the road in the swampy area.  But this lady was lean. She ambled up from the trees, paused to consider the barbed wire fence, jumped it awkwardly, then slowly made her way up the hillside through the meadow.

Moose eating in marsh nearby

Moose eating in marsh nearby

Yesterday I saw some incredible rams just up the road.  I was hiking up a steep ridge when two white ‘rocks’ appeared on the ridge below.  W__ spotted them.  They were the rumps of two rams with 3/4 curl horns.  I rarely expect to see sheep up here in the summer.  A lot of them head higher up, towards Yellowstone and the Absarokas.  Maybe these guys were just hanging around because of all the snow there still.

The flies are out, the ticks are here, the mosquitos are biting, and the wildflowers are changing everyday.  Spring is here and it is only for a moment. Soon summer will be in full bloom, the rivers will recede enough to be crossable, and the elk will all disappear for higher grounds.

I’ll be back in two weeks and everything will be different.  I’ll certainly be missing all the action.  But I’ll be posting when I can from California and I intend to fully report on the GYC meeting in Jackson.

Some spring shots:

Calypso bulbosa

Calypso bulbosa

Swainson Hawk hunting in irrigated cattle field down the road

Swainson Hawk hunting in irrigated cattle field down the road

Draba oligosperma...Whitlowgrass

Draba oligosperma...Whitlowgrass

Alpine Forget-me-not, Eritrichum nanum

Alpine Forget-me-not, Eritrichum nanum

A Glorious spring day.  Koda and I hike up Elk Creek Meadows.

A Glorious spring day. Koda and I hike up Elk Creek Meadows.

Bluebirds

I’m told we’re having typical March weather–one day its snowing and the next its 50 degrees and sunny.  But it must be spring because I’ve seen mountain bluebirds.  The previous owners built nesting boxes and put them all around.  I decided to check all the boxes, fix them up and clean them out.

I’m not a very good birder.  For some reason, bird identification is really hard for me.  I’ve done lots of walks with birders, looked at the books, listened to tapes, but I just can’t remember most birds.  Plants I only have to see once and then I’ll remember their latin and common name.  But birds are just hard for me.

I assumed that I should clean out the boxes.  There’s at least a dozen or more old boxes on the property.  I knocked the tops off to clean them, and most needed repairing.  Sure enough, when I opened them up, all were filled to the brim with twigs and nesting materials.  In one I found 2 perfect small eggs that never had hatched.

Since two boxes completely disintegrated, I decided that I was going to make replacements.  I got a plan online from the American Bluebird Society, complete with materials list and to-scale drawings.   I bought some cedar in town, and began my project with excitement.

I like carpentry and also don’t really know what I’m doing, so of course, I didn’t quite read the measurements right.  I saw the 5 1/2″ wide and assumed that every side was 5 1/2″s.  Nope, some were 7 1/4″.  My birdhouse is full of improvisions and fudging, but it didn’t come out too bad, especially for a first time carpenter.  Making the cuts with the power saw and putting something together from scratch made me feel ‘powerful’, the illusion of a self-sufficient woman.  The good thing about my birdhouse is that I can open the lid as its only attached by wires.  That way I can view the nesting process. My new deluxe box.  Not bad for an amateur carpenter!

But here’s the bad thing:  I don’t really like the birdhouse.  Its so big compared to the rustic ones that came with the house.  Even though I made it to the “professionally advised mountain bluebird specs”, its just so big and clunky.  The ones already here are funky, falling apart, have different sized holes, have pencils for perches (you’re not even supposed to have perches!), are small, but the bluebirds LOVE them!  They fill up every year; even though they’re not kosher homes.Funky houses that came with the property

So instead of making more of these ‘trophy’ homes, I found scrap pieces and fixed up the old ones best I could.  It wasn’t easy, because everytime you put a nail in, you risked the box falling to pieces.  These nest boxes were on the verge of disintegration.  In fact, one of the worst looking boxes is the most beloved of the birds.  Instead of the hole being 1 9/16″ like the drawing says, this hole has been pecked over and over again with the years so it’s 2 1/2″ wide.  There is no roof overhang and the side has a big air hole in it.  I fixed it up with scraps here and there, so at least the breeze wasn’t a gale inside and I put on a roof with an overhang.  They love the funk!

I like my bluebird ‘shanty town’.  In these hard economic times, I think the bluebirds have the right approach.  They don’t need much, they reuse, don’t really care what it looks like, and seem happy enough with the cramped quarters.  I’ll just bet that all my old boxes are filled soon. I’m not so certain about the new deluxe model.