Bluebird Update: Survival Challenge Ends Well

It is time to give you an update on the progress of the Naked Mountain Bluebird nest box.  The new box was erected and discussed in the February 18th post, “Bluebirds Need Your Help.” On May 1st I took a picture of the beautiful nest and five very blue eggs that I found in

Naked Mountain bluebird nest with eggs. Picture taken May 1st by author.

the box and published it in the post, “The Birds Have Arrived on Naked Mountain!” I had planned to screw a protective cage onto the front of the nest box the day I had my car wreck on Naked Mountain – see the May 11 post.  I was waiting to do this until I knew the eggs would be about to hatch so that the mother bluebird would be less likely to abandon her eggs due to the new, possibly frightening, addition to the nest box entrance.  The cage has bent-back prongs on the ends to discourage snakes from trying to enter the box; they will avoid the prongs to prevent injury.  But, the tow truck arrived more quickly than expected to haul my wrecked vehicle off the mountain. And, I was scheduled to be in New York City for five days very shortly, so I drove to Northern Virginia in a rented sedan and did not get back to Naked Mountain, in my nicely repaired all-wheel-drive Subaru Outback, until May 23rd.

Author looking into the bluebird nest box on May 23rd. Photo by David Hopwood.

 

 

The day I got back, I hurried up to the small barren where the nest box is and looked inside.

 

 

 

 

 

This is what I found:

As you can see, the nest is not disturbed at all as it would be if a raccoon had predated the nest, and there are no feathers, or fluff from nestlings and just some fecal droppings on side of the box that was likely left by adult birds.  It has all the markings of a stealthy snake attack on the eggs with all of them consumed.  The big concern I had was whether the mother bluebird was consumed as well, trapped while sitting on her eggs.  Yikes!

I was very sad about this.  But in the hope that the mother survived and would just try again, I left the nest in place and screwed the protective cage on tight. Then, a few days later, on May 28,  I checked the nest box again.  This is what I found:

Eggs found on May 28th.

 

Hurray!! The drive for survival within these beautiful, seemingly fragile, little birds is really impressive! I’ll keep you posted on the progress of this nest box throughout the season

 

In the meantime, here are some wildflowers in bloom now on Naked Mountain.

Tradescantia virginiana blooming on Naked Mountain. Photo by author.

 

Can anyone identify the species of Penstemon in this photo?

Penstemon ?subspecies, blooming on Naked Mountain. Photo by author.

I am guessing either canescens or hirsutus, but the leaf matches the Flora of Virginia’s description for hirsutus perfectly, while the flower matches the description for canescens.  Can you help?  If you click on the photo, the enlargement allows you to see all the pubescence.

UH – OH; Car Wreck on Naked Mountain!

 

Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon meadia) blooming on Naked Mountain in 2011. Photo by Gary P. Fleming.

I was traveling back to my home on Naked Mountain last Tuesday after 24 hours of soaking, drenching rainfall as well as a hailstorm that left piles of icy pellets here and there. The rain was still coming down as I started up my 2.4 mile long road.  The road was a mess — gullied as deeply as ten inches in many places and with numerous sizable puddles in low spots. But I kept on. As I started up the steepest portion, I was a little unnerved by a torrent of water coming down the left side of the road, so I erred on the side of caution and steered the car closer to the right side of the road. I failed to see a large, dark log we had

Log that I hit trying to avoid rushing water on the left side of the road.

carefully positioned there during our road work last fall. (See  November 13, 2012 post.)  I hit it pretty hard and came to a crunching halt.  I got out to assess the damage and could see right away that the car could not be driven. The right front wheel was pushed against the back of the structure that houses the whole wheel casing.  I gathered up essentials in the car – twenty pounds of just bought groceries and a few other items – into sturdy bags and hiked three quarters of a mile straight uphill to my house.  Once I had put away the food, I called my insurance company and put a rescue in motion for the next day.

Smashed right bumper and wheel.

The worst thing about the accident was missing a hike down into the barrens to see the Shooting Stars in peak bloom – 10,000 of them!  I had to cancel a visit planned for Friday with Lara Gastinger, lead artist for the recently published Flora of Virginia, who wanted to see the Shooting Star show.  Too bad!

The car was towed to Charlottesville the next morning and I drove a rental car to Arlington, Virginia to spend time with a friend while the car is being repaired.  It will take two weeks.  By the time I get back to Naked Mountain, the Shooting Stars will be done.

One positive note was this:  I wait anxiously every spring for the return of two nesting pairs

Cerulean Warbler. Wikipedia photo.

of Cerulean Warblers from their wintering grounds in South America. Cerulean Warblers are listed as a species of concern by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service because of lost habitat in the U.S. and on their wintering grounds. As I walked down the mountain to meet up with the tow truck, I heard Cerulean Warblers singing in two different spots. They are back from South America! It is extremely gratifying to be able to offer these beautiful creatures good habitat that is protected, in perpetuity, under Naked Mountain’s conservation easement held by the Division of Natural Heritage within the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.  You can read more about Cerulean Warblers here.

 

The Birds have Arrived on Naked Mountain!

Bluebird eggs in the Naked Mountain nest box.

What a day for the birds on Naked Mountain!  This morning I sat out on my deck with a mug of coffee and listened to a very intent Scarlet Tanager singing in the top of trees about 50 feet away right in the middle of the fabulous view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. You can see that view on the blog header.  The oak and hickory trees are about halfway leafed out so their color is a fresh, yellow-tinged green. I looked through my binoculars to find the bird and there he was – sitting amongst the new leaves, brilliant red with striking black wing feathers against the backdrop of blue mountains.  What a picture!

Also singing and announcing their presence were several very loud Ovenbirds, a Yellow-throated Vireo, Rufus-sided Towhee, my favorite singer — a Wood Thrush and a new singer and song I wasn’t familiar with. The bird was working the brushy growth around the deck. It was easy to see in my binoculars – beautiful bright yellow throat and chest with black stripes curving back toward the wings and black markings around the eyes.  The olive green back had rusty colored streaks on the upper part of the back and neck. What was it?  I grabbed my Sibley Guide to Birds and flipped through the warbler pages.  And there it was – a Prairie Warbler!  I think this is the first time I have seen a Prairie Warbler on Naked Mountain. As I watched the bird in my binoculars, I picked up views of two other birds working the brush – a Worm-eating Warbler and a Yellow-rumped Warbler.  Those are common on Naked Mountain, but it was great fun to see all three of these warblers feeding together!

Then I checked on the Bluebird nesting box I erected in February (See the February 18th post.)  I took a step ladder with me so I could peer down into the box from the top opening.  When I opened the box, the female Bluebird was there, sitting on her eggs, but before I could get a picture, she flew out.  I quickly snapped the picture you see above, latched the opening, and scrammed out of there.  I later saw the pair feeding on crawling bugs in my yard, so I am sure she went back to the nest and is still incubating her eggs.  I will have to disturb her again next week when I will attach the protective cage to keep snakes from eating the hatching babies.

Firepink blooming on Naked Mountain.

I also snapped a few photos of wildflowers that are blooming now on Naked Mountain.  The Firepink blooms in ten small patches in the dappled woods right next to my upper road.  The Bluets

Bluets blooming on Naked Mountain.

bloom along the middle and sides of the lower road, and the Perfoliate Bellwort blooms in many locations on Naked Mountain, but there is an easily viewed two acre patch of it about half way up my road.   I love the bellworts; the stem pierces the leaves so they move in the wind like little, fringed yellow church bells. I imagine I can hear them ringing!

Perfoliate Bellwort blooming on Naked Mountain.