The Love Shack

The Love Shack

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Area Two - Forgotten Land

With my year two of nest box monitoring, I've ironically adopted a second area of nest boxes.  I did not expect this to happen but life works in funny ways at times.

Last Summer a couple friends of mine were seeing an adult male Eastern Bluebird near our home.  The bird and the time of year tells me it would (should) be nesting somewhere in the area.  Some light searching for the bird in the following days came up with no sightings but we did find a couple dozen nest boxes in some green space.  It was heart breaking to see that the boxes were in really bad shape.  Cracked side walls, missing roof tops, entry holes chewed open by Squirrels and many were just hanging by a nail or two.

Once a home to ???

Facing north towards the fence line and industrial beyond.

Enlarged entry hole and nothing to secure the opening side door.

Many are just like this now.

Another enlarged entry hole chewed open.  I even found some with holes chewed through the back as well.

I had a screw driver in the truck, I keep one in there all the time now since I started the nest box monitoring.  I went and grabbed it and started opening up some of the boxes that were still together.  I found a couple old House Sparrow nests, they were made of grassy material and had pieces of garbage thrown in here and there (traditional for a House Sparrow nest...  hey at least they are cleaning up after us and making use of cellophane cigarette wrappings).  I also found a Tree Swallow nest with a dead bird inside.  And lastly I chanced upon an active House Wren nest.  A Wren came out of the box right at my head as I walked towards it.

So while most of my findings were sad, I could see the potential, and the fact that there was life here amidst the weathered forgotten boxes.

I had no idea who set them up.  Initially I thought it was a project done by a nearby middle school.  I tried making contact via email and even a phone call.  None of which got me anywhere.  No replies whatsoever.

I left the area for the season.  I never did find the Bluebird.  But I did not forget about any of this.

Jump ahead to 2017, somewhere in the last days of Winter and the first days of Spring.  I decided to explore the area even further.  What I discover is that this nest box project runs a stretch of nearly 2 kms and in total there is approximately 75 boxes.  More than half the boxes are ready to come down (or fall down).  Posts are leaning at a 45 degree angle.  There is no rhyme or reason to the actual set up.  This is what lead me to believe it was a project with children.  Boxes face every direction.  Boxes face each other.  Boxes face the fence line.  Boxes are lost in the growth about the area.  Many are coming apart at the nails.

It was with this new search that I discovered a sign lost in the growth that helped me take this further, actually finding out who and what organization started this lord knows how many years ago.  I will not post the name of organization.  At this time I don't think it would be fair to them.

I called the number and spoke with a man who had no idea about any of this.  He said he took over this desk and extension a few years back; the person prior is no longer there.  He did make a promise to me to look into this and find the right person for me to discuss this with.

The sad reality is this often happens in many green spaces by various groups and organizations.  Let's get young people into nature.  We will do a nest box set up and people can watch what happens.  Often there is a decent turn out.  People have fun on hopefully a nice sunny mild Spring day building some boxes, putting them up, maybe fill a bag of trash from the area...  the end.  Some forget about it when the day is done.  Some might last the season.  But sure enough, over time, the boxes get forgotten about.  However, the birds don't and still try to use them even as the boxes weather and slowly come apart.

I know I've mentioned it before...  it becomes our responsibility to help these creatures when we do these things.  This is something I've learned about in the last 5 years and am a firm believer in this.  We can't just walk away now and let nature take it's course.  That's not fair to the birds.  If nothing else, it becomes a sad and unsightly state in good green space.  Those rusty nails sticking out every where are just begging to be touched.

So in the last month I have been in communication with an individual from this organization.  It is going to take some time and planning to turn things around in "Area Two".  I think the fact there's so many boxes in need of attention is overwhelming to them.  Actually I know it's overwhelming, it is to me.  I have spent a few hours in the area and often say to myself "What the hell?  How the hell?" shaking my head and standing there dumbfounded at it all.  It's a ridiculous number of boxes.

I've taken it upon myself to start the change.  "The Individual" as they will be known for the time being is grateful for what I am doing and promises to send help in due time.  Nature organizations have planned agendas for the season and this forgotten land is not part of this organization's Spring agenda.

I have started taking down the worst of the boxes.  I've re-positioned others.  I've repaired a few even though I am not much of a handy man...  just hammering some nails in, adding a screw to the side doors where needed.  "The Individual" gave me a couple new nest boxes to set up (which I did on April 24th).  I'd like to move some of the boxes out of the overgrowth but the t-bars are so deep in the ground, difficult to get out and even more difficult to drive into a new spot.  I don't have a post pounder, just a hammer and it's useless for this.

This is probably the most interesting find in a box so far.  That is an old Tree Swallow nest inside.  The sumac on top is odd.  A mystery as to how it got there but I suspect some human, uh, interference.  The box was cracked across the roof and right down the front.  I pried it open further to have a look when I could see this was coming out of the entry hole.

I am not a hero for doing this nor am I a fool with too much time on my hands.  I'm just a guy who gives a crap about these things and am making use of some of my free time before work to possibly help nesting birds in our area.  It's a great distraction from the bump and grind and good for my soul.

Tear down.

New box.  There was a couple pairs of Tree Swallows circling the area as I set this up.

I donated a nest box I won at a bucket raffle during an OEBS annual general meeting a couple years ago.  I did have it in our yard for a while and a Downy Woodpecker used it as a night roost a couple winters ago.  We have plenty of boxes in our yard even without this one.

I've thought about calling on friends and acquaintances who enjoy our feathered friends to help out.  Say five people tackling 75 boxes is achievable in a couple hours compared to one person.  Since there is no real plan, I don't see the point right now.  I will putter away at it the odd morning when possible.  I will observe any boxes that any bird(s) are trying to make use of and see what I can do for them.

I will not share what my species finds are just yet.  There is activity early on in the season and I am waiting to see who sets up nest, and where.

So for "Area Two", let's just say it's a work in progress and it will be interesting what comes of this through the current season and in the years ahead.

Stay tuned...

Monday, April 24, 2017

Area One Update

I visited Area One on Sunday April 23rd for a peek at what is happening with the boxes.  There are 6 Tree Swallow nests in early stages of construction.

I've applied yellow vinyl tape to this season's active nest boxes.  I've kept or re-applied the red vinyl tape from last year's boxes for comparison.  You can see the 2nd box behind this one and a bit of the red on the post.

As I inspected claimed boxes, I was being watched by Tree Swallows and many of them swooped my head as well.

"Back off buddy!  This is our house!"

This box was built by a member of the Ontario Eastern Bluebird Society...  Wood Duck Alfie.  He will be thrilled to hear if a pair take up shop in his box this season.

This box was built for Angie and I by a friend of ours, Jimmy.  It was a wedding gift.  We thought it was a great gift.  The box is showing some wear after a few years but we look after it.  We nick named it the "Love Shack".  The shack has been host to a dummy Wren nest one year, an abandoned Tree Swallow nest the following year (ant infestation) and last year was not touched even without any ants.

Some boxes had just a few strands of material and others looked like this.

We have 17 boxes this season.  Two had to be taken down as they were falling apart.  It's uncertain if we will replace them just yet.  13 are in one area.  We moved 4 to a smaller area just east of the main area.  This is where Alfie's and our "love shack" are set up.  Tree Swallows were on all four boxes and I could see 3 pairs about the area.  How many more nests may we come up with?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Area One

Before this season really gets under way, I'd like to blog about Area One, and share a bit of what I can remember from last season.

The area is roughly 16 acres of meadow.  We have 19 nest boxes scattered about the land.  The boxes for the most part face south, some slightly east, some slightly west.  We do this to have the birds not face each other directly and give them the feel of their own territory by not seeing another nest box from their own.

As we replace boxes, we are pairing them up.  This is part of the plan to help IF we get Eastern Bluebirds nesting in the area once again.  Bluebirds and Tree Swallows make good neighbours and will tolerate each other nearby, whereas two pairs of Tree Swallows will not.  This gives the Bluebirds a better chance to not be driven out of a nest box.

Nest boxes are cleaned at the end of the season (end of Summer) and again in early Spring.  Old nests are removed after the birds have flown south for the Winter.  And in the Spring we evict the Deer Mice who overwintered in these houses.  Some people have a difficult time with the mouse eviction saying I am mean or even worse.  Hey, these are bird houses, NOT mouse houses.  Some plug up the houses through the winter or leave the doors wide open.  Maybe that is what I should do next time around?

Last Spring I evicted 6 mice in total.  This Spring I discovered 9 boxes with mice and evicted 21 adults.  Actually they evicted themselves and fled the boxes as I opened them.  The high count sure tells us we were lacking predators this past Winter.

Gloves and a mask should be worn during the cleaning process.

Grease is applied to the t-bar to keep insects from climbing up and inside the box.  I do a 6 inch smear around the post about 3/4's up.  A few years back a box we set up without any protection was checked mid-season.  It was full of black ants and an abandoned Tree Swallow nest with eggs!  The grease also keeps Raccoons and other mammals from climbing the poles to get at the eggs or baby birds.  I also wrap vinyl colored tape around the poles of active nest boxes when the season is underway.  I know grease will be an issue with some but it is used by so many who set up boxes.  In a perfect world, metal umbrellas or predator guards of other types attached would be used, but that's costly and still would not stop ants.  If someone still has an issue, I can direct you to a man who has helped well over 10,000 Eastern Bluebirds and way more Tree Swallows in the last few decades.  Eastern Bluebirds were once a species at risk in Ontario but they are doing much better in the last number of years, actually coming off the "risk list".

I check the boxes about every 10 to 14 days from late April until early July.  By then the nesting season is pretty much done other than the odd second nest from some pairs.  Area One is close to me but not around the corner, so with work and living my life (house, wife, our zoo inside, our zoo outside, volunteering with TWC and other places), sparing a few hours each visit like this is what I can give.  Plus, I'm sure the birds like it this way too...  less invasions from big scary humans is a good thing.

It's always a mystery when I check the boxes because I just never know what I will find.

This was my first real sad discovery last year.  It was from the first Tree Swallow nest of the season, which had 5 eggs.  All the babies had died.  The only thing that makes any sense is we had a sudden and drastic cold snap for a couple days after the chicks hatched.  There was no sign of trauma to any of the bodies, like being pecked to death by another nesting species such as House Wren or House Sparrow.

Actually when walking up to this nest box, even before opening it, I knew something was wrong.  I could smell it.  I experienced finding a dead Chickadee nestling in our box at home a few years ago.  The smell is unforgettable.  Amazing how years later, as soon as I smelled that smell once again, I knew what it was.

I will not deny that this set me back.  It was my first season with these boxes.  I was on a high, full of excitement and wonder to it all.  I knew there were 5 eggs in this box and I expected all to make it to fledge.  This was a reality check early on, which was a good thing.  I experienced a few more losses later in the season.

This one was a couple weeks away from leaving the nest.

This one was just days away.  His nest had 6 eggs and the other 5 made it out.  I can only imagine how tight things may get within a nest box in the last days before the chicks leave, especially when there are 6 of them.

Imagine if those boxes never got cleaned out?

But don't be sad.  We had 8 pairs of Tree Swallows in 2016.  They lay an average of 5 to 6 eggs each.  I unfortunately lost my notes but know we did not have any low egg counts overall.  I did have a couple 4 counts but most were 5 and two were 6.  We lost 7 chicks, 2 eggs did not hatch and we had over 30 successfully fledge from the boxes.

For the most part everything really is up to Mother Nature; but we are helping them the best we can with the nest boxes.  I tell people "it's a responsibility when you set up a bird house, you don't hang them up and walk away thinking you did a great thing...  the end".

Here's a few photos from 2016 that you might enjoy.

Healthy young Tree Swallows just days away from leaving the box.  There's 4 of them.  All made it.

End of season nest cleaning.  Tree Swallow nests are quite unique with the use of feathers.

They really are attractive when it comes to nests, aren't they?

We ended up with a House Wren nest at a stray box, away from the rest.  It was intentionally left along edge of the woods for such a species.  I have no idea how many chicks the birds had but know none were left behind if you know what I mean.

Remember my first nest check and the 5 who perished?  Well the parents re-nested, had 3 more eggs and the second nest was a success!

On one of my last nest round checks of 2016, I ended up with a little bit of company in one certain area.  He sure added to the morning.

It's been almost 2 weeks since I did my first walk of Area One for this season, prepping boxes and taking notice to at least 6 Tree Swallows already back in the area.  I hope to visit in the coming days.

Stay tuned for my next report!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Welcome to The Toronto Nest Blog

Welcome to my sub-blog!  I felt it necessary, and beneficial for me, to separate these bits away from my regular blog.  Follow me through the nesting season in various spots about our city. I will share the nesting bird species, egg counts, the triumphs and the tragedies throughout.

I will NOT share locations as I feel it's my responsibility to protect some of these bird families.

Primarily the blog will be about Tree Swallows, since that is the main nesting species in "Area One".  A wonderful bird to watch whip through the air catching insects during much of the day.

We always have hopes to bring back the Eastern Bluebirds that once nested in the area over a decade ago.  Will this be the year?  I do chance upon them every year in the area; usually in the Fall migration, but once had an adult male in mid-July, and one over wintered in 2015.

Throughout the season I may touch upon other nests I have come across.  I'm sure an Eastern Screech Owl family would be enjoyed by most to read about.  I don't come across these very often but you never know.

This blog will give me a spot to give updates on our Peregrine Falcon nest sites that I try to help monitor every year.

And of course you might get a look at the goings on in our own backyard.

Be it some Black-capped Chickadees, which have successfully nested here 3 seasons in the past.

Or maybe the common House Sparrow.

I hope you will join me in the coming weeks and months as I share my observations.