Getting Ready for New Nests

moon phase Week of 03/28/2010 Best days to prune trees.

The arrival of the first bluebirds reminds me it's time to clean out the birdhouses and do needed repairs to them. Birdhouses can last for many years Birdhouses can last for many years The sooner I do this, the better they will look to the migrating males who will pass through for the next two months. The twenty or so birdhouses are there for any bird who needs a home, first come first serve. I don't pick and choose the birds I want to use the birdhouses, but one can never have too many bluebirds in their life.

I carry a pail that holds my birdhouse tools, which consist of a claw hammer, nails, screws and screwdriver. If the birdhouse is in good shape, I open the house and remove last years' bird nest, scrape the inside with a stick, and brush out the debris with my gloved hand. Then I close the house up and head for the next one. Often, the houses are filled with milkweed down and various other nesting materials from a deer mouse. Birdhouse with lichen covered roof Birdhouse with lichen covered roof If there is no one home I'll clean out the nest, but if there are baby mice, I leave them alone. I'll come back in a couple of weeks after they move out. It's a fun job, and brings many rewards—something I look forward to doing every spring.

If a birdhouse doesn't have the old nest removed, it won't be used by any bird. Two wrens prefer to build their own nest—a new nest for her new eggs. If the wren house is still full of last years' sticks, it's time to clean them out because the wrens won't do it. Same for the bluebirds, swallows, chickadees and nuthatches. Building the nest is part of the process of "nidification" that bonds the birds to their commitment to raise a family.

Spring repairs Spring repairs It was a nice rainy day on Thursday, and the steam from the melting snow drifted like fog in every valley and mountaintop. The gentle rain started before sunup, with several claps of thunder to usher in the day as well as the new season. The rain continued all day, but I didn't hear another clap of thunder.

Today the yard was dotted with male Robins who weren't getting along with each other. The minute they arrive, they go into "territory aggression mode." The sweet spring song of a song sparrow came from out in the tall grass meadow. He sounds happy to be back, in spite of the rain. We couldn't have asked for better weather for March. Fifty degrees and a little rain and sunshine have brought spring to the Kickapoo Valley in a big way. There are no better days than these for a springtime walk down nature's trail. Birdhouse with tin roof Birdhouse with tin roof It's the best way to really feel the spirit of spring inside you as you rub shoulders with the awakening earth. No matter what your life's demands are, give yourself some time to enjoy this season of new beginnings. It's what life is all about. By late Thursday afternoon, 60% of the snow in the meadow had melted. I carried my pail of birdhouse tools on my late afternoon walk. There was a pause in the rain, and I wanted to finish cleaning out a few remaining houses at the far end of the clearing. The rain had given life to the earth, and it felt good to walk on soft ground again.

Colorful lichens on the trunks and branches of trees and shrubs have soaked up the rain and look alive and springtime fresh. How beautifully colorful they are against the dark wood of their host. The bluish-green color of some seems to glow, while others are a blend of chartreuse and spring green. They are the first spring flowers, and even decorate the tops of some of the older, more weathered birdhouses. Open for cleaning Open for cleaning Lichen blooms help the birdhouse blend in with its surroundings—a camouflage of sorts.

The snow was 99% gone by the end of the week, and the fair weather lingered. Most of the ponds and backwaters were still frozen though. The Canada geese stand on the ice and patiently wait for a place to swim. Soon they will be bobbing out on open water.

The little chickadees are beginning to disperse, as warm weather has lessened their need to stay close to the feeders. Soon they will be gone, seldom seen at the feeders during their nesting season.

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Jeremy from from University of Utah on April 2, 2010 at 07:47:31 AM
Hello Dan,
I just wanted to drop a line to show my appreciation for "Down Nature's Trail." I grew up in Shawano, spent 10 years in La Crosse, and now reside in Salt Lake City as a student. During my years in La Crosse, I met a woman who lives near a spring that feeds Mill Creek in your neck of the woods. She settled her plot in 1940 and remains strong, now in her 90's, even through the Wisconsin winters. Over the years she has been gracious enough to allow me endless exploration on her land. Your writing reminds me constantly my time with her and the beautiful place in which you both live. I miss my visits with her dearly, but your stories help me to pass the time until I can once again be a common visitor.

Sometimes, phenology writers reap little reward for their efforts. To support your work, I have introduced "Down Nature's Trail" to an Environmental Education course that I am currently teaching. The students are each doing their own phenology over the semester, and your great example has been instrumental in guiding the students down their own personal nature trail.

Thank you for your writings and for keeping my memories of your beautiful valleys alive and strong. I am always looking forward to my next visit.
Rx: Nature
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