Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Old Nest Box...

Yesterday afternoon, when I walked down to barn and kennel area, I could hear the loud chirping of baby birds in the birdhouse that hangs on the Ponderosa pine tree next to the barn. The birdhouse was built by Aaron and Michelle many years ago, and it's showing signs of age and wear. That first year, it was hung on a tree behind our house a ways, and a house wren family nested in it. Aaron and Michelle were excited to see birds making themselves at home in the box, but they had been hoping it would attract a bluebird family.

The birdhouse has hung in various places around our house and property since then, and year after year, some type or another of small bird nests in it. Often, house wrens make themselves at home there, but this year, the box is inhabited by bluebirds.
Or is it a bluebird? Other birds have blue on them, too. I was thinking mountain bluebird or possibly western bluebird. Photos and drawings in most books are always so pristine, but if you look hard enough you can find a few pictures of scraggly birds, and in the case of this bird, that's helpful! At first I thought it was a western bluebird, but then I didn't know. And now I'm very much guessing this is a mountain bluebird after looking at some descriptions and comparisons at the Cornell ornithology webpage. The beak is longer and more pointy like a mountain bluebird's (I think), and though the western bluebird has vivid rust coloring on the chest, the mountain bluebird can have some russet coloring, too, (at least that's the impression I got from the Cornell page) and the amount on this bird is not significant. Whatever it is, that's a pretty rugged looking bird-- must be molting. At least I know it's not a house wren!

Every day when I'm in the vicinity of the barn, I can hear the baby birds in the birdhouse chirping hungrily, and I see the busy mother bird continuously flying off to find food and then flying back to feed her babies.

Yesterday afternoon, after watching for a bit, I decided to go back to the house for the camera, and then I leaned against the barn and waited. Soon enough, along came the mother bird. She didn't stay at the nest box opening for long, but when she arrived, there was an awful lot of noisy commotion. One eager baby bird put his wide-open mouth right up to the hole. (To me, the mother does not look amused. See how her head is turned away to the side a little, as if to say, "I will ignore that...").

As I watched the box and snapped pictures, I thought of the years the kids observed this same nest box. I remembered the first year it was built and hung on a tree. That was one of the years Melissa and Michelle were publishing their sticker newsletter. Each newsletter had a theme, and there were jokes, book reviews, articles, projects, trivia, contests, poems, and more. Every month, the newsletter was mailed off with stickers having to do with that month's theme stapled into the corner. It was a very creative project, and the girls did it completely on their own.I didn't usually get to peek at the newsletter until it was ready to be photocopied and mailed.

The theme of one of those newsletter issues was "Birds." In that issue, Michelle, then age 13, wrote an article about the nest box she built with Aaron. (If this is unreadable, I can transcribe it.):

Ever since she was fairly young, Michelle has always loved watching birds. She would often go out on the property to birdwatch with Aaron, both of them carrying binoculars. Michelle also usually had a notebook, a pencil, and at least one field guide with her.

One year, probably at around age 11 or 12, Michelle tramped around the property looking for bird nests. (Aaron may have been in on this one, too.) She made a map of all the ones she could find, describing each nest and the birds that made the nest. Then she tracked each one, making notes every day or two about the number of eggs in the nest, when they hatched, etc. It was, as was everything else she did with birds, her own, self-devised project, and she had a lot of fun with it.

Six years ago, when Michelle was a homeschool high school senior, she did a nest box observation project, keeping careful notes and taking photographs of house wrens building their nest (in that same nest box featured throughout this post), the laying of the eggs, the hatching eggs, the growing baby birds, predators that stalked the box, the parent wrens feeding the babies, the day the babies left the box, and more.

Michelle created a pretty scrapbook-journal of this project. Here are two photos I took of pages from that book-- this is the day the baby birds left the nest box. They were quite comfortable with Michelle, who had been peeking in at them every day of their lives.

Wow. Was that really six years ago?! Gosh, have fun learning with your children.

Time flies.

The old nest box has been around for years, and there are a lot of memories and stories to go with it. It's like that with a lot of things around our home.

I didn't mean to go on so long in this post, but one thing kept leading to another. And if you only knew how much I left out!