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Iowa City Bluebird Trail 7/7/2018

July 16, 2018 8:30 AM | Tyler Harms (Administrator)

It was a mild sunny day as 13 young birders, parents, and grandparents gathered in Johnson County to learn about Eastern Bluebird nesting and to assist with checking boxes along an established nest box trail.  We were lucky to have Jim Walters with the Johnson County Songbird Project join us, and he started us off on this fine morning by sharing his knowledge of Eastern Bluebird biology gained from many years of experience monitoring nest boxes.  Jim was gracious enough to let us visit his farm, which has been in his family since he was young and contains many diverse habitats that host a variety of bird species.  Anxious to see some baby bluebirds, we started off down the trail!

It wasn’t long before we encountered one of Jim’s nest boxes, strategically built with a hole large enough for bluebirds to enter but small enough to deter other birds from using the box and with a small screw on the side that released the front of the box for access.  Jim tapped gently on the side of the box with his screwdriver, a subtle warning to an attending parent that we’re coming in.  The young bluebirds were left unattended for the morning, likely so mom and dad could search for food.  Jim slowly removed the front of the box to reveal a small nest constructed mostly of grasses from the nearby prairie.  Inside the nest was a family of baby bluebirds, not older than a couple weeks, quietly resting and enjoying the pleasant weather.  All young birders excitedly, but quietly peeked inside the nest box before leaving the baby bluebirds to their morning nap.  The was a first for many young birders present!

We checked a few other boxes along the trail, including one that contained a House Wren nest and another that contained a white Eastern Bluebird egg, which is a rare occurrence in a species that lays light blue eggs.  We continued along the trail into the woodland on Jim’s farm.  Highlights included recently fledged Eastern Wood-Pewees showing off their newly-acquired flycatching skills, a singing Wood Thrush and Eastern Towhee, and later at least two singing Acadian Flycatchers.

We finished the morning with two additional stops, the first of which was to check a Purple Martin colony near the entrance to Jim’s farm.  The colony was very active with adult Purple Martins flying and foraging about.  Jim cranked down the martin house, which looks like an apartment building compared to the Eastern Bluebird nest boxes, and we carefully checked one of the dwellings.  Inside was four baby Purple Martins, not more than one week old, enjoying a morning nap just like the baby bluebirds we saw earlier.  Next, we stopped along Highway 1 to check an American Kestrel nest box.  Jim removed a long extension ladder from his truck, a necessity for checking these boxes that are mounted on telephone poles at least 10 feet up.  Young birders took turns carefully climbing the ladder to peek in at the five baby kestrels inside the box, who were nearly ready to leave the box.  What an exciting way to finish off a fun and educational morning!

We’re extremely grateful to Jim Walters with the Johnson County Songbird Project for sharing his knowledge with us and for allowing us to visit his Johnson County farm.  You can view photos from our trip here as well as our species list here.

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