Nestbox Duties Between Nesting Seasons: Part 2

American Kestrel - Photo Alan Schmierer

As we do each year after the kestrel nesting season, Dick Phillips and I cleaned used nests from their boxes and added new white pine bedding. You can buy the bedding at numerous farm supply stores and our sparrow hawks like the medium grade piled three or four inches deep in their box. We no longer lower the box to the ground to remove the old nest, we just tie the ladder to the utility post for the best safety reasons, hug the pole as one arm reaches into the nest chamber and carves at the nest. Once the material is loose, a spackling knife does a good job of lifting the chamber clean.

We updated bedding in ten boxes along country roads east of Rt. 23 on December 4, and finished preparations in the remaining eight boxes along country roads west of the unofficial boundary three days later. As expected, we found that Box-1 on Harris Road was in need of a trade. We trade repaired or new boxes for ones in need so a returning kestrel will not find a bare pole where it had planned to roost.

Eastern Screech Owl: Gray phase showing cryptic coloration against tree bark - Photo Tim Daneil

Eastern Screech Owl: Gray phase – Photo Tim Daniel

Box-16, the only box in the project that does not hang from a utility pole, was found to have been cranked too high and its cable fittings were jammed into the cable’s channel at the top of the pole. As we shook the pole in an attempt to get the box to slide downward on its own, a gray Screech Owl flew from the box. While Screech Owls are welcomed to nest in our kestrel boxes, an owl’s presence is a sign that the habitat might have too many trees to be preferred by kestrels.

On December 27, Dick and I returned to Box-1 and traded a repaired original box that had been constructed by the Delaware County Bird Club in 1993. To prepare the old box for its return, I had used modern glues to solidify some of its cracks and replaced its rotting roof with a new PVC roof with a white outer surface. Our kestrels have accepted white roofs, and we believe the white reflective roof with a wooden panel on its underside insulates the nest chamber to keep it as cool as possible. The box hangs to face east and I painted “1″ on its sides so motorists on Harris Road can see the numbers as they travel north or south to make for better communication.

After we replaced Box-1, we traveled back to Gallant Farm’s Box-16, where we screwed a small block of PVC at about a foot from the pole’s top end to keep its cable fittings out of the pole’s cable groove.

We will start monitoring the project’s 18 kestrel boxes in mid-March in order to replace bedding in boxes that are being claimed by European Starlings. Of course, once kestrels visit such boxes, starling feathers are sometimes added to the bedding.

I celebrated New Year’s Day by visiting three nestbox trails. During the morning, I drove to Marion County to add two boxes to bare poles at the Big Island Wildlife Area along Rt. 95 west of Marion. Harry Condry monitors Big Island’s boxes, including 25 boxes in a grid that surrounds the elevated observation platform along the highway where two boxes had suffered damage from a shotgun’s slug. Harry will repair the damaged boxes for future replacements, but I already had two boxes ready to go.

After my Big Island visit, I drove to Delaware State Park north of Delaware to replace two boxes that I had to remove prior to the 2018 season to make way for the construction of the park’s new tornado shelter. While the shelter is a positive addition to the park, I am most excited about the fact that historic zones around all of my nestboxes have been brush hogged. Bush hogging did not take place before the 2018 season, but the maintenance staff did mow a narrow path to each box to facilitate my monitoring and my teaching of three sessions of OWjL Academic Camp for gifted middle school students staying at Ohio Wesleyan University.

Maintenance worker Harold Longshore did an excellent job of preparing the park’s grasslands for the upcoming nesting seasons. Brushy plants had started their invasions and that makes the park very attractive to House Wrens. The 2018 season saw 499 wrens raised, along with 153 bluebirds and 411 Tree Swallows. A nest of Carolina Chickadees managed to fledge six.

Brush hogging will make the park less attractive to egg-piercing wrens and more attractive to bluebirds and swallows. The swallows help deter wrens while accepting bluebirds, and wrens do pay their rent by consuming ticks. Of course swallows are valuable to campers when they consume mosquitos while bluebirds possess inspirational beauty to enhance a family’s stay at the park.

After lunch, I drove to 3615 South Old State Road, the original office building of Alum Creek State Park that currently houses offices for the Ohio Division of Forestry and the Ohio Division of Natural Areas. It is also home to 18 nestboxes and two horizontal “burrows” made from thirty-inch long lengths of four-inch drainpipes. The burrows are designed to attract nesting Northern Rough-winged Swallows.

I relocated one box from a habitat that had grown into brushy House Wren habitat to join seven boxes standing in cattails along the western shore of the office’s pond. The shoreline’s boxes usually support one family of bluebirds while the other boxes shelter Tree Swallows. In 2018, the site’s twenty nest structures fledged 73 Tree Swallows, 16 bluebirds and nine House Wrens. Before I left, I also added two new nestboxes directly north of the office building. I enjoyed January 1, 2019 for a great start to the new year.

During four days in early February, I returned 57 nestboxes to my grid along Panhandle Road on the Delaware Wildlife Area. It was a celebration because conservation technician Rick Dorn had criss-crossed the grid with the division’s mower to make paths along two of the four sides of all of the grid’s posts. It was easy for me to carry up to six baffles, walk down a path, and drop a baffle at each post. I would return to my hobby car to do the same with six nestboxes. The temperature was in the 20’s one day and my face was feeling a brisk wind and I started to think that my bare face was cold. Then it hit me: I was having fun. There were no birds that I could see at that moment, but the image of the boxes with their white baffles brought back memories of past nesting seasons. Such memories would not allow me to fret about the cold wind clobbering my face.

On February 2, Tom Domin, Bruce Lindman and Bruce’s son Eric, cleaned Osprey nests from the four platforms at the northern end of Alum Creek Lake, and the two platforms at Hoover Reservoir near Galena, all to make the platforms unattractive to Canada Geese.

On February 12, I purchased five timbers for an anchor post to replace AC-1, the most northern Osprey platform at Alum Creek that had been sheared off by an ice flow. All timbers were two by sixes with the longest being fourteen feet long. Three more timbers followed for the section that would support the repaired  platform. The longest two were sixteen feet long.

The platform that provides the foundation for the nest is forty inches square, and when it fell to hit the lake below, the square became a trapezoid. I decided to repair the platform rather than build a new one since its twenty-two-year-old treated lumber was still usable.

Three times the Osprey team waded through mud four or more inches deep to retrieve the nest platform on February 24, plant the anchor post six feet into the exposed lake bottom on March 2, and attach the platform’s support section on March 13. Team participants for some or all days were Dick Phillips, Tom Domin, Bruce Lindman, Eric Lindman, Chris Roshon, Craig Flockerzie, Kevin Parrott, and me. We ended our last day’s work at sundown when an Osprey appeared over the lake. Its circle of flight narrowed as it flew over the new platform and it was easy to tell that the fish hawk was inspecting our work, etc. It was an exciting moment watching the returning migrant.

Belle’s Journey: An Osprey Takes Flight is a must read for anyone still reading this article. The children’s book tells the true story of a female Osprey fitted with a satellite transmitter at Martha’s Vineyard. Rob Bierregaard is the scientist author who has studied fish hawks in New England since 1971. Kate Garchinsky is the book’s illustrator. Data collected from transmissions of the real Belle made the story of her journey to, her stay at, and the return trip from South America possible. She encountered a hurricane, a caiman, missed gun shots at a fish farm, a Peregrine Falcon, herons, alligators, and a Bald Eagle to name a few adventures before she returned to Martha’s Vineyard to find a mate.

The book’ chapters are two or three pages long, perfect for a teacher to present one chapter per day to a class. Many of today’s classrooms have computers linked to screens on their walls, and Google Earth could be used to show aerial views of habitats mentioned in the text. I purchased my copy of the book, but the Delaware Community Library has a copy for the curious.

Most important, use the book to stimulate interest in the young or old, and then take your child, grandchild, or yourself to Preservation Park’s annual Osprey Homecoming program along Hogback Road on Sunday, April 14, 2019, from 1:00 – 4:00 PM. There will be people there to answer your questions as you peer through spotting scopes to see up close views of our Ospreys.

Conserve on!