Wednesday, July 13, 2011

2011-18A A Writers Club Story

The following story was written by my Writers Club friend Kurt Olson.  I was not able to get it published before my 2011-18 Roving Report went out.  Kurt has a wealth of knowledge and has written a most interesting story on the plight of the Blue Bird.  Remember I built a Blue Bird bird house and because of that, I wanted to include Kurt's great story.  This story will both entertain and educate on the life of the beautiful Blue Bird.

Enjoy, and let me know if you enjoyed it.  Thanks. dougp


Author:  Kurt Olson

Pauline, Tsuga, and I left Arizona in early April to get back to New Hampshire where we had a busy summer lined up working on the farm, woodlot, and visiting relatives and friends. We scheduled a weekend stop in Washington, D.C. to visit my son and his wife and to see their new home, so did not tarry along the way.
From Tennessee and up the eastern seaboard both of us were impressed with the redbuds, which were in full bloom, and getting reacquainted with eastern birds that we hadn’t seen in two years.

When we got to the D.C. area we found a state park in Reston, Virginia that accommodated RV’s located only a few miles from Hans’s and Kathleen’s house in Falls Church. The RV park was a great location, with spacious sites, a small lake, only four other rigs in the park, and handy to many of the places we wanted
to visit. Up early the next morning we were greeted by a male eastern bluebird singing and perched at the end of a limb with the sunlight brilliantly illuminating his blue, pink, and white plumage. A glorious bird in nature’s spotlight!

We had been seeing bluebirds since we got east of the Mississippi River, and it made us feel like we were home and amongst friends. The beautiful, friendly birds population declined seriously enough in the past century to reach critical status by the mid-1900s. The decline was due to nest predation by house sparrows
and European starlings; both of which are non-native, introduced species, loss of habitat due to loss of tree cavities, pesticides, and a severe late winter storm that killed many of them during spring migration in the 1930’s. As a child, it was very unusual to see a single bluebird.

Since that time, Rachael Carson wrote Silent Spring, the book that woke Americans up to the travesty that was occurring to the environment do to DDT and other pesticides. People have shown that they really do care about wildlife, with numerous bluebird trails across the country, where specially designed nesting
boxes have been installed and maintained for bluebirds. I have two dozen boxes on my farm.As a result of the positive actions, the bluebirds are returning, and to see them brightens ones soul.

Reaching New Hampshire, we stopped at the Seabrook visitor center to stretch our legs and to give Tsuga a walk. As soon as she got out of the motorhome, she sensed she was home, and her whole demeanor transformed. When we got going again, her nose was at the fresh air vent, she was excited, and she told us to hurry, she wanted to get home and run in HER fields and woods without any cactus spines or rattlesnakes. She had forgotten about burdocks however.

We reached Rochester before suppertime, got set up, and had supper – all before dark. The next morning, as we were eating breakfast, a male bluebird perched in an oak tree about 20-feet from the window. What a fabulous gift for a homecoming! As we were working around the next few days, we were thrilled by the male and his mate perching in various trees in the yard and investigating the merits of the various birdhouses in the yard.

They settled on a neatly painted house with red sides and a black roof that Norm, my tenant, had attached to an ash tree located between the barn and the road. A plus for this house was that we could view it directly through the windshield of the motorhome. There were a couple of negative features of this house though. The
entry hole was too large, allowing house sparrows or starlings to enter. Also, being on a tree might permit squirrels or other nest predators to get to the nest.

A few days later, I was looking towards the nestbox, enjoying the coming and goings of the birds when suddenly, as the female landed on the base, a black cat leapt onto the tree trunk, scampered almost to the birdhouse, nearly catching the female, and panicking both birds. Attempted murder!

My tenant, Norm, is a softy, and when a feral cat started hanging around the barn, he started feeding it, and by this time it was welcome in the house, although officially he referred to it as “a barn cat”. We live just far enough of town so that when people get tired of their cats, are moving, and don’t feel they can take their
animals with them, they drive out and drop them off. I guess they think, or hope, that the cats will go to the nearest farm and be absorbed into the farmstead. Wrong assumption. The average feral cat lives two years in the wild, and apparently it isn’t a very nice existence with internal and external parisites, disease, and
environmental factors taking a heavy toll. I keep telling him about a recent study conducted in Wisconsin that found that house cats are responsible for the deaths of  400,000 birds in that state annually.

Within the hour I had nailed two rings of aluminum flashing around the tree just below the nestbox. Hopefully I had eliminated that potential problem.

A couple of days later, I was again looking out the window as I lingered over a cup of tea before getting into the field. Suddenly there was a flurry of beating wings near the nestbox, the male and female bluebird and a larger male house sparrow. The bluebirds were trying to chase the sparrow off, but he had evil on his mind.
The distraught bluebirds were no match for this bulky bully. He kept going into the house with the oversize entry, picking holes in the eggs, clasping them in his beak and dropping them on the ground. Five beautiful blue eggs that would have been the next generation now lay on the ground with the white and yolks seeping into the ground. Was this infanticide or eggicide?

What to do? The house sparrow, aka English sparrow, is an alien bird species, introduced into North America by a homesick Brit in New York City in 1851. These feisty little guys have an affinity for man, and can commonly be seen wherever people congregate. Often scavenging outside McDonalds, feed lots, or nesting in the marque of shopping malls, they now populate most of North America. Prolific nesters, they can produce up to four clutches per year, and aggressively stake out nesting habitat.

The bluebirds hung around for a couple of days, tentatively looking at other nestboxes, and then they were gone. I did see bluebirds further down the road, and wondered if they were my bluebirds or another pair. A lot of the upbeat pleasure of spring had vanished.

Still wondering what to do, when it came to me – GAMO. A high velocity, very accurate airgun that would let me get control of the house sparrows.

The next day was a Saturday, and it was raining, so we hotfooted it over to the Kittery Trading Post who has a good selection of firearms, and was talked out of a GAMO and into a RWS. Neat little gun with a scope and propelling the lead pellets at 1,000 feet per second. War has been declared on these murderous aliens.
Revenge is sweet.

Now if I can learn to shoot straight.

Author:  Kurt Olson, Desert Trails Writers Club

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