Archive

Bluebirding

DSC07406

Groups of Mountain Bluebirds were scoping out birdhouses along this ridge.

E & I had planned a ski trip to the ranch in February, but Montana’s -20F arctic air and feet of snow had kept us homebound 530 miles due south in balmy Salt Lake City. Last weekend would be the last weekend for snow, so we drove out in a bit of a snowstorm that spanned nearly the entire trip, but only spat out a few white-out 4×4-only sections. We saw a huge herd of hundreds of Elk in the Madison River valley outside Yellowstone Park, as well as a Bald Eagle flying up the river. At Three Forks we saw Blue Heron’s and Buffle Heads (ducks), near where we spotted a Moose and her calf in fall. We made it over King’s Hill pass before the storm settled in, and I jumped back over the snow-blasted pass the next morning for powder skiing at Showdown before it closed for the season.  The rest of the week was spent sledding, taking Nora up Belt Creek canyon for a Nordic ski along a snowbound mountain creek, skiing the snowbound Kibbey Ridge road section of our bluebird houses, stomping about the hills in snow-boots, and keeping the wood-stove fed. As we diddled around on the snow, the Mountain Bluebirds began arriving in threes and pairs- or multiple singles.

Our overwintering Nuthatches had kept watch over the house and greeted us with enthusiastic antics. Mountain Chickadees had joined them and the ranch yard was a jungle gym of little birds catching bugs from the air. On a clear starry night standing out in the frozen silence, a sonar note repeated mechanically from midway up a hillside. It was emanating from a rotating platform, fading and growing more precise as it pointed in my direction, then past me and down the valley rotating around up the valley and down again. I hadn’t known we got submarines up this high, that, or it was a Saw-Whet Owl (it took two bird books to rule out the submarine). Coyotes sang at night and chirped from the hills during the day. The arrival of the Robins and the thawing of the yard creek signaled the slushing of the snow and the mushing of the mud, and we headed home a few days early in a truck more mud-ball than metal.

DSC07362

Nora discovers what nothing smells like.

DSC07434

E along the Kibbey Ridge road, our southernmost Bluebird line.

DSC07431

E & Nora think this might be the last day for skiing, as Danger cleans a bbird house.

DSC07425

View from the bbird house, down to the Highwood Mountains and Square Butte.

DSC07418

Highland hayfield with the snowy pyramid of Iron Mountain.

DSC07417

zoomed view…

DSC07439

E & I while away the evenings with this 1,000 piece songbird puzzle in the shape of Western Bluebirds, while out in the hills the Mountain Bluebirds are arriving.

DSC07378

Yesterday these ladies walked up here in a whiteout snowsquall while I was downhill skiing at Showdown ski area.

DSC07413

Wishing we’d pulled the sled up here.

DSC07386

Nora gives her lady a smooch.

DSC07390

The north slope forest behind the house has gathered its snow. The barn is at the lower left.

DSC07393

Wind and wan sun have already scoured yesterday’s snow from the hills.

DSC07400

The yard is a thick drifted snowbank locking fast the gate.

DSC07394

No squirrels to hassle the pretty new bird-feeder. None of the wild birds knew what to make of it.

DSC07401

E completed this needlepoint over the winter, adding buttons (red berries and a white button sash) from her grandma Holder’s button tin. “A proper vest for a proper Rooster. Every Rooster greets the day dressed in his Sunday best, that’s what proper Roosters do.”, says E. with a giggle, adding, “No, I’m serious.” as we hang him in the ranch living room. 

DSC07419

We were surprised to see groups of Mountain Bluebirds pinwheeling about, yet it was the day after the Spring equinox. Robins arrived a few days later.

Advertisements
DSC06651

Southern highlands sunset phone signal sojourn.

DSC06649

The heifers all line up to use the new phone; are bummed that we still can’t check messages.

DSC06641

Looking North into the ranch.

DSC06648

Smoke on 360 degrees of the horizon.

DSC06656

Moon is back to white, from the blood-orange of a few nights ago.

DSC06660

Up at the high meadows above the hayfield along the Blue Bird trek.

DSC06664

This steep is a snowbank in winter, and stays green even in our Flash Drought year. 

DSC06666

Surprise! Karen has jumped up from CA to visit for a few days at the ranch.

DSC06662

One of the highland’s magical spots.

DSC06667

Bluebird overlook from their front porch. Four hatchlings from a week ago are now fledged.

DSC06689

A quiet evening and Karen joins E & I in putting up the new series of Bluebird houses.

DSC06674

E watches a herd of deer watching us.

DSC06673

Setting a whole new leg of Bluebird-House trekking.

DSC06672

The deer are moving out as the sunset begins to move in.

DSC06688

DSC06685

A last group of deer run the to the ridgeline.

DSC06683

A fawn leaps to catch up with her group.

DSC06691

Smoke down from Canada tinges the light.

DSC06694

cool air rushes through the warm grasses and summer lifts from the earth

DSC06700

Setting the last of the new houses.

DSC06697

E can see the wooden bird house the bear opened like a lunchbox way over on the road. 

DSC06699

More of a thermos than a lunchbox, E thinks the bear may just ignore the new models.

DSC06716

the stillness of twilight sweeps beyond the mind’s eye

DSC06724

infinite sky over unending undulations of coulees and mountain

DSC06726

The moon is a dusky primrose from on top, but later rises again at the house… 

DSC06742

Deep layers of atmospheric smoke tint the moonrise from the yard. Same night, different moon.

 

 

_DSC6407

Bluebird Houses: new design

June’s trip to the ranch revealed Tree Swallows taking over many Bluebird houses. They are lovely little birds, and will nest next to Bluebirds and vice-versa;  so I came up with a new design of birdhouse to place 25-50ft from the existing wooden houses. Some parameters: I want it to sleeve over the wooden fence poles of the barbed wire fence offering no incentive for cows to rub on them; easy to check for nesting birds via removable lid, with escape for mother out from entrance hole; easy to anchor to post and remove from post and clean out; insulates from heat & cold; waterproof and ventilated; can handle the harsh extremes of Montana highlands- all-weather / UV / extreme wind.

The far right is the first try; all black ABS in two sections connected by a snap-in drain insert (glued to the bottom/footing and pinned with a bolt to top/birdhouse, the lid is an insert bolted in place with a an inner screw-in lid as overkill for cleanout, the whole thing is spray-painted white and cost $17 per unit. Incredibly tough, but too pricey.

Next was an attempt to blend white pvc and fiberglass fitted inserts (ABS don’t fit and there are no similar PVC parts) – so no way to glue and join top to bottom. Plus, the inserts never quite snug-in or are too big. Too many issues and pricey; abandoned to the bin.

Finally I came up with a mix of irrigation tubing (multi-layered freeze-proof), black ABS tubing and black ABS drain insert, capped with a simple white pvc cap.

Materials:

4″dia x 10″ sections of insulated pvc irrigation tubing (10′ length @ $10.35)

4″dia x 4″ sections of ABS black  (2′ length @ $10 x 3ct = $30)

4″dia  ABS black Snap-In Drain Insert ($3.08)

4″dia Cap pvc ($2.48ea)

Total $102 per 12 houses, or $9.50 per house. Cost per unit just tops redwood/cedar, but these should easily outlast the wooden houses with no issues of warping & splitting, cleaning/viewing access, livestock damage; we’ll see what the Bluebirds think.

Notes: 1. With reciprocating saw or bandsaw, cut irrigation tubing to 10″ sections /  Cut black ABS tubing to 4″ sections (clean & level on sanding belt). 2. Put white cap on 10″ Irrigation tubing and measure down 1″, using 1.5″ hole saw, cut out entrance hole (angle upward slightly to deter water runoff), remove cap. 3. Put Cut-Off wheel on drill; scribe 3 lines below entrance as toe-holds, then move to inside wall and scribe midway at entrance down to bottom for fledging chick’s toe holds. 4. Place white cap as roof, drill hole for bolt undersize and bolt will self-tap, then drill 12 holes around back edge of cap & through pipe for ventilation (upward angle to deter water & small dia to deter insects). 5. Sanding Drum on drill bevels out base of irrigation tubing for seating ABS Snap-In Drain Insert (plus smooth entrance hole)- press insert into place with squeeze clamps or tap with dead blow hammer. 6. Brush out and wipe down interior. 7. ABS glue to bottom of Drain-Insert & 4″ section of black ABS, join and press for 30 seconds, set aside for curing. 8. Drill two holes near bottom of ABS tubing, run galvanized wire through ea. hole to drop well below rim of tubing, and use pliers to clip outside section leaving enough to twist into a loop/anchor. The wire runs down inside tubing and will wrap around woodscrews drilled into the fencepost, holding the house in place. 9. Drill holes into black ABS near joint as ventilation from the bottom (visible on far R prototype).

 

_DSC6411

Roof w anchor pin unscrewed

_DSC6410

Upper Ventilation holes , Front Door with toe-holds.

_DSC6409

Floor & Door, with climbing grooves cut into sidewall.

_DSC6408

Upside Down

_DSC6412

Lashing Wire

_DSC6364

The Oasis within the Wider Oasis

Crushed a 1200 mile drive into a long weekend for a jump up to the ranch. The yard should have been impassible without a machete, but it had been mowed: I’m guessing our good lessee brought up his riding mower on a visit up to his herd. And I must have Rodney to thank for coming up with a solution to shutting off the water in the springbox, way back on last fall’s hunting trip!

E has a broken thumb from taking a spill on her road bike going over a tight curve of RR tracks, so our candid-shot photographer was down: so the Bluebird house update has no images. Bluebirds are nesting in the garage and galvanized machine shed, leaving the only remaining yard birdhouse to Wrens. Out on our wider Bluebird House trek we shunted a few nests of unhatched Tree Swallow eggs, and the distressed birds pinwheeled around, taking turns looking into the empty house and coming to grips with their loss, then stoically set to building new nests. Bluebirds still hold the majority of houses, but the lovely little Tree Swallows are the competition; it makes it hard to dump the nests as they bravely hover overhead in dire concern- I could only do it a few times and only for eggs, leaving a few broods of hatchlings. (A bit of googling upon return to SLC and found that Tree Swallows are Federally protected and their takeover of Bbird houses should be allowed; so I’ve come up with a new design for houses using PVC & similar pipe media for quick-build houses to pair with the wooden houses as BBirds and Swallows will nest as neighbors).  I eventually caused the murder of a Bluebird by cleaning out a low old birdhouse of mice and placing it on a high post with a cross beam: this year a Bbird set up a nest and something ran across the cross beam and reached in leaving a pile of spent blue feathers on the ground. So I moved that house to a safe spot.

A grouse has moved into the yard and showed up here and there like a shy chicken. Goldfinches flitted about. An Oriel flew across the yard, which was a surprise. The Orange Flicker is still building her nest in the hole in the old Willow at the footbridge. One Robin made it his business to harass her. The high bee hive on the house is abandoned, and a Wren is nesting in one of the holes the bees bored out (so still have to wait to fix that corner). The golden eagles soared around and we saw them above us all about the ranch.  A Pronghorn Antelope was on Kibbey Ridge, and a cow Elk was in the verge on King’s Hill. Of course, the ubiquitous deer were all about, spikes and 4-prongs and Does. The yard bunnies and Garter snakes and bushy tailed squirrel were all present. So too the Faye.

_DSC6358

1988. Visiting from Colorado

_DSC6365

Now. Visiting from Utah.

_DSC6362

I split these three years ago and they have taken off!

_DSC6359

A flowered pathway to the footbridge.

_DSC6389

Purple Columbine on the shady side of the path.

_DSC6391

Purple Iris transplants from Utah, 3 seasons and well established.

_DSC6392

Part of last year’s Iris transplant after an evening of weeding an overburden of Wild Carrot and bindweed and every other sticker. A few blooms still going…

_DSC6393

By the weekend’s end the new line of white lilies began to bloom along the bottom near the stream.

_DSC6377

The Willows are inundated with a blight of caterpillars.

_DSC6371

Is that intentional, or is she stuck?

_DSC6396

Xander and Voices display their best night patrol efforts at my slippers: 3 of 5 over 4 nights.