Kaye and Walt flew back to Kansas City (once the Great Falls airport had held them nearly overnight) and E & I got on to a day-long Feller project of replacing 80 feet of wooden rail fence around the front of the house. Fence that is essential to keeping livestock out of the yard during cattle drives as well as bovine fence crawlers ambling up and down the road all season long.
Kaye and Walt joined us in SLC, and we all drove up to the Montana spread. Elizabeth and I have done enough years of work on the homestead house that it can be mistaken for a rugged B&B.
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.
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).
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.
On a late afternoon bluebird house expedition (house is just left of center) this storm brewed up over the mountains and shot out a large arm reaching over the ranch to blot out the sun. Rain misted the air under the vast arm turning the sky beneath it a brilliant gold, while a premature twilight of the cloud’s shadow swept the landscape. The breeze fell away and the stillness was broken by the booming of thunder resonating from beyond the horizon.
It was a landscape that challenged me to paint the mood of it, and after spinning in pre-art miasma for a few weeks I finally toughened up and got to painting. The painting is in acrylic and 12″x48″, a new format for my work as my new camera has a panoramic feature. This brings a whole new challenge, as the light changes dramatically across the expanse.