Thursday, May 21, 2015

Watchers at the Nest

Chickadee scouting
In mid-April, with all but the dregs of snowdrifts melted, interest picked up in the nesting boxes on Halibut Point. The chickadee ultimately preferred to customize a nearby birch stump.

My friend Alicia put her hopes and sympathy with tree swallows. She recalled their bygone success. "In those years when they regularly nested in the boxes in the meadow they would scout it out in April and build the nest and all summer I would watch it. I would stand on this rock and very quietly I would watch how, once they were settled in, I would see the male in the tree guarding and the female in the box."

Tree swallows scouting
As things developed this spring, a pair of tufted titmice won roosting rights in this particular box.

Tufted titmouse
Alicia kept her fingers crossed as swallows examined another box.

"I love the tree swallows. They fly with so much joy. You can feel it. They do it because they love it. That's what I think. They swoop, and they chitter, and they chatter. They fly over the quarry and they eat the bugs off the water."

After the initial interest we didn't see much of the tree swallows except high overhead. Alicia feared the worst as building activity proceeded in a nearby box.

House wren
"House wrens used to nest on the other side of the quarry. I watched them, I thought I liked them. They weren't bothering my birds over here. Then one year as my swallows were getting started, the next thing I know I can hear the song of a house wren. A wren shows up, it dives into the box, and it pecks the eggs. The tree swallow nest was gone. That was the end of that. Those wrens nested in every single box in the entire park."

"They're messy. They get their twigs and they fly in. They're smart, I give them that. Because one day I saw one trying to get it in the nest box, and the twig was this way, and she's looking at it trying to get it in, and she turned it around. So I give them that."

"They're brainy. But they're messy, so there'd be twigs hanging out the bottom. Whereas my guys, their nest is gorgeous, it's got feathers, and it's beautifully woven. I looked it up in a field guide for nests."

Early one morning this month came the possibility of good news, just like years ago.

"She would stick her head and shoulders outside the box. They'd sing that funny bubbly call. He'd be right here, and she'd be right in the box. Then they'd switch, and he would go in. It was so magical. And they'd swoop over the box."

At a time she needed to convalesce from illness Alicia came out to sit beside the quarry. She takes the CATA bus from Gloucester.

"It was like going to the ballet. There they were, dancing over the water, taking their bugs. All the kids had been born by now. All the family was swooping and flying, barn swallows and tree swallows everywhere. One landed right near me. I think they're poets of the sky. They give us some kind of music. They hover. They're a nice bird."

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