Bluebirds and Spring Birding


(This 1199th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on March 16, 2014.)


Eastern Bluebird photo by Joseph Meyers


Each time I write a column that mentions bluebirds I receive a number of similar contacts. The callers tell me that they have never seen a bluebird and would like to know where to look for them.


I am no longer shocked by these messages even though the Eastern bluebird is now a widely distributed breeding bird here on the Niagara Frontier. It is mainly a species of open farmlands and our contemporary society with its urban-suburban locus and focus rarely visits the countryside. Even when we do pass through those outlands, it is usually at 55 or 65 mph, not speeds designed for bird observation. (Interestingly in this regard, Thruway workers have placed a few nest boxes near the expressway and, if you watch them as you speed by, you might see bluebirds.)


Thanks to people like Rich Wells, Carl Zenger and Dwight Kauppi, each of whom sets out and monitors a series of bluebird nest boxes, the number of these lovely birds has increased ten-fold over the past 30 years. They and other Niagara Frontier bluebird enthusiasts support about a thousand pairs each year.


So my advice to those who wish to see bluebirds is to drive out into the countryside along secondary roads and look for nest boxes. You'll soon see a pair of these lovely birds. Then listen for their melancholy whistled "spring here" calls.


You can learn more about bluebirds by attending the Western New York Bluebird Workshop to be held in the Town Hall in Boston, NY, beginning at 1 p.m. next Saturday, March 22. Rich Wells will be the main speaker. In addition to running his trail of nest boxes, Rich is a master bird bander who has banded over 7000 bluebirds. I know Rich as one of this region's finest and most highly regarded conservationists.


The meeting is free but those signing up for a 3-year membership in the New York State Bluebird Society will receive a bluebird nest box. Pre-registration is encouraged through Dave Hofer at 716-592-5735 or by email.


As I write this in early March, it is hard to believe that we will ever pass through this "winter of our discontent," but spring will come and with it not only returning bluebirds but also the annual Iroquois Observations program that Garner Light began several decades ago at Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. The program is now managed by the Buffalo Audubon Society.


The main series will be held on Saturdays from March 29 through early May, but additional programs will extend through the summer and fall.


Central to each Saturday's program is an opportunity to watch between 1 and 4 p.m. activity at the eagles' nest back of the Cayuga Pool Overlook on Highway 77. Bob Ensminger hosts this activity.


Here are some of the many other activities through the first weeks, all open to the public, most at the refuge headquarters on Casey Road:


March 29: Wayne Gall's talk about caddisfly underwater architecture at 1 p.m. In the evening a 7 p.m. owl prowl led by Chuck Rosenburg and Tom and Sherry Poczciwinski and at 8 p.m., weather permitting, an astronomy program featuring the new Moon, Jupiter and Mars led by Bob Hazen.


April 5: A birding field trip focusing on migrating waterfowl at 9 a.m. At 1 p.m. fish biologist Dimitry Gorsky's talk about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's restoration of lake sturgeon in the Great Lakes. Depending on weather, Hazen's astronomical observations again focusing on the Moon and planets.


April 12: At 10 a.m. a birding trip by car led by Ensminger. At 2 p.m. a Native American walk featuring Native American folklore and their perception of nature led by Marvin Jacobs. At 1 p.m. Mark Carra will give visitors a chance to meet the colorful and flamboyant artist, John James Audubon. At 7:30 p.m. a woodcock walk and at 8 p.m. Hazen will watch for Lyrid meteors.


I have seen Carra's Audubon interpretation and I recommend it, especially for children. He brings a wealth of information and some beautiful illustrations to this program. It is not to be missed.


For a full Iroquois Observations schedule including where events begin as well as other Buffalo Audubon Society activities see their website or call 585-457-3228.-- Gerry Rising