The very last thing I expected to see on this morning’s trek were Bluebirds. So many shades of blue in those beautiful wings – Egyptian Blue, Azure, Cerulean, Lapis lazuli, Coblat, Ultramarine -simply astounding! More to come when I have time to sort through photos this weekend 🙂 Eastern Bluebird Male
Perhaps the most disliked plant of all is poison ivy, despised throughout its range for the blistering rash that oozes and itches when one has the misfortune to come in contact with any part of the plant. What is the substance that causes that most dreaded of unpleasant of rashes? Poison ivy is infused with usushiol, a compound that not only wards off humans, but caterpillars, too (generally speaking, caterpillars are a plant’s number one enemy).
Several of my landscape design projects are located on Plum Island. I laughed initially when it was first brought to my attention that poison ivy was one of the “approved” plants permitted on Plum Island. Of course, whether approved or not, I wouldn’t dream of planting poison ivy on a client’s property, but I did want to learn more about why it was on the approved list. And here’s the reason why we might want to rethink our dislike towards poison ivy: Plum Island is home to and breeding ground for hundreds of bird species and small animals. The blossoms of poison ivy are a rich nectar source for many pollinators, and the berries are a prime winter staple for dozens and dozens of song birds, including cardinals, mockingbirds, and robins.
Malign poison ivy if you will for its dreadful rash and clamoring habit. Lets rip it out of our backyard play spaces and public pathways. But knowing it holds an important place in our ecosystem, lets allow it to continue to grow wild in wild and appropriate places. Poison ivy is one of the essential reasons why we are privy to the legions and legions of beautiful birds that dwell, nest, and migrate through our region.
Yellow-rumped warblers are able to withstand our cold winters by switching from a diet of primarily insects, to one of poison ivy berries, bayberry, and other small fruits.
The telltale reddish hairs of the vine are clearly evident in the above image; leaves, vines, stems, and hairs are all toxic to humans. As I am constantly exposed to poison ivy due to landscape design projects, and oftentimes filming and photographing in locations where poison ivy is prevalent, my number one solution to avoiding contact is to identify its presence and to wear protective clothing. Knowing poison ivy’s mnemonic rhymes will help with its identification: “Leaves of three, let it be!”, “Berries white, run in fright!”, and “Red hairy vine, no friend of mine!”
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My sincere thanks to Bob Snyder for the use of his photos. Permission to post the bluebird and poison ivy berry photo was requested and John not only graciously allowed the photo, he also forwarded along the photo of the Yellow-rumped Warbler. You can see more of his beautiful photos here: Bob Snyder Photography.
All other images are courtesy Wiki Commons Media.
The male Eastern Bluebird shows a brilliant indigo blue on the head and back, with a rusty reddish brown breast. The female is more softly colored overall, with elegant gray wings, tinged in shades of blue, and paler breast. Joe Ciaramitaro photo
Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)
Several days ago my friend Joe from Good Morning Gloucester blog captured (with camera) a pair of Eastern Bluebirds. Everyone who responded in the comment section spoke so fondly of this beautiful bird that I thought we’d all enjoy knowing a bit more about its current status in Massachusetts. And too, sightings at this time of year give reason to share a favorite Emily Dickinson poem—“Before you thought of spring, except as a surmise…”
Before you thought of spring,
Except as a surmise,
You see, God bless his suddenness,
A fellow in the skies
Of independent hues,
A little weather-worn,
Of indigo and brown.
With specimens of song,
As if for you to choose,
Discretion in the interval,
With gay delays he goes
To some superior tree
Without a single leaf,
And shouts for joy to nobody
But his seraphic self!
Bluebirds do indeed appear to sing with great joy from the treetops, and reading this poem always makes me smile, thinking about “a fellow in the skies” singing to nobody but his rapt self. As is so typical of her work, Emily Dickinson’s poem is an astute and honest observation of the natural world, but I also interpret her poem to mean that joy is an emotion that doesn’t need an audience; that it can be expressed for the sake of joy itself.
Eastern Bluebirds sing several types of songs; one is a liquid birdsong—sort of a turee song—and another is a soft melodious warble. When trying to attract a mate, unpaired males typically sing from a high perch, and sometimes even in flight. Both male and female sing in all seasons to keep in touch with each other and to signal to nestlings that food is on its way. Bluebirds are in the Thrush Family, as are American Robins, and Robins too sing a lovely liquid birdsong.
From the Mass Audubon State of Birds:
“The very widespread breeding distribution seen in the Eastern Bluebird in Massachusetts today is, in large part, the result of considerable support received by concerned citizens who, for more than half a century, erected large numbers of nest boxes across the state and helped save the species from near-extirpation.”
What does “extirpation” mean? Not that a species has become extinct from our planet, but that it is no longer found in a particular area. We are very fortunate that the Eastern Bluebird did not become extirpated from our region. Bluebirds are cavity nesters and use suitable bird boxes, tree cavities, and old woodpecker holes in trees and fence posts to build their nests. During the era when settlers cleared forests and planted fields and orchards, the Eastern Bluebird became quite common. In the 20th century their population decreased by nearly 90 percent for several reasons, two of which are because vast areas of New England have reverted to forest, and because the bluebird is competing for nesting sites with the alien European House Sparrow and European Starling. The return of the Eastern Bluebird during the spring and summer breeding period is due in large measure to citizens throughout the state building and placing nest boxes along “bluebird trails.”
Eastern Bluebird and Winterberry
If you are fortunate enough to have bluebirds visiting your backyard, you may want to provide them with supplemental food. Bluebirds are primarily insectivores. They do not visit bird feeders because their bills are not designed for cracking open seed and nut shells (but they will eat hulled sunflower seeds). They eat berries at this time of year because there aren’t any insects. The winterberries won’t last long on the bush with flocks of hungry birds descending to your garden. Mealworms (which aren’t really worms at all, but are the larval form of the darling beetle) are the most nutritious supplement you can provide bluebirds. For more information on feeding mealworms to bluebirds go to this fact sheet: North American Bluebird Society’s Mealworms Fact Sheet.
For a wonderful FREE downloadable 15 page education packet designed for grades 1-5, with coloring pages and puzzles follow this link: Education Packet
For more information on how to build, and where to site, bluebird nest boxes, along with plan drawings, follow this link: Getting Started with Bluebirds
To read more about the devastating effects of European House Sparrows and European Starlings follow this link: House Sparrow Control.
Just this past week, 15 Eastern Bluebirds were spotted at Allens Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Westport, Massachusetts. See Bluebird Nestbox Walk at Allens Neck post for information about an upcoming.
Additional images courtesy Google image search.
Male Eastern Bluebird and Redbud (Cercis canadensis)
Bluebird Nestbox Walk at Allens Neck
Sponsored by Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary
Sunday, February 24, 2013 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Location: Allens Neck Wildlife Sanctuary Instructor: Allens Pond Sanctuary Staff Audience: All (suitable for children 5 – 16 years) Fee: Adults $0, Children $0.00m/ $0.00nm
Join us at the Allens Neck Wildlife Sanctuary for a FREE bluebird nest box training session and nature walk. The walk is free and open to anyone but will focus on teaching participants how to monitor nest boxes on our Sanctuary as well as their own properties. You will visit 30 nest box sites along this three mile hike while learning how to attract and monitor bluebirds. You’ll also have the chance to join the Allens Pond Volunteer Bluebird Nest Box Monitor Program. Please bring your questions!
Instructions and Directions: Meet at the Allens Neck Wildlife Sanctuary Parking lot, located on Allens Neck Road, right off of Horseneck Road in South Dartmouth, MA. Dress for an outdoor hike and be sure to bring a water bottle.
Registration is required.
Register online or call 508-636-2437 to register by phone.
Register by mail: program registration form (PDF 66K)
For more information, contact:
1280 Horseneck Road
Westport, MA 02790
Images courtesy Google image search.