Yellowstone Reports

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When The Aspen Grove Comes To Life
by Dan Hartman

July 5, 2011

Kelly and I walked aspen groves last week looking for bird nests. On the whole, nesting seemed to be far below last year. In one stand of aspens for example, we had seven nests the previous year. Included were bluebirds, nuthatches, three-toed woodpeckers, hairy woodpeckers, tree swallows, flickers and Audubon warblers. This year only the flickers returned. In another grove we found hairys, flickers, williamsons sapsuckers, bluebirds and swallows. But even here we have had as many as fifteen nests in the past.

Checking a large grove near an old beaver dam, we found flickers occupying a cavity that housed hairys last year. All other holes we came across were empty. Then as we passed through an area choked with aspen saplings a male bluebird suddenly appeared above us. He was holding a fat grasshopper. Obviously we were near his nest. We looked around. The only tree big enough to contain a cavity was an old snag verily six feet tall. As we approached, a robin flew out of the top. Four blue eggs lay in a grass nest. A foot below was a long narrow hole. Could this be the bluebirds home? We backed off some thirty yards. In the next minute, first the male then female flew in with food. A duplex! We left then, planning to return the next day with camera equipment.

The next afternoon found us peering through a narrow opening through the aspen trees
at the nesting snag. The robin sat on her nest while the bluebird pair appeared every ten minutes or so to deliver beaks full of insects to the cavity. While I photographed, Kelly painted aspen scenes. Every so often the flickers would zip past, carrying food to their squawking chicks some fifty yards behind us. A raven flew by carrying a youngster from a nest he had robbed. Western tanagers and fly catchers flitted around us. The male bluebird perched above me to preen.

Itís always important to understand tolerance levels at bluebird nests, or any nests for that matter. Usually the females will always feed. It is their maternal instincts. However, males tend to be a little more timid. If one finds the males appear but do not approach the nest, or maybe donít show at all, you will have to back off. One half hour is a good time frame to experiment with. Both parents should have fed in that time.

In the following days I worked this nest as well as others. Itís hard to convey the serene feeling I get when observing bird nests. Our human concerns somehow don not make much sense when nature breaks everything down to simply food and shelter.


View slide show

Mountain Blue Bird

Williamson Sapsucker Male

Flicker Nest


Pack It In. Pack It Out!!!

Female Blue Bird

Kelly's Sketch

In The Aspen Grove