Yellowstone Reports

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Nesting Birds

A Little Late Season Magic
by Dan Hartman

July 9, 2012

Some people say the saddest day of the year is December 26th. Youíve got to wait a whole year for Christmas to return again. For me itís when the last bird nest fledges. I live for springtime. New birth. New growth. Fresh start.

This year I mortgaged so much of my spring on the great gray owl-lets and guiding for numerous groups and film crews. Itís only recently Iíve been able to walk the woods alone. Taking my time, going at my pace. I feared I had missed most of the nesting but was excited to find so much re-nesting going on. Second broods if you will. A flicker just four feet off the ground. Mountain bluebird pair with Pilot-Index Peak for a backdrop. A robin three feet high in an aspen sapling. Fly catchers, wrens, juncos and warblers just recently hatched. Itís like Iíve gotten a reprieve!

I leave at dawn to work on bluebirds, flickers and one of my flycatcher nests. Then head out again in the evening when the light is good for a robin, wren and another flycatcher nest.

Strange thing about the mountain bluebird nest. I knew this was their second clutch as I had seen them feeding young a couple of weeks ago. The female has been sitting in a nest we filmed for the BBC a couple of years ago and also re-used again last year. I watched them prepare the cavity. A week ago she was still incubating inside the hole. Now yesterday morning I set up on said cavity and waited. The male soon appeared to preen just over my head. The female arrived being followed by a second male. She fed him just below where I stood.

ďA chick from her first broodĒ.

Then the male slipped into a second cavity just twenty feet farther across the slope. I figured it was just gathering insects. But no one came to the hole I was on. The male returned again to the other cavity. Then the female.

I was beginning to sense a problem. I switched holes. Sure enough they continued to bring food to this new cavity.

How do you incubate in one tree, then hatch out in another? Obviously I missed something. Is there an underground tunnel connecting the two trees? Iím kidding of course. But I did witness the male feeding the female in the first cavity for several days. Strange.

Confused, I photographed the second tree. For the next hour male and female arrived with caterpillars and insects. The male was easily out feeding the female, so I assumed she was also feeding her first clutch.

One flycatcher nest was way ahead of the other, as the lower one on the slope was so tight with growing chicks, they could hardly move. The second has just now hatched.

The busiest of all were the little wrens. Both parents were coming in every five minutes. Their beaks filled with tiny insects that match their size.

Note: My daughter Cassie and her boyfriend, Kevin, were hiking up to Sheep Falls (halfway between Silver Gate and Cooke City) when they spotted a wolverine bounding down slope. When it saw them, it ran up a downed log, gave them a backwards glance, then was gone.


View slide show

Robin Nest

A Wren Delivers Food To The Nest

Fly Catcher Nest

A Flicker Returns To It's Cavity

A Male Blue Bird Brings In Nesting Material

Blue Bird and Pilot-Index Peak