I love piñyon-juniper country. Period.
Having spent a considerable amount of time working in the Great Basin, you gain an appreciation for the simple, dominating presence of the piñyon pine/juniper woodlands dotting the landscape. Walking through this country, the smell of sagebrush and juniper mix together to create perhaps the most aesthetically pleasing scent imaginable. This scene plays out along the Owyhee Bluebird Trail of southwest Idaho. Many of you may have heard of Al Larson, known simply as the Bluebird Man, who has been a fixture in Idaho for decades managing over 300 bluebird boxes all over southwest Idaho. I had the privilege of accompanying this man for a day of bluebird banding along his stretch of nest boxes in the Owyhee Mountains.
This particular stretch of nest boxes houses Mountain Bluebirds, although House Wrens, Tree and Violet-green Swallows, and Chickadees will occasionally take up residence. Mountain Bluebirds are secondary cavity nesters, meaning they rely upon other organisms such as woodpeckers to create nesting cavities. In this case, they have taken a liking to the artificial cavities constructed by Al Larson in the form of wooden nest boxes nailed to juniper trees.
Our mission for the day was to check nest boxes that could potentially have nestling bluebirds around 8-14 days old, as this is the best age to band nestlings before they reach fledging age. Most of the boxes we were checking contained second broods, as much of the bluebird population completed their first round of breeding in May and June. Getting a brief glimpse into the life of this beautiful bird was a great experience.
Many of the nest boxes containing nestlings had two attentive adult bluebirds very nearby. The parents were clearly unhappy with our presence, and would sometimes flutter feet over our heads, trying to figure out exactly what we were doing. A few males even flew straight at our faces in a game of chicken before veering away inches before collision! Our slight disturbance however, was quickly forgotten soon after we left the area.
The passion that Al has for these bluebirds after an astounding 30+ years of work and over 25,000 bluebirds banded is truly amazing. Being in his early 90s, he has begun to look for ways to sustain this important monitoring beyond his lifetime. While he is certainly starting to slow down, his energy level is amazing, and following a full day of checking nest boxes I was dead tired, while he was still raring to go! After only one day in the field, I could certainly appreciate the allure of these birds, and have no doubt that Al will find a capable home for the continuation of the fine work he began over 30 years ago.
Thanks for the great work you’ve started Al, and our generation will do our best to continue down the path you have created.