Friday, March 6, 2009

Timing is Everything

Last Saturday DW and I took advantage of a break in the rain and did some outdoor spring cleaning, namely cleaning out bird houses and removing old egg casings from the mason bee nests. (We neglected doing this last year, and as a result, last year’s adult bees had to look elsewhere for nesting areas.) What are mason bees and what do their nests look like? Behold:

You will note that there are holes of varying diameters in the nesting box. That is because mason bees come in different sizes.

We have three boxes placed around the farm, two by our fruit trees and one very large one out in the paddocks where we grew veggies. Mason bees are early season pollinators, which comes in handy around here as the weather can be great for a couple weeks, the fruit trees will blossom, and then the rains come again. Honeybees don’t emerge until rather late, so the mason bees get a jump on things for us. (Honeybees also don’t pollinate in the rain. Bumblebees do. Not sure about mason bees.) The Mason bees are starting to show up now, feeding mostly on early flowering plants such as dandelions.

It is good that we cleaned out all of the nests when we did, as the bluebirds have also arrived to go house hunting. I saw my first pair Monday. They were inspecting this house:

The basketball backboard is a remnant of previous owners.

For the last few days I have been trying to get a picture of the bluebirds, to no avail. And, of course, this morning I saw them but forgot to bring my camera along. By the time I fetched it, they had flown off.

I’ve read that female bluebirds are very particular when choosing an abode. It is the male’s duty to seek out a suitable nesting area, and if it doesn’t meet the female’s standards, mating is a no-go. The above house seems to be an early favorite each year, yet it comes with a problem. The neighbors, who migrate a bit later, are rowdy. In fact, they are downright belligerent. I’m referring to the Violet Green Swallows.

Violet-green Swallow, male

Just as the bluebirds get settled in and the female starts laying eggs, the swallows show up from wherever it is they go for the winter. They then start looking for nesting boxes. The swallows live in small colonies, and the four birdhouses by our barns make for an ideal habitat for them, and they don’t give up harassing the bluebirds, as the swallows are covetous birds. Eventually, the bluebirds abandon the nest, the swallows move in and begin to build their nest on top of the one that the bluebirds built.

We want to encourage both species, yet since the bluebirds are more of a rarity (endangered back when DDT was used), we naturally want to make their lives easier any way we can. Unlike the swallows, bluebirds need a lot of distance between their nest and those of other members of their species. At least 200 feet. We just so happen to have eight or so acres out back that is perfect for them, so last year we put out two more boxes along a fence line. Both boxes had nests in them last year, one of them built by the earlier evicted couple, so all should be well again this year.

We try to encourage a variety of birds to take up residence on our property. Bats too. Below is a owl nesting box we put up a few years ago. While we haven’t had much luck getting any takers, the lean-to that shelters the box is a favorite place for owls to hang out.

Owl scat. Note the orange teeth. Another vole bites the dust.

We’ve not had much luck with bats either, even though there are quite a few flying around at dusk. Nevertheless, should they need a place to stay, we have three bat house towering over the same field in which we have the bluebird house.

And finally, a triple rainbow. While one can see a partial rainbow higher up in the picture, and another on the horizon, below the lower one is yet another. Trust me.


Crash said...

Very nice. Makes me feel like I have had some sort of tranquilizer. Are those unused fields where you used to grow your produce? I don't know if your blog software alerts you to comments on older posts, but I left another one on your Potato item.

Lastly: You said you liked overhead ag pictures. This url is newly updated and seems to beat even Google's photography. I hesitate to mention the name of the company:

Memphis MOJO said...

Crash alerted me that you had new photos, so I couldn't wait to come see -- very nice, they don't disappoint.

bastinptc said...

Thanks guys.

Crash, I looked at the maps, found our place, and could tell by the configuration of plantings what year and what time of year the satellite picture was taken. Pretty amazing, and just a bit scary.

Crash said...

Other good sites with aereal photography are,, and of course, Google Earth, which has a free mac download. Depending on when they upgrade their database, one site or the other may give you a better view of your farm.