Burton on the Bay:
Backyard Birding
When it comes to bluebirds, other folks have all the luck

With all the ugliness going on here in South County, with developers trying to obliterate the loveliness
that's been a part of South Countians' lives for generations, seeing the bluebirds nesting here has given us trust that God is planning to help us preserve what is left of this little patch of blue.

	-Joyce Kirchner, West River

The bluebird couple that has taken up residence on Joyce Kirchner's front lawn on Chalk Point Road would appreciate those words, what with a housing development just down the road and who knows what else coming up the road in these days of change in South County.

Periodically, I chronicle the curious goings on with wildlife on the side lawn of the Burton homestead at Riviera Beach in North County, but Kenneth and Joyce have me beat. In more ways than one.

First, they have a nesting pair of bluebirds - my fantasy. Topping that, these radiant birds have chosen a home that, at last report, had one or two fledglings and three or four eggs yet to crack open.

Talk about something to talk about: Mom and Pop Bluebird passed up a fancy birdhouse just 20 feet away and another equally ostentatious bluebird dwelling perhaps 50 feet away for an old-fashioned well-water pump with traditional curved handle next to the driveway.

I've spent hours fussing around and measuring holes in bluebird houses to come within a 16th of an inch of the recommended one-and-a-half-inch opening - to discourage unwanted squatters - and here's a pair of bluebirds nesting in a three-by-three opening at the short, stubby trough of a no-longer-functional pump, presumably used in days before running water and now painted red to brighten the lawn.


Birds Will Be Birds

Birds will be birds. What triggers their preference, who knows. But when I visited the Kirchner residence, the summering bluebirds were obviously satisfied with their unique home. The birds weren't around, but a peek into the mouth of the pump revealed five eggs cuddled in a nest.

The two Kirchner cats - BJ, who's orange and now 16, and BoBo, all white like my 12-year-old Frieda Lawrence and 19 - neither bother nor intimidate the birds, which are more concerned about sparrows and other feathered intruders. The cats are at an age when to them birdwatching is just that. But heaven help the sparrow that might decide to visit.

Two previous years, a pair of bluebirds set up shop at the Kirchners', but in more conventional quarters: one year in the back yard, the other in the front at the empty bird house near the pump. They or newcomers appeared this year, but the Kirchners couldn't determine their nesting site.

They saw them flying about, grasses in their beaks, but ignoring the birdhouses. At times, they seemed to be most active near the pump just a short cast from the Kirchner house. Finally a look inside revealed a nest with one egg. Then another and another. Finally all five. Then Mom spent more time inside the pump.

Meanwhile, Pop became more aggressively protective of the homestead. He does what my Frieda - seven years younger than the Kirchner's BoBo - longs to do from the screened-in porch from which she watches the cardinals, catbirds, robins, sparrows, wrens and other birds of our side lawn. He chases away birds, primarily sparrows. Frieda's still young enough for the chase if given the opportunity, which she isn't.

The male bluebird's post can be on a bench several feet away, or perhaps on the limb of the nearby tree where a vacant birdhouse is - any vantage point from which he can guard his domicile. And there is the traditional bird chore of bringing food to the nest.

Watching the busy pair fly in and out of the pump is birdwatching at its finest for the Kirchners, who themselves have been scolded by the male of the pumphouse when they attempt to check within.

"Each morning when we go outside to observe those two birds, I think about what's happening all around us," said Joyce over the phone. "I saw a deer in the backyard and thought, why give in to concrete and blacktop?

"We don't need fast lanes here. We like things the way they were. Developers come and do their dirty work - and then they're gone."

Proud of her country heritage, Kirchner recalls her farmer father leaving hedgerows in fields, her city mother asking why they weren't plowed and his response: "Birds have to have a place to nest."

That red pump, though it hasn't been in working condition for years, is like a hedgerow to Joyce. It will remain in the front yard just in case another pair of bluebirds with unbluebird-like fancies happen to come scouting around in a springtime to come.

The way development is spreading along Chalk Point Road and other lands nearby, a front yard pump on the lawn of folks who appreciate birds and other wildlife might be bluebirds' only options in the not-too-distant future. Which is indeed sad.


Not So Wild Stoney Creek

So after visiting the Kirchners to share in their excitement and pride, what can I offer of interest in my latest report of happenings on our spread overlooking Stoney Creek? Not much.

Despite a fish kill on Stoney Creek, Janet Sank - who lives less than a mile upstream - caught in a backyard pot a 712-inch soft crab, which is the biggest I've ever heard of.

Also, we now have a nearly all-white squirrel romping on the lawn, a loner who doesn't share in the fussing and chasing of other resident bushytails. Nor does he join them in raiding the special feeder replenished daily with grape jam for the two catbirds who scold all intruders to their cache of the sweet stuff.

Even mornings when I sit on the nearby bench for my bowl of cereal, one or both birds will light on the perimeter of the feeder less than six feet away and scold me to depart. From the porch, I've seen them do the same to squirrels, also a few curious blackbirds driven off before they got a taste.

It can't match watching bluebirds in a red pump, but as the nearby woods deteriorate due to dirt bikers and party goers, I think of the niche the Kirchners are preserving and take delight in watching either squirrels or catbirds gobbling up sticky grape jelly, then washing it down with fresh water from the bird bath, then back again for more jelly.

As our habitat and that of birds and other wildlife is degraded, we have to settle for what we can get - while we can still get it. Each year we get less. Before long - nothing?

Enough said ...

| Issue 27 |

Volume VII Number 27
July 8-14, 1999
New Bay Times

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