Four species of hummingbird buzzed in and out from the feeders hanging from the porch over-hang while Bill Simms brought 32 Central New Mexico Audubon Thursday Birders up-to-date on his 47 bluebird boxes.
While he talked to us, a variety of birds came into the seed feeders behind him. Western Scrub Jays sailed in and out of a piñon pine. Juniper Titmice approached the tray feeder more tentatively. Lark Sparrows displayed their bold face patterns from their perches nearby. Least Goldfinches announced themselves with their plaintive call.
“The early summer rains had a significant impact on nest success and the number of 2nd nests,” Bill told us. “Last year we only had six second nests, and this year there are 27, which is almost 100%.
He passed out a graph that showed nesting began around the first of May and second nesting started a month later. The graph also charts the number of eggs and fledged chicks. “We might get close to 190 successfully fledged chicks by the end of the season,” he said.
This is the 13th year Bill has kept data on the nests, which are scattered over his 200 acres. The trek around the property to record data each week takes 1 ½ – 2 hours. At the end of each season, he submits his records to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
“I designed the boxes I use to minimize disruption and predation,” Bill explained. “The top swivels to one side so I can check the eggs and checks in the shortest period of time.” Each pole also has a baffle, and there is a screen tunnel around each hole. The only predator he has not been able to foil is a weasel. “They are like walking hot dogs,” he said laughing.
Bonnie told us that she had placed 15 of Bill’s boxes on property near her home, a couple of miles down the road. Eleven boxes were used this season.
Some of us followed Bill out to peek in one of the occupied boxes. As we approached, the male sat on top of the box guarding his checks. He and his mate did not fly very far as Bill swiftly unscrewed and swung the lid to one side. Four checks huddled in the bottom of the box. We quickly took our looks and moved away.
By time we had gone a few paces, the male was back in position.
In contrast, when we were within 20 feet of a box occupied by an Ash-throated Flycatcher, both parents flew some distance away, and didn’t return as long as we were in the vicinity.
Our next stop was Bonnie’s house, where we enjoyed a potluck lunch and celebrated the 95th birthday of one of the Thursday Birders.
Flashes of copper whizzed in and out of the trees as Rufous Hummingbirds tried to ward off other hummingbird species from several of Bonnie’s feeders. Fortunately, we could watch Calliope, Broad-tail and Black-chinned Hummingbirds at the other feeders.
Under the trees, Pine Siskins encircled a thistle feeder, while chippies and House Finches flitted in and out of others.
“Be sure and check out the Says’s Phoebe chicks from the computer room,” Bonnie encouraged. We were impressed with the parent who had a sense of fairness as she fed each chick in turn.
All too soon it was time to wind our way back down to Highway 337 and return to Albuquerque, as we basked in the memories of a wonderful day.