Bluebird master reports a so-so season

Published 9:25 am Thursday, September 24, 2015

For a baseball fan, it would be like a visit from Willie Mays. For a Roman Catholic, it would be like the Pope popping in to the office. For a bluebird nut, the highlight visitor of any day would be Bill Abbey of Clemmons, master birder.

Like many others with their bluebird boxes, it is my goal to grow up to be like Bill Abbey.

Nesting season is over, and Abbey came in to report the season’s results. It was only a so-so year.

His nests at Tanglewood Park yielded 164 fledglings, his fifth best year out of the past 10 seasons.

A retired military career man, he moved to Clemmons in 1980 and became a regular walker at Tanglewood Park. He saw an abandoned bluebird trail and volunteered to revive it with the precision he learned in the Army.

Has he ever — for more than 30 years. His faithful mission has helped make bluebirds flitting about the fence lines a common sight here.

President Obama should put Abbey in charge of the ISIS campaign to get better results.

The park had a few shabby boxes when he started. Now he has more than 40 boxes that he monitors regularly, combining exercise with his affection for bluebirds.

“Over the years as a N.C. Bluebird Society volunteer, I have become more attuned to what bluebirds are seeking for habitat and location. I allow three years for a box to attract and produce the bird. If a box doesn’t produce well, it’s gone! I move it to another spot.”

At the end of every season, Abbey sends his data to Cornell University where similar reports from bluebird trails are collected and evaluated.

He has tried to protect bluebirds from predators, particularly snakes. He counts the eggs and the number of birds each box produces.

His report: “This year’s production of 164 bluebird fledgelings at Tanglewood achieved a bird-to-box ratio of 4.3.

It amazes me that Abbey tracks his results so efficiently. His boxes sometimes attracts birds that are not blue. He has also been surprised sometimes by what he has found in boxes when he has opened the lids. An alarmed brown-headed nuthatch stormed out of a box once and landed on Abbey’s shoulder. He’s had tree swallows, wrens, chickadees and other varieties make their homes in his boxes. And an occasional snake.

Like him, I had tree swallow tenants this year.

Abbey has held seminars at times in spring to recruit new bluebird enthusiasts. He is a bluebird’s best friend … and an amazing guy.

He’ll be back next spring ready with his bluebirds tenant houses for another season.

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The first hint of fall? After sweltering through the summer months, the heat wave ended at the end of last week. Temperatures were suddenly very pleasant — even calling for jackets at times.  It was a welcomed change.

— Dwight Sparks