Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Buzz about Bees

Post contributed by Mary, Conservation Corps Youth Outdoors Co-leader:

This week, the youth working for Conservation Corps Youth Outdoors program are planning their end of term youth lead service project, which will take place the last Saturday in May. One crew has decided to plant a bee garden at Stryker Garden in West St. Paul. Both colonized and native bees all over America are in decline for reasons that are not entirely clear and the youth are doing their part to help the struggling bees by providing them with pollen producing native wildflowers.
Honey bees, which were brought over to the US from Europe in the 1600s, have been suffering from Colony Collapse Disorder which is thought to be caused by a multitude of factors such as disease, parasites, pesticides, decrease in habitat and foraging areas, higher work load, and stress. These are the bees that produce our honey and pollinate about a third of the plants we eat, but there are also nearly 4,000 species of native, North American bees whose populations are also decreasing. Native bees have been especially affected by a loss of habitat and a decrease in available food sources. Huge monoculture farms will produce ample food for a few weeks, but without plants blooming the whole season the bees will starve. By planting a watermelon patch alongside wildflowers, the Phalen Youth Outdoors crew aims to provide nectar and pollen that will feed bees all season long.

Wildflowers are already starting to pop up all over Saint Paul Parks as the bees emerge from their winter homes. The parks provide a great habitat for bees but everyone can help our native bees by planting flowers at home as well. Planting a bee garden is simple and can make a huge difference for the bees. Even a small plot of land increases their habitat and promotes a healthier ecosystem. It is important to plant a variety of flowers that will bloom at different times during the growing season. Bees also prefer single head flowers, as those are easier to access the nectar and pollen.

To learn more about bees, check out these sources:

Incubating time on the Blue Bird Trail

Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer Blue Bird Trail monitor:

Feather-lined tree swallow nest with 4 eggs
Two boxes are empty now after I removed small amounts of moss and grass that had been sitting untouched for two weeks. The house sparrow pair gave up and moved elsewhere after I cleared their nest last week, and that box is now occupied by bluebirds.

I could count six chickadee eggs and two cowbird eggs in the chickadee nest. Last week, I saw seven chickadee eggs. It is very possible that seventh egg is hiding out of view of my camera. I use a small camera to see into each nest in the Peterson-style boxes on the trail, because the boxes are mounted above my eye level.

The cowbird eggs may hatch as early as tomorrow. Depending on when the chickadee began incubating her eggs, it could be as late as next Wednesday before the chickadee eggs begin to hatch. That would be bad news for the young chickadees, as they would be so much smaller than the cowbirds and could easily be trampled or smothered. If the parent birds are busy feeding cowbirds before their own eggs hatch, I wonder if incubation would even be able to proceed successfully?

Tree swallows have laid seven white eggs in two boxes.

The number of bluebird-occupied nest boxes held steady this week at six, even though that new nest was made in the former house sparrow box—one nest I had identified last week as a sparsely-made bluebird nest actually belonged to tree swallows! There are now a total of 19 bluebird eggs in these boxes.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Bluebird Nesting is Underway!

Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer Como Park bluebird trail monitor:

Seven chickadee eggs and two cowbird eggs
Three bluebird eggs
All but three boxes contain completed nests this week. House sparrows continue to attempt to nest in one box, and two other boxes have only small amounts of nesting materials inside.

There are six bluebird nests, one with three eggs and one with five. Incubation of the eggs has begun, as both mother birds flew out when I “knocked” before opening their boxes. Incubation lasts for about two weeks.

There is one chickadee nest with seven chickadee eggs and two cowbird eggs. Cowbirds lay their eggs in the nests of other birds. Both of these species’ eggs are speckled, but cowbird eggs are significantly larger than chickadee eggs. Unfortunately, I was unable to add a hole reducer to this box, which would have prevented the larger cowbird female from entering to lay her eggs. The original entrance hole had been enlarged just enough to make attaching the reducer impossible. Cowbirds develop faster than chickadees and bluebirds, and will likely hatch before their nestmates, putting the young chickadees at a disadvantage.

Tree swallows occupy one box, and have already laid three eggs. As I approached, a tree swallow poked its head out of the hole to see what was going on, as they often do.

Wary tree swallow

Friday, May 16, 2014

Getting our Feet Wet with Wood Ducks!

Post contributed by Ben from Conservation Corps of Minnesota Youth Outdoors crew #1:

Preparing wood duck houses for
the nesting season
Last Friday because of my leaky waders, I was able to quite literally, “get my feet wet” working with the wood duck houses at Lake Como. There are six small wooden houses filled with cedar bedding (like you find in a gerbil cage) just off shore all along Lake Como that are utilized by wood ducks (Aix sponsa) for nesting and laying eggs during the breeding season. The crew and I had the task to get into the water and clean the houses out and prepare them for the upcoming egg laying season. Some ducks got a head start on us though, for we found two houses already filled with 7+ eggs and one with a surprised mama duck!

Working with these houses got me thinking about how cool and unique wood ducks are in the waterfowl world. The common name alone, “Wood Duck” gives you a clue to one interesting aspect of the bird. The wood duck has a special relationship with wood. Wood ducks are the only North American member of the “Perching Duck” group, meaning a duck that is equipped to readily perch in a tree because of the strong claws they have on their feet to help them climb in trees. Another unique characteristic of the wood duck is that the females lay their eggs high up in tree cavities (newly hatched ducklings may jump from over 200 feet up without injury) or when natural tree cavities are scarce, they utilize man made houses like the ones at Lake Como!

Here are a couple other interesting nesting facts about the wood duck. Because ducklings are raised in the water and not the nest, wood ducks prefer to nest close to water but they may lay their eggs over a mile away from the nearest water source. Wood ducks are also the only North American duck that regularly produce two broods (group of bird offspring) in one year. Finally, females that do not have a nesting site may practice, “nest dumping”, where they lay their eggs in a mature female’s established nesting site with the hopes that her eggs will be taken care of. This is usually a last resort because this behavior usually results in a lower success rate of the new hatchlings.

The eggs that we found in the houses should hatch, at the latest, in June (wood duck eggs incubate for around 30 days), so be on the lookout for some ducklings next time you are walking, biking or relaxing by Lake Como!

We also LOVE this video of wood duck ducklings leaving the nest...enjoy!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Como Park Bluebird Trail Update: May 14th

Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer Bluebird Trail monitor:

A lovely spring day on the trail. The sun was shining, orioles were singing, and little warblers searched for insects in the park. Wildflowers are in bloom in the woodland. Many school children were also out enjoying the park.
Bluebird nest from side
Bluebird nest with egg

Corydalis and Pennsylvania sedge

There are six bluebird nests in all stages of development—one even had one blue egg inside. Three other boxes contain a completed chickadee nest, a little bit of moss, and a small amount of nesting material (not enough to identify the type of bird yet). I removed a well-built house sparrow nest from another box, and left some material in the last box, which may or may not be the beginning of another house sparrow nest.