Early results from the Jackson Christmas Bird Count are coming in. We had 34 counters this year. With only 1/3 of the people reporting this early, we already have 34 species observed, so we expect to have a good total. Most people wait until count week is over to send in their reports.

It was a cold day — the low recorded by counters was minus 15, and the high was 4 degrees. No wind, thank goodness, and a nice bit of midday sun. In spite of many ponds being frozen, waterfowl were on the creeks and rivers where people could see them.

Barrow’s goldeneyes are showing up. A large number were seen a few days before the count. Only a few were seen on count day — so far. We will likely get more. Other highlights:

• Northern pygmy owl

• Two northern boreal owls (Kelly area)

• A flock of gray-crowned rosy finches at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort on Friday before count day

• A large flock of cedar waxwings, between the Granite Creek trailhead and Phelps Lake

• Two rough-legged hawks and one red-tailed hawk

• Hooded mergansers

• Wilson snipe

•Belted kingfisher

•Common goldeneyes

• White-breasted nuthatch

• Red-breasted nuthatch

There were fewer passerines than usual, though reports have yet to come in from forested areas where more are likely to be seen.

Count week goes through Saturday, Christmas Eve, so let Susan Marsh, 733-5414, know if you see something that may not have been counted on the 17th. We can still include it. Thanks to all for getting out on such a cold day.

Deep unconsolidated snow and extremely low temperatures create very stressful conditions for birds and animals, so keep the feeders full and don’t disturb the wildlife.

Back in October 52 new bluebird houses went up on the National Elk Refuge. The nesting boxes are the result of a community partnership dedicated to wildlife conservation and a bird-loving Eagle Scout candidate.

Wooden boxes dot the refuge’s western boundary, making up the largest registered mountain bluebird trail in the continental United States. Since 2004 Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation volunteers have maintained the bluebird trail by checking boxes, recording use and cleaning the boxes between broods. The foundation’s Bluebird Nest Box Project aims to provide nesting sites for the cavity-nesting birds to mitigate habitat loss. Over time, many of the bluebird boxes have deteriorated.

Utah resident Maclain Smith, 14, has been interested in birds ever since his family lived in Kentucky.

“We had a bird feeder outside a window at our home, and we started keeping a log of the kinds of birds we’d see,” Maclain said. “That was the spark that led to my interest in learning more.”

The family moved back to Utah after a few years, but Maclain’s love of birds continued to grow.

On a trip to the Jackson Hole valley two years ago, the bluebird boxes on the Refuge fence caught his eye.

Maclain decided to make the replacement of the bluebird boxes the focus of his Eagle Scout project. He lined up sponsors — including a Lowe’s home improvement store and his church — to provide materials and help with costs. He enlisted his troop to help construct the boxes. Maclain is proud of his undertaking and eager to stay involved.

I wrote about mountain bluebirds in “Birds of Sage and Scree.” In that book from 2010 my text accompanies original paintings by Greg McHuron:

“Early in the 20th century, one popular common name for one of the continent’s blue birds was “azure bluebird.” Kind of too bad it didn’t stick. What an appropriate term for the delightful coloration of this thrush.

“Of course, there’s turquoise, sky blue, lapus Lazuli and ... blue.

“Bluebirds — there are three recognized species in North America — are well-known not just for their colors, but also for their habit of being an early spring migrant. The mountain bluebird ... is expected in some part of the western United States to return when snow still covers the Earth. Then these insectivorous birds must rely upon native fruits and berries remaining on various shrubs and trees and upon various insects that emerge on some late winter days. ...

“The male mountain bluebird is overall blue. A deeper blue above, pale (azure) below, shading to an almost white. Females are brownish with blue on tail and wings. It’s a small thrush that prefers open country with some trees.

“Mountain bluebirds and their cousins, the eastern bluebird and the western bluebird (make one yearn for “azure,” doesn’t it?), will nest near human habitation and will accept man-made nest boxes if in appropriate locations. The required nest-box hole for mountain bluebird occupation is one-sixteenth of an inch larger in diameter than holes for its relatives; it’s that broad-shouldered Western tradition, don’t you know.”

Bert Raynes © 2016

Bert Raynes writes weekly on whatever suits his fancy with a dash of news on nature and its many ways. Contact him via columnists@jhnewsandguide.com.

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