2018 – A Record Year for Cleman Mountain Bluebirds

During this cold, sometimes gloomy, time of year, it is fun to look back at warmer, sunnier times, especially when they involve birds. Last year (2018) was the fifth year that Joe and I monitored and maintained our little trail on Cleman Mountain which is accessed through the WDFW gate at the hay barn storing feed for wintering elk. Like the Vredenburgh Bluebird trail, we also had a record year. Our trail has thirty-five boxes that we monitor regularly. Four of those boxes were not used at all, so thirty-one boxes fledged 150 Western Bluebirds, a dozen Mountain Bluebirds and 13 Tree Swallows.

Mortality was low last year. We lost twelve Bluebird chicks, which is never a good thing, but some mortality is expected. The losses amounted to only seven percent of the chicks that hatched.

There are all sorts of interesting things to be discovered up there. We’ve been monitoring long enough that we found a few very fascinating trends last year. One was Mariposa Lilies. There were literally hundreds of them blooming up there this season! They are one of my favorite local wild flowers, and I don’t ever recall seeing so many of them in bloom. Butterflies were abundant up there as well.

Image - Mariposa Lily being visited by a Green Bee - Karen Zook
Mariposa Lily being visited by a Green Bee - Karen Zook

Even though the Bluebirds are the reason we are up there, there are a lot of other fun and engaging birds to be found in the area. In 2018, we saw more Steller’s Jays than in past years, more Lark Sparrows and more Lazuli Buntings. We had fun watching a juvenile Great-horned Owl as it got to know its surroundings. We saw what we believe to be the same owl in almost the same spot on at least three different visits. We also located two pair of nesting Hairy Woodpeckers. We found a snag which had nesting Lewis’s Woodpeckers, and then noticed that a pair of Kestrels was using a different cavity in the same tree. That was an unexpected surprise. A closer inspection of the snag found that there was also a pair of House Wrens nesting in that same snag. Unusually brave wrens, to be sure. Perhaps this is a testament to the lack of cavities available for nesting.

Image - Joe Zook monitoring a box on Cleman Mountain - Karen Zook
Joe Zook monitoring a box on Cleman Mountain - Karen Zook

Other trends include seeing significantly fewer House Wrens this year. There were also fewer Black-headed Grosbeaks and Bullock’s Orioles than in years past.

One “non-bird” highlight was watching a beaver dam being built across Wenas Creek just northwest of the bridge. We only saw the beavers once, but we saw their progress each time we visited the area.

Image - A striking Lark Sparrow perched and ready to break into song - Karen Zook
A striking Lark Sparrow perched and ready to break into song - Karen Zook

Taking care of this Bluebird trail is a joy. It’s so fun to watch “our” chicks as they grow, change and fledge. Although the seven plus miles of roads we traverse on the slopes of Cleman Mountain are a bit rough, the scenery is beautiful. As with the rest of the beautiful Wenas Valley, the birds are varied and captivating. Other wildlife is plentiful to make this a very special location for a bluebird nest box trail. I hope 2019 is kind to everyone’s birds.

- Karen Zook