For Lowes Island resident Debra MacLean, home making is not just what she does for herself and her family. She also provides for Loudoun’s bluebirds. “Before the kids, my husband and I used to go for day hikes nearly every weekend,” says the mother of three, “We loved the open spaces and enjoying nature, some of which included birding. I had always been interested in birding, but only as a novice.”
Deb has turned her curiosity into a full-fledged passion.“ Several years ago, I was home schooling my children,” she recalls, “and I saw an ad for volunteers for the Virginia Bluebird Society. I thought this would be a wonderful opportunity for my children to learn about volunteering, while also learning about birds.”
A monitor for four years, Deb is now the bluebird monitoring trail leader for Algonkian Regional Park in Sterling. She currently coordinates the efforts of three other bluebird monitors. “I’d love to have more volunteers,” she says. “We always need people to fill in the occasional gaps due to conflicting schedules.”
Before she became a stay-at-home mom and part-time virtual assistant, Deb was a marketing executive for a nonprofit organization. No stranger to volunteering, she also donates time to her children’s school, her church and other groups. “I’m a busy mother,” she says, “I find my time out monitoring is extremely relaxing, even when the kids are with me. Anyone who loves spending time outdoors and watching our local wildlife would find a lot of joy in monitoring the bluebirds.”
Because the bluebird trail at Algonkian is on the golf course, Deb can make her rounds with the aid of a golf cart. She takes along a waste receptacle and a notebook for observations. First, she taps lightly on the box to give the mother bird a chance to leave. Then, she unscrews the front cover. If the nest is old and abandoned, she disposes of it. She checks for predator activity. If there are eggs, she counts them and checks for progress in hatching. If there are fledglings, she also does a count and checks for overall health. Sometimes, a tree swallow or house wren is using the nest. She leaves these undisturbed.
As a dedicated parent herself, her affection for bluebirds grows every year.“Bluebirds are good parents,” she notes. “They will continue to feed their babies even after they’ve fledged.”
Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy works in conjunction with the Virginia Bluebird Society (VBS) to ensure quality results. VBS provides specially designed nest boxes and establishes the monitoring protocol. The data gathered by Deb and other monitors is turned over to VBS which makes it available to other state and national organizations.
“More boxes could be placed in parks throughout the county,” says Deb, “but to keep the program effective, nesting and breeding activity should be monitored by volunteers. I’d love to see more scouts getting involved with bluebird monitoring, maybe for merit badges or for Eagle Scout projects.”
Deb has been a “witness to the beauty of new life,” as well as attacks by predators. Once, she came upon a foraging snake. “Bluebirds are among the most beautiful creatures on Earth,” she insists, “but they are also incredibly vulnerable.”
To become a Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy bluebird monitor for a public trail, or to start your own trail at home, contact Elizabeth Evans at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and join us for our Bluebird Monitoring Program 2009 Kickoff on February 28.