While monitoring the nest boxes at Bues pond this morning, I discovered this western Screech Owl has taken up residency in one of our wood duck nesting boxes. For as many years as we have had the boxes in that area, we have had one of these little gals as a tenant. Coincidentally, they have always chosen the plastic boxes over the wooden for their nesting period. During the wintering season, we will find evidence of them stashing food supply in the wooden boxes.
With the threat of winter weather in Cache Valley, we officially pulled the plug on Saturday mornings WOW work day. With so many project locations needing attention, we kept a skeleton crew of students from Utah State’s Wildlife Society, and made tracks to get several key locations up to speed. As we pulled onto our first project site of the day, students were treated to a couple of hens standing on top of the boxes enjoying the sunshine that was peeking through. As we parked the trucks, several pairs blew of the near bye creek, hens squealing a nervous tone as they departed. Students are always eager to have a chance at hands-on-field-work, and getting to play with wood duck nests is a premium. We quickly paired up and headed in different directions, Dr Koons took one side and I led out to the other. Having checked only a handful of nests, we flushed a hen from a box labeled as JA 3.
Inside, we discover 14 eggs, aging them at day 7-8 in incubation. This box (JA 3) has successfully produced a clutch of wood ducks every year since it was enlisted in the program (2009).
Several boxes later, we were able to observe eggs from a large nest that contained 27 eggs. Candling the eggs, we were able to identify that there were various stages of incubation in the nest, indicating that this nest was subject to dump-nesting (multiple hens laying eggs in one box).
On another project, we observed a hen that was flying with an egg in her bill. In this, we quickly determined this was a golden opportunity to mark her eggs, lending to the chance these eggs may show up in another nest box. Hens will sometimes relocate their nests.
Upon inspection of her nest, there was evidence that an egg had been broken in the hens nest. Some times hens will fight over a box and eggs can be broken during these intense fights.
Late in the afternoon, we had brought the third project to a close, posting for new boxes in place of a series of tired boxes that had fallen victim of branch damages in high winds.
On Saturday, April 21, round 2 of Logan’s Wood Duck Days will kick off, meeting in the parking lot of USU’s Wildlife building at 9 am.
Joel Draxler of Cache Valley, guides the youth of Mount Logan Middle School in the Discovery Program.
The students were introduced to hands on conservation, where they floated some of Utah’s most robust wood duck producing habitat, the Bear River. Along the way, students would stop and inspect some of the areas top producing nesting boxes in the valleys wood duck nesting program.
As the WOW program began to have a noticeable impact on Utah’s wood duck population, there became a greater demand placed on expanding the efforts to place the already successful artificial nesting cavities in areas that would become host to the programs pioneering hens. Having seen growth in dump nesting throughout the programs scattered sites, expansion was at the forefront of the WOW program interests. Additionally, we were starting to receive an increased interest in the WOW Eagle Scout Service Project (ESSP), which quickly began taking in nearly 12 boxes a month. In the summer of 2008, Jack Renzel, retired Directer of the Northern Region Division of Wildlife Resources office, and long time supporter to wood ducks and the WOW program, told me of a pond that was situated right in the heart of Weber County’s most robust wood duck habitat, named the Kingfisher Pond. Surrounded by a canopy of cottonwoods, this pond was a pearl. The pond is located just behind Fort Buenaventura which is adjacent to the Weber River. As these types of projects go, timing was everything. Several phone calls and a briefing of the success and intent behind this program, I was able to secure permission to proceed with the installation of a series of wood duck nesting boxes at Kingfisher Pond. At the same time, I was working with a local scoutmaster in Riverdale, with a young man in line to produce a dozen wooden boxes. In the spring of 2009, fifteen WOW program volunteers met on a rainy morning to help Corban ESSP #35, finish his Eagle Scout Service Project.
As volunteers began to sink the poles that support these boxes, we quickly came to realize that we were fighting a bed of large rock and liner at the base of the pond, making the boxes somewhat unstable. This left me very concerned as to the long term effects that seasonal driving wind and rain, along with winter’s shifting ice would have on these somewhat flimsy poles due to their footings. As it turns out, my concerns were valid, the elements began to take their toll and we lost a few boxes due to them losing stability and tipping over; staying ahead of this became a full time task and something had to be done. At the same time, nest usage took off, showing immediate nesting success in the first season. 2010 brought even more success with growth in boxes nested in there at Kingfisher. additionally, we discovered that one of the nesting hens was previously banded during Utah’s first wood duck banding effort, where 44 wood ducks were banded in 2009. Later in the 2010 nesting season, I discovered yet another banded hen nesting there on Kingfisher Pond.
As fate would have it, the banded hen was nesting in what is referred to as a pole-over-land. In theory, the galvanized poles render the boxes predator proof, but somehow the resident raccoon mastered the art of climbing the 2″ pole . The racoon’s constant harassment forced the hen to eventually abandon her nest. Even then, this raccoon continued working the box over, nearly destroying the box.
Over the next season, the local raccoon population had mastered the art and were now up and down these poles like a team of electrical linemen. To make matters worse, the high waters caused by spring run off in 2011 left us unable to respond to the needs of many of the project areas, so the remaining boxes on Kingfisher Pond were effected by this 100 Year high run-off. Once the water levels receded, it became apparent that we needed to re-engineer this nesting project. To the drawing boards I went devising a plan that would work in the given habitat. Later that summer i was contacted by a young man and his scout leader looking for a suitable ESSP; I told them have we got a deal for you. Late that fall, Cameron Cox ESSP #74, completed his project, providing us with the perfect rendition of 10 nesting pole supports.
now spring of 2012 and the nesting season was just around the corner, again the trusty WOW volunteers came to the table to offer their services in moving these 150 pound tires of cement to their resting place. In the center was a sleeved pipe, exact in dimensions to securely hold the 1 3/8″ top-rail (now standard in WOW’s materials list), having learned from the prior predator issues on this project. Lugging these monsters out into the pond was no small feat for these gent’s. As it came time to replace the prior high-water-stressed boxes, we decided to utilize the remaining boxes from Erik Heras ESSP #55, and his monster contribution of 30 plastic wood duck boxes. We had six set aside purposefully for this project, and now able to deploy.
Given the increased visibility of the Kingfisher Pond, being accessed by Ogden’s Parkway Trail system, outdoor enthusiasts as well as the birding community now have the opportunity to view and photograph one of the Wasatch Front’s most successful wood duck nesting project sites. This project is a culmination of 4 ESSP’s, and what wondrous site it is, WOW. Just days after placement, these newly placed nesting boxes have already begun to show signs of wood duck visitation.
With the addition of the plastic boxes, there is a prime opportunity to study the usage rates of plastic verses wood, so two wooden boxes from Zack Wixom ESSP#81 were also introduced in key habitat to allow for these effects to be studied on Kingfisher Pond.
To bring this project to a close, hundreds of hours and nearly $2,500 dollars worth of materials properly placed have this project ready for a red-carpet inspection. A huge thanks to all parties involved, and to Weber County Parks for hosting these efforts.
Zack Wixom, of Draper, Utah, completes his Eagle project, bringing a whopping 17 boxes to the WOW ESSP. Zack and his team went above and beyond the call of duty by bringing an additional 5 plastic units to the table as well. The community surrounded this young man, offering of their time, money and efforts, so that he may achieve his Eagle. Zack’s Boxes were immediately placed (last in-first out storage) and already seeing great success. Congratulations to Zack Wixom, WOW ESSP #81.
Spent a day with The Duckman at the Bear River Bird Refuge Center: Third, forth and fifth graders from Adventure Academy of Slatterville, Utah, spent the day in a workshop learning about wood ducks and their environment. Students were also provided the opportunities to build a wood duck box, even decorating the box that will later be placed into the WOW nesting program.
The WOW Program provides hands on opportunities for these youth to learn about wood ducks and their nesting habits.
Sean Diepeveen celebrates completion and signing of his Eagle Scout Service Project, which marks number 75 in the WOW ESSP. Sean spoke of learning woodworking skills, people management, time management, as well as the opportunity to do something conservation minded. I found Sean’s craftsmanship and ability to complete his ESSP, achieving his goals, ranking him amount the best of the best, a character that Eagle Scouts all seem to possess. Congratulations!!!!
Cameron Cox of Kaysville, Utah has just completed his Eagle Scout Service Project. Cameron chose to make ten stands that were desperately needed for the Kingfisher pond located in the heart of Weber County’s wood duck area.
While these cement filled bases don’t look like much, they are monsters to coordinate the cement and project volunteers. Each of these bases weigh in at well over 100 pounds, the weight of which will act as a base and support for Wood duck nesting boxes. Kingfisher pond is located over a landfill recovery program, where the bed of the pond has been lined with gravel. This gravel bed has rendered the existing boxes on poles to be unstable. These cement bases will provide the perfect answer to this issue.