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  • Margaret Wester

Sky Meadows State Park Bluebird Trail 10 Year Anniversary

The formation of the bluebird trail at Sky Meadows State Park is a story of collaboration and cooperation of several organizations and a host of volunteers with the Shenandoah Chapter of Virginia Master Naturalists at the heart. In the Fall of 2010, former park manager Timothy Skinner approached our chapter at a meeting proposing that we revitalize a bluebird nesting trail at the park. Since I already had many years of experience monitoring the Shenandoah Audubon bluebird trail at Blandy Experimental Farm with Kaycee Lichliter, trail manager, I thought this would be a dream project for me come true. I became a certified member of our VMN chapter in 2008. Our chapter was formed in 2007.

Tim had already presented us with 9 donated nest boxes. With Tom Adkins, I organized volunteers for two workshop days at the park’s maintenance workshop to build 40 “Carl Little” nest boxes, stovepipe snake guards and Noel guards, all according to plans available on the Virginia Bluebird Society (VBS) website. The park supplied the raw materials. As this was in progress, I was approached by scoutmaster Karl Haas who had a scout, Anthony Fala, seeking to earn his Eagle Scout badge. It was agreed that Anthony would provide and install 20 nest boxes with his troop. He sought and received funding from VBS for all the materials for these nest boxes and coordinated with me on the locations. The locations for all the new nest boxes were laid out with flags and approved by the park manager. We selected sites according to habitat, safety from predators and recommended distance between boxes plus locations available from the park and in accordance with park operations and policies. We installed some trail sections in pairs and some singularly. Our original trail consisted of 69 nest boxes divided up into 6 trail sections for monitoring and we completed installation just in time for the nesting season of 2011.

The next step was obtaining and training volunteers for monitoring. There was no problem finding volunteers. Everyone in our chapter was excited about this project. I teamed up with Kaycee Lichliter for training the new volunteers as she already had a training program in place for the SA/Blandy BT volunteers. We adopted the same protocol; project manual and data log sheets being used for the Blandy BT but modified to fit Sky Meadows. This way we generated trail technicians that could volunteer to monitor for both Sky Meadows, Blandy and other Shenandoah Audubon bluebird trails. I coordinate every year with Kaycee on training and scheduling of the volunteers for our two “sister” trails.

Over the years we have added new nest boxes to the trail to finish off or expand a trail section. In 2017/2018 we installed new nest boxes with plaques to honor volunteers with our chapter that had completed 10 years of volunteer service and we continue this practice annually as chapter members reach this mark. In 2020, before the 2021 nesting season started, we completed a renovation of the entire trail replacing worn out nest boxes and guards and the relocation of some nest boxes. We currently have 96 nest boxes on our trail. Bob Edmonds, certified chapter member, has been the trail maintenance technician from the start and headed up this renovation project. We have plans to install 4 more nest boxes next year for an even100!

We are proud of our beautiful bluebird trail and our accomplishments. To date we have fledged 2,088 Eastern Bluebirds, 1,736 Tree Swallows, 84 House Wrens and 60 Carolina Wrens. We collect all the data from the trail logbook sheets entered by volunteers as they monitor the trails, compile it, and report the results to VBS on their spreadsheet document annually. This bluebird trail would not have been possible without the hard work and dedication of many volunteers, collaboration with the park, building on the experience and expertise of others and resources from the Virginia Bluebird Society and other conservation organizations. As a project of our chapter, the trail is now fully funded and supported by our VMN Shenandoah Chapter.

As I enter the park to take up an afternoon of monitoring or checking the trail books, I am always pleased to see the bluebirds and swallows flying, perching, hunting, and entering or exiting the nest boxes, busy at their work, accomplishing what our nest box trail was designed for.

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