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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

In Search of the Eastern Bluebird

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Creative Commons
Adventurers seek out elusive fowl

SEEKONK – Driving down Brown Avenue, the Audubon Caratunk Wildlife Refuge is easy to miss, its mailbox and gates engulfed in foliage. But slow, the nature preserve is worth finding and visiting. Pulling into the rocky driveway on a weekend visit, a pair of hummingbirds hovered just steps from the cars, buzzing and snatching food from a feeder. In a nearby rocky garden, a yellow bird whistled as it perched on a branch. Birds big and little filled the sky above an open field. The reason for the visit was a “Bluebirds of Caratunk Hike” offered by the Audubon Society of Rhode Island. The refuge is known as a nesting spot for Eastern bluebirds, and once a year Audubon offers visitors a chance to learn about the birds and hopefully see them in nature. Approaching the visitors center, 13 or 14 birdwatching enthusiasts stood around dowsing themselves in bug spray, donning their finest hiking gear, and adjusting their binocular straps. “I joined Audubon three years ago and love the birding classes,” said Mary Bernstein of Rumford. “I just did a class on birds in April and it was amazing.” “We are going to take a look at everything around us, not just [the bluebird],” explained Audubon naturalist and hike leader Mike Tucker. There was a lot to take in as the group traversed the open fields, dodged the oversized bushes, and took in the winding ponds. Birds of all sizes and species flew just feet from the group’s heads. Caratunk has house boxes – essentially taller bird houses – placed throughout the fields and woods for the birds to create homes or feed their babies. “The house sparrows and starlings have been aggressive and increasingly creating problems.” Tucker lamented. “They are a competitive species that will kill other birds and often occupy many of these house boxes. We’ve had to tap them out or force them out.” Hikers gripped their binoculars and watched a tree swallow deliver some food to its baby through the tiny entry. They awed and smiled as they resumed their walk through the greenery. Caratunk fields were planted many years ago and are mowed every year. Audubon wants to be sure shrubbery doesn’t overtake the fields and ruin any chance of land birds or bluebirds living, Tucker said. “It’s so important to jump in and help Mother Nature,” he said. Crouching underneath some overgrown branches, hikers stopped between a mass of trees and listened to Tucker’s “distressed” bird call – reminiscent of an amplified “hush.” Within seconds, a bird flew to a nearby tree, looked at the group, apparently saw nothing interesting and fled. Everyone laughed waiting for Tucker to make another call, watching him shake his head. “No. They know now what’s going on. Instead, they’ll ignore the call.” Over the course of the hike there was one sighting of a bluebird – but it was quite a ways off to fully appreciate, even with the help of some binoculars. The cloudy weather, verging on rain, apparently lessened the chances of seeing more. As the group ventured through the last stretch of open field, Tucker gave some useful advice regarding bird safety. “If you find an injured bird, take it to a licensed rehabilitator, not a refuge. Some people don’t know it’s OK to pick up a bird and put it back in the nest with his or her mother. That is the best advice, before rushing it to a hospital.” Walking back to the refuge entrance, the group stole some last-minute glances at birds on and in nearby fenceposts and gardens. “I liked the vast array of birds you can hear and see,” said Gail McCarthy of Riverside, R.I. “I loved being out in this country atmosphere. You don’t see these types of habitats anymore, although I could have done without the mosquitoes.” “Yes, the fresh air and birds. It’s nice getting back to nature. I loved it all,” agreed sister Kristen McCarthy. While the bluebird hike has passed, here are a few other coming programs at Caratunk, located at 301 Brown Ave. To register call 401-949-5454, ext. 3041.