Editor’s note: The Virginia Master Naturalist program is a statewide corps of volunteers providing education, outreach, and service dedicated to the management of natural resources and natural areas within their communities. The Pocahontas Chapter works on projects primarily in Chesterfield County. It is accepting a limited number of applications for the 2018 Basic Training Class from now until October 31 or whenever the class is filled.
As a newly minted Pocahontas Chapter Virginia Master Naturalist in 2014, one of the first volunteer tasks I helped with at Pocahontas State Park in Chesterfield County was monitoring bluebird boxes. I found it to be both enjoyable and rewarding.
Several months after the 2014 summer season, the Downing Ruritan Club of Midlothian was trying to decide what to do with several un-used bluebird houses it had left over from a joint project with the Boy Scouts. The extra boxes had been sitting for several years in the safe confines of a club member’s garage, and he was ready either to find a good use for them or simply discard them. I am a member of that club, but I was unaware of the unused boxes until the member mentioned his desire to dispose of them.
About the same time, Lee and Jane Hesler, who coordinate the bluebird box monitoring at Pocahontas State Park and are the Virginia Bluebird Society county coordinators, were encouraging Master Naturalists to identify and develop additional bluebird house trails elsewhere in Chesterfield County. Horner Park is a still undeveloped county park, located just off Genito Road adjacent to the Clover Hill Athletic Complex. It is not far from where I live, and it seemed to me it would make a great location for a new trail. Mark Battista, Naturalist with the Chesterfield County Department of Parks and Recreation, agreed to help me determine good locations for the boxes at the park. We soon found several excellent sites for the twelve boxes the Downing Ruritan Club was able to supply.
The actual placing of the boxes was a team effort, with a county staff member operating an auger and the Ruritan Club assisting in the installation. The Heslers improved the boxes by adding wire predator guards around the entry holes and stovepipe snake guards around the support poles. The Virginia Bluebird Society provided the funds to add the predator guards.
The boxes were not fully in place until well into the 2015 summer season, but a few of the boxes
yielded bluebird and Carolina Chickadee nests, eggs, and fledglings before the season drew to a
The summer of 2016 saw a doubling of the number of active nests and of fledglings. This
year, all 12 boxes have hosted at least one active nest of bluebirds or chickadees, and it appears
our number of fledglings will be close to double the numbers from 2016. Not bad for only the
second full season!
This has been a real team effort: a local Ruritan club with unused bluebird boxes; a new Master
Naturalist in search of a project; a county naturalist who could make the trail a reality in a county
park; and the Heslers, who encouraged me and helped make the boxes safe and productive.
There’s one more piece to the puzzle — a local Baptist church near the park entrance lets us keep
our monitoring supplies safely under lock and key in a storage shed on their property. This allows
multiple volunteers to access the materials from a convenient, secure location. The icing on the
cake is that the time I spend personally monitoring the trail counts toward my recertification
volunteer hours as a Virginia Master Naturalist, and also toward my Ruritan Club’s public service
hours. That’s what I call a win all around!