His houses are homes for bluebirds NORTH -- Manchester * Hampstead * Lineboro

NEIGHBORS

April 21, 1993|By PAT BRODOWSKI

First, we saw the brilliant blue fan of wings, then the rust-colored throat and breast. There it was; we'd seen our first Eastern bluebird swooping from tree to tree.

Our Hampstead neighbor, Cheryl Wahl, reported seven more frolicking in her holly bushes. From now until July, the soft, sweet song of bluebirds -- hundreds of bluebirds -- will whistle as the birds munch insects and berries from Hampstead to Glen Rock, Pa.

We have LeRoy Walker to thank for this. Over the past 25 years, he's built and posted more than 70 bluebird nesting houses on open acreage around his home in Millers.

Mr. Walker started counting the offspring when, in 1990, 203 birds fledged from his boxes. In 1991, he counted 210. Last year, 263 grew and flew despite a wet, bug-free spring that resulted in the deaths of 35 hatchlings.

"I'm shooting for 300 some year, whether it be this year or later," he says in his quiet, fatherly way.

Weekly, Mr. Walker nudges his truck along three two-hour routes through Roller, Lineboro, Millers, and on Maple Grove Road to check the houses.

"I like to find what exactly they have in their nest," he says.

He gently swings up the side of the box. It's his own design that permits easy observation and cleaning. In his logbook, he dates and records "nesting, when they lay eggs, a count of the eggs, when the young hatch, and when they fly out," he said.

What has the bluebird to say about these observations?

"No, they don't mind," said Mr. Walker.

"I had two boxes last year where I'd open the box and the female would be on the eggs and wouldn't move. I went around a couple days later and she was still on the nest. I just picked her up and looked under. Then set her [back] on it, closed the box, and went on."

Mr. Walker says he's seen bluebirds alight on a new house within minutes of his putting it up. The backs of the boxes measure 14 inches high, and the fronts are 8 inches high. The sides slope from 9 to 8 inches, and the 9-inch roof gives an overhang to shade the 1 1/2 -inch hole.

He paints them "as dull looking as I can" and mounts them about eye level.

"I saw a bluebird that built [a nest] in a knothole in a fence post only two feet off the ground, but I think it's a little safer up four or five feet," he says.

This area's worst predator, he's found, is the tiny house wren, which nimbly enters the nest to stab the eggs.

The nesting boxes became a refuge during the blizzard last month. A neighbor told Mr. Walker he'd cleared out the snow from his box, dropped in some wood shavings, and four bluebirds popped inside to huddle against the storm.

Mr. Walker said he quietly began his hobby when "I got to thinking I never saw bluebirds anymore," as he did as a child growing up four miles away in Sugar Valley. This spring, he and wife, Edna, will watch another 200 baby bluebirds take wing.

"They're shy birds, but I really believe they recognize me when I go around," says Mr. Walker. "They know I'm not harming them."

*

Seniors in North Carroll know the recipe for a good time.

Start with friendly folks.

Warm the kitchen with good home cooking.

And jiggle those dancing shoes to a lively string trio.

This is the mix they call a Hoe Down at the North Carroll Senior Center in Greenmount (below the new library). The next one is Sunday.

"Dress casual, let your hair down, and enjoy yourself," says Dorothy Houff, the center manager.

You'll find Mrs. Houff in the kitchen, craft rooms or bustling office. Her welcome, like the warm greeting extended by other folks at the center, makes any casual visitor feel they've joined an extended family.

"We'll have a very nice buffet," served from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m., she said.

The North Carroll Retirees String Band will play from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. The banjo, guitar and bass trio is known for its smooth sounds of country-Western, and a mix of '50s and '60s tunes.

A donation will be collected for the buffet, and $3 for the music. Any fun-loving senior (and younger) is welcome at this event.

"The more we get, the better it is," says Mrs. Houff.

The senior center also has a fleet of trips scheduled. Sign up by tomorrow for a cruise through the Baltimore Harbor and seafood dinner aboard the Bay Lady. Last year, 46 people enjoyed the entertainment, food and music.

"We get up and have a good ol' time," says Mrs. Houff. The trip is June 14 from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. and costs $31.

Information: 239-6400.

*

You don't have to be a whiz kid to enjoy the Math Carnival from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday at North Carroll Middle School.

For the $1 admission, you're permitted two free games. After that, games are 10 cents each. Prizes, dancing and refreshments are included.

Each game requires some clever computation by the contestants. There's the 100 percent throw, in which tosses must equal 100. In Roll the Product, dice are multiplied and the product has to be even or odd.

Sixth-grade students will hawk the games. Any age can participate.

The sixth-grade teachers involved are Kathy Stahl, Judy Gehr and Linda McDougall.

What a great way to celebrate Math Month!

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