From the files of Donald R. Kirk:
In my last 2 postings I told about photographing a tree swallow nest and the nest of a western wood peewee. I offered a 50 cent nest finder’s fee to my family, and they are keeping me busy…My daughter points out a dark–eyed junco nest. The four of us have known about this nest for several days, although she claims to have found it first. No one contests this, so I agree to pay her the 50 cents.
A walk of about 50 yards brings us to the one–track road at the edge of our canyon where the aspen grove ends. On the other side of the road, the bank rises gently for six or eight feet to the edge of the pine forest.
The road bank is covered with knee high grass. Well hidden on the ground within the dense growth of grass is the nest of a dark–eyed junco. Since cars can drive by on the dirt road less than six feet from the nest, I wonder about the bird’s wisdom of choosing such a spot. However, we have been camped in the aspen grove for more than a week and no cars, including our pickup, have traveled the road. In that time the only person we have seen is the range rider, and he was on a horse.
As with the pewee and the swallow, the female has built the nest while the male defended the nest territory. The grass is so thick I back off only ten feet, parting the grass so my camera can view the nest. The junco parents return to feeding the three chicks in the nest. In the summer adult juncos feed on both seeds and insects, but the nestlings are fed only insects.
In comparing the nests of the pewee and junco, the inside diameter of the latter’s nest is only slightly larger than the pewee’s. The interior of the pewee nest is very neat and well woven. The junco nest is good, too, but there the resemblance ends. The neat, camouflaged exterior of the pewee nest tends to make it look like just part of the tree limb; it is as neat on the outside as the inside. Not so the junco nest. The outside is considerably less organized than the interior. Since the junco nest is nearly always on the ground, this allows the nest to blend into the thicket of grass stems.
I finish photographing the junco nest and pack up my gear. Three bird nests in one day makes a good day. This is a lovely place to camp. The slopes on either side of our canyon are heavily forested with ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine, and white fir. Nearby a tiny creek trickles downhill. Fifty yards out in the meadow a spring, shaded by a big, shrubby water birch, produces enough water to double the size of the creek. Wildflowers carpet the meadow and the hillsides. Deer drink from the spring. Ground squirrels run through the grass. At night coyotes howl and owls hoot. It doesn’t get better than this.