A few years ago, I noticed that a series of nesting boxes had sprouted along the boundary of the National Elk Refuge between Jackson, Wyoming and Grand Teton National Park. Our annual trip is usually in late September for paddling and aspencade, long after fledging, and this weekend was the first time I’d seen the boxes with birds in residence.
I had the privilege to meet some of Jackons’s key participants in this “citizen science project.” Volunteers maintain and monitor the boxes; the data collected is shared with the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology. The Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation has written about the program.
Program organizers and uber-volunteers , Phyllis and Joe carry spare parts for the boxes in their car to make in-field box repairs. A damaged roof, for example, may result in loss of the entire brood, as it is still quite weatherly in Jackson. Joe replaced one roof and tied down another while we were out for photos.
Through Phyllis and Joe, I was introduced to one of the “treasures” of Jackson. Everyone I met used that exact word, “treasure,” to describe Bert Raynes. I made some photos of Bert inspecting these 2 day old bluebirds, and some better ones of Bert telling stories to and about his friends. Bert has written a long-running column for the Jackson Hole News. He’s also admired for his birding guides to the Jackson area. I now have a copy of his wonderful books of essays, Valley So Sweet. Last copy to be had in Jackson, in fact.
I know he’s a treasure because I met Bert, but that message was brought home the next day at the Jackson visitor’s center. I went to a boardwalk overlooking the marsh for a lunch break and found myself sitting on what a large plaque proclaimed to be “Bert’s Bench.” In a remarkable instance of inter-agency cooperation, the Elk Refuge, Grand Teton National Park, Bridger-Teton National Forest , the Jackson Birding Club _and_ Wyoming Game and Fish dedicated the boardwalk to Bert in recognition of his service to wildlife. That bench is in a birdy spot — I counted 15 species at the non-birdy hour of 1 pm.
I like birders like Bert, excited to see a single bluebird returning to its chicks, even though he’s seen a bluebird (and much more exotic species) many times before. After we admired the babies, we covered them back up, then stood around talking in the late afternoon sun and rain of Bert’s sweet valley. That’s a memory to treasure.