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Ready to soar

Ashby Ponds bird watchers prepare to monitor local bluebird boxes

Created date

May 21st, 2014
people standing in front of a building
Members of the One Loudoun bluebird monitoring cre

“O bluebird, welcome back again, Thy azure coat and ruddy vest, Are hues that April loveth best">” 

—John Burroughs, The Bluebird

Each spring, with the help of a trusted group of friends, Nancy Eisenbise welcomes the bluebirds back to her home at Ponds, an Erickson Living community in Ashburn, Va.

Following the strict monitoring protocol of the Virginia Bluebird Society, Nancy and her cohort watch over the six bluebird boxes located around the Ashby Ponds campus, taking copious notes on the birds’ activities and ensuring their protection. 

As a result, the Ashby Ponds community has welcomed 43 baby bluebirds since the first bluebird boxes were erected in 2010.

“Bluebirds are so beautiful,” says Nancy. “In 2010, I asked the Ashby Ponds woodshop to make three boxes for the birds. Almost as soon as they were built and placed, the bluebirds arrived and began to nest. We now have six boxes on campus. Watching over these boxes is so important. We need to ensure that predators, like the English sparrow, steer clear of the boxes.”

Sharing the excitement

Each spring, the arrival of the bluebirds is heralded with great excitement at Ashby Ponds. 

“Once the bluebirds nest and lay their eggs, watching for the new bluebird babies is something the whole community gets excited about,” says Nancy. “I’ve seen people at all hours of the day, when the babies are little, sitting beside the boxes watching and waiting to see the babies fledge and leave the nest.”

During her daily morning walk, Nancy’s neighbor Barbara Shannon fell in love with bluebirds.

“I was out by Cardinal Pond when I saw the babies begin to fledge,” Barbara says of her first time seeing the birds in 2010. “It was so exciting. The little birds came out one by one.”

“Barbara was the first person to share what she witnessed with me,” says Nancy. “Since that time many, many neighbors provide me with updates on the bluebird’s activities. I add everything to my notes and write a weekly update that I share with my neighbors.”

She displays her update, along with photographs, outside the craft room on the second floor of the Cardinal Clubhouse. 

“I always make a point to stop by and see what is happening with our birds,” says community member Roshan Chaddha. “I’m a master gardener, and one of our goals is to use birds and nature—in a therapeutic way. Thanks to Nancy, that is what we are doing here at Ashby Ponds. We are creating an environment that welcomes natural wildlife, like the bluebird, and provides enjoyment to the people who sit and watch their activities.”

Spreading their wings

Thanks to the care Nancy provides the Ashby Ponds bluebirds, One Loudoun, the mixed-use retail center located down the road from Ashby Ponds, recently asked if she’d be willing to monitor the bluebird boxes they plan to erect along their park this year. Ashby Ponds’ woodworking group built the boxes.

“It’s a great honor,” says Nancy. “And a project for which I will need lots of volunteers. I’ve been lucky to find a terrific group of bird lovers to help with the task. We are all so excited to get to work.”

Nancy recruited Barbara, Roshan, Roshan’s wife Ellen, and eight other neighbors for the job.

“None of us have monitored a bluebird box before, but we are excited for the opportunity,” says Dan Dearborn, who will be working in tandem with his wife Hanneke. 

“I’m happy to help out,” says Hanneke, who remembers the joy of feeding birds alongside her mother, during her childhood in the Netherlands. “ 

“Birds are so fascinating to watch,” says Betsy Hjertberg, who will also monitor boxes at One Loudoun. “I have a hummingbird feeder outside my apartment home and enjoy watching the birds come by for a visit. I’ve never taken care of a bluebird box, but I’m looking forward to the opportunity.”

Prior to erecting the bluebird boxes, representatives from the Virginia Bluebird Society will visit One Loudoun and determine the best locations for the boxes.

 “Location is important,” says Nancy. “Bluebirds typically enjoy boxes in large, open spaces. The male bluebird is extremely protective, so it is helpful to have a tree nearby, but not too close, so he can watch over the mother bird and her eggs.”

A family affair

In preparation for the One Loudoun project, a few of the volunteers asked their grandchildren to help with monitoring.

“Before we decided to help, Ellen and I asked our two granddaughters, who live in nearby Leesburg, if they’d like to help,” says Roshan. 

Fortunately, nine-year-old Maya and six-year old Leela agreed.

“It will be a fun project for us,” says Roshan.

Nancy has also invited her two teenage granddaughters to Ashby Ponds to spy on the bluebirds.

“Each time they visit, we walk over to the boxes,” she says. “Last year, my granddaughter hoisted her iPhone up to the box and took the most spectacular picture of the brilliant blue eggs.”

Bringing joy

Ashby Ponds community members and their families enjoy their new, feathered friends. They express gratitude for all Nancy’s done in bringing the birds to Ashby Ponds.

“We are all so grateful to Nancy for bringing the bluebirds to Ashby Ponds,” says community member Lydia Heinzman. “When I found out that Nancy was working to bring the bluebird to our backyard, I was thrilled.”

“And sharing that gift with visitors to One Loudoun will also be a great joy,” says Roshan.