The time before Christmas can feel so frenzied. Then comes the time after Christmas, which is usually not-at-all frenzied.
To be honest, the week after Christmas tends to drag on at a pace slower-than-molasses, right up until New Year’s. In the time between, there’s only so much to do to keep the family busy. I’m not talking about the adults, of course. I can fill a day just working on laundry.
But anyone with kids knows the shine of a new toy wears off pretty quickly. And there are only so many episodes of the Mandalorian to keep everyone wondering what Baby Yoda will eat next.
Last Sunday was just such an especially tedious day. It poured down rain for most of the daylight hours. While I’m not one to keep the kids inside when it’s wet out, like many families this time of year, we’ve been battling our fair share of the sniffles, sore throats, and what we (at our house) generally call the funk. I wasn’t too keen on the kids spending time in the rain.
What to do? is the question on a day like that. And if you have five kids running around you better have an answer. Luckily, I had something up my sleeve.
A couple of months ago, I’d been to Wild Birds Unlimited to see Charles County educator Mike Callahan give a presentation about raptors. While he was talking, I couldn’t help but notice some huge nest boxes arranged behind him.
Those nest boxes weren’t meant for bluebirds or wrens, but their bigger cousins the owls. That day, I knew I’d be putting up an owl nest box on our property soon. I’ve seen two barred owls on our property several times over the past year, and all of those instances were pure happenstance. I’ve spied an owl at twilight, and from a distance, several times. And once, in bright daylight, I watched as one owl carried a dead squirrel to the other owl.
The kids and I searched high and low for signs of an owl nest last spring, to no avail. We’ve never encountered an owl pellet on the ground (that’s regurgitated fur, teeth and bones that an owl can’t digest).
And while we’ve found whitewash under two different trees (that’s basically owl poop that has coated the ground underneath a branch where an owl has repeatedly perched), we’ve never seen an owl in either spot.
Well, I’m hoping an owl nest box sized just right for a barred owl will solve that problem.
As I mentioned in my last column, the previous homeowners installed hose and water hook-ups all over the property. Imagine my delight when scoping out the right tree for the nest box, I noticed electricity was run out to a fencepost just a few feet away. If an owl takes up residence in the nest box, I could have my very own nest cam.
The price tag for a ready-to-hang barred owl nest box can run upwards of $150. While that option is great for folks without the means or time to make their own, part of the fun of hanging a nest box is making it in the first place.
A quick trip to Lowe’s on Saturday night yielded three pieces of 3/4-inch thick pine wood and a box of 1 1/2-inch screws, for a grand total of just less than $70 for all the materials needed. Of course, you have to have the proper equipment such as a table saw and jigsaw in your garage or basement.
I’d already downloaded free instructions for constructing the nest box. You can find dozens of free plans for just about every type of nest box imaginable on the Internet. Now, what you won’t know (until you check) is how accurate those plans are. I sent my oldest daughter out to the garage with a square ruler and pencil to draw out the cutting lines according to the plan.
The next morning, my husband double-checked all the measurements before commencing cutting. It’s a good thing to have two sets of eyes checking all the fine print.
In one place the plans called for the entrance hole to be cut from the side piece; on the cutting diagram the entrance hole was on the front piece. A quick adjustment to put the hole in the right place was made before the cutting began.
My husband and kids spent about two hours making the nesting box. The girls took turns running the saws and using the drill. They finished up just as it really began to pour outside.
Hanging will have to wait until next weekend. That is, if the rain can stay away long enough to get the ladder out.
Barred owls can start nesting as early as January, so it’s advisable to get a nest box up real soon. If you’re familiar with attracting birds to your yard, you probably already know that it can take as long as a year or two before a bird will use a nest box. Sometimes the box has just got to age a little while.
That’s fine with me, because I’m not ready to set up a nest cam yet. Perhaps that will be the project that keeps the kids focused next year between Christmas and New Year’s. A mom has to plan…
Packard brings in the fish
The first fishing report of the new year comes from recreational fisherman Eric Packard.
A few days after Christmas, Packard took his kayak and a half pint of minnows over to Smithville Lake, located in Caroline County. He headed back towards the dam and concentrated on a spot between the rocky bottom and weeds, where moving water would hopefully attract big fish.
Packard rigged up and minnow and let it sit while casting a Rat-L-Trap. His first fish hit the hard bait, a bass. He moved the minnow close to where he had the first strike.
Another bass, this one measuring 20 1/2 inches. A 24 1/2-inch pickerel also hit a minnow, helping Packard maintain his fourth-place standing in the Coastal Conservation Association tournament taking place right now and running through February.
Later, Packard moved to a 60-acre lake, catching a few more bass and pickerel. The pickerel all took minnows, in or on the outer edge of old lily pads. Other anglers were fishing from shore, also having success with largemouth and pickerel.
You don’t have to travel all the way to the Eastern Shore for bass and pickerel. St. Mary’s Lake, located a few miles south of Leonardtown, is a winter fishing destination for both species.