Bluebirds bring Gustavus man happiness

Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple Loyd Marshall, 75, of Gustavus, volunteers with the Army Corps of Engineers and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources as a bird watcher and also is a member of the Ohio Bluebird Society.

BAZETTA — Retirement afforded Loyd Marshall more time to save songbirds.

Now he hopes younger birders will flock in his footsteps.

The volunteer position pays in the satisfaction of increasing bird populations, the freedom of the outdoors and the experience of up-close encounters with bluebirds, warblers and other cavity-nesters — birds that build homes in tree holes or bird boxes.

“Part of the fun is getting to see the circle of life from the time they are eggs,” Marshall said.

Marshall, 75, of Gustavus, was a civil engineer with Delphi for almost 36 years. He retired in 2001 and went to work as a volunteer with both the Army Corps of Engineers and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. The Corps operates Mosquito Lake; ODNR leases the land and manages Mosquito Lake State Park.

“I started as an eagle nest watcher,” he said.

Now he’s in his 10th year as a volunteer coordinator at the lake for the Corps of Engineers.

He’s also a member of the Ohio Bluebird Society and last year was elected as one of nine trustees statewide. The group was formed in 1987 to promote eastern bluebird and other native cavity-nesting birds in Ohio.

“There was a big decline in birds. That’s why we got involved,” Marshall said.

Loss of natural habitat led to a lot of the decline. The group’s efforts at building nesting boxes and habitat trails are offsetting the trend. “They’ve been holding their own and even increasing a little bit.”

Bill Spring, Army Corps resource manager for Mosquito Lake, said, “Loyd has been a dedicated volunteer for many, many years. He’s really taken the birding program to a level it wouldn’t have been without him.

“The impact for us is all about conservation and management of our natural resources. We have an environmental stewardship mission,” Spring said. “We’re doing more with less all because of the knowledge he has added.”

Eastern bluebirds are medium-size birds primarily with bold blue heads and backs, orange chests and white bellies. Their voracious appetite for insects makes them especially valuable to gardeners.

Bluebirds are secondary cavity-nesters — they can’t make the hole like a woodpecker can, but they will use openings provided, Marshall said.

“We have two bluebird trails,” Marshall said. “The one on this side of the lake has 36 boxes. The one on the campground and park side of the lake has 40 boxes.

“There’s not much activity until April, when they lay the first eggs. They’re pretty much done by Labor Day. Two broods a year are common, sometimes three, with four to five eggs in a brood.

“On the bluebird trail, there’s competition for the houses — tree swallows, black-cap chickadees, house wrens,” Marshall said. “Then there are the bad guys, the invasive species — house sparrows. Starlings are not as much of a problem because they don’t fit in the hole.”

Marshall also has taken a keen interest in prothonotary warblers, a small, yellow songbird with an olive back and blue-gray wings and tail. They like to nest in swampy areas.

“It’s the only cavity-nesting warbler east of the Mississippi. Ten years ago, I didn’t know there was such a thing. Now I can spell it,” he said.

“I always had an interest in the outdoors,” Marshall said. He tried hunting as a kid growing up in Kinsman, but preferred canoeing, kayaking and camping.

“Once in a field of wildflowers, I almost stepped on a fawn,” he said. “There were two of them. One of them just lay there. One of them jumped up. I don’t know who jumped higher (the startled fawn or me),” he said.

“I like to be outside. I like birds. I do go bird watching,” he said.

He said his wife, Irene, tolerates his hobby. “She’ll watch birds, but not as long as me.”

What the birds could use are more friends, he said.

“There’s all kinds of room for volunteers,” he said. “I’d like to see more people involved. I’m 75. I’m slowing down. I’d like to see a young birders group.”

Marshall said he finds it fun to teach kids about bird watching.

“Kids are excited about it.” He grinned. “I’m still excited about it.”

He plans to keep at it as long as he’s able.

He said anyone who wants to join in should contact Spring at 330-803-2068 or himself at 330-646-8348.