Craft Time! I Made a Bird Bubbler.

The title of this post describes the project that I undertook last weekend. I have always had a bird bath in the yard, but its ability to attract birds plus its man-made look left a lot to be desired. So I found plans online to build a bubbler to give the birds a more useful and aesthetic place to drink and socialize! (Or basically a bird pub.)

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Before

Our recent basement waterproofing work destroyed most of our landscaping and left a nice blank space of dirt in which to build this facility. It is also right by our feeder setup and viewable from the kitchen and living room windows. Please note: we had all of our utilities marked when our waterproofing was done, so I knew this was a safe place to dig. Even though this is a small project, don’t mess around with buried wires. Call the utility department and have yours marked.

A trip to Lowe’s later, and I had everything I needed:

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Small pond liner

I chose the smallest pond liner available, which at 9 gallons is still plenty large enough for what I needed. Cost: $20

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PVC tubing

10 feet of PVC tubing. I chose 1.5″ but the diameter doesn’t really matter as long as it’s decently sized. Cost: $10

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Stucco Mesh

A sheet of galvanized builder’s mesh, used for applying stucco. This stuff will be in the same section as lumber and heavy-duty building materials. Cost: $10.

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Fountain Pump

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Unboxed

A small fountain pump. I chose the Smartpond brand 80-155 gallons-per-hour, which again is more than enough for this project. Cost: $20.

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Flexible Tubing

Tubing for the pump. Make sure you buy some with an inner diameter that matches your pump! I chose 3/8″ inner and 1/2″ outer diameter. Cost: $5

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Rough-hewn Landscaping Stone

The most important part of your bubble rock is the rock! This is the only thing I didn’t get at Lowe’s. Any landscaping supply yard should have bulk rocks available by the pound, and sine most people will buy them by the ton, they are surprisingly cheap. I chose sandstone because of its softness to drill through. Get a mix of sizes and shapes and preferably some with little divots that will pool water. Cost: $15

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Masonry Drill Bit

Finally, I needed a masonry drill bit (if it is labeled as a concrete bit, that should work too). I got 1/2″ to match the size of the outer diameter of the pump tubing. Cost: $10

Now the fun part!

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Step 1 – Bury the basin

First, dig out a hole the size of the pond liner basin. Make sure that the top lip of the basin sits above the ground level to serve as a barrier against dirt.

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Step 2 – Cut the PVC

Next, I used a hand saw to cut the PVC into 7″ sections, which is the depth of the basin. Bundle them into triangles with zip ties. These will act as support columns.

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The internal structure

After I bundled the PVC, I drilled holes in each bundle and zip tied them to the mesh in a triangle. I filled the basin with water, tested the pump, then cut a hole in the middle of the mesh to thread the tubing through. I folded the mesh as best I could to hug the outer lip of the basin, then cut a small flap for the pump’s cord to feed through and to offer easier access for maintenance.

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Drilling the stone

The final step before putting it all together is to drill a hole in your stone. This will probably be a tedious, time-consuming, and loud step. I borrowed my father-in-law’s hammer drill to make the job easier. I can’t offer any comments about how long this might take with a standard hand drill. I also used ear plugs.

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Finished Product

Stack your stones in a way that pleases you and your birds, and thread the tubing through to the top so that the water bubbles out like a little volcano. I only drilled the topmost stone and just threaded the tubing between the other stones. Cover the rest of the mesh with river rock (I transplanted it from elsewhere in the yard) and you’re done!

I haven’t actually seen a bird use the fountain yet, but I am confident there will be some cool trendsetter flying in from the neotropics. You can bet I will post here when that happens.

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Sharp-shinned Hawk

Coincidentally, I did get three new yard birds last weekend, although not because of the fountain. This Sharp-shinned Hawk was one of them when I saw it perch in a tree across the street at Lions Park. Another was a heard-only Eastern Phoebe. And the third was probably the most improbable yard bird to date. As I was leaving the house to go to work last Monday, in the 30 seconds it took me to get from the front door to my car, a low-flying Mute Swan buzzed over the roof. 10 seconds earlier or later and I would have missed it! Talk about an unexpected yard bird.

 

 

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Kentucky Birds on the Ohio from Indiana

Last week I was traveling along the bottom of Indiana for work. I had an overnight stay in Clarksville, which is just across the Ohio River from Louisville, Kentucky. I went out early in the morning to bird at the Falls of the Ohio. This part of the state is interesting in that anything in the water is technically in Kentucky. So I added a new state to my eBird map!

The Falls

The Falls of the Ohio

The Falls are the only natural impediment on the otherwise totally navigable Ohio River. So a long time ago they were dammed. The only falls now are from water streaming over a controlled spillway.

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Ohio Riverbank at The Falls

The best birding was on the Indiana side of the river. With winter high waters bringing in lots of debris, there was ample cover for the birds.

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White-eyed Vireo

I was hoping to tally up a list of resident birds and early migrants to start a solid Clark County list. But I was surprised fairly quickly by getting a lifer White-eyed Vireo. This bird has been an annoying nemesis for me, and it was the most common bird remaining for me to see on my Indiana eBird targets list. That distinction now belongs to Northern Bobwhite.

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Nashville Warbler

Being almost 200 miles south of home, there were several early migrants around that have not yet made an appearance in Allen County. This Nashville Warbler was one of them, along with several Northern Parulas (parulae?).

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Song Sparrow

Song Sparrows, however, are something that can be enjoyed year-round anywhere in the state. This one begged me to photograph it, but it strangely wasn’t singing.

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Black Vultures

Black Vultures are common in Indiana, but only when you get into the hills in the southern third of the state. A pair watched me inquisitively as I made my way back to the car.

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Lost Binoculars

Even with a lifer, the most interesting thing I saw during the morning ended up being a pair of binoculars about 30 feet up in a huge tree growing in the middle of the river. I figure they were thrown in a fit of anger by a birder who failed to lifer a White-eyed Vireo like I did. Either that or they were found by some kids who decided to see how far they could chuck them. But it’s probably the first one. In any case, I posted photos of my outing to the Birding Indiana Facebook group, and this photo by far got the most likes along with some other theories on how they came to land here.

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Eared Grebe

The Falls were not the only birding I did on my trip. The previous day, I drove the entire length of Interstate 69 from northeast to southwest through Indiana. At about the midway point in Hamilton County there had been a long-staying Eared Grebe at a retention pond next to a hospital right off of the highway. I decided to stop since I was driving within half a mile of the location. Initially I feared it had flown as I scanned the large pond and didn’t see anything besides Mallards. But then the bird popped up out of the water perhaps 20 feet from me and proceeded to just float there. This grebe was also a lifer for me, and probably the single best combination of both easiest chase and best view.

I have now seen four species of grebe in Indiana in the course of one month without visiting Lake Michigan. That feat is pretty difficult to accomplish even if you are trying for the grebe quadfecta in this state. The Red-necked Grebe that I found in March ended up being a bigger deal than I originally thought, with folks posting it to the rare bird alert (which I didn’t realize it was eligible for). eBird tells me that people even chased it from as far away as Indianapolis, which is pretty cool. Yay grebes!

Recent Local Additions

The last two weeks I have birded my new local patch at the Purdue campus hoping to add to my green list with early spring migrants. In the process, I significantly added to it as a hotspot since I wasn’t really birding it last spring after I moved in nearby.

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Double-crested Cormorant

One of the first birds I saw on my first outing there was a lone Double-crested Cormorant high in a snag on an island in the river. These guys are plentiful in the county, but I have not seen very many along the rivers. They usually appear at the water treatment plant or the larger pools at Eagle Marsh.

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Pied-billed Grebe

The other FOGY riverfowl was a Pied-billed Grebe. I am not sure how these birds have not evolved into grotesque, portly, flightless gluttons. It seems as though every time I see one it is cramming a fish the size of its head down its throat.

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Golden-crowned Kinglet

There were dozens and dozens of Golden-crowned Kinglets in every tree. They were also a new addition to the property for me. I decided to try and catch a photo of the fast little buggers. I only managed one shot, but it turned out okay!

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Fox Sparrows

Also checking in for the passerines were more Fox Sparrows than I have ever seen in my life. That is not an exaggeration. There were at least three dozen of them in the brush by the soccer complex, with a great many of them singing.

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Fox Sparrow

With as numerous as they were, none would pose for a good photo. Still, this is a bird I have for whatever reason only seen in one previous year’s green list, so it was an exciting time.

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Washout

A week later I returned for more list building. The weather had changed significantly from the previous week, with torrential rains breaking just enough for me to bird for an hour or so on Sunday. The downpour was enough to wash out the road, but the birds loved it.

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Teal Buddies

The first neat thing that I saw were two ducks in the river. A male Green-winged and a male Blue-winged were hanging out together, following each other around closely with no other ducks nearby. Teal bros stick together, I guess. Both duckies were FOGYs and new birds for the patch.

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Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Here is one of a couple of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers that were working in the arboretum. It was yet another new bird for me at this particular location.

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Northern Flicker

Many, many Northern Flickers were also out to represent the woodpeckers, with the species being a FOGY the week before.

With all the new additions my annual green list is sitting at 68 species. I also think I have seen the true potential at Purdue. I birded it intermittently last year but will definitely be spending more time there this spring. It is also less than a mile from my home, which is nice. Speaking of birding close to home, I have finally jumped on the Five Mile Radius (or 5MR) bandwagon.

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My Fort Wayne 5MR

Here is my circle, centered on my Fort Wayne home. eBird says I have seen 137 species inside of this five-mile radius. That dates back to my sightings from before I moved last year, but for ease of counting and also to better show what can be seen in the radius, I decided to make mine retroactive. It includes many miles of river, Purdue, Johnny Appleseed Park, Franke Park, Lindenwood Cemetery and Nature Preserve, the water treatment plant, and Deetz Nature Preserve. I also catch the very northern tip of Foster Park to ensure I will be able to get Yellow-throated Warblers! The only thing missing is marsh habitat, but I hope to be able to find at least a few small patches in my future explorations.