Bluebirds of Happiness

Male and female Eastern Bluebirds (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)Sunday dawned warm and cloudy but I could see from the satellite image – and the weather report – that a narrow band of strong wind and rain was on its way. 

This news sent a shiver through my household.  My dad, my brother and his three kids were visiting from Florida to see the Pittsburgh Steelers play the Cleveland Browns.  Would the game be too cold and wet?   Possibly.  They left for the game early, just as the wind and rain hit.  It would be quite a challenge to cook their tailgate food at the stadium parking lot!

The rain ended quickly, the sun came out and the wind increased.  I drove to Hillman State Park in Washington County for a short hike designed to get me back home before the gang returned from the game.  I’d been to a section north of Old Steubenville Pike last week so this time I chose a trail south of the road.

Hillman State Park is officially a state park but you won’t find it on any recreation maps.  That’s because it’s a wrecked landscape.  It was mined for coal since 1914 and extensively strip mined between World War II and 1966.  All of this occurred before the days of mine reclamation laws and it shows.  The topography was never returned to its original contour.  It still has tailings piles, unusual ridges, deep slot valleys and scrub grassland.  A study of acid mine drainage in 1972 said it was in bad shape for its intended use as a state park and needed $1.1 million of watershed reclamation ($1.1 million in 1972 dollars!).  It’s called “Hillman” because it was donated by James F. Hillman, president of the Harmon Creek Coal Company which owned the land.

Because of its landscape Hillman State Park is not a very birdy place, especially when the wind is gusting to 45 miles per hour.  I began my hike on the dirt road but climbed into a little patch of deciduous trees to look for a windbreak and maybe a few birds.  Nothing. 

I came back to the dirt road and saw a flash of wings.  Four eastern bluebirds were feeding on poison ivy berries.  Around the bend I came to two pretty places:  a small pond with a beaver lodge, and a large pond with no signs of life except mysterious tracks (probably beaver) on the dam.   The little pond hosted some chickadees, cardinals and goldfinches.  Otherwise it was empty.

On the home stretch through scrublands I expected to find no birds at all because of the wind.  Again I saw a flash of wings.  Six bluebirds were flitting from shrub to shrub and looking for bugs in the grass as I see them do in summer.   Back at the parking lot I saw another flash of wings: seven bluebirds flew back and forth across the dirt road. 

Happy at last!  I did see birds after all – the bluebirds of happiness.

(photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

1 thought on “Bluebirds of Happiness

  1. I too saw bluebirds yesterday — on my bluebird house out back. But they were hovering, looking into the box, not going in and out. That could only mean one thing — a doggone sparrow in the box. Already that pest is here, and it’s not even January! I expect being annoyed by their presence in March when the blues are trying to make a nest, but not now.

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