Brian Clark and Rachel Merz | Staff archive
It’s a Preservation Trust tradition to give a Golden Nest Box Award to one (or two) of our San Juan Island Western Bluebird Project volunteers. This year, the special award goes to Brian Clark and Rachel Merz! If there was ever a textbook example of the ways that community conservation works, it is the combined energy produced by these two.
It all began when Kathleen Foley Lewis, manager of our SJI Western Bluebird Project, met Brian at a “Year of the Bird” gathering in 2018. Kathleen was intrigued after they got to talking and he said, “Hey, we have those bluebirds on our property!” Brian and Rachel became volunteers on the spot. Nest boxes went up on their property shortly after.
Each year Brian and Rachel take loyal care of the nest boxes on their property, never hesitating to assist in installing, cleaning, and monitoring boxes on others’ property. When bluebirds begin nest building—Brian regularly feeds them mealworms (in fact, they get so used to Brian’s voice that they respond to his calls at mealtime), while Rachel remains ready with her camera to capture tender moments of the fledging process. During this last summer’s heatwave, Brian took initiative and sprayed their active nest box with water to keep the vulnerable young from roasting inside. Since 2018, Brian, Rachel, and Kathleen have traveled through many highs and lows together, including five successful nests and several failures (some lost to house sparrows, others likely to a nefarious kestrel they nicknamed Kevin).
Feasting Fledglings | Rachel Merz
Brian and Rachel’s upbeat energy, even in the wave of losses, is a shining example of the stamina it takes to do this hard—and often heartbreaking—work of species recovery. As biologists, they understand that species conservation is often discussed in terms of population size. Animals in this context aren’t thought of at the individual level—only what their contributions are to the success of the population as a whole.
However, when a population is small, and vulnerable, like this one is, sometimes the broader concept of a population is blurred. Individual animals start to stand out, and yes, even receive names. Brain and Rachel know that naming bluebirds is silly and against their scientific training—but they continue to do so, all the same. This year, Brian placed a sign at the entrance of his driveway that said “Slow Stupid! Baby Birds.”
A few weeks later, after his second clutch had fledged, Brian snapped a quick shot of himself with one of the recently fledged juveniles right on top of his head. It’s a hazy, hasty shot, caught in a brief moment of surprise, when a fellow traveler on the planet, perhaps, recognized a human as a safe haven. Kathleen always says that the bluebirds choose to nest at the nicest folks’ property. Nowhere is there a better example of this than at the homestead of Brian Clark and Rachel Merz.
Want to know more about the 2021 season? Click HERE for our 2021 San Juan Island Western Bluebird Project Field Season Wrap-Up.