From left, bluebird enthusiasts Mary Bailey, Quint and Mary Lohse, and Tim Gossman look at a bluebird nest box at Savanna Springs. (Chatfield News photo by Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy)
From left, bluebird enthusiasts Mary Bailey, Quint and Mary Lohse, and Tim Gossman look at a bluebird nest box at Savanna Springs. (Chatfield News photo by Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy)
"Some glad morning when this life is o'er, I'll fly away to a home on God's celestial shore, I'll fly away. I'll fly away, O Glory, I'll fly away. When I die, Hallelujah, by and by, I'll fly away ... Just a few more weary days and then, I'll fly away, to a land where joy shall never end, I'll fly away..."

-- "I'll Fly Away," by Albert E. Brumley

"It was 10 years ago now through community education that my husband, Len Suttinger, and I taught a class on how to make bluebird boxes, and the deal was that if people paid for the class and put their boxes up on the Savanna Springs trail, they didn't have to pay for the class," said Mary Bailey, giving the history of the Savanna Springs bluebird trail. It now has six new Gilbertson, or PVC, bluebird nesting boxes.

"We thought if no bluebirds showed up, our names would be mud and we'd have to move out of town, because we'd only been here a few months - we'd moved here from Indiana - and we wanted to teach other people about bluebirding."

She continued, "We finished the class, went out on the trail to put up the boxes, and got to scope out the area ... there were two singing males there. We watched the bluebirds take possession of the boxes. Tim Gossman came up the hill a little late. He asked, 'Do we have any bluebirds yet?' and everybody turned and said, 'Yes!' It was just like a Disney movie."

Trail maintenance man and avid bluebirder Len Suttinger passed away suddenly in May 2002, leaving behind a bluebird trail that needed tending.

"Tim Gossman asked two years later if we could dedicate the trail to Len as the 'Len Suttinger Bluebird Trail,' and we did that on Aug. 31, 2004.

"Everybody signed a copy of Roger Tory Peterson's bluebirding book - Peterson was the man who designed the first bluebird boxes - and gave it to me, along with a picture of Len on the trail they hung with the first Peterson bluebird box he put out there. I opened an account at the bank for bluebird boxes in memory of Len, and the new Gilbertson boxes are installed at the trail with money from that account."

Monitoring the trail

Bailey, now remarried, related, "When we dedicated the trail, we made nice Peterson boxes to replace the old square wooden ones. The new style boxes are weather resistant and pretty much sparrow resistant, and you can take the box and drop it down so it's easy to show children. Quint and Mary Lohse are dedicated trail monitors, and they take care of the new boxes."

Quint Lohse spends his days trimming brush and grooming bluebird habitat at Savanna Springs, as well as monitoring the bluebird boxes along with his wife.

Mary Lohse stated, "We come up in the spring and open up the boxes, and after that, we check the nests every 10 days to see if predators have been here. We've never had predators here, and with the new boxes, it's so much easier because snakes can't climb the waxed conduit poles the boxes are mounted on."

The Lohses and Bailey are pleased to host tours of Savanna Springs' bluebird trail, including Chatfield Elementary School's third graders. Bailey reminded the public that "state law protects all songbirds under the Federal Migratory Bird Act, and only trail monitors can check bluebird boxes," but sharing the birds' progress is part of the fun.

Mary Lohse stated, "The third graders come up here sometime in May, and we have at least one nest to show them, and if it's late enough, we'll be lucky to show them some eggs. Project GO kids have been up here and been able to see the baby birds. We've always had between nine and 12 bluebirds here."

In 2007, Olmsted County bluebirders fledged 329 baby birds, and in 2008 - 501; 2009 - 1,030; 2010 - 1,551; and in 2011 - 1,265 statistics of which Bailey is especially proud, particularly because the bluebirds have been carefully encouraged by people such as she, Gossman and the Lohses.

"Len died fairly young, but this shows the impact one person can make... you can get pretty well captivated by bluebirds. It's a family activity, and you hurt nobody, and you do your part for the environment."

Take a look and help

They also maintain trails on private land, the Lost Creek Trail and the Chatfield golf course. Bailey noted, "We still need boxes sponsored at the golf course - there are three sets there that need sponsorships. Tax-deductible donations of $36 will purchase new Gilbertson bluebird boxes for the course's trail.

"All people have to do is contact me, and I'll give them a receipt," she stated.

Mary Lohse invited interested persons to join her in visiting the Savanna Springs Nature Center's bluebird trail this spring to witness the hatching and fledging processes, small miracles that eventually fly away, giving credence to Len Suttinger's belief that if you build it, the birds will come.

For more information on bluebirding or donating toward the installation of bluebird boxes, contact Mary Bailey at 507-867-9118. To travel the Len Suttinger Bluebird Trail at Savanna Springs Nature Center with a bluebird monitor, contact Quint and Mary Lohse at 507-867-4988.