The Student Union at Fulton-Montgomery Community College was filled with a distinctly woodsy smell Wednesday afternoon.
Student and Business Club representative Christine McKenney held a decorative wood-burning tool against the roof of a pine birdhouse with great concentration.
“You have to press really hard, so it’s more difficult than a pen,” she said as fragrant white pine smoke curled up, “plus it’s tedious and I’m naturally impatient.”
She was one of a few people to inscribe birdhouses at the FMCC Gardens and Trails Club’s birdhouse workshop. John Conley, president of the fledgling club, described the event’s point as he screwed and nailed a birdhouse together from pre-cut lumber.
There’s a walking path behind the school, looping around through woods, a field and around the back of the Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES district offices. It’s been around for a while, but a recent pruning effort by BOCES students has made it usable again.
“It’s a solid 45-minute walk,” he said, “some pretty country.”
With a big new dorm complex at the head of the trail, Conley hopes to get students from more urban areas who might otherwise live a purely indoor existence of study and work out into nature.
Wednesday’s event offered the chance to build or inscribe a birdhouse — for $10 — that will be put up on the trail.
“We’re going to mark them all on a GPS map,” he said, “It will give them an excuse to get out there and find their house.”
McKenney finished up the “FMCC BUSINESS” inscription, trying to jam the two last S’s into a tiny section of birdhouse. Business club members will get a little surge of pride on each hike of the path for years to come, long after the current members have graduated and gone.
All money raised will go to club service projects, like digging a garden on campus or at the MICA house in Johnstown. If the club sells all 150 kit and pre-built birdhouses, they’ll have a good start-up fund.
If not, they’re not out much. Junquera Logging in Northville donated most of the wood. The local True Value Hardware store pitched in the hardware and Market Street Antiques in Gloversville let the club use its basement for sawing.
“We’re only into this for $200,” Conley said. “The community really came together. It gives you a warm fuzzy feeling.”
Of course, there’s also the side benefit of giving birds a place to live. If Conley’s plans come through, the event will generate a whole lot of avian real estate.
Present at the event were a handful of wildlife organizations ready to teach people about various birds and comment on which species they’d like to see taking up residence. “With more and more development, a lot of birds are losing their habitats,” said John Loz, president of the Audubon Society of the Capital Region.
He said birds like the eastern meadowlark and bobolink are especially at risk right now. They nest right down among the grasses of fields like the one on FMCC’s trail. Mowing becomes a problem with such species, but Loz wasn’t sure if a bobolink would have the instinct flexibility to nest in a box.
Jenny Murtaugh of the New York State Bluebird Society and Kitty Rusch of the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Five Rivers program both hope to see bluebirds nesting along the trail, pointing out Conley’s houses have the right-sized hole for their creature of choice. Back in the 1970s, the bluebird population went into a steep decline, but has since rallied thanks in large part to similar birdhouses.
There is little bird lovers at the event can do to prevent invasive species like the house sparrow from nesting. Basically, they can just walk the path, keep an eye on their boxes and hope for the best.
The workshop ran a few hours Wednesday, with a trail walk set for late afternoon. For those who missed it, there’s a repeat performance Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Student Union.