"I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.
For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free." ~Wendell Berry

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Purple Martin Halftime in Missouri

This blog entry was written by my good friend in Corpus Christi, Mr. John Barrow - purple martin landlord expert and all-around, good guy extraordinaire.  His wife, Louise, is pretty cool too.
Thanks for sharing, John!

A lot of birds are migrating into South Texas right now. For several weeks we have watched kettles of hawks and kites flying overhead. Those raptors do not cross the Gulf, but rely on heat thermals to carry them from South America to places farther North, utilizing as little wing movement as possible.
Late yesterday afternoon I did a nest check on my martin systems.  Looking overhead, I saw several large kettles of Mississippi Kites migrating northward-several hundred for sure in 3-4 kettles.
Later, as darkness approached, I saw some of my older birds leave the housing and fly up to intercept groups of incoming migrant purple martins.  Most likely the newcomers are SY (sub-adult) birds. From my small slice of earth along the Texas coast, I estimate that the number of SY arrivals was between 150-200. They literally filled my view of the sky, and returning ASY birds were typically followed to our systems by 10-12 new arrivals.
Tonight with the arrival of strong north winds, the late evening show repeated itself.  Several hundred new arrivals filled the sky--most targeting our systems as a stopping point. With nesting in progress local birds will try to lead most of these arrivals to a nearby tree to roost or a vacant housing system to settle down near (looks like about 20 chose the oak tree adjoining my property).
I mentor at least a dozen landlords in this area--all are capable of attracting to their sites what I have witnessed tonight.  The same is true for contacts I know up the Texas coast and in to LA. What I have observed signifies a large General Arrival, with a high percentage of the SY population entering the USA in advance of, and with the occurrence of the passing frontal system.
This is the heaviest arrival of SY birds I have witnessed to date, indicating that general migration is still running about two weeks behind, and with the opportunity to extend huge arrivals into the USA for the next two weeks, before migration begins to taper off.
Still lots of time left for those seeking martins. I would say when these birds arrive mid continent in 3-5 days, *Halftime* will have been reached in Missouri.
John Barrow - his signature reads, "TEAMED WITH A MARTIN GODDESS".  Methinks Mrs. Barrow is a very fortunate lady.
Mr. Barrow's colony in Texas

Purple martins on the Texas coast.  One of these could start your colony.

Via Mrs. Barrow on the PMCA forum:
Neat video taken today on the Texas coast - these birds were in the road due to cold temps which left the asphalt the warmest place to be. The martins look so huge next to the smaller Cliff or Cave Swallows! Hopefully any traffic took it slow. Here in Corpus Christi some of our martins were in the street this AM, overnight temp was in high 50s, and daytime temps got into 70s, providing some good feeding weather for our friends. It was doubtless cooler up the coast at location of video.


Do I have the coolest friends, or what?

Monday, April 13, 2015

Springin' to Life

It is April 12th and I estimate that my Purple Martin Colony is now almost 1/2 full.  Last year at this same time, I had around 120 - 140 birds, but right now I have about 35 pairs (60+ birds).  But, it's not even half-time in Missouri yet!  The adults are still arriving and I have not spotted a sub-adult thus far.  In fact, if you're a new landlord in Missouri waiting for your first arrival this year, you still have plenty of time.  From my records, I can tell you that I've seen sub-adults arriving through the first week of June, so don't give up.  They seemed to arrive a little slower this year and I've actually been happy with that.

It is quite fun to watch the males fall all over themselves when they finally get a beautiful female to land and investigate the perfect home he has chosen for her.  It is truly giggle-inducing.  In his giddiness, his feet barely touch the porch  as he tumbles into the gourd, screeching to her from inside about his own wicked awesomeness in finding *THE* one.   It is quite hilarious when she takes off and he's still inside squawking away about where to setup her perfect nest and the couch.  Moments later, he will realize she has left and will poke his head out.  Lord knows what he's thinking when he finds her gone...after all that effort!
The females, on the other hand, seem to be quite in control and play the 'hard-to-get' part very well, sometimes acting completely uninterested.
Pick me, pick me, PUHLEESE PICK ME!
In the end, she lets him think he's in charge.  But we know who really is controlling their future here. :)

So far, my Great Horned Owl has not made an appearance and we are very happy about that.  I'll keep monitoring throughout the year, but we're pretty well protected now.  And when I say "we", I mean my martins and me.  I'm including Me - for my sanity and my love for my sleep.  The last 4 days have been very loud with the new arrivals.  Their raucous greetings, "Hey, how are ya?", and "HEY, I missed ya!" reverberate off the surrounding hills and my back porch and energize me every morning.
The landscape seemed so gloomy up until about a week ago.  But it has warmed up considerably and the martins are taking advantage by storming the racks and setting up territory.

Everywhere I look things are bloomin'.  It's amazing how much life springs forth with just a few days of warm weather.
Wild plum - one of the first native plants to bloom here in the spring.

I am so happy I decided to put out my mason bees last weekend.  While I haven't found one in the plum groves yet, I have been finding their empty cocoons.  And while my sinuses are not enjoying it, the honey bees are really digging all the pollen too!

Plum blooms and honey bees

Now we know where the idiom, "busy as a bee" comes from.

I don't have any idea what this flower is, but it's blooming too!

The Speckled Kingsnakes are on the move too.  This beauty decided that she wanted to take a shortcut across my driveway, through my lavender flower beds and across the yard to get to her old hunting grounds under my Butterfly bushes.
My Speckled Kingsnake decided she wanted to take advantage of the warm sun and move back to her old hunting grounds, under my Butterfly bushes, across the yard.  I let her pass unmolested - she will eat many mice, moles and other rodents which I don't want around.  Just keep movin' Missy - I should paint, "You SHALL NOT pass" on all my predator guards on my martin poles, just as a friendly reminder.  I've never seen her attempt it, but I'm sure a hungry one would.  Isn't she beautiful?
Even the Dandelions are beneficial to the bees this time of year.  I used to fight the war with them every year, until I realized their many benefits.  Now, we have an easy truce and I see their very fine flower petals everywhere and enjoy their lemony yellow, happy color scattered throughout the landscape.  How could I have ever believed these were bad plants??
Tree swallow pairing is in full swing. 
Tree swallows (TRES) are pairing up and in full battle mode, determined to take not only the boxes I dedicated to them (with the TRES slots), but also the blue bird boxes that I left with the 1.5" holes.  It is all-out war here between the two - may the best men / women win, because there's not much I can do to intervene.  The TRES are ferocious, but then again, they haven't met a truly agitated pair of Missouri bluebirds either.
These 2 pairs usually face off with Nikki and me as we walk past on our daily walks.  I think they would really like to pluck some of Nikki's fur for their nests.  It would probably help with her grooming.
Oh, how I love the sights and sounds of spring moving into summer!  It's energizing and fun to watch everyone get so busy.
I'll be hosting "Purple Martins and Coffee" again this year - 3rd Saturday of each month from 9 AM to 12 PM.  I hope to see some fellow Missourians then - and maybe we can do a 'walkabout', if you like!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Final Roll Out

During the warmer weather this past week, I awoke to the sounds of many more martin arrivals.  I could tell they were new arrivals by the way the excited resident males were circling the racks and landing on the upper perching rods, flicking their tails and bouncing their screeching calls off the back of the house.  Summer time with my martins is the ONLY time I am willing to get up early!
After work this past Wednesday afternoon, I decided to make the final roll out of the rest of my gourds.
I had been holding back 1/2 of them for awhile mainly to keep the number of gourds that would need hand warmers to a minimum, just in case the weather turned frigid.  Another reason was to try to force more martins under the new owl cage on the big rack, until I could get out and put up the owl guards on my other 2 racks.  Lastly, I was hoping that some of the arrivals would disperse to some other new colonies and potentially help some of the landlords that I mentor start their new colonies.
I love this little squeaky, noisy trailer.  I bought it 4 years ago for $75.  Bob hates it because it's so noisy, but I love to run around with it bouncing along behind me.  He can hear me coming from anywhere on the property.  I can handle anything with my little trailer - just give me a shovel and some plants and I'm off and digging and planting.  I can also cram over 24 gourds in it.

But I knew I was forgetting something.  Oh yes, my mounting arms!  So, I walked back to fetch them from the garage and decided to do some bicep curls on the way back to the racks with them.  After all, this will save me having to spend 30 minutes on the Elliptical later!

I found a good use for that Parmesan container that has been sitting in the garage for the last year - one of those things I just couldn't throw away because it 'might be handy for something someday'.  Well, it has a new purpose in life!  Why spend money on those little screw containers at Lowe's when you can just re-purpose these?

The martins were very curious about the added gourds.

And for some reason, my camera switched right back to black & white pictures while I was shooting. .  That's okay, I like them as well as color pictures anyway.
Today was so warm and several things are bloomed or getting ready to bloom, so I decided to put out a few mason bee cocoons.
Mason bee cocoons
I placed them on top of some of the tubes that I rolled this winter.  I turned this old file box on its side and removed the top.  It should protect them from getting wet.  I put the cocoons on top of the tubes, so that when they chew their way through and crawl out, they will know where to come back to.  I also put some chicken wire over the open part of the box so that birds can't make a meal out of the cocoons.

Friend Lumber told me I could have all the old pallets out of their scrap yard that I wanted.  I've tucked in some bamboo shoots, elderberry canes, the box of tubes, some bricks I found in the scrap pile, and some 3" PVC with rolled tubes inside also.  I still have some stuff to put in, but it's really starting to shape up!
The number of poles in the yard that Mr. Freeze has to mow around has now been reduced by 2.  He came up with this plan and I agreed.  I love it too!  These 3 cameras are the same distance from each rack they're monitoring and even closer than they were last year.

This year, I'm continuing to use the heavy duty garden stakes from Lowe's for my 2 Deluxe systems, but today I added the fencing on top, to keep the owl from landing directly on the top row.  He left these racks alone last year - for now, I'll monitor, and if he goes after these, I have the frame created and only need to add more fencing.
It felt therapeutic to get out in the sun today and put the final touches on a lot of my projects.  I was rewarded this evening with many more martins coming in to the housing.  I estimate that I'm not quite 1/2 full right now.  Looks like migration is still a bit slower this year, at least, that's what I'm seeing at my site.  It will be interesting to see how things progress this year.