"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

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Purple Martins in Missouri - a Mid Season Update

I'm scheduled to do a nest check today, but with the temperatures hovering in the low 60's and sprinkles / mist / rain, I'm not sure I'm going to be able to.  Last weekend, my nest check revealed that I have 68 pairs, 37 nestlings and 316 eggs.
With all the rains and cooler weather we've been experiencing in the last week, honestly, I'm a bit afraid to do the nest check.  I've been reading about all the rain they're having in the southern states and the numerous losses of chicks due to a lack of food.  Check out this sad report from Tulsa, OK:  http://www.purplemartin.org/forum/viewtopic.php?t=30313&start=0
It's not just the coolness or the wet weather that can kill them with hypothermia.  Insects can't fly in constant rain and that will have a significant impact on colonies that are trying to feed nestlings.  Similar, sad stories are also being played out in Texas and Louisiana where the rain is almost constant these last few weeks.
Check this out from the PMCA:
Four types of weather conditions can adversely affect insect availability, causing Purple Martins to starve:  constant temperatures below 50 degrees, steady rain or drizzle, strong
winds, and dense fog.  The average martin will survive for about 4-5 days without food, but will become weakened after 2-3 days, so it is best to begin feeding before they become too weak to fly.  Feeding is even more beneficial when martins have nestlings to feed, as nestlings may only survive one or two days without food.

I heard martins chirping on my porch rail this morning.  It was 59 degrees and more drizzle, so I dumped out a couple of bags of crickets.  To my amazement, they didn't just eat the crickets themselves; they were carrying them back to their gourds to feed their babies.  Things must be more desperate right now than I realized.
One thing I found this morning - it's really hard to track a bird in flight, while trying to capture them on video and keep a solid footing yourself.  I noticed this female and her mate in G25 making multiple trips to the feeder and back to their gourd.  What a good mommy and daddy.  This female is also banded, her band number is E818 - she was captured and banded and nested in the same gourd - G25, in 2014. 

I noticed yesterday that the tree swallows were swooping low over my blooming cone flowers and it suddenly dawned on me that they were catching all the bees that were swarming the pink and yellow blooms!  Well, I planted the flowers to draw more insects to feed the birds, so my plan is working.
I only found 2 bumble bees flying in my meadow today.

The lanceleaf coreopsis is looking very vibrant after all the rain we've had.

What few bees are flying are being caught by the tree swallows that are trying to keep their young fed also.
In other news, snakes are on the move - please make sure you have predator guards on your poles!  There are lots of reports of snakes being caught in the netting placed on poles to keep them from reaching the top.  Snake netting will help stop snakes by ensnaring them.  If fluffed out properly, the snake will try to weave itself through the mesh and become entwined in it.  But this mesh will not stop racoons, so some type of baffle - store bought or homemade is mandatory to protect your birds!  (See how to make your own here).
By placing your netting above the predator baffle, you will only have to deal with cutting out the snakes that make it past your predator guard - which means a lot less hassle and fewer injuries to any beneficial snakes.
Snake caught in netting - photo by Greg Ballard

Friday, May 29, 2015

Purple Martins at Oleo Acres - The Cheaper Spread

Wayne Smith, the owner of Oleo Acres subtitles his farm as, "The Cheaper Spread" because, that's what they used to call the oleo margarine during World War II, when there was a shortage of butter in the U.S.  I met Wayne in my first Missouri Department of Conservation presentation last year.  He's a flirtatious widower and a delightful, curious gentleman who has been hosting a few pairs of martins every year in his old, Trio Grandpa house in Summersville, MO.  He visited my site a couple of times in the fall of 2014 to check out my gourd racks and get pointers on how to trap and eliminate starlings and house sparrows.  He really liked my Super System 24 and the Troyer Vertical gourds and finally decided to order one of his own.
He ordered and setup his new system this past February.
Yesterday, I went to see Wayne, check out his colony and do a nest check with him.  He was giddy as he met me half way down his driveway in his electric golf cart.  I had stopped to greet the dancing, prancing, little bucking goats as they raced my car along the fence line next to the road.  Baaaaa! Baaaaa!  I had to take their pictures and chat with them.
Snowy & Pete were bringing up the rear.

We made our way around his new gourd rack and I was thrilled as I opened each gourd and found either nestlings or eggs.  The totals were surprising to me.  He has 23 pair in his gourd rack and 6 pair in his old Trio house.  In all the years I've been mentoring, I haven't seen a 1st-year gourd rack fill up like that.  I did notice that the gourd racks that were normally on Highway 17, 1 mile north of  Summersville were no longer there.  Wayne informed me the racks had been moved 4 miles away to the owner's children's new home.  Maybe some of the displaced martins had ended up here.  Nevertheless, Wayne said, "I'll take'em".  And he is taking very good care of them.  He was thrilled in our workshop last year to find out he can do weekly nest checks and doesn't miss a chance to lower his rig and check on his charges.  He has 44 nestlings and 60 eggs. 
Wayne is old school - no calculators here!  Just good old pencil to paper and figurin'.

A proud landlord - thrilled with his success and proud of his accomplishments.  Congratulations, Wayne!

Wayne's new gourd rack - 23 pair his first year.
I asked Wayne if he was going to put up another gourd rack next year and he laughed.  "You think I can get more?", he asked.  Yes, Wayne, I'm pretty sure of that.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

DIY Birdbath

Using the lessons I learned from the last birdbath I poured, (see that project here:  http://kathyfreeze.blogspot.com/2014/08/making-it-way-you-want-it.html, and here:  http://kathyfreeze.blogspot.com/2014/08/success-is-in-eyes-of-beholder.html),
I decided to pour the second one this week.  I've been asked by a few people how I did it, so this time, I'll list the supplies and a few more details.
First, determine what shape you want.  I found my planter pot saucers at Lowe's for about $5 and the large one is just the right size for the bath that I want. 
I use this 'Quikrete' concrete mix (already has the appropriate sand and concrete blend) which can be used for paving bricks. 
I also add this Concrete Acrylic Fortifier - it helps increase bonding and water resistance.  For color, I like the 'Terra Cotta' color, but there are others available.  All of these things were purchased at Lowe's. 
This time, we're using sand.  Much easier to work with.  Normally, it's recommended to use "Casting Sand" when pouring concrete molds, but we're using 'Paver Sand'.  The Casting sand is not available around here and, after finding it online and seeing the price, I was quite happy to just work with the paver sand.
Bob framed up a box that is approx 4-5" bigger than my mold, to help hold it all together. 
First things, first - find a place that is in the shade all day, so you can work comfortably, and also has a source of water nearby.  You will also want your freshly-poured birdbath to be in the shade for at least 48 hours, so that it doesn't dry out too quickly.
Since I'm making a total of 3 bird baths and I want the water to flow from one to the other, I also added pour spouts on each of mine.  The bottom one will pour into a 5 gallon reservoir, in which I'll place a water pump to pump the water back up to the top bath.  If you're just making a simple, single bird bath, you don't need a pour spout.
Place your chosen tray upside down in your box, then pour in your sand.  Wet the sand thoroughly.  You will need something with flat sides with which to pack the sand (I used the small stick in the picture to pack it with), then hollow out every place you want concrete to flow into.  I found a trim tile piece to use for the shape of my spout.  Make sure you wrap it with Saran Wrap, or you will have a heck of a time getting it unstuck from the concrete.
My planter tray, turned upside down, the piece over which I'll pour the concrete for the spout, the stick I use to pack the sand down, and the wooden spoon that I scrape around the outer edges to shape the sides of the bath.

A closeup of the tile piece I use to shape my spout.  This was exactly the shape & size I needed for my spout.  Wrap it in a non-stick material, so you can remove it after the concrete hardens.
I used a wooden spoon to pull out the sand around the edges of my mold as it was just the right thickness for my bath - about 1.5" wide and I could ensure my sides would be even.  You can adjust your bath to be more shallow by leaving more sand around the edges of your mold (the trough area), but for me, it was easier to just adjust the depth of it by making my spout higher or lower on the side of the pan.  Now is a good time to place any decorations for your bath on top of the mold and in the trough areas.  Last year, I used leaves from my sycamore tree and cucumber plants.  Remember - you have to think 'upside down' when you're carving your mold out of the sand.  It's also really important to pat your concrete down into the mold as you pour it, so that you don't end up with creases and air voids (see the pour spout on the bath below as an example of what it will look like if you don't pat it down enough).  I did a great job around the edges of this bath, but the spout came out kind of rough looking.  I try to work quickly with this stuff, because I'm afraid it's going to setup before I can get it tapped in.  Lesson learned - slow down and work each edge thoroughly.
For this birdbath, I used scraps of stained glass that I had been saving.  After turning the bath over (we waited about 24 hours), I found that the concrete had slid under the glass and encased it.  Thankfully, the concrete wasn't fully hardened off and I was able to scrape some off to reveal the glass underneath.
The finished bath - the overflow spout is kind of rough looking, but it's functional.  Next time, I will use bigger pieces of glass also.
I poured the leftover concrete into a few smaller sized planter saucers that I had lying around to make some stepping stones for my garden.  I also pressed some scrap stained glass into the tops of them, working them back & forth to get them secured into the concrete.  The biggest mistake I made with these was the planter saucers are made of ceramic and I couldn't separate them from the concrete afterwards.  So - lesson learned - either put down Saran wrap before pouring into a ceramic mold or use plastic molds.  Make sure you look at the molds you choose very carefully.  The concrete tends to take on the features of your mold very nicely (look at the ridges in the picture above), so make sure you like the designs in your chosen mold - because that's what you're going to see when you tip the bath out.
One of the stepping stones in my garden.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Giselda - My Varmit-Eating GHO

This year, I decided that I wanted a wide-angle view of my entire colony at night, from a general monitoring viewpoint, allowing me to also see what may be skittering around my yard.  So, Bob did some research and found a reasonably priced Foscam security camera and hooked it up about a week ago.  We've been struggling with the range of the IR (60') and really not wanting to run power out into the yard to get the camera closer to the racks.  In my last post, I also mentioned that I was trying out a motion detection light and thought that may help scare the owl away if he ever came into the colony and triggered it on.  But since 4/18, I hadn't seen the owl and couldn't prove my new tool was working.  In fact, I was beginning to think he was filling up on my neighbor's guineas, whose numbers have gone from 20+ to 3 or 4 now.  I hear they taste like chicken.  That's the word I'm spreading anyway - 'EAT MOR GUINEAS'.
Yesterday (5/18) I pulled my game card cameras for review and found this video date / time stamped at 5/15/2015 -2:35 AM.  It was a bit alarming and given the perspective of the camera, I couldn't tell what mischief  Giselda had been engaged in before she landed on top of that pole.

The videos recorded through the Foscam camera were taking too long to scan, so I hadn't reviewed them in a couple of days and besides, the IR range and lack of illumination issues were bumming me out.  But somehow, on this night, the stars aligned, the winds were perfect, there was no rain, glowing eyes aided in tracking and the lovely glowing cobwebs added just enough annoying creepiness to make the video below quite interesting.  And I now have confirmation that a motion detection light is spectacularly useless in helping to scare a GHO away from your colony.  But it does provide some nice lighting for recording what she's up to.

I've done some cropping in the video to remove a total of almost 4 minutes of the owl turning his head away, because you really can't see anything when his glowing eyes are not looking towards the camera.  I also removed the first 2 minutes of the video where he entered stage-right, landing on the ground about 15' west of the most west rack.  I saw his glowing eyes through the noise on that side of the frame and thought for a bit that it must be a cat, a racoon or a coyote.  That is, until I got to the 2:23 minute mark and all doubt was removed - (at the 2:23 minute mark - watch the top of the leftmost gourd rack).  You have to watch the video at full-screen and watch along the right hand side - you'll see his glowing eyes periodically and her movement as she apparently glides (I don't think a GHO would run) along the ground.
This video served to provide me with a lot of relief - JOY!  Apparently, on this night anyway, she wasn't there to hunt for martins.  She was there chasing or hunting voles, moles, mice or snakes that were creeping along the ground.  Whew!  What a relief!  She can have all those varmits that she can catch!  That $79 camera just paid for itself in saving me a lot of worry & sleepless nights.  For now, my guards are still working and she seems to be ignoring us.
So, new plan - I'm putting my scarecrow back in the yard (she was inside that night, due to expected rain) and we're installing bright spotlights that will aid in video monitoring.  Enough fooling around.  The cages are working - I just need to know what she's doing.  Maybe "want to know" is a better description.
Sssssshhhhhhh, be very, very quiet, my lovely darlings, for ye know not what lurks beneath.  Or above.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

DawnSong, Full Moon and Night Owls

"Most humans are never fully present in the now, because unconsciously they believe that the next moment must be more important than this one.  But then you miss your whole life, which is never not now."  ~Eckhart Tolle
Last Saturday night as I sat on the porch around 9:00 PM, I made the decision that Sunday, I would get up at 4 AM - prime start time for the dawn song.  As I listened to the little padding, skittering feet in my gutters just over my head for the next 30 minutes though, I almost changed my mind.  Back & forth the mice were scampering about...at least, I think they were mice.  When I thought I heard one on the rail alongside me, I decided to pack it in.  Mr. Freeze was in bed already snoring and with Nikki inside also, who would rescue me if the mice executed a coup and had me trussed up in the yard like Gulliver by morning? 
Change of plans - I would still get up but I was going to change my location to the basement patio away from the gutters.  Plenty of room to move far away from my gutter-cleaning mice.
Let me start this post by saying, I am not a morning person.  It's just not in my nature.  I'm a night owl.  I do some of my best thinking late in the evenings, especially after the majority of the population on my continent has gone to sleep.  But last year, after experiencing my first owl attacks, out of necessity, I stayed up all night and had the most awesome early morning experiences I've ever had and I want to do it more often.
I grudgingly set the coffee pot to go off at 3:40 AM and my alarm clock for 4 AM. 
This year, along with my scarecrow, I'm trying a new approach with the owl.  Instead of leaving the porch lights on constantly and directed at  my colony all night, I've deployed a new, motion-detection, solar-powered 850 lumens LED light.  The idea is that it will react to him by turning on when he comes into the colony, hopefully making him think someone is physically in the colony and they turned it on.  My game camera took a video of the Trendsetter rocking to and fro the night of April 18th.  The light switched on and apparently he took off.  We haven't had any attacks in the last 3 weeks, so I'm cautiously optimistic at this point that the light is helping.
Artificial full moon in my back yard.  The light is far brighter than it appears in this picture.  Almost blinding when you're in full darkness like this, but I had no idea how to set my camera to get a true representation of how bright it was and was annoyed just enough to not care at the time.

The information on the light says it has a 70' range with 180 degrees of detection.  At 4 AM Sunday morning, it was on when I first got up and glanced outside.  You can select the number of minutes it will stay on and I had it set at 1 minute.  After getting your eyes adjusted to the darkness, that one minute of bright light seems like an eternity.  
Apparently, it's also very sensitive.  The blasted thing came on every few minutes, reacting to every single martin leaving their housing to dawnsing.  At first, I thought it was funny, but after about the 10th or 11th time, I was annoyed with it and thought what a dumb bunny I had been to face it towards my own house.  This weekend, I'll be moving it to the other side of the colony, where it can't blind me in the darkness.  It didn't appear to phase the martins as I could hear them starting their song after they exited, then a few minutes later, high in the sky, singing away.
Full moon peeking through the clouds - 5/3/2015
By 4:15 AM, I was outside with a full cup of coffee, my camera and a bucket of coffee for refills.  Just me and my martins, the frogs, the tree swallow - the little stinker - who insisted on doing a close flyby, and many other animals that I just prefer not to think about when I'm standing alone in the darkness.  The full moon, peeking through the persistent black clouds made me think of every scary movie I've ever watched.  Enough of that.  You can't think of those things while standing in the dark by yourself or you won't enjoy the magic that's about to happen. By 4:20 AM, I had tuned my ears to block out the other noises and listen for the martins that I knew were above me in the sky, but which I still could not see.  And then I heard the first one. There's the Magic!

Much to my surprise there were many, many more in the sky already, their song echoing through the trees north of my house.  Their song carries extremely well at this time of morning, due to the drops of moisture in the air.  From the PMCA site:
"Dawnsong is a unique set of vocalizations performed by adult male martins during the predawn hours of spring while flying high above their colony sites, or while perched nearby. It is a loud, continuous series of chirps presented in a syncopated series of about seven to nine notes repeated over and over. Each male flies his own path in slow, wide circles about 500 feet up, singing his own unique song. It is estimated that the sounds from a morning of dawnsong transmit to about 100 cubic miles of air volume."
(Hill, James R., Purple Martin Dawnsong, For Attracting Martins!, pg. 3.)"

Full moon setting - 5/3/2015
After reading multiple posters posting on the internet about why they thought the purple martins dawn sing, I asked Louise Chambers (PMCA), if anyone really knew why they do it.  Louise responded,
"Gene Morton's dawnsong theory was that adult males perform it after their mate is committed and their paternity is assured - it's safe, at that point, to invite sub-adult birds to join the site, so the senior males can have extra offspring via the sub-adult females.  So dawnsong will not be performed until green leaf stage of nest building"

Sunrise - 5/3/2015

By 5:40 AM, they were starting to trickle back into the colony and this one decided to do an encore performance on right there on the racks.  I'm sure the residents still inside their gourds trying to sleep really appreciated his chortling at their front doors.  I personally really appreciated his performance, as I could make out his mouth, throat and general animation during the calls to be interesting too.
My martins have been dawn singing now for a week.  It's great to listen to a cd or listen to these recordings, but if you've never gotten up in the morning to listen to them, I encourage you to try it at least once.  If you love purple martins as much as I do, I guarantee you, it will touch your soul.  They are so free, unafraid and untethered and I feel honored to share in these special hours of pure joy.
A lot of people zip through their lives desperately trying to find something special, something fascinating and thrilling to help brighten their days, something to excite them, never knowing that it is and always has been right there in front of them the whole time - they need only to stop, look and truly breathe it in and enjoy.  Who needs to spend barrels of money on vacations and stressful travel, when you can grab a cup of coffee and walk out in your backyard to experience such thrills?
Sunrise - 5/3/2015 - Can you spot the Purple Martin?

"The soul is your inner-most being.  The presence that you are beyond form.  The consciousness that you are beyond form, that is the soul.  That is who you are in essence."  ~Eckhart Tolle

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Video of a Hatching Purple Martin Egg

One of my fellow purple martin landlord friends, Mike Salcido in Texas took this video this week of a baby purple martin hatching from its shell.  During a nest check, Mike discovered that the egg was 'capped' (another egg had hatched in the nest and a part of it rolled over and stuck to this one, make it a double-walled shell).  Babies are unable to break through 2 layers of egg shells and will die inside, if the extra cap is not removed quickly. 
This is just another example of why nest checks are so important, so you will know the timing of hatching.
Enjoy the video - it's the first time in my 9 years of hosting martins that I've gotten to actually watch the process!  It's guaranteed to make your day.
Thanks for sharing, Mike!

Purple Martin Breeding Time

For the second day in a row, I have had to rescue a female purple martin who had been forced down in the wet grass by several, hormone-driven male martins.  It's mating season here on Gobbler's Knob and across several states.  With the rains and dew making the grass and grounds very wet, it's important to keep an eye out for females whose feathers have become so wet that they can't take off.  They are extremely susceptible to hawk attacks and racoons if left on the ground overnight.  You can often determine that one is down by just observing your colony - watch for multiple males landing on one spot on the ground or flying over that same spot many times.
If you find a downed female in your yard, use a towel to toss over her when trying to catch her - this will help calm the colony as you retrieve her as well as stopping her from trying to flop across the grass to get away from you.  Put some pine needles in a 5-gallon bucket, per her in and cover the bucket with a towel and a board across the towel (to keep her from flying out inside your warm room).  Place her in a warm environment and as my friend Louise Chambers (PMCA) reminded me this morning, you can turn a heating pad on low setting and place it under the bucket - that's key - do not place it in the bucket.

If you'd like to read more about multiple forced-pair copulations, Steve Kroenke has written an extensive post about it on the PMCA forum here:  http://purplemartin.org/forum/viewtopic.php?t=339&highlight=copulation

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Romance and Sub-Adult Arrivals on Gobbler's Knob

It looks like the majority of my adult martins are now paired up.  They were working feverishly on their nest-building tasks during the past couple of weeks, however, since this past Monday, they've had to spend a lot of time guarding their cavities and fighting off the new arrivals.
But who says that they can't squeeze in some nuzzle time while guarding their cavities?
I watched this couple for close to 20 minutes. They're so close that it made me wonder if they were old friends from previous years too.

Sometimes, you just need a few quiet moments and a shoulder to lean on.
And everyone has started their annual trek to tear the leaves from Mr. Freeze's poplar trees.  He wonders why his trees won't grow.  I don't show him any of the incriminating evidence such as that in the below pictures.

Many leaves were being shredded yesterday and today.  The bright, warm sunshine is so conducive to nest preparation.  The martins are taking full advantage.

On Monday, April 27th I filed my report for the first Purple Martin Sub-Adult arrival in 2015.  It was late evening and I couldn't get a good picture of him because he kept falling off the porches and perches.  Not on purpose.  The adult male martins were hard on his tail, pulling the little gangster off their cavities and out of their gourds.  I love the fearless and recklessly brave sub-adults.  They are so much like human teenagers - they come home from college, eat all the food in the refrigerator, play their music as loud as it will go, stomp around the house and drag their friends in at all hours while you're trying to sleep, challenge the parents' authority, kick the doors in to find their girlfriends sleeping with another male and in general, just make a mess of things.  These guys are no different.
If this sub-adult in the picture below, manages to hold onto and move into this cavity on the Trendsetter, it will be the first time in 7 years that I've had a sub-adult in that house.  Since it's my oldest housing, I've had nothing but adults in the house for a long time.  So, either some of the older adults moved to the gourds, or they have passed on.

Notice the small, purple feathers on his chest and under the chin of this sub-adult male.  I've learned to spot them just by watching for the martins that are causing the most trouble.  Note his "I'm going to kick someone's butt" posture too.

Sometimes it can be very difficult to spot a sub-adult male in your colony, but other times, it can be quite easy.  The most obvious identifying factor is the classic male clicking that they do to attract mates.  If you see a martin that looks like a female but it's doing the clicking, you can be 100% sure it's a male.  The other identifying factor is to look for purple feathers under the chin or on the chest.  Sometimes, there will even be one on the lower part of his abdomen or under his tail.  They can be very subtle, sometimes only a single feather or two as with this guy.  Other times, it can be quite obvious and the subbie will have a whole head & chest full of purple feathers.
Other identifying traits - watch for the classic 'I'm a troublemaker' posture and usually the one getting his butt whipped by the other males is the youngster that thinks he can swoop in and steal the others'  mates for which they've worked for weeks to attract.
An adult female paired with a sub-adult male.  Once the sub-adults have paired up, they usually settle down and focus on nest-building.  Note the purple feathers on this male's chest and under his chin.
My racks have been filling up for the last 4 days with more martin arrivals.

I can always tell who the newbies are as they try their best to navigate the fencing while still looking cool.

Stay on the lookout for the sub-adults at your site in Missouri.  We're halfway through migration at this point.  And if you have a new site, now is the best time to establish a new colony.