"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

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

New Season, More Changes

On Saturday, 3/26 it reached 69 degrees on Gobbler's Knob. But with the ever-present Spring wind, it felt a bit cooler - maybe 68 degrees.  Heh! Oh, but it was so beautiful and there was absolutely no way, I was going to stay indoors.  I was quite surprised when I flushed my martins - it appears my 84 cavity colony is already 1/2 full!  I've never been that full by this time of year before.
My first priority was to finish up my owl cages on my Deluxe gourd racks.  My jerry-rigged, owl interference didn't work as well on those racks last year and I've no doubt that I'll be seeing my Great Horned Owl again this year and possibly, my Barred Owl as well.
I would have caged these 2 racks last year, however, I could never come up with an idea that would work, both because these racks had no place to mount homemade supports for the wire and there were also weight considerations (it's windy here in the spring!).  In summer of 2015, we figured out what we needed to do.  I ordered the same stainless steel arms for these racks from the original manufacturer, only the length of these arms would be changed to 36" and they would have the same gourd mounting holes as the originals.  I ordered 8 arms per rack as that would be enough to support the type of wire cage I needed to build.
Here's what my racks looked like last year, just using garden stakes as a 'cage' to interfere with any owl messing with them.

I decided that I would use 4 panels of 4 foot-high welded-mesh wire fencing, per rack.  Each panel is cut to 56" wide, allowing me to bow them out almost 10" from the front of each gourd.  I was surprised how light the 4 panels were, as I gathered them up and carried them out to the first rack.  The top of each panel is mounted on a stainless steel rod and I added the heavy duty garden stakes along the top in between the new stainless rods, to add more support.
Note the two new, extra long stainless rods. Each panel is cinched together with a heavy duty zip tie, tightening it down on the rod.
Heavy duty zip ties hold together the edges of each panel in place on the rods.  The inside white zip tie is there only to keep the yellow tie & wire from sliding inward.
A smaller zip tie was added inside on just the rod (not holding anything), but will help keep the outside yellow zip tie from sliding inward.
The tops of the panels are all zip-tied to the garden stakes and the top wire 'ceiling' along the way, closing all the gaps at the top.  All I have to do is cut the 3 zip ties holding each panel to the next at the seam, leaving the zip ties at the top that hold it to the extra heavy rods on the top, lift the panel up and walk in.
Each rectangle is 2" wide - you can see the cage is at least 10" out in front of each gourd entrance.

As with my other rack that I enclosed a couple of years ago, I will need to work a little more slowly and be more cognizant of where my face is at all times, since some martins tend to flush out of the gourd at the very last second.
The fencing is 48" high so it drops below the most bottom gourds about 6".  I will have to monitor to see if that's going to be sufficient
East Rack - 3/26/2016

Mid Rack - 3/26/2016

Each cage took 35 - 40 minutes to install and I was really glad that I made the changes early in the day, since it took the colony some time to adjust to their new surroundings. So, 38 feet of mesh wire fencing, a couple of packs of zip ties, some heavy duty stainless steel rods, 24 feet of undersill trim to make some nice, 4"x4" landing spots, a handy pair of wire cutters and a good pair of leather work gloves and I'll be able to better sleep at night.  I think my most stressful time last year was when the new fledges came home late in the evening and hunkered down on the inside gourd arms.  I knew those 'easy catches' were going to attract the owl and I spent many hours & nights outside with them, trying to gently encourage them inside or leave the site. With these new cages, they can safely roost on the arms if they want and stick their tongues out at the GHO when she comes.
Some were initially frightened by the changes, fluttering around and around the outside of the cages, while others flew under and straight up to their gourd without missing a beat.  Some ended up hanging upside down on the cage, and some landed on top and dropped right through to their gourd.  Some of the territorial fighting resumed, with the males quickly reclaiming their gourds as their competitors dropped through the top of the wire in full battle mode, proving that each of these birds have their own character and personality as unique as we humans.
I had a really hard time not laughing out loud (and I can laugh really loud) at some of the antics in this video.  Enjoy!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

A Welcome Home and Saying Goodbye to an Old Friend

My apologies - I'm a bit behind this year with my reporting, since I've been on work travel to Germany.  But now that I'm back, it's time to get back into the swing of things and nothing makes me feel more rooted again than getting outside and preparing all the bluebird, tree swallow and purple martin housing.  Spring has come so early this year and has definitely caught me off guard!
On Sunday, February 28th, while still in Germany, I received an email from my husband.  It was 7 AM his time and a single adult male purple martin had just arrived at my site!  This is the first time a martin has arrived at my site in February.  The earliest arrival ever was March 12th.  Thank goodness I had uncovered my Trendsetter before I left on the trip!  Bob quickly added some pine needles to help provide some warmth at night, when the temps were still dipping down into the low 30's.
Many of my martins are already pairing up.
Two days after the purple martin arrived, on March 1st - the first tree swallow of the year also appeared.  As of yesterday, I now have over 20 martins.  I guess the one thing I can say about hosting purple martins - every year is different!
First Tree Swallow of the season. As of 3/20/2016, there are now over 17 TRES here.

This year, I've made some changes to my PMCA Deluxe Racks so they will be better protected from my local Great Horned Owl.  I'll be posting about that exercise in a couple of weeks! I haven't seen him/her this year but back in late December, I did get to watch this Barred Owl hunting in the north Savanna early morning fog for about an hour.
One of my friends made this very cool rendering of one of the photos I made.  Pretty neat! Hopefully, he/she won't also decide purple martins are on the menu this summer. :(
While getting back in the swing of things, I noticed my list of Missouri landlords has grown to 73!  I'll be writing more about our small, growing community and some of its members later this spring, but I wanted to first write about a very special landlord who was also a very dear, cool friend.
Bob Peterson was one of the first people we met when we moved to Licking 10 years ago.  He owned C-Hwy Garage north of town and my father-in-law introduced us when we were trying to find a part for an old used tractor we had. As I became more educated about hosting purple martins, I began to take notice of his purple martin house.  It was a very old S&K house and he had 3 pairs of HOSP and 1 pair of martins in it during summer of 2009.  I asked him if he enjoyed hosting purple martins and he said, "Yes, if only I could get rid of those "chippies".  I asked him if he'd like some help, which of course he accepted and that started my friendship with him.  After 4 days, we had trapped and eliminated over 55 English House Sparrows.  We cleaned out his house and that summer, he hosted 3 pairs of martins and he fledged 9 young.
After learning more about starlings and house sparrows, and doing nest checks, Bob was hooked.  He came to all of my open houses and presentations and quickly became an advocate for purple martins also, obtaining 10 copies of my newsletter and distributing it to everyone he knew each month. In spring of 2011, Bob, being his usual creative self, tore down his old house and using supplies he found around his junk yard and the knowledge I had gathered for him on the internet, built a gourd rack out of 3" steel pipe and an old satellite dish.  After 3 days, it was ready to go and I went over to celebrate its christening with 8 new Troyer Vertical gourds.  That first year, Bob had 8 pair of martins.
When it came to banding time, Bob didn't want to miss out on the event.  He was here every time and he helped keep the nestlings moving and me organized.  He loved it and he loved learning.  

On July 3, 2013, I was so thrilled for him when he called and told me he thought he had a banded bird at his colony.  What were the odds that someone from 6 miles away who had probably handled that same bird as a nestling, would attract one of them to his site?  We confirmed that day, PUMA band # A675 (an adult male purple martin banded at my site on July 6, 2011) at his site and that bird was still at his colony last year as he hosted 22 pair. Bob had a quick and clever mind.  And I don't think I've ever met a more dependable friend - you could call and before you finished your question, he had already come up with a solution for whatever it was you were asking about. When my husband needed to find a disc to tear up some ground for a new orchard, Bob arrived that weekend with his old tractor and disc and he and my husband had it ready with a few hours.

He was a master gardener and it especially thrilled him to introduce young children to the joy of growing their own vegetables.  Bob would call and laugh as he told me how 'his' purple martins would fly low over his head and try to scare him off as he lowered the rack to do nest checks.  He was preparing to put up a second gourd rack this year before the season started.  On Saturday, March 5th, he walked through my mind as I thought about calling him and asking him if he was ready to put it up yet but, I didn't make that call.  On Monday, March 7th, I was deeply saddened to find out he had died on Friday, March 4th.  Bob was 60 years old.
I'm not sure yet what will happen to Bob's colony or if A675 will return this year.  I haven't been able to bring myself to go over to visit his family and find out what will happen to his colony yet.  I'm sure if his rack is taken down, his family will be erecting it near their own homes as they love purple martins as much as Bob did.  But one thing is for sure - Bob will be missed.  I will miss his quirkiness and his quick-witted retorts, but most of all, his martins will most certainly miss him.