"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


Showing posts with label MO Purple martins. Show all posts
Showing posts with label MO Purple martins. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Racing Time - Purple Martin Season 2017 Begins

On Saturday morning, March 4th, 2017, I got a phone call around 9 AM.  "Sorry if I woke you", the voice said.  After a few seconds, he finally said, "It's Luther"!  Oh, YAY!  "Hey, I have a scout", he said.  My mind zipped to the calendar and I realized that somehow, March had quietly arrived and I had somehow missed it.  I was excited for Luther - "FIRST TIME EVER, you've seen your martins arrive before mine", I shouted.  He was tickled.  I was tickled.  And then I suddenly realized, I've been far too busy with work to even notice the changes in the season.  Congratulations, Luther & Fonda on the first sighting of the season!  Now, I need to get busy.
Later that day, I decided to go out and enjoy the sun and make sure I had some gourds out, since I had to leave soon on yet another business trip.  It was hard to get into the spirit of the season after having experienced my most difficult year.  But, after raking up 5 bags of white pine needles and stuffing a few gourds, muscle-memory took over, along with the warmth of the sun and a bit of joy started to shine through.
That afternoon, as I hung the last gourd on my rack for the day, I heard that familiar chirp. I looked skyward and found her.  Yes, for only the second time in the history of my colony a female showed up first!  She flew circles around and around me, and as she shared her joy of being home, through tears of joy, I managed to say, "hello Gorgeous, THERE you are!"  I felt so honored, after such a devastating last year, that they would actually return to my site.  It didn't take long - later that evening, she had already found a male ASY to keep her warm at night.  Ironically, my first dude back has a pretty yellow band on his left leg, so I'll be getting his number soon.  Looks like SHE already has his number.
First arrivals - 2017 - the male in the upper left gourd is banded.

As I stood and watched them both circle my site and chirp their happy, "hello" to me, I suddenly realized that I have been way too engrossed in my job to engage in the things that bring me joy.  With all the travel and work stress, I had forgotten that this is where I find my peace and center myself.
It has been almost 3 weeks since that first pair showed up and I now have 20 martins on-site.
I am a pro at not only creating bad habits, but also breaking them and I am getting myself outside every evening when they come home and watching them as they swirl round & round the site, each circle bringing them lower & lower to the gourd racks, until they finally zip right into their own gourds and get instantly quiet for the night.  What a delight!
The Trendsetter has been taken down this year.  Even if I installed a larger cage on it, I couldn't get past the memories of last year and it obviously had become a magnet for the GHO.  Instead of digging yet another hole in the yard though, we decided to use the existing Trendsetter ground stake that is firmly ensconced in a way-over-engineered concrete hole which will definitely hold the new super system.  But first, we had to adapt the 2" square ground stake to the new 3" pole.
We were finally able to find a talented fabricator and he created a new ground stake that would help us transition the 2" ground stake to the new 3" ground stake I needed for the new Super System.
The inner measurement of the square had to be 1 11/16" to fit tightly around the existing ground stake.

The length had to be 27".  The fabricator was very clever in how he built this new ground stake up to exactly the right measurements.  He used the welds and plates to make the second outer tube fit solidly on the inner square tube, finally creating the exact size - 2 11/16"- needed to fit inside the 3" gourd rack pole.

Bob added some grease to the existing 2" ground stake to help with water and ensure the new stake slide on more easily.
Then slid on the new ground stake and greased the outside of it also.
The new rack is in place and all the arms have been mounted.  I still have some work cut out for me - this weekend, I need to install the new cage on this new system, but the worst part is now over.  Each step brings me closer to letting go of the Trendsetter and its memories and looking forward to a new season.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Purple Martins and The Sounds of Change


“The earth has music for those who listen.”
― George Santayana
This past weekend as I conducted nest checks (now 79 pair), I listened to the efforts of some of the sub-adult males to alert the colony of my intrusions.  It made me laugh at their silliness when they would suddenly launch themselves and try to get the others to flush with them.  Surely, that would serve to frighten and send this frequent intruder running away in terror!  I could tell who were my 'regulars' as they would sit on their perches, beaks stuffed full with some type of food for their broods and roll their eyes at the enthusiastic efforts of the sub-adults.  Ok, maybe they didn't literally roll their eyes, but figuratively speaking anyway.
How about that Green Darner dragonfly? 

As I brushed at the mites, changed out nests and counted nestlings, I heard a group of birds from my colony sound the alarm call to the west and give chase to a Cooper's hawk.  I continued with my nest check after they had evicted the intruder to a safe distance.  Apparently though, the Cooper's wasn't giving up that easily.  Soon I heard the martins chasing her in the field just south of us, then to the west and finally the hapless predator left for good via the northern route.  I knew my martins would soon return to the perches above my head and start bragging and congratulating each other over their victory - at least that's what it sounds like to this happy martin servant.
A short update on my Great Horned Owl situation- in the last 17 nights, I've only experienced 2 GHO visits.  How cool is that?  Bob has some recording doo-hicky machinery and we spent some time recording stuff around the house..doors slamming, Nikki barking, shell loading in a shotgun, shotgun firing, running on my wooden deck, dropping metal pipes on the deck, cough, cough, - you name it, we recorded it.  I also bought a cheap CD player to do repeated, random playing of the cds too.  Along with that, I bought a plethora of night lights and plugged them into a power strip that's on a timer.  Now I have my scarecrow up on the porch, cd playing random "real life" sounds and the lights turning off & on at different times.  Ironically, the only 2 times the owl has visited has been during the timeframes when I had neglected to turn on the cd player.  We're only a little over 2 weeks into testing this, but I am very hopeful.
Anyway, back to this past weekend.  As I continued my work, I thought of all the different calls the purple martins make during their 5-month stay here at Gobbler's Knob and how I can now recognize the various stages of their nesting cycle, just by listening.  Their greetings are loud and raucous when they first arrive in the spring and they sound like excited schoolchildren on their first day back at school, screeching with delight at the sight of old and new friends.  As the season progresses, the loud, persistent mating calls of the males dominate the airwaves.  Eventually, you know when there are eggs in the nests as the colony overall becomes more subdued and they get down to the business of incubation & keeping the eggs warm, except for the evening bathing, and the quiet social gathering and preening on the perches before bedtime.
At some point, the sub-adults arrive and the routines are thrown off kilter as the mated pairs adjust to dealing with the returns of the teenagers from last year.  As eggs start to hatch, I sometimes have to double check that my colony is still around as they become very quiet while fetching and delivering food to the babies.  The only indication they are still here are the black streaks across the yard of approximately 150 adults on cafeteria duty.
An SY Male (left) tries to act cool as the ASY male prepares an attack on him.
When the babies are big enough, they move to the front of the housing and their constant begging for food starts to dominate my backyard.  As my goal is to fledge as many babies as possible, the persistent cries for food are pleasing to my ears.
Mom bringing home the bacon.  Or, in this case, a large dragonfly is what's for dinner.

As of last weekend, we reached the point at my colony where the fun has really started.  As nestlings are preparing for their first flights, the colony is coming alive with the calls of both resident and non-resident martins flying back and forth, screeching to the nestlings at the entrances, providing enthusiastic encouragement for them to spread their wings and take the leap of faith.  As the adults are returning each evening with their newly-fledged broods (of which I have around 25-30 nests fledged to-date), the parents' calls reverberate off my home as they try to direct their reckless entourage of fledges to return to the nest for the night where they will be safe until dawn.  It's a good thing they start at least 45 to 60 minutes before nightfall, as it takes that long for some of them to be successful.
A family unit of martins coming home late in the evening.
One of the youngsters - a protective Dad stands watch as the youngster gets his bearing on which gourd he needs to enter for the night.

All I have to do is listen to them to know where we're at in each phase.  Check out the list below of the multiple vocalizations performed by Purple Martins (via PMCA)
https://www.purplemartin.org/purple-martins/biology/43/vocalizations/

Vocalization Name
Who Uses/Performs It
Description/Purpose of Vocalization
Juvenile Calls
Juvenile martins
•  Given at fledging time
•  Monosyllabic
•  Used when begging for food from parents, or when other martins approach the nest
•  Also used to alert parents that they are being harassed by predators
•  Used on their first flight
Choo Calls
Females
•  Used when escorting fledglings back to the nest
•  Used when taking fledglings out to forage
•  Mainly at dusk
Zwrack Calls
Males and females
•  Used during alarm or highly aggressive situations
•  Given singly
•  Used when predator gets too close to the nest, causing the martin to dive-bomb
Hee-Hee Calls
Males
•  Related to territorial defense; usually given after chasing away an intruder
•  Given in a series of 4 – 10 calls
•  Often given during intraspecific (same species) combat
Zweet Calls
Males and females
•  One-syllable call
•  Indicate alarm
•  Given in flight when martins fly away from a terrestrial predator, causing others to be more vigilant
•  Shows excitement
•  Males use this call if they see another male attempting to copulate with his mate
Cher Calls
Males and females
•  Most common vocalization
•  Used in many situations including during courtship, when showing contentment, when excited, and when approaching housing
•  Sometimes used in conjunction with Zweet and Zwarck calls
•  Given when in flight and when at rest
•  Usually accompanied by wing and body shaking
•  Used mainly during the day but also during pre-dawn hours
Chortle Calls
Males and females
•  Consists of many syllables
•  Sometimes used in conjunction with the Cher call
•  Usually when showing higher excitement levels
•  Both during the day and predawn
•  While sitting
Croak Songs
Males
•  Main courtship song
•  Directed at mate during egg laying
•  Given both before and after copulation
•  Also performed during extra-pair copulations
•  Given in flight and while perched
•  Performed after being rejoined with his mate after being separated for a length of time
Chortle Songs
Females
•  Heard most often during pair formation
•  Mainly during courtship
•  Given towards other females when approaching their territory
Subsongs
Males
•  Only heard near the end of the nesting season, after breeding
•  Performed in a variety of situations
•  Most common after birds began feeding their young
•  Also common during roosting before migration
Dawnsong*
Males
•  Loudest Purple Martin vocalization
•  During early morning hours to attract other subadult males, and thus females to the colony site
•  Only sung after the male has established a nest

After all we do for our purple martins; the expense, the work, the worry and frustration, peace in nature and connection with them can be found not only in the observation of their antics, but also in the listening.  I truly hope that everyone is listening to their colonies and embracing the joy and energy they share with us with each and every year.  It's not a lot of trouble - one only needs to listen.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Everything is Out of Sorts Today

We have gotten a lot of rain in the last couple of weeks - most of it in the last 2 days.  Today, I feel like everything is out of sorts, as my Grandmother used to say.  Nothing feels right.  After almost 2 years of drought, I thought we were going to lose all our fish in our ever-shrinking pond this summer.  But now it's overflowing its banks - way out of bounds.  I now have to worry that our bass and bluegill will end up in our neighbor's pond as our overflow has backed up and it drains into his pond.  Get back in your own pond.
The pond is well over 15' out of its banks - we normally ride our 4-wheelers down this path that is now filled with water.
Somehow, with so much rain, grass is growing in our driveway - way out of bounds.  I should celebrate the ladino clover in the middle of it that magically, somehow appeared.  You can't mow this stuff too much either.  After 5 or 6 mowings already, it is still blooming!
Everything is so doggone wet!  Along with 3 launch failures this morning.  They are wet & stinky.  They're not happy about this turn of events.  Neither am I.
3 new failed launches this morning
I swear, even the ticks are parachuting off the door trims and landing on my head.  I don't know where they're all coming from.  I may choose to borrow Nikki's Frontline.
Even Olivia seems out of sorts - all wet and cranky.  As I was filming her playing hide-n-seek, she stopped on the open deck and turned toward me.  As she gazed at my toes, I suddenly realized just how vulnerable my bare feet were.  I decided it was time to start acting like I knew how to River dance and I kept my feet moving until I was safely back inside the enclosed porch.

But at its root, I know why I'm out of sorts today.  After checking on my colony every 10-15 minutes last night, I was alarmed when my GHO flew out from under my deck.  I hadn't seen her come in and when I went to check the videos, I found that she had attacked the Trendsetter in between one of my checks, in a spot where a new fledge had been trying for an hour to get into a cavity.  Check out the video below - she comes in from the left and hangs on to the Trendsetter for an eternity.  In the video, the fledge flies past the camera during the attack, so fortunately, he lives to tell the tale.  Other martins flushed from the other racks too.  Silly birds....stay put!!  Worst of all, my stupid game camera (seen in the video below) is only 12-13 feet away, didn't capture any of it.  I checked it today - 99% battery.  In the heat & humidity, I was tempted to boot it across the field.  Instead, I rebooted it the standard way - hopefully, it won't have anything to capture tonight, but will be able to if needed.

After seeing a video from 12:10 AM on 6/30, it became obvious that Ellie Mae is going to have to visit the unemployment lines.  Absolutely useless.  As have been most of the other methods that people have suggested.  I am out of ideas - it is check.mate.  She will always be here.  Nothing scares her.
Lights - tried it - failed.
Radio - tried it - failed.
Lights + radio - tried it - failed.
Motion detection lights - tried it - failed.
Scarecrow - tried it - failed.
Let's face it; the only protection that works 100% of the time are the owl cages.  I have plenty of alternate food here - rabbits, feral cats, moles, voles, mice, snakes, etc.  Yet, my owl prefers an easy-to-get meal.  Well, she won't get one here as long as they stay behind the cages.  Otherwise I can't guarantee anything. But I won't kill her.  Another one will only take her place.  We will just do the best we can with *preventative* measures and accept that I have a beautiful, very smart owl.  I just need to be smarter.
I will enjoy the positive things.  At least the Compass Plant - after 6 years of waiting - is finally blooming.  This makes me happy today.  Mag.freaking.nificent!!! Beautiful, isn't it?  Definitely worth the wait.
Compass Plant - 6 years old, finally blooming.

So, what do you do when you have such an off-kilter, out-of-sorts day?  Well, you suck it up.  Thaw out some crickets, soak them in some bird-vitamin solution and stuff the wet kids full of food.  Leave them in a bucket until they're dry and put them back out in a dry gourd on the rack from whence they came. 
You stop and enjoy the clasping milkweed that has grown out of bounds - where no seed has been planted (not by you, anyway).
Clasping Milkweed (thanks for ID info to Louise Chambers)
You stop and watch your happy, chattering purple martins chasing down the bug hatches in the field, because despite my owl's best efforts, they are clearly undeterred in their mission to feed their kids, and get them flying.
You herd the fish back into the main body of the pond, by splashing about in your muck boots.  You stop and enjoy the common milkweed that is now spreading out into the yard and tell Mr. Freeze he no longer needs to mow there.

Then you park your butt on the porch with a good book, a glass of wine, a pair of binoculars and your muck boots (just in case you have more launch failures) and watch your colony for the rest of the day.  After all, it is still MY little piece of heaven, and despite all the challenges, I am diggin' it here at Gobbler's Knob.

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.