"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 Missouri purple martins. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Missouri purple martins. Show all posts

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Today, I Fly

I was born on June 4th, 2017.  I was just a wee thing, with 2 brothers and 2 sisters.  My Mom is beautiful and she and Dad feed us often. Big, fat, juicy squishy bugs.  Yum, yum!  There was a funny-looking creature that kept opening our nest door and peeking in.  Mom & Dad would scream at her, but still she came to visit us a lot.  She would make funny noises and count to 5 every time time she opened the door.  Did she just come here to practice her counting?
Today, my Dad told me, "Son, it's time to spread your wings."
I could hear my friend's Mom telling him he too must learn to fly today  He didn't look too happy about it either. 
 
I even have my own personal escort crew in hot-standby.  Not too sure I really trust these guys to "help" though.
We have seen what happens to the neighbors' kids that attempt to fly at this age.  They end up in funny positions, with others pushing them off railings, porches and perches.  Still, Dad is refusing to bring more bugs, while I just continue to sit here.
Man, that's just wrong.  Where's that nice lady with the crickets when you need her?  How about counting out 5 of those, lady?  I finally decided that I would catch my own - I'm getting hungry.  Except, I haven't exactly gotten very far.  Still no food deliveries.  They said I had to FLY, they didn't specify how far!
 Well, I thought hanging out here for a big would be a good idea, but maybe not.
 Nope, definitely not.
 Even Dad isn't acting very happy about my resting here.  What?  Still no FOOD?
 Mom knows how to get me moving.  It's a small snack, but it will do until I get my bearings.
Another 200 feet and Mom finally hands it over.  One small step for purple martindom, one giant leap for me.  My future is looking bright already.

Monday, June 5, 2017

A Message in a Little Yellow Band

How was I to know that placing a teeny, tiny little yellow band with the number "A407", on the tiny little leg of a purple martin nestling from Trendsetter house - cavity #8 on June 29th, 2011, would bring such a message of hope and inspiration to me this season?  It's funny how something I did 6 years ago - which seems so long ago, yet really not that far - can have such a meaningful impact on my life today.
I had been noticing a few martins with yellow bands on the gourd racks and since the weather was so perfect on Friday, I decided to get out my equipment and spend a few hours with my martins.  This is how I use my vacation time and where I am 100% focused on my martins and nothing else can bother or worry me - in my yard, with my martins and my spotting scope.
But there is a process to prepare for "band-spotting" work and I have a list of what is needed.  First, sunscreen - SPF 50 is required, or my first outing into the sun will result in a very charred, red nose.  Next, a few dabs of Vanilla extract around my nose, mouth and eyes to keep the gnats away from my face.  Sticky, but very effective!  I also carry a small, cheap notepad with a pencil (I prefer pencil, just in case I write down a wrong number) and a set of binoculars for the overall, initial scanning.  I love the yellow Missouri bands that MRBO put on my birds - it makes them so easy to spot.
Bob mounted my umbrella holder on the back of my 4-wheeler for me. I love this thing!  Bob and our recently-deceased friend, Bob Petersen, had come up with this clever design so that I could sit out in the sun, anywhere in my yard, during the heat of the day and spot bands or just enjoy my martins.  Yes, I'm fully aware of how spoiled I am.
The shade also helps keep my spotting scope from getting too hot.  Since it is black, it would quickly overheat in the sun and that's a bad thing for optics.  I see a lot of people on the Purple Martin forums asking what type of spotting scopes to buy to read the bands on their birds.  For me, this little Nikon ProStaff 5 has worked perfectly.  With a 16x48x eyepiece on it, I can sit right in the middle of my colony and read the numbers on the yellow and the silver (federal) bands and observe the unique markings of each individual martin.
It's especially challenging at this time of year to read bands as the martins tend to flit around from rack to rack, visiting all the other gourds and other potential mates and that makes it hard to tell to which gourd they belong.  But this time, a couple of them revealed to which gourd they were committed by the persistent wave of green leaves they were bringing in.  I was surprised that they are still bringing in green leaves at this stage of the season, with so many eggs already laid. 
This guy, Mr. A407 was packing in the green leaves for G20.  There are no words to express how thrilled I was when I reviewed his record today.  He was originally born in my Trendsetter (cavity #8) and was banded here as a nestling on 6/29/2011, making him 6 years old this year.  But what made my spotting of him really special - he had also nested in the Trendsetter for the last 2 years.  That means that he not only survived all the owl attacks on the house during that time, he also adapted when he returned this year to find the Trendsetter had been replaced by a gourd rack.  He chose to nest in a gourd this year, meaning yes, he REALLY wants to stay HERE.  Oh, welcome home, you gorgeous, daring & brave young man!  A message of Hope - not in a bottle, but in a little yellow band!
Mr. A407 - now 6 years old has lived to tell the tale of the Great Horned Owl on Gobbler's Knob.
My next ID was of Mr. C226 - now nesting in G1.  He was born here in G9 and banded on 6/10/2012, making him 5 years old this year.  Ironically, G1 is right where G9 used to be, since I moved all the gourds down one level this year so the owl could not agitate the gourds from the top level.  Now how cool is that?  Bob thinks he just likes the view of our home and the feeding tray when there are crickets and eggs served during cold weather.   
Mr. C226 - 5 years old this season.
The last band sighting was of Mr. A673 - he was banded here on 7/9/2011 as a nestling - also making him 6 years old.  He was born on the same rack where I spotted him, but I have not identified his new chosen gourd for this season yet.
Mr. A673 - 6 years old as of 2017.
Last week, I was a little worried as a nest check revealed I only had 60 pair on Memorial Day.  In previous years on the same day, I've had around 70.  Turns out, they were a few days behind this year and as of today, I have 71 pairs of martins nearly filling my 75 gourds I am offering this year.
They all seem to have adapted to the caging around the gourd racks, but it still makes it difficult to get a good picture with all the wire.  Somehow, but we all seem to work around it.
An adult female adds fresh green leaves to her nest.
The sub-adults have arrived and are causing chaos with the adults.  I love watching the adults watching the sub-adults.
"Is that your boy from last year, George"? 
One of my favorite challenges when watching my colony, is to try to identify the sub-adult males.  You can usually find them by just watching for the fights and screeching. 
A young sub-adult male.
An adult pair guards their nest from the marauding sub-adult males.


As of today, we have not seen the owl in 11 nights.  A friend from the PMCA forum has loaned me his "Dancing Man" and I am trying him out.  I have him on a timer and change the settings for him to turn on and off at different times each night. 

I've also deployed my 'hunting blind' from which I normally hunt English House Sparrows and Starlings, and I've been moving it around the yard every 2 nights.  I purchased some solar yard lights and I recharge one every day and put it inside the blind each night, slightly unzipping the portals so the owl is sure to see the "evil eyes" staring her down if she tries to enter the yard. There is no way to tell yet what is being effective in keeping the owl away, but whatever the reason is, I am grateful for each night she does not come around and I'll just keep throwing out every thing I can think of to keep her away.
For now, my banded 6-year old martins are proof there is indeed a ray of hope for my colony.  I think I need to get a bumper sticker that reads, "My Purple Martins Graduated with Honors from GHO Battle School"..... or something.  Ha!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

A Singing Invitation to the Kids

Ever since my first experience with getting up early to hear the purple martin dawnsong, I have been hooked on it.  I committed to getting up at least one early morning to enjoy it during each season.  Today was that day.  I got up at 3 AM, grabbed the biggest mug I have and carried my coffee out to the porch, using the little flashlight on my cell phone....which has to be the handiest thing they've ever put on a cell phone, that can only be discovered quite by accident.
This morning's early rising would also help serve the purpose of driving away or at least keeping the Great Horned Owl at bay.  As I settled in, I almost laughed out loud in the cool, velvety darkness at how loud the bullfrogs were at the pond, over 75 yards away.  How DO they manage to escape all the predators when they're making so much noise? If you're wondering where the Milky Way is right now, you will need to get up at 3 A.M. to see that one too - it's directly overhead at this time of year.  I love the challenge of trying to capture pictures of it.


A few scurrying noises around my deck made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.  I can be pretty brave in daylight, but the idea of a snake, a large spider, or some other critter accidentally bumping into me in the darkness can sometimes make me feel like I'm 2 years old.
A few of the male martins were being noisy and were loudly performing their mating calls with the clicking at the end, while still in their gourds.  It's no wonder that an owl or any other predator can easily find them at night...silly birds. And what makes them think that's what their lovely lady wants to hear at 3:00 A.M. anyway??

By 3:30 A.M., I had heard only 1 bird start the dawnsong.  He zipped out of his gourd and he was up, up, and away from the colony quickly.  At 3:45 A.M., the neighbor's rooster was crowing.  I thought, "If that were my rooster, that would be his last day to crow at 3:45 A.M.".  But that must have been my martins' queue because within minutes of the rooster crowing, the rest of the Dawnsong choir joined in.  As I scanned the yard and racks carefully watching for the owl in case she tried to take advantage (we put out solar yard lights last week), a huge number of male martins exited and rose quickly in the darkness, chortling as they rose - the only indication I had that another one was in the air. 

It's amazing how loud each martin sounds as they circle high above and sing the darkness away. As the stars started to fade and my human eyes detected dawn around 5:12 A.M., the first martin returned to the racks and proceed to womp on another male that had tried to sneak into his place while he was out gathering fresh troops. Apparently, there are no time constraints for when territorial battles can be fought. 
I took this video a couple of years ago of a male martin performing the dawnsong on my racks and it is still the best video I've been able to capture of it.

Even though I've witnessed the end of the song and their returns to the racks several times now, that part never gets old either.  Close to 60-65 martins falling out of the sky, dropping into the colony, almost all at once is a fantastic sight.
For anyone that missed it, via the PMCA - the purpose of the Dawnsong:
"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"
It must be working - as of last Saturday, May 13th, I have 3 sub-adult males.  Welcome back kiddos! 

Saturday, May 6, 2017

May Flowers, Martins and Mysteries

It is either 'feast' or 'famine' in Missouri when it comes to rain. This spring, we seem to be in a state of deluge.  With the breaks in the rain, my martins were able to get out and find food. The last 2 days of rain though were just too much for them and they came knockin'.  Luckily, I had a few crickets left and a few dozen eggs.
It appears my 'regulars' remember the drill.  The banded female below wasted no time being the first up to the buffet. 
At my house, you best not be late when the dinner bell rings though.
I haven't been able to get an accurate count with the rain keeping most inside their gourds, but I'm estimating there are approximately 50-60 pairs here right now. 
In fact, yesterday evening at 7:00 P.M. when the last weather system finally broke, I stepped out to see if my colony was doing okay.  I started to worry when I only counted 5 birds on the racks.  Finally, at 7:50 P.M., they suddenly started dropping out of the sky and into their gourds.  They had taken advantage of the brief amount of sunshine and gone to hunt and gather.  It's okay, I'm not offended they prefer live, squiggly stuff over my eggs and crickets.
I awoke today to a loud, raucous noise in my south yard - the sun was out and it was already above 60 degrees!  Yay!  NO crickets or eggs today! For the first time in 4 days, I was able to just cook a couple of eggs for myself.
As I waited for the weather to warm further, so I could do what I dreaded most today, I noticed my red clover was blooming.
And my homemade bird baths were filled with fresh rainwater.  Bob and I have finally found a use for all the landscape rocks.
After putting it off as long as I could, I started lowering my racks and checking each gourd, hoping upon hope that I wouldn't find what I feared most - dead, starved martins.  I breathed a sigh of relief after lowering the first 2 racks and not finding any.  Such a relief.  Then I lowered the third rack and was shocked at the condition of the wire.  My mind couldn't put 2 and 2 together to figure out how this happened.  And wouldn't you know it - I haven't started up the game cameras yet.
The top 3 broken wires in the picture were bent out and the one on the bottom was bent down and in, with its tip behind another wire.  "Ok, WHO taught my Great Horned Owl to use a set of wire cutters?", I pondered to myself and laughed uneasily.  Racoon?  No way - a racoon would have climbed up the pole and already been inside the cage, wreaking his havoc. Owl? Hmmm - could / would an owl hang on the cage and vigorously work over the joint where these wires were pulled apart?  Why not just fly up under the cage, instead - it would take a lot less energy to do that!  Would she really wear down her beak gnawing on the wire cage, when there was an easier approach?
I called Bob out to look at it and the ends of the wire where they were separated.  Click on the pictures below to see better closeups.  Lightning maybe?  But check out the picture above....the wires are bent in different directions....

So, other than the big hole in the cage that must have been created by some super-evolved Chupacabra animal here on Gobbler's Knob, all was really otherwise very well.  I found 5 eggs in a gourd on this same rack - but I doubt they're viable, since they were very cold and there were no martins around most of the day today to incubate them.  I lightly marked them with a marker, so I can keep track of their progress...or lack thereof.  
I'm not normally a 'fraidy-cat, but dang....
Ok fellow sleuth-bugs - so what was it? 


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.

Monday, January 2, 2017

When Love and Despair Collide



...or maybe a better title is, "when two passions collide".  I dunno. The 2016 purple martin season was my most challenging season I've ever experienced.  It was a year where my old self and my 'new & evolved' self encountered each other and had many, many heated conversations.  Being passionate about wildlife means you have to accept many pleasant and unpleasant things dealing with life and death.
Our 23 acres, nicknamed "Gobbler's Knob" is a true wildlife sanctuary.  A sanctuary where all native wildlife, whether predator or prey, is welcome. I am blessed to have the opportunity to work from home and be able to observe the predators that frequent my back yard and even more fortunate when one hangs around long enough for me to get its photograph.
We have coyotes.

We have foxes.


We have quail (as well as many other native birds) nesting here.


We have Red Shouldered hawks.
We have an extremely fast, aggressive Sharp-shinned hawk that visits my site early every spring to help herself to the tired, migrating martins and manages to bring out the very best selection of my Navy vocabulary.

We even have our beloved national symbol visit my backyard, only 50 feet from my office window - the American Bald Eagle.


But one predator in particular - my resident Great Horned Owl - has worn out her welcome and this past purple martin season she pushed....nay - she strained the limits of my love for her.  The problems I had with her this past year drove me into deep introspection and forced me to explore my commitment to being a good steward to all things wild, possibly even shutting down my colony.
I totally understand that each and every animal is subject the predator-prey relationship.  That is the one law to which all members of nature are bound, not because they signed on to it, but just by the very virtue of their existence, they must abide by it, including me.  My reasons for not killing this owl have always extended far beyond the fact that it is illegal to do so. No, I have not killed her because of my own principles - I strongly believe we need predators to maintain the balance that Mother Nature requires.
Since 2014, this GHO has been attacking my purple martin colony.  Actually, after reviewing my records and with the benefit of hindsight to see patterns, I think it has been longer than that - maybe as early as 2012, but this past year (2016), she decided that she liked this buffet setup and upped her game.
With my monitoring setup, I knew when she first arrived at the beginning of the 2016 season.  But I was prepared - I had everything caged in and I was determined she would get even less meals here this year than she did in 2015.
"*PREVENTION is KEY* - install owl guards BEFORE you have a problem.  Radios (and cds with recorded 'home' noises, including a shot gun), flood lights, red lights on top of racks, scare crows, reflector tape, even setting off firecrackers  - all of those things may temporarily work for a week, even two or three weeks, but he/she will be back."
As she escalated her attacks every week and became more aggressive, I also escalated.  At every turn she made, I was there with a counter-measure.  Everything we tried only worked for one to three weeks, depending on the counter-measure we put in place.  I was often getting up at 3:00 A.M. to scare her off when she came for her early-morning raids; but still my principles held - I refused to kill her.  But I also have a full-time job and couldn't be out there every night to stop her and she took full advantage of my absences.
During the first week of July, she decided it was time to increase her success rate and learn how to get past the barriers that had worked very well the least few years. After returning from a business trip in mid-July, I was stunned to watch a video of her 'walking' around the exterior of the cage attached to the Trendsetter, probing the 4"x4" openings I had made in the wire, meant to make it easier for the martins to enter and exit the wire caging.
It was then that she managed to truly bring me to the edge of a cliff that I didn't want to be on as I watched the next 2 videos.  My heart broke, my chest constricted and my throat went dry.  Despite everything we had in place, she was flushing them out of the housing and grabbing them as they exited their nest boxes. Those that flushed were doomed.
In one of the videos, she dragged one of the martins through the cage hole and landed near the game camera, where I could hear his screeching until he died.  Sobbing doesn't even begin to adequately describe what I was doing when the video ended.
**WARNING - both videos below are difficult to watch, much less listen to....



As I watched from the depths of my despair, my anger flashed beyond boiling.  I thought, "I am done- I have failed them....I no longer know what to do." Even though it was daylight, I was ready to hunt her down and kill her.  My brain was on fire, while my heart simultaneously ached.  It was obvious the caging on the house was too close to the porches, but with the wind load here in Missouri and the fact it had worked for the last 2 years, I hadn't been concerned about it. I stormed through the house, swearing that was the last martin she was going to eat.  She had gone too far.
I went outside to vent my sorrow to the wind and the trees. As I stood in the yard near my gourd racks,  the activity in my colony that day belied the horrors of the night before, making me feel even more devastated.  These resilient birds who had to have heard the dying cries of their brothers, were busily flying to and fro in the hot, bright sunshine, feeding the remaining nestlings.  It was almost surreal. 
My most immediate concern was for the welfare of the remaining nestlings in the house, so, hoping that she wouldn't want to get her wings tangled up with some light-weight twine, I used some mostly-empty bottles to weigh down some twine around the remaining nests.  It worked to save the remaining adults and nestlings.
As the heat intensified that day, I watched the videos above again & again, torturing myself I suppose for losing this battle with the owl.  I deserved the torture. It took a long time to sort my feelings out - months even, but eventually, I realized I was actually more angry at myself than at her. She was doing what any owl or other predator for that matter, would do if they found an easy meal and her mind was only focused on two things - her own survival and that of her owlets which she was likely feeding at the time.
After all the anger, sorrow, despair, crying a river of tears, I received a few emails from a few friends that made me decide I need to pick up my pieces and move forward.  So how do I go forward now?  I have decided that I need to remove the Trendsetter and replace it with another gourd rack, specifically, a Super System gourd rack with a 3" pole, which will allow me to mount a larger cage that will extend further from the openings of the nests and withstand the Missouri winds better.  My Trendsetter has a lot of sentimental value for me, but even extending the cage on it at this point still allows her to flush the martins out at night and this house is obviously now her favorite target.
I have learned so much about owls in the last 2 years and if a new martin landlord asked me about owls today I would tell them, "*PREVENTION is KEY* - install owl guards BEFORE you have a problem."  Once an owl discovers that there is 'food' in those gourds / nestboxes, there will be no stopping him/her - he/ she will be relentless.  Radios (and cds with recorded 'home' noises, including a shot gun), flood lights, red lights on top of racks, scare crows, reflector tape, even setting off firecrackers  - all of those things may temporarily work for a week, even two or three weeks, but he/she will be back and nothing will stop the attacks.  The most absolute best guard against an owl is to setup owl guards as preventative / proactive measures, instead of having to always *react* and be on defense.
The first step to healing is to forgive yourself.  As Dana Ripper from MRBO emailed me, "hopefully you still produced a gazillion babies though"!  It made me smile.  It was the first positive thought I'd had on this topic in a long time.  My friend Greta Webb emailed me and said, "We can learn more from our mistakes than from our successes."  Thank you Dana and Greta...you set me back on my path.
My New Year's resolution was to forgive myself for my mistakes.  With that, I'm moving forward to the 2017 Purple Martin Season, with a look back at the 2016 - which doesn't look like it was so bleak after all. 
Enjoy the video.



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.