"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 purple martin banding. Show all posts
Showing posts with label purple martin banding. Show all posts

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, 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. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Recovery of E049

While doing the fall cleanup on the east side of the house today, something glinted at me from the rock garden. Earlier this summer, Bob had found an owl pellet just below our deck railing and had laid it on the rocks for me to take a look at later.  I had forgotten about it.  Until today.  Something shiny drew my attention back to it and my heart sank as I knelt to investigate.
I had been meaning to pull it apart, but with all the issues I had this summer, I couldn't bear to do it, fearing I would confirm what I dreaded most.  But nature has a funny way of exposing herself sometimes.  The rain did for me what I was unable to do and lying there in the owl poo was a little silver band, demanding my attention.

Federal Band # 2501-29649 recovered from the owl pellet
As I pulled the pellet apart, I noticed the tiny white bones in the mix.  I read the Federal Band number: 2501-29649.  This Second-Year (SY) male was born here at my site on June 13, 2013 in Troyer Gourd #35.  He was banded on 6/24/2013 at 21 days old.  He was resighted here on May 4, 2014 and was courting an SY Female in a Troyer vertical gourd on a different rack from the one in which he was born.  I have no further records where I spotted him this year, so I have no idea at what point he became a meal.

As I poked through the pieces, I knew it was inevitable that I would find the yellow band but its appearance still broke my heart.  His Missouri Band number was E049.
To think, this guy flew all the way to Brazil and back during the fall & winter of 2013-2014, only to arrive at my site and die as a meal to a GHO.  It makes me sad.

I am so grateful that I have always spent a lot of time out with my martins and could detect when something was wrong.  Even happier that I followed my instincts when I knew something was wrong.  Otherwise, the damage may have been a lot worse.  It doesn't make it any better for E049, but it did for the rest of my colony.
I am so grateful that my martins headed back to Brazil in mid-July as this year was exhausting and stressful.  I haven't been around my gourd racks yet, except to lower them for a storm.  Soon, when the weather cools, I'll be taking measurements so that I can start putting our planned design together for the owl protection that we will need for next year.
I know the owl has to eat too, but he really could go catch some of the annoying and very large moles we have here.  They would certainly make a heartier meal for him.  Have you seen our Missouri moles?  Perhaps I should put some bells on the moles that I catch so that they can keep my owl distracted next year.  Bad, old owl.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Purple Martin Banding in Missouri - 2014

Since 2011, Missouri River Bird Observatory (MRBO) has banded over 3300 Purple Martins across Missouri, including St. Louis-Forest Park, Marshall, etc.  Of those 3300, 725 were banded at my site here in Licking.  While that number includes a few adults, the majority of the bands were placed on 11 to 24 day-old nestlings.  To date, I have resighted approximately 24 of those banded adults and returning juveniles as SY (sub-adult) birds at my site, along with one at a friend's site 6 miles north and one at my aunt's site located about 8-9 miles north.
One of many nestlings banded in 2013
Of those 24 resightings, some were seen again only one following season while a smaller number of them were seen at my site for multiple seasons now.  This year, due to multiple factors beyond our control, we have decided to not band any nestlings at my colony.  The good news however, is that I am now a licensed bander, sub-permitted under Dana Ripper at MRBO and I am planning a 2014 project to do some educational outreach and travel to some of the landlords' colonies whom I mentor around this area to band their nestlings.

As the martin flies, my aunt's place is approximately 8-9 miles from my site.
I think it would be interesting to find out how many of your birds are returning to your colony each year and how many are dispersing to other surrounding sites, such as mine.  There are some requirements that need to be met in order for me to accomplish this though and I will need your help and commitment if you are interested in having your birds banded.
It could take awhile for the bird to land in just the right position, but if a good quality photograph could be taken, it could be blown up on the computer to try to get a band reading.

First and foremost, I need to know if you will be willing to resight birds during the next martin season.  I will be honest with you and tell you up front that it does take some time.  The birds aren't always cooperative when you're trying to read their bands and many times, you find yourself in an awkward position in your yard (like standing-on-your-head-awkward) and chasing a bird around your site to get the reading.  But it can be quite fun and exciting when you realize this was one of *your* kids from last year.  I find it quite fun and relaxing to settle into a comfortable chair with a good quality pair of binoculars right smack in the middle of my colony and watch for bands (a good hat is a must-have for obvious reasons).  A spotting scope is a bonus and makes it even easier.  For landlords that are quite close to me, I would be willing to bring my spotting scope over to read the numbers on the band, once you have identified a banded bird at your colony.

Prerequisites for Banding:
1. You must have housing that can be vertically raised and lowered and opened so that you can perform weekly nest checks and which would allow us to safely get the nestlings down for banding.
2. You must perform weekly nest checks from the start of egg-laying.  Two reasons for this:  1) we'd be able to tentatively schedule the banding day by knowing when your first eggs would hatch and estimating when the nestlings would be at least 11 days old or older and; 2) we would know the location and expected number of nestlings in your colony that we could band.
3. As mentioned above, a willingness to watch your colony for bands in the 2015 season is required.

Please feel free to contact me at purplemartin@centurytel.net and let me know if you're a Missouri landlord who is interested in having your purple martins banded!