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

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! 

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.)"
http://www.purplemartin.org/main/Vocalization.html

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