"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

Monday, June 23, 2014

Purple Martin Post Fledging Behavior

When I asked this question last week on the Purple Martin Conservation Assoc. (PMCA) page,

One of the most-often-repeated discussions that Mr. Freeze and I have every year about this time when the fledges are spreading their wings and taking flight is, "why do the adults (sometimes their own parents) often push them down when they start to fly?" There always seems to be one or two that are 'bumping' the new fledge or seemingly trying to ground him.
We speculate a lot that they're trying to get the new fledge to practice his evasive maneuvers right out of the gate or just trying to keep him from going too high, especially since hawks are in the area.
Are there any more-educated guesses on this practice by the adults? Is it just a matter of, "only the strong that survive the initial flights, will survive migration, so they're being tested"?
This was the answer provided by Louise Chambers, PMCA:

Here is an older publication about post-fledging behavior; comments about harassment in the later pages (384-385): http://sora.unm.edu/.../wilson/v090n03/p0376-p0385.pdf.

I thoroughly enjoyed the article and thought my readers might enjoy it as well.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

An Ozarks Mason Bee Project - Part 1

I’ve been reading a lot about the plight of the honey bees for years now and wondering what I could do to help them.  Some people, like our local friend Andy, have setup honeybee hives on their property.  I had thought about doing that, but after listening to Andy’s experiences, now I’m glad I didn’t.  I hate getting stung by any flying or crawling insects and apparently, even with protective suits, sometimes you still get stung.  The costs of getting started with honey bees really weren’t very appealing to me either.
My desire to help the honey bees became even stronger this past year after watching several documentaries about the problems they’re encountering.  This “TED” talk by Marla Spivak was very interesting, well done and enlightening. The solutions she talks about are so obvious and simple, it makes you wonder why more people haven’t already put them into practice.


Nevertheless, the honey bees are not the only bees that are in trouble.  My problem for the last 2 years has been dealing with the question of, “where do I start and how could I really make an impact”?  Turns out, the impact I can make starts in my own backyard.  I learned last year that there are actually more benefits and less costs involved when raising Orchard Mason Bees.  One of the benefits delighted me; Mason bees are actually more docile than honey bees and are less likely to sting!  Woohoo – I can dig that!
Orchard Mason Bees are also supposed to be better pollinators than honey bees.  They will work in cooler and damper weather as well.  Why are they better pollinators? They carry pollen on the underside of their abdomen and then scrape the pollen off within their nesting hole. Because the pollen is carried dry on their hair, it is more easily transferred, resulting in significantly more pollinated flowers than their cousin, the honey bee, who wet the pollen they carry on their legs.




Step 1 is to plant food to attract the bees - native wildflowers. The native wildflower project has been ongoing since 2007 and am loving the results.  But I had to smile to myself as I had uncovered yet another hobby where I would have the challenge of providing food for something I was inviting to my backyard. 
Step 2 is to provide shelter and housing. 
In researching mason bees I found that there are many simple ways to attract and provide housing for them.  If you search the internet, you will find tons of cool pictures of logs and various other natural things that can be drilled out and placed together to make visually attractive housing for them.

However attractive they are though, to my disappointment, I learned these structures are not very practical or safe for the bees as they allow various parasites to also take up residence and kill the hibernating bees.  And the housing is not very easy to clean.
I realize these natural cavities are where 99% of the mason bees lay their eggs and somehow, some percentage of them survive.  At some point, I will probably grab a bunch of hardwood, reeds and other materials and build one of these beautiful structures and just burn the materials and start over with fresh-drilled wood, reeds, etc. every year.
While I'm talking about making your own housing, here is a fun project you can do with your kids to build your own bee housing.

But for now, I wanted to be able to see this evolution of life and I elected to try artificial housing.
I finally found a really good source for housing and ordered 4 of these blocks.
Mason bees usually work within a 300 foot radius of their home, so I placed these 4 blocks in strategic places around my property.
4 houses - sides & top are cut from cedar boards and the roof overhangs almost 2".

This one was hung in front of the orchard on 4/28/2014 where cherry trees, elderberries and blackberries grow.
This one is located under a tree limb, facing south as required by the instructions, overlooking a large grove of black hawthorn (viburnum).
This one was hung in front of our Viburnum forest on 4/28/2014 that blooms om early spring.
I was afraid that I had put out my Mason bee homes way too late for our region, but I was hopeful that I might pick up some stragglers.  After all, the plum trees (our first early spring bloomer in this region) and the viburnum were still blooming!  Maybe I would get lucky my first year, but I'd have to wait and see.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Sharing the Passion

Old Paul and his wife Sharon live here in Missouri and they are hopelessly in love with purple martins.  They are part of my group of proteges that I mentor here in Missouri.  Of course, according to Paul's latest update, he doesn't need mentoring anymore.  He is now doing some mentoring of his own.

I was delighted to receive Paul's pictures a couple of days ago, but I was even more delighted to see that he is sharing his love and passion for these birds with these beautiful girls.

Paul wrote:
"Took our neighbor girls, Allie and Libby,  to the cabin to see the baby Purple Martins. They were elated to get to hold a baby. It was a nice experience for them.

I am very pleased with our population this year. We have 16 nesting pairs, an increase from last year's six nesting pairs. We will do one more nest check this weekend to get a final count of babies. Please note the open glide area and pond. They love to drop down to get their drinks. Come fledging time it's going to get pretty busy and noisy at our colony. The photo only shows one gourd rack, just to the west is another pole with two metal houses with 2-room condos and four gourds below those houses.

If you get these photo OK, you are welcome to use them in your "Birds & Bees".

I have enjoyed our PMs more this year than ever before.
Old Paul and Sharon"

Check out the smiles!

Future purple martin landlords!

Teach them the importance and benefit of a winch system!  :)

Beautiful site, beautiful girls and a wise Old Paul.

It's hard to tell who is happier in this picture!
Thanks Paul & Sharon for the wonderful pictures and sharing your colony with 2 lovely girls!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Handy, Dandy Nest Check Tool Box

I've been conducting nest checks since early May.  But now, with babies hatching, it's time to get serious!  So that my nest checks can go quickly, I prefer to be prepared with everything that I might need.  Especially when there are lots of babies and parents are trying to feed their young, I try to move quickly and that means having everything right there when I need it.
In 2011, I put together a Nest-Check Tool Kit.  It's easy to carry and I don't have to run back & forth for things I may have forgotten. It pays to get organized with 84 nest cavities to check!
I have a Harley Davidson tool belt (stolen from Mr. Freeze- ssshhhhh!) where I put the following for easy access:
- voice recorder (has a strap that gets pinned to my shirt for easy access and clear voice recording, especially when it's windy).  I bought this handy little recorder at Walmart for about $25 and it has a great microphone in it and easy buttons that allow me to record each nest check, then replay it back at a more convenient time to record into my nest check logbook. 

- marker - for refreshing numbers on the gourd lids
- small phillips screw driver - to tighten or move the decoys
- electrical tape - securing decoys after moving
- wire cutters - cutting the zip ties that secure the rods on which the decoys are mounted
- telescoping automotive mirror - helps to see the eggs in the back of the Trendsetter house nests
- zip ties - securing the dowel rods the decoys are mounted on.
- baggie with cards safety-pinned to the tool belt - I record the gourd / house numbers that contain the oldest nestlings before I go out. I can grab the baggie & quickly see which nests I need to plug without fouling the card.

Tool Box:
Serves as a step stool with the lid closed, for checking the higher nests, tool box and a chair.  It contains:
- nest plugs (see upper right of picture) which are basically old socks & pieces of sweat pants with long string wrapped around them (there are more under the tray)
- large flathead screwdriver (don't know what it's for, but I have it if I need it!) LOL
- forceps - yeah, I don't know why I have those in there either
- large ziploc bag with 10 or so folded paper towels soaked in 90% rubbing alcohol in case I encounter large populations of mites! 

- plastic gloves to be used in case of really yucky, nasty stuff in the nest that needs to be removed.  I avoid latex as I'm allergic to it, and figure it can't be good for the birds that I handle either.

When it comes time to start doing nest replacements, I also fill my wheelbarrow with fresh pine needles and take 2 empty 5-gallon buckets with me.  In one I dump the nasty, old nests, and in the other I have fresh pine needles where I temporarily move the babies while doing a nest replacement.