"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

Thursday, June 28, 2018

When you Discover you have a Wild Hive of Honeybees

This past January, I decided to check my wood duck box and take off the entrance reducer (used to prevent starlings from moving in), so that any investigating wood ducks could move in.  Imagine my surprise when I opened the duck house and was confronted with honeybee comb.  Luckily for me, it was cold outside and in my ignorance, I had opened a hive that could have immediately attacked me when I opened the door on any other day, but since it was cold, they didn't have the energy.  Sometimes, it's a benefit to be totally clueless.  Other times, not so much...but on this day it was.  I quickly pulled my hooded jacket tightly around my eyes and drew my hands back into my jacket like a turtle as I observed the comb and the 1" of dead honeybees on the floor.
I called my friend and fellow purple martin landlord, Calvin Cobb, in Hartshorn, Missouri who advised me to 'leave them alone until it warms up in Spring - and we'll see what's going on".  Leave them alone? Do you NOT know me?  So, on Feb. 15, I went to check on my bees.  I thought my pictures were kind of cool - hey, I have comb in a wood duck box!
I kinda felt like Sloth from "The Goonies", "Hey, you guys...I got bees..IN a WOOD DUCK box.... and I wasn't even trying!"
But this is 'everyday' stuff to the pros and my 3 or 4 little bees were kinda boring.  And, to be frank, I wasn't even sure I WANTED to keep bees - that is, as the beeks call it, "be a beekeeper". I'm ...well, I AM terrified of being stung. I don't NEED one more insect bite on my skin or something else to scratch and I have enough troubles with my dairy allergies.
So, I waited patiently for May to arrive, fully anticipating that this bee adventure was going to be a flop. But the honeybees had their own business to attend to and they kept trucking along....doing what honeybees do.

Finally, on May 17, 2018, we had the 'perfect' weather to open my wood duck box and see what my little backwater, redneck hive was up to.  I'm not sure what Calvin was thinking, but I was most certainly impressed!  So, this is what bees do with all that stuff they're gathering?
 I don't think Calvin had much hope for my little hive and I really didn't know what to expect. Sooooo, a trip to Hirsch Feed store in West Plains, MO and SOMEHOW, I am HOOKED and slowly transitioning to becoming a "beek".  My loving husband - my driver for, "you must educate yourself on this", ordered me a book from Amazon - "Beekeeping for Dummies" and dang...the more I read, the more I became hooked.  Who knew that bees had such an organized social structure.  Wow, this is fascinating stuff!
Then, my sister and I took a 4-wheeler ride to see what the bees were doing on June 16th. They were hot.  So was I.
As Calvin and I exchanged emails and phone calls, waiting for the perfect weather to move these bees, I continued to monitor them. "They're hot", Calvin said, "and they're trying to cool off", when I sent him the picture below.  We still had no idea what was waiting for us.
Finally, we were able to schedule THE day - today.  There would be NO cloudy weather or rain (which apparently makes honeybees VERY cranky) on June 28th.  Yes, Thursday, June 28th was going to be the REAL moving day for my girls. Never mind that it was going to be 92 degrees today.  Stay tuned for the rest of the story.  OMG, @ the expected heat!

Monday, June 25, 2018

PMCA Nest Cam is Up & Running!

The PMCA Nest Cam is up and running - what a thrill to be able to see LIVE what is happening INSIDE a nest.  The purple martin nest is located in Erie, PA. A house wren has been destroying their eggs, but the PMCA has now put up a separate nest box to attract the house wrens away (and hopefully, distract them from the purple martins' nest).  The mated pair now have 3 eggs that are due to hatch on July 1st!

Access the nest cam here at this link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=any61aLAtc0

Be aware - if you click on this link, you not be may be able to complete any of the following tasks for the next 30-40 days:
- vacuuming;
- dish washing;
- sleeping;
- cooking;
- any other cleaning chores;
- shopping.

Good luck - you have been warned!  Wow, this is addicting and I'm LOVING it (yes, I'm a crazy woman)!

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Missouri Purple Martins - A Mid-Season Update

All the native wildflowers are in bloom, creating a fantastic palette of colors and fragrances and drawing in a variety of bugs - aka, "bird food".
Sensitive Briar
While some areas have suffered from drought and a lack of food for their purple martins, the deeper roots of our native wildflowers and grasses have resulted in blooms everywhere, attracting many varieties of bees, butterflies and other insects that I can't even identify.  Our birds are having a field day.  Literally....
Purple Coneflower

Indian Pink

Ohio Horsemint, Bee Balm and Butterfly milkweed
The variety of bugs the purple martins are bringing in are fascinating.  The best ID of the insect in the picture below that I could come up with is "Great Purple Hairstreak".  If anyone has a better ID, please let me know.
We have reached the part of the season where not only are the temperatures starting to soar, but the number of housekeeping chores for my birds as well.  One of the things I've learned about being a purple martin landlord is that if I do the required nest changes at the right times (ie, nestlings 12-16 days old), to rid the martin nests of their bedbugs, then I'll have less "jumpers".  Jumpers as in dehydrated, underfed and mite-stressed nestlings. This is the part of the season that I both love & hate - I HATE the heat, but I LOVE the experience and knowing I'm really doing something that contributes to the future health of mine and my neighbor's colonies.
From the PMCA website:
Tests conducted by the PMCA in the late 1980’s showed that only 44% of martin  nestlings in parasite-infested nests survived to fledging age, compared to 84% in parasite-free nests. The man who conducted those tests, James  R.  Hill,  III, stated, “The  difference might actually have been greater than what was measured, because the young raised in the absence of parasites seemed fat and healthy, and probably had a higher-than-average first-year survival rate, whereas the young subjected to parasites seemed thin and often sickly, making them less likely to survive after fledging.”

Read more here at the PMCA site about Nest Changes: https://www.purplemartin.org/uploads/media/how-why-to-do-nest-r-332.pdf

As of June 19th, I had 57 nests that needed a nest change. Yes, 57 nests.  I currently have 76 pairs (3 new since June 15th!), so a whopping 75% of all my nests need changing.  At first, I was shocked.  Then I was kind of thrilled. Then I was kind of overwhelmed.  In 95+ degree weather.  All due on the same day. This is the first season I've had where the majority of my nestlings are all around the same age at this point in the season.  The nightly return of fledges is going to be thrilling...and will also require some monitoring to deter hawk predation.

Taking an Evening Break - Purple Martins bathing at the pond.

With the heat index around 102 degrees (real temps around 92-93), I started on my first rack on 6/20 (12 nests out of 18 on that rack). When I lowered them, my eyes immediately zeroed in on 3 gourds that were almost grey-colored due to the overwhelming number of mites. I had to wonder how many of those rained down on me when I was lowering my racks.
Here is what a gourd looks like when it's overloaded with mites. You have to wonder, how can they even sleep at night with all those mites??
Troyer Horizontal gourd covered with an explosion of mites.
Special thanks to Betty Farthing Grigg on the PMCA Forum for the use of the photo above.

Special thanks to Courtney Rousseau of the North Carolina Purple Martin Group for providing the video below of a gourd infested with mites!

Nevertheless, I pushed through and with alcohol wipes and a cold-water hose, I managed to survive, even though it took almost 2 hours for my head and my body to cool back down.

Thankfully, the last 3 days have been a lot cooler as I worked through the remaining racks. After the first 2 racks, I was thrilled to find that only 2 nests out of 36 had lost a total of 2 nestlings.  The rest were very fat and healthy.  Even my 2 nests with 7 nestlings in the first two gourd racks were doing exceptionally well. Yesterday, when I finished up the nest changes on my last rack, I concluded that I have "fat baby syndrome" and it's consistent across all my racks. It also indicated to me that while I had initially lost a few martins at the beginning of the season - probably some to the owl and some to the hawks - the majority of my nests have 2 parents that are keeping up with the grocery shopping.  I did find one nest with 4 dead young, so I suspect the owl / hawks got both parents of those. Fortunately, it was only one. I also had mixed feelings over discovering 2 new nests with 4 & 5 eggs respectively. They will be hatching around July 5th or so and probably not fledging until end of July / beginning of August, meaning another extended season for me.
So, total pairs - 76 with currently 360 nestlings!  Hoping to maintain something close to that over the next few weeks.

Nest Change Tips:
1. Dabbing a small amount of vanilla extract around your eyes, nose and mouth will help keep the gnats away from those areas of your face.
2.  Check your tool box before you start your nest changes to ensure you will have the needed equipment within easy reach. The last thing you want to do is go digging around to find something while you're simultaneously swatting at mites & bugs and the sun is overheating your brain!
3. Soak 6-8 paper towels with 91% rubbing alcohol, store in a Ziploc bag and add them to your tool box. These will be handy for wiping down your hands, arms and the gourds when there are just more mites than you can bear.
4. Your son's old white, light-weight, big & baggy karate pants make excellent nest-check pants! They are cool, loose and you can kneel on the ground without all the itchy grass tickling your leg.
5. Always assume that whatever you touch after nest changes are completed will also become contaminated with mites until you thoroughly wash your hands and arms.  Filling a large bucket with water and a having a bar of soap nearby will provide you with some much-needed relief after a round of nest changes.
Check out this post from 2016 for a more detailed list of the tools in my tool kit:  http://kathyfreeze.blogspot.com/2016/05/nest-check-season-begins-and-sub-adults.html

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Milkweed, milkweed and More Milkweed

The common milkweed I planted on this bank is spreading!  Check out the video to see how much.

I was awarded this grant by Monarch Watch and now have all these milkweeds plants that need to be planted.  Check out the video below.
Don't know why I'm giggling at the end of the video.  

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Nest Checks, New Hatchlings and Nets

My last nest check revealed I have 73 pair so far, with a total of 84 gourds offered.  I continue to be amazed at the resiliency of the purple martin, especially since the Great Horned Owl persists with her attacks.  As an added challenge this year, I've also had a problem now with the Barred Owl attacking my tree swallow and bluebird housing.
But for now, back to my GHO update.  On the morning of April 30th, I became quite alarmed to see the GHO has, after 3 years with these cages, now figured out how to get up and inside to perch on the inside arms of the rack.
After 2 days or mourning and feeling sorry for myself, I decided to cowgirl-up and my husband and I designed a "cargo net" style bottom which would balance the need of the purple martins to both exit quickly when a hawk attacked as well as serve to keep the GHO out. With the mandatory requirement of it being "quick release" so that I could continue with nest checks, we purchased some polypropylene rope, zip ties, quick release clips and some garden stakes.  The first 'net' picture you see below has 14x12" holes in it - I can always adjust the size of these holes if the owl gets through, but since the owl's wingspan ranges from 36"-60", I'm hoping I don't have to change these.  The 4 long ropes are crossed by 6 shorter ropes, tied together using zip ties at each crossing.
I've put together the video below to show other landlords how the netting is connected to the cages and how it quick releases for nest checks.  I made a mistake in the video - the rope is called, "polypropylene".  :)

For the round racks, a different approach was used to the the netting.

While the owl has definitely made my nest checks a little more time-consuming, my husband has always helped me come up with ideas to enable me to keep doing them. Given the heat & humidity we experience here in Missouri during the summer, it's imperative that I know the ages of the kids, because inevitably, I will have a few nestlings that will either get knocked off porches or they will jump and I need to know in which nest to put them back.
New "pinkies"!
Photo taken by my friend, Lu Ann Coons at her colony site here in Missouri.
It was very apparent the nest in the video below had just started hatching.  While it's tempting to help remove the shells from the little, adorable nestlings, because their skin is still so delicate and could be still attached to the shell, I never 'help'. I let Nature take its course - the baby will be stronger for it and I avoid damaging him/her.