Monday, July 25, 2016

Purple Martin update from Knox Preserve 2016

By Beth Sullivan
On this beautiful summer evening, I took my binoculars over to the colony at Knox Preserve to enjoy Martins at sunset. I was rewarded with lots of song and chatter as I realized I was witnessing a special event: Fledging! It was a perfect time for the “godmother “ of this colony to reflect on the season.

Rough start

We had our first scouts at Knox earlier than past years, so the gourd housing went up mid- April rather than a week or two later. We had at least eight birds inspecting the site right away, off to a great start. Then came the wicked spell of cold weather in very early May. Insects did not fly and the martins, unable to eat seeds or berries or man -made offerings, had to huddle for warmth and survival. All across the area Martins died. We found one, a bird banded in a Clinton colony, dead on the preserve. We all worried. But a second wave of migrants arrived, the weather warmed, insects hatched and took to the air, and the Martins were happy.
A perfect nest, lined with leaves and seven eggs.

Nest making followed quickly and we could tell egg laying was imminent when we watched them bring their green cherry leaves in to add the final lining to their nests. Then came the eggs, sweet, pure white. The average clutch was about five eggs, but one nest had seven.
Hatching day. A parent will remove the egg shells.

The birds are very tolerant of human disturbance, and each week I lowered the gourds to peek in and count eggs. The first were laid on June 1, but the action continued through June 24th. We had quite a wide span which meant that hatching would be spread out as well. Several times over the first weeks we lowered the gourds, checked on the young, cleaned nests if they were infested with mites (only a couple were infested this year) and recorded our numbers. We ended up with a grand total of 68 eggs. Of course, not all would hatch, but it was a great starting point.
Nestlings are transferred to containers to wait their turns.

The DEEP Martin banding team schedules their efforts when the young are big enough to band (about a week old) but before disturbance might cause them to “jump” or fledge prematurely, around 23 days.
On July 5th, on a sweltering hot afternoon, the team came to Stonington. Volunteers from Avalonia helped out at Pequot Golf Course where the colony is very well established and very productive. At least 80 young were banded there.
The young are aged against a photo chart.

At Knox a tent was set up out near the field where neighbors and friends joined the effort as each gourd was checked. The young were removed safely to hi-tech, cloth- lined “cool whip containers “ for transport to the banding table. Each was labeled accurately so we were assured that each nestling returned to the proper nest. The young were aged against very detailed charts, they were weighed, and had bands affixed: a metal federal band with a long identification number, unique to each bird. Then two plastic color bands were placed on the other leg. The colors are easy to see and enable an observer to record and then determine which colony the bird came from. Ours at Knox have Orange/green bands.

Successful afternoon

At the end of the afternoon we had banded 47 of our youngsters, with one nest full still too young to band and another nest of eggs still not hatched. We also banded 28 from our neighbors , technically considered all a part of the same colony.
Fledgelings still need to be fed. Photograph by Rick Newton.

Over the last weeks since banding, I have not lowered or opened the gourds. It is a sensitive time, and the birds close to fledging can be startled into jumping too soon. So all I can do is watch with binoculars.
Tonight was a treat. There were at least two families of Martins in trees close to the houses. Parent birds still bringing food to their newly fledged young. But what was also fun was observing all the little faces and beaks, peeking out of the entry holes, maybe not quite ready to make the leap, maybe waiting for one more cozy night, but maybe tomorrow could be their big day.
An almost-fledgeling trying to decide if the time is right to make the big leap. Photograph by Rick Newton.

Like a true “godmother” I wished them safety, soft landings and strong wings as they make that leap of faith.
With luck, you can spot the color bands on one of our birds. Photograph by Rick Newton. 

Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Bird song of Summer

By Beth Sullivan
Many of us are tuned into bird song, for enjoyment, ID challenge, and also because their variable songs may be a hint to what is happening in their lives.
Early in the spring, the migrants dropped in and practiced their songs a bit and moved on.
The resident song birds kept up the music. They practiced and performed to establish their territories. They warbled to attract mates and continued the courtship through nest building. Then, for a while, many of the birds got quiet. Much of the tree-top singing actually diminishes because the birds do not want to attract attention to their nest sites. Nothing like a proud papa singing about his nestlings to draw a predator out of curiosity. Crows and Blue Jays seem to practice this tactic and do a drastic turn around once the babies are out.
A migrant warbler like this Yellow Rump will sing for a bit and then move on.

Now that most of the species have produced their first brood, and some are beginning to think of seconds, some singing has returned. However, the overall tone has definitely changed now, based on parental duties and wandering youngsters.
Gulls never really sing, even if this looks like a chorus. Photograph by Rick Newton.

Feisty Robins 

I think we all have heard the shriek of Robins around the yard when their young have hopped out and are pretty helpless and flightless on the ground. A parent will try and deter a cat, dog, human or a predator bird away from their fledgling, and it can be quite a task when they have as many as five young out and about.
When Robins fledge from their nest, the parents will shriek their alarm.

The Blue Jays and Crows seem to create the most racket, and I find it fun to listen to the varied vocabulary of the young ones as they beg for food and try out their wings and call to one another. Lately the Blue Jays in the woods have been creating quite a racket all day long.
The Barred Owls in the wet woods are a “hoot” to listen to as they chuckle and yodel among themselves, sounding like bouncing echoes to one another . We have on occasion been able to call them in with our own hooted responses.
Barred Owl families hoot and talk with each other throughout the woods.

The young Hawks and Osprey shriek loudly. It cannot be called a song, but it sure can get the attention of mom and dad who may be out of sight as these young take longer flights away from the nest.

Osprey chicks can make a racket when waiting for a meal. Photograph by Rick Newton.
There are several birds that change their tune. The Red–eyed Vireo sings a different song now and adds a scratchy-sounding variant that is not tuneful at all. Some resident warblers add more alarm chips but do shorter portions of their usual spring song, so they can still be identified. Catbirds just mess with us all the time as they change their sounds and songs almost minute by minute.

A couple of favorites 

The Song Sparrow in the field, and the House Wren in the yard. These birds seem to enjoy full on song all season long. A little House Wren takes up a perch, inches outside my open bedroom window, and begins his long trills as early as 4:30 in the morning. Gotta love his enthusiasm at that hour! My personal favorite is the Song Sparrow that throws its head back in song, no matter is if it is dawn or dusk, hot or cold, and even on dark dreary days finds a reason to make joyous music.
A little House Wren will warble his song when ever the mood strikes. Photograph by Rick Newton.

Even when the mood is gray, a Song Sparrow will lighten moods with its song. Photograph by Rick Newton.

Enjoy the change in song of the Summer Birds.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Small things do make a difference

by Beth Sullivan
As the summer season ramps up, some things slow down.
It’s getting too hot to have pre-planned big work parties on the preserves, yet it is a time when maintenance is needed. We are truly grateful for our volunteers with bigger equipment that can get some of the bigger trails mowed and maintained. But smaller efforts really add up too.
Clip and snip as you walk and it will be easier for the person who follows.

Evening walk with a purpose

It is a great time of year for morning or evening walks. The air is fresher, still cool enough to get some exercise, and the lighting is beautiful. A quiet walk can also be productive if you slip a pair of clippers into your pocket or don a pair of light gloves.
Invasive plants and vines are growing rapidly right now. Seemingly before our eyes, they reach out to obstruct the trails or grab at you with thorns. A quick, well aimed snip as you walk by can make all the difference for the person who comes after you.
Certain troublesome weeds like Garlic Mustard and Wild Radish are beginning their flowering and seed setting, and they have spread widely during the last months. The good thing is that these plants pull up easily. When I find either of these, or others I know, growing in invasive clusters, I love yanking them out and tossing them aside before they have a chance to set seed for next year. Every little bit helps.
As pretty as it looks, the little yellow flowers of Wild Radish will create abundant seeds and spread. It's okay to pull them up.

These invasive weeds are helped out by the defoliation occurring in our woodlands. While the large Oaks and other forest trees are suffering from leaf loss due to caterpillar infestations, there is more sunlight reaching the forest floor. Invasives are often the first and quickest to take advantage of the new sunny conditions and burst into flower and seed production. If we lose trees due to another year of stress, the openings in the forest will be taken over by these invasive plants whose seedlings got a quick start. Pull them now while you can.
Defoliation allows sunlight to reach the understory. 
That sunlight allows invasive weed seeds to grow in masses. Pull them up.

Another way you can help in the woods is to note when vines are beginning to overtake a tree. I recently witnessed a huge crash as the trunk of a tall straight old oak was snapped and crown dragged to the ground by the weight of vines. Invasives like Bittersweet will overtop a tree and the sheer volume of foliage adds a huge burden. This episode happened after a rain and the added water weight was too much to bear. As you walk in your own woods, or along a trail and you see Bittersweet making its ascent, pull out those handy clippers and a simple snip of the leading vine will kill off the remaining plant and possibly save the tree it has overtaken.
Many types of vines will over-top and eventually overwhelm trees. Snip them early.
The huge weight of invasive bittersweet took down a mighty old tree.

Gypsy Moths on the wing

I have also been appalled to see large dark clusters of the Gypsy Moth cocoons on tree trunks and undersides of branches throughout the woodlands. Many Gypsy moth caterpillars died before pupating and that was encouraging, but the overwhelming numbers of the ones that survived does not bode well for next year. I have taken my garden hose with a hard stream and aimed at washing off the cocoon masses I cannot reach with a stick. A power washer can reach even farther. With care, you can dislodge and destroy a large number of these cocoon masses, but you have to do it soon. The moths we have been seeing fluttering around at all hours of the day are the rust colored male Gypsy moths, already emerging first. The heavier white females will come out later and stay close to their cocoon masses on the tree trunks and lay their eggs. Be watchful and take action. Get rid of cocoons you may find on houses, sheds, woodpiles and trees where you can reach them. Be ready to sweep at and kill the female moths that cannot fly before they lay eggs. And keep a watchful eye out, and a stick in hand, to scrape away egg masses when you see them.
Look for dark masses of cocoons and remove them.

Stewardship can be simple small steps on an easy walk, on a pretty trail. But every little bit can help. And it feels good too!

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Celebrating Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

By Beth Sullivan
As we celebrate the Independence of our Country, we need to acknowledge America the Beautiful.
We must think of the work that land conservation organizations accomplish, to protect and preserve our natural resources for all the future generations.
Whether it is great and wild as the Nature Conservancy lands, more suburban and urban space protected by Trust for Public Land, or habitats in our own back yard as protected by Avalonia Land Conservancy, the lands protected now are forever. Green space land is being lost and developed at a tremendous pace; there will be no more when it is gone.
It is inherent in our history that we may forever enjoy the rights of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Where better to enjoy life, be free to wander and pursue happiness, than in natural open space.

Appreciate Life,

Enjoy Liberty,

 And the pursuit of Happiness. Photograph by H. Milardo.

We can do our part to recognize America the beautiful in our corner of Connecticut by supporting the efforts of our land trusts and by getting out onto the preserves and giving thanks for the open space that will remain beautiful and open for future generations of people and wildlife too.
Happy 4th of July.
Celebrate the RED, WHITE and BLUE!
Watch for the Red,


And Blue at an Avalonia preserve.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise indicated.