Monday, May 28, 2018

Purple Martin Season 2018

by Beth Sullivan
It has begun! Those of you who have followed this blog for several years, know of my commitment to (some say obsession with) my Purple Martins on Knox Preserve. You can catch up on recent history in earlier posts, here and here.
There are dedicated websites to document the Martins’ movement north, and it is always amazing the consistency that governs these migrations. For all of us, spring seemed to have gotten off to a very slow start, but by mid-April we were getting reports that the Martin scouts had been spotted in the area. We got up the first gourd system at Knox on April 21 and were immediately rewarded with several birds all checking out the best real estate. Established pairs tend to return to the same colonies each year, and the young, from previous years, get second dibs or move on to expanded colonies. The second set of gourds went up the following week. It was encouraging because at that point in time, it appeared that spring might actually stick around: there were flies, butterflies and other insects present in the air over the fields.
After being washed, marked, and stored for the winter the gourds were ready to hang in mid-April.

Adult males get first choice for nests

Purple Martins move in

I have been keeping watch for the last couple of weeks, and while the weather recently has not been optimal for flying insects or for anything flying, the birds are returning and are beginning to put their claims on various gourds. If you sit on the bench on the hill at Knox, and have a good pair of binoculars, you can actually follow their antics and aerial acrobatics. You will also see that there are House Sparrows also trying to get established in the gourds as well. Part of my job as landlord is to do periodic housekeeping when I will lower the gourds and remove the nests of the Sparrows. It is very easy to tell them apart: Martin nests are lovely and neat and lined with green leaves, prior to egg laying. House Sparrows fill up the entire gourd with a tangled mess of straw and debris which needs to be pulled out. In persistent cases we will close the hole up to keep them out, but we always fear they will be so aggressive they will fight and even kill a Martin, to displace it. Please: Do NOT encourage the proliferation of House Sparrows in your bird houses. As they are invasive and non-native; they are not protected and we are all encouraged to remove them.
House Sparrows tend to jam tons of straw into a cavity and their eggs are speckled.

Purple Martin nests less crowded and neater with pure white eggs.

New apartment house for Purple Martins

We do have a wonderful new addition this year. Through a couple of fortuitous connections between Purple Martin landlords, we were offered a complete Martin house set up from Menunkatuck Audubon. This Audubon group supports a number of great projects farther down the CT coast. Most notably, they support and monitor the Martin houses at Hammonasset State Park. They also monitor several Osprey nests, including one with a camera. You can find it here. We connected with landlords Lorrie and Terry Shaw and met them at Hammonasset one cold day in early April. They were in the process of updating their Martin housing so all would be the same style and function, making it easier for their volunteers to monitor. They had not one, but two, beautiful complete set ups for us to bring back to Avalonia territory. These are the more well-known style of apartment house nests but with all the high quality updates of easy winch and pulley system and easy to clean nest trays. We put up one at the Wequetequock Cove Preserve on Palmer Neck Road on the way to Barn Island. It is an ideal site, open fields yet near people and water, but because there are no other colonies in the area, it will be more of a challenge to attract the birds right away. We added a couple of decoy birds to attract attention.
It is arrival time right now. The younger birds will be a bit later and will be looking for new colonies. Our Knox preserve colony is active but we have not yet seen Martins at our new site, just House Sparrows. They will not be allowed to occupy this new abode. If you drive by, look for the house in the south field. There is room to pull over and spend a few minutes looking. The fields have been home to Bobolinks in the past. The wet areas have had Glossy Ibis and shorebirds recently and many Red Winged Blackbirds call from the grasses where they will nest. This is a known hot spot for birds in all seasons. Let’s hope the Martins will find the new home inviting and we can add to the species list.
We haven’t yet decided on the best place for house number two. We’ll see how this one does. Many thanks to the Menunkatuck Audubon Society for their amazing gift to us and the Purple Martins.
The new house is up on Wequetequock Cove Preserve.

Two sets of gourdes are up at Knox Preserve and already have residents.

Hopefully ours will full up soon like this one at Hammonassett Beach State Park. Photograph by Terry Shaw.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise indicated.

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