Monthly Archives: July 2021

Purple Martin Majesty

They left us again- just like every year since putting up their bird houses. Migrated, I suspect, is the better term. From April to late July these sleek birds grace us and amaze us by their aerial acrobatics, fierce protection of their nests, feeding and swarming behaviors. Purple Martins are impressive birds and beautiful in so many ways.

A beautiful male bird with blue head and breast and dark wings. Not my picture. Taken from the Purple Martin Conservation Association.

Purple Martins are 7.5 to 9 inches long and weigh about two ounces. They are swallows and in size between a sparrow and an American Robin. They have a slightly hooked bill, short split tail, and long, tapered wings. These broad chested birds are built for speed and for flying long distances as indeed they regularly do.

Each year Purple Martins leave their nesting areas in the eastern half of the United States and migrate thousands of miles to winter in the rain forests of Brazil and the Yucatan. Geolocators on Purple Martins have shown the Fall migration can be drawn out, but the Spring migration back to the United States is much more direct, presumably so that the Purple Martins can arrive first to find the best mates and nesting sites.

The birds will also return to earlier nesting sites if they previously have found them suitable. Knowing this gives Trudy and me pleasure, believing we have returning friends to our ranch in central Texas who enjoyed their earlier stays and our accommodations.

Below are several pictures of our Purple Martin houses and swarming Purple Martins.

The Purple Martins swoop through the air with beaks open, catching winged insects mid-air. No wonder we have so few mosquitoes. Their mobility, gliding, and speed are truly impressive to witness. Here in the picture they are returning to their nests to feed their young.

After returning to the bird houses in our backyard each Spring, they spend time building their nests. Hatching of the eggs takes around 26 days. The swooping birds are especially active first thing in the morning and just before and during sunset.

The birds live in colonies that provide protection from predators. Their main predators are hawks and owls and indeed we once had our Purple Martin house and its avian contents savaged by an unknown predator. We have since seen a hawk swoop close by the Purple Martin houses and witnessed two brave Purple Martins, like angry fighters, chase away the much larger hawk. The Martins did this by weaving and diving at the hawk, their exceptional mobility and speed making this effective strategy rather than suicidal behavior.

Toward the end of their stay, we notice increasing numbers of birds flying about (staging). This swarming or staging as it is known by birders is preparatory for their long migration to Brazil. And then all of a sudden, they are gone. Vanished. What had been bird houses teeming with birds and hordes of birds in the air are suddenly vacant houses and empty sky.

Trudy and I miss these amazing and social creatures. We have now but to clean and repair their houses and ready them again for the Spring return of yet another troop of colonizing Purple Martins. Safe Travels! See you next year.

Summer Satisfaction At The Ranch

The seasons seem to roll by with greater speed these days, but what a year it’s been with Covid-19 restrictions and ice storm Uri. Admittedly, feelings of personal vulnerability¬† have been great. A humbling year to say the least.

Nevertheless, life has returned this summer to a more normal state. One of the most pleasing days of the year at the ranch is when we have cut, raked, and baled the hay, especially when its a good hay crop. And this year we had the second best hay crop ever with 166 round bales (each weighing about 900 pounds). This is greater than our own needs, although still feeling vulnerable, I’ll keep a larger reserve than I have previously and will sell the remainder.

While the rains have not been tremendous this year, they came at the right time. We experienced a good rain just after fertilizing (whew, such a big investment in dollars that could easily go for naught without rain). We also had timely rains during the growing season and then a dry spell long enough to cut, rake, and bale the hay. The bales will be left in the fields for several weeks, as the bales when wrapped tightly get hot and spontaneous combustion has been described with barn fires resulting. Following a reasonable interlude for the bales to cool, we will fill our barns to the ceilings with newly cut hay. Nothing like the pungent smell of newly harvested hay.

Bales of hay in the pasture

Bella , Jack and yours truly inspecting a bale

 

The birth of a calf is another satisfying event. Over a period of several weeks we had 15 calves born. It is such fun to see the calves scampering around.¬† They are so curious that they will come up to humans, at least until their mothers emit a deep mooing sound to let them know they are getting out of line. What fun to watch their playful antics and watch how rapidly they gain weight on nourishing mothers’ milk.

Previously I’ve written also several blog pieces about a Great Blue Heron that has frequented our ranch. While we have other herons about the ranch, I had not seen the one with whom I had developed a certain symbiotic bond. Well, yesterday he (I assume it is a he) returned. This heron sits on the same limb of a nearby tree, sees me and flies to a spot about thirty yards from where I stand. As I begin to throw out food to Survivor Duck and the fish in the tank, the Great Blue Heron slinks down the embankment, drawing near to me. There he squats down and folds his neck amid the weeds, awaiting an unsuspecting fish to swim by. On spotting a small fish, he swiftly lunges and extends his long neck, usually coming up above the water’s surface with a fish clamped in his beak. What a treat to have him back at our stock tank. Legends say herons are good luck! Finally after Covid-19 and the devastating ice storm, we could use some good luck.