This blog originates on the banks of the Atchafalaya River, in Louisiana. It proposes to share the things that happen on and by the river as the seasons progress. As the river changes from quiet, warm, slow flow to rises of eighteen feet or more, there are changes in the lives of the birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles that use the river. And the mood of the river changes with the seasons. I propose to note and comment on these things.

My Photo
Location: Butte La Rose, Louisiana, United States

I transitioned a few years ago from a career as a water-pollution control biologist. I want to do this blog to stay in touch with a world outside my everyday surroundings, whatever they may be. I like open-minded company and the discussion of ideas. Photo by Brad Moon.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Purple Martins

Well, it’ that time again. Time to make sure those houses, gourds, or whatever, are cleaned out and ready for the 2006 occupancy. As for ourselves, we have one of the 12-compartment aluminum houses and we keep it down by the river. Pictured is Napoleon’s view of purple martins, they are SO out of reach. I must say that in the six years we have lived here on the river, we have had little success in attracting martins. Maybe the house is too close to the branches of a nearby tree (10 feet), or maybe there just aren’t a lot of martins being raised the previous year and now need new nesting places. There are colonies nearby, some in unlikely, unkempt houses but we haven’t lured any away. It is my observation that there are fewer martins in our part of the Gulf coast than there used to be, but I don’t believe that is a documentable trend yet. We have been hosting purple martins for many years, in all the places we have lived for the past two decades, until now. Maybe this year will be different.

Why do people like to play host to these birds? Well, they eat mosquitoes, some sources say, but if you watch them carefully, they also seem to eat a lot of mosquito hawks (dragon flies). And it is well documented that these dragon flies do eat a lot of mosquitoes. It seems that fewer dragon flies would equate to more mosquitoes. So why keep the martins in your yard? For one thing, they flatter you by choosing your property to live and nest on. And it gives you a sense of being in touch with nature to interact with wild creatures in that way. For myself, I like to listen to them. To my ear, their voices sound so much like water falling down and over rocks in a fast stream. It is a pleasant thing. Also, I like to see them come in to roost late in the afternoon when they dive from high up with wings folded until they almost collide with the house. That apparently takes some practice as I have seen some youngsters try it and not quite stop in time.

Different people have different ways to correlate the first purple martin arrival in the spring. Most use the calendar, as “mine always arrive on February 11th” or some other date. But I like to watch for the first big emergence of crane flies to predict when the martins will show up. It always seems to work, and it could be that the arrival is timed for the availability of this ready food source for the birds. The crane fly, often mistaken for an impossibly big mosquito, is pictured here. It is a delicate, harmless animal.

The river is at 7.7 on the Butte La Rose gauge, falling to 6.4 in the next five days. This is messing up my dock and ramps and I have to reset them. If anybody is fishing bass in the Basin lately, it should be really good on this falling water. The Mississippi and Ohio are still falling a little but there is a lot of water coming down as both snow and rain up there. It has to come down to us eventually.

Rise and shine, Jim


Blogger Bud Forester said...

I like the martins, too. You may be right about them not nestng close to trees. I have seen them fight over house space all around, and leave vacant the house near a tree. There may be some info at the Purple Martin Society. I think their website is www.purplemartins.com

February 19, 2006 8:49 PM  
Blogger jim said...

Good observation on the available but vacant house. I know the tree proximity thing is a factor, but I have seen some colonies in Baton Rouge that have been in one placee so long that trees have grown up literally around the pole,and martins continue to use the box year after year. The only expanation I have for that is that the same birds do keep coming back and they get used to the tree being there over time. Thanks for the comment, Bud. Jim

February 20, 2006 8:59 AM  

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