Saturday, July 23, 2016

Austin Purple Martin Roost 2016

This evening we went down to Austin to see the Purple Martin roost. This is our third time to see a spectacle that is much more impressive than the bats. In 2014, we saw them at the Highland Mall. In 2015, they were at the Capital Plaza. This year, the birds have moved to the parking lot of the Embassy Suites hotel. From the map below, this location is still near the intersection of IH-35 and US. 290. There was less available parking but the show was better. The main roost was in the clump of trees circled.

The public gather on the lawn to the north and were treated to the martins swooping down over their heads from behind towards the trees. This gave an amazing sensation of motion as you can see in video.

The birds crowded into the low trees and eventually settled in for the night. Standing under the trees, the noise and smell were overwhelming. I am glad I have a rain cover on my camera gear. As usual, most of the birds are brown, not purple. This first image shows several different ages. The bird with the yellow mouth lining is a first-year bird that was hatched this season. The brown birds with purple blotches on the breast are second-year males. The solid blue birds are males that are third-year or older. Others are females; their ages determined best by the lack or presence of dark brown in the under-tail covert feathers.

I may have to go back after I know that my new fledglings have left to wish them well on their way to Brazil.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Vehicle Charging Stations in Place

As the probability of getting out of  "VW Hell" improved with the preliminary buy-back agreement, we started looking at electric and plug-in hybrid vehicle options to replace our smog-mobiles. We are strongly leading towards the Chevy Volt, though also considering waiting for the pure electric Chevy Bolt.

In the meantime, I started researching options for installing level 2 charging stations (EVSE) at home. As Bosch was the Chevy-recommended manufacturer, I consulted with the local Bosch installer, Sierra Electrical Services. Turns out that Bosch has changed their business model so that this is no longer a clear win. In the end, I opted to install a pair of Clipper Creek HCS-40 units, ordering them on-line from EV West in California. These will have sufficient juice for any hybrid or a future pure electric. Clipper Creek has great reviews and this unit is described as "indestructible."

Part of the EVSE installation required upgrading the level of service to the house, something we have wanted to do for some time. The old panel had only 150A service and had various kludged conduits hanging off of it for projects installed by the previous owner. We wanted to clean that up and also install a 30A receptacle capable of powering the A/C in the travel trailer.

We got the work done last Friday and Saturday.  Here is the electrician removing the wiring from the old panel.

Looking closely, you can see a few of the seven or so geckos we found fried onto the main bus. We figured they were there to prey on some of the 30 or so mud-dauber wasp cells in the wall behind the panel .... I love Texas.

While they did this, I spent the day baby-sitting the generator I had set up to keep my reef tank alive and taking pictures of Purple Martins.

By mid-afternoon, extra conduits had been removed, and the new 225A panel was installed and wired, new 4/0 service wires were installed in the riser, a new grounding system was in place and junction boxes were installed on the walls to provide 220V/40A power to each of the two charging stations. We also got our new 30A RV receptacle installed. Despite the panel being much larger, the whole project looks much neater.

The city inspector came and gave his approval but called in the wrong address, something we did not figure out until much later when we looked at the green tag. This meant that the request to reconnect our service got deep-sixed by the city. As 5pm rolled past, we were getting very worried that, in the 101F heat, we were not going to get our power back or our A/C turned on.

I put in several after-hours emergency calls to the city that "our power was out due to lines down," the only applicable option their stupid automated phone system offered. By further mischance, I missed their return calls to my cell phone requesting further details because our cell phone repeater was not working ... due to the fact that we had no power. We finally got the power back on at 8pm. I am thankful the guys from Sierra stuck with us until then.

The charging stations themselves did not go in until Saturday morning, the junction boxes having already been placed. We chose to put them outside since there is no hope of clearing out the garage enough to park even one car inside. One of the stations went to the left of the garage doors. The second one went on the perpendicular wall to the right of the garage.

I am glad ClipperCreek comes with a 3 year warranty since, all we know about the units so far is that the orange power light comes on. It is going to be a while before we can test them on a car.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Mississippi Kite at Home

Late this afternoon, I saw this Mississippi Kite, flying slowly over the river behind the house. I have never seen a kite this close, never mind at the house. I have occasionally seen them soar past, high up, on their way somewhere else. As such, I have never seen the rusty color on the wingtips visible on both the upper and lower surfaces. Normally, they are so back-lit as to look black and gray.

This one appeared to be hunting as I saw it hover and make sudden turns mid-air. The images below show it tracking a bug and then eating on-the-wing. At first, I was afraid it might be hunting the martins fly nearby. However, I did catch a view of the two birds in one frame and the martin is clearly too large. It is not clear what the bug in the photo is but there are many dragonflies over the river that the martins feed on. In fact, later in the evening, as I walked up the trail, I saw a swarm of 100+ of them over the low-water crossing.

July 4 - Another appearance early afternoon of the kite. Bumped the shutter speed this time and replaced some of the images.

July 9 - The kite is back again.  I got a better picture of the "Cicada Popsicle".

July 15 - Another view today.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Carolina Wren in the Nestbox

Finally, a real bird nesting in this year's boxes with the new camera system. We have had ants, bees, wasps, and several false nest starts. Ironically, another Carolina Wren. The last wrens that nested in our yard, used a hard hat in the shed after rejecting my bird house. Given that Carolina Wrens may have up to three broods in a season, this may in fact be the same pair.

I had angled the cameras with a bluebird, chickadee or titmouse in mind, trying to get more of a side view. Unfortunately, the nest building style of the wren is to fill the box nearly to the top ... right over the camera. I have had to thin out some of the obscuring twigs a few times. Here, you can see the camera almost on top of the eggs.

Both male and female were actively involved in the nest building. They started on top of a fake nest that was made by wrens a month ago. The female has been incubating the eggs for about a week and sits on them most of the day. The camera is pretty much right in her face. These boxes are much darker than the martin gourd so I never get to see any images in daylight spectrum.

June 29 - Hatching started this evening at about 16:45.

June 30 - Many different food offerings including spiders, katydid, and this small snail which the adult finally had to eat.

July 2 - Danielle planted milkweed in the courtyard to attract monarchs. We found a Queen Butterfly chrysalis and caterpillar a yesterday in one of the plants. A bit of a miscalculation on combining hobbies. Here is the wren feeding the chicks the chrysalis ... perhaps she ate the caterpillar. We thought the milkweed was supposed to make these taste bad.

July 3 - An iPhone nest check today confirmed what I could not see in the video stream: all four eggs have hatched.

July 4 - It is clear these are not Titmouse chicks. They already have much longer bills. This shot finally shows all four visible in the nestcam.

July 7 - pin feathers on wings and back

July 10 - I am pretty sure we only have 2 surviving nestlings. Hopefully, the adult removed them. I can see much more feather on the head and back than a few days ago. The color photo shows that the feathers unfurling from the shafts have a tan color.

Today's unique food item appears to be a very small lizard. Not sure I have seen one this small.

July 15 - Both surviving nestlings fledged this morning at dawn.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Purple Martin Gourd Camera

Another risky move  for me with the martins. As the the day of hatching approaches, I decided to move one of the cameras to the martin house. Hopefully enabling me to check the nest daily without as much disturbance. I took down one of the spare gourds to experiment and came up with the following design.

I am using Excluder Gourds from PMCA. I first took the access cap off and drilled a 2" hole in the center with a forstner bit.  I also drilled 4 mounting holes for #10 screws.

The next step was to obtain a 4" PVC sewer and drain cap and drilled corresponding holes in it. I put silicone sealant between the two and clamped together with #10-32 screws and nuts.

Next, I got a 4" PVC DWV Cap which I found slips neatly over the drain cap. I drilled a hole in the top of the cap and used a #10-32 3/4" bolt and rubber washer to attach one of my HawkEye HD cameras from Birdhouse Spy Cam to the top of the cap. I played with the orientation of the camera on its mount so that I could tip the camera down slightly and still have the lens roughly centered. Another 3/4" in hole in the side of the cap allows the wires to route out. All of the cable connections are pushed back into the cap.

This the view from inside the gourd with with two pieces slipped together.

The first assembly simply screws back onto the gourd. At the point that it was snug, I marked the lower edge and cut a slot for the wires to pass. It did not need to be this large. I can leave this in place to do a quick visual check.

The camera portion slips over with wires exiting at the bottom.

Because of the way the Excluder Gourd mounts to the rack, it is only free to swing front to back. As such the extra weight of the PVC caps does not change the orientation much. Otherwise, this system would not have worked. I tied the cable along the owl guards and let it drop down parallel to the hoisting cord. 

I modified the snake guard to add an extra pass-through hole.

and ran both cord and cable through the raccoon baffle. 

Finally, here is a full resolution image of the nest in daylight. The field of view nicely spans most of the nest including the entrance porch on the left and the egg cavity on the right.

This is a shot of the female shows the IR LED turned on and casting a greenish illumination in the center and true daylight illumination in the periphery.

This final image at 8:30 is illuminated only by IR LED with negligible daylight left.

Everything was in place just in time for hatching which started early on Sunday evening, June 19.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Pebble - Another Epic Fail

I had previously blogged about my issues with Pebble's health data infrastructure. Danielle had an issue this week that has caused us to give up on the company entirely. Unlike me, she didn't use the watch for tracking steps, except casually; she has worn a Fitbit One for several years as her activity tracker and continued to do so while wearing the Pebble. The Pebble Time Round was more useful as a watch and for notifications, which it did fairly well.

Danielle charged her Pebble Time Round every morning on the nightstand next to the bed, a table which stands slightly over two feet high. While disconnecting her watch from the charger on Thursday, the watch slipped from her grasp and fell on the floor. When she picked it up, she discovered that the crystal was shattered. This was very surprising as it was supposed to be Gorilla Glass.

Danielle contacted Pebble Support to find out what her options were. She was hopeful that they would replace the watch, which she was happy with overall.

Pebble's response was not encouraging:
While we can't replace your Pebble under warranty in this circumstance, we would like to offer you a discount on one of our new watches. If you are interested, we will provide you with a limited time link that you can use to receive 15% off. 
Danielle wrote back the following letter:
I do not consider this to be acceptable.  
The Pebble warranty specifically excludes "normal wear and tear and cosmetic damage, including, but not limited to, scratches, dents and broken plastic." I do not consider shattered Gorilla Glass to be "normal wear and tear," nor is it excluded in the list above.  
The warranty also specifically excludes "defects or damage caused by misuse, accident (including, without limitation, collision, fire and the spillage of food or liquid), neglect, abuse, alteration, unusual stress, modification, improper or unauthorized repair, installation, wiring, or testing, improper storage." If Pebble is arguing that no such accident is covered under warranty, then please explain to me the situation described in where the writer states "This is what happened to me at work: I knocked my Pebble Time Round on a corner desk and cracked the screen. The impact was big. It would have shattered to pieces a normal watch, but, in this case, it only cracked the screen. The watch was still fully functional. I rung Pebble, explained that I am retarded, and they kindly offered to send me a new one. For free. How nice is that?" 
I will contrast your refusal to replace my Pebble under warranty with the behavior of two other fitness tracker companies with which I have experience, Fitbit and Garmin. Fitbit replaced one of my devices three times when it was damaged by sweat on three separate occasions, despite the fact that the unit was not advertised as waterproof. Garmin replaced another device due to screen failure with no questions asked. 
The Pebble Time Round is advertised as having a "2.5D gorilla glass display" and "Marine Grade Stainless Steel chassis and bezel." This implied, to my mind, that the unit was fairly rugged. Having owned devices with Gorilla Glass before, I know that it can be scratched and I have even chipped an exposed edge before. For that reason, I purchased a screen protector (that and to conceal the hideous bezel). The people I know who have shattered their displays have generally done something like slam a car door on their phone or drop the phone onto pavement from 5 feet or more. My minor drop onto the floor of my home from a height of 3 feet does not begin to compare. 
Presumably you offered me a 15% discount in an attempt to cultivate customer loyalty. I am not at all sorry to tell you that it has exactly the reverse effect. I see no reason to waste any of my money on a company that will not stand behind its products. If you offer me a replacement under warranty, as you offered the reviewer I quoted above, I will be happy to continue using your product. If I have to spend my own money to replace a unit that is close to being obsolete technologically, I will go elsewhere.  
Danielle Cunniff Plumer
Pebble's response was a classic blow-off:
Thank you for reaching back out to Pebble. 
I spoke with management on your behalf, they stated that accidental damage is not covered under warranty, as such no replacement will be issued. Sorry for any inconvenience, if you would like the 15% off discount offered to you in my last email please let me know.
So we're done with Pebble. For the price of a new Pebble Time Round, even with the miserly 15% off, Danielle was able to purchase a new Fitbit Alta. It doesn't offer the quality of notifications that the Pebble Time Round did, but its features as an activity tracker are far superior. The movement reminder is far superior than anything we were ever able to jury-rig on Pebble. Battery life and sleep tracking are almost infinitely better. Most importantly, the fitness data ecosystem integration that Fitbit provides is second to none. Finally, Danielle feels confident that if the display does shatter, Fitbit will replace the unit.

I hope that anyone considering a new Pebble, or backing them on Kickstarter, will learn from our mistakes!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

First Martin Visitation

Within the first week of putting up the purple martin house, I trapped and removed three house sparrows from the colony using a spring-loaded trapdoor device. The starlings proved not to be a problem. Unable to enter though the starling-resistant holes, they soon gave up and left. This past week, I have been wrestling with a pair of sparrows that keeps building nests but is aware of and avoids the spring door.

May 26 - This morning, about a month after deploying the gourd rack, I was excited to see that a pair of adult martins was checking it out. From the picture, I think a ASY-M and SY-F. I went out, lowered the house, and disarmed the trap. When I put the house back up, the martins came right back. However, I was shortly dismayed to see the male house sparrow dive bomb the female martin and harass her towards the ground. I am not sure what my next step is to remove the sparrow which seems to have mentally claimed the whole colony.

May 28 - Looks like this pair did not stay over last night. I have to assume the aggressive neighbors were not to their liking .... Actually, I am not sure what they are doing. No sooner had I posted the update, but the martins came back and hung out in their gourd for an hour. In the evening, I once again did not see them come to roost for the night but did see a number of martins feeding overhead and towards the river.

May 29 - Again, I never saw them return before dark last night. This morning, three visitors. I think it is the original two plus another arrival which I have not been able to see closely enough to determine if it is another female or an SY male. A female went straight for the same gourd as before. No materials brought in yet. Late morning, I spotted the female bringing a green leaf to the nest. All of this activity is in the gourd with the decoy bird above it. Looks like the third bird is a SY male. It has strong blue head and blue breast feathers

All three birds visited the colony periodically during the day. After having been gone for several hours late afternoon, the came back soon after 7pm when my automated "Songbird Magnet" came on to play martin noises. I am fairly sure the dawn song that this device plays in the morning attracted the first set of martins. They only stayed a quarter of an hour before going back out for more feeding. Late in the evening, I saw the pair perched up on our antenna pole. I did not see if they went into the houses after that.

May 30 - Stormy night and rainy morning. Three martins out for dawnsong. Came and went from the colony during the morning. Unlike the two males, the female has some difficulty in exiting the gourd through the Excluder II holes. She has to get some leverage and give several pushes. I saw the female bring in one more green leaf. Again, all were gone most of the heat of the day. The House Sparrow pair, however, diligently works on building the nest all day. I gave up on the trap door. Every time, I placed it in a gourd, they moved to a new one. During the evening, I watch about 8 Purple Martins, 6 Chimney Swifts, and 4 Common Nighthawks foraging in the air overhead, mostly over the river. My pair came in several times to rest on the antenna pole. I saw them circle down, burbling, and land on colony at 8:25pm. As usual, the female lands on the porch and the male on the perch rods above. They stayed for 5 minutes and then entered their gourd together. I did not see the SY male return to the colony.

May 31 - Found pair on antenna perch at 7:30am. Stormy afternoon. Fewer martins and swifts tonight. Nest check at 8pm found another green leaf. Pair landed again in evening at 8:10pm. An SY male (same one?) circled around them attempting to land on antenna. ASY male seemed to chase it off. SY male engaged in some aerial interaction with another martin and the pair drifted off to the south and did not return. Pair entered gourd at 8:30pm.

June 1 - Yay, the Purple Martin pair in the gourd which I have now labelled "A" have produced one egg. Unfortunately, the House Sparrow pair in gourd "B" also laid an egg today. By the way, these gourds are labelled sequentially with "A" facing NNE, "B" facing NE, all the way back around to "L" facing N. I am having a hard time finding labels that stay stuck to the polyethylene gourds. Anyway, not sure if destroying the sparrow nest will trigger a destructive behavior by the male on the martin nest so I am leaving it alone for the moment. During the morning, I saw the male also bring in a green leaf. Looks like they brought a bunch in during the day. Before bed time, we had another group of 3 martins that made close passes to the pair including one that attempted to land with them. None landed on the rack however.

June 2 - And then there were two ... the martin pair produced a second egg as did the sparrows. I tried to addle the sparrow eggs quickly by shaking them. Ended up cracking one of them and discarded it. In the evening, I missed the 8:30 fly-in. However, at 8:55, I did see a pair of screech owls on the power line in front of the house staring at the rack. I had hoped to attract owls in the past but now that I have martins, not so much. We have owl guards above the upper gourds, however screech owls are pretty small and could get past. Forum reading indicates that these may not be a big risk to the martins and the SREH holes should keep them from nesting in the gourds.

June 3 - As I was leaving in the morning, I noticed another SY male on the "E" gourd. Same as I saw one before. From the plumage comparison to the image above, it might very well be the same one but I am not positive. As expected, three eggs now in the nest. The pair did not come back this evening by dark. They hung around at 8pm, but then left as a storm approached.

June 4 - All three martins were active at 9:30 when I went out to check. The SY male was looking into various cavities including the "A" and "B". It got a good thrashing by the male house sparrow. At my 4pm nest check, I found 4 martin eggs in "A" but still two sparrow eggs in "B". I saw several martins high overhead at 7:30pm but was not home for the usual return.

June 5 - They are still laying. This afternoon, I found five eggs. As I worked in the yard, I noticed that the female spent more time in the gourd but often just on the inner porch looking out. I observed two SY males investigating gourds this afternoon.

After seeing some horror pictures of rat snakes that had bypassed the commercial predator guard, I fabricated a variant of the snake guard designed by Chuck Abare. It consists of a skirt of bird netting pinched between two disks of cedar board. The disk is split down the middle and hinged so that it can clamp onto the pole (using two clasps) and can be removed to lower the rack. I did not not need to fasten a worm clamp to the pole to hold up the disk as described by Chuck. The premise is that the snake will attempt to slither through the netting and become entangled in the process.

June 6 - Still only 5 eggs this evening in "A". The martin pair will have started incubating yesterday, consistent with more observations of the female in the nest. Based on average stats, hatching is likely to begin on June 20 and the earliest fledging on July 16. Likely fledging is from July 22 to 26. The sparrow nest in "B" had three eggs and a lot of feathers lining the nest cavity. We pulled them out and coated with vegetable oil as an addling technique and put them back. Did not have time to let them dry first.

June 7 - No change. I did a quick nest check without disturbing the leaf cover over the eggs. Nothing looked disturbed. Female fled as I was bumping around to bring the rack down. Not sure how to let her know a bit more ahead of time.

June 9 - No change on nest check. Saw female watching out the front porch. Also saw a sub-adult male on the "E" gourd in the morning. This evening I was able to speak with the martin landlord a few streets over. He has problems with owls and hawks ripping into his metal house.

June 10 - No change on nest check. Observed once this morning and twice this evening the SY male trying to attract the paired female including waiting on her porch and poking its head into the gourd. These efforts seem to be timed for when the ASY male was away. The younger male actually looks to be a bit bigger.

June 11 - Still incubating. This afternoon I saw three other martins visiting the yard, swooping around the rack and trying to land up on the antenna. The SY male still thinks he can succeed at courting the paired female - very odd. The temperature has risen sharply this week and I decided that I really should have put vents on the gourds earlier, so now is the time before there are nestlings. There are mixed reports about how effective these are but they can't hurt. I brought down the rack and detached one gourd at a time and modified it. I did several other gourds first to practice the technique before I did the one with eggs...yikes. To start, I opened up the hatch and put in a plastic bag to catch shavings. Using a 1" forstner bit, I drilled a hole in the stem of the gourd on the side opposite the entrance. I applied some silicone sealant to the threads of a 3/4" PVC elbow joint that is threaded on one end and slip-fit on the other. I then pressed in and screwed the fitting in snugly, spreading out the sealant.

June 14 - Still incubating. No change to the contents of "A". Female is in the gourd most of the time. For better or worse, today I changed up the sparrow issue. I disposed of the nest and three previously addled eggs from "B". I then set door traps on "B" and the next-door lower gourd "D". I left the upper "E", which the SY male lands on alot fully open. I then put clothespins across all of the other holes to block them. The fear here is the the possible revenge actions. However, I have not seen much action in and out of "B". I think the sparrows know the eggs are not viable. The male has been probing all of the other cavities.

June 18 - Still incubating. No change to the contents of "A".  As described in a separate post, I installed a camera in gourd "A". Hopefully, I will bother the nest less frequently as a result. Both due to some additional heat generated by the camera and due to a mini heat wave we have started feeling, I jury-rigged a sun shade for gourd "A" by zip-tying a piece of aluminized insulation wrap onto the owl guards. In this picture, you can see both the final camera assembly covering the access port and the tent. Late morning, I observed a group of additional martins, possibly all SY males, circling around the colony. Just in case any decided to probe spare holes, I move the clothespins again, covering the traps in "B" and "D" and leaving open several on the top level, "A", "C", "E", "K". The tenacious little house sparrow has not yet found a mate but still centers his attention around "E".

June 19 - This morning I was able to watch the overnight video coverage. The male never came into the gourd during night. I was surprised how much time she spent preening, of the type to remove parasites rather than to straighten feathers.

This evening we had the first two hatchings. One at 18:50, then next right after at 19:10. This animated snippet of the first chick trying to rid itself of its egg shell helmet is priceless. Both happened while the parents were away. When the female came back at about 19:40, she ate the egg shells to recover the calcium.

June 20 - By this morning, a third chick has hatched, though have not found the spot in the video recording where the female eats that shell. The male has no started making appearances in the nest though he still did not spend the night there. Hard to tell due the angle whether he is feeding but he does lie down and cover them. The fourth chick must have hatched just before 09:45 since I saw the female eat another egg shell at that time. By end of day there was still one egg left visible occasionally under the leaves.

Feedings happened continuously, both parents contributing. Often, one parent stands guard on the inner porch waiting for the other to come back. Evening feedings, however seem to be done only by the female. Presumably, the male has gone off to his normal roosting spot.

Final chick hatched at 20:55 this evening. This is only 26 hours after the first hatching so there will not be too much age span between the chicks. After watching the younger Titmice starve last year, that is a bit of relief.

June 21 - Feedings progressing as usual. None of the chicks seem very energetic about mouthing for food. Just young or too hot? Here is the five-some having a nap

Intensive feeding by the female occurs at dusk when I am sitting in the yard watching. She makes runs about every 3-5 minutes, stopping in the nest only long enough to poke some food in a mouth and grab a fecal sac. She leaves the nest in a very low flight path over the carport, east towards the river. She always returns over house and along the courtyard from the northeast, straight into the nest.

June 22 - Everyone is a bit larger today. I noticed on the camera replace some sort of little bugs on the chicks. Are these possibly mites? Not sure if it is too early for a replacement of nesting materials and, during the evening, it is too much in the middle of prime feeding time to interfere. I am surprised how big of a mouthful the chicks can swallow. Today, several occasions of entire dragonflies swallowed.

June 23 - Size progress image shown. No interesting events observed during the day. In the late evening in IR footage I saw several mosquitoes landing on the female and on the chicks... yuck.

June 24 - This morning, I brought the rack down to close off a gourds "E", "K" on the top level where the sparrows were getting too active and reopened "B", "D" containing the traps. I took the opportunity to put and iPhone into the opening of "A" to get a more detailed picture of the nestlings. This both to see more of the incoming feather detail and also to look for parasites.

June 26 - Very hot day today in the high 90's. Feather detail continues to develop and noticeable darkening of the skin color. The largest of the chicks has pin feathers along the primaries and secondaries poking out. In the evening, I tried some flash photos of the adults landing at the gourd but have yet to process them.

June 27 - Looks like the nestlings are going walk-about. One decided it might get better pickings up near the door. That did not seem to pan out for it. Seemed that there was still better luck in the center.

June 29 - This morning, another three SY male floaters circling around the rack. I think they come for visits from the nearby colonies. The chicks not only have pronounce pin-feathers along the wings but are getting them at the tail. They also have their eyes open more consistently. I am still worried about the amount of food the runt gets - never seems to aim his mouth the right way. I think we are at 10 days for the oldest chicks and 9 days for the youngest.

June 30 - One chick seems determined to hang out next the porch and to try to get on. I hope this second to smallest chick, hiding at the far end in this shot, does not turn into a jumper.

July 1 - We were able to see two of the chicks from the outside of the gourd as they rested their heads on either side of the inner porch.

July 2 - Today was a big big day ... nest change time. Though my video monitoring capture very few critters moving around, I decided to do a 12 day old nest change as recommended. If nothing else, to give me practice before I get a colony with multiple nests.

I decided to do things a bit differently since most of the gourds are empty. Yesterday, I pulled one of the empty ones from the back side down and cleaned it thoroughly and replaced the straw with fresh material. I put down half of the straw, sprinkled 1 tsp of 5% Sevin powder, and then added the remaining straw. This step is controversial. I also threaded some cord through a foam block to plug the front hole. This step is to keep excited chicks from jumping. This proved to be unnecessary at this age.

Late this morning, with Danielle serving as the "press photographer," we went at it. I first detached the predator guards and lowered the rack. I then removed the "A" gourd with the chicks and set it down safely. The camera assembly stayed dangling from the rack. I then mounted the new gourd in its place. I could then quickly transfer the chicks from the old gourd to the new one without the need for an intermediate bucket to store them in. Each one got a closeup mug shot on the way over. Here are a few of the better shots.

This procedure allowed me to completed the transfer in less than five minutes. However, the plan did not go completely smoothly. The first problem was that the loop of cord on the foam got tangled on the porch so I was not able to pull the plug free remotely. I had to lower the rack to fix the design. Second, I forgot to check the alignment of the camera before raising the rack. I had to lower and reset a second time.

While we were at it the parents came back and fussed. Here is a shot with both of them landed on the top perches, the female with a nice dragonfly ready to feed. After getting everything back up and cleared away, it took about 30 minutes for the adults to venture back into the nest. They made a number of fly by passes without committing to landing. The male, especially, took responsibility for investigating. He then perched above the unit on guard when the female finally came in again.

The nest change did give us the benefit of getting some quick macro shots of the nestlings. Here is some feather detail from one of them. It shows some downy feather on either side of the image. In the center are the flight feathers on the wing unfurling from the shaft. Zoom in on the image for more detail.

There were very few mites present, all told. These two zoomed in images are from the first nestling photo in the sequence above. The image on the left comes from the top of the chick's head. It looks like a Ornithonyssus sp., or Bird Mite. The image on the right comes from the edge of the chick's bill. I think this is a Dermanyssus sp. As I was removing old straw from the gourd a half dozen of these got on my hand.

I have to decide whether to bother with the second nest change next week. I suspect I will skip it since there were so few parasites on this first pass.

July 3 - Some of the chicks continue to rest their heads on the inner porch. I am assuming to get fresh air. The three smallest tend to hang out on the side furthest from the camera. Here are two of them peeping out.

July 4 - Today, for the first time, I saw one of the chicks crawl completely up onto the inner porch. It was the little, super-active one that always has its head up on the ledge. We also had wing flapping sessions, both by the larger and smaller birds.

July 5 - Today was a very hot day with a heat index of 107. The nestlings seems to have made it through OK, spending most of the day "bellied up to the bar" to get fresh air. Some excitement today. The usual morning arrival of SY males got interesting when one entered the gourd and started harassing the nestlings. Eventually, our male showed up, dropped off a moth in the mouth of one of the chicks, and the went about aggressively evicting the intruder. I posted a video of this on YouTube.

July 7 - The chicks have gotten more aggressive about getting up on the porch though often fall off trying to flap up.

July 9 - Now, several chicks are to be found calmly perched on the porch, others squatting below. Seems that the adults no longer able to remove the droppings. The floor is now well splattered with them. This morning around 10:00 we had a total of 7 visiting martins. I saw at least two adult males, and possibly one female. Surprisingly, they stayed around for about 2 hours making a number of group landings. In this picture we see the chicks but neither of the parents who were usually guarding the nest entrance.

Much of the feeding is now on the porch with the parents not entering the nest box. This has me concerned as I am not seeing our runt having any luck in getting it head out the entrance. In this shot, I managed to catch the male swooping up for a dragonfly deposit followed by the chick swallowing the prize.

June 10 - Our large group of visiting floater males was back again this morning. Late in the afternoon, we performed a second nest change. At between 20 and 21 days old, today was the final opportunity. It would have been better to do it a day or two earlier but Danielle was not available to help yesterday. Though not strictly necessary since the parasite count was so low last time, I did want to get some follow-up detailed photos of the nestlings. Same procedure as before; we pulled a spare gourd down and prepared it the day before. This enabled a very quick transfer with the new gourd placed in the original location. No playing "where did my chicks go" with the adults! This time, the foam plug trick went smoothly and the full transfer time was less than five minutes including class pictures. Having the video stream is a great way of ensuring the chicks are calm before opening the entrance. After today, no more taking down the rack until this bunch fledges in about a week.

In this first shot, I am taking the old gourd down from the location. The subsequent shots are each of the five nestlings in no particular order. I did not find any parasites this time, though the feathering might make spotting them more difficult.

The Travis Audubon's Society reports that Purple Martin roosting has already begun in Austin. The frist scheduled "Purple Martin Party" was this weekend. I guess our little guys will be fashionably late.

July 12 - Everyone settled in nicely after the nest change. There is a lot of wing flapping going on. All feeding is still at the gourd entrance with jostling for a position at the bar.

July 15 - Spent much of the day outside, while electricians working on the house, trying to get shots of feedings. Makes me appreciate just how fast of a landing the adults make on the ledge as I tried to time the shots. I must have seen 30+ dragonflies get fed over the course of the day along with some moths, beetles, and other odd insects.

I also observed SY males landing on or near the porch. The nestlings seem to know this is not a food source. So far no aggressive attempts to pull the nestlings out.

July 16 - Looking like fully feathered birds. We are now past the earliest fledging and can expect them to leave early next week.

July 17 - This may be my last chance for daytime photos of the nestlings. Here are some close shots of jostling at the entrance. I also posted a short video sequence.

July 18 - Big excitement today. One day before the expected day, two of the nestlings fledged. One at 7:40 and one at 10:00. During the course of the day, the remaining three were fed at the gourd. In the evening, one came back to the nest at 15:25 but the other stayed outside all night. We saw it hanging around with the female on the antenna and power lines.

We last saw it heading over the trees to the south at dusk. Maybe it went to check out the neighbor's colony.

July 19 - This morning, two of the chicks, presumably the fledglings, left at 8:08, one right after the other. One returned for a spell at 11:42. Two then left one right after the other at 15:01. The final fledging occurred at 15:06 leaving the nest empty for the first time. Hey, didn't I just clean that nest out last week?

When I got home from work, one fledgling was perched on the gourd rack waiting for feedings which didn't come though the female alighted nearby. Despite the dim light, some good poses for the camera.

By evening, four had returned to the gourd for the night. Presumably the one that flew away yesterday has a more independent streak than the others. Here is a video sequence of the fledging.

July 20 - This morning, two of the young left just after 6:30 and the remaining two just before 8:00. There were no visitations to the nest all day. I also did not see the gaggle of SY males visiting the colony this morning. When I got home at 19:00, there were two in the gourd and one on the antenna. As I watched one of the young at the entrance to the gourd through my spotting scope, I could see three or four critters crawling around its head shaped like small termites. I am guessing they were some sort of bird lice. I also saw the female investigating some of the other gourds on the rack, something she has not done up until now. By 20:15, five fledglings were back in the nest and the female was on guard on the antenna after having made a number of feeding runs to the nest.

July 21 - The full bunch spent the night in the gourd until dawn. I am still not sure which birds I was seeing in the images. One bird spent the entire night on the inner porch "on guard". I would have imagined that to be the female except I saw five young in the nest last night at the same time that the female was up on the antenna.

This morning, three left at 6:36; the two stragglers left at 6:38 and 6:42, probably waiting to see if breakfast-in-bed would show up. I did another nest change with the gourd empty. The whole bunch came back at around 18:00 and two young packed it up for the day and went into the gourd. One more came in around 19:15 after various aerial passes with the female. By bedtime, only three young were in the nest.

July 22 - The three left again at dawn, around 6:30 to return again between 19:10 and 19:20. No visitors found on the video. At 19:00, the female was perched on the antenna.

July 23 - Same routine today. An early morning departure at 6:45 and dusk return of the remaining three fledglings after 20:00.

This evening, we went down to Austin to see the dusk arrival of martins at the large roosting site. I assume that ours have not joined yet. I posted more pictures on a separate post.

July 24 - Normal morning departure of three young. Tonight, however, only two have come back by dark.

July 25 -  Another dawn departure of the remaining three. Stormy weather today and into the evening. At about 19:00, a female (ours?) was resting on the "L" gourd porch and poking her head in while a single fledgling had arrived and settled in for the night. On the other hand, we had over a dozen Chimney Swifts circling over the house for an hour.

July 26 - Another 6:30 departure of the lone resident. A quick scratch and stretch and it was out into the cloudy morning.

I was expecting them to be gone for good but, big surprise, this evening at 20:30 we have two in the nest again. I guess they come and they go.

July 27 - This evening, one fledgling came back at 19:40. It played with some of the straw for a bit and then left again at 20:10 and did not come back for the night.

July 28 - So, today marks our first "martin-free" day. No departures in the morning, no arrivals tonight.

July 29 - Again today, no sign of the tenants. They may finally all be headed to Brazil with a fine "so long and thanks for all the dragonflies."