Monday, May 15, 2017

Four Purple Martins Hatch

In the first gourd, four of the five eggs hatched. Two of them early last Wednesday, the other two late on Thursday. The older two have the beginnings of darkening on the spine and rump from feather growth. They are now mobile enough to squirm a bit out of the nest cavity.

The fifth egg did not hatch and the female has not been trying to incubate it anymore. I removed it yesterday evening during the nest check. The pipping marks thought I saw in the video turned out to be dirt. There is no evidence of an attempt to hatch. It is shown below in comparison with a House Sparrow egg removed from gourd #7 (lower level to right of #1) along with the adults.

May 13 - Chicks progressing, oldest chick is a little over 9 days old.

May 23 - Oldest is now 13 days.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Red-Shouldered Feeding Time

The Red-Shouldered chicks across the street are nearly 3 weeks old, about half way through their nesting. They are hobbling around the nest and try to peer out. Occasionally, we see their big yellow feet. They don't actually walk on them yet. Here they are sharing some small furry mammal. Adult shreds pieces off and offers them to different chicks in turn. The pieces are much bigger than last week.

In the heat of the afternoon, the chicks sat with their mouths open and tongues out to keep cool. At one point, an adult flew in and landed where it would offer them shade - a different spot from where they feed the chicks.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Chicks in First Gourd

May 10 - Sometime before 06:00, the first Purple Martin chick hatched in gourd #1. Feeding attempts began around 07:00 with many parent switch-outs happening this morning. Second chick hatched around 10:15.

This is during the evening nest check, parents do a good job of hiding the chicks under leaves. Still only two at this point.

Update May 13 - Two more hatched late on May 11. The final egg looks pipped as if the chicked had made an attempt to get out but failed. I will give it another day or two before removing the failed egg.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Hawk Chicks Visible

The Red-Shouldered Hawk nest near our house appears to have at least three chicks. They are just starting to be visible at feeding time. These must have hatch a few days apart as there is quite a size span among them.

After the parent flew off, the largest chick started to get feisty and crawl up out of the nest bowl.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Second Martin Female Murdered

Well, learn from experience, the slight enlargement to the SREH gourd entrance to let the male Martin get in easier was a very bad idea. Last Sunday, just after we left on vacation a European Starling claimed the gourd in which the second Martin pair were nesting. I watch in horror on the remote video playback as, when the female Martin came back in for the night, the Starling followed it in and spent the next hour brutally pecking it to death. After the Starling left, the male Martin came back and tried to stir life back into its mate to no avail. I have had a hard time watching this video sequence.

When we got home on Saturday, I disposed of the entire gourd and set a trap in the second enlarged gourd in which the Starlings are now trying to build a nest. Sunday morning, one of the Starlings entered and was trapped by the spring door. The second Starling pushed its way through the door and was trapped as well. Both were disposed of.

Aplomado Falcon

The Aplomado Falcon is a species that has been reintroduced to the Texas coast, including some releases on Mustang Island. We have been trying to see it for several years with no luck. This year, I got a tip from another birder about a location in the state park where one has been reliably sighted on the power lines.

We made a scan of that location and, sure enough, spotted it on the wire. We spent some time watching and photographing it from a distance and saw it sally out after prey several times. We saw several successful kills that it made.

In this view, the falcon is sizing up a target, bobbing its head up and down and side to side. I assume this is to get a better distance measure on the target. It then launched out across the marsh towards the seashore.

I expected a short flight but it dropped down almost a half mile away and came up with another shorebird chick and flew back to its perch to eat. That is some pretty impressive eyesight.

About this time, a wildlife biologist for one of the park services approached us making sure we were keeping our distance. He explained that this falcon was the male of a pair of unbanded (not one of the ones released on the island) birds nesting nearby. He pointed out the nest location out over the marsh in a low thicket bush. About that time, the female flew up from the nest to join its mate for a share of the most recent kill. Danielle read that as the chicks are being raised, the male will have to make 30 such kills a day to keep the family fed.

Later in the week, we stopped to watch again and found the male perched on the lower branches of the nest bush. He eventually flew back up to this perch.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Mustang Island Birding

Back from a week-long birding trip down to the coast. We stayed at Mustang Island State Park as usual and visited the local hotspots each day. Total of 105 species identified including two new ones for me: the Aplomado Falcon, which we have been looking for each time we go down there, and the Mourning Warbler.

The evening of our arrival, Sunday April 30 was not too bad as they were on the tail end of a hot week. The next few days were pretty slow. Favorable migration winds had pushed all of the birds on out.  Wednesday night a strong front came through stopping the migration with a strong north wind. Though it did leave a better selection of warblers in the area, it also killed many birds, especially up near Houston.

Thursday and Friday were decent days with many Chestnut Sided, Black-throated Green, and Bay-Breasted Warblers. Nothing like last year but that was an exceptional two weeks.

Now, lots of pictures to process.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Second Martin Pair

Today, we seem to finally have a second martin pair that have taken up residence in the second of the three gourds with cameras. The male arrived a week ago and has been trying repeatedly to get into a gourd. I think that the Starling Resistant Entry Holes were just a bit too small for him. Every day he tried and every night he slept out on one of the gourd porches.

The female, a likely sub-adult, arrived a bit after the male and went in and out with ease. Though the male had staked out #3, the female wanted #2. For several days, I have been debating whether this was a female or competing male. I could not find any purple feathers on the breast or throat but they fought with each other as I had expected of males. Last two nights, they have been flying and perching together as a bonded pair so ... female it is.

This morning, I got out the Dremel tool and enlarged the opening vertically on gourds #2 and #3 by 1 or 2 millimeters. That seems to have done the trick, though it took until tonight. Here they are on the right in #2. The original pair is to the left in #1 still tending eggs. I think that in total pair #1 produced a clutch of 5 eggs.

Update April 28 - First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes shrubbery in the baby carriage. Two weeks behind the first pair, the #2 gourd pair started bringing green leaves. Again, counter to what I have read, it was the female bring most of today's offerings. They are not at it full steam yet, just a token leaf every few hours.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Snakes and Bikes, Oh My

Special Easter treat on my mountain biking ride today. I got to see a coral snake slithering near the trail.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Purple Martin Season Underway

I set up the martin houses this year with three gourds with cameras and wiring for a fourth. I dug a trench from the house to the martin pole and buried conduit through which to run the CCTV wiring to the cameras.

I opened up a few gourds at the beginning of March and a few lookers but only the House Sparrows made any effort to move in. This year we have even gotten Starlings. Fortunately, the SREH openings are keeping them out.

One April 3, we had the first male go in and stake out a gourd. The same one used last year. I guess it is facing in a desirable direction.

He is an ASY male. Last week, a female made a number of attempts to join him but was not able to squeeze in. Last sunday, video captured a female entering with no problem. Perhaps it is a different one.  She has been flying with him since and they have both been sleeping in the gourd each night.

April 13 - Today, they started bringing in green leaf clipping to line the nest. We should expect eggs soon. No other gourds have been claimed, or visited by martins. Our pair attracts guests to fly overhead in the morning and evening.

April 15 - Today, a furious morning of leaf-gathering activity. This is mostly a female activity as is fluffing out the nest cavity. The male follows her around and occasionally brings in a twig or small leaf.

Nighty night, martins

Update April 20 - Today, video showed the second egg being layed at 7:28AM. Yesterday at the same time was the first egg.

Update April 27 - A total of five eggs were layed in this gourd #1, the last on April 23. A rare moment when all five are visible shown here.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Quick Birding Trip at Goliad

Last weekend, we took a quick long weekend down to the coast. We camped two nights at Goliad SP, about a third of the way down, since there was no spots available on Mustang Island SP. We were not able to get into the more secluded Karankawa loop. Instead, we ended up in the Jacales area which is basically a big asphalt parking lot.

The few days prior to our arrival had seen a flurry of species caught by a north wind. By the time we got there the winds had shifted and sent most of the birds on their way. We saw almost no birds at our usual spots but, we did net a couple of nice ones.

The first was a lone Townsend's Warbler, listed as rare here, and a new species for both of us:

The other was a Purple Galinule. We have only seen one other from a distance.

Back at Goliad SP, we found a colony of Cliff Swallows under one of the bridges in the park. We spent quite some time watching them come and go in waves. We estimated about 200-300 birds in this colony.

Danielle put together a movie of the swallows