- Bill and I went looking for purple martins yesterday at the East end of
Grand Mesa. We took a 4-wd loop road, and the flowers amongst the sage was
beautiful. We crossed the creek several times, so we were in great high
riparian habitat a lot of the time driving. We got to see willow flycatcher,
hear catbirds, yellow warblers, and saw two spotted sandpipers. Hummingbirds
were everywhere. No moose, although this was the area some were let loose.
The purple martins were not as cooperative They were there, flying in and
around the aspen, but a lot of the times they did not seem to be nesting. We
would sit for an hour or more (in chest-high stinging nettle) waiting for
them to land and no luck. I wonder if there is not as many dragonflies, etc
this year, that some are simply not going to nest. There are more mosquitoes
than I have ever seen, but contrary to popular opinion, martins eat the bugs
that eat the mosquitoes.
But as always, sitting in one place allows you to really see the birds. The
violet-green and tree swallows feed their young constantly. Baby tree
swallows always seem to be singular, big, fat, and very interested in the
world. I don't see how their parents fit in the hole with them. Purple
martin babies, on the other hand, always look like they are dying. They hang
their heads over the sides like they have just minutes left, very sad
looking, never looking around until they hear their parents. Red-naped
babies are very loud, but you rarely see them. And although you see plenty
of house wren nests, I don't remember seeing young house wrens looking out.
Also, as I was sitting in the aspens, a hairy woodpecker flew 50 feet from
me and started his pecking, and went on for at least 10 minutes. It seems
that after sitting there a while, you become part of the woods, and are
On the way out, the gravel road seemed covered with pine siskins, robins,
and young bluebirds. I don't know what they liked in the road, but it was
hard not to hit one. We saw on tiny, tiny blue grouse starting to cross the
road; made a quick sign of the cross and kept going.
A beautiful day.
(Martins, like all swallows, are aerial insectivores. They eat only flying
insects, which they catch in flight. Their diet is diverse, including
dragonflies, damselflies, flies, midges, mayflies, stinkbugs, leafhoppers,
Japanese beetles, June bugs, butterflies, moths, grasshoppers, cicadas,
bees, wasps, flying ants, and ballooning spiders. Martins are not, however,
prodigious consumers of mosquitoes as is so often claimed by companies that
manufacture martin housing. An intensive 7-year diet study conducted at PMCA
headquarters in Edinboro, PA, failed to find a single mosquito among the 500
diet samples collected from parent martins bringing beakfuls of insects to
Yesterday I finally managed to escape the office and get out in the woods to do something I had been intending for a while. This spring (as well as last), I had been seeing purple martins near the Muddy Guard station, and not at one of the sites already in my database. So I went looking.
Found nine new (to me and my notes) nest trees, with ten active nests, spread along the hill. Also found a couple likely looking cavities that didn't have anything in them that I could tell, and a dozen or more trees with other things nesting in them, mostly tree and violet-green swallows but also a red-naped with loudly begging chicks. Bill and I found a site with two nest trees earlier in the week, too.
Unfortunately, I only managed to visit one area, which took most of the day. That leaves me with a couple other sites I am pretty sure have martins but haven't yet managed to check out thoroughly. And several places I would like to investigate but never seem to have the time. Hope to get out at least one day next week and cross a little bit more off the list.
Paonia, Delta County