Friday, June 1, 2012

Heavenly Birds

On Sunday Rob came up and we set off to see a local air show. I spotted a sign advertizing a plant sale and decided to pop in and see what veggie plants they had. I pulled into the driveway and immediately spotted metal poles with white gourds hanging from them, meaning only one thing, purple martins.
I developed a keen interest in these birds when I saw their unusual man made homes for the first time in Marshall. I then found a book in Marshall Hardware on them and soon became engrossed, learning about these beautiful birds that nearly became extinct until a town called Griggsville, IL, started a study that soon had the whole town helping in the preservation of these birds. They became especially popular because of their ability to eat 2000 mosquitos a day and those folks that encouraged their nesting soon discovered that in turn their environments became almost bug free.
We met the owner of the sanctuary, Jerry, and his daughter, Tania, and soon became involved in a conversation that would last the whole afternoon. Jerry delighted in telling us how he built his home himself and planted the now 30 year old trees that offered a welcome shade from the sun for us sitting in our chairs and the house. I wandered around looking at the plants and chatting with Tania, soon collecting a tray of peppers, tomato and broccoli plants which I sincerely hoped I'd be able to find a deer free zone for once I got home.
As the sun peaked in the sky and threw down hot rays we sat and chatted under the cool leaves relishing the breeze that brushed through and the constant bird song in the air. I did notice an absence of mosquitoes. Jerry talked about his land and would start each tale with. 'There's a story about that' which I found endearing. And soon enough we were asked if we wanted to see the martin houses up close. I nearly leaped out of my chair, I was so keen.
He explained that the homes with a rectangular entrance as shown at the top were the best as starlings could get into the crescent shaped ones, as above, but not the rectangular ones. The gourd concept started with the Indians who used gourds as bowl and containers. They noticed that when they were washing them out then hanging them up in the bushes to dry, the purple martins would start nesting in them.
Both starlings and sparrows are a purple martin's enemy as they kill the babies and take over the nests. Jerry monitors his homes very closely to help prevent this. He has also installed snake guards at the base of each post. He then proceeded to lower some of the homes to show us the contents of the nests. The birds don't mind this at all; they have an affinity with humans and understand their dependence on us for their nesting boxes, and actually want to nest close to our houses. They are also incredibly clean and will not defecate in or near the nests but will fly off to do this, also cleaning up their babies waste and dropping it off away from their home too.
We were ecstatic as Jerry opened houses, showing us small white eggs in one and then baby birds in others. He will have a colony of around 400 birds at the end of July that will put on an amazing aerial display at dusk for a few days before they begin their long flight to Brazil. He's going to call me to come down for that. The parents will return to Jerry next year to nest again but the babies will go elsewhere to avoid interbreeding.
Even after just a few minutes, the birds were getting bolder with their new visitors and I was able to get closer with my camera. The birds with the pale chests are the females with the males being a solid purple.
Click here for a short video, listen to the bird song, it's beautiful.
Here's a wonderful photo that his wife took last year.
And there's a story about this hydrant. Another visitor spotted it amongst the foliage and immediately got excited, offering to buy it from Jerry who didn't want to sell it. The guy got quite agitated and Jerry was concerned that he might even come back just to take it, so desperate was this man to have it in his possession. Apparently this kind of hydrant is quite rare and is known as a Dolly Parton...
There's a story about this piece of farm equipment too. Jerry heard about an old guy who had been trying to get rid of this piece with no success almost to the point of junking it. He was giving it away so Jerry took it. Unfortunately my female mind was unable to retain any relevent information about this piece of equipment but I do remember that Jerry was very impressed that the wood on it was well over a 100 years old. He has other old pieces of machinery dotted about the place also.
We wandered down to the pond which he dug out himself, it's about 7ft deep even at the banks, and walked over the bridge on to the island of Hawaii which even has its own U.S. flag. We heard the story behind the evolution of his Hawaii, called that because he's always wanted to go to the original island but not yet made it.
We fed the fishes and then strolled back up to the greenhouses.
After some more chatting, it was time to get some late lunch. We'd been there for hours and both Rob and I agreed that we'd had a much more enjoyable time than we could have had at the air show. I was overjoyed that I'd been in close proximity to the birds which I'd developed such a fondness for and it had been nothing but complete pleasure to meet such a friendly expert in these creatures.
I collected my plants and we drove off in the car with many backward looks, and I thought what an absolutely perfect name Jerry had chosen for his home, Almost Heaven.

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