Posts Tagged ‘joe’

Ecstasy and Agony: Purple Martins and Me

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

Oh the joys of Purple Martin stewardship! I recently was undergoing turmoil over a decision to add more housing this year or wait until next year. My husband’s gift to me of a Gourd Rack made my decision for me. When I saw the boxes in the garage I tore them open with a glorious glow about me that few people have seen. I held the shiny steel in my hands and reveled in the beauty of it. I immediately set to digging a very large deep hole in which to set the ground stake. The Ecstasy was soon to end.

For those that do not know a ground stake is a long piece of metal that is concreted in the ground with a portion of this stake sticking up out of the ground. The Purple Martin pole is then slid down over it allowing easy removal at the end of the season. Some people use a ground sleeve which is concreted in the ground first (flush with the ground) then the stake is inserted into the sleeve. This allows complete removal of the pole AND the stake so that only a concreted hole remains.

Well, here I am digging this hole to China. I am almost done and just trying to scoop out the last few chunks of dirt out of the bottom. I had battled the rock hard dirt and could taste victory. I recalled my U.S. Army days and knew that when my husband came out to “help” he would see this hole and be amazed at my hole digging prowess. I would look at him, non plussed, and simply state that this was nothing compared to digging fox holes in 20 degree weather.

But alas, disaster struck. In the last thrust of the shovel I felt, what I thought, was a sword ripping into my back. A red hot poker in my lumbar area of my spine. A half grunt-half whimper escaped my lips and I froze in absolute Agony. I held on to the shovel for dear life. I would not give my neighbors the satisfaction of laughing at the crazy bird lady with a broken back. I slowly, slowly righted myself up. Holding back as waves of nausea washed over me like an old friend.

My husband came out and took over and the concrete has dried and the pole is up. I did not wait the 2 days (as I should have) for the concrete to cure. I know, I know…I loaded 4 gourds on the rack and filled 3 of them with pine needles and 1 with cut up pieces of dried palm fronds (Thanks Joe!) and hoisted them effortlessly in the air as the sun set. The Martins descended as I walked to the house and as I turned around no fewer than 10 martins were sitting on the new rack looking it over.

 I am almost certain that I have a full house with all 21 compartments being occupied. Mostly with pairs. Even the gourd on the Shepard’s hook is occupied by a ASY male. I noticed a few nights ago a male sleeping on the outside porch of the Sunset Inn house. I am curious as to whether or not this is the same male that slept outside all season last year. It also could be that this male could not find an empty room and was in need of somewhere to sleep. I hope he finds a home in one of the new gourds.

As I had mentioned, I filled one gourd with cut up palm fronds. This was from a suggestion that Jose “Joe” Pellegrino, an elderly gentleman had told me about. He was a landlord in the Belle Glade area for many years. He told me he would cut up these dried palm fronds that had fallen off the trees in 3-4 inch sections, and use those as nest material. I am curious to see how they hold up. I will monitor and document what I find.

Epcot Center Martin Site

Epcot Center Martin Site

On another note, we went to Disney World AGAIN, this past weekend. We had to use up the tickets as they were to expire. This time we went to Epcot and I went to visit the Purple Martin Colony there. I saw about 10 Martins flying about and one dove in the T-14, another in a Troyer gourd but I was unable to photograph the birds. But the site is just as spectacular as I remembered. And NO sparrows!

Blog Copyrighted  S.Halpin/

Hello again Jose

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

It had been some time  since I saw Jose. Last time we spoke he told me how talking about the martins had made him realize how much he missed them. As a landlord I can understand. A protectiveness and responsibility becomes part of your everyday life. He told me that he used to feel like he was a part of them, and when he left his home for the last time to go to the nursing home, he did not realize that he would never come back. “I guess I always thought that I would go home and go back to how it was. I never thought I would stay here so long.” I asked him if he thought his neighbors would ever see the birds return and put housing for them. “The last time I saw them houses they were a mess. Between me not taking care of that wood like I should and the storms…there wasn’t much left. My neighbors…they were not so much better off than me, you know? I don’t think people care too much for birds anymore. They care that they have a nice car and nice stuff. They talk big now saying we all use recycle this and that. But you know what I think? I think that recycling propaganda and green this, organic that…makes it all easy for people to not give a damn. They all think that they are doing their part but no one goes through the work. No one puts up the houses for the martins, leaves the old trees to rot and give the woodpeckers a place to live, fills the feeder with the good seed, kills those $&!^ Sparrows. They all want life wrapped in a pretty package with a pink bow.” We paused there and I felt a bit uncomfortable with his anger but I understood it. I finally said, “Hay, I don’t like them sparrows either!” He laughed and that seemed to release some tension. “I know, I know, you need to bring me a trap so I can put it our here for these ones here!” He said. I changed the subject and told him about the Red-Bellied woodpecker that has been occupying a wooden bird house on a pine tree next to my driveway. Earlier this year an Eastern Screech Owl had nested there. Now it appeared that the Woodpecker was taking a turn. He seemed happy to hear that news. “Ohhh good good.” He said happily. I finally remembered that I had brought him a small photo book of some of pictures I had taken this year and we flipped through it. I gave him a little background on all of the martins that I had photographed. The young momma with the bald neck, the ASY male with the bad attitude. The first pairs initial squabbles over which nest they would ultimately settle on. He seemed to enjoy it and it reminded him of individual birds that he would recognize in his own colony. I left it with him and said my good byes and realized that even the tiniest moments are a treasure. What Jose would not have done to be sitting on his chair in his own backyard with a sky full of Purple Martins swirling above him.

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Lunch With Jose

Monday, August 18th, 2008

I left a message Saturday night with Jose. I told them to let him know I would be coming by Sunday for lunch. My youngest son and I went to a Cuban restaurant to pick up something nice for Jose. I picked up an assortment of pastries and croquettes and a couple of bottles of “Malta”. (It’s a soda type of beverage)

My son was a handful and all he wanted to do was run around. Having worked in a nursing home (10 years ago) I was totally freaked out by this. Doesn’t he KNOW what spills on these floors! Uh, no…he’s two…why would he know. OK, OK, so I couldn’t get Jose out to the patio fast enough. Jose looked the same. Lanky and happy to have someone to talk to. My son was fascinated with his wheelchair but soon took to playing in the grass while we talked. Between bites of food Jose told me little stories of his time in Brazil. I gather that his father was not around much. Apparently his job took him to some other town and he would return on weekends. He and his mother were close though.

I told Jose that I recently had taken all my Purple Martin housing down, as season is over. I asked him if he did the same. “Yes, for quite some time” he said, “But little by little the body gets lazy and the mind gets tired, then I started leaving it up. The rain was hard on the would, though. It was cheap wood.” Jose had told me on an earlier visit that he would use wooden pallets and take them apart to pirate the wood for Purple Martin houses. I asked if he pre-built nests for the Martins. “Oh sure, sure. I would use a lot of palm trees.” You mean pine trees? (Typical nests down here are made of pine straw) I asked. “No, Palm trees. I cut up the fronds after the tree drops them, like so.” He motioned with his fingers a distance of about 5 inches. “They like that alright. Sometimes, you know, they change it. Most times they like it fine. They add the leaves and I change out after they all done with the babies.” Wouldn’t the fronds get wet and soggy? I asked “Nah, its a bird. It’s no brain surgery. They like it fine.” I asked him what was the earliest that he would get the Purple Martins back and he said, “I always have everything up and ready before 3 Kings day.” (January 7-I think) “But they came earlier than that quite a few times. I think New Years one year was earliest…Sometime in 1968, or something. Long time ago. My mind gets tired you know.” With that he polished off his 8th croquette.

Jose’s Martins #1

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

Jose greeted me today with a hearty “Hola!” and an invitation to have his Jell-o. He only likes the red Jell-o and he only gets the green. He tells me he has made several complaints-to no avail. I could tell him that hospitals and “homes” usually never give red Jell-o but I decide to nod my head in understanding. He finishes off his lunch and I wheel him to the courtyard.

I had many questions reeling in my head to ask him. About his martins, what brought him to Florida, his life in South America, his family or apparent lack there of. Today though, we will talk of Purple Martins. A subject free of any sadness or memories that can cause pain. He talks of his memories of hundreds of thousands of birds flying free and his spirits rise like they are lifted up by the martins themselves.

Jose was a handyman by trade. Odd jobs, car repairs, unlicensed electrical work was his forte. He laughed at my reaction to at least 4 stories of how he checked for current to electrical outlets and light sockets. I suppose whatever investment it would take to purchase a volt meter was out of the question. He would stick his finger in the socket. My disbelief is still quite strong even after his vehement and at length explanation on the difference between amps and watts and volts and I don’t even know! But on to the Purple Martins.

All his houses were handmade. He would use scrap wood and made great use of wooden pallets which he found in large quantities. Legally, I hope. The wood was rather thin and of poor quality but with a slathering of paint would last multiple seasons before needing repair or replacement. The rough wood was well liked by the martins. I showed him photos of my gourd rack and he snorted, “They look like Calabaza.” (A spanish pumpkin) I explained they were actually plastic and that brought another snort. He tried to explain his housing to me and the best I could understand is that they were 2 story square, flat roofed box type houses with no porches and round entrances. He did make the nests accessible but had a hands off approach. Usually 8 compartments per house and they were about 10 inches deep. He never used “plans” and would vary the housing depending on his whims. He estimated, at his height of “Land lording” he had about 100 pairs. “Puedia pero no queiria”, he explained. (I could have but didn’t want to) When referring to having more housing and Martins. The ‘explative’ Halcon’s (Hawks) made my life a misery, he recounted in Spanish. This was the only time when sadness entered our conversation. He told me of a season when he had fledgling’s taking to the air daily, only to be met with deadly talons and beak. His solution? “I went over into my neighbors yard one night and poisoned those trees…then I offered to cut them down over the winter for free. I was a big hero and everyone was happy.” The legalities didn’t seem to phase Jose or concern him in the least. I guess when you are 80-something you have worse things in your past to worry about than a few trees. “Susanita, can you find me help to the bathroom?”

Of course Jose…and I will see you soon.