My Bird Blog: A blog about my birding discoveries, bird feeders, birds on my life lists, and all things bird related

Sue's Bird Blog Archives

An Afternoon in Dunkirk

Published April 23, 2015
Tags: General Observations, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Eastern Towhee, Purple Martin, Northern Flicker, Eastern Meadowlark

I made a few birding stops in the Dunkirk area yesterday afternoon looking for spring migrants. The only new bird I saw was the lovely Purple Martin, about six of them.

I think my friend, Celeste, would be disappointed to hear me say that I never spent enough time appreciating these beautiful swallows! By the time I was finished watching their graceful flights, admiring the male's deep shades of purple iridescence in the sunlight, and listening to their delightful chirps and cheeps, I was a big fan!

The Purple Martin is our largest swallow.  The adult male is a uniform deep purple-blue color that shines beautifully in the sunlight. The female has a lighter, smudgy gray underside with a gray collar around her neck. What I found most fascinating were their vocalizations. One of the males I was watching ended some of his bubbly, chortling sounds with a "click click click"; it was very amusing to me and I couldn't help but smile.

The Purple Martin is fun to watch as it hunts and catches insects on the wing. Such acrobatic feats of skill and precision!  Trying to catch of photo of all that action is rather daunting, though - and I didn't do a very good job of it!

Unfortunately, this is another declining specie.  The invasive European Starling and House Sparrow both compete with the Purple Martin for nesting sites.  There are groups that are trying to raise awareness and provide information about how to help this bird. One effort is to encourage people to erect starling and House Sparrow-proof Martin dwellings near large, open areas by water. In the east, Purple Martins almost exclusively nest in these man-made dwellings now.  Southern Indian tribes started this practice a long time ago by hanging clusters of hollowed-out gourds near their gardens. The martins began using these to nest in and the practice continues today with some modern refinements.

Find out more about a local Purple Martin group sponsored by the Friends of Iroquois:  New York State Purple Martin Project.

A few other sightings from the area gave me nice encounters with a singing, male Eastern Towhee and a male Blue-gray Gnatcatcher who was very busy preening when I first came upon him.  About two dozen Greater Yellowlegs flew overhead at one point, calling noisily.  I really enjoyed the songs of the Eastern Meadowlarks in the fields but they still elude my camera for a nice photo!  One day, I will get a decent shot of one, I swear!
bird photo
Eastern Towhee (male)
bird photo
Eastern Towhee (male)
bird photo
Eastern Towhee singing his heart out!
bird photo
He went on and on and on!
bird photo
Purple Martin (male)
bird photo
Purple Martins
bird photo
Purple Martin
bird photo
Purple Martin
bird photo
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (male)
bird photo
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
bird photo
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
bird photo
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
bird photo
Female Northern Flicker watches while her mate drums on the trunk of the same tree
bird photo
Eastern Meadowlark - as good as I could get!
Reply from: Larry on 4/23/2015 5:31 PM
 Nice photos-I especially like the singing Towhee photos! There is a martin house at our local landfill in CT. Surprisingly we do get some Purple Martins there but as you said they have to compete with House Sparrows and Starlings.