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March 07, 2008     Post 5
birds and the lake

Birds and the lake

My sailing hobby and seasonal business gets me out on the water a lot in the sumer. As I ready the boat for an outing or fuss over some little maintenance issue, I'm always aware of the birds around me. There are usually a fair number. “Sara B” the schooner with her triatic stay between the masts has served for several seasons as a roost for insect eaters like the barn swallows and the purple martins. (Thankfully no cormorants have taken to sitting on her. Yet.) The abundance of aquatic insects, midges, caddis flies, and others makes the bay a great feeding area, and the barn swallows readily adapt to fixed docks as nesting areas. Some homeowners have helped out the mosquito eating martins by putting up bird houses.

While Sara B was on a mooring, she was especially popular as a roost. I once counted over fifty swallows perched on her life lines and sails, along with a dozen or so martins perched overhead on the triatic. Though the birds are messy, their splendid flights overhead make it worth while. Watching the baby swallows all lined up in a row being fed is great entertainment, too.. The parents usually work their way down the line so everyone gets a bug in turn. But I've seen a pushy baby jostle down the row taking a sibling's place so he gets fed twice.

Sara B from a purple martin's view point
One day I boarded “Sara B” and found 3 or 4 large dead mutilated dragonflies strewn about her decks. They had either been decapitated or in some cases their thoraxes pecked apart and emptied. Purple martins I figured. They probably caught the dragonflies that were about a third their size, and wrestled them back to the roost to eat while perched. It would have been fun to see a purple martin- dragonfly encounter. I bet the insects put up a good battle.

I produced a pamphlet on places to see birds along the lake shore (available for sale at www.chimneybluff.com $3.50 cost or e mail me direct to order.. Excerpt available at Silver Waters Bookstore www.silverwaters.com/PAGE2.HTM) in part because I was alarmed at the steady erosion of bird habitat by logging and sprawl along the shore. Short grass lawns and black topped drive ways provide little food or shelter for tired migrant birds.

Migratory birds tend to follow coast lines and use the area within a half mile of Lake Ontario as a staging area to rest and feed. The pamphlet on lake shore bird watching describes sixteen public parks and preserves for birding. It also mentions a website for enhancing bird habitat.

Birds of all types from hawks to hummers are in trouble. The population of insect eaters like the chimney swift and night hawk have plummeted. Many other birds that catch insects in the air are also in decline including the messy little purple martins that kept “Sara B” company on her mooring.

one tough bird on the lake that is holding its own
No one knows for sure whats happening, but the broad declines of many insect eaters makes some suspect a lack of insects is part of the problem. Insects need habitat. Native shrubs and vegetation, old logs, and clean water are part of that. Black top driveways, mowed lawns, and gardens fulled with exotic sterile flowers do little for native insects. Without them, the swifts and swallows and lots of other birds are in trouble. Many flying insects also serve as pollinators providing back up to the beleaguered honey bee. Without pollinators our diet is going to be pretty grim, too. So more books and articles are being published to encourage plantings to help native butterflies, wild bees, and other vital but over looked insect members of the web of life. Helping insects helps humans. Here's a reference below.

Bringing Nature Home by Doug Tallamy- an entomologist who writes about the importance of native plants and insects and how you can help them if you have a yard or are willing to work with public spaces.

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