The “it’s not a field trip” Purple Martin field-trip

The “it’s not a field trip” Purple Martin field-trip
by Andrew Bryant, 30 April 2017.

Some of the Purple Martin nest boxes at the Myrtle Rocks colony suffered a bit at the hands of winter storms – and needed some attention.

After an aborted attempt on a dangerously gusty and rainy Saturday, Sunday saw fair skies. David Bedry, John Treen, Bill Whyard and myself replaced seven boxes and installed some new anti-predator barriers.

Purple Martins are interesting for many reasons, not least of which is that here in BC, we have a species that is now completely reliant upon man-made habitats – because the natural cavity-nesting habitat has been destroyed.

You can learn more about Purple Martins, their history in BC, and the hugely successful volunteer-based nest-box program here, here and here.

Thanks to Rona for providing construction materials, and to Relay Rentals for loaning us their very tall (and very heavy) ladder.
And thanks to all who braved the winds on Saturday!

A low-tide stroll out to Myrtle Rocks

A low-tide stroll out to Myrtle Rocks
by Andrew Bryant, 14 June 2015. 

David Bedry, Heidi Rohard and I arranged (led is too strong a word)  a leisurely stroll out to Myrtle Rocks on a fine Sunday morning.

Fifteen club members and a few interested passers-by participated. Together we braved the bright sun, quiet winds, noticeably low tide conditions, and still waters  to cross the 500 metres or so that separate mainland B.C. and Myrtle Rocks.

Along the way we watched the noisy antics of purple martins, and were ourselves watched by a family of harbor seals.

My personal highlights were the solitary Bonaparte’s gull, a yellowlegs, a willow flycatcher and a pair of black oystercatchers that I’m convinced nested there.  David, Heidi and others happily overturned pebbles, finding crabs, worms and other intertidal critters.

I think most of us were content to watch fishing boats, converse about this or that, and chalk this one up as another nice day in paradise.


David Bedry wrote me the next day to say “Thanks for the tip yesterday.  I went back this AM for a look.  Found them, but not where I thought you said. Unfortunately all the wrong exposure conditions, and this is the best I got. Dark subject, dark background and into the sun, but still a great experience. I didn’t want to push the bird’s comfort level.   Pictures at 500 mm.”

Nicely done David!


Purple martin banding part III

Purple martin banding part III
by Andrew Bryant, 9 Aug 2014.

Scheduling conflicts prevented our Young Naturalists from attending this event.  But a few members (thanks Clyde Burton!) stepped up to the plate and provided some on-the-ground support. As usual I snapped a few images.

Thanks as always to Bruce Cousens and Charlene Lee of Nanaimo, and their technician Julia Kadera, who did all the banding.  Thanks also to the Bennett family (John, Erin and Janice), Trevor at Relay Rentals for the free ladder rental, and especially to John Bennett and Jason Roberts for helping to move the ladders around.  I REALLY appreciated your brawn, confidence and grins.

I had NO idea that BC will  likely come close to 1000 breeding pairs this year.  All because of volunteers who are willing to roll up their sleeves and get involved.

Charlene reports that a total of 30 nest boxes were checked (3 came down over the winter). 29 boxes were used by Purple Martins and swallows (likely Violet-green) nested in 1 box. There were 12 fledged martin nests, 1 lined nest, 1 with 3 nestlings too young to band, 1 with a 20-day old bird that wasn’t banded, 11 boxes with nestlings (24) that were banded and 3 boxes with dead young (4).  There were also 3 birds that fledged unbanded.

You can learn more about the ecological context, history, and progress of the recovery program for Western Purple Martins here.


Banding Purple Martins Part II

Banding Purple Martins Part II

by Elizabeth Tenhoeve, 5 Aug 2013.

Quite a crowd turned out for what is becoming an annual event.

At Myrtle Rocks we have one of the northernmost colonies of Purple Martins, birds of the swallow family who nest in the boxes attached to offshore pilings.   We watched the nestlings as they were removed from the nest, banded, and assessed for age, then put back into the nest.

These birds migrate huge distances, so the banding helps to keep track of what journeys the birds have made.

Banding Purple Martins

Banding Purple Martins
by Elizabeth Tenhoeve, 14 July 2012.

Among other things, Andrew Bryant is the local coordinator for the Purple Martin nest box project at Myrtle Rocks.  He invited the Young Naturalists along while Bruce Cousens, Charlene Lee and he collected nestlings from the nest boxes to be banded.  It was great fun, many of the children were able to hold and learn more about these beautiful little birds.

It was amazing to realise that, because of the nest boxes, populations of these once endangered bird are climbing steadily, to over 735 breeding pairs this year.  We were glad to hear it!

The Powell River Peak published a story about the Purple Recovery Program, which be found here.

Bruce Cousens – “Purple Martins”

Bruce Cousens – “Purple Martins”
by Andrew Bryant, 27 January 2009

Bruce Cousens is an independent biologist who works for the Western Purple Martin Foundation (WPMF), a non-profit charity based in Nanaimo. Bruce has worked with Purple Martins (Progne subis arboricola) since the mid 1980s, when he began to help construct nest boxes for this species, which is listed as a “vulnerable” species in British Columbia .

Bruce spoke about the biology, behavior and history of Purple martins, and in particular how the nest box program has facilitated a remarkable population recovery.   Once restricted to only a handful of colonies and containing only a few breeding pairs,  the population has grown to several hundred.

Several of our members have been active in maintaining the local colony at Myrtle Rocks.  It was nice to gain a broader perspective about how that colony compares with others, and to learn more about such a successful grass-roots conservation program.