top of page

March 2024 Newsletter

Jeanne Wiebenga caught this sweet exchange between cardinals near her backyard feeder in Chautauqua on March 9.


We'd Love Your Input!

Dear Friend of the BTG,

We're working on the 2024 season and could really use some input from readers like you. Will you take a few minutes to help us out?

With gratitude, 

the 2024 BTG Board of Directors


Jack Gulvin spent March 28 at Chautauqua putting up the Purple Martin houses. Jeanne Weibenga followed his progress, captured these photos and video, and wrote the article below. Thanks to both of you, Jack and Jeanne, from the birds and the humans who adore you!

The Purple Martins Are

On Their Way Home to Chautauqua

When Jack Gulvin saw Purple Martins flying overhead a few hours south of us, he realized it was time to set up housing for them along Chautauqua Lake, since their return could be expected any day.

Purple Martins are the largest and darkest of the 8 swallow species breeding in North America. They leave for South America late summer and return in early April to their nesting sites. 

Eastern birds historically nested in abandoned woodpecker holes, but for more than a century they have almost exclusively used apartment-style birdhouses and man-made gourds that somehow remind them of their ancestral homes. The poles are placed close to lake shores or river banks, away from trees. This ensures that the birds, who live entirely off insects caught on the fly, have an open view and can easily spot predators such as Owls, Crows, Hawks, Blue Jays and Tree Snakes. Sparrows and Starlings will destroy eggs and the young, when the nest is not guarded by a parent. 

Jack, who has been our naturalist for 25 years, picked March 28, predicted to be a sunny, slightly chilly day, to set up his bird houses and hang up the gourds on 4 locations on the grounds and one pole on the golf course, behind the barn.

Off season the birdhouses and gourds are stored at the Sports Club. Jack put a fresh coat of white paint on all of them, with green trim along the apartment edges.

Using needles he collects and dries in the fall, Jack piled white pine needles in each of the 14 compartments of the birdhouses, T-14s (which Jack calls the Rolls Royces of birdhouses, designed by the founder of the Purple Martin Conservation Association (1987, James R. Hill III). He also filled the gourds, made by local Amish man Andy Trotter, with a bottom layer of the same needles.

He attached the T-14s to the poles, which is a job he has done by himself for the past 24 years--an almost impossible task, so I was glad I happened to be around to give him a hand, by just holding the boxes steady while he screwed the backs into the poles. Each birdhouse has a sparrow trap on top, to deter the sparrows that could damage the eggs or hurt the young.  

All together Jack placed 64 apartments in 6 birdhouses and 40 gourds on the grounds and golf course. 

We can expect the birds to arrive in early April. After forming new pairs, it takes several weeks before the female produces a clutch of eggs, from 4-6 on average, one egg a day.  The female incubates the eggs for 2 weeks, and after hatching, the Purple Martin chicks will fledge about 4-5 weeks later. By mid July most birds are ready to head back south.

During the summer we can see the birds flitter around the nest and along the shore line early mornings and late afternoons. During midday they are usually out hunting for insects to feed their families. 

During the first half of the Chautauqua season, Jack will continue to give his weekly Purple Martin chats, during which he takes the bird houses down for inspection and counting of the hatchlings. This also allows attendants the opportunity to see the young chicks up close.

We owe Jack an enormous thank-you for his dedication for a quarter century to the well-being of our Purple Martins who contribute so much to our enjoyment of our lake! 

Jeanne Wiebenga

March 29, 2024


Is It Time for the Spring Cleanup?

Back in the summer, I wrote about Lightning Bugs and how to bring them back into our backyards. The short answer: Don't rake up the leaf litter.

Hopefully many of you were able to keep your tidy instincts in check and leave some leaves on the ground through the winter. I will admit that it led to some heated conversations here in the Renjilian household. Some people prefer a very tidy look while others of us are good with a more natural look. But happily, I prevailed and we did not do our big "fall cleanup" until last week. The leaf bags on the curb this week have led to some great conversations with neighbors about our decision to delay the cleanup. 

We also have a big fire pit in the back of our yard where we collect sticks and twigs throughout the fall and winter in anticipation of a fun bonfire night in the spring. I read that a stick pile is a great place for little critters to overwinter.  My husband wanted to light it up on a recent chilly weekend but I was terrified of roasting baby bunnies, so I held him off. But the stick pile is huge now and I'm not looking to create a tower of fire (like we accidentally did last spring!), so it's time for a fire.

I was just about to do some research on the subject when I got a well-timed newsletter from a garden writer I follow, named Margaret Roach.  Here's a clip from that newsletter, called A Way to Garden:

DELAY RAKING to support beneficial insects. “Wait until after several 50-degree-Fahrenheit spring days to clean up again,” advised The Habitat Network (the former program from Cornell and the Nature Conservancy). Doug Tallamy agrees, but explains there is no one perfect moment that suits every creature out there, of course. Some overwintering insects, notably bees and certain butterflies and moths, are triggered by a steady stream of 50-degree days to get moving. Once they do, often after resting in leaf litter or under tree bark or even inside goldenrod galls, for example, they’re no longer as vulnerable to our spring-cleaning actions that might kill them, or move them away from their host plant.

Good to know. And since we live in Atlanta and the days are in the 70s now, it looks like we will be having a bonfire this weekend. I hope your fall cleanup is as satisfying as ours was and here's to more lightning bugs this summer.

~ Leslie Renjilian, BTG President and Soon-to-be Firefly Chaser


Hope you're not tired of purple martin photos! Jeanne Wiebenga took this shot of the Chautauqua martins last summer happily atop their condo on S. Lake Drive.

BirdNote Daily

BirdNote Daily is a two-minute radio show featuring bird news that feels like story-telling. Unlike "real" news that sometimes makes me anxious, these stories feature bird sounds and fascinating nature stories that really engage in a short format. 

You can listen to it as a podcast or on the website. If you have a cool thing like an Alexa in your house, you can simply shout out: "ALEXA! Play the podcast Bird Note Daily!" ...And boom! You'll get to hear it.  

Or you can listen on the website. Here's a link to an interesting one I heard a few days ago:

For years, scientists debated whether the first flying dinosaurs, the ancestors of modern birds, began by running and making little hops off the ground, or leapt off a tree branch to glide. It’s called the “ground up vs. trees down” debate, for short. But a newer perspective on this…

The site also has longer, but lovely podcasts by an acoustic ecologist named Gordon Hempton. I loved one about Mark Twain. Here's a little more about that:

By modern standards, Mark Twain was really a switched-on listener,” says our Sound Escapes host, Gordon Hempton. “He brilliantly used sound in the crafting of his novels. Birds would sing at the right time of day and in the right situations. He would use thunderstorms to mark the locations of Jim and Huck's journey down the Mississippi.” In this episode of Sound Escapes, we’ll explore what made Mark Twain such an astute listener. 

Gordon was particularly inspired by a passage in Twain’s autobiography, in which he describes "a limpid brook" on his Uncle Quarles’ farm near the town of Florida, Missouri. Gordon recreated the sounds of that clear, melodious brook using stones gathered from the original site, which is now a dry creek bed.

"Sonically, we have the interplay between the brook itself and the bird song," Gordon explains. "And it's really an uplifting experience."


Tickets on Sale Now for the 2024 House & Garden Tour!

July 11, 2024

Don't Miss Out!

This year will mark the 70th birthday of the BTG's House and Garden Tour. The 2024 Chautauqua BTG House and Garden Tour will be held on Thursday July 11th during Week 3 of the 2024 Chautauqua Season. 

Proceeds from the tour are used to pay for programming for the following two years. Please support the BTG by purchasing your ticket today! Tickets are available on the Chautauqua BTG website or by mail using the ticket order form.

Individual tickets are $55. If you are able, please consider an Individual Sponsorship at $155 by joining the 2024 Henrietta Ord Jones Society. Your membership includes a ticket to the Tour. If you are interested in a corporate sponsorship, please email us here

The 2024 House and Garden Tour will combine Chautauqua history, homes, and gardens.  Join us for docent-led House and Garden Tours.

Plan to enjoy a day at Chautauqua viewing beautiful homes and wonderful gardens while taking in all Chautauqua Institution has to offer.


LAST CHANCE to Pre-Order Commemorative Plates before the March 31st Deadline!

In celebration of the 100th anniversary of Smith Wilkes Hall and the 150th anniversary of Chautauqua Institution, the BTG is reissuing the Bird, Tree & Garden Club commemorative plates.

The 9 1/4" Dinner plates can be ordered in either blue or green until March 31st, 2024 with pick up available during the 2024 Chautauqua season.  Plates will not be shipped. Plates can be ordered for $35 each or for $375 a dozen.

A limited number of plates will be available for sale during the 2024 Chautauqua Season for $50 each.

While the design remains the same, please note the colors will vary somewhat from the plates produced years ago.

The plate design was first issued in 1970 to commemorate Chautauqua Institution's centennial in 1974.  The design was issued again in 1983 to commemorate the BTG's 75th anniversary and in 1999 to commemorate Chautauqua Institution's 125th anniversary.

Pick up will be available at the Tuesday BTG Brown Bags at Smith Wilkes Hall and on Thursday July 11th during the 2024 House and Garden Tour.  More details of additional pick up locations and times to come.

Orders can be placed on the Chautauqua BTG website or by mail using the plate order form.  All orders must be received by March 31st to ensure pick up during the 2024 Chautauqua Institution Season.

A big thank you to Cesca Koron, Jenny Rappole and Karen Paul for volunteering their time for this special project.

The back of the plate will read:

Issued in 2024 in celebration

of the 100th anniversary of Smith Wilkes Hall

and the 150th anniversary of Chautauqua Institution. 

Smith Wilkes Hall was a gift from

Addie Mae Smith Wilkes in 1924 to her favorite

Chautauqua club, the Chautauqua Bird, Tree and Garden Club. 

The club was founded as the Bird and Tree Club in 1913.

Scenes depicted are

Top - Smith Wilkes Hall

Left - Hall of Christ

Right - Hall of Philosophy

Bottom - Athenaeum Hotel


One last purple martin pic by Jeanne. This one showing "insectivore behavior."  Translation: even the babies eat dragonflies! Jack says the parents just "stuff them down their little throats!" BTG Staff Entomologist says the insect about to be devoured is a 

10 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page