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Long Lake purple martin colony site of annual festival for birds

Don Wilkins set up a purple martin colony on Long Lake. The martin houses are out in the lake and sit a few feet above the water. (Don Wilkins / For the Enterprise)1 / 2
Martins take nesting material from a goose cone set out by Don Wilkins. The birds go through a lot of the material. Don said he puts out a five-gallon pail every day while they make their nests. (Don Wilkins / For the Enterprise)2 / 2

Don and Monika Wilkins will showcase their martin colony on Long Lake at the seventh annual Minnesota MartinFest.

The event kicks off bright and early. Don invites early birds to come before 8 a.m. to "wake up with the martins."

The colony he has over the water is the largest in Minnesota, Don boasts.

"I've been active in the martin hobby for many years," he said.

Don's colony is unusual, he said, in that he didn't follow the "book." All of the houses are out in the lake and only about 3 to 4 feet above the water.

He provides nesting material in a goose cone. During the nest building time he adds a five-gallon pail every day.

A few years ago, he put up the goose cone about 100 feet from the martin colony in an attempt to get nesting geese. The martins emptied the cone in a couple days so he moved it to the martin colony to "shorten the haul."

He added a TV antenna because the martins like a place to roost above the houses.

Over the years, Don has designed and modified martin houses. He added some this year that have round tubes from the pipes used to hold the lights at the end of airport runways. These work well and Don plans to make more for next year.

The schedule for MartinFest includes:

-Sunup to 8 a.m. - Wake up with the martins. Coffee will be available.

-8 to 9 a.m. - Registration and refreshments.

-9 to 10 a.m. - Welcome: "1959 to today without and with purple martins" by Don Wilkins.

-10 to 10:30 a.m. - "Introduction to purple martins" by Kelly Applegate.

-10:45 to noon - "Martin conservation in Minnesota," a presentation of the Purple Martin Working Group and East Central Minnesota Purple Martin Recovery Program.

-Noon to 1 p.m. - Lunch

After lunch, there will be several breakout sessions, including:

-1:30 to 2:30 p.m. - "Basics for Establishing a Colony" with Daryl Lindstrom and Tony Lau or "Current research projects: Roost hunting, banding and transmitter migration study" with Kelly Applegate and Mike North.

-2:30 to 3:15 p.m. - "Supplemental Feeding" with Tony Lau or "Housing Innovations" with Don Wilkins and Ron Seekamp.

-3:15 to 4 p.m. - "Advanced Management Techniques" with Kelly Applegate and Daryl Lindstrom or "Dealing with Invasive Species: House Sparrows and Starlings" with Tony Lau, Hauns Froehlingsdorf and Ron Seekamp.

-4 to 5 p.m. - Open viewing of the colony; walk or drive to a Great Blue Heron Rookery, about a quarter mile from the martin colony.

-5 p.m. to dusk - Informal "hanger-on" session. No program. Martins will demonstrate flying techniques for catching bugs.

MartinFest will be at the Wilkins residence, 16912 Dogwood Rd., Park Rapids, MN 56470. For more information, call 732-3821 or e-mail