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Purple Martin Pre-Migratory Roost

THE PURPLE MARTIN EXPERIENCE

Herself Column - Barberton Herald - August, 2008

Larry Hunter, the Pied Piper of the Purple Martins, called and asked if we would like to see the purple martins "staging" near Nimisila lake in the evening. He said he would take us out on his boat if we were interested. We were definitely interested.

Around 7:00 we met him at the boat launch and climbed into his small skiff along with another couple. The sun was low on the horizon as we moved across the water. The craft is propelled by an almost silent electric motor, barely disturbing the glass-like surface and certainly not disturbing the tranquility of the scene that surrounded us. Hard to believe this quiet oasis is so near to us all. Little disturbed our view of a gorgeous cloud studded

sunset sky, wild life, shrubs and trees. As we traveled north to the staging area, we watched as an osprey dove repeatedly for a late supper. It finally succeeded. It was a big fish. The osprey struggled to carry it. A great blue heron flew near by on slow flapping wings, trailing its legs behind - as herons do. Other birds were seen, swimming or flying low to the lake. We noted several ducks, geese, coots, a loon or two, a king bird, some gulls, and not a few fish stirring the surface.

Finally we got to the area where the birds were gathering. There were thousands of them. They were all over the tree tops, the high tension wires and an interim stanchion. We watched, drifting, as they soared and gathered. It was amazing to see the numbers there. But that was not all we were to see that evening.

As the sun was setting in a spectacular display that would have made the boat ride totally memorable even if we hadn't seen the purple martins, the birds began to depart the original area and head for another. Larry turned on the motor and we headed back down the lake. "They roost in the reeds," he said, pointing to something that looked like a small island, completely unreachable by land.

He pulled up really close to the reed-island as the birds started soaring around the islet and over our heads. The routine continued for about half an hour, as all the purple martins for miles around, gathered in an ever-increasing vortex. It was as if they were somehow magnetically drawn to the area. As far as the eye could see above us, the martins whirled and soared. Why they didn't crash into each other is beyond understanding. Many were close to the water and barely skimmed over our heads. It was an exhilarating experience, not the least bit frightening. You felt somehow a part of this convention of travelers who were stopping off on their long journey to Brazil for the winter.

As the sun disappeared and darkness increased, the birds began to settle into the reeds. They made a great noise as they did so. Larry likened it to standing next to a waterfall. The sounds were similar. Soon there were no birds to be seen. There was, in fact, very little to be seen anywhere on the lake. Someone had a small bonfire on the bank, and a few cottage lights were dimly visible, but otherwise the only lights were on the boat itself. As we made our way back to the launch area I marveled at Larry's obviously excellent eyesight. I couldn't see a thing as he piloted the craft to shore.

With great regret that the evening was ending, we got out of the boat and tested our legs on the shore. It was after 9:00 and we had spent more than two hours doing absolutely nothing but enjoying the peace and serenity of the lake and watching some birds exercising intuitive behaviours. It was a sight people travel hundreds, even thousands of miles to see and it's right here, within a short drive of most of our homes. Amazing.

Margaret Frost, Reporter