This past Saturday (8/6), was Richmond's 3rd annual Gone to the Birds (purple martin) festival, in Shockoe Bottom. I got there around 5:30pm and checked out the different tables that were set up with information about purple martins.
My dad loves purple martins, and their regality appeals to me (cheesy, I know), so I figured it would be a great opportunity to get some photos of them and witness such an extraordinary natural phenomenon.
Purple martins establish roosts when they are migrating to South America. One roost they have is in the pear trees on 17th Street in Shockoe Bottom, by the Farmers' Market. This urban roost is only one of 2 that are known about, so it makes it a unique and fun experience to witness the birds when they are "checking back in" to their roost at night in late July and August.
Purple martins depend on humans to provide housing for them. When I was growing up my dad tried really hard to get purple martins on our property but it never lasted. At my grandparents' at Smith Mountain Lake, every Spring my dad and grandpa would put up the martin house, and they'd take it down at the end of the summer when the martins left. We'd get regular progress reports from my grandparents and uncle about the martins. So, they have a special place in my heart.
It was a neat experience! I am not sure what the count was for the birds on Saturday night, but the big group arrived around 8pm and there were tons of them. It was really cool to see the swarm of birds in the sky as they all circled around the pear trees and then finally dove straight down to their roost. It was amazing.
In this video, you can see the "funnel cloud" of birds before they dove down into their roost:
The sound was very constant and very powerful. It reminded me of the constant sound you hear of water at the ocean or beach, or the sound of traffic on a busy highway. It was the birds! You can hear it in this video: