The numbers of Purple Martins is waning at their midtown mecca now that the final - though still hot - days of summer are finally ending. Impressive numbers of martins still abound, but the great spectacle of the evening is a spectacle which should be appreciated, sooner rather than later.
Swarming Purple Martins at the roost in midtown Omaha; August 24, 2010.
Morning Visit an Individual Experience
View times of the past weekend, started with a morning visit on August 26th. There was just a low chatter upon arriving at the roost at 5:30 a.m., with little or no birdly action. Only occasionally did a martin fly a few feet to a different spot on a different branch of one of the green ash trees.
As the nearby electronic clock shown time was ticking closer to 6 a.m., the chatter increased until it finally was loud enough to mask the din of the relatively few vehicles moving about at this time. Shortly past 6, the first bunch of martins took flight.
In the morning, the bird's behavior is completely different than in the evening. There are no swarms in the skies similar to when the martins gather, and thus, none of the aerial acrobatics. Instead, the birds are intent on leaving the roost, and getting to their day's haven.
The flight is like a changing river of birds through the air. They head straight north along 44th street, flying beneath the upper floors of the hospital buildings, and just over the top of the parking garage on the northeast corner of the intersection at Farnam Street. If a person stretched out an arm at the right time, it would be an obstacle. Some of the birds are just a few feet distant, with others within a half-block to the west, and everyone of them winging away.
A morning show by the martins is a completely different event, and a joy as experienced in a pure manner with just one man present and experiencing the a.m. flight of these grand birds. The only other people around were trudging their way to their job on the medical center campus.
Martins streamed past, flying just above the treetops and away, for about 30 minutes, with the vast majority gone by 6:30 p.m.
Nearly all the martins were gone before the sun had even started its climb above the eastern horizon.
In the local newspaper, also on Thursday, dedicated martin reporter Nancy Gaarder had a brief, but essential article about the martins swarming at the roost.
A relatively huge crowd of bird watchers gathered in the evening because of the announcement. In looking around, they were in the parking lot east of the Kiewit building. To the east a few gathered at the bus stop bench. On the south side of Farnam Street, the viewers were lounging - at least until the bird action got underway - on the lawn of the J.P. Lord School, with its steps the most used martin place in Omaha. Some more newly aware martin aficionados were also in this buildings parking lot. Then going eastward, a well-aware few were at the corner of Kiewit Tower. Not to be forgotten, were cars and martins fans in the purple parking lot, on the east side of the Clarkson Building South, the "official" parking lot as graciously provided by the Nebraska Medical Center.
Martin watchers on August 26, 2010.
In a manner somewhat less difficult than counting the gathered martins, there were about 150 watchers. Some of them brought lawn chairs. Others used a blanket thrown onto the grass knoll. The rest found some other suitable place to watch.
As for the martins, multiply the human crowd by about 465, and that is the number of birds whose antics were visibly enjoyed, with a whole bunch of pertinent comments effused.
With the excitement - viewed at no cost - provided by the flock of martins, the crowds continued to be impressive, and endured through the weekend.
On Friday and Saturday evenings, there were at least 165 observers. Justin Rink, the recognized martin ambassador, moved around the school lawn, ready to answer questions, inquiring if people were newbies, indicating the difference between the early arriving starling and Common Grackles in comparison to the main attraction, and indicating the martin swarms overhead off in one direction or another. Once in a while he would provide the standard quip on how the birds are counted. This answer always causes a perplexing look in response, and which can be heard only by being at the roost, at the right place.
Saturday evening (August 28th) the show was an especially grand sight. The martins obviously acted differently and gave a grand performance which was dramatically different that what had been seen on the past few evenings. It was as if they knew it was a Saturday night, and the right time to make it a special performance, suited to the weekend.
Martin watchers at the midtown martin mecca, August 28, 2010.
When the birds are most prevalent, as they are finally gathering among the ash trees, it is quite a sight to see so many people with their head pointed back and intently watching the sky above ... in complete awe and pleasure.
The response of the crowd was obvious. A highlight is that it has been a family time. There have been a fine number of kids present, with a few tykes sporting binoculars to get their focused look at the sky.
Sunday evening, there were about 150 watchers. There were also fewer martins, with at least a 20% decrease in the overall count. The number still present now - in 2009 - still surpasses the greatest number seen in 2008, so the show continues to be distinctly impressive and a wonder for anyone to enjoy.
Numbers remained about the same, with about 50 watchers present on Monday evening, before the storm.
Another crowd - ca. 125 - gathered on Monday evening, including a particular bunch who thought the bird gathering would be a fine time for a field trip. Boy Scout troops 42 and 365 arrived in small groups, but were eventually a large part of the crowd. The martin ambassador - Justin Rink - with a bit of a nudge, went over to convey details of the birds. His shined in his ambassadorial role on the lawn along Farnam Street, as he provided accurate answers to question-after-question from the gathering of young men, used hand gestures to visibly convey flight antics of the martins, and explained other facets of natural history, with an expressive flair which added so much to the bird-watching experience for the scouts. Justin Rink, M.A. - that would be "Martin Ambassador" - should get some recognition for his continued effort to explain, evening after evening, the basics of the gathering to a crowd of diversity, present night- after-night at the midtown roost. He's answered many of the same questions, time-after-time, explaining martin essentials to people, allowing them to end their night feeling more knowledgeable about martins and birdlife in general. His effort is more than commendable and deserving of recognition.
Elsewhere on the scene, there was a couple from New York state, which took the opportunity to see the gathered martins while visiting friends in the metro area. Many others - of unknown provenance, but obviously from different neighborhoods - congregated in the usual spots.
Monday evening was muggy again, with notable winds, certainly representative of late summer time. There was less of a show by the martins, but the expressive comments could still be heard as people effused about what is actually a normal situation; but that would be for only a small cadre of dedicated observers.
As August closes its tenure this year, the spectacle of the martins remain a superlative of the season. There are so many memories for those whom have taken the time to experience this great natural wonder.
More memories will occur, and be shared as recollections by people from near and far.
As it has been said before, this event is best experienced, and truly appreciated, based upon a personal view while sitting on the grass beneath the birds of Omaha's midtown sky.
Swarming Purple Martins at the roost in midtown Omaha; September 2, 2010.