Any evening in August I look into the evening skies over Mauricetown and see sheets of Purple Martins heading to roost in the Phragmites stands along the Maurice River. Nearly a million birds have been counted, not including the thousands of Tree Swallows and Barn Swallows that likewise roost in the Phragmites along the river.
It’s a spectacle, one worthy of a National Geographic Special and its live, every evening in August in little ol’ South Jersey. The Delaware Bayshore does not lack for natural spectacles. This is, after all, the place where Tens of thousands of Red Knot gather every May to feast upon the tribute of eggs laid down by the waves of breeding horseshoe crabs, In winter, the marshes are sheathed in Snow Geese, that rise on thundering wings whenever one or more wintering Bald Eagles sail into view.
But in August, it’s all about Purple Martins. The birds herald from all across the northeast, drawn to the bounty of insects that infest Bayshore Marshes. Airborne beetles, dragonflies an other large insect prey constitute grist for the martin’s mill whose objective is converting insects to the fat martins will burn on their way to wintering grounds over the Amazon Basin.
One morning near month’s end with winds blowing northerly, the birds depart, and the radar signature clearly shows the rising birds all heading south. The daily radar signature shows a donut-shaped configuration that disappears as birds disperse.
But in the evening the birds arrive high over the down then descend as living tornadoes into the reed. The Riverside Park in Mauricetown makes a fine vantage point to view the show. Arrive at least fifteen minutes before sunset and on rainy days the birds go to roost early.
So why not take a trip to enjoy the Bayshore Spectacle of the season. It’s months until the snow geese arrive and Red Knot haven’t even gone south yet.
Martins. Here, Now. The hosts of breeding Osprey are just a bonus.