So this weekend I went to the other festival in town that didn’t involve watermelon. On Saturday evening in Shockoe, long about dusk, I joined a few hundred flightless, featherless bipeds to observe the annual arrival of the migrating purple martins.
The martins comings and goings are not new to Richmond, though new to some Richmonders. Historian Samuel Mordecai, to whom I’m indebted for his writing in later years a memoir/history of Richmond In By-Gone Days, makes his observations about the fly-in.
You know it’s a real Richmond event when in attendance are both performer Jonathan Austin and The Third Party Ballot Petition Guy.
I spoke with Adolph White, who is a big friend of the purple martins, and maintains houses for them in Bryan Park. Here's The Hat’s exclusive interview with him.
As the Audubon Society has noted about the martins coming to town, “it is a phenomenon that few people have had the opportunity to witness anywhere, because most of the roosts are normally in very inaccessible areas and are not easy to get to for the public to view…These sites are used prior to the birds’ starting their annual migration to South America. The roost in Richmond is active from mid July to early September. The roost on 17th Street is the only site in the state of Virginia that has been currently documented as being active and is easily viewed by the public.”
They are a noisy bunch, a regular congress of birds. As Mordecai noted in 1856, when they’d tended to gather at Capitol Square, that their gathering “was far more in order and pleasant than the 'unplumed bipeds' of the state legislature.”
Next year, I'm bringing binoculars.