August Purple Martin Movement Along the Lake Shore

On Saturday morning, Aug 22, 2009, I observed nearly 2000 Purple Martins in 15 minutes, moving low, east to west, along the Lake Erie shoreline while I was on the Magee Marsh east beach trail at the end of the causeway.


While viewing a few Black Saddlebags dragonflies hanging from the bushes on the Magee Marsh beach, I noticed swallows swooping by. Then I realized they were martins. I looked up and toward the east-southeast, and I saw martins moving by me at tree-top height and even lower at times. The low-flying martins mainly flew on the south side of the tree line at the beach, but some moved directly over me and close too. Occasionally, one would make martin chirping noises as it flew by.

I began counting in blocks of 10, and I marked an X in my notebook for each 100 I tallied. Between 8:55 and 9:10 a.m. I recored 19 Xs. I needed to leave, and as I drove away at 9:15 a.m., the martin numbers had decreased, but they were still coming from the east.

It could have just been a lull in the movement when I was leaving. When I watched them on the beach, it wasn't a solid line of martins. They mainly flew by intermittently in groups numbering 5 to 20 martins, but occasionally, a group of 50 to 100 would pass through. At one point when the movement slowed while I was on the beach, I saw a big group over the lake but near shore, angling toward me that eventually passed overhead.

And even though most of the martins flew low where I was on the beach, which was over 100 yards east of the entrance, the martins quickly gained altitude. When I got back to my car, I saw martins high up over the nearby grassy field and the east end of the boardwalk parking lot.

I wish I knew how early they started their movement, and how long it continued after I left. And why were they flying low and then quickly moving up? And where were they going?

Here's a Black Saddlebags dragonfly I photographed in 2008 on the Magee Marsh beach trail. These large dragonflies migrate, and in the late summer and early fall, they congregate along the Magee Marsh beach trail.




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