July 29, 2010

Migrating martins make Wichita pit stop

One of Kansas' top wildlife spectacles is again playing deep within Wichita.

One of Kansas' top wildlife spectacles is again playing deep within Wichita.

Nightly upwards of 30,000 purple martins are gathering to roost amid a line of trees at the edge of a parking lot at the Via Christi Hospital on St. Francis.

Kevin Groeneweg, a local birder, reported Tuesday evening that the clouds of martins gathered above the trees at about 8 p.m. and the best viewing was at about 8:30 p.m. All was quiet by about 9 p.m.

This is the fifth consecutive summer martins have gathered on the hospital grounds as they prepare to migrate to Brazil. Over the next 10 to 15 days the flock could reach as high as 50,000 martins before large numbers begin to leave.

Groeneweg said they've probably picked their gathering site because it's well lit and wide open. Purple martins, most of which have lived all summer in man-made bird houses, also equate humans with safety.

The birds can be viewed from vehicles in a number of parking lots near St. Francis and Murdock. Some wildlife watchers sit out in lawn chairs, wearing wide-brimmed hats or holding umbrellas.

Much of the viewing is watching clouds of martins quietly moving overhead. Eventually they come by the thousands from all directions. Many fly low over the parking lots, tracing the contours of any cars, trees, buildings or people they encounter.

Wichita Audubon will hold an informational field trip at the roost on Aug. 11. Participants are asked to meet at the parking lot south of the hospital, just west of the railroad tracks, at 8 p.m. Binoculars are suggested.

Hats, too.

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