Monday, February 7, 2011

Texas is being invaded!

They are spilling over our southern border by the hundreds. By the thousands even. More and more every day, Texas is being invaded by migrants from the south.

And this is just the first wave, the leading edge of an invasion that is only beginning. Over the next few months, these numbers will increase until every tree and hedgerow is alive with these invaders as they seek shelter after a long trip.

These first arrivals are already being reported by alert observers all over the state. Every day they are out there scanning for the first sighting of the first scout of the oncoming army.

What the observers are looking for is a flash of black, a dark body outlined against a winter landscape. Actually, the newcomers are most often heard before they are seen. A liquid warbling betrays their presence. The experienced observer hears that sound and looks up, searching the sky for its source, an adult male Purple Martin.

The Purple Martin Conservation Association maintains a website page for observers to report their first sighting and that page shows reports coming in, not just from Texas, but from all across the southern tier of states. The birds are coming in spite of the cold weather that still prevails in much of the area. These birds, who make their living catching flying insects on the wing, may find slim pickings as that cold weather keeps the insect population down, but somewhere in Brazil in January their biological clocks told them it was time to fly north and so they have come.

Purple Martins are among the most popular backyard birds in the country. Today's Americans continue the tradition started long ago by Native Americans of putting up housing for the birds. The birds have, in fact, become dependent upon the maintenance of this tradition. In the eastern part of the country, they now nest exclusively in human-constructed housing.

Not only are these birds favorites with many backyard birders, they are favorites of mine, as well. I always look forward to that first sight of purple-black wings against the winter sky, and February is the month for it here in Texas.

So, I'm out there with my ears wide open, listening for that first warbling sound, and my binoculars are at the ready, just like all the other besotted observers. I know the birds are in my area because they have already be reported by several spotters. Not by me though. Not yet. But I'll keep looking.

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