Bryan Park, located at the busy intersection of Interstates 95 and 64, is a verdant oasis at the edge of Richmond. It’s surrounded by residential tracts, a major railroad switching yard, an active business district and miles of concrete.
The park is home to colorful azalea gardens that draw many springtime visitors, several soccer fields used by school teams and league players, and a host of neighbors who jog, cycle and walk their dogs along the park’s trails.
It is also the site where several avian guardians watch over a trail of bluebird nestboxes and a thriving colony of purple martins.
Purple martins, a favorite species of many birdwatchers, seem to easily tolerate human activity and often choose to live near residential areas. The birds devour flying insects — a colony of purple martins provides very effective insect control.
The birds’ chief guardian at Bryan Park is Adolph White, a retired English schoolteacher and computer aficionado who established the park’s purple martin colony roughly five years ago along Lower Young’s Pond near the Bryan Park Avenue entrance. The colony has averaged roughly 35 to 40 martins in recent years, returning in early spring from wintering grounds in the Amazon Valley of Brazil, up to a 5,000-mile journey.
The colony’s homes are actually a series of family apartments atop several tall metal poles, each protected from predators and interlopers. White has installed overturned buckets around each pole near the base to deter snakes. He also created a barrier to place around the apartment houses to protect against sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks that sometimes stalk the martins.
A couple of years ago, a hawk preyed on the colony, but met his match when White created a protective wire grate to surround each of the apartment houses. The entries are large enough for martins to enter, but small enough to repel the predator.
White’s nemesis, though, are house sparrows, pest birds that continually attempt to move into the apartments. An ever-watchful landlord, White outsmarted the crafty sparrows, however, by using a cage trap with an entrance too small for martins. Once inside, he removes them and relocates the sparrows far from his colony.
Watching over an active and vibrant martin colony takes time. White visits his colony almost daily and puts in countless hours making sure that the birds’ homes are well-maintained and undisturbed.
If you visit the Bryan Park colony, you’re likely to find White standing watch beneath the apartments. He’s become a popular figure there, and numerous visitors stop by the purple martin “gated community” to watch these handsome birds and chat with White about their welfare.
On one of my morning visits with him, the martins left their homes and slowly rose into the sky to feed on insects. The majestic deep purple birds floated and soared across the sky, crisscrossing and calling to one another.
White turned to me with a broad smile and said: “That’s just beautiful.” So true.
Backyard birds to watch for: Baby birds are the highlight of early and mid-spring, especially such species as northern cardinals, American robins, brown thrashers, gray catbirds, northern mockingbirds, house and Carolina wrens, tufted titmice and Carolina chickadees.
Foods to feed them: Sunflower seeds, especially black oil seeds, peanuts, fruit pieces and perhaps a seed mix scattered for ground foragers.