At night, the Purple Martins take flight! Each summer the skies over Lunch Island on Lake Murray come to life as the Purple Martins arrive for their summer vacation. It is estimated that more than one million birds venture north fro the summer and roost on the island, giving spectators a rare look at one of nature's true phenomenons. On Earth Day of 1995, SCE&G entered into an agreement with the South Carolina Audubon Society and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources to establish a permanent sanctuary for the Purple Martins on Lake Murray's Lunch Island. This sanctuary provides the ideal layover for Purple Martins as they make the long journey south to their winter home in South America. This sanctuary remains the largest roosting site in North America.
The sky gets dark and millions of birds fill the pre-dawn and evening skies each day. Louse Chambers with the Purple Martin Conservation Association best described the experience watching the spectacle. "As it got darker, the birds flew lower, closer and closer to the boats, much to our delight. At all times, we could hear the characteristic roost sound, described as 'hissing steam' or growling. As the darkness increased, circling martins descended on the island, where they covered everything so thickly, it gave a softened appearance to the contours of the vegetation. The impression was that a thick martin 'frosting' covered everything, like a new heavy snowfall. The routine used by martins to leave the circling flocks, and dive down into the roost, was fascinating to watch. As a group of martins circled low over the island, suddenly many martins, perhaps the whole bottom layer of the circling flock would pour steeply down into the roosting group. Martins left the roost almost as steadily as they arrived, with new little swarms constantly rising up into the sky. It was a over a little after 9pm."
Time of year to see the Purple Martins: End of June to beginning of August. The number of birds peak in mid-late July. Time of day: In the evening, birds funnel in starting about 30-45 minutes before sunset, but will be flying in until dark. From 8pm-9:15 pm is the best time to be there in mid-July. In the morning, the birds begin leaving the island as soon as there is any light in the sky. Plan to be there from 5:30am-7am. It has been recorded that when the birds leave in the morning, it is like an explosion and the local weather radar has said the image is larger than Hurricane Hugo was in 1989
Where: Lunch Island, often referred to as Bomb Island or Doolittle Island Where do they go during the day?: They disperse to feed, sometimes traveling up to 100 miles away for food.
How to see them: By boat as Lunch Island is in the middle of beautiful Lake Murray. You and your friends can climb aboard the Southern Patriot Tour Boat for dinner and a up close look at this phenomenon,click here to find out more about the Purple Martin Tour .