Skimmers in the summer scene

Although I have kept a daily bird-sighting census, one of my regular visitors has always eluded me.

Not the bird. As easy as it was to spot, so difficult was it for me to identify. I just gave them the name “skimmers.”

The skimmers were everywhere during the summer months. Apparently possessing voracious appetites they just skimmed above the water, sometimes even dipping down to grab a morsel on the surface of the lake. I assumed they weren’t eating fish but rather the many bugs or dragonflies – well, they are bugs too, I suppose. But dazzlingly pretty ones.

Trouble – my trouble – with the skimmers was that they were so busy skimming – and eating – that they were always in flight and so impossible to identify. Not only wouldn’t they hold still but they moved at exceptional speed.

Till, that is, the bluebird house was placed on the bridge. Almost at once the skimmers began to become sitters and then, my book in hand, could be positively identified as tree swallows.

A year or two ago a friend and I had spotted my mystery bird while we were walking near the lake and she had announced that what I had was obviously purple martins. How marvelous! Is any bird more widely valued as an insect eater?

Wiser now I suspect the purple back she saw was either the tree or, probably, the barn swallow which I also have and which I can more easily identify by its deeply-forked tail.

Believing I was blessed with such a sought bird as the martin, the biggest (literally) gift under the Christmas tree was a martin house – in many hundreds of tiny pieces. Ultimately (that means finally) it did get put together and then erected with its base securely set in cement. Directions for luring the choosey birds were explicit – and followed to a T.

Soon indeed the house was drawing visitors, if not yet boarders.

But martins? Not for many years to come. It simply became the apartment house of choice for the tree swallows.

Which, I then learned, wasn’t all that bad. The book (not read until the martin house was up) says martins are known for their “dawn song,” performed before light and heard up to 30 miles away. My doubts increased when I read that martins are not mosquito eaters but instead prefer insects that fly at high altitudes and are larger – nice things like dragonflies and butterflies. What, I asked myself, had I gotten into?

It was many years before the martins did show up. They are here now – and seem happy in their home which I have learned to easily clean.

And the tree swallows are also still here – skimming away, eating all those nasty bugs, keeping me amused with their antics – and singing, oh, yes, singing a joyfully quiet sweet song.

They have also decided a rest can be well-deserved and so perch on the top of the weather vane, the better to positively identify them.

Susan Crossett has lived outside Cassadaga for more than 20 years. A lifetime of writing led to these columns as well as two novels. “Her reason for Being” was published in 2008 with “Love in Three Acts” released in June. Copies are available at Papaya Arts on the Boardwalk in Dunkirk and the Cassadaga Shurfine. Information on all the Musings, the books and the author can be found at