At the end of June, I made the trek with my daughter and two grandsons to Gulf Shores Alabama. Not a fun drive but we had a mission. My youngest grandson was playing his last tournament series with the baseball team he has played with for many years. So a bittersweet tournament. They always do well and this year was no different. Not first but second in their bracket which racked up the third year in a row that they brought home some hardware. They were happy.
Interspersed throughout the week, we had time to stroll or just bask on the beach. And Gulf Shores beaches are magnificent. Sugar white sand so very different from the sand I grew up with on Galveston Island. It was a pleasurable experience and of course being near the ocean is always good for birding opportunities.
On this trip, Ospreys abounded. Everywhere I looked I found platforms with Osprey nests. Most had juvenile birds that had fledged from their nests but continued to return and beg for food from their harried parents. Even though they can fly, the juveniles have not honed the fishing skills necessary for their survival. Their parents may continue to drop food for them for many weeks until they master those skills. At one of our late afternoon baseball games I witnessed this phenomenon from my baseball perch. The juveniles were flying off and on the nest, yakking away begging for food and I spotted one of the parents in a tall pine tree very near the nest…close enough to monitor and intervene if necessary, but far enough away to encourage independence from his/her offspring. If the game dragged, I had another source of entertainment, up close and personal.
Beaches, boys, birds and baseball! How much more summertime can you get?
At the end of June and through July, the Purple Martins descend on Austin in vast numbers. Not hundreds but thousands of these birds arrive in Austin on their long journey to South America where they will winter. For years they roosted in about seven trees in the Highland Mall parking lot but last year they moved to the Capital Plaza Shopping Center parking lot and this year they have moved again a little North to the Embassy Suites Hotel parking lot. No one knows why they changed sites but the move they made isn’t very far from their old roosting site. Each morning they leave the trees in the parking lot and take to wing in search of the many insects they will devour all day long before returning to their roosts at night in those same trees in that same parking lot.
This phenomenon has become so popular that our local Audubon Society actually has Purple Martin parties on Friday and Saturday nights. These dedicated volunteers are in that parking lot just before dusk to answer questions and provide education for all the people who come to watch this incredible event. It is difficult to describe but I will try.
People begin drifting into the parking lot just before sundown. They may have umbrellas to protect them from the obvious byproduct of so many in-flight birds. They open their car trunks or tailgate and remove lawn chairs, select their chosen site, sit with binoculars in hand and begin the wait for the grand finale….when all the birds have settled in for the night. Looking up in the sky it is easy to see martins beginning to circle the parking lot. Gradually as darkness starts to increase, the birds begin spiraling in circles over the trees. They begin to land on branches and as their numbers increase, the boughs of the trees begin to droop with the sheer weight of the massive volume of birds. Each bird is seeking a roost for the night and the trees literally become alive with birds, shoulder to shoulder each chattering their indignation as other martins try to wedge themselves into any tiny available space. Estimates are that between 100,000-200,000 birds spend the night in those trees before ascending the next day to repeat the cycle. At first it was believed that these birds were staying here for about 4-6 weeks before continuing their journey south. But the recapture of some banded birds has suggested that this huge number of birds may not be spending more than one or two nights here before moving on. If this is the case, then the sheer numbers of Purple Martins traversing our city on their migratory journey increases exponentially. Check out a video here….. https://highlandneighborhood.com/purple-martin-migration-at-highland-mall/
Purple Martins are members of the swallow family. They eat and drink on the wing and spend our winter in South America. Landscapes in small towns and farms and even in urban areas, are dotted with purple martin houses erected to entice some of these interesting birds to take up residence, build a nest, lay their eggs and raise their young all to the delight of the property owner. They are colonial nesters which explains the preponderance of condominium style purple martin houses erected by homeowners.
So if you happen to be in the Austin area during the month of July, I highly recommend an evening with the birds. It is tremendous entertainment, totally free and I promise you won’t regret taking the time to include this activity into your itinerary for the day.
Happy bird watching at the Embassy Suites parking lot!!!