Purple Martin Mania

Purple Martin 

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 Martin Condo 
Purple Martin Condo

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!!!

Other Sunsets

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Heading West

For many years I worked twelve-hour shifts at a hospital in Houston. 7A-7P makes for a very long day. If I was working back-to-back shifts, I would often spend the night with my sister in Houston, repeat the twelve-hour shift the next day before heading home on 290 West to Brenham. With daylight saving time, that hour drive home went from being a burden to a pleasurable drive into a beautiful sunset painting. As I drove the colors changed as the sun sank lower and lower. It was a constantly changing panorama of different hues of yellow, shades of oranges, washes of blues and brilliant flaming reds. Those sunsets made each of those drives seem like a drive into an art gallery.

My sister has had a small home in the country for many years. I have had the pleasure of IMG_4779enjoying many sunsets from the porch of her farmhouse. It is peaceful sitting on that porch and listening to the sounds of the night beginning to appear as the sun falls to the horizon bathing the trees and pond in its waning light. A Great Blue Heron that lives on her pond goes to roost.

The beauty of ocean sunsets always leaves me breathless. The ocean restores my body and soul and I can actually feel this giant peacefulness settle over me while sitting on the beach watching the sunset. The brown pelicans are making their final beach patrol and I know that while I sleep the ocean waves will be busy all night long bringing new treasures to the beach.

From the Balcony

When I moved to Austin ten years ago, it was very important for me to be near the water. Austin has many bodies of water and after much searching I found my perfect nest. Each night during the summer months, as the sun begins to set, the blazing sunsets can be spectacular. As dusk begins to settle firmly over the landscape, the bats begin leaving their daytime roost from under the Congress Street bridge heading east in their nightly scavenge for the millions of insects that make up their diet. It looks like a giant black ribbon that has been threaded across the sky. Thousands of people each year flock to the Congress Street Bridge at sunset to watch this phenomena. And it is spectacular.

Congress Street Bridge Bats

Another interesting sunset “happening” that I have yet to experience occurs looking out over the ocean in La Jolla California. Each night we would watch the sun drift lower and lower to the horizon in the hopes that we would witness the “green flash”. The green flash is viewable because refraction bends the light of the sun. The atmosphere acts as a weak prism, which separates light into various colors. When the sun’s disk is fully visible above the horizon, the different colors of light rays overlap to an extent where each individual color can’t be seen by the naked eye.” (http://www.livescience.com/26376-green-flash.html). Each trip I make to California finds me hopeful that one day, while viewing a magnificent sunset over the Pacific Ocean, I will witness the “green flash”. Someday.

Awaiting the “green flash”

And then there are the sunsets of our lives. I am certainly approaching or have already arrived at the sunset portion of my life. Looking back, I realize that there are many chapters that have led to my sunset years. Infancy, Childhood, Puberty, Young Adult, Middle Age, and Senior. There are certain tell-tell signs that let us know when we are approaching our sunset chapter. The one that jumped out at me a few years ago was when I lived on a farm. I was walking from the barn to the house and I stumbled, went down on one knee, but jumped back up very quickly. My daughter who was walking with me grabbed my arm and asked if I was OK. At that moment the thought that crossed my mind was “She thinks I am old” With that moment I realized that getting older happens so gradually that we are unaware of its creeping presence. So, your children beginning to worry about you, the over 55 discounts and advertisements that begin showing up in our mailboxes, the loss of muscle strength or body flexibility are just a few of the obvious sign posts that herald the arrival of the sunset portion of our lives.

I may be in those sunset years, but in my brain I am still existing in those chapters that traverse my twenties and thirties! So until I ride into my final sunset I plan on just enjoying every minute and living life to the fullest.

Happy bird searching!!! And sunset gathering!!!

The Birds of Lady Bird Lake

Lady Bird Lake – Fall 2015

There are many year round residents that abide on the shores of Lady Bird Lake (AKA Town Lake) and then there are the seasonal visitors passing through on their migration journeys. It is always fun to use the spotting scope from my balcony to see just who is up and fishing early in the morning or trying to catch their supper before heading to the roost for the night. Many times a walk around the lake trails will yield closer views of some of the year round residents. I can always find some species that thrill me along the way.

The Lady Bird Lake shoreline is almost always bustling with people…hikers, bikers, fast walkers, joggers, families with children in strollers, or senior citizens taking their morning constitutional. People watching is a sport right up there with bird watching. But the birds interest me the most and I find it amazing that they can co-exist in an urban environment in such close proximity to humans. Here they successfully build nests hidden in reeds or leafy tree limbs, manage to raise their young to continue the new generations that will grow up on these shores and perhaps seek their own territory near where they were hatched or move on to a different area…seeking mates and ensuring survival of their specific species. So here are a few of the locals that I have captured while walking the trails and boardwalk. Enjoy!!!

Male Northern Cardinal

The male cardinal is always a favorite and is easily spotted and identified by his rich scarlet color, black mask and chin, heavy red-orange beak and distinctive crest on his head. They have a unique way of moving over the ground by hopping. They are primarily seed eaters.

Yellow -Crowned Night Heron

Another secretive resident of Lady Bird Lake is the Yellow-Crowned Night Heron. They are solitary birds and contrary to their name they may also be out and about during the day. I found this guy hunting for his breakfast in the shadows of the trees on the edge of the lake.


And of course, on every walk it is possible to view the beautiful Snowy Egrets. They are permanent residents on Lady Bird Lake. In breeding season, he has gorgeous plumes and at IMG_4043one time these beautiful birds were almost hunted to extinction because of the demand for their decorative feathers for women’s hats. Fortunately they are now protected by law. They are smaller than the Great Egrets and are easily identified by their bright yellow feet, sometimes called “golden slippers”.A group of egrets is sometimes referred to as a “congregation”, “skewer” or “wedge” of egrets.

So come on down to Lady Bird Lake and see what birds you can spot while walking the trails and boardwalk. It is always a rewarding experience!

Happy bird searching!!!



Hornsby Bend – December 4, 2015

A clear crisp,blue skies day In Austin Texas, the perfect day for a short trip out to Hornsby Bend to check out which birds may have stopped by for a rest while on their migratory trip South.

Hornsby Bend is a 1200 acre site situated on the Colorado River and it did not have its beginnings as a bird sanctuary, but instead was built in the 1950’s as the main water treatment facility for Austin. It has become a national recognized biosolids recycling center and is expertly managed. Here the sewage from Austin is transformed back into potable water and returned to the Colorado River. Here sludge is transformed into Dillo Dirt which is sold to gardeners throughout the area.

Hornsby Bend has been a birding hotspot for over 50 years now. The story of how the first birders found the ponds goes something like this…A young birder named G. Frank ‘Pancho’ Oatman was visiting relatives in the area over the Thanksgiving holidays when he spotted some ducks flying across the Colorado River. He began exploring and found the sewage facilities at Hornsby Bend. He spotted several different species and began spreading the word to other birders who flocked (pun intended) to the area to enjoy looking at multiple species that had never before been seen in the Austin area. Over the years, thousands of birders have visited this facility to enjoy the many birds as they drop in for a visit and rest on their migratory travels.

Check out more about Hornsby Bend at http://www.hornsbybend.org

Today I visited Hornsby with my BFF Linda who is in Austin visiting for a few days. We spotted Killdeer, starlings, mockingbirds, Gadwalls and a large flock of Northern Shovelers. My friend on the right was nowhere to be seen today however. No matter, I am sure I’ll catch him on the back side.

Happy bird searching.