For the second year in a row, one of the highlights of my family’s summer has been watching purple martins descend by the thousands on Austin for the night. You might recall from my Purple Martin Roost Near Highland Mall post last year that a colony of purple martins formerly roosted in the vicinity of Highland Mall. This year, they’ve hopped across I-35 to Capital Plaza Shopping Center.
What could be so great about a bunch of birds, you ask? These purple martins are one of the most phenomenal natural occurrences I’ve ever seen. For starters, the sheer numbers are amazing–hundreds of thousands of birds, according to the Travis Audubon Society. Then there’s the sight of their graceful flight patterns–elegant spirals and sudden changes of direction–and the hum of their wings above your head. Standing near one of the roosting trees as the birds all flap and jockey for space sounds like a tin roof in a rainstorm. Did I mention that there are hundreds of thousands of birds in one place?
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For easy viewing, use the main parking lot entrance at the big Capital Plaza sign. If you miss it, turn in by Target and wiggle your way back toward Chase Bank. When we showed up about 8:15 on a Tuesday evening, there was ample parking and plenty of room to spread out. Lawn chairs and binoculars are a great idea, as are hats and/or umbrellas. The best advice I can give you: keep your mouth closed while looking up.
The birds start trickling in around dusk and their numbers swell gradually until they finally settle into the oaks at nightfall. The purple martins perform reliably every night (unlike those pesky bats downtown) through early August when they continue their migration northward. Travis Audubon Society is hosting FREE Purple Martin Parties on Friday and Saturday, July 24-25 and July 31-August 1, from 7:45-9:00 p.m.