Tag Archives for " Austin "

Leaving Austin

After our close call with immigration, we needed to reassess our overall journey. We now had just three more months until we would have to leave the USA for England.  We needed to get a move on, or we would not see all the National Parks that we had originally planned to visit.

It was Ian’s birthday when we arrived back in Austin from Mexico, and he chose to spend the evening at “C Hunts Ice House”. This was a small bar we had found in North Austin, whilst cycling to the thrift store one day. We had enjoyed a few early evening beers while listening to good old country music! It was just how I had imagined an authentic Texan bar to be.

C Hunts Ice Bar in Austin

C Hunts Ice Bar in Austin

Michelle came with us to join in the celebrations, and no sooner had we entered the bar, we were engaging with a couple of locals who on hearing it was Ian’s birthday, bought us all a beer. We sat with them as they told us a bit of history about the bar which was owned by Chester Hunt. They pointed out Chester, an 88 year old, sat quietly at his domino table on the far side of the bar. “Go and talk to him, he won’t mind”, suggested our new friends.

Ian with Chester

Ian with Chester

We all went over to say hello to Chester, and before we knew it Ian and I were sat, enthralled as he told us the history of the bar.

Chester’s wife (now passed), had bought the property over 50 years ago for $12,000 and they had made a business, first as butchers and then as a traditional “Ice House”. More recently it had become a bar and Chester still lived above it whilst he ran his “posy” of women, all university graduates, who looked after his customers with extreme professionalism. It was an all “cash” bar and we quickly discovered how astute Chester was and what he thought about America, its current difficulties and the future of money as we know it!

Chester was fascinating and we kept him talking for hours until he had to retire to his oxygen machine! What a great experience and one of the most interesting older men I have ever listened to. We promised to return to his 90th birthday party in a couple of years!

The next day we attended our last “Friends of Peter” meeting at Panera Bread, and had a lovely Mexican lunch after with Jerald and Venus. That night, on Laurie’s recommendation, we went to watch the swarming of Purple Martins above a car lot in central Austin – see separate blog entry for more on this.

Then we were off – Michelle was away on a weekend course, but we managed a last afternoon with Laurie and Damon. It was good to see their new house before leaving, which had a ready made RV slot beside it and was home for our last night in Austin. It was beside a railway line, and it made for an interesting night as the goods trains hurtled past at regular intervals, causing me to hold my breath as it sounded as if they were heading straight for the van!

And so our time in Austin had finally come to an end.

Thanks to everyone that made our stay in Austin special – Laurie, Damon, Michelle, all our new friends from “Friends of Peter” and all the other more casual acquaintances we made along the way. Austin felt like home and I’m sure we will return there again one day!

  • September 9, 2014

Purple Martin roosting phenomena

A spectacular natural event at a car lot in Austin

Last night we were invited to join the locals to watch an amazing spectacle in a parking lot behind a “Jack in the Box” fast food outlet in Central Austin. The instructions told us that we should bring a lawn chair, a hat and binoculars!

Until mid-August, Purple Martins come to roost here in just a few trees for the night. After migrating to Brazil for the winter, the birds travel back to their homes in the US and Canada each spring, where they lay eggs, raise their young and prepare for travel. Some birds leave as early as July, whilst others stay as late as October.

When not breeding, the martins form large flocks and roost together in great numbers. We are not talking about a few birds here. We were told that from 8.00pm until sunset, somewhere between 300,000 and 500,000 birds would swarm overhead. This was not to be missed, and so we headed down at around 7.30 in the RV to claim our spot in the car park.

Crowds gather in the car lot to see the Martins

Crowds gather in the car lot to see the Martins

When we arrived, the car lot was already filling up with couples and families, many seated and ready to watch a natural phenomena that has been occurring in this same spot, we were told, for many, many years. No-one seemed to know exactly how these birds “home” back to the same few trees each year and we were fascinated to see how so many would all find space to roost!

We found a spot and settled back to watch the skies. There were probably no more than a dozen birds scouting the skies above us when we arrived. But as sunset turned the skies pink, more and more birds swarmed in ever growing numbers, synchronizing their flight patterns just above us.

Purple Martins swarm in the darkening skies

Purple Martins swarm in the darkening skies

Purple Martins (Progne subis) are the largest of the North American swallows, averaging around 20cm. Adults have a slightly forked tail and have a steely blue-purple sheen, more pronounced for the males. The females have some lighter colouration on their lower belly.

Male and female Martins

Male and female Martins

It was hard to believe that we might see up to half a million birds in this one location, but during the next hour we watched mesmerized, as the skies filled with more and more martins performing aerial acrobatics with great speed and agility. Others dived from high above to join the mass that was congregating above the trees.

Purple Martins build their nests in cavities, however, following the release and spread of European starlings in North America during the 20th century, a severe population crash occurred. Where the martins once gathered by the thousand, in the 1980s they had all but disappeared, as they competed for nesting sites. This is when a new bond was created between people and martins which cannot now be undone. The martins became totally dependent on human-supplied nesting boxes, and east of the Rocky Mountains, martins nest almost exclusively in man-made houses where they can raise their families each year.

Nesting House

Nesting House

This human interaction has provided the conditions for a regeneration of the martin population, and we were thankful to be able to see just one of the consequential flocks in this small area of Austin.

As we scanned the darkening skies, the martins behaviour intensified. A dark cloud of birds seemed to fly in a circular frenzy as the horde grew in numbers. There were many “oohs” and “aahs” from the crowds as the birds swept back and forth across us before finally settling to roost.

Final roosting place

Final roosting place

As the evening came to a climax, a number of us moved toward the three or four trees that would be home for the night and were astonished to see just how many birds were claiming space in such a small area of shrubbery. As the birds settled, huddled together on  branches, they became still and calm. It was fascinating to watch as the remaining birds jostled to find a perch for the night, and how the intense chirping of the birds droned out the sound of the passing cars on the highway just beyond.

Lining up for a good night's sleep

Lining up for a good night’s sleep

This was certainly an amazing spectacle that at times sent shivers down my spine. Experiencing nature in this way has a unique and moving effect, and as we the car park started to clear I felt privileged to have been part of this extraordinary event.

For more information about Purple Martins, check out the “Purple Martin Conservation Association”.

Their website can be round at http://www.purplemartin.org and they can provide help and information about how you can set up nesting boxes to ensure that future generations of martins have safe haven in North America.

Travis Audubon Information center at last night's event

Travis Audubon Information center at last night’s event

Also visit the Facebook site for Travis Audubon for local events, at:


Travis Audubon promotes the enjoyment, understanding, and conservation of native birds and their habitats.

  • July 27, 2014