The first sighting of the Purple Martins roosting in the height of the summer never fails to thrill. Since spontaneously coming upon a wild, swirling flock at Highland Mall years ago, I’ve followed the mid-summer roosting for a decade. Around 400,000 thousand Purple Martins have chosen the humble mall parking lot of Capital Plaza to roost in this year, 2021.
Displaying clever aerial acrobatics as they snap up insects, the chatter and grace of the birds fills my heart. Studies suggest the Martins nesting in North America are nearly completely dependent on human-built housing to keep safe from predators. A random gathering, seemingly not bound by family or relationship, the birds are preparing for flight to points in South America, the female known to wing it up to 300 miles in 24 hours.
Circling together, hurricanes of Martins eventually settle into a few trees at in the remaining light, always a surprise how many can fit. The flutter of thousands of wings in the leaves is similar to waves breaking on a shoreline. Adding to the spectacle in late July, the Saharan dust is creating sunsets of deep orange and yellows, the dome of the violet crown ringed above. A much needed experience countering the spontaneous grief and confusion of the world gives way to appreciation, a most certain way forward out of the morass, as I process losses mother and settle ancestral accounts.
The Purple Martins will only be roosting in Austin until August 3rd or so. Catch them if you can, and allow yourself to slide into appreciation.