Land of Car Alarms and Longhorns

Posted by ardeidae on October 21, 2007

The last couple months for me have been quite a whirlwind. Last year, the company I’ve now worked for for the last seven years made its first major steps to move its headquarters from sunny Santa Monica, California. After the decision of where the company would call its new home, everyone in my department was gathered for a meeting and we were all offered the option of moving…to Austin, Texas.

Some people wanted to stay, some wanted to go. I found the opportunity intriguing and exciting, but I didn’t really know much about Austin. There was no rush or pressure for any of us to move, and the new office was just getting established, so I gave it a little thought, teetering back and forth. Part of me wanted something new, and another part wanted to stay and be a part of the birding community I’d found myself deeply involved in.

In June, the company sent a group of us to Austin for a weekend to see if it would be a place where we’d want to relocate. I’d heard a little about Austin from others who’d made the trip before me, and those that knew me said they thought I’d like it. As our plane made its final approach into the Austin, I discovered how green the area was. I was amazed at how many trees there were. It was definitely a good first impression. Our hotel was downtown, right along beautiful Town Lake, and right next to the Congress Avenue bridge where the famous Mexican Free-tailed Bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) roost. The colony is estimated at 1.5 million bats, and they clear out about 10,000 to 30,000 pounds of insects each night!

On Saturday, our group had a short guided tour of some of the residential areas of town and on Sunday we were each assigned a realtor to take us around and show us some homes that were available. I hadn’t made up my mind fully about moving, but looking at homes was enticing. With the prices of homes in Austin, I could finally own a house! Night life was great too. Downtown Austin is easy to access, and there are plenty of places to go. Live music abounds! Austin is also home to the University of Texas, and Longhorn fans and memorabilia are quite abundant. It reminds me of the Husker spirit I experience every time I go home to Nebraska.

The only thing that might outnumber the Longhorn fans in Austin (besides the bats, who are probably UT fans as well) is a certain species of bird. These guys (and gals) are everywhere. They have several distinct calls, and one of them is reminiscent of a common sound in Los Angeles…car alarms. Great-tailed Grackles (Quiscalus mexicanus) are everywhere you go. They’re greeting you as you park at the grocery store…they’re picking up twigs in the parking lot at Target…they’re hiding in the plants at the Lowes Garden Center…they’re pooping on your car while you’re in the restaurant. You name the time and place, and they’ll meet you there. There are also a number of other birds (and other wildlife) in Austin as well, but if you ever need to take a photo of a Great-tailed Grackle, you’re sure to get it in Austin.

Great-tailed Grackle at the Grocery StoreGreat-tailed Grackle at Target

Though it was only a weekend, I got a good feel for what Austin is about. There are many things to do, and lots of nature-oriented activities. After more consideration, I felt that Austin could fulfill some life quality items that Los Angeles couldn’t. I’d spent over 18 years in Los Angeles, and I knew it would be difficult for me to leave my friends, as well as my Los Angeles Audubon family, but I felt that I couldn’t pass up this opportunity. That week at work, I started the ball rolling on my relocation.

At the end of August, I returned to Austin to do some house hunting. I found exactly what I was looking for on the first day and made an offer. It was accepted. With everything I had to do for closing and preparing to move, the next several weeks are now a blur.

I’ve been here in Austin for nearly a month now, and I’m still unpacking. I’ve been mostly occupied with getting settled in (going from an apartment to a house is such a big change!), so I haven’t really ventured out much yet. But I will soon, and there will be plenty of experiences to share!


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