Austin bat colony
100 Congress Avenue , Austin
I slipped out early from the recent Writers’ League of Texas convention in Austin to see the bats. Maybe the traffic was unusually heavy because it was a Saturday night in June -- when females of the Mexican free-tails are joined by their recently-born young -- but it was hard to find a parking place close to prime viewing spots. A staff member at the convention told me the closest spot was in the parking lot of the Austin American-Statesman newspaper, which had a designated bat-watching area. But it was already full by sundown. Fortunately I wore comfortable shoes so neither the trek further down the street nor the steep climb from the bridge to the grassy area below was a problem.
And the bats, billed as the largest urban colony of the flying mammals in North America, were amazing. They emerged in spurts from under the bridge, flittered around and joined foraging parties whose undulating formations at some points stretched across a good portion of the skyline. Their numbers are estimated to reach up to a million and a half after the pregnant females who migrate to Austin each March give birth in June and July.
Watchers jammed the bridge’s pedestrian walkway, but having watched both from on and under the bridge, I found the best spots for photos and video were below, allowing the bats to show in silhouette against the still lighted sky. Riverboat cruises and kayak rentals also cater to viewers who want to watch from the lake.
The bats arrive each spring and spend the summer fattening themselves and their pups on tens of thousands of pounds of insects before migrating south in the fall. Although Mexican free-tails are endemic to the Southwest, their numbers in Austin increased tremendously after renovations to the Congress Avenue bridge over Lady Bird Lake (formerly Town Lake) made it prime bat real estate.
The Austin American-Statesman’s hotline, 512-416-75700, category 3636, gives approximate flying times, but come early to get a good viewing spot. Bat Conservation International’s site, www.batcon.org/discover/congress/ has more information about these creatures.
Final word -- although I did not experience any personal discomfort, some sources suggest wearing a hat or carrying an umbrella to keep things that aren’t raindrops from falling on your head.