|The bat on the bat boat that hovered above us, setting the scene|
Everyone has probably heard about the bats of Austin, we had. But until you see almost a million fly out from under a bridge just as the sun goes down over the city, it’s hard to comprehend. We just had to see them. But what’s the best way to see them? There are choices so we asked several Austinites. You can see them for free by standing above them on the bridge where they roost or you can sit in the grass alongside the lake near the bridge with hundreds of other bat watchers. Other choices are to go out on a boat at a charge of $10 a person or rent a kayak or launch your own kayak. Even though we have our own kayaks we elected to go on a boat with a narrator in order to learn the history of the Austin bats.
Apparently there was a time when the bats were not wanted in Austin until the office of tourism realized their value to the Austin economy. The Ann W. Richards Congress Ave. Bridge was renovated in 1980 and 3-inch crevasses were built under the bridge to allow for heat expansion. The bats found these crevasses ideal for having their babies and much appreciated the tax payers monies that formed their housing project! In return, Austinites now appreciate the millions of dollars that the tourists add to their economy because of the bats. It’s a wonderful show. And it’s the largest urban bat colony in North America and estimated that these bats consume 10-30,000 pounds of insects each year.
|The bat boat that seats about 30 people|
|Austin skyline and the Congress Ave bat bridge just before sun down|
The bats are Mexican free-tail bats that spend the winter in Mexico, breed there then fly to Austin in early March already pregnant. They give birth in late June and July and the babies emerge with the adults in August and September to forage for insects. They return to Mexico in November. So they can be seen from mid-March until September in Austin but the best time to see the most bats is August and September which can number to almost 2 million. This month there are about 850,000. As the sun goes down they emerge because they don’t like white light. So it is fairly dark this month when they are flying. The boat operators use a large red light to make them more visible and so that their flights are not affected by the tourists.
|Touring up the lake waiting for the sun to go down|
|Congress Ave bridge with hundreds of people waiting for the bats to fly|
|Red light the boat captain used to shine the bats as they began to emerge. Note the crevasses under the bridge|
|Photo courtesy of Shelly Kneupper Tucker|
We had a great evening because we headed to downtown Austin around 4:30 pm and made it in time for happy hour at Zax’s Restaurant that is near the bat boat dock. Nancy did some research to find this restaurant. We had one of the most delicious pizzas (caramelized onion, goat cheese and kalamata olives) I have ever had and wine is half price a bottle at happy hour. The boat left at 7:30 just before sunset so we strolled along the lake across from the Austin skyline until we boarded. It was a Capital Cruises bat tour boat open to the sky that held about 30 people and the boat captain had a great “bat sense of humor.” The bridge where the bats live crosses Lady Bird Lake that is a 6-mile long narrow lake and more or less surrounds the southern part of Austin city. The captain narrates the tour, as we motored up the lake and back to the bridge, giving history and information both about Austin and the bats and it was well worth $10. We had the best view of the bats and learned and laughed arriving back at the dock at 9:00 pm just in time to get back to the motorhome and share our bat experience with Spirit!
|Austin prides itself on being weird with inspirational sayings on railroad bridges|