Nature at Night
Millions of Mexican free-tailed bats have a summer home in Texas. They live in large colonies scattered across the state. We went to watch them emerge at sunset from the Devil’s Sinkhole near Rocksprings. The bats there are roosting in a huge underground cavern that is 350 feet deep. They can’t fly straight up, so they fly in a spiral to exit the cave, flying just inches from you as you stand right on the ledge. It takes about 20 minutes for them to exit the cave and fly out of sight, looking like a smoky tornado as they head south to feed on moths.
(My pictures are not great – my camera cannot handle “night scenery” and “fast motion” at the same time. I encourage you to look at the official Devil’s Sinkhole site link above to see better pictures and even videos.)
I love to see them, not only because I love nature in general, but because they represent a victory for environmentalists. Bat watching is a popular summer activity now, but it wasn’t always that way. As recently as the 1980s, the Austin American-Statesman newspaper ran headlines guaranteed to terrify its readers about the bats that were roosting under the Congress Avenue Bridge. One man, Merlin Tuttle, moved to Austin with the goal of educating the public about the benefits of bats, and managed to change public opinion so much, that there is now a monument to the bat and a special viewing area in Austin. Bat tourism brings in ten million dollars a year to the Austin economy! Watching the bats emerge reminds me of this success and gives me hope for wildlife conservation.