Keep Austin Batty
When I got home from Austin, the first thing I told my roommate about was seeing the Congress Avenue Bridge Bats. I went on and on for a solid 5 minutes about them, super excitedly explaining (despite being exhausted from a day of flying and wanting nothing more than to crawl immediately into my bed once we landed) what it was like to see them and half bouncing as I stood in the doorway of my roommate's bedroom. Once I had finished, her (appropriate) response was: "So, do you like bats..?"
The answer is yes, I love bats. When I was little, I had a book (maybe a few?) on all the different kinds and what they ate and how they used sonar to find food. My sister and I used to go out and sit on the back deck or lie down on our trampoline in the back yard at dusk to watch the little brown bats that lived in our pine tree swoop around, catching the mosquitos we so hated, and occasionally dipping down to steal a bit of water from the pool (albeit I'm sure the chlorination was not great for their health).
When my boss told me about the Congress Avenue Bridge Bats in Austin, I knew I had to see them. Austin is home to the largest urban bat colony in North America, with the Congress Avenue Bridge housing approximately 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats every summer (March - October). They emerge every evening around sunset from under the bridge to go out for their nightly feast, creating not only a unique tourist attraction, but also a positive impact on the environment, eating "from 10,000 to 20,000 pounds of insects, including agricultural pests."
Hundreds of people line up every night to watch the bats take their flight from the bridge, either along the edge of the bridge or at the Statesman Bat Observation Center adjacent to it. You can also book boat or kayaking tours to see them. Check out this article for the best tips and tricks to watching the bats nightly flight.
If you want a good spot to see the bats, it's best to get there a little early, even up to an hour before sunset. When I got there, there was an elderly gentleman wearing a fedora with a bat glued to the top directing people to the best spots along the bridge to watch. He is deaf, so he will sign his instructions to you, and later comes around with "Keep Austin Batty" and "Batman" pins for sale. Take a button and give $5 - his welcoming kindness and help was well worth it.
It's best to see the bats in August or September, when the colony is at its largest. I was there in early March for SXSW, so the bat colony was smaller than it would be later in the season, as the babies (or pups!) aren't born yet. Nevertheless, the steady stream of Mexican free-tailed bats made for some great pictures against the sky of the setting sun, and a really cool experience to stand with hundreds of people and watch with wonder.
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