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per amica silentia lunae

or, across the ferny brae with the evil voodoo celt

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lone star bats, pt. 1

So, like I said, we were really in Austin for the bats. I've been a member of Bat Conservation International for a long time, and I knew that they'd relocated to Austin partially because of the Congress Avenue Bridge bat colony. It's the largest urban bat colony in the world*, and the city's change in attitude towards it- from "menace to be eliminated" to "local treasure" is almost entirely due to BCI's tireless work.

We first went there on Thursday 7/7, despite a looming thunderstorm. It was early when we got there, but we could hear the bats chittering already; there was also a not-unpleasant smell of guano… much like skunk smell, it's the sort of thing that's only bothersome when it gets overwhelming. The storm (apparently the first rain Austin had seen in a month) arrived shortly thereafter, chasing most of the onlookers away. We waited in our car (the Austin American-Statesman has kindly allowed the use of their employee lot, as well as supporting the observation center) and waited out the rain.

When we emerged, the bats were just starting to take a few test flights under the bridge. Soon, they began to emerge in earnest, pouring up from under the bridge. It was hard to pick them out against the clouds, but it was still pretty impressive- especially with the glorious lightning display from the retreating storm. At one point, an opportunistic owl (or late-hunting hawk) nailed one of the emerging bats. Ah, nature…

The next night, no storms were threatening, so we made our way down to the bridge once more. There were even more people, and we could see how this was a local tradition- there was a festive air to the crowd. We didn't see any of the Bat Girls, darn it… I guess they're around later in the year- August is really the best time for the bats at the Bridge.

The bats began to emerge right around sundown, and it was far easier to see them this time- monsteralice saw three or four columns at one point, coming out from different archways under the bridge. Conditions were much better for photography this night, and I got a few more decent pictures.

It was amazing to watch them flow almost endlessly from their roosts, building into a serpentine stream that arced around the trees and off downriver. You could hear the steady sound of their wings, not at all softly. As night fell, some of them swooped low nearby, hunting along the grass and around the trees. Even after it got too dark to see them clearly, you could hear them, and watch the city lights flicker as they flew past- it takes a long time for that many bats to emerge.

For awhile, we just stood there and listened and watched, grooving on our little buddies. Eventually, we wished them "good hunting" and went off in search of dinner of our own, knowing that more bat adventures awaited us…

* remember monsteralice 's mantra…

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