Southern Sights

Last night at sunset I watched 20 million bats vortex toward the sky from Bracken Cave in Texas. Actually, I lost count after about a million, so I’m just taking our Bat guide’s word on this.

Then, this morning at dawn I watched them all (I guess) dive-bomb at 40 miles-an-hour back into their cave. The sky was raining bats, interspersed with owl and hawk visits to the breakfast buffet. Oh, and a few skunks & raccoons were waiting below in case the some of the little Mexican free-tails crashed on re-entry.

Bats over Austin, Texas
Bats over Austin, Texas - © Jodi Jacobson

The exit and re-entry sounded, smelled & felt very different — dusk was noisy, and all those wings were pushing gusts of their “unique” smell up from their bedroom/bathroom to us in waves. In contrast, just before dawn we started to hear the quiet little zooms coming from all over the sky, and when the swarms came, sounding like a distant pack of bees. Until the sky got light enough, we just heard them, or spied them through combat strength night vision goggles.

So many questions – How did they find their way back home from 60 miles away? What are they eating now that so much of Texas has burned up? Why do all the mamas & babies live in this cave, and the males and nonreproductive females live elsewhere? Actually, I think we all had answers to that one.

Many of my friends want to know why I did this. I wonder why everyone wouldn’t want to see the where largest concentration of mammals lives, and how they get in and out of their house every day.

I went to witness the bats because I was invited by my friend Dianne, who works for the Bat Conservation International (BCI) in Austin, and rescues and rehabs bats at home with her husband Lee.

She’s not alone in her bat love. Last month Austin hosted their 7th annual Batfest, which coincides with a year-long world celebration of The year of the Bat (proclaimed by the United Nations). This was started because (BCI) in Austin, EuroBats, UNEP Convention of Migratory Species (CMS) in Germany, and dozens of others organizations want to “raise global awareness about bats, bat conservation and the unique role bats’ play in maintaining our environment. around the world.”

So, I witnessed something marvelous today, something that’s been happening since way before humans. Just like witnessing a birth, and wanting to tell the world about the majesty of nature, I needed to tell you, in case you didn’t know what’s happening in the skies over your head every night.

Suz Korbel

Susan Korbel

Graduating in '71 from Cornell gave me a few unencumbered years of protesting, followed by 4 happy hipster grad student/worker years at U of Michigan, completing a Ph.D. in public administration. Followed a comedian to San Francisco, then my heart to Austin Texas to learn the TV business, dabbled in hot&heavy politics in DC, and returned to Austin & San Antonio, Texas to hone my political/media skills. I make my money conducting consumer and political opinion studies.