The Bats Under Congress Avenue Bridge

APRIL 25, 2013

You know how parents have a little mental folder of childhood stories about you, that they love to tell family members and friends? You've heard these selected tales repeated over and over that, even if you don't actually remember the incident yourself, you know all the details?

One of my mom's favorite anecdotes of me was when I was in preschool. We had gone on a field trip to the zoo, and when we returned to the classroom, we each had to inform the teacher of our favorite animal that we saw locked up in a cage. The parents stood by, as each of my classmates walked up to the teacher's desk and said, "The lions!" "The monkeys!" "The zebras!" etc.

Apparently, I'm standing in line, looking like a creepy motherfucker, and the teacher asks me, "And Lauren, what was YOUR favorite animal at the zoo today?"

Without hesitation, in a very menacing voice I proclaimed, "THE BATS."

Which caused my teacher to be momentarily speechless and bewildered. Which left my mom laughing and making it one for the books.

I don't know if it was due to my mild obsession of Batman (I recorded as many Adam West episodes that my VHS's could hold), or perhaps if it was the cool little cave that we went through at the zoo (I don't remember talking to my teacher, but I do remember feeling scared and excited in that section of the zoo), but BATS have always had a special place in my twisted little heart. When a co-worker told me about a very, very large population of bats in the next city that I was set to visit, I was overly eager to begin my Googling.

Turns out, every March-April, thousands of pregnant Mexican free-tailed bats migrate into the USA, and the largest urban colony is located in Austin, Texas, under the Ann Richards/Congress Avenue Bridge. Apparently, the bridge is an ideal habitation for the bats, with its deep crevices. Every night at dusk, rain or shine, the bats depart the bridge to find dinner, making for an insane sight, and now: a huge tourist attraction. In early June, the bats give birth to a single pup, and around August, those pups are ready to take flight. At its peak in August, 750,000 to 1.5 million bats leave the bridge, which can take around 45 minutes for the entire colony to exit.

Based on my work schedule, my free evening to view this marvel would be Sunday, April 21, 2013. On Saturday morning, I walked over to Lady Bird Lake (which the Congress Bridge is erected over), to scout the area, and seek out where I would want to post on Sunday. The lake is surrounded by awesome walking and bike trails; I ended up taking an impromptu run while I was over there. On the southeast corner of the bridge, the Austin American-Statesman set up a bat observatory area, which is a grassy knoll that is ideal for bat-watching and also houses some museum-esque facts about bats.

Great trails.

The Austin American-Statesman area for bat-viewing.

On Sunday, the estimated time for the bats to depart was around 7:45p, which I found out my calling the bat hotline (not even joking) at 512-327-9721 x16. I arrived there about 7:30, which didn't seem near dusk yet. I walked around a little more, this time to find a spot to make my video intro (below), and sure enough, close to 8:00p, they just started pouring out from the bridge.

In previous videos that I had seen, they seem to make a stream from both ends of the bridge and join in the middle to form one giant cloud of bats... it looks like the smoke monster from the tv show, LOST. But from my perspective at the Austin American-Statesman area, I could just see the nearby stream. I mentioned earlier that the peak is in August, so I'm sure the double stream is much more pronounced then. Nevertheless, it was awesome, and if you're ever in Austin, you have to make a point to go and check it out. Here's my video: