(Part of the Austin Rocks series of posts by a local about things to do and see in Austin, Texas)
As springtime pushes through in the northern hemisphere, we can all stretch our winter-weary brains and appreciate new life, warmer temperatures, budding plants, and the promise of summer.
There are special foods that can only mean warm weather …. there is NO substitute for a fresh Texas peach …. and there are special only-in-summer activities, like hanging out to watch thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats in downtown Austin that swarm out at dusk for bug-hunting.
The largest urban bat colony in North America lives under the Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge from roughly April to November; it’s a ritual on summer evenings to wait patiently for both the sun to set and bats to pour out from under the bridge, yelling “Suppertime!”
Well, mostly they squeak a lot.
The exact moment is hard to pin down. You can stand above them on the bridge itself, or watch from the ground next to the bridge, but don’t be fooled by the first 100-200 bats that come out. They’re just an advance party to scope out the cuisine situation for that evening.
When they start coming out from under the bridge by the thousands, flying at up to 60 miles per hour – and bringing with them a very pungent scent of bat guano as everyone relieves themselves at once – it is quite a sight.
Swirling up in a dark cloud up to 2 miles in the air above the Colorado River and Lady Bird Lake below, the bats launch themselves in search of 10,000 to 20,000 pounds of insects to eat that night.
Logistics for bat-watching: park just south of the bridge in the lot for the Austin American-Statesman news organization, or take the Cap Metro train to the Austin Convention Center stop and walk down to the viewing areas. Other options are to see the bats from a sunset cruise boat, take a kayak bat-watching tour or observe from a little distance across the lake at the swank new Chavez restaurant in the Radisson hotel at Congress Avenue and Cesar Chavez Street.
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