Awesome weirdness: The bridge bats of Austin

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I didn’t believe it at first. The world’s largest urban bat colony? One and a half million bats, all living under one bridge in Austin, emerging every night at dusk to head out in search of their nightly insect buffet? I had to see this with my own eyes.

So there we were, myself and dozens of other curious parties, gathered together on the Ann Richards Congress Bridge on a random summer weeknight, with the regal sight of the state capitol building just down the street.

Austin bat watchers bridge

In these extremely partisan political times, it might be hard to believe, but Texas did elect a Democratic governor as recently as the 1990s. Ann Richards served as governor in the early ’90s, preceding George W. Bush, and after her 2006 death, the bridge was renamed in her honor.

Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge

While most of us gathered on the bridge itself, a few congregated along the river shores. Others paid for “bat cruises” that took them out onto the river in a roofless aquatic vehicle with a giant bat statue in the back.

bat cruise Austin

And then the moment finally came, and the bats began pouring out from under the bridge, creating a massive black streak in the sky. Because of the twilight and the really horrid camera I was carrying at the time, I wasn’t able to capture many great photos of the bats themselves. And anyway, for the really good pics, I would’ve needed to go quite a distance away, to catch a wider shot.

Instead, I wanted to be right there on the bridge, just a few feet from these creatures as they came out. So I mostly ended up with shots like this, catching a few bats as they exited their daytime home.

Austin bats

The bats, of the Mexican free-tailed variety, typically come out every night around dusk from March to October. I visited in late May and that night they emerged around 8:30 and kept coming for more than 20 minutes. It was a spectacular sight.

The bat-watching experience was something I never expected and it ended up being one of the most memorable events of my three days in Austin. If you’re into quirky events – and if you’re reading this I presume you are – I’d recommend checking out the bats if you find yourself in Austin.

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About Scott Shetler

Scott is a Chicago-based journalist and blogger who seeks out quirky sights and awesome destinations throughout North America and beyond.

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