Keeping weird in Austin, day 2; Bridges, Bats and Boats: oh my

Okay, so did you know, that Austin, Texas is the home of the world’s largest bat colony?

Fact.

The Anne W Richards Congress Bridge over Lady Bird Lake houses the world’s largest urban Mexican free-tailed bat colony. These little migrants spend the summer in Texas and the winters in Mexico. Who knew?

IMG_1049

Here’s the deal – at dusk, they start to leave their nests under the bridge in an orderly fashion, heading east to the fields to feed on juicy organic bugs, and then returning at dawn to spend the day in their little crevasses, protected from the Austin heat. It’s really quite a sight, and if you can’t get yourself a seat on one of the tour boats that cruise the lake and give you a prime view…

IMG_1048

… you can hang out on the bridge and see it from above. I recommend both.

IMG_1051

The tour is $10, and reservations are advised. It’s really quite a fun little trip, the boat master gives you a bit of history of the skyline and waterside sites, like when it was so hot in Austin that the brand new W hotel’s windows exploded. Oops.

They are also the local experts on this urban bat population. They get calls from lazy scientists about what time the bats took flight, how many there are, etc…

I took quite a few photographs, of which I will share with you, for that is how I roll. I can’t guarantee I’ll remember much from the commentary, though. Sorry about that. I’ve included some links to video I shot at the end of this post so you can hear some of what the expert boat driving guy was saying. Like things about guano and insects. Fun!

And it’s not a bad view.

IMG_1050

You can barely see it, however in that photo above, there is a Canadian flag in the little square between those three buildings. It’s not the Canadian Embassy, but a Hilton. On street view there are also Texas and American flags.

Flags

See?

So who knows if it has to do with the hotel or one of the businesses in those buildings or just Austin showing its love for our northern neighbors. No really, I’m asking. Who knows?

So the boat launch is just below the 1st Street Bridge, and the steps down to the water is this little nugget of misspelled youth:

IMG_1064

Jesus always was a profit. Was the grafitti-er ronic or just a bad speller.

Take the little gangway down, pay the man, and boat up. And if you’re lucky, you’ll not only see bats, but other local wildlife. Like turtles!

IMG_1059  IMG_1061

The first leg of the cruise is heading west down the lake to take in the sunset. The 1st Street Bridge is not the bridge we’re looking for.

IMG_1066

But this sunset is.

IMG_1067

Here’s the very knowledgable boat master, and behind him the Reggae Festival.

IMG_1070

I believe he is telling us something very important that I cannot remember. Maybe something about this railroad bridge and all the construction and revitalization going on all around Austin. Oh yes, I remember…

IMG_1071

There was a joke about the newest bird in Austin – the Crane.IMG_1072

Ho ho!

IMG_1073

And more sunset behind the railroad bridge, where we turn around.IMG_1077

And the Pac Man graffiti on the railroad bridge is revealed.

IMG_1079

IMG_1081

Well? Will you?

IMG_1080

IMG_1075

We’re lazily making our way back to the Congress Bridge, where the show will begin any minute. Around us on the lake are other tourists who’ve rented those banana bike things (see photo above), kayaks, stand up paddle boards and small boats. There are a few small cruises dotting the lake.

IMG_1084

Including one whose occupants are all dressed in steam punk regalia:

IMG_1092

Can you see them? Aren’t I being sneaky?

IMG_1082

There’s our hotel, the slick, grey and glass tower. The W Austin is quite a scene. I’d definitely stay there again if they lower their prices from $495. Seriously.

To the right of the W is the Owl Building. I’ll show you what I mean in a later post.

And just like that, the people gather on the bridge…

IMG_1099

And the bats come:

IMG_1100

They don’t just fly out all willy nilly, no. They follow each other down around each leg of the bridge, then out in a single file line.

IMG_1102

Who knew bats could queue? Maybe the girl on the banana boat bike:

IMG_1096 IMG_1094

The almost million strong bat colony (the babies aren’t born for a couple months) keep this up until the sun sets. There’s more bats in Austin in spring and summer than residents.

IMG_1097

IMG_1098

Happy trails, little dudes!

It’s time for us to head back too, just as Austin comes to life in the sunset, so must we.

I mean, we’re hungry. It’s time for dinner, already.

IMG_1105

I have some pretty cool video of this, but sadly WordPress would make me upgrade and pay for my blog in order to show them to you.

So if you fancy seeing this phenomenon of bats in action, of which you should because it really is quite cool, head to my Flickr page:

Austin Bats: the backstory

Austin Bats: they be flyin’

Austin Bats: bat queue

And finally, the last of the bats drop off Congress Bridge and fly out on their nightly hunt with Austin’s skyline in the background.

Austin Bats: the final push

Not too shabby, Austin.