Bats – they are small dark creatures that fly through the night. Their days are spent hanging upside down from the corners of caves and trees. They are seen as one of the scariest of animals, connected to vampires, particularly Dracula, and most popular around Halloween when their nocturnal flights can be the most dramatized. Most do not celebrate the existence of bats, but rather check their rafters and attics for signs of the creatures, praying none will invade. However, the people of Austin are not most people. Every year they celebrate the bats at the annual Bat Fest.
Nearly 40,000 people gather on the 1st Street Bridge for a weekend of fun, music and bats annually. Approximately 150 booths are set up with displays from professional artists and craftspeople, as well as food, educational displays and children’s activities. Vendors of past years have included Massage with body massage oil, t-shirts and, of course, massages; the New York Times with an option for subscription; Petal Patties with hanging flower pot holders; Gretchen Grimm with fabric collages and unique jewelry; Lost Island with one of a kind clothing; and The Light House with candles soaps and aroma beads. There are many, many more as well that you won’t want to miss from Zootzu to A Worm Nation.
The main reason everyone gathers for the Bat Fest is the bats. They are found on the Congress Avenue Bridge, which spans Town Lake in downtown Austin. There are an estimated 1.5 million Mexican free-tail bats, making the largest urban colony in North America. Every night from March through November, the bats emerge from the bridge at dusk, taking to the sky in search of food. If you are lucky enough to be near the bridge when this occurs, you will see a blanket of winged beasts soaring through the clouds as the sun sinks into the night. It is best seen in late August, which is why the Bat Fest occurs at the end of that month, be can be watched at any time during those months.
In fact, Gliding Revolution, a bat watching tour organization, offers you a great individual way to see the bats depart from the bridge. You can rent a segway and ride on down to Congress Avenue. Perched on your wheels, you’ll have the perfect view of takeoff. You could also watch courtesy of Capital Cruises, operators of the largest electric paddle wheel boat in the country. Hop on board for just eight dollars (six if you’re a senior citizen and five if you’re a child) and look for the bats from sea (or lake).
Whatever mode you choose, you’re sure to see a once in a lifetime event. Very few places and even fewer urban areas have this kind of bat population. It is truly something you do not want to miss.
Before you go make sure you brush up on your bat trivia, so you can impress those around you. Here are a few facts to get you started: The bats of Austin consume between 10,000 and 30,000 pounds of insects nightly. They can live to be 30 years old, and during migrations the Mexican free-tail can fly at an altitude of 10,000 feet at velocities of 60 miles per hour.