If you have landed here then you either want to learn more about our company, who we are and what we do – or you want to know more about the bats that we so adore. In either eventuality we have you covered so fear not! Read on to find out more…
Austin Batours was set up in response to our love of bats and our desire to share that love with the world! We decided to start offering tours to this stunning spectacle after our own interest led us to learn all we could about these fascinating furry creatures. As we found out along the way, once you become enchanted by bats there is simply no other city in the world you would rather be in than Austin, Texas.
After only a few years we now have a firmly established set of high-end tours that we can offer you:
- The Bat Walking Tour: This tour kicks off at the Hyatt Hotel and takes roughly an hour to an hour and a half. During this breathtaking experience you will cross the Congress Avenue Bridge and wind up in the Statesman Bat Observation Center. This tour comes with the complete history of the Bats on the Bridge and a full Q&A session from our professional guide who will be able to answer any of your bat-based queries!
- The Bat Photo Tour: This tour meets at the Kayak Tour Offices on Riverside Drive and encompasses a one and a half to two hour outing. From the dock we have a grandiose view of the Congress Avenue Bridge that makes for a picture perfect shot! Austin Batours also have fully qualified photographers on hand too should you need any help capturing the idyllic moment.
- The Kayak Bat Watching Sunset Tour: This tour is our specialty – what better way to watch the bats than from the water? From March to November you can hop in a kayak and see their roosting place from the water – as well as picking up some of the finer attractions of the city while you are there, This tour lasts between two and two and a half hours and will provide you with memories that will last a lifetime!
But that’s enough about us… we know what you really want! Everything we know about the Mexican Free-Tailed Bat (also known as the Brazilian Free-Tailed Bat, to save confusion)!
About The Mexican Free-Tailed Bat
The Bat, of course, is the star of all our shows! This little beauty is a magnificent animal all of its own right for numerous different reasons. Let’s take a closer look at where it comes from, what its habits are and why, for the love of all things holy, 1.5 million of them choose to make their nest Under the Congress Avenue Bridge…
There are actually three types of free tailed bat in the world and all of them hare a common ancestry. However, Since one of them is from South America, one from South Africa and the third from Egypt; scientists can only speculate as to how all three came to descend from the same animal. So it has come to be that the Mexican Free-Tailed shares sister genetics with the Egyptian Free-Tailed and the African Roberts Flat-Head Bat.
Common ancestry means common habits and it is some of those commonalities that have lead all three species to suffer at the hands of humans – unintentionally of course. When we move into new land we flatten it and build upon it, destroying their natural habitats and forcing them to move on, or, if you happen to be the brilliantly adaptive Mexican Free-Tailed Bat, to move up…
Where hundreds of thousands of years ago these tough little furries were hanging out in caves and hollowed out tree trunks; now the resourceful little beasts have taken to using any dark nook and crannie they can find in an effort to live alongside man. They still love caves of course, but nowadays you are much more likely to find them nesting in the alcove of a building, in abandoned spaces or in shaded areas of old masonry all over the city of Austin!
Because of our inadvertent destruction of their habitat this once common bat is now on the monitored species list in California, a fact which should give you some idea of why our 1.5 million strong colony on Congress Avenue Bridge is quite so important. Nearby to the city you can find Bracken Cave, an underground expanse where the bats will nest en masse. It is estimated that roughly 20 million bats reside there – which almost makes our million and a half paltry by comparison.
No matter how many millions of bats in the Congress Avenue Bridge colony there is no denying that their evening take-off is a sight to behold. Apart from the sheer mass of furry bodies that protrude into the night to hunt bugs, these bats are known for being the fastest flying land mammal and can reach speeds of up to 160 km/h without including dive speed. A fully grown adult male will weigh no more than 12 pounds and has a tail almost fully half of its total body length, which is where they pick up their name from. All of this comes together to create a creature so aptly aerodynamic that it’s nightly flight really requires a camera so that you don’t miss the moment!
These are innovative little bats that have learned to roll with the punches over the years. They will roost anywhere that reminds them of the dark caves and hollowed out tree trunks of their ancestors – which means they love to find the nooks and crannies in buildings to make home. They do not care if the building is occupied or not, making them one of the bravest bats we know about, and we can’t help but love them for it!
For some reason, the mother bats will return every year to have their babies under the bridge. These babies instinctively come back to the area they were born in come mating season and the cycle begins again. The colony did run into trouble in the late 1900’s though when the bat population outweighed the human population in the town and there was talk of extermination. Fortunately bat conservationists saved them with petitions and activism and we have the thriving colony that we know and love today.
Bats do carry the threat of rabies with them. An infected bat will live only two or three days and won’t be out hunting for bugs with his buddies, so there is no need to worry about infection.
Pro Photographer Tips for Catching the Bats in Flight
Austin Bat Tours have some of the best bat photographers in the business on hand so we thought we caught up with Austin Bat Tours Dan Herron to ask for advice on the best ways to get the perfect picture of the bats in flight. Dan is best known for his 27 evening straight stint back in the bat season of 2011, when drought forced the bats out before sunset and made photographing them easier just for that one season.
Dan says that the shutter speed on your average IPhone isn’t quite fast enough to catch the tiny and terrifically fast movement of the bats’ wings flapping in the shot. Dan reckons that the best way to get around this is to use video – a theory that we back fully. Video means you can pull individual frames or shots from the footage at a later date and therefore gives you more chance to get that ultimate photograph.
Dan also says: “If using a digital single lens reflex (DSLR), the best setting are a high ISO such as 1600-3200 and shutter speeds of 1/250 or 1/500 and upward with an aperture of F11 to keep them in sharp focus depending on the lighting conditions of that particular day.”…Which we are fairly certain will make sense to the photographers among you!
And Finally: Bat Fest!
That’s right, the people of Austin love bats so much that they devote an entire festival to it. Held every August at the Congress Avenue Bridge at dusk, this Bat Fest sports three main live music stages, various vendors and crafts stalls, food, drinks, children’s entertainment and lots of other fun activities, arguably the most exciting of which is a bat costume contest.
Bat Fest makes a great time to visit the city, take in the sights and to help us celebrate these wonderful little creatures that have helped our city to thrive over the years. Here in Austin we truly do love our bats, and we love people who want to be part of it! So sign up for one of our tours during Bat Fest and get the best of both worlds.
Trust us, with Austin Bat Tours you are in for a night to remember!
The support structure of the South Congress Avenue Bridge, such as the buttresses, pylons, arches and posts, are original to the 1910 construction. When the road was rebuilt in 1980, engineers included small gaps running along the length of the bridge’s bottom.
Completely by accident, this attracted the bats that already inhabited the drains underneath the north side of the bridge. They remade their homes in the cracks, where they are able to stack on top of each other. Their population increased and reached maximum capacity in just three years.
Now the north end of the bridge is considered the “nursery,” since this is where the mothers stash their babies. After they go on their nightly hunt for food, they return to the north end of the bridge and look for their pups by sound and scent, which can take 2-20 minutes. Once they nurse their babies, the mothers take shelter a bit further along the bridge.