An Austin Bridge Update Becomes Farming's Billion Dollar Savings
The big plastic bat wings at the back of the boat assured us we were at the right place. We were going on a bat cruise on Lady Bird Lake, or as locals still call it Town Lake. The bats come out from under the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge or Congress Bridge, about 20 minutes before sunset.
The weather had been rainy for days so no one was sure we'd see all of the 1.5 million bats swooping out from under the bridge. Apparently the rain brings the bugs out and the bats are well fed right now.
Our cruise started on Lady Bird Lake away from the bridge. The lake is part of the Colorado River, created by a dam. Circling the lake there are views of Austin City towers on one side and on the other side is a huge dog park, well used it seems by the number of dogs flying into the lake chasing balls. As we circled the lake we headed for the bridge.
Congress Bridge was built in 1909 and reconstructed in 1980. The new expansion crevices that help the bridge contract in weather were the perfect size for Mexican free-tailed bats to start a colony. At first the locals wanted the colony gone. Merlin Tuttle of Bat Conservation International (BCI) came to the bats' rescue. He told the city, bats are gentle and people have nothing to fear. Just don't touch them. The huge bonus are that bats are insectivores and the colony can eat 10,000 to 20,000 pounds of insects each night. These particular bats fly 50 miles most nights to the corn fields to eat the corn ear-worm moths. Farmers benefit by not needing insecticides and having undamaged product. This is estimated to save farmers one billion dollars in Texas. BCI estimates that worldwide, bats save 23 billion dollars in agricultural and human health savings every year.
As we approach the bridge, we can hear bat chatter and there is a slight ammonia smell of bat guano. On the bridge deck hundreds of people are anticipating the moment. Our boat joins a dozen others hovering upriver from the bridge, watching, waiting. The sun is setting, a few bats pop out. It's dark now and a few more bats come out. We wait more. Red spotlights sweep the sides of the bridge, searching. Only a few bats come out. Our cruise should be over but we wait even longer. Then we can wait no more. Tonight we'll not see them. Too much rain, too much food for the bats already.
We are not disappointed though. It was a lovely cruise, a beautiful evening for pictures, informative and provided a new perspective on Austin.
The bats are there from March to November, then fly to Mexico.
If you go: Capital Cruises 512-480-9264. $12.00 (adults) for a sunset/evening hour cruise. Seniors and children less. They also have other sightseeing cruises.
Congress Kayaks 512-809-8916 $12.00 for an hour
Or walk onto the bridge: Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge. Free