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Park Pick: Evening Emergence

Bats by the millions are the top attraction at Old Tunnel State Park.

By Tara Humphreys

Imagine inhabiting an area the size of a football field with millions of neighbors and you all leave home at the same time every night for dinner. What a traffic jam! From May to October at Old Tunnel State Park, 3 million Mexican free-tailed bats and nearly 3,000 cave myotis, another species of bat, simultaneously depart their abandoned railroad tunnel shelter in search of food and water. Last year, I witnessed this amazing spectacle with a crowd of other enthralled visitors.

I arrived well before sunset to ensure I didn’t miss the emergence. Normally the bats come out within an hour of sunset, but unusual weather (like last year’s drought) can cause them to leave at varying times. Park staff and volunteers post the prior day’s emergence time so visitors can get an idea of the departure times. Keeping track of this data and other research also assists in the conservation of the bat population.

As eager visitors arrived, they all echoed the same question: “Have they come out yet?” Before choosing their seats for the evening show, visitors can view exhibits and talk to volunteers and park Superintendent Nyta Brown. We headed down to the lower viewing area, where we were treated to Brown’s interpretive program. She knows the park and its famous summer residents well, having spent several years researching them, and her passion is evident.

“I want visitors to experience the awe-inspiring sight,” Brown says, “but I also want visitors to leave here with a better understanding of how important bats are to the environment.”

After her program ended, we all sat in excited silence, eagerly awaiting the guests of honor. Only a few minutes passed before a handful of bats departed the cave and flew out into the night sky. Numbers built quickly, and soon the swirling spiral grew into the hundreds of thousands. With quick precision, the bats flew over the trees in search of water and insects. Visitors’ eyes grew large as they watched in silence.

“I enjoy seeing the smiles on their faces and their whispered words of amazement,” Brown says. “It’s really great when kids come up to me afterward and say, ‘That’s the best thing I ever saw!’”

Visitors can view the bats’ evening emergence May through October from the upper viewing area, or, for a $5 fee, from the lower viewing area; interpretive programs are given at the lower viewing area Thursday through Sunday.

Old Tunnel State Park, formerly Old Tunnel Wildlife Management Area, is located in Kendall County, approximately 13 miles north of Comfort and 11 miles south of Fredericksburg. Visit www.tpwd.state.tx.us/oldtunnel for more information on the park’s activities including hiking, wildlife viewing and park programs. For the most up-to-date emergence information, call the toll-free information line at 866-978-BATS (2287).


 


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