It’s 7 p.m. and the air is soft and still, the afternoon haze dissolving into the whisper of dusk. Suddenly, several shadows flutter off the horizon and dissolve into the tunnel of cobalt sky overhead.
They’re bats and they’re right here in downtown San Antonio.
Next Tuesday, August 12, bat enthusiasts will attend Bat Loco to see the 20,000 to 30,000 Mexican free-tailed bats living in the city’s own “bat cave” — a three-quarter-inch-wide, six-inch-deep gap in the concrete bridge beneath Camden and Newell streets along the River Walk’s Museum Reach.
Come dusk, the bats will drop from and fly along the bridge before veering southeast toward the San Antonio Museum of Art to begin their nightly feeding on corn ear moths and other agricultural pests, noted Coco Brennan, a volunteer with Bat Conservation International, which is hosting the event with the San Antonio River Authority (SARA) and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Many guests to the second-annual bash may have glimpsed the more than 20 million Mexican free-tailed bats living in a maternity colony at Bracken Cave north of San Antonio in Comal County — the largest bat population on earth — or viewed bat colonies under bridge crossings within the urban core.
(Read more: Member’s Night at Bracken Bat Cave)
The bats residing at the Camden Street bridge are bachelor (male) bats – with the occasional female – that migrate to Mexico in October and return to Texas in March.
“We’re trying to get the local community to feel like they are connected to nature even though they live in an urban area,” said Matthew Driffill, SARA coordinator for the event. “We have tens of thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats living under the bridge that probably gets 100,000 cars driving over it every day.”
“Even though you may live in a concrete jungle, you are part of this bigger environment that is affected by everything you do, big or small,” he noted, adding the event is expected to draw about 2,000 guests.
SARA is in its fifth year of hosting bat educational programs along the San Antonio River, and the organization will close down Camden Street to make way for food trucks and vendors from the Bexar County educational community.
There will be bat activities for children, including a presentation on the Mexican free-tailed bat and its use of echolocation, as well as bats of the world. Bat mascots Echo and Batman will be on hand to sign autographs, and the Peterson Brothers band will perform.
The presentation will debunk many long-held myths about bats and even delve into their similarities to humans, Driffill said.
Guests have commented on the migration of the bats as a great spectacle.
“We’ve heard their flight described as a river of bats that make a stream and fly,” Driffill added. “One of their adaptations is they fly together after dusk, when darkness makes it harder for hawks, owls, and other predators to hunt them.”
The presentation will begin at 7:30 p.m. and finish up in time for when the bats emerge from beneath the bridge, usually around 8:30 or 9 p.m.
SARA is also partnering with Rio San Antonio Cruises to offer “Bat Barges” — riverboat rides for guests to learn about bats as they float down the water.
While some visitors may be concerned about bats and disease, the mammals actually are quite safe to be around.
“These bats provide a lot of economic and other benefits,” Driffill said. “There are about 100 million Mexican free-tailed bats flying in central Texas every night, eating their body weight in insects.”
He added that bats fertilize the blue agave plant, the main ingredient in tequila.
“This partnership speaks to how important bats are to us and to the greater San Antonio community, so everyone understands the benefits of our local guests — or maybe we’re the guests in their space,” Driffill said.
The City of San Antonio’s “Downtown Tuesday” special offers parking at city-operated parking garages, parking lots, and parking meters every Tuesday evening from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.
In addition, admission to the San Antonio Museum of Art is free Tuesday night from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Guests to Bat Loco may want to bring a blanket, lawn chair, sunscreen and some cash for food. They should arrive early in time for the bat presentation at 7:30 p.m., Driffill added.
*Top/featured image: Bats fly from the Camden Street Bridge during previous Bat Loco program. Photo courtest San Antonio River Authority.
Member’s Night at Bracken Bat Cave
At Risk: Planet’s Most Extraordinary Bat Colony
Bachelor Bat Colony: Boys’ Night Out on the San Antonio River
Gallery: Youth Photographers Capture Bexar County Nature and Win Big
Why Birds Matter: Conservation and Celebration in San Antonio for IMBD