Bats sure have gotten a raw deal. They’ve been associated with Dracula for as far back as I can remember. We’ve been taught to fear them a little, in hopes they won’t bite us on the neck and leave those two little puncture wounds. I’m here to give you another perspective on these lovely little mammals that fly through the air all night nibbling up insects. Bats use echolocation to hunt their prey and on the menu; dragonflies, moths, beetles, flies, wasps and ants. When we think of bats, most of us think about caves (you know like where Batman kept his super cool cars!). Well, you might be surprised to know that bats can also live under overpasses and under bridges and when the sun starts to sink along the horizon, bats awaken and fly up and out into the darkening sky. The bats most common in Northern California are Mexican free-tail bats who are about 3.5 inches long and only weigh in at .43 ounces!
Now, imagine you’re floating in a kayak and have just watched the sky turn orange, red and yellow. You hear the cries of hawks and sometimes falcons overhead as they circle and light on nearby treetops. And then the magic happens. At first there are just a few hundred bats flying a little haphazardly as they make their way up and up and up. These are typically the juveniles that haven’t quite figured out how to fly like mom and dad. More and more bats ‘pour’ up and out of their designated cave, in this case their ‘cave’ is under the Franklin Bridge. The hawks are lunging, throwing their wings back and stretching out their talons in hopes of catching one of these little flapping creatures. Some are successful in their first attempt, sometimes it will take several. Once the hawk has nabbed a bat midflight, he’ll fly to a nearby tree and munch on his dinner. Then come back for seconds, thirds and sometimes a fourth try until it’s too dark to hunt. The steady stream of bats seems endless. If you’re quiet, you can hear the flapping of thousands of little wings. The bats will fly up into the night sky in search of food, only returning at dawn. As the number of bats begins to dwindle, we are brought back to reality. The sky is almost dark and it’s time to head back to our take-out. If you focus on the horizon directly in front of your bow, you’ll catch glimpse of singular bats zipping by as they search for their next bite to eat. You’ll smile and realize just how amazing Mother Nature can be.