Before my first CAMN field trip, it hadn’t rained for weeks. The ground and grass had long gone dry and crackly. I didn’t even think to check the forecast before leaving the house.
But Texas weather always punishes the complacent and unprepared.
My carpool group arrived early at Bracken Cave. We wanted extra time to chat with fellow CAMNers and eat the dinner and snacks we’d brought. Instead, as soon as we pulled up, it began to pour with raindrops so heavy they sounded like hail on the roof of the car. We waited, and I started to worry we’d miss the bats or the rain would prevent their emergence.
Just as I was pulling up the weather radar on my phone, the rain stopped. We got out of our cars and were met by a volunteer from the Lindheimer Chapter of TxMN. He gave us a quick overview of the bats living in Bracken Cave.
The facts surrounding Bracken Cave are near unbelievable.
Holding up to 20 million bats in the summer months, Bracken Cave contains the world’s highest concentration of mammals. As our guide pointed out, Tokyo and Delhi can’t compare. 500 baby bats can fit in just 1 square foot of ceiling space in the cave.
So many mammals in one spot creates quite the stink too. Ammonia from the guano wafted up towards our viewing point above. Our guide informed us that over 70 feet of bat droppings filled the bottom of the cave.
I knew I was about to see A LOT of bats, but knowing is one thing, experiencing the sheer numbers up close and in person is something else. The group grew quiet as the first bats started flickering around the entrance. They swiftly grew into a large, swirling cloud that our guide called a “bat-nado.” The sound of their wings was similar to the sound of a soft, pattering rain.
Dark ribbons of bats formed. They rippled in a drifting stream, which rose above the trees and stretched out towards the horizon.
It began to rain again, and the bats stopped emerging. However, our guide said this brief (30 minute) interruption had been happening each night even without the rain. We took the intermission to hike to an old guano mine shaft and learn more about the land’s history and Bat Conservation International’s stewardship.
Eventually we returned to the cave to watch more bats emerge and were told that they would continue to stream out until almost midnight. Our group stayed until lightning lit up distant thunderclouds, and it got too dark to see the bats – although we could still hear their fluttering wings.
Trips to Bracken Cave are limited. One of the best ways to get out there is through an organized CAMN field trip. To find out more about visiting go to Bat Conservation International’s FAQ page.