Bats Aplenty, Bats Galore
All right, there’s been a lot about birds lately. I’m only kind of sorry about that. But now, let’s
talk about other flying things, but flying things that are mammals! That’s right—bats.
For the last Discover Your Parks walk of the season, the TMPF team headed out to Cottonwood Park in Sparks at dusk to observe the famed McCarran Bridge bats.
Brazilian free-tailed bats have lived under this bridge for quite some time, and apparently return to this maternal colony year after year.
We got to the bridge just after dusk. I had led a group comprised of mostly children and their
adults, and they were super excited about the bats. They were super excited about everything
we had seen along the way (mostly, the Slippery Elm trees, and it was awesome).
As we got closer to the bridge, my small contingent and I could hear the bats clicking away.
We could also smell the bats from oh so far away. To brave the lines of poop, or to at least
distract from the fact that these lil’ poopin’ mammals were above us and capable of defecating
at any moment, I taught my cohorts about ‘bat ears’ and why they are so big. The floppy,
external part of the ear acts as a dish to collect and funnel the sound into the ear canals, where the sound is decoded by our brains. Not all animals have these external ears (here’s lookin’ at you, birds), but some animals have larger-than-average pinna to gather in the most amount of sound. Bats, deer, foxes, you know the type.
I asked my gaggle of young naturalists to cup their hands around their ears in the direction of the bridge; their clicks were immediately amplified. We turned our cupped hands around, and could hear the adults prattling away as they waited for dusk. They turned their ears like satellite dishes as we walked, gathering all the sounds under, around, and about the bridge.
When we finally made it out from under the bridge (we bat-eared-it-up for quite some time), the bats were finally starting to emerge. They flew out from under the bridge in an endless stream of echolocation and sporadic movements, flying over the crowd of people gathered and the river itself, gathering up insects for dinner. With their big ol’ ears and finely stretched wings, they were terribly adorable, though they were flying so fast it was hard to get a good look at one in particular. I’m making an assumption here, really.
The gaggle of young naturalists were crawling around on the rocks, completely enthralled by the bats, the water, and everything around them. It was heartwarming to see all these kiddos excited and happy about the natural world. And, more so, I was elated to see the adults remaining on the path were equally as enthralled by the wonder we were witnessing. I’ve never seen so many bats in my life (I mean, before this, I had never seen a wild real-life bat, so this was pretty cool), and I was so grateful to be surrounded by folks who were equally as excited. I didn’t even care that a bat pooped on me—it was awesome. I can’t wait until the bats return next year; be on the lookout, Reno!
Until then, happy quails & trails!