Yes, I’m an avid birder and professional bird conservationist — but that doesn’t mean I don’t take time for other flying things…like hundreds of thousands of bats.
I took a few days off in late August and went down to visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park in southeastern New Mexico, an easy drive for me from my home in Albuquerque. The main reason to go there in late summer and early fall is to see the evening bat flight. Carlsbad Caverns harbors a maternity colony of Mexican free-tailed bats and, in the late summer, the evening flight is especially large since the young bats are out flying and feeding, along with the adults.
Evening bat flights are amazing — something everyone interested in nature should experience. Carlsbad Caverns is certainly not the biggest U.S. bat colony (that distinction belongs to Bracken Cave, Texas, about 20 million bats) nor the most famous (that distinction belongs to the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, Texas, about 1.5 million bats), but it is very accessible in a natural setting with some 400,000 bats. You can watch the show from the bat amphitheater while listening to an informative bat talk from the park rangers and buy bat memorabilia at the souvenir stand.
I had a spectacular visit to the Carlsbad Caverns bat flight: several hundred thousand bats, rainbows, a beautiful sunset over the Chihuahuan Desert, and many interesting birds (Cave Swallow, Canyon Wren, and the Rufous-crowned Sparrow).
It’s truly a multi-sensory experience: you see thousands of bats literally wafting over the desert landscape; hear the wind from their wings (and the bird songs); and smell the aroma of guano from the cave — nothing like it, I guarantee. There is plenty of other stuff to see there, too. For example, I saw a ring-tailed cat on the drive home after the bat flight. There’s plenty of good birding in the area, especially at the Rattlesnake Springs Picnic Area (which is also partly a Nature Conservancy preserve). And rumor has it there is a large cave system to be visited, too.
(Image: Mexican free-tailed bats flying out of Carlsbad Caverns. Credit: Toika Rover/Flickr through a Creative Commons license.)