Last night, we had the most incredible experience: We traveled to a local wetland area to learn about bats and see their nightly exit from their 'cave.' The area where we went is part of the Yolo Basin Foundation, an organization based in the Yolo Bypass Area, which is very interesting in its own right. In between Davis and Sacramento, there is a long overpass built over a 17,000 acre wetland area. This area is designed to flood in the winter months when we get all of our rain. In the summer, it dries up, but there are pockets of wetness and bogs, and there are many farmers who grow rice in those places. There are also natural wetlands that attract many species of migrating and native birds. Any time you drive highway 80 from San Francisco to Sacramento, you go over this area. There are always interesting things to look at, from sunflower fields to rice fields, to herons and egrets.
We've driven over this area hundreds of times but never driven off of it to explore the wilderness area, which is open dawn to dusk each day. We finally saw it last night when we went to the Foundation to learn about and view bats.
The bats we saw were mainly Mexican Free-tailed bats, though we also learned about Pallid bats and Big Brown bats, which also live under the overpass. Mexican Free-tailed bats are tiny, like 3-4 inches long in body, and eat lots of agricultural pests, which makes them quite a boon to the Central Valley. The farmer who grows rice in these fields, who allowed us to venture on to his property, reports that he uses zero insecticides on his crops, even though rice is a crop notoriously predated upon. The bats do all the work for him.
The speaker, a naturalist who works with bats, had examples of each of these bats with her and showed them to us under a camera that projected the image onto a large screen. These bats were brought in for rehabilitation (for instance, the one above had her wing damaged by a cat) and are not able to be released into the wild. They don't permanently live in these display cases, this was just for our benefit. It was so interesting to see these bats up close and discover the beauty and delicacy of their wings, their downright adorable faces, and the large ears. Our naturalist had a special machine that could 'hear' the echolocation the bats were making, which is beyond the range of our own hearing. It was so cool to hear those clicks! We were all riveted. The naturalist explained what the bats eat, how they live, and why they live under this overpass, which is basically because it so perfectly mimics cave environments. Which, by the way, are in short supply - habitat is disappearing for many bats, because of human interference and loss of insect life. Pesticides affect the creatures that eat insects, of course, and that includes both birds and bats.
After our talk, we drove out to a super-secret place under the overpass, through the farmer's rice fields. He was growing domestic rice, which is short and chartreuse-y green, and also wild rice, which is tall and has a huge inflorescence tinged with red from the pollen. It's a gorgeous crop.
After driving about a half hour on the twisty-est roads imaginable around bogs and ponds and groupings of reeds and rice, we came to our spot.
There were about 30 of us in our group, and we went to this spot because for some reason, the bats have chosen that tree in the distance as their exit point. About 250, 000 bats live under this overpass, and there are three exits, but this one seems to be the one most of them choose and we were told to expect three 'ribbons' or waves of bats. The naturalist said they exit at a similar time each night but that it wasn't exact and so we would just wait until something happened, and it didn't take long before we noticed, all along the underside of the overpass, a great rushing of wings. The bats fly for awhile under the overpass until exiting at this tree. So suddenly you notice an enormous shadow of wings rushing down the channels of the overpass, like some great hoard of locusts, and then they burst out into the air.
And then they start to fly in this curve, going out over the fields, and eventually they rise up into the sky and disperse in groups.
The line of bats went on and on, and then there was a break, and a second ribbon appeared, and then a third. We saw hawks sitting in trees nearby, waiting to snatch a bird from the ground if it fell. We watched the clouds of bats grow higher and further away (they can hunt up to 50 miles away from their cave). Meanwhile huge dragonflies were hovering around our heads and formations of geese skimmed the overpass. Suddenly we noticed more 'rushing' and out came a fourth ribbon, very rare, and then later another ribbon, the 5th, which caused our naturalist to text her husband in disbelief.
We just stood and stared. It was like a miracle. I've seen bats on the wing at night in various places (and I hope desperately that we have them at home), but I've never seen something like this. It was incredible.
The way the bats flew made me think of sine curves, and it reminded me that sine curves happen all around in nature, in the ocean waves, in sounds that we hear, the sunrise/sunset pattern, our heartbeat. It made me think about the great Creator of our universe who makes even daily things look like poetry. Sometimes you just have to stop for minute and experience the Divine, which is so easily found in nature.
These talks and walks go on all summer, before migration in the autumn takes the bats to who-knows-where (none are tagged, so no one knows). They are sold out for the season except for Sept 21, and you can get your tickets HERE. If you can't go this year, put in on your calendar for next year; you don't want to miss this experience.