Saturday, June 07, 2008

Old Tunnel Wildlife Management Area

Henry and I have both been feeling a little cooped up so we decided to go out for a drive on our anniversary. I had some business I needed to take care of in Fredericksburg so we headed in that direction.

The highlight of the day was sunset at Old Tunnel Wildlife Management Area. Amazingly enough this is the smallest wildlife management area in Texas (16.1 acres) with the most mammals of any wildlife management area. At the peak of the summer bat season, over 3 million Mexican Free tailed bats live in the old railroad tunnel. Each night volunteers give a presentation about the bats before it is time for the bats to leave for the nightly hunt. Thursday through Sunday there is a lower observation area open for a small fee to get a closer look at the bats during the exodus.

We arrived early and I got a front row seat with my big lens. There were a couple of hawks, one a red tailled hawk, who were cruising the area. The volunteer thought the presence of the raptors might be a signal that the bats would leave early. I was watching the hawk soaring when all of a sudden it tucked its wings in and did a spectacular nose dive. Sure enough the first bats were exiting the tunnel!

When I first set up my big Sigma lens, I was afraid it was going to be too big. Light was not great, so I chose a high ISO so I could keep my shutter speed fast enough to get stop motion on the bats. My goal was to get some close shots as they exited the tunnel. I was also hoping to get shots of the big picture - the patterns of the bats as they spiraled up in the sky before dispersing for their feeding.

The females and young have not yet taken up residence in the tunnel, so the spectacular show of the bats lasted only about 13 minutes. When we were there later in the year, I think it took 45 minutes for all of the bats to leave the tunnel.

I was actually glad we were on the upper deck, because I think i got better shots of the bats and the surrounding landscape. But i would also like to go back with the Canon 100-400 lens and get some shots from the lower deck. No flash is allowed, so I'm hoping to go in July or early August and hope that the bats will be leaving before it gets too dark.

Truly an amazing spectacle to see the sky so filled with these small amazing creatures.

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