Sunday, July 14, 2013

Eckert James River Bat Cave Preserve

Last Thursday, I finally had a chance to visit the Eckert James River Bat Cave near Mason, Texas.  My friend and I arrived a little before 7:00 and there was already a stream of bats flying over the river valley.  There were three hawks successfully hunting the bats as we watched.  We grabbed our camera gear and headed up the 1500 foot trail leading up the hill to the entrance to the cave. It is an uphill climb, but it is not too steep. A flashlight would be useful if you stayed until dark to come back down.   When we arrived at the entrance, it was such a pleasant place.  Wooden benches provide comfortable seating in a grove of trees for shade.  The cave opens such that an earlier arrival might have given opportunity for the bats to have natural sunlight for better lighting of their small furry bodies.  I am hoping for my next visit to arrive at 6:00 p.m. when the gates open.

We arrived just as the first set of bats were leaving.  While waiting we saw what was identified as a white racer snake  moving along the other side of the small cliff.

 After waiting patiently the next wave of bats began to fly out.  WOW!  The air in front of the seats was filled with bats!  I believe that this is the closest I've ever been to the bats as they leave their roosts.  It felt like they were coming within about 5 feet of us and we could hear the sound of the thousands of wings.

I had brought both my 28-105 mm lens and my 100-400 lens.  The bats were flying so fast that it was hard to get a good focus with the longer lens.  But even with the 28-105 mm lens, you can see the translucent wings and small bodies as the bats circled the entrance to the cave before leaving the area.

The bats fly very close to you. Some even landed in the little bushes in front of us.  Two snakes were hunting these bats in the bushes near us.  From one of my photos, they had success.

I tried a different angle also with the 28-105mm to get both the silhouettes of the closer bats but also the ribbon of bats flying off to feed.

The Eckert James River Bat Cave is either the 2nd or 3rd largest bat colony with both Mexican Free-tailed bats and Cave Myotis. Approximately 4-6 million bats live in a natural cavern only slightly larger than a school bus.   The Mexican Free-tails exit in a swirling circle from the opening near the observation area.  From the docent I learned that the cave myotis exit a different opening and fly in a straight line.  They also exit right at sunset. As we were leaving near sunset, I saw bats that I think were the cave myotis where she had  told me to look.  I had already put away my camera gear and it was dark - so I did not try to photograph them, but I was glad I saw them.

The Eckert James River Bat Cave is owned and operated by the Nature Conservancy. Richard Phillip Eckert and Virginia Eckert Garret donated the land on the condition that the cave remain open to the public.  The cave is open from mid-May to early October Thursdays through Sundays from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.  Once a month it is open at dawn to view the bats' return.  Cost is $5.00.  It is a good idea to bring exact change.  To reach the bat cave from Mason on the James River Road it is necessary to cross the Llano River.  It is a fun crossing, but use caution and be alert for flash flooding. While most times it is not deep, I recommend a high ground clearance vehicle.  During a rainy time or in doubt, take the back route. Remember turn around, don't drown!

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