According to Bat Conservation International, Texas currently hosts 32 bat species. Summer evenings are the best time to observe these crepuscular creatures as they venture to the skies on insect-devouring binges, so come on, get batty! Texans will find more than a dozen organized bat-watching tours or sites (see Texas Highways, July 2002, for the full lineup), but a few of the most accessible sites follow.
Austin's famous colony of Mexican free-tailed bats, which make the Congress Avenue bridge their home from March through November, munch millions of mosquitoes and other insects nightly. At dusk (or thereabouts), watch them emerge from the bridge's underbelly in smoke-like streams. The Austin American-Statesman, whose offices lie just east of the bridge, sponsors a Bat Observation Area on the south bank of Town Lake, at Congress Avenue and Barton Springs Boulevard. Call 512/416-5700, category 3636.
By June, more than 4 million Mexican free-tailed bats, along with a smaller population of cave myotis bats, inhabit the Eckert James River Bat Cave Preserve near Mason. From mid-May through early October, the preserve opens for free bat-observation tours, Thursday through Sunday, 6-9 p.m. Wanna see the bats return sated at dawn? You can arrange a morning viewing, too. Call the Mason County Chamber of Commerce, 325/347-5758; or log on to http://nature.org/texas.
Halfway between Comfort and Fredericksburg at the Old Tunnel Wildlife Management Area, the abandoned 920-foot Fredericksburg & Northern Railroad Tunnel hosts some 2 million Mexican free-tailed bats during the summer. Naturalists from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, which manages the site, offer interpretive bat-watching tours June through October on Thursday and Saturday evenings. Call 888/997-3600; www.tpwd.state.tx.us/wma.