Atlas Obscura’s SXSW Bat Watching Evening with Merlin

By Teresa Nichta
3/15/19

Atlas Obscura features travel, exploration and hosts a collaborative guide to worldwide locations of special interest. Bats seem a perfect fit with a publication featuring the world’s hidden wonders! This week, they hosted their first Austin bat watching event, an armada of more than 50 kayakers, led by organization co-founder Dylan Thuras and Merlin Tuttle and sponsored by SXSWGore-Tex and Congress Avenue Kayaks.

Atlas Obscura co-founder Dylan Thuras and Merlin Tuttle discussing evening plans as they don life jackets.

 

Merlin provided a brief dockside introduction to the Congress Avenue Bridge’s famous free-tailed bats and an introduction to the diversity and importance of bats worldwide. Participants came from as far away as Australia and Brazil and peppered Merlin with enthusiastic questions. The event was so popular that an unfortunately large number of hopeful registrants had to be turned away.

Merlin introducing the world of bats to participants.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a beautiful spring evening, and some 200,000 overwintering bats emerged prior to sundown. Hundreds of thousands more are expected to arrive soon, migrating north from overwintering caves in Mexico. Unusual entertainment was provided by two small falcons, extraordinarily determined to feast on bats. Fortunately for viewers rooting for the bats, these two hawks turned out to be the least competent bat catchers Merlin has ever seen. We counted more than 20 failed chases!

 

 

Heading for the water.
Meeting new friends from around the world.
Such a view!
The Batman answering more questions.
The bat flight begins.
Watching small falcon repeatedly, but unsuccessfully attacking column of departing bats (center left)
Dylan and Merlin still watching failing hawks chase bats during their down-river return.