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.

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48th NASBR in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

This was Merlin’s 48th and Teresa Nichta’s 1st NASBR.

The 48th Annual North American Symposium on Bat Research conference was held in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico October 24-27. Hurricane Willa threatened but failed to dampen the enthusiasm of attendees who ended up enjoying perfect weather in a beautiful location. Our hosts Jorge Ortega and Rodrigo Medellin did a great job, and we were very favorably impressed with the outstanding conservation orientation of Mexican colleagues. Mexico’s students had an unusual opportunity to present their projects, ranging from bat pest control in walnut orchards to seed dispersal and the pollination of agaves from which all tequila is derived. Additional areas of conservation interest involved impacts of wind turbines, management of white-nose syndrome, and protection of roosts.

Rodrigo Medellin welcoming colleagues to the 48th meeting of the North American Symposium on Bat Research.

Many attendees were delighted to see Merlin and meet Teresa and share insights on the needs of bats. Based on his 60 years of field experience, Merlin has become increasingly concerned to see so many of today’s remaining bats living in marginal, sometimes barely survivable conditions, especially in caves. These unfortunate circumstances easily can be misinterpreted as what bats need, leading to inappropriate conservation measures. He was encouraged to see rapidly growing awareness of the futility of stopping or curing white-nose syndrome, with increasing focus on protection of survivors from disturbance at roosts. Where bats were protected from disturbance, signs of stabilization and recovery were reported.

Danielle Cordani, Vice President of the newly formed Bat Association at Texas State University, discussing her poster on bats at wind turbines with Merlin while Association President, Jacob Rogers, listens.
Teresa enjoying hotel flowers while Shahroukh Mistry, Associate Program Director, greets Merlin in background.
Canadian, Melissa Donnelly, explains her poster on Cuban bats.
Co-host, Rodrigo Medellin, shows off a freshly caught free-tailed bat.
Participants engaged in lively discussion at the annual Diversity in Science Breakfast.
Rodrigo leading strategic planning discussion, setting research priorities for lessor long-nosed bats (Leptonycteris yerbabuenae) in Mexico.
Dia de los muertos, Day of the Dead, celebration of the world’s extinct bats, prepared by Canadian, Charles Francis. This multi-day event in Mexico is a national holiday focused on remembering and honoring friends and family who have died.
Merlin congratulating Rodrigo on his outstanding conservation leadership in Mexico and throughout Latin America.

 

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PechaKucha with Batman

PechaKucha [ or ペチャクチャ translated as “chit-chat”] is a series of 6-minute talks from presenters in the creative industry including artists, musicians, architects, filmmakers, writers, entrepreneurs, and local personalities. Each presenter showed 20 images, each lasting for just 20 seconds. PechaKucha events foster the art of concise presentations.  This year’s PechaKucha Night Austin #32 was held in Austin on October 11, 2018. Merlin was honored to be invited by Austinites DJ Stout and Lana McGilvray, the hosts of PK ATX.
The following ten speakers each had 6 minutes to promote a subject in their area of expertise. Merlin, of course, promoted bats with emphasis on those in Austin and had an outstanding response. Watch his presentation!
  1. Herman Dyal – Graphic Designer/Architect
  2. Gretchen Harries Graham – Educator
  3. Dave McClinton – Graphic Designer/Artist
  4. Refugee Is Not My Name (Aaron Weiss, Jess Archer and Ashley St. Clair) – Art Collaborators
  5. Brian Beattie – Musician/Producer
  6. Dale Whistler – Artist/Sculptor
  7. Sarah N. Evans – Activist
  8. Randal Ford – Photographer
  9. Merlin Tuttle – Batman
  10. Mélat Kassa – Musician
Check out those bats! Beautiful poster made by Pentagram design firm.

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Nature Nights: BATS! at the Wildflower Center

Nature Nights at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is a free family-fun event held each summer. Merlin Tuttle and Lucas Miller were the main entertainment for Nature Nights: BATS! on June 21st. Merlin’s bat photographs captivated the children and their parents alike. Afterwards, Lucas Miller, “The Singing Zoologist,” performed for the crowd with his “silly songs about serious science.”

Live bats, courtesy of Dianne Odegard and Lee McKenzie from Austin Bat Refuge, were a big hit.

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