SMITHVILLE, Texas (KXAN) - On a little piece of country heaven in rural Texas surrounded by an abundance of wildlife near the Lower Colorado River, a home has now become the place for hundreds of bats to roost.
A handful of cats on Gary Beauchamp's two-acre property in Smithville watch the airborne circus of bats with apparent curiosity and amazement -- all while his seemingly confused dog ducks and covers.
"They are quite fast," explained Beauchamp of the early morning spectacle, which usually happens around sunrise when the bats return to the roost. "Mere blurs to the human eye."
Beauchamp said this is the first time he's seen this since he's lived at the rural home off State Highway 71 out east just past Bastrop -- which also serves as home to rabbits, snakes, mice, fox, singing coyotes and the occasional deer, bobcat and cougar.
"We get up at 5 a.m. The bats start their approach right before the sun rises above the horizon," said Beauchamp. "Large clouds of bats are circling like planes preparing to land at Chicago's O'Hare Airport. No midair collisions observed. Mind-boggling aerobatics."
The dining room skylight window gives Beauchamp and his wife a neat perspective of the bats, which he said looked like butterflies against the glass.
They have engulfed the entire back wall of the house and have even entered small openings between eves of the roof and bricks near the trim of the house.
With the house only about 100 yards from the Lower Colorado River and near a creek, Beauchamp speculates they are feeding on insects that are now abundant in the area due to recent rain.
"Either that, or they have partied under the Congress Street Bridge in Austin and are coming to Smithville to sleep it off," he joked.
Dianne Odegard, with Bat Conservation International, thinks it's a pit stop.
"I don't think that the bats will be there for a long period of time, and I think it's great that he and his family are enjoying their presence," said Odegard. "I'm assuming that they're stopping in on a migration pattern and resting and drinking water from the nearby water source."
Following a historic drought that left much of Texas parched, the now-green pastures surrounding the home have taken advantage of the wetter-than-normal winter.
Odegard said she thinks the drought affected the bats as well but does not know with any certainty the number of bats and pups that died off. She did note, however, that the bats under the Congress Bridge last year came out earlier.
As for bats this season, they're picking up some activity.
"The weather is warm. We're having some increased bat activity on the sonar websites, " said Odegard. "We're watching fairly large emergence from some roost sites now, so we think that more and more bats are starting to come back."
And while the bats are active at the Smithville home and contribute guano so plentiful it coats the back patio, Beauchamp said he doesn't mind the furry critters and will enjoy them for as long as they're around.
"When the sun peaks over the horizon, the sky is clear of flying critters," said Beauchamp, who then awaits the time the bats fly out at dusk to feast and then return again at dawn to rest their little wings.
Bat safety tips
- Never touch a bat
- Avoid having them inside places where people live or work
- If you want to take pictures or video, make sure you have more than enough space away from them
Central Texas bat roosts
- Congress Avenue Bridge
- McNeil Bridge in Round Rock
- Cave roosts, such as Bracken Cave
More about Bat Conservation International
BCI trains volunteer docents to speak to visitors at the Congress Avenue Bridge during the summer, and there is classroom training available. Contact Dianne Odegard if you are interested at 512-327-9721.
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