Monday, September 23, 2013

Let's Take A Field Trip To The Bat Tunnel!

Phoenix Bat Tunnel
Photo Credit: Niki D'Andrea Phoenix New Times
 
Did you know that Phoenix has a colony of about 10,000-20,000 Mexican Free-Tailed Bats, roosting right in the middle of the city? At the 40th Street and Camelback canal, these bats take over the overflow tunnel from the months of May through October, as they take care of their young, hunt for food, and take advantage of the abundant hunting opportunities throughout the summer.

Since Kat and I learned about the bats and this bat tunnel last year, we have taken several trips out to see them. We wanted to go out one last time before they migrate south for the winter, and this time, we decided to invite other Phoenix families to come join us! The bats are so cool to see, we wanted to share the excitement of learning about them and watching them with others. So, we decided to set up our very first field trip!


We put up an event page on facebook, which was shared by several of our friends (thanks everyone!). Soon, we had 16 families coming, which ended up amounting to between 30-40 people! That's a lot of kids and grown ups, wanting to come out and go on a batty adventure! We were thrilled to see so many smiling faces out there, there were so many people who were excited to see the bats!

This is about 2/3 of the crowd that we had at the bat tunnel last night!

Because Kat and I had spent so much time last year learning about bats and how fascinating they are, I wanted to share that with everyone as a part of the field trip.  I gave a little presentation, talking about the differences between megabats and microbats, as well as giving examples of each (the flying fox and bumble bee bats are really interesting to talk about, being the largest and smallest bats in the world, respectively.) We talked about how not all bats are carnivorous, megabats eat fruit and nectar, and use their great sense of sight and keen sense of smell to locate their food.

Megabats are so cool! They're adorable, vegetarians, and some of them are huge!
Photo Credit: Devon Christopher Adams
We also went over microbats and how, since they are carnivorous and hunt moving prey, they need to rely on something other than sight to track their food. While microbats can indeed see (bats are not blind!), there isn't enough light at night for them to be able to see well. So, instead of relying on light waves to see, they rely on sound!

They "see" through the process of echolocation (like dolphins and whales!). They use their nose leaves to send out chirps or pulses of sound, these sound waves will either keep going forwards (in which case the bats have a clear path to fly in), or bounce back to them. When they bounce back, the bat needs to determine what is in front of them (is it a house? A person? A tree? Is it food?). They do this with their ears! They have ridges in their ears that focus those sound waves so that their brain can scan them to give a detailed 3D image of their surroundings.

These are the microbats! What are these funny looking things on their noses?
Nose Leaves!
Photo Credit: Devon Christopher Adams
Finally, I talked to everyone about the anatomy of bat wings (they're like giant hands - they have fingers in their wings!), flight, and their expert maneuverability. Bats, because of the anatomy of their wings (they have hands, with really long fingers!), can flap each wing independently of each other, and can fold them in a variety of ways. This allows them to make incredibly sharp turns in almost no time. They can flip 180 degrees and back again in less than 2 seconds! If you've ever seen a bat in flight, what looks like erratic flitting about is actually determined expert maneuvering!

These kids got a front row seat to a batty presentation, that's for sure!
Photo Credit: Devon Christopher Adams
Everyone was really interested in hearing about the bats, and watching them emerge from the tunnel to hunt! During the presentation, the kids were really excited to share what they knew about bats! Some kids already knew about echolocation, and how other mammals use it to find their babies in the dark. Other kids knew about flying, nocturnal habits, and the coloring of bats! They got a BIG kick out of the flying fox bat and how huge it was, and everyone really seemed to enjoy hearing about the mommy bats and bat pups (and really, who wouldn't? Bat mommies and babies are adorable).

The biggest event was of course, the bats emerging from the tunnel! What started with a small scattering of bats leaving the poop filled walls of the overflow tunnel, ended up with a small pouring of thousands of Mexican Free-Tailed bats heading into the night to catch their dinner. The crowd grew quiet as they flew out, with kids and grown ups alike giving loud whispers of excitement as some of the bats flew out of the tunnel and around our heads as they searched for food.

The bats fly so fast, it is notoriously difficult to catch them on film.
Devon Christopher Adams managed to catch one!
We had a fantastic turnout at our first field trip. I was SO incredibly happy to be able to share what we love about these bats with so many people in our community! It was so great to meet everyone, and to see the curiosity and excitement in these kids. It was great to see so many of you who are doing a marvelous job encouraging curiosity, a love of nature, and an excitement for life! Whether you are sharing it with their kids, or marveling in it yourselves, you all are awesome!

Here are some of the wonderful friends we've made!
Photo Credits: Ronne Pierce (her daughter even brought a bat!),
Devon Chrisopher Adams, and Amber Wheeler

For information on the bat colony, as well as some information on the bats, their anatomy, how they find food, and some games to play with your kids before heading out, check out our batty learning adventure!

If you would like to go to the Phoenix Bat Tunnel, here are some tips:

There is parking in an apartment complex area near the canal, if you use this parking area ONLY park in uncovered parking spots. Make sure that you don't interfere with residents and guests.

There is a business complex on 40th St just north of Camelback, there is also some parking available on the southeast corner.

Parking is limited to businesses and residential areas. Please be respectful!

As for the tunnel itself, once you start walking on the canal path from 40th St, it will be about a 1/4 mile walk, heading west of 40th St until you reach the tunnel. Keep a look out for a paved path that splits off to the NORTH side of the canal. You will see a wrought iron fence and what looks like a soccer field. Once you see this, follow the paved path west, and it will bring you straight to the bat tunnel.

Bring plenty of water and sunblock, and don't forget your camera!





No comments:

Post a Comment