Readers’ wildlife photographs

Reader Joe Dickinson sent some photos of a big passel of bats (what’s the correct term?) living under a road that I drove on often when I lived in Davis, California. I had no idea there were bats there! Joe’s notes are indented:

We recently attended a Bat Talk and Walk at the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area between Davis and Sacramento, CA.  The I-80 freeway crosses a wetland (and rice fields) on an elevated causeway, and about a quarter of a million Mexican free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) roost under it during the summer. [JAC: This is the same species that roosts under the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin and goes out en masse every night as hundreds of tourists and locals watch.]  There is a very entertaining and informative talk, using rescued animals and videos to show details of anatomy and behavior.  Then, an opportunity to watch the mass emergence of foraging bats right about sunset.

Here is the setting:


Bats start to emerge.


Soon, there is a continuous stream.


Then the sky is filled with bats making fantastical, constantly shifting patterns.




Meanwhile, groups of Canada geese (Branta canadensis) are moving into an adjacent field, creating their own shifting patterns of silhouettes.  Altogether a great experience.



Here are two pictures of this lovely creature from the Web; you can see why they call it “free-tailed”:




  1. DrBrydon
    Posted September 16, 2016 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    A cloud of bats.

  2. GBJames
    Posted September 16, 2016 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    A mobile of bats?

  3. Posted September 16, 2016 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    Cool! We still haven’t confirmed any bats in the bathouse on our home. 😦

    The bats locally have been having a really hard time with Whitenose Syndrome.

    Like the birds with West Nile Virus, we are hoping they’ll come back soon.

    • busterggi
      Posted September 16, 2016 at 7:43 am | Permalink

      Quite a few haven’t come back my way – crows especially.

  4. busterggi
    Posted September 16, 2016 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    I used to enjoy watching the local bats but white-nose disease has apparently wiped them out.

    • Posted September 16, 2016 at 8:06 am | Permalink

      We still see a few at night in the Minneapolis area; but there are far fewer of them.

  5. Posted September 16, 2016 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    Nice work

  6. rickflick
    Posted September 16, 2016 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    I saw bats in our yard – NY – for the first time in a long while. I hope the population is recovering.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted September 16, 2016 at 9:41 am | Permalink

      I hear them overhead in my backyard if I’m out there at night. Good bug eaters! It’s Little Brown Bats here.

  7. Christopher
    Posted September 16, 2016 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    I love bats, but they do make for rather frustrating subjects to observe, they being fast flyers and nocturnal, and I without a mist net (or permits). Still, watching their silhouetted forms flying past the deck overlooking the Lake of the Ozarks at my family’s home is lovely and relaxing. Thankfully, Missouri hasn’t see a huge population crash since the introduction of white-nose, at least not in the species I routinely see. I know it primarily harms the ones that congregate in large numbers, rather than those that roost/hibernate singly or in small numbers, which may explain my lack of noticing any measurable impact thus far. Here’s hoping a speedy mutation event that tempers the syndrome…

    Lovely pics, all.

  8. darrelle
    Posted September 16, 2016 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    A mercurial murmuration?

    Beautiful pics. I’d love to see a swarm like that some time. I’ve only ever seen bats singly or in small groups.

  9. WT
    Posted September 16, 2016 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    A group of bats is called a “colony”. Bat facts!

    • Joe Dickinson
      Posted September 16, 2016 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

      While roosting it certainly is a colony. It seems a large number in flight deserves another, more evocative term. I like the “cloud” suggestion.

  10. Barney
    Posted September 16, 2016 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    The Princeton Encyclopedia of Mammals uses ‘colony’, and says:

    Nursery colonies of the Brazilian free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis) in SW USA form the largest aggregations of vertebrates known, with up to 20 million bats in a colony.

    Though that may be meant to be more scientific than poetic, as many collective nouns are.

    Wikipedia claims ‘colony’ as the collective noun, referencing an old USGS site. However, that just gives ‘band’ for gorillas, instead of the much funnier ‘whoop’ or ‘flange’ – which is my standard for whether a list of collective nouns has really kept up with the times:

  11. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted September 16, 2016 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    Totally cool! But as Tom Lehrer sings in his song about Santa and his reindeer sleigh:
    ‘Don’t stand underneath when they fly by’.

  12. Diana MacPherson
    Posted September 16, 2016 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    I love bats. When I was in Cairns, I loved going and watching the Flying Foxes in the trees eating fruit.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted September 16, 2016 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

      I love bats too, but I’ve never seen one in real life. This post has given me a bucket list activity!

      • rickflick
        Posted September 16, 2016 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

        Hmmmm… No bats in NZ? Seems unlikely.

        Oh, wait…*googling*…”Bats are New Zealand’s only native land mammals. There are three species: the long-tailed bat, the lesser short-tailed bat, and greater short-tailed bat. … The endangered lesser short-tailed bat is an ancient species unique to New Zealand and is found only in a few locations.”

        Keep looking.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted September 16, 2016 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

          There are bats here, I’ve just never seen them. Our only native mammal is a bat. I love the idea of seeing all those bats flying around like starlings, which is why it makes it to the bucket lost.

          • nicky
            Posted September 16, 2016 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

            The NZ lesser short-tailed bat is basically terrestrial and forages on the forest floor. Intriguing, evolving to be a terrestrial mammal? (Btw. I note too that kiwis are the most mammal-like of birds).
            Sadly their terrestriality makes them vulnerable to predation by introduced aliens. IIRC their status is ‘threatened’.

            • Heather Hastie
              Posted September 17, 2016 at 1:22 am | Permalink

              I don’t know much about the bats.

              There are five species of kiwi. I don’t know the details of all of them, but they’re all endangered to some degree, and the rarest is critically endangered. There are, naturally, conservation programmes for them all.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted September 17, 2016 at 9:27 am | Permalink

              In NZ,birds Film the mammal niche. Introduced species are a blight on them though, as you point out.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted September 16, 2016 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

          I’ve never seen bats in NZ either. I wonder how they got here, since we’re 1200 miles from Australia. Seems an awful long way to fly.


          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted September 16, 2016 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

            They took the bat mobile. Ba dum dah! tish!

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted September 17, 2016 at 6:12 am | Permalink


          • rickflick
            Posted September 17, 2016 at 6:06 am | Permalink

            Norfolk Island is a possible waypoint on a flight from AU or the islands to the north.
            Gould’s wattled bat (Chalinolobus gouldii) is indigenous to Norfolk Island. Depending on air currents, I suspect it’s possible for them to fly that far.

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted September 17, 2016 at 6:11 am | Permalink

              600 miles? Are bats that efficient flyers? I did think of Norfolk Island but it’s a very small target to hit after 600 miles.

              But then, obviously, the bats got here *somehow*.


              • rickflick
                Posted September 17, 2016 at 7:01 am | Permalink

                Another means of transportation is a ride on flotsam and jetsam at the ocean surface. A free ride where the currents swirl. However, no other mammals seem to have made the trip, so probably flight is the answer.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted September 16, 2016 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

          What you have to do is stand outside at night, raise your hand up above your head with the back of your hand pointing toward the sky, then call, “here batty batty batty bat!” 😀

          • rickflick
            Posted September 17, 2016 at 6:10 am | Permalink

            I think that’s right. Except the “here batty batty batty bat!” might be a little provocative. I usually just wiggle my little finger. They pick it up on sonar. 😎

  13. pam
    Posted September 16, 2016 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    Bats are critically important to our planet!


    • rickflick
      Posted September 16, 2016 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

      Sadly, I see no bats in my yard this evening. In past years, I’ve watched a bunch every evening over the house (central New York) feasting on flying insects. I want to see them again before I die, or Trump is elected whichever comes first.

  14. Mark R.
    Posted September 16, 2016 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    Great photos of a beautiful scene.

    I put out a bat-box at our new house. I don’t think any are living there (yet). But even if they do, I don’t think I’d be able to tell. Maybe some night vision goggles would help, but I don’t own any.

    • GBJames
      Posted September 16, 2016 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

      You could put up a motion sensitive infrared camera, pointed at the bat-box.

      • Mark R.
        Posted September 17, 2016 at 11:50 am | Permalink

        That’s some good thinking…thanks!

  15. keith cook +/-
    Posted September 16, 2016 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    Apart from being as great post I’ve learned that some bats don’t necessarily fly in a straight line.. local rules apply? some bat up front sneezed?

  16. Joe Dickinson
    Posted September 16, 2016 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

    My previous “up close and personal” experience with bats occurred when I was making a modest addition to a cabin we had in the mountains of Utah. I put up a temporary covering of cheap tar paper when winter was about to catch me with the project unfinished. The next summer, I pulled that off to install a more permanent covering. Well, several bats had wedged up under the loose lower edges of the tar paper to roost. They flew out as removed it. A bat in your face when you are 20 feet up an extension ladder is a memorable encounter.

  17. Posted September 17, 2016 at 3:21 am | Permalink

    The birds are impressive!

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