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Bat Cruise on Town Lake, September 23, 2006
The ACA had a very successful event on Town Lake on September 23, 2006. We took a Capital Cruises Bat Cruise on the M.V. Pride and Joy. (M.V. stands for Motor Vessel.) We like to talk up our social events, especially when they go off this well, to encourage more members to take part in future events.

At around 5:30pm on Saturday, Sept 23, passengers started to arrive at the Capital Cruises dock. When we got there, we immediately found out that we were bumped up to the larger boat, the largest they have actually, the M.V. Pride and Joy. Our designated boat from the reservation we made over a month ago was for the M.V. Silent Star, a much smaller boat. We're not sure why they bumped us up, except to say that the larger boats, and actually most of their other boats were not in use at the time. We really appreciate that change, because the Pride and Joy has two levels, and we spent most of the trip on the top level.

Under the stars we had a very enjoyable time, cruising up and down Town Lake. For those who don't know, "Town Lake" is actually a river with a little dam, downstream from Lake Travis, a very large and beautiful lake out West.

We'd like to thank everyone who brought food and drink, and my goodness, there was a lot of all that! We had party snacks of many kinds, two kinds of wine, several brands of beer, a healthy supply of donuts, tasty garlic dip, grape soda...mmmm. The lesson there is if we all just bring a little bit, added together it can be a feast.

We were also entertained on the top level of the boat by our own ACA President Matt Dillahunty as he played his guitar. I immediately recognized the ever appropriate "Wish You Were Here," by Pink Floyd. Then his guitar got passed around a bit, and we got to hear more music from other talented members of the group. It's amazing the talents and skills we Atheists have among us.

The weather was also challenging and interesting. As soon as we were ready to shove off and begin our trip, it started raining, so we waited a short time before starting our trip. We got everyone on board, wet as some of us were, and left. We counted 25 passengers. Excellent turnout.

But after a few minutes of cruising slowly and smoothly down the river, the rain stopped, and the clouds broke. A beautiful sunset emerged, showing bright colors and vibrant cloud patters. Our evening was now set for bat watching.

We cruised downstream, Eastward on the river almost out of Austin. We passed and marvelled at Joe's Crab Shack, with it's extensive neon sineage glowing in the dusk air. We saw the area on the North shore called Fiesta Gardens, and it was all quiet and solitary. When we turned around to go back to the downtown area, we saw a multitude of bright white birds in the distance, gathering on a tree over the water. They seemed illuminated against the backdrop of a darkening shoreline. One of our members theorized that they were egrets. Truly beautiful natural landscapes abound in our city.

So we headed back towards the Congress Ave. bridge to watch the bats, and before we even got there, thousands of bats began to fly overhead. They created long winding and spiraling bands of darkness in the sky, like a swarm. Their flight pattern formed a tighly-knit, but seemingly frantic array of flying hunter-killers. Their mission: to eat several tons of flying insects in total, each night. They fly out over the river towards the East, and out to the farms in East Central Texas.

Among their very helpful nightly habits, they eat farm pests, which reduces the need for chemical pesticides. But you may have heard me talk about my favorite thing that these bats do, which is, they eat mosquitos. Some mosquitos have West Nile Virus, or hepititus, and other diseases, so in essence, by eating tens of thousands of mosquitos each night, the bats save human lives. We don't notice them doing their thing at night, but there are a whole lot more bats in the Austin area the most people realize.

While we were watching the bats fly, a member of the Pride and Joy crew came up to the top level and told us a few things about the bats. It was fascinating for us to learn that these same kind of bats, Mexican Free Tail bats, have been living in central Texas for several thousand years. It was in the early '80's when the Congress Ave. bridge was refurbished. Open slots about an inch and a half wide were built into the bridge, on its underside, going the entire length of the bridge. The slots were added so that the bridge could safely expand and contract with changes in the weather, without cracking.

Well those slots were just the right dimensions for Mexican Free Tail bats to live in, and that wasn't even planned. Now, in August every year, their population level peaks out for the year at around 1.5 million. In the winter, they migrate South to Mexico, where they live in caves and other places before returning to Austin in the Spring. They're amazing. Not only do they have two homes they can live in, for maximized weather comfort, they're the only mammals who routinely cross the US/Mexico border, back and forth, every year, in huge numbers, other than humans, of course.

Eventually our cruise came to an end, and we took a few last minute pictures, and said our goodbyes. We'd like to make this an annual event, and have it around this time each year. It happened to be the Fall Equinox that day, which is perfect, since there aren't usually any social events dedicated to that day. We cover the Solstices well, but I've often felt that the Equinoxes need some attention too. That's more fascinating and factual learning about our world and the universe we live in.

Many thanks to everyone who came out, everyone who took photos, everyone who brought food and/or drinks, everyone who made music, and thanks also to Joe Rhodes for helping by handling the money situation. We'd also like to say thank you to the ACA Board of Directors for making the money and contract situation come together. I also called Capital Cruises and thanked them very much for a great cruise. Their people were great, the boat was great, and the ride was wonderful.

Hope to see you on the boat next year!

Organizer Joe Zamecki

(For more information about the bats, see Bat Conservation International and their web page about the Congress Avenue bat colony.)

Photos from the event

Our boat, the M.V. Pride and Joy.

Inside the boat, we had a potluck buffet.

Chillin' and eatin'.

Our mascot for the trip.

Enjoying the deck on top of the boat.

Matt sung "God will f*ck you up" for us.

A colony of large white birds.

Organizers Marla Repka and Joe Zamecki.

A nice sunset.

A group of bats fly over downtown.

The bats stream out from under the Congress Ave. Bridge.

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