Most of us are afraid of bats at an almost instinctual level. Unlike snakes and spiders though, I am hardpressed to name a species of bat. The other night I learned there are more species of bat of any other type of mammal except rodents. I might have known at one time in Jr High biology that bats are mammals, but it was good to be reminded.
I wasn’t prepared for the bat expert, Corky Quirk, to have live bats on display in small plastic carriers. They were fascinating to look at up close and watch as they stretched a wing or moved about. However, I was still pretty creeped out. Corky gives a great presentation including playing a rap on echolocation. She uses a camera to give us an larger than life view of the bats eating.
After a quick last bathroom break and a chance to buy a t-shirt, we piled into the van and our cars and drove out to the public entrance to the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area and drove the loop until we needed to turn off onto some farm roads to reach where the bats live during the day. You cannot go there without the Foundation volunteers, although you can watch a smaller colony of 15,000 bats fly out from the first parking lot.
The best time to see them leave is about 30 minutes before sundown. The sun had already mostly gone down when the ribbon of bats started exiting from under the Yolo Causeway. It was impressive. The colony we watched fly out to eat insects all night under the Yolo County sky was a mix of mothers and adolescent pups. Bats do us a great service by eating their weight in insects every night (and twice that when moms are nursing). I was happy to learn so much about this small but mighty member of our ecosystem.
I’ve been a supporter of the Yolo Basin Foundation for 5 years and have heard various people extol the niftiness of watching the bats leave their “cave” under the Yolo Causeway. Finally I helped to organize a group of colleagues so I participate in one of the Bat Talk and Walks. You can sign up for a public Bat Talk and Walk on the Foundation’s website. Or you can contact Corky and arrange a private tour for your group, $12 per adult and a minimum $240 donation. You must have at least 12 and they can accommodate up to 60 people.
The Yolo Basin Foundation released the new dates for Bat Walks and Talks on the Yolo Basin Wildlife Area. You must buy tickets in advance and the dates can fill up fast. If you want to see this fascinating phenomenon of the bats flying out from underneath the Yolo Causeway to feast on night insects, and learn how bats benefit us, then sign up now. $12 per adult
From the website: Following a 45 minute indoor presentation on bat natural history, the group will carpool out to the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area to watch the “flyout” of the largest colony of Mexican free-tailed bats in California. The bats emerge in long ribbons as they head out to hunt for insects for the night. To get to the viewing site, the group will caravan through wetlands and rice fields to an area not open to the public.
The whole experience takes about 3 hours. This is a family friendly event! There is a small amount of walking. Those in wheelchairs or unable to walk may view the bats by car. Please let us know if you have special needs.
On a bright and beautiful day in April I drove out to the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area to see the birds. There are many, many more birds in winter. In April, most have migrated north to their nesting grounds where they will raise another generation. There are still many, many birds to see including red wing blackbirds, egrets, Swainson hawks, among others.
I made this little video to give you a taste:
The Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area is just off Interstate 80 at the E. Chiles Road exit (by the fruitstand). You may also recognize it as the place where Davis youth write messages in stone on the side of the levee.
You can download this map from the Yolo Basin Foundation’s website to find your way through the Bypass: http://www.yolobasin.org/images/100271%20YBF%20Map%20Hunting.pdf
There are picnic tables and port-a-potties at each of the parking lots. If you do picnic, please keep the refuge tidy.
There is no entry fee for enjoying the Wildlife Area, however, if you enjoy birding or picnicking, consider a donation to the Yolo Basin Foundation at http://www.yolobasin.org.
Also, you are in a floodplain that serves as the release valve for Sacramento’s flood protection. So if you are going to see the birds after a big storm or while it is raining, the area may be closed.