Late in August Ray and I had the opportunity to film at Bracken Cave. For those of you that find Bracken Cave unfamiliar, it is located just outside of San Antonio and is home to the world’s largest colony of Mexican free-tailed bats! An estimated 15 million bats call this cave home! Over the course of several days and one early 3 a.m. morning, we filmed the bats as they emerge to feed for the night and in the wee hours of the morning as they returned. To say this was a bat lovers dream is an understatement. During emergence the bats swarm into a spiral that extended into the sky until a stream of bats broke off from the spiral and faded into the distance. Standing under 15 million bats is an unforgettable experience. The noise projected from the beating of so many wings sounded as though a light rain was falling. The swarming bats also provided much need relief from the heat. Standing under the swarm we were fanned by the bats.
While observing the bats, we had the opportunity to become acquainted with other inhabitants of the cave. Diamondback rattlesnakes and coachwhips slither past on-lookers as they made their way towards the mouth of the cave. The coachwhips put on quite the show during our time at the cave, dangling from the cave entrance or nearby bushes with outstretched bodies trying to snatch bats from the swarm! A pair of fighting skunks stole the show the next evening.
Our purpose for filming at Bracken Cave is a simple one. Ray and I want to inform as many of you as possible about the wildlife Texas has to offer and why wildlife such as bats are such a vital part of our ecosystem. We are currently in the process of producing a segment over Bracken Cave for Bat Conservation International (BCI) and will update you on when and where you can view the segment. Until then, be on the lookout for more of our videos over Free-tailed bats on PBS .
These once widespread animals still dot the landscape of the Great Plains. We’ve chosen these under appreciated and misunderstood squirrels to kick off our new round of station breaks that are hitting the PBS airwaves! Historically, prairie dogs lived alongside bison that once roamed freely across the plains. Even today, despite sever range reduction, their burrows provide refuge for numerous species of amphibians, reptiles, birds, countless insects and so much more. In essence, their colonies create towns where there was nothing and provide an underground oasis in the vastness of the prairie. Next time you encounter a prairie dog town, stop and take a minute to observe all the sights and sounds of the animals that gather there. We believe a deeper understanding of the crucial role these animated prairie dogs fill will start to blossom.
-Ray Matlack and Jessie Story
The hoary bat is a foliage roosted bat found throughout Texas. Ray and I were lucky to catch a hoary bat while mist netting in a state park as part of a research project. These bats are quite a sight to see, one of the larger bats found in Texas, they stand out due to their looks. They have thick fur that blends browns and reds near the face with a white frosting overall. This white frosting gives the bats the appearance as though they are speckled with snow.
When distressed this bats emit a call that sounds like water being drip on a red hot skillet. Your thoughts?
– Jessie Story
One of the great benefits of working with Jessie is I get to see wildlife from her perspective. This has me generally looking for small, macro-sized critters. As you can tell from our abundance of macro photography and video, we are both pretty excited by things small.
One of Jessie’s favorite places to hunt tiny things is around lights, especially at campground bathrooms. I spotted this boring gray insect and snapped a few shots with a canon 5D mk III with 100mm macro and a 25 mm extension tube. I love using extension tubes and keep them perennially attached to my macro lenses.
The results of the shots were quite a surprise. The blister beetle is a wonder to behold, all covered in fine gray hair-like structures. Not one out of place. And its compound eyes are stunning.
For you wildlife lovers out there, be sure to look for things on the small side. Carry a magnifying glass or use the macro setting available on most cameras to take a look at another world!