This past Wednesday was a special double-playdate with that little Cupcake Girl. We had a nice lunch at a new Mediterranean restaurant, Tazikis’s Café, followed by some playtime at the Discovery Museum’s special project, Bob the Builder. Following much needed rest-time, we packed a picnic supper and headed out on a bat adventure. Yep. Bats.
There’s a cave about 30-40 minutes north of us called Nickajack Cave. As far back as 1800 it was mined for saltpeter. Eventually it became a tourist attraction and in 1967 it was partially flooded by TVA as a result of the construction of the Nickajack Dam. In 1992 this cave became the first area in the state to be designated a nongame national wildlife refuge. It houses a nursery for a colony of endangered Gray Bats. Approximately 100,000 of this little female creatures migrate to this cave in early spring to have/raise their young. They stay until early to mid-fall then the females and their young migrate to their winter cave for hibernation. As dusk rolls around, these sleepy little bats awake and began their journey out of the cave to feed.
As with most of the new adventures we participate in, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Around 7:00 we made our way to the Maple View Recreation Area, which has a few picnic tables and a small boat ramp. This cave is protected and co-managed by TVA and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. They built a walkway through the woods (about 1,000 feet) and constructed a small viewing platform at the end across from the entrance to the cave.
We weren’t sure exactly what time the bats would began their emergence. It was hot and very humid, with absolutely no breeze what-so-ever! We inhaled our water/juice and had to make a trip back to the car for more (thank you my sweet husband). The little one in our party was so patient. She asked great questions about the bats and their protected area.
As the sun was getting ready for its next journey, it began painting the sky and clouds beautiful shades of pink. It was just lovely!
As it was getting darker, we kept looking with great intensity toward the mouth of the cave. We wouldn’t be able to see the bats emerge as the light was quickly fading. I sat on the bench next to Cupcake with a heavy heart. She would be so disappointed. I would be disappoint. Then, I heard my sweet husband say, “See them?” I looked toward the cave. No, I didn’t see them. I looked at him and he was looking up. UP! Above the small canopy of leaves over our head I witnessed the quiet flight of the gray bats. It was awesome! Some of the small bats flew within 2-3 feet of our heads and one in particular flew within inches of Cupcake’s head. For a few moments she, too, was mesmerized as she sat there looking up.
Since I wasn’t really prepared to take night pictures, I made several attempts to try and capture the little bats flying above us. Some pictures with flash and some without. They may be blurry but I love how you can see the outline of the little creatures (especially in the bottom picture below).
For 20 minutes we watched this silent undertaking. Only the night songs of the frogs, crickets and cicadas graced our ears. Our adventure continued as we packed up and headed back to the car in the dark. With flashlights in hand we carefully navigated the walkway. Cupcake shined her light and sang lullabies to the night creatures all the way back.
As I was bringing up the rear I glanced through the dark trees and caught a glimpse of the lights across the lake. I was reminded of the Boz Scaggs song Harbor Lights.
Whoah, the harbour lights of Venus
Shining through the breeze
That brings me back to you my love
To you my love, to you my love.
What a beautiful bat night!