Searching for bats in Balboa Park!

As evening approaches, people slowly gather by the Balboa Park lily pond to watch for bats. The event was organized by the San Diego Natural History Museum.
As evening approaches, people slowly gather by the Balboa Park lily pond to watch for bats. The event was organized by the San Diego Natural History Museum.

This evening I joined a small group of people by the Lily Pond in Balboa Park searching for bats!

The San Diego Natural History Museum held the dusk event as part of the 2018 City Nature Challenge. The worldwide challenge–which is being held in almost 70 cities– encourages ordinary citizens to use their smartphones to record as many local flora and fauna as they can over a 4-day period. Images are submitted via the iNaturalist APP for identification! (If you want to see San Diego County’s totals thus far, here’s the link.)

Anyway, I arrived at the Lily Pond before sunset and was greeted by a couple of friendly experts representing the San Diego Natural History Museum. I was shown some cool equipment, videos and specimens, then stood by as a super sensitive microphone was turned on in order to detect the high frequency ultrasonic chirp-like noises produced by echolocating bats!

While we waited and the sky darkened, I learned a few fascinating facts. I learned that the bats most common in Balboa Park are the Mexican free-tailed bat, the hoary bat, and the western red bat. I learned some bats are solitary, and feed where insects aren’t abundant enough to support large colonies of bats. I learned bats drink by rapidly skimming above a body of water– which has been observed at the park’s lily pond. I learned some bats can fly as fast as a hundred miles per hour and as high as 10,000 feet! I also learned bats often feed around lights where flying insects gather, often live in the dead fronds of palm trees, and absolutely love hanging out under bridges.

Did we see or detect any bats? None were seen in the darkness, but the microphone did record the acoustic signature of a nearby Mexican free-tail!

When bats fly about and utilize echolocation, a microphone detects the high frequency sound and software produces a sonogram. Different bats can be recognized by their unique acoustic signatures.
When bats fly about and use echolocation, a sensitive microphone detects the high frequency sound and software produces a sonogram. Different bat species can be recognized by their unique acoustic signatures.
Demonstrating a powerful directional microphone, which is mounted on a long pole.
Demonstrating a powerful directional microphone, which is mounted on a long pole.
A friendly volunteer who travels around the county observing and recording bats points to several specimens. The one indicated is a Mexican free-tailed.
A friendly volunteer who travels around the county observing and recording bats points to several preserved specimens. The one indicated is a Mexican free-tailed.
Several people have gathered to learn about bats shortly before dusk. A curious duck listens in.
Several people have gathered to learn about bats shortly before dusk. A curious duck listens in.
Bats often live in the dead clustered fronds of palm trees. I see a passing gull and a nearly full moon above the Casa del Prado.
Bats often live in the dead clustered fronds of palm trees. I see a passing gull and a nearly full moon above the Casa del Prado.
Darkening palm trees above the Timken Museum of Art in Balboa Park. Perhaps some bats are hanging out in these.
Darkening palm trees above the Timken Museum of Art in Balboa Park. Perhaps some bats are hanging out in these.
Pointing at the cool bat-detecting instrument. As darkness fell, we recorded one Mexican free-tailed bat, but it must have been too chilly this evening for much activity.
Pointing at the cool bat-detecting instrument. As darkness fell, we recorded one Mexican free-tailed bat, but apparently it was too cold this evening for much bat activity.

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

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Richard Schulte

Downtown San Diego has been my home for many years. My online activities reflect my love for writing, blogging, walking and photography.

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