Under a full moon, on Friday the 13th, on Devil’s Lake, a small group of intrepid paddlers joined park naturalist, Sue Johansen for the park’s first ever bat paddle. It’s one thing to watch the bats drop out of a bat house and head out over the lake, it’s another to have them diving, banking and skimming all around as you float in your kayak by the moonlight.
It’s always a challenge to find new ways to get folks out to experience and enjoy their natural surroundings. Kayaking is certainly popular these days, but most people get a little nervous when you talk about paddling at night. Those of us who’ve been paddling for years know that night paddling is an amazing experience and certainly worth sharing. Sometimes you just need a little encouragement!
It was on our past night paddles on Devil’s Lake that we realized how cool it was to watch the bats hunt. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a better way to watch bats hunting up close. A bat paddle through the Devil’s Lake State park Nature Center seemed like a great idea, but would anyone show up?
Well, we needn’t have worried. As we waited on the shore and decorated our kayaks with glow sticks (Just for fun. Glow sticks don’t attract bats.. that we know of!) about half-dozen local kayakers came up to join us. We were glad to see a few brave and slightly crazy souls turn up. Their first reward for braving a night paddle was a share in the glow stick booty! Soon we were all lit up and moving across the lake and the sky turned dark and the first stars began to appear in the southern sky.
We paddled over to the south end just a hundred yards or so from the beach. It was here that we had encountered bats many times in the past. Once we chose our location we turned our kayaks around to face the setting sun. From this angle we would be able to make out the silhouettes of the bats as they arrived to hunt. Until then we simply floated on the calm water enjoying the warm evening and fun conversation.
With the last of the daylight slipping behind the northern horizon, the first bats began to appear. First one here or one there, but soon there were 10, 15 or more zipping all around us as we sat in the near darkness. For a time a wave of hunters had us surrounded darting and zooming in all directions. Then suddenly, they would seem to disappear. We’d paddle on a bit and soon more bats would appear, sometimes skimming the bows of our kayaks by mere inches!
Just as the sky went dark in the north-west, the full moon rose behind us to the south-east like a spotlight. The gaudy, bright moon lit up the glassy lake and turned the west bluff talus indigo blue.
We sat for some time just watching the moon. A bat would silently zoom by now and again. We soon realized that even if we’d never seen one nocturnal hunter in the sky, the full moon, calm water and warm summer night was more than worth the paddle. It was an amazingly beautiful night. One that so few park visitors would ever experience.