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  Field Notes From
Bat Patrol

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Gary McCracken

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From Author
Gary F. McCracken

Jay Dickman

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From Photographer
Jay Dickman

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville (top), and Brian Strauss

Jay Dickman On Assignment On Assignment
Bat Patrol

Field Notes From Photographer Jay Dickman
Best Worst Quirkiest
One of the good things about working for National Geographic is getting to do unusual things. I couldn’t believe it when I found myself with the world’s premier bat expert in a lift basket 40 feet (10 meters) above a cave entrance. As the sky darkened, we were suddenly engulfed in a stream of what looked like thousands of bats leaving the cave to forage in the night. We were right in the middle of their flight as more and more bats exited the cave at intervals. It was fantastic!

I hired Whitey’s Flying Service in Uvalde, Texas, so that I could get shots of crop dusting. I had a special lens prepared for the camera I was to mount on the plane’s wheel struts. Before we went up, I shot a test roll of color negatives on the ground and had it processed to make sure everything was in working order. Then we locked the camera into place and took off. I felt very confident after I shipped the film to the magazine. Imagine my frustration when my photo editor called and told me that all the frames were out of focus. It turned out that the glue that held the lens element together failed. Fortunately I had just enough time left to reshoot the pesticide spraying. I managed to get one nice frame out of all that effort. No matter how well you prepare, something occasionally goes wrong.

I got permission to photograph Frio Cave, which is on private property in rural Uvalde up in the Texas Hill Country. I was out there by dusk when the bats start their exodus. It was beautiful, and I loved it. Then I noticed an electrical storm building. I was caught in a heavy downpour as lightning flashed all around. I managed to photograph hundreds of bats flying over me with the electrically charged sky in the background. It was like something out of a movie. When the weather got worse, I decided to head back to the hotel. But once I got there, I discovered that I had left my cell phone behind. That meant driving 45 minutes each way to retrieve it. I found it covered in mud. But I cleaned it off, dried it out, and it survived. It works like new.

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