12 October 2007

When Bats are Smarter than Scientists…

28 September 2007 -- Environmental Ecology (ENV 326) Bat Lab

This is a shot of me speaking with my students about how to sample for bats. Image Credit: Bennett Barthelemy.

I've fallen a bit behind on my blogs. I'm posting this from a blog that I wrote the weekend of 28 September 2007.

In an attempt to give my students more exposure to actual field techniques, fieldwork, and perhaps place them in contact with researchers who may be able to provide them with summer job opportunities, Moran (my TA) and I decided to overhaul the ENV 326 lab. This will entail bat, cave, bird, vegetation and climate change labs.

The first on our agenda was the bat. I was able to convince one of my good buddies, Ben Solvesky (School of Forestry M.S. candidate in bat ecology), to lead the lab. We decided upon a pit in Sedona to mist net and conduct emergent counts of bats. Ben and his girlfriend, Summer, had gone out the night before to determine if the pit actually contained bats – somewhat of a prerequisite for a bat lab. If bats were present, his plan was to determine how many, and figure out which way they exited the pit. The latter point being critical to setting up the mist net – we needed to set the net within their flyway, otherwise the work would be all for naught.

Ben and Summer estimated at least 50 bats and determined they were exiting to the north. So, gravid with this information, Ben and I felt confident we would catch plenty of bats for the lab and thus be able to demonstrate the capture techniques with the students, and also give them the opportunity to view a bat in the hand.

Friday rolled around, and it was time to catch some bats. Ben, two of my students and I arrived early to set up. The rest of the students and Moran, would be showing up about an hour after we arrived.

It was a beautiful evening in Sedona. It was warm, around 70 degrees and overcast. The latter would prove to make for a beautiful sunset. So, we set up mist net, the bat processing station (this is the area we would actually measure bats), and the exit count station. This is where we had a video camera with Night Shot capabilities, an IR light and a pair of IR goggles. Now, everything was ready to go.

Moran and the rest of my students arrived shortly thereafter, and now all we had to do was wait for the sun to set and the bats to emerge. Ben had predicted the bats would emerge at exactly 1833hr – exactly 1833hr.

The first bat emerged at 1836hr! So, old Ben was wrong! Ever sense he had made that statement, I had wanted the bats to prove him wrong – and they did.

The bats continued to get the better of us that night. We didn’t catch one bat. Every single bat flew over our net. All we needed was one bat for show my students. However, the bats chose not to cooperate.

I'm holding a praying mantis. This was the only thing we captured in the mist net on that night. Image Credit: Bennett Barthelemy.

Fortunately, the night was not completely unproductive. All the students were able to count bats as they emerged from their roost using IR goggles and/ or a video camera with an IR light. We had two groups for this operation. One using the IR goggles, the other were viewing bats through the video camera. I totaled each count and took the average. There were two species totaling ~64 bats.

After the bats exited the roost, we hiked back to the vehicles and headed home.

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