Sunday, January 29, 2006


Success! I'm still working on the Pallid bat winter roost study. We finally went on a warm night, and the bats were flying, and we caught six of them. Five were males, all dressed up and ready to go, as you can see from the studly bat in this photo. It appeared that all the bats were reproductively active, so now we refer to the building they are roosting in is as the "love shack." I was going to say notice the sharp teeth on the business end of this guy, but then I'm not entirely clear which end to call the business end. Photo by Bill Hepburn.

Pallid with transmitter

Once we caught the bats, we put them into cloth bags for safekeeping (and to collect guano samples, if they'd been out feeding already.) The bags went into my pockets to stay toasty warm. Then we brought them out one at a time for processing, which consisted of weighing them, measuring arm length, determining reproductive status, putting on a band, and finally applying a radio transmitter. The transmitters are tiny, with a fairly long flexible antenna. We trimmed the fur off a small part of the bat's back and then glued the radio transmitter to the bat using eyelash adhesive. This photo shows a bat with transmitter attached, waiting for the adhesive to dry. Incidentally, if you notice some blood on the thumb which is gently holding the bat, it's from a feisty bat biting the human hand, not from any wound on the bat. Batgrrl says, never handle a bat if you haven't had your full rabies shots! The transmitters emit a pulse at a specific frequency, which we pick up using directional antennas and a receiver. From the pulse rate we can calculate the bat's body temperature, and thus know if it's active, or in torpor. The batteries on the transmitters only last a couple of weeks, so we have to move quickly to collect the data. Also, bats are avid groomers, and often will clean the transmitters off before the batteries run out. So it's a bit of a guessing game to figure out if the bat is asleep, or if it's just a dropped transmitter. Now that we've got some bats tagged, we will transform into detectives, to find out where they are roosting and foraging. Photo by Bill Hepburn.

Almost free

After the bats were processed, back they went into their bags and into my pockets, until we had the nets down. The only thing cooler than a bat in my pocket is six bats in my pocket! Once the nets were down, I took the bats out of their bags, one at a time, and let them sit on me until they were ready to fly away. If you look closely at this photo you can see the antenna hanging down from its radio transmitter. The last bat was so comfy and warm he tried to crawl back into my pocket. But alas, I had to release him back to the cold night. Eventually off he flew, to eat more bugs then probably to return to the love shack for some late night excitement. Photo by Bill Hepburn.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Newt Love 1

No, those aren't bats. There is some bat content here - simmer down now, folks. I've spent the past week off and on helping out with a bat project. Yay! The idea is to put radio transmitters on some Pallid bats (Antrozous pallidus) at an East Bay park, to find out more about their behavior in the winter. It's really wonderful to have the opportunity to wander around in the moonlight in a beautiful park, with only the sounds of the owls to keep us company. Yes, that's right. No bat sounds. No bats. On the second night, we managed to find one bat, probably a Pallid, in a known summer roost. We weren't able to catch it to find out why it was there all by itself (they are very social.) It's mysterious why the bats have disappeared. The resident naturalist said she'd heard them in the building they use for a roost last month, but this month they were nowhere to be found. In addition to the calling owls (Great Horned and Western Screech) we were treated to a cornucopia of newts. These California newts were frolicking in a pond, around 11pm, under a full moon. More newt info...

Newt Love 2

More pictures of the Sunol newts. There must have been hundreds of the newts coupling in the pond. OK, so "coupling" is probably not the best word. Sometimes there were whole writhing masses of them. Lots more were walking around on the ground nearby. We counted about 25 just walking up the road to the pond, and walking down to the pond's edge was complicated by the necessity of carefully watching each step for wriggling shapes heading toward the love pond. There was some serious newt procreation happening in that pond. I'm not sure if the full moon had anything to do with the timing of it, but it helped us to appreciate the magnitude of the celebration. Earlier in the night there was an eerie mist all around, making the trees loom up like Ents as we passed on the trail, and causing us to need our headlamps to avoid stepping on newts, despite the bright moon. Then, as we stood on the edge of the pond gaping like voyeurs, the mist cleared and all was illuminated. Truly magical.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Bandelier people cave

Sorry for the long absence. The end of the semester became a whirlwind, especially since I decided to apply for the BCI grant after all. I have no idea if I'll get it or not, but it was good practice. Then I went with my girlfriend to New Mexico for vacation. We got there on Christmas day, and returned New Year's eve. I'm not a big holidays person so traveling at that time suits me just fine. We drove for over 1,000 miles around New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado, mainly in Indian country. Bandelier National Monument in northern New Mexico has some really cool ancient Native American ruins. In addition to the "Anasazi" style (ancient Pueblo) ruins, there were also houses built right up against the cliffs, and even some right into the cliffs as caves. Some of the caves were reinforced and open to the public and it was way cool to be able to climb up the rickety ladders and go inside. We hadn't originally planned to visit Bandelier but I'm so glad we did.

Bandelier bat cave

In addition to the really cool ruins at Bandelier, they also had a bat cave! This was actually right over some pueblo ruins but I would imagine the bats moved in after the original people left. In the winter, all we saw was guano, but in the summer you can see Mexican Freetails (Tadarida brasiliensis) and Myotis Yumanensis fly out of this big vertical cave at dusk. Batgrrl confesses she broke the rules and climbed over the little fence to stand right under the cave to take a picture and inspect the copious amounts of guano. I could see at least two types of guano but need more practice telling which was which.

NM sunset

This obligatory sunset photo was from the Casa Escondido bed and breakfast in Chimayo, New Mexico. I wish I could have posted some photos of the native dancers we saw the day after Christmas at the Acoma (sky city) pueblo, but they didn't allow cameras into the pueblo that day. It was magical.