Saturday, October 18, 2008

Ardops Nichollsi

The bats in the Caribbean are mostly very different from the ones we have here in North America. Many of them are leaf-nosed bats, Phyllostomids if you speak Latin, like the bats I saw in the Yucatan. This little teddy bear of a bat was classified as a "reproductive male" for reasons which are pretty obvious although some of them were even more alarmingly obvious.

On St. Lucia, not all the bats got released. The team had permits to "take" a certain number of each species. We knew each night how many of each species were to be kept, and the kept bats stayed in their bags until the next morning, when they were humanely euthanized and then "processed" more completely. This meant that tissue samples were taken for genetic analysis, and then they were preserved in formalin and taken back to become museum samples.

The good part of this is that future researchers can examine the bats for reasons we don't even know yet, and in the dreadful event that they go locally extinct, for example due to climate change, there will be a record of what they were. Only bats that are fairly common are taken, so it probably has little affect on the survival of the population.

The bad part is that we're all doing this work because we love bats, and so it's super hard to see them killed. This work is not for me, but I will not speak badly of those who do it.

Caribbean bat science!

At long last, here is the first of my promised entries on my time catching bats in the Caribbean this past summer.

The first part of the trip was on the island of St. Lucia. When I arrived, the rest of the group was already in full swing. We went almost immediately into the field to catch bats. The routine worked like this. Around 5pm we'd pack everyone and all the equipment up into the two already-trashed rental cars and head for the field. The group usually split up into a couple of teams. Before it got dark we set up the mist nets. These are very fine nets made of black string that in theory is invisible. The joke, of course, is that bats can see in the dark, much much better than us. In fact this same group just published a paper showing that only about 5% of the bats that come near the nets are actually caught in them. But that's another story.

We checked the nets regularly, every few minutes. When a bat landed in a net, we took it out as gently as possible, sometimes getting nasty bites in the meantime. Of course, we've all had our rabies shots! Then the bat went into a bag hanging from our belts, one for each species. We used bat bags in the BCI class, but this time the bags are bigger to hold more bats, and it was so warm out we don't need to put them inside our jackets. After a few hours of this, or when it started raining, we took the nets down and got ready to "process" the bats.

This picture shows the team processing bats the night I arrived. You can see one of the released bats flying in the upper middle of the photo. Before the bats were released, they' were pulled one at a time from the bag and inspected. We checked for species, sex and reproductive status, and age. Then, the lucky bats were released to fly away free.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The other volant vertebrate

And now a break from the usual bat entries to talk about the other volant (flying) vertebrates, birds. This past Sunday I spent a glorious day looking for birds in Pt. Reyes National Seashore as part of a fundraiser for the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory.

This fundraiser takes the form of a bird-a-thon, where teams compete to see who can find the highest number of bird species in a single day. My team, the Feral Birders, generally chooses Pt. Reyes as a destination because as a long peninsula sticking out into the Pacific ocean it tends to attract a large number of rare migrating birds. There aren't many trees out at the end of the point, so the birds taking a break from their travels tend to collect in the few groves of pine trees available. These two pine trees past the ranger residence at the fishdocks held an amazing number of fall migrants, including Black Throated Blue Warbler, Palm Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Townsend's Warbler, and Yellow Warbler. There was also an amazing variety of birders there to witness it. We shared the wonder with Joe Morlan's class, among many other lucky people. That was extra special because the group of friends I spent the day with were all alumni from Joe's class years ago.
Over the course of the day we saw 102 different species of birds, mainly due to the great skills of my teammates, since I've been neglecting my birding skills in favor of bat skills. Let me know if you want a full list of the species we saw. Other exciting animal treats included several Mola Mola (sunfish) getting parasites picked off by gulls while floating in the ocean near the lighthouse, piles of elephant seals on the beaches as well as groups flinging their whole bodies out of the water chasing fish, and a coyote walking down the road stopping up traffic a la Yosemite or Yellowstone.
All in all it was a very magical day for an excellent cause. You can help support my fundraising efforts by making a contribution online. Just select my name, Jennifer Krauel, from the "Program" list. Thank you so much for your support!