A Night in the Dark

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(Note: I wrote this in June in northern West Virginia)

Well, I'm out here, alone, and in the dark. In reality, I'm only a radio call (or loud shout) from my team leader and I have a headlamp. So it's not really all that bad. You clearly know you're a bat technician when sitting in these conditions every night seems like a normal thing. Am I a little nervous? Yes. Duh! Who wouldn't be?

Obviously, I'm not alone. Who is out here with me? The better question is what. First it started with the Whippoorwill. Pretty at first, this bird makes a distinct call that mimics its name. However, this bird made me want to quickly scream "shut up" at the top of m lungs. I resisted.

Next I hear the coyotes. They're somewhere in this valley although I'm not sure where. The  pups are adorable. They sound like any other puppy yipping. Right now they're about the size of a big cat/my dog. The adults howl joke you would expect them to. I'll try to post a video I took so that you can listen to them. Ignore the part where I get out of my chair and actually have to do my job.

Ok, here's a link to my youtube clip but you have to listen REALLY carefully:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lCxfgzphMqM&feature=youtu.be

One sound that has yet to be absent on any night is the barred owl. They have a distinct call. Sometimes they get pissy and their calls change. It's kind of fun to listen to. I've actually seen one of these owls too...it flew into my net. Fortunately it did not try to land (and therefore tangle itself) but continued to try to fly though the net (talons behind and away from the net). When I began to lower the net, it backed up immediately without ever getting stuck. As "fun" as it would have been to post pictures of the battle scars that would have resulted, I learned at a young age (thank you Shaver's Creek) that these birds mean business. They have to (hence the category birds of prey!)

Usually I get to hear frogs too, but I am not sitting near enough water to hear them tonight. There aren't many species that I don't get to hear. I've hear bull frogs, chorus frogs, Fowler's toads, green frogs, spring peepers, wood frogs and probably others. Sometimes they are so loud I can hardly think. The frogs in Illinois were plentiful. They showed little fear of humans and didn't move until you practically kicked them.

So what else is out here with me? There are probably deer and bear that I can't see but can see me. I am sure to walk loudly and talk to myself so I don't surprise anything and so that they are less likely to surprise me! There are also opossums, raccoons, skunks, and porcupines that are all nocturnal to some extent just like me! Sometimes a mouse, shrew, mole or vole will scurry under my feet and remind me that there are more than just larger nocturnal mammals.

Obviously, the insects like to keep me company too. In Illinois I had to constantly check for ticks. I only had 7 or 7 that I had to pull out of me and they were all the little turkey mites. We don't have to worry about Lyme disease as much as we had to be careful because of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. There are plenty of mosquitoes as well other random insects that bite and leave scratchy/itchy bumps in the most random places such as my knee caps, symmetrically on my shoulder blades, and under my bra strap! The crickets chirp and moths swarm around my headlamp. Sometimes whether or not my headlamp is on is irrelevant. However, it's almost like a game when I try to swat them out of the air before they can make it to my face. Perhaps the scariest insect that I am encountering, the firefly. Don't get me wrong here. I'm not a wimp. For goodness sakes I rip dung and stag beetles out of nets on a nightly basis. However, fireflies sometimes look like eyes and I catch myself doing a double take to see if they really are eyes.  They haven't been, yet...

Oh! I almost forgot! The most hated of the mammalian nocturnal creatures is the flying squirrel. These creatures are under the impression that nets are really just jungle gyms for them to play on and that we won't care if they chew a hole on the net or break a main line within the net. Well, they're wrong and really know how to make a technician and their superior run at them, scream at them, and get really REALLY mad at them. That's all I'm going to say about that...

So in reality, with all of this night time activity, I know I'm not alone.  I'm just going batty!

You know you're a bat tech when...

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You know you're a bat tech when....

1) you jump out of your chair any time you hear the "ding"of metal on metal.

2) Buying a gallon of bug spray might not be enough.

3) When you carry gloves and paper bags in you non-work clothes.

4) When you buy Clorox disinfectant wipes to clean your body instead of a bathroom.

5) When you set the table with a pair of calipers instead of a fork.

6) When you boil water in a parking lot at 0'dark-30 and hook a dryer up to your vehicle's power inverter.

7) When ripping insects apart is important in accomplishing the job and you no longer feel bad.

8) When bat bites are preferred over bug bites because they don't itch.

9) When your most cherished clothing accessory is a pair of knee high muck boots.

10) When you buy pants based on the number and size of the cargo pockets.

11) When you dislike anything with wings or the adaptation to glide between the hours of 7pm and 3am.

12) When sitting alone in the dark for 5 hours seems like a normal thing to do every night.

13) When you've tried every possible cure for poison ivy.

14) When you're excited that breakfast foods are offered during the time in which your first meal of the day takes place.

15) When you discover that your sports bra can hold more than just your boobs and your cell phone.

16) When you're more likely to charge your headlamp batteries before charging your cell phone.

17) When you know the anatomy of gear better than your own self.

18) When 70 degrees feels chilly and requires a long sleeve shirt and a wool beanie.

19) When u forget how to tell time, u just know minutes (:15, :30, :45, :00)

20) When how fast you can dismember a bug matters to your boss.

A Day in Day Life

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Now that I have successfully switched to a nocturnal life style, I don't really know what to do with myself during the day. Part of it could be that I don't have a car to go anywhere so I am confined to my hotel room and the grassy patch outside the hotel. However, I am not one to venture outside of my room during the day because it is hot in Illinois. If I have a choice, I will never choose to live in Illinois. Only good part about it is the corn, and it's not even knee high yet!

So what's my daily routine like? It goes something like this:

9:00am (optional) - hotel complimentary breakfast
Breakfast is nice but not always necessary in the life of a bat tech. If I have a strong desire for a waffle I will wake up, throw on some shorts and a clean tshirt and go down and make one. I also tend to grab a glass of OJ. If the others in my room don't get up, I grab extra pre-packaged cinnamon rolls. And sometimes we grab some for breakfast the next day/for when we don't get up for breakfast. Getting up for breakfast for us is like getting up for a snack in the middle of the night for the rest of the world.

12:00pm- attempt #1 at waking up
This usually does not work. Therefore, I have a tendency to check my phone, text back briefly with those I you who forget I'm still asleep, and resume sleeping.

2:00pm - wake up for real this time
Now I really have to wake up. Usually because the sun is too bright for me to stay asleep, the roommates are up and trying to be quiet and in reality, I've been asleep for 8-10 semi-restful hours.

Once I'm awake and have on shorts and a tee, (because it's too hot for work pants at that point in the day) I make some sort of other breakfast/lunch resembling meal. Sometimes it's as simple as an apple with peanut butter or a bowl of oriental ramen (the only vegetarian variety.) I wash my dishes immediately in the bathroom sink with camp soap and a sponge. I then have to come up with something to do until it's time to be in the field which can range from 5:00pm to 7:00pm. Let me walk you through my options:

Option 1: Laundry
Option 2: Watch movies online
Option 3: Do work for Jay
Option 4: Wander through Facebook and YouTube

If there is time for another meal (if we're leaving at 7:00pm), I'll eat whatever option I didn't eat for "lunch".  My favorite was curried mashed potatoes, broccoli, and a Chik patty.  Then, I pack my backpack and it's off to work!

I've got a bat! Now what?

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Well, I'm glad you asked! If you read my post "Catching Bats" you are up to speed and know that the bat is now in a paper bag.  Next, you put in in your pocket!  It's the coolest feeling in the world (especially the first few times) knowing that "there's a bat in my pocket!!!!"  Fortunately I only have two pockets on my pants to choose from, the ones on the sides.  Bats in back pockets usually end up....smushed....  The bat only stays in your pocket (and still in the bag of course) until you make it back to the chairs after retrieving other bats and checking the other net. 


Back at the chairs you process the bat using the command case.  First, you measure the bat's weight using a scale then measure the bat's forearm using calipers.  Then you determine the sex, reproductive status (if female), age (adult or juvenile), and any other notes such as wing condition.  We had a sunburned bat the first night.  Go figure!


Then we let the bats go if no pictures need to be taken.  Some bats require more documentation than others. For example, seeing an Eastern Red Bat is pretty common, but an Evening Bat or Indiana Bat are much less common and require more pictures and the Indiana bat even requires a radio transmitter and telemetry for several days!

Here is a picture of an Eastern Red Bat (Lasiurus borealis) I caught the first night!

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Catching Bats

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I'm thinking your biggest question is how in the world we catch bats.  That was certainly my biggest question and the simple answer is magic.  I mean, it's not much work to catch a bat if the bats are there and can be done in five easy steps.  Step 1: find site. Step 2: put up a net.  Step 3: bat flies into net.  Step 4: get bat out of net.  Step 5: repeat.  So let's break this down.

Step 1: Find site
Sites can range in a variety of terrains and distance from the truck.  For example, my first night was 200 meters from the truck on a gravel driveway to a cabin.  However, my second site was a mile from the truck down a gravel road and through a corn field (we walked around the corn field to be nice).  Ideally we like a flight corridor with a low canopy so that we can set up a net across the corridor (usually a road of sorts) and bats cannot fly easily around, above, or below the net.  Sometimes sites are over water because they need to drink water too and we take advantage of that behavior.  And yes, we set up a net in a cornfield because some species of bats forage near corn fields.

Step 2: Put up the net
I will apologize now that I don't have any illustrations to go along with this explanation because that would make this a heck of a lot easier for you all to understand.  The basic net that we erect is the triple high net.  This means that we put three nets on really high aluminum poles.  Each pole is made up of 6 sections, a bottom pole, a cuff pole (the top pole) and four middle poles each about a meter in length.  We put one pole (the 6 poles put together) on either side of the trail.  There are two tension lines at the top of each pole that helps the poles stand straight up.  There is also a top line that connects the two poles.  The cuff pole has a series of PVC doughnuts that are looped together with rope and have small carabiners on them to attach to the ropes.  Mist nets are then strung across.  Mist nets are fine black nets that snag everything from birds to moths to beetles to multiflora rose and sticks.  The nets range from 6 meters to 18 meters depending on the width of the road or other site characteristic.  We can hoist the cuffs up with a rope and lower them back down as necessary (for bats, moths and beetles, eww!).  There can be two or three of these at a site.  I will post a picture or a video as soon as I can!

I guess this is a good time to mention the day one/two think I mentioned on Facebook.  We do the same sites two nights in a row to replicate.  We set up the poles and nets on a day one, but just take down the nets that night (which is really morning in all your books).  On day two all we have to do is put up the nets, but then we take the poles down and boil the nets. More on that later.

Step 3: Bat flies into net
Here comes the long part.  Once we set up the nets we have to hope and wait and pray to the bat gods that a bat will come along and fly into our net.  We sit in comfort in out fold-up chairs reading books, munching on snack, and playing on our phones.  In fact, I have texted many of you until you all fall asleep.  We check the nets every 10 minutes meaning on the 10's of the hour not ten minutes of sitting and then check the nets.  That means if it takes nine minutes to check the nets we don't have time to sit.  On slower nights, we check on 15's.  And so, we sit and wait...


Step 4: Get bat out of net

I previously mentioned the raising and lowering of nets.  When we DO catch a bat (which happened 20 times the first night, twice the second night, once the third night, and twice the fourth night) we lower the nights enough to reach the bat and work it out of the net.  This is where the majority of the biting occurs because you don't have the bat in a good hold.  Then, you put it in a paper sandwich bag.  Yes, you red that right, a sandwich bag.  One has to become skilled in bagging a bat and folding the bag in order to not crush its wings.  Once the bag is folded the bat is in a small dark space and is quite content.  Then it is taken for measurements...da, da, dum....


Step 5: Repeat

So, we do this process from approximately 8pm to 1am here in Illinois right now.  As we move east later in the summer we can be netting from 9pm to 2am.... and yeah!  That's how you catch a bat!


Catching bats can be fun, exciting, but also boring and repetitive at times.  I will continue to post things such as what we do with the bats once we catch them and exciting moments I've had such as my first bat and other critters I've caught.




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Hi all!  I just want to let you know that I am alive and will be posting more soon.  I'll give you details on where I'm at (in general), what kind of bats we're catching, and how the heck we do it!  Catch ya later!

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