Sunday, June 23, 2013

Bats in Mazama

Last Friday, here at the North Cascades Basecamp, we hosted students from Central Washington University visiting as part of a wildlife ecology field techniques class with Dan Beck. Arriving in the early morning, Kim and Steve took the students on an introduction to birding walk around the Basecamp property where numerous species were heard and identified. 

Later in the evening, the students returned for a trip highlight- bat mist netting. What is bat mist netting you may ask (as I did).  Mist netting is an effective and safe way of capturing both birds and bats.   Very lightweight, almost invisible, nylon nets are strung between two poles over a highly trafficked area.  In our case, we strung three nets over ponds, very close to the water's surface.  

Kent and Kim carefully setting up the mist nets

USFWS Wildlife biologist, Kent Woodruff, led the evening and proved to be an excellent source of information.  However, early on he stated that bat knowledge is very limited, especially here in the Methow Valley.  "The answer to most questions about bats is 'I don't know.'"  He attributes the lack of knowledge to the difficult task of these small flying mammals, and to the lack of funding/support for research.  Unfortunately, bats often have a negative association in our society and aren't the cuddly animals that people are willing to support and protect.  While research and understanding surrounding bats is often limited, it is clear that they do play an important role in our ecosystem and are often referred to as a 'keystone' species.

Anticipation grew as the nets were assembled and dusk arrived.  The group of 25 students and Basecamp guests sat patiently and quietly on logs surrounding the ponds and waited for the bats to arrive.  Soon the first bats were spotted and excitement grew as more quickly arrived.  It was clear everyone was enjoying watching the acrobatic show the bats put on but also anxious for the first bat capture.

After 20 minutes of waiting, our patience was rewarded with the capture of the Methow Valley's smallest bat species.  Weighing about the same as a penny, California Mytois bat (myotis californicus) is found along the west coast of America; from British Columbia, Canada to as far south as Guatemala.

The group assembled around Kent as he identified the bat.  He identified our bat by it’s keeled calcar (a cartilaginous spur of the ankle joint that extends toward the tail), small feet, color and facial features.

Pointing out the Keeled Calcar

There are approximately 1100 bat species across every continent (except Antarctica). Here in Washington State we have 15 bats species, 8 of which are currently listed federally as Category 2 Candidates, meaning adequate information is lacking to list them as endangered species. However, it is hypothesized that they should receive that designation.  Across the nation approximately 40 percent of bat species are currently threatened.  

How can you help?

Interested in learning more about Bats in Washington?
Basic facts about bats from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

The recent (and first!) conservation plan for bats in Washington State

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Live Bat Cam

Bats Northwest; a non-profit to protect bats through education and research

No comments:

Post a Comment