Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bats on the Wing

On Sunday my friend Rain called us up. She lives out near Woodard bay at the southern terminus of Henderson Inlet; here in late spring/summer there is a nursery colony of several bat species, living under the crumbling Weyerhauser dock. These bats show up sometime in March, pregnant and ready to give birth. Since Rain lives near Woodard bay, she benefits from their fly overs. She saw her first bat a few days ago. They are BAAAAAAACK...

It was 15 years ago when we moved into a house along Garfield ravine. This house had two large picture windows placed next to each other to form a corner. In that first summer we were there, it took us awhile to get curtains. So one night I was sitting near those picture windows, reading, shortly after sunset. My eye was caught by something flying in the dark - and it wasn’t a bird.

I called Glen and we started watching: the animal flying up to our window was a bat; as we watched, we saw about 20 passes of these bats. They flew in at high speed, flared their wings and swooped up and over the house. It was a virtuoso turn of speed and flight skills. It turns out that our big lighted (uncurtained) windows had called in flying insects; the bats had found these insects by echolocation, and came in their turn to our windows. I have been fascinated and thrilled by bats ever since.

We lived at that house for several years. We learned to go to the back patio at sunset, and look to the sky in the west, to the setting sun. About 20 minutes after sunset, the bats would fly in, leaving their daytime roosts in attics, and swooping through the skies, looking for insects to eat, but also, heading to water. On a good night, we saw 30-40 bats. From that experience, we believed that all backyards had similar sightings.

It turns out not to be true. A local animal-tracking expert named Greg Falxa started putting radio transmitters on our local bats, and tracking their movements. From his work, we have learned that many of our local bats are heading to the insect feast at Capitol Lake. The bats from the westside seem to orient and travel to the lake using lines of tall trees, which include Garfield ravine. It turns out our house was on the freeway on-ramp to Capitol Lake. That’s why we saw so many bats.

You might be able to see these same sunset movements by going to Garfield Elementary School playfield and looking north, watching the tops of the trees along Garfield ravine.

Or you can join us in our bat class, which is starting in April. (Details on our blog to to the right) We will be teaching about our local species of bats in the classroom, then going out for 3 field trips to see these amazing animals in the wild. We invite you to come along and begin your own journey of exploration into the lives of these amazing animals.

Janet Partlow

Bats Northwest
Bat Conservation International
Bats in Thurston County:

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