Tracking Bats

I’ve spent the last few days tracking three of our Indiana bats that we’ve caught, trying to find their roost trees. We are tracking one in the Cherokee National Forest and two in the Nantahala National Forest. Maybe you’ve never tracked a bat before? It’s ok, I’ll explain in brief. I love it, it’s like a really rad scavenger hunt through the forest where you encounter things that make you itchy for weeks, steep slopes, fallen trees and venomous snakes.

First you’ll need a permit, then you’ll need to strategically place your nets to catch a bat, in our case, the Indiana bat. Apply an expensive little device called a transmitter. The next couple of weeks you’ll be tracking her. Sometimes you’ll find her, sometimes she’s hiding in her super secret spot.

You’ll need a receiver (plus a back-up in case the batteries die), a coaxial cord (plus a back-up because it’ll probably break on you in the middle of the forest when you are just about to find a tree) and an antenna. Set the frequency to match the transmitter. Drive and hike to high ridges to get a good listen of the area. Hopefully you can triangulate on the direction of the strongest beep.  You do this by getting to three places where you can pinpoint the direction of the beeping transmitter that your receiver is picking up. You try all directions and then use a compass to get a bearing of the direction. Find where you are on a topographic map, lay the compass on a map (and line it up) and draw a line in the direction of the strongest signal. Sound confusing? This dude probably explains it better than I just did.

Once you have a general idea of where she might be, you hike into the forest, listening and waiting for the beep to become stronger, hiking towards it.

Max listening for our transmittered bat.

Sometimes you get to hike up and down ridges, other times she is closer to a road or a trail. Max and I went through an area covered in poison ivy (usually the case in Hurricane Branch), plus lots of fallen trees that we had to climb over. An excellent combination!  On some occasions you get the added bonus of a venomous snake camouflaged amongst the leaf matter, under the shadows of the poison ivy.  Luckily for the both of us (the snake and I), I noticed her when my foot was just inches away, about to take another step. She’s a beauty though!

Can you find the copper head snake?

Shortly after, Max and I made it down to the huge white pine snag he spotted from the ridge with the signal was leading him in that direction.  We agreed after listening all around the tree that she was definitely roosting in there, and had to have some bat friends up there as well.

Later that night we hiked back to the tree and sure enough she was roosting under sloughing bark with 51 other adult bats (and I’m sure some pups as well in this maternity roost!). An excellent find.  Watching the bats emerge from the tree- I love this part of my job.  You never really know how many bats will be in there.  Even though my neck feels like it might just break off from constantly staring at the tree, it’s worth it.  Standing there, listening and watching the forest shift as the sun sets – the nocturnal creatures emerging as the diurnal animals struggle to get their last few calls in as the sun fades.  If you have never experience the forest at night, please do.

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