Nocturnal Friends- A visiting photographer

A very long over due post…

This past summer I had the lovely honor of having a very talented wildlife photographer join me in the field to photograph bats and other creatures he came across. Michael Durham made his bed in the corner of our living room floor crammed between the couch and the wall attempting to sleep through the daily morning commotion of Porter Cove for the better half of the month. One of my techs named the dead end road we lived on, Porter Cove, as Mr. “Pappy” Porter seemed to own most of the land in Unicoi- his extensive family were scattered throughout the trailers sprinkled within the cove. Michael slept in his living room nest or in the forest with us in an extra tent. That summer we all slept on either air mattresses or sleeping pads on the floor in the house or on the forest floor. He battled the constant thunderstorms right there with us and with all of his fancy, expensive and non-waterproof gear.

Almost as soon as he arrived into town, we were out in the field, actually I think we left just 4 hours after he arrived to Unicoi, TN. It was the hottest and most humid night of the year and I also had to tell him that he’d be driving his rental car on a road that had begun to wash away down the side of the mountain. As long as it’s not raining…too much…we should be ok.

Every night we could go out, Michael went with us. We would set up our nets to catch the bats and other equipment to record bat calls, while Michael set up his extensive high speed camera equipment inside a family-sized tent on the edge of a dirt road, often surrounded by stinging nettles and poison ivy. Each bat we’d catch, we’d record the basics and if s/he was a species of interest, Michael would let an individual bat fly in the tent, catching their precise movements as they swooped around- their mouths open as they sent out calls too high for us to hear, the sounds bouncing back to their ears as they dodge every obstacle in their way. I’m not going to even attempt to go into his set-up because I would only fail to explain the details, but these details and his passion for wildlife photography are the main ingredients to the photos that allow us to witness the beauty of these nocturnal creatures that all too often escapes us.

Bats often only conjure up images of fear, or are rarely thought about. But I want to share some of Michael’s photos from my field season with all of you. Within those few short moments he spent with each bat, he captured what most people never have the opportunity to see up close. Maybe you are reading this because you already love bats, or you are curious, or perhaps you are an excellent friend and enjoy reading what I write. And maybe it’s something else all together. Either way, his photos offer a glimpse into the life of bats and their nocturnal friends- including wildlife photographers and biologists alike.

Male northern long-eared myotis (Myotis septentrionalis) photographed in the Cherokee National Forest, Tennessee. (digital composite)

Male northern long-eared myotis (Myotis septentrionalis) photographed in the Cherokee National Forest, Tennessee. (digital composite)

Visit his site, DurmPhoto.com
photo captions taken from Michael Durham’s photo descriptions. Thanks!!

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The Nature Zine, Issue 2

Completed!

I can’t believe it’s been a year since the first issue of The Nature Zine. Now I have a whole new collection for you to enjoy!

NatureZineIssue2

Issue 2 is packed full of intense stories, thoughts, poems, art, photos and an ‘interview’ from multiple contributors. I’m thrilled to share with you this next run of submissions- they are all quite inspiring. People share their fears, passion, and thoughts on exploring, connecting with and studying nature. The beautiful ruffed grouse on the cover was painted by Jay Dowd, owner and tattoo artist at Consolidated Tattoo Parlor and Barber Shop in Flint, Michigan. Jay and I have gone on a LOTS of outdoor adventures together and he spends any moment that he can out in the wilderness, so of course it was a pleasure to include his painting. I really enjoy receiving submissions from all over the states (and Canada!), so please keep them coming.

My friend Matt and I collaborated on a piece together for issue 2- never too late- as we had once discussed writing of our 6 month adventure (much of which has been described here, but we now we were able to reflect on our journey and share new aspects of it all). We essentially interview ourselves- as in we came up with a few questions and then separately wrote our responses. We waited to share them until we both completed our pieces. I then meshed them together, leaving them as they were- not letting our answers influence one another.

If you are interested in a copy, I’ll send you one for free, trade or a $1-$3 donation.  Donations just help to cover the cost of copies and shipping. Plus allow me to keep up with this very enjoyable project. I’m on a student budget so anything helps. Just use the the paypal button below or email me for other options, batsnbikes [at] gmail [dot] com

Donate for a copy of The Nature Zine

Much thanks to everyone who has contributed to this project! I’m keeping Issue One in print as well, so let me know if you are interested. Both a creative outlet and a way to share our thoughts on connecting with nature, The Nature Zine will continue on with more issues.  If you are interested in contributing, please send your stories, thoughts, and art to me or contact me for more information:  batsnbikes [at] gmail [dot] com

p.s. wondering what a zine is? This should help.

Pond Mountain Wilderness

We try to control our surroundings everyday.  We hide in rooms where we control the temperature.  We attempt to control the sounds around us by drowning them out with headphones or closing our windows.  We turn dials in our vehicles to create sounds we want to hear and to cool or warm ourselves.  We turn on lights when the sun fades.  The door to our house latches shut, an attempt to keep out what we don’t want in our homes.

We shut out the natural world everyday, and yet we constantly try to manipulate it.  Our actions and daily routines have impacted our climate, but we cannot control the weather.  Everyday that I work outside I am reminded of this- and I respect this constant awareness.  Sure, I’ll admit that this summer has been full of frustrations as it has stormed and rained almost every single day.  We take the risk of setting everything up to catch bats for the night, only to have a storm rush in ruining our chances at a full night of bat surveys.  Rain is only a reminder that I’m not working in a controlled environment-  I am exposed to the rain, wind, humidity, heat, cold, insects…. I have no control, nor do I want to control the wilderness.

—–

We could see lightning off in the distance, perhaps too close, but we heard no thunder.  We keep the nets open, stretched out across the old gravel road, between two metal poles- 20 feet tall.  The lighting becomes brighter, more frequent and the rain is quick to follow.  We close up for the night, but by the time our gear is packed my clothes are soaked, plastered to my body, and my hair is heavy with rain.

We’re out at Dennis Cove, near the pond and the Appalachian Trail crosses our site.  My crew departs for home, but Kyle and I make our way through the field and into the tent.  The rain continues for hours, and when it finally lets up I catch the sounds of bullfrogs and spring peepers scattered through the moments that I awake through the night.

I’d hardly had time to even think about where we could hike the next day- my first true day off since the field season began.  I browsed over a map in a region I knew we’d have to work- immediately attracted to the Pond Mountain Wilderness.  The trail climbs up a ridge and we can walk to the trail head from my work site plus it deposits us back into civilization at Watauga Lake- a jump into the lake after our hike.  A quick internet search, revealed little information about Pond Mountain Trail- most of what I found of the Pond Mountain Wilderness was in regards to the portion of the AT that cuts at an angle across the western portion.  I wanted to avoid the clutter of people, a wilderness trail is always more intriguing.  All I knew was that it was 4.5 miles long and runs along the ridge top, seems easy enough.  I only took a quick glance at the topographic map.  Hey, why not add on a bit more- just a quick, easy hike before starting the Pond Mountain Trail.  Laurel Fork Trail (39) next to Dennis Cove Campground would lead us south, where we would connect with FS-50F to head back North.  It would end where FS-50 crosses, and on the opposite side is where Pond Mountain Trail (40) begins.

Nine creek crossings followed by a 2.2 mile hike up a winding gravel forest service road was my definition of a “quick, easy hike.”  Well, it was actually easy but the whole taking our boots and socks off to cross 9 portions of the creek within a couple of miles- surveying each crossing for the least sketchy area to cross- made things not so quick.  The rain left the creek high, hiding any rocks that may have once been available for scurrying across with our boots on.  Other crossings found the creek to be up to my thighs.  With each crossing, we became more careless.  Looking at the topo maps now, it’s so clear to see that the trail crosses the creek many times- perhaps when it’s not a summer full of rain, a shoeless entry may not be required.

Trail 39 and 50F meet up near an open field- we filter water and what we had hoped to be our final creek session knowing that finding a water source on the ridge would be unlikely.  As we reach FS road 50F, the clouds begin to darken but only a small amount of rain finds its way down to us.  We pass the only two people we see on the trails, as they casually stroll through our last creek crossing with their fancy boot gaiters.  The next couple of miles were drowned out by the sound of gravel crunching under our boots with each step, our pace steady as we followed the road that would take us up along Rough Ridge and to Pond Mountain Trail.

We reach an open gate, 50F ends at FS-50, I point directly across the road, “That’s our trail.”  Kyle is doubtful as he looks across the gravel into the forest, no evidence of a trail to be found.  We look again at the map, Pond Mountain Trail should be directly in front of us.  It’s a wilderness trail, so I’m not really surprised that as we look ahead we see only vegetation- we hike in.  Maybe I saw a faint blue blaze, but soon enough we come across a post confirming that we are on the right path.  Suddenly it’s quite obvious, as we are on an old timber road, faded into a two track- the clearest portion of the trail.  It’s, of course, in the easiest portion of the trail that I trip over a downed tree sending myself flying through the air and slamming into the damp but still hard ground.  The fall is only a reminder that we skipped lunch, my head feels light but I’m laughing at my fall. Handfuls of almonds, pecans and some dried fruit allow me to regain my energy.

The trail narrows as it climbs the ridge.  We hike through rhododendron tunnels along the sloping slides, the path is relatively clear, the blue blazes are solid and bright but as we ascend both the blaze and the path begins to fade.  The steepness of the trail is suddenly a slap in the face as we bear right with a clear view of what lies ahead.  There are no switchbacks.  We climb the steep grade, our steps slipping on the forest floor full of decaying leaves that have absorbed weeks worth of rain.

Kyle pauses above me, periodically to wait for me to catch up to his pace.  We continuously check to make sure we are still on some sort of trail but all of a sudden we are on these large bolders, covered with lichen and surrounded by brambles with a few trees that have managed to squeeze life between rock.

The blazes are gone, there is no path.

Continue reading

Study Site

I’ve spent countless hours becoming acquainted with my field site- Cherokee National Forest North (CNF – North) in Tennessee.  Even so, I have explored such a small percentage of it.  Thus far most of our scouting has consisted of pouring over maps and GIS, followed by driving for hours, attempting to match up “roads” to out of date USGS topographic maps.  This leads to trails that no longer exist, trails that are now roads, trails that are now driveways to private property, names that rarely match, wondering if you are going to fall off the edge of washed out roads, strategically turning a vehicle around on an old forest service road once you realize that nature has taken it back and a whole variety of other scenarios.  I actually love it!  We see some pretty incredible things and I’m obsessed with maps so it’s interesting to see how my imagination from looking at a topo map compares to the actual landscape.

roadsandcreeks

We drive for hours in search of a site that qualifies as a potentially good net site to catch Indiana bats.  Indiana bats that have yet to be found in this region of the forest-  emphasis on the yet.  We find something with decent potential- take photos, measurements, GPS the location and record other useful information for our possible return to set up nets, acoustic recording devices (more on that later) and hopefully catch lots of bats and more specifically, lots of Indiana bats.  More on all of this later…

The mountains are never boring and the CNF has not let me down.  Many of you have been curious about where I’m living this summer, so perhaps this will help you.  CNF-North is located on the border of North Carolina, ranging from the Great Smoky Mountains andnorth to Virginia.  Previously I have worked in the Smoky Mtns and CNF- South, plus the Nantahala National Forest, which borders both of these in North Carolina.  The Forest Service summarizes this new region quite nicely:

Cherokee National Forest North

Unaka Ranger District

There are about 170,000 acres in the Unaka Ranger District located in Cocke, Greene, Unicoi, and Carter counties. Primitive camping is allowed anywhere in the district year-round unless areas are otherwise designated. There are over 250 miles of trails, including 30 miles of horse trails and 24 miles of trails for ATVs and motorcycles.

Watauga Ranger District

The Watauga Ranger District (approximately 170,000 acres) is mountainous, with elevations ranging from 1,500 feet in the river valleys to 4,321 feet on Holston Mountain, 4,880 feet on Rogers Ridge, and 4,329 feet on Pond Mountain. This district contains two wilderness areas, two scenic areas, developed campgrounds, 177 campsites, 181 miles of trails, including 20 miles of horse trails, 300 miles of U.S. Forest Service roads, seven developed picnic areas, three developed swimming areas, four boat ramps, and two shooting ranges. All this falls within the four northeastern counties of Tennessee: Carter, Johnson, Sullivan, and Unicoi.

 

(taken from US Forest Service)

 

 

Storms Bring and Take the Day

Favorite moments of mine will always include watching thunderstorms roll in and move past.  This morning the sun rose and along with it came thunder, flashes of lightening and a quick bout of rain.  We left the house just after 5:00am after looking at the radar and seeing that the storm would soon pass.  Sunrise was just before 6 today and I watched as it peaked through the dark clouds.  I sat in the truck doing some tedious database work but at least I had the thunder to keep me alert as we waited for the storm to clear.  I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that being near a metal turbine that protrudes well above the tree lines on top of a ridge is not exactly where you want to be when lightening is near.  So we wait for just over an hour, I watch it rumble past.

The crows land nearby, one squawks at the other but is ignored.  He looks at me, does he know I’m here to collect the snacks that he may scavenge under the turbines?  Are they taking advantage of our delayed start, picking at the lifeless bats.  The crows and vultures feast on whatever they find before we do.

Just as I started my day with a storm, the sun now begins to leave me as another storm passes by just to the north.  I sit here on my back porch and watch the hummingbirds sip down the sugar water, one will visit every couple of minutes.  From here I can also see my garden, how they must be enjoying today’s rainfall.  The thunder just rumbled all around me, the storm still has more to go, just as the sun does.  Directly in front of me, the sun glows behind a cloud, lowering behind the ridge line in the distance.

The air is heavy with moisture and as the wind picks up I can smell the honeysuckle in the air, the dampness of the soil.  The wind is beginning to pick up and the thunder is booming now, what I thought was the storm was only just the first warning bit sliding in before the other more intense portion follows quickly behind.

Mountain storms build and I laugh to myself thinking of times being caught hours away from a trail or the truck, hiking in the forest.  Hail slamming down on us and once we reach the trail, our gear weighing us down, we find that the trail is now a rushing creek and the rain keeps falling, the lightening keeps striking and we hear the breaking of branches all around us.  Here I have raced the storms afraid that they might wash away the bat carcasses that I still need to collect data on.  Just the other week as I was kneeling down to pick up a bat, I looked up to dark clouds creeping in beyond the ridge.  I had enough time to gather the rest of the information I needed and estimate the time of death.  I made it back to the wind energy office just before hail began to drop.

Hail just after the storm with my hand for comparison.

The other week lightening struck down in our front yard.  Katie and I saw it hit as we watched the storm through our living room window chatting on the couch.  We saw it, but the rest of the house felt it as well.  The thunder and lightening cracked and struck- the house shook and we yelped.

I never tire of a storm- the sounds, the smell, the sight of dark clouds moving in on you and lightening flashing all around.  It’s time  for me to switch back to enjoying catching up on zines and books with the storm- far better than a computer on my lap.

The hummingbirds continue to sip, the strength of their tiny wings far greater than the wind and rain.

 

Capilla del Monte, Argentina

Known for its mysterious energy, the mountain pulled us to Capilla del Monte. How could we resist when we heard that the town is full of “alternative” culture and that you could trek up the mountain? We translated this into hopes of vegan food and visions of Jodorowsky´s The Holy Mountain.

We arrived into Capilla del Monte by bus from Cordoba and were soon greeted by Shorty, a local dog of the town who showed us to the office of tourism. He waited outside as we grabbed a map and located camping areas.  Shorty  started to show us the way but was quickly distracted by Big Body, another local perro so we wandered around on dirt roads until we found a place. It was more a bit more than we wanted to pay, but offered a kitchen area, a pregnant cat, a cute puppy and a whole assortment of animals living on their eco farm. Plus the guy gave us a handful of walnuts from a tree on the farm and walked us over to a spot on their land where you could see the sun setting its glow on the mountain that had lured us there, Uritorco.

We camped there for 3 nights another tent accompanied us for a night and others stayed in the hostel rooms they offer as well, but mostly we were alone. It seemed as if every block in Capilla del Monte was home to some sort of natural food, herb or artisan store. We found granola, tofu, soy milanesa, organic mate and a handful of other items to meet our cravings.

Sunday we packed our small bags with plenty of water, snacks and a lunch for the top of Uritorco. We were told it would take 3 to 4 hours to reach the top and about 3 hours to trek back down. I managed to twist my ankle a bit a couple of days before in the city, and thought nothing like a trek up a mountain to help this situation out.

The hike, as expected gets steeper as you reach the top but overall is not very strenuous. We were happy to find that it remained rather rugged for most of the trek. Some small stretches were worn down more than others but they kept the signs minimal, arrows here and there and 7 labeled points telling you how far you had gone and how much further you had to go. We reached the top, 1,979 meters (6493ft) in 2 hours and 45 minutes. This included my hopeless attemps at trying to find birds and photograph butterflies. We also hung out just short of the top to enjoy the silence before we had to be around 10 or so other people who thought they should shout to their friends close by.

On our way up Cerro Uritorico

We reached the top and took in the view, beautiful from all angles. Three dogs also decided to spend their time a top Cerro Uritorico as well, including Mountain Mama a pregnant perro ready to birth her puppies to the mountain. Enjoying matè and soy milanesa sandwiches we took it all in for about an hour or two. It took us just under 2 hours to trek back down, I managed to only fall once but caught myself before tumbling.

The following day we cramped our legs on long bus rides making our way to Uruguay followed by an interesting entrance into the country.

Note- I left out photos of our actual hike so as to not spoil the view for someone searching about the trek.  If you want to see more they will be in the Argentina folder, see the link to My Photo Albums on the right.