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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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)

 

 

Nerd Adventures

As I wonder if each snow fall will be the last of the season, my need to return back into the field grows.  I have spent the winter knowing that my job will continue onto the next season, all the while I have been patiently waiting on news for a possible new adventure.  Perhaps the grandest of them all…. thus far.  And finally my future adventures have been confirmed.

I have fed my cravings for nature with random hikes in nearby state parks.  Some to Raccoon Creek State Park to trudge through inches of snow on the trails and admire the layered icicles of the frozen mineral springs.  Another trip on that off day where the snow melted as the temperature rose to a warm 60 degrees in the midst of winter.  None of this has been quite enough to battle the 40+ hours a week of working in front of the computer.  Even now I feel guilty as I type this, as it only means that I am yet again, in front of my computer.  But then I cough uncontrollably for a moment, a reminder of the fatigue this bronchitis has caused- cough attacks are constant, and increasing as I breath in the cold air- making hiking next to impossible. But the cough will fade and hopefully it will be replaced with an increase of energy and ambition.

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Next weekend I will return to the forest, as our searches for bat and bird carcasses will soon begin.  My return will also mark 1 year in Pennsylvania.  My time in Pennsylvania has been balanced with 2/3 of my time in the forest and a 1/3 of my time in Braddock.  Through the winter in Braddock, friendships have grown.  We’ve shared vegan meals, some large potlucks and many last minute dinners and lunches in one house or the next.  Laughter over cartoons while eating cookies, candy and breakfast anytime of the day.  Hikes through the forest and around the city.  Long talks with cats in our laps.  Bowls of popcorn and mugs of tea.  Punk shows in the city and in the warehouse with the sounds of skateboards between sets.  Lifting weights and holding planks.  Friendships that will last even though I have to add this place to the long list of places I have once lived.

Ready for a new chapter in my life.  One that I have dreamed of reaching since a very young age and now I have the opportunity.  The opportunity to earn a PhD in biology.  My field research begins in May.  Summer adventures (research!) in the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee in search of Indiana bats and then to Terre Haute, Indiana in August to study at Indiana State University under the advisement of Dr. Joy O’Keefe.  I have really missed academia since graduating with my master’s in 2010 and am looking forward to the challenges ahead.  More details soon, but this next month is going to be a busy one with moving around and training the new PA wind energy crew before I depart.  I am quite excited about all of this!