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,
photo captions taken from Michael Durham’s photo descriptions. Thanks!!


The Nature Zine, Issue 2


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!


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.

Call for Submissions- Issue #2


Issue One of The Nature Zine is still going strong and I’m looking to put issue 2 together by September.  Please send me your stories, poems, hiking tips, backpackinging food recipes, thoughts on exploring the outdoors, your photos, your illustrations, trail reviews, escaping the city….. I could go on-  you get it.

Much thanks to my rad friends for their previous contributions, touring with my zines, adding them to their distro and spreading the word.  If you are in Chicago or NYC you can also pick up the Nature Zine at Quimby’s and Blue Stockings –  much thanks to them as well for keeping The Nature Zine in stock.

Looking forward to adding your stories and art to the next issue!  Please share widely.

Changing Into Their Fall Wardrobe

I’m not sure how I managed to get degrees in science when so much of it involves remembering names of things.  I struggle to recall the actual name of something but can describe at length its characteristics or key points.  For three days I could not remember the name of a particular tree, only to realize that I left my tree book at the tattoo shop in Michigan.  Using the internet isn’t as fun, so I decided to wait, to see if the name would come to my mind.

This is what I could remember:  I couldn’t get black locust out of my head even though I knew the tree wasn’t a black locust.  I also kept thinking it has something to do with sugar or candy in the name, something sweet but I obviously knew that it wasn’t a maple.  I also know that they are the first in this region to turn such a bright, magnificent red and I often see them on road edges.  I remembered identifying them in TN/NC and shouting out the pretty scientific name to the person recording the data.  I could almost hear it and see it scribbled onto our data sheets.  The key characteristics of the bark, the shape of the leaves, the size of the tree and the way it grows is all in my head.  But the name simply was not there.

Matt has always told me that conversations with me can sometimes be like playing Jeopardy.  Too often I would describe the simplest and most complex of things, not recalling the name.  It’s embarrassing when I forget friends’ names that I know quite well or when I can’t remember the word for the thing that people sing into- microphone.  Getting through school, I had to come up with ways to help me remember, sometimes involving writing terms over and over on a dry erase board.  I remember writing a full paragraph on a molecular biology exam in an attempt to convince my professor that I knew what I was talking about but couldn’t think of the specific term- even though I knew how many letters it had and how many of the letters were tall like an or k and I knew all of the details.  If you know me really well, you know that I have a stack of 230 self-made flash cards with bird names on one side and an image on the other with their key characteristics.  The same goes for salamanders. Can I self diagnose myself with anomic aphasia?

I fear that not recalling names and nouns may also attribute to my digression.

Returning to this tree… I finally used the internet and there in front of me, like a punch in the face: BLACK GUM (Nyssa sylvatica).  Now I could hear myself in my memory saying “Nyssa” and remembering how much I love that name- not because it sounds similar to my name, Nessa.  Clearly black locust was in my head because of it being a black gum and well thinking of candy or sweet things matches up perfectly with gum.  Brains are both intriguing and frustrating.

If you made it through this annoying post, or if not, enjoy this photo of what I have been driving past a couple of miles of every morning to and from work.  In my mind it’s officially fall when the Nyssas are radiating their magnificent reds.  I write this in hopes of never forgetting the name of this tree now, and perhaps you learned something new as well.

The first to wear their autumn colors- Nyssa sylvatica.


This evening after returning from my short hike, lying on my back in the backyard next to my little potted garden looking up at the sky watching swallows coasting through the air high above me I couldn’t help but reflect on my current and past backyards- and the lack of.  And of course as I lie there, I hear and then see my hummingbird friend.  He zips back and forth from one tree to the next and to the feeder as well.

Just beyond the small portion of mowed grass awaits a state forest.  I can walk out my back door and within in a couple of minutes I’m hiking on trails, some muddy and some overgrown with laurel and ferns.  It smells so good back there and I take in deep breaths along the way.  As I step around some muddy areas I notice that a black bear recently chose this path as well, my footprint is left next to hers after the heavy rains.  As I head back, I cross a small creek and decide to look under some stones for salamanders, but something else quickly distracts me.  Just up the creek I catch something bright red and it’s not a cardinal.  I scold myself for not bringing my camera nor my binoculars because it’s a scarlet tanager bathing in the creek.  He’s flapping his black wings in the cold water, they contrast so sharply against his scarlet red body and head.  He’s distracted so I keep moving closer, until I am within a 10 meter distance.  Scarlet tanagers are usually high up in the tree canopies and I’ve only spotted them through binoculars after hearing their calls so it’s such a privilege to see one so closely.  I stood still, watching him for at least 5 minutes, until he became lost in the tree canopy once again.

In the past couple of years my literal backyards jumped around from being two different national forests, a national park (Smoky Mtns), Detroit city backyards and well, no backyard except for the alley.  I’ve also traded in having a backyard for a backpack.  It’s hard to know where I’ll go when my 8 months are up here.  I’m in the habit of jumping back and forth from extremes… so perhaps another city.  It’s difficult to think of all of that and I’d rather just enjoy what I have now.

My current backyard.


September Visits

How is it already the end of Semptember? This summer has been a whirlwind of events and I haven’t been doing a very good job at keeping this blog updated.  Often times I’ll have these ideas pop into my head about what I want to write about but by the time I get to be on the internet I have too many ideas built up and I’m not sure where to start.

Recently my excellent and close pal Amets came down to the mountains to visit me and see what it is I actually do out here in the forest. Some of you may also be wondering this same thing. Although I could go on forever about what it is I actually do, luckily for you, Joy who is head of this research project, just sent me a link that describes the project quite simply. I plan to update a bit more on some of the details of my actual job at some point before I’m done down here.

For now, let’s get back to the awesome fact that my super rad friend came to visit me.  I haven’t seen Amets since late April.  Before we both left Michigan, Amets, Liz and I spent many hours together eating delicious vegan food and discussing and planning Fender Bender events.  Now the three of us are living in three different states.

Amets and I started our weekend off camping and riding bikes with Joy, Caroline, and Rachel (co-workers) on the loop road in Cades Cove in the Smoky Mountains National Park.  Tourists frequent this area with hopes of catching a glimpse of a bear without having to get out of their vehicles.  It’s a bit of a nightmare to be there on a weekend – however being in Cades Cove with it’s closed to vehicles is quite enjoyable.  We have spent many late nights netting for bats on various roads and trails off of the cove.  On Wednesdays and Saturdays they open the gate later than usual, 10:30am, thus allowing in only pedestrians and cyclists.  Just as we were all crawling out of our tents at 7am, the rain started coming down.  We came to ride though, so that’s what we did. At times it let up but mostly it just kept on pouring down on us.  We never let rain ruin our fun, though.

It continued to rain most of the day but luckily let up enough so that Amets and I could set up the tent and let it dry off a bit.  The rain actually held off long enough to allow us to do the short loop trail in the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest.  We strolled through the forest admiring the huge Tulip Trees, looking for salamanders, mushrooms and enjoying nature while catching up with one another.

Back at our campsite we attempted to see which would happen first: 1. Would our water come to a boil?; 2. Would we be struck by lightening waiting for our water to boil?; 3. Would we get drenched waiting for our water to boil?  Ohhh the suspense! The thunder sent us multiple warnings but we but our bids on the water coming to a boil.  Thank you Trangia! (I’m planning on writing up a bit of a review on my camp stove set soon enough). Our water boiled and we raced to hide from the rain and eat our dinner.

Me and Amets with Tulip Trees at Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest

With the weekend over I was now back to work.  Amets and I headed back to the Smoky Mountains to collect data on our roost and random plots. What’s that you ask?  More on that soon as well (I told you I have all of these plans for posts).  We did some hiking on trails, but as always, with the work I do, we venture off of the trails often.  Hiking on a trail is completely different than hiking through the forest.  Most people don’t actually do this. Amets was ambitious, curious and incredibly helpful.  We had to walk on steep slopes at times, hike through what we called Thornsville in the hot sun and carry our gear in to one of the backcountry sites.  We hiked and worked for 2 days, camping inbetween and then Amets had to get on the bus that evening to head back home.

We stuffed ourselves at Veg-o-Rama in Knoxville, an all vegetarian restaurant (the only one in Knoxville) with vegan options and then stopped by the co-op to pick up snacks for Amets’ long bus trip home and sorbet for our dessert.  Sitting on the curb eating sorbet, laughing and people watching, guessing who was likely to be headed to the co-op was a good way to end our day of work.

It seems as though I was starting to forget how incredible it is to talk to a friend in person who understands you and feels the same way about many important issues.  My contact with close friends while down in Tennessee has been over rushed conversations while I’m in a town, scattered emails, and a couple of random surprise packages in the mail.  Although I love all of those moments that I can connect with my friends, none of them can really compare to actually getting to hang out, bike together, laugh together, eat together, and have serious discussions together.  So thank you Amets for taking the time and resources to come and visit me and work with me. I look forward to our next visit.

Amets on top of Whigg Meadow. We went there to check out the bird banding.

First Indiana Bat

First Indiana bat of the year, that is! We caught her on May 29 and I’m pretty sure I literally jumped with excitement and skipped all the way back to the table, or maybe I was just so excited it felt like I did all of that.  I can’t really recall.

Indiana Bat from last year (I'm cheating and using a photo I took last year, sorry!)

Anyway, the point is, we still have Indiana bats in the area. I was getting a little nervous that White Nose Syndrome was hitting the bats harder than we thought in this area. Well, I’m sure it won’t take long, but for now we will  gather what information we can.  It often hits me really hard that bat populations are being completely wiped out.  I think I’m going to save that for another post, and try to focus on our recent finds.

We caught her in the Nantahala National Forest, recorded information, and I was able to apply my first transmitter to a bat.  She felt so small and frail while I held her and waited for the glue to dry on her back.  She was calm and didn’t even bite me once.  I can’t imagine how terrified she must have been, but soon her encounter was over as we let her fly off to finish foraging and head back to a roosting tree.

Also another I took from 2009, but this gives you an idea of the transmitter and bat size.

Joy, Caroline and Amanda tracked her yesterday.  Don’t worry, I’ll soon update what tracking entails, with photos of course.  She led them to a stand of pines with decent roost potential, however she was roosting solo.  Joy and Caroline are out tonight to see if she has moved to a new tree and joined a colony.

It seems weird not being out in the field for a couple of days, but I put in my days this past week.  I love the adventure of tracking a bat.  If all goes well, I’ll have plenty of opporunities this summer.


That netting night also allowed me to see and handle my first ever Seminole bat (Lasiurus seminolus).  I’m bummed that I forgot my camera that night.  I took a few photos of our evening with Joy’s camera though.  I promise I’ll get better at updating with photos.