Turtleback Times

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brown bat

Going Batty


A few years ago we were asked  to allow Russel Barsh, a researcher from Lopez Island, to set up a bat recorder for a few nights at the edge of the large pond down by our home, and he was delighted to hear eight species of bats, including an unusually high number of Big Browns, which tend to be rather shy and not very abundant around homes and farms. ,

That study was a reconnaissance of more than 30 ponds, lakes and wetlands in San Juan County (five islands). Our property was the most “batty” on west Orcas.

The next step has been installing a network of year-round recording devices around the county to explore night-to-night and year-to-year variation in the distribution and activity patterns of our islands’ nine bat species. Since the ultrasound recorders are rather expensive, he was only able to acquire and install three of them last year. One recorder is on Orcas — at Entrance Mountain.

bat recorder

Da da da da da da da da Bat Recorder!

This summer Mr. Barsh can afford to add a second recorder on Orcas, and his highest priority — if we agree — is our pond! We happily agree and are pleased to be able to provide a spot for him.

Here’s what it entails. The recorder is a drab green plastic box, the size of an old cigar box, and is secured to the trunk of a tree with its microphone pointing over the water. Mr. Barsh will build a little wooden bird house to give the microphone some protection from the elements — like this it should last several years. The recorder is fully programmed and turns itself on and off each night, only recording sounds above 20 kHz (so no birds, people, airplanes). About once a month someone has to replace the batteries (rechargeables) and data cards, which takes 5 minutes. he would be doing that, or if he is stuck on another island, it would be Molly Harding, a young biochemist in his lab who happens to live in Eastsound.  We will receive annual reports of what they recorded and what it means. The Entrance Mountain device recorded 40,000 bat flyovers last year! Ours might record more. We’d aim to keep it going for five years or longer.

He asked us to please consider this donation of a spot on a tree truck, and brief monthly visit by him or Molly, as a very important contribution to bat-health monitoring in the San Juan Islands. Our bat recorder network has already received attention from the State wildlife conservation program — they want to develop one for King County! But the islands did it first …