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Volume 7, Issue 4, Winter 1989

The Workshop Experience: Learning to Study Bats

Enthusiastic students attend BCI's first bat study workshop in Canada--

By Morton, Pat

Enthusiastic students attend BCI's first bat study workshop in Canada--

by Pat Morton

Gathered dockside at Queens University Biology Station in eastern Ontario, Canada, we packed sixteen people, 50 caged bats and 200 pounds of gear into three motor boats and set off in caravan across the glossy evening waters on Lake Opinicon. Our destination was Hump Island, a small rocky, sparsely vegetated refuge. Motoring slowly we took in the good smells of the lake and the serenity of the forested shores and secluded bays, catching occasional glimpses of loons silhouetted on the water's calm surface. The ride was short; too soon we were carrying the bats and equipment to our study site atop the small island, some 20 feet above the water on a rocky hill.

And so we were ready to begin another evening of observations at a 10 day bat study workshop that took place in August 1989. Sponsored by BCI, the workshop was conducted by Dr. Brock Fenton of York University. Fenton is a member of BCI's Scientific Advisory Board and a recognized expert in bat communication, as well as a well known conservationist and educator. The workshop, designed primarily for wildlife biologists, offered an introduction to field techniques for obtaining baseline ecological data about bats.

Many states have interest in providing for bat conservation needs, but lack trained staff. Participants in the course learned how to catch, identify, and determine whether captured bats were juveniles or adults. They also observed feeding and courtship behavior and learned the habitats used by different kinds of bats. The workshop also included information on public health issues, cave management strategies, and basic conservation education.

Fifteen participants attended, coming from nine states, Mexico, and Australia. Several represented federal and state forest or wildlife agencies while others were professional naturalists or enthusiastic BCI members. Working at different locations, participants observed and studied bats under a variety of conditions.
Hump Island was selected to learn light-tagging techniques for observing bat flight and feeding patterns. To do this, we filled small gelatin capsules with a nontoxic, green phosphorescent liquid and then using harmless surgical glue, applied one to a bat's back. After the capsule was affixed, we immediately released the bat. A few refused to cooperate and flew promptly to a nearby tree to remove their tag. Tagged bats, looking like large, fast fireflies, appeared magical as they circled the small island. We had brought with us bats o several species. Each kind was released and observed as a group a they fed on the abundant insect around the island before heading back to the mainland. Within I minutes, the group of bats disappeared across the lake, their brig green markers fading into The darkness.
Using this technique, we were able to observe many differences in The flight patterns of each species we ha brought. Bat detectors, instrument that reduce bat sound frequencies t human range, were also used to study major differences in their echolocation calls. Each species has a characteristic pattern of ultrasound. The detectors enabled us to hear the various phases of their search and capture calls, such as the feeding buzz produced just before a bat attempts to snatch an insect out of the air.

Before the workshop began, students were assigned individual topics to research on some aspect of bat biology. During the workshop, each student presented a seminar on their topic to the other participants. The seminars were coordinated with trips to the many study sites, each located about two hours from the biology station-our home base for the workshop. Following morning lectures by Dr. Fenton, we ate lunch, packed our two vans, and drove to the site (often with a side trip to an interesting pub or ice cream shop), arriving in late afternoon. Gathered in what was usually a beautiful outdoor setting, we listened to several seminars before beginning the evening's research.

Many group experiments were conducted simultaneously. For example, as one group captured bats using a variety of nets, another identified, weighed and determined the age of those caught. A third group used several kinds of detectors to census bats foraging in the area. Other studies included observation of late summer bat swarming behavior, comparing mosquito activity to density of bats, and fecal studies to determine the volume and variety of insects consumed.

Students worked long hours perfecting their field skills. The long drive back to the station brought weary students to bed only a few hours before dawn. Following 10 days on such a schedule, it was easy to feel what an advantage it must be to study animals that are active during daylight hours. Nevertheless, the entire group remained enthusiastic and in good spirits with never a lack of humor or eagerness to continue, no matter what the hour or temperature.

The final workshop event was a night of conservation education at Kortright Nature Center near Toronto where participants assisted with interpretive activities. A lecture by Dr. Fenton drew more than 250 people, eager to learn about bats. Following his talk, the crowd moved outside and formed small groups, each one directed by a workshop member. Every student had the opportunity to use the skills learned in the course, introducing various species of bats to the public and answering their questions. In addition to meeting live bats, some groups were led on bat walks by students with bat detectors. After dark, the bats were light-tagged and released, much to the delight of the crowd who enjoyed the light show presented by hungry bats feeding overhead.

Participants in BCI's first bat study workshop spent up to 20 hours a day learning field techniques to census and observe bat behavior and how to provide for their conservation needs.

Each participant has now returned to his or her job with skills to help determine the status of bats in their area and to assist in management initiatives. As a result of the workshop, participants from Colorado, Minnesota, and New York are currently planning new bat programs. In addition to providing training for these biologists and others, BCI also has many new friends and looks forward to working with them on their bat conservation programs.

If you are interested in attending the next BCI bat study workshops, see the insert in this issue for details.

Pat Morton is BCI's Director of Education.

Participants from nine states and four countries participated in BCI's first bat study workshop in Canada. Back row, left to right: Don Sasse (MT), Arnulfo Moreno (Mexico), Bunter Knowles (MN), Allan Foster (Canada), Pat Morton (TX), Kathleen Adkins (NY), Brock Fenton (Canada), James Atkinson (WA), Jeff Gore (FL), Jonathan Fritz (RI). Front row, left to right: Kirk Navo (CO), Joan Galli (MN), Mary Lou Alley-Crosby (WA), Jan Wotton (Australia), Terri Marcero (MT), Caryla Larsen (CA), Nina Fascione (PA).

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