Aug
26

Need A Family Bat Evening?

Looking for a low-impact, quiet, yet delightful family late-evening outing? So was Homey.

“Look,” he said, “Sue and I were trying to come up with a cheap evening’s entertainment for us and the three offspring, and I remembered that you once wrote something about watching bats and some book we could read to ourselves. I think it was three or four years ago, and I know I saved it, but… What dya think? Do you remember?”

One never forgets a Bat Evening. And, of course these evening bat adventures are tailor-made for young (and old) families with evening activity needs. I dug around.

We are bat blessed. Among at least fifteen species, perhaps millions of bats inhabit our Washington State.  Most live without human contact, spending days in caves, crevices and behind loose tree bark, house siding and shutters. After spring breeding, males and females separate. For a time, one or two babies may be nursing on the wing while clinging to mother. Most pups are flying by July.

Genus Myotis (the little brown) is most common, with Lasiurus (hoary) and Lasionycteris (silver-haired) often seen in wooded country. Bats are at home across the state. Most of ours hibernate here, but some will fly south with the hoary bat to Chile or Argentina in late fall.

All our bats are insect eaters, of the Vespertilionid family. Among our best friends, a little brown bat will eat 3,000 mosquitoes in an evening. A flock of 100,000 bats (not uncommon) may consume more than a ton of insects in the same time period. Bats sometimes fly into gatherings of insects, crippling them with their wings and scooping them into folds between their legs to be consumed as they continue to hunt.

“Blind as a bat?” No. Bats easily see predators and the landscape. For catching food, however, they use sonar, calling up to 200 times/second when “locked-on” to a target. Using the return echoes, the bat is able to precisely intercept its insect meal. (Arguably, its sonar may be superior to any we have yet created.)

You may have heard that bats don’t really fly – they just glide. Not so. Bats are skillful flyers, often hitting 40 miles an hour for short spurts, skimming low over ground or water to catch insects and drink. Our common little brown may travel 50 miles in a night of foraging.

Wingspans for their tissue-thin wings (attached along sides and back legs) are commonly three times or more their average four-inch body length – a ratio greater than most birds. Most varieties have wingspans of 10 to 12 inches, with our largest bats reaching six inches in body length and wingspans of 16 inches. Wings and bodies weigh far, far less than you might suspect; the tiny western pipistrelle, Pipistrellus hesperus, is three inches long and about a tenth of an ounce (more than a penny, but half of a quarter), while our little brown bat, Myotis lucifugus, is three and a half inches long, and well under an ounce (maybe three or four quarters).

Find treasure troves of bat information and status for all worldwide bat species at Bat Conservation International – BCI (www.batcon.org/). BCI’s web page has all you ever wanted to know about building houses for bats, getting them safely out of your house or becoming part of worldwide efforts to protect them against ever-rising threats…great photos, too.

Closer to home in Washington, check out the work and meetings of Bats Northwest, headquartered in Seattle. Once this Covid-19 business settles, they will again have regular meetings and bat-watching tours around Green Lake. In the meantime, at www.batsnorthwest.org/meet_our_bats.html, you will find abundant information about the status and health of our Northwest bat populations.

Get – and read with your family – a copy of Randall Jarrell’s classic “The Bat-Poet,” from HarperCollins Publishers, and priced currently from $5.99 to $102 at several online sites. This is the story of a small bat who stumbles across the joy of daylight. Exploring his sensitive artist self, ignored by his bat buddies, the bat poet begins to write poems about the fascinating things which “normal” bats never see. He delights in the activities of birds, chipmunks, and others, writing poetry to describe daytime joys. Stunning pen and ink sketches by Sendak complete the book. As you prepare for your bat evening, read selections such as:

“…The mother drinks the water of the pond

She skims across. Her baby hangs on tight.

Her baby drinks the milk she makes him

In moonlight or starlight, in mid-air…”

In European folklore, bat is often a sinister little beast, but the Aztecs, Toltecs, Mayans and other ancients treasured the bat.  Its upside-down hanging was likened to an unborn child, and its medicine – its teaching – was of spiritual rebirth, the giving up of old ways of being.

Now then, about family bat outings. Locally, in Central Washington, I like the beaver ponds up French Cabin Creek and along the hills on the west side of Lake Cle Elum, but pick most any pond, stream or arm of a lake (less than 100 feet across) here in the valley or across Paradise – or most anywhere in the US or temperate North America. Make yourself comfortable on the east side at dusk, and watch the bright western sky over the water until full darkness. Remember the insect repellent.

Go watch (take a field guide, too). You will soon differentiate species based on styles of flying, hunting and drinking. Some may sing their songs of evening for you.

Happy summer evenings… Count your own bat blessings.

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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