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Belle Bats

Bat Bioacoustics Research Team at Saint Mary's College

Month

June 2016

1, 2, 3…

RATTLESNAKES! 

Written by:Steph Dreessen

We were lucky enough to see three rattlesnakes one day during our data collection. So what did we do when we spotted them? Well Cassi and I hollered and Dr.Kloepper casually states “Oh hey, there’s one!” 

Evidently, these rattlesnakes are of a rare variety, since they are black diamond backs. We were fortunate enough to see both the light colored brownish diamond backs along with the black diamond back colorations. 

The rattlesnakes were located along our path to the mouth of the cave, so to get to the cave entrance we walked around the deep canyon, across the land bridge, and down the other slope into the canyon. This way we can avoid the rattlesnakes and continue practicing safe field work. Nonetheless, it never fails for my heart to stop when I look at the snakes piercing eyes. 

Dr. Kloepper is the luckiest of us, in that she faced a rattlesnake at eye level. She saw it before she heard it, and when she heard it she said it was screaming hissing and its rattle was the loudest she’s ever heard! She did what any human would do and launched herself backwards, screaming at Cassi and me to not come that way.

Being dutiful students, we avoided that area for the rest of the day and we’re going to check tonight to see if the snake is as afraid of us and we are of them!

There Is No Darkness Like Cave Darkness

Written by Steph Dreessen:

Coming to the end of our stay at our first cave location, it’s crazy how many experiences I have had. First of all, driving farther west than Chicago, Illinois, only to set out tomorrow morning towards Oklahoma, tasting my first bison burger, seeing my first armadillo, rattlesnake (dead), porcupine, road runner, prairie dogs, jack rabbit, Townsend bat, Big Brown bat, Mexican free-tailed bat, and of course, viewing an emergence of bats for the first time as well.

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Dead Rattlesnake! You can see its rattle near the bottom of the picture…I chose not to get close to it’s head even though it was clearly dead.

Not only was I able to go in the bat cave in Kansas to see the layout of the cave, but I also was able to experience being inside the cave during emergence! The first time I went into the cave, it was awesome, but being inside the cave during the emergence tops that experience. Dr. Kloepper and I went into the cave with the FLIR thermal camera to take videos of the bats as they emerge. While she operated the camera, I carried the computer, the computer case, and tried to keep the cords organized while we walked.

We took videos in different parts of the cave, and each video captured how the bats fly around objects (mostly rocks) in the cave. The best description of the bats’ flight inside of the cave would be in the words of Dr. Kloepper as the freeway effect. By this, we mean that the bats seem to fly in directions particular to which side they are flying in, similar to vehicles driving on the lanes on a freeway.

For one video, Dr. Kloepper lost her balance while we were crouching to stay out of the way of the bats and she fell right into the guano! Guano looks a lot like miniature mice pellets, and if it builds up over time it turns into a fine powdery substance. So when Dr. Kloepper took a tumble, she stirred up a lot of “dusty manure” (grossed me out a little bit).

In this particular cave, there are some holes next to the walking path that we have decided to make. I love to read Stephen King novels, and as of right now I’m reading his book “It.” Not the smartest decision I have made, considering that most of the time we’re collecting data is at sunset or after, perfect timing for horror-story writers to set an eerie tone. While I was in the cave, I also wanted to experience total darkness, so I turned my headlamp off and stood there a whole 4 seconds. My psyche couldn’t take it, or my eyes would’ve started seeing things that weren’t really there. I also was standing next to a hole about 10 feet deep, so I really was expecting something to pop out at us while we were taking video.

Nevertheless, the experience of taking thermal videos with the FLIR camera was something that I’m glad I got to experience (while taking a selfie in the process), and see first hand how their flight patterns in the cave are organized. With each cave I’m sure that these patterns may change, and I look forward to possibly seeing this first hand again!

Eye of the storm

Written by: Steph Dreessen

Last week, we were camping in Alabaster state park when we were conducting researching at Selman cave. The weather was conditioning us four for what lies ahead in New Mexico, meaning the temperature was never below 95 degrees. That’s not including the heat index, which usually bumped it up to the temperature feeling “like 105” most days. Thankfully, our campsite was under full shade because of about 20 Chinese Elm trees (and a few other species that I wasn’t sure about) that surrounded the campsite.


The first few days were great, besides the heat but we found workplaces with air conditioning and outlets so we could conduct our data analysis. Dr. Kloepper mentioned one day that a storm was going to roll in sometime in the early morning. Cassi and I were indifferent to it, because what’s camping without some rain? 

We were wrong. Not only did we get a 3 am wake up call (we went to sleep around 1am), but it was to tell us that “Hey girls, the storm is a little worse than originally thought and we need to take cover.” If those words don’t wake you up, you my friend, are a heavy sleeper. Coincidentally, I am a heavy sleeper and for a quick second I just wanted to stay in the tent and endure whatever storm was headed our way. 

Instead, we all crawled in the car, waited in the campsite driveway, until we heard a smallish branch crash land on our car roof. Up to this point, Dr. Kloepper was him-hawing the idea of whether we should move or not, and that incident decided for us. So we dove up to the park’s main building, sat there for a total of 5 minutes, then decided if the ping pong sized hail comes, our windshield would be broken and we’d have glass to deal with as well. So we moved to the bathroom. By this point in the storm, the raining in pouring down so hard you can only look down and run. So that’s what we did. We gathered our water bottles, Kaipo, Kaipo’s sheet and sprinted into the bathroom. When we opened the door, all the other campers were already in the bathroom! We went to the handicapped stall, laid down Kaipo’s sheet, and sat in there for 2-3 hours.

Once the storm passed through, we went to our car, inspected as best as we could at night to see if anything major happened to the car (nothing did), and headed back for our campsite. We were greeted by a HUGE branch laying exactly where our car was parked. Not to mention a few other fallen tree branches around the site as well. We sat there and someone spoke up stating “Well at least we moved or we’d have bigger problems!” Dr. Kloepper drove us to along a railing where another car was parked and there we sat for the night, sleeping in the car.



When we woke up, we looked to our right and saw a bunch of our clothes scattered in the wide lawn next to our campsite. Then we got out and inspected our campsite. Clothes were muddy, boots filled with water, tent poles were broken, and everything inside our tent was muddy. This event dictated our morning, which consisted of us collecting and rinsing all of our clothes, then we headed out to find a laundromat to wash everything. 

Our attitudes about the whole event were optimistic, since things could’ve gone worse. We’re thankful for our stuff not being completely ruined and being able to  laugh about it!

Our night off!

Written by Cassi Mardis

We left Oklahoma at promptly 8 am after we finished packing up our tents. It was a 7 hour drive, but turned into 8 due to the stops for coffee and the restroom. On the way to our next stop we drove through Texas and New Mexico!


Only one bird flew into our windshield during this travel! And no other animals were harmed in this travel. Earlier this morning Dr. Kloepper told us we had a surprise and asked if we wanted to know, but of course we said we didn’t. Once we arrived to the hotel we finally got to take a real shower after 4 long days. It was the best shower I’ve ever taken and it felt amazing. Dr. Kloepper’s mom walked in shortly after we all got clean (including Kaipo). She is the sweetest woman! She brought us each a goody bag filled with little things we can do on the trip! She also packed a communal bag with a bunch of different snacks and a goodie bag for her grandson Kaipo! (I had to include that because she hates being called grandma. She says she doesn’t have grandkids yet so now it’s fun to say it. She secretly loves Kaipo as a grandson I’m sure!) 

Now it is 5:30 and we are all dressed and ready to leave the hotel to head to our surprise. We had to dress kind of nice, but also being a sweater or cardigan. Dr. Kloepper, Steph and I all wore the same color top and it was not planned at all. Dr. Kloepper said if her mom walked in with a matching shirt we were heading home! It was great. We still had no idea what our surprise was at this point. 

We began driving toward the mountain and it wasn’t until I spotted it that I knew exactly what we were doing. 


We were taking this tram up trough the mountainous terrain to a restaurant atop the mountains. Now the view driving was absolutely stunning. 

But the view in the tram was phenomenal. The pictures do not do it justice. But to be nice I’ll share some just so you have an idea of the amazing experience Steph and I had!

It was just something that words can’t even explain. However, Steph mentioned it reminds her of China in the movies..aka Kung fu panda! So if you’ve seen that then I guess you’re closer to our experience than most others would be! Now our night isn’t even over! When we got to the top we looked around at the view that was breathtaking, but then we had dinner. In the middle of the mountains we had dinner! It was the best surprise ever. The food was delicious. Definitely not like canned food. 


After dinner we got to watch the sunset behind the mountains. It was stunning. 


The night was coming to a close and back at the hotel Steph and I were in bed and I passed out immediately! 

Now today we get to explore old town Albuquerque! Then we leave after lunch to our next cave stop! Hope you all enjoyed reading as much as I enjoyed the surprise!

Day 10 and finding our routine

Written by Dr. Kloepper

Today marks the start of day 10 of our trip—just 46 more days to go! We are now near the tiny town of Freedom, Oklahoma, camping at Alabaster Caverns and driving to the Selman Bat Cave each night for recordings. We are in a record heat wave, but in good spirits. We try to get out of the heat during the hottest part of the day and stay cool otherwise thanks to a shady campsite and those magical cooling towels (Best. Investment. Ever.)

By now we have found our routine and, as one of our cave hosts mentioned, we are like a well-oiled machine. We arrive to each cave at 8:15 and immediately get all our gear set up: Cassi gets her environmental station organized and starts her recordings promptly at 8:30. She then takes recordings every 2 minutes until the bats emerge, and notes the exact time of the first few bats emerging. 

Steph helps me get the FLIR camera set up, which includes running extension cords from our large power bank in the car. She also then helps babysit me and pass me equipment as I climb down into the canyon to set up additional cameras and microphones. 

As soon as emergence is over, we snap into action and pack everything up. Although we arrive back at camp after midnight, our night is not over! Our image extraction algorithms take hours to process, so we get everything set up so it will run overnight. This means we set up a power station inside the car, download the videos from the camera, export the videos to a different format, determine the average time it takes 100 bats to cross our field of view (our frame sampling interval for counting), then set up our frame extraction algorithm to run. 

Once everyone is awake, well fed, and well-caffeinated, we go to work. While I start processing and analyzing our acoustic files, Cassi and Steph start the bat counting using ImageJ. They work together to determine noise tolerances and thresholds, then they independently run a script to automatically count each bat in each video frame (usually 15,000 frames or more). They then compare their results, and adjust parameters until they both get the same number. Finally, they take 100 random frames and hand-count the bats to compare that number to what ImageJ counted. We usually get between 2-6% error, with ImageJ giving us an underestimate of the population. 

Since we are interested in how flight density affects acoustics, for all our work the first step is determining how many bats are leaving at each time in the emergence. An added benefit is we can give the cave managers an accurate population estimate for their cave! 

It’s been really fun for me to watch Steph and Cassi work together. First of all, these girls are such hard workers. Even though we arrive back from the cave exhausted, they jump on the first step of image extraction without any complaining. Also, watching them troubleshoot any problems together is also wonderful. One of the biggest joys as an instructor is when you get to watch your students solve their own problems without asking for your help. When you can watch them really think and work through problems, you know true learning is taking place. 

The Bunkhouse Life!

Written by Cassi Mardis

At the cave in Kansas we have the luxury of staying inside of a bunkhouse. It has one bedroom, cement floors, tables and chairs, a kitchen, and a bathroom. The cement floors are surprisingly nice because of all the dirt we bring back from being at the cave every night. This bunkhouse also has window air conditioning units so at night we turn them on to stay cool, which is lovely.

We have this older couple that come and hang out in the backroom occasionally  with their dog, Holly. They aren’t staying there, but they come in to cool off from their hard day at work. Kaipo and Holly became buddies after a few short days of hanging out.

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Now adding on to my list of firsts I did laundry in a sink for the first time. It wasn’t bad and my clothes smell nice too. I filled the sink with hot water and added some laundry detergent and mixed it around. Then I added all of my clothes and soaked them and agitated them and then I let them soak for roughly 15 minutes. When that time was over I did some rinsing and then rang my clothes out and hung them on a clothesline outside. With the wind and dry heat my clothes dried pretty quickly. It was a fun experience and I learned something new!

Now don’t forget we don’t just work we do have some fun too. We were invited to a cookout with fellow researchers on the ranch. It was a good time with good people, good food, and good conversation. I ate my first bison burger and it was amazing. There were also pastas, fresh watermelon, chips, and desserts. It was a really enjoyable meal. Nice change up from our canned meals, which don’t get me wrong those are pretty amazing too, but there is nothing like a grilled burger.

Last night we had a strong storm here. It just consisted of strong winds, lightning, and thunder. The poor bats were struggling last night. The emergence stopped pretty early too. It was an interesting night to say the least. I am really excited because tonight is the night I get to go inside the cave and I get to collect a sample of bat guano so I am really pumped. We will see if my feelings change after I have been in the cave. Of course afterwards we will decontaminate all of our equipment and then throw away our tyvek suits.

Tonight is our last night at this cave. One week down, 7 more weeks to go!

No, We’re Not Nocturnal

Written by: Steph Dreessen

So, what do we do when we aren’t researching or collecting data? This question has been brought to our attention by many, and before the trip my most common answer was “I really don’t know.” Well now that we’re at our first cave site, have the first data collection under our belts, I can say that here in Kansas we go for killer bike rides, play with Kaipo, or sleep (so far).

 

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As you can image, the grasslands of Kansas are either pretty flat, or pretty hilly. It doesn’t seem like there’s a good in-between. This morning, all three of us went for a bike ride, and the first road we came to out of our drive-way were hills, uphill both ways. The only bright side to this was that whichever direction we chose to go, it would be downhill on the way back. So we went up the bigger of the two hills, deciding that the ride back would be more enjoyable. I usually ride around my hometown and neighboring towns with my road bike, so transitioning to a mountain bike is difficult to say the least.

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Out here, the weather is characterized as dry heat, and back home in Indiana it’s humid. Nevertheless, I still sweat just as much, but it evaporates more quickly while were doing activity compared to the same activity in Indiana. Our location is also composed of all dirt roads…with some pretty soft sands as well.

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Our guest house is located near a prairie dog colony, so every day we get to hear their alarm calls for vehicle/humans when we head out to the cave site. We also had the chance to hear their bike call (this is what we like to speculate) since prairie dogs also have a broad vocabulary in their own language. Near this colony, as we were heading back from our bike ride, gliding down the hill Dr. Kloepper yelled “STOP!!!!” So I turn around (I was beating her down the hill at this point HAHA!) and THERE WAS A SNAKE IN THE ROAD. No, it wasn’t a rattlesnake and it was technically roadkill. Although we’re not sure as to what species it is, so if you know feel free to inform us!

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  The snake we saw on our bikeride…note that there’s some of its’ scales are gone from being run over by a vehicle!
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The same snake a few hours later!

 

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One of the many prairie dogs we see every day!

As we travel to different sites, our daily morning activities will change depending on what activities we are able to do, or want to do. It’s always nice to wake up and attempt to work up an appetite for our lunches, since we decide on a day to day basis of what we feel like eating!

As Dr. Kloepper has told you all (or if you haven’t read it yet, I highly suggest you do such), our meals are pretty ingenious. We (mostly Dr. Kloepper) throw food items together and hope for the best. So far, the meals taste great, and the meal isn’t fully a meal until Dr. Kloepper forgets that she’s boiling water while also being really intrigued by some data. Cassi and I help out with cooking, more with lunches than with the dinners. For lunch, whoever gets hungry first asks the other two if anything sounds good to them and will start the preparation.

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Chili mac and cheese ❤

3 days into the bat journey!

Written by Cassi Mardis

We left early Wednesday morning and had a solid 14-hour drive. In every state we tried to take a picture of our mascot with the “welcome to” sign. I was up front for Missouri. We crossed the Mississippi River along the way! It was my first time seeing the river in person.

The landscape outside of Indiana is stunning. All open land with hills and dirt pathways. There is cattle everywhere just roaming the ranches at their leisure.

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I have also had many firsts with the new animals I have seen. We have been here for 2 nights and I have seen 8 different kinds of animals. When we arrived at the camp I first saw some buffalo. Oh! And on route I saw some armadillo. Both times they were dead on the side of the road, but it counts right? I saw a roadrunner and it was legitimately running across the road. At the bat cave, of course I saw some bats! On our way out it is after midnight so it is very dark and we almost ran over a porcupine. Almost was the key word there. Running across the street were some cute little field mice. Yesterday morning Dr. Kloepper showed Steph and me the colony of prairie dogs and boy are those things adorable. On the way to the cave were a bunch of turkey vultures just running down the road. Last night leaving the cave we saw a jack rabbit! His ears were so big! So many firsts on this trip and it is just the beginning.

Which now leads me to the bat cave. When we were arrived it was amazing to just see the mouth of the cave. Its like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

Now, yesterday Steph got to go in the cave and I could have too, but I got pretty sick from the heat, so for my safety I stayed outside and I will journey into the cave at the end to pick up the equipment. So yesterday was the first day for setting up equipment and it all went fairly well.

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Watching our first emergence was phenomenal. They emerge later here so you can’t see the bats very well, but just sitting out there watching the bats and the stars is just great. Nature is a beautiful thing and out here is so different than our nature in Indiana.

Today is our first day of data analysis and we begin at noon. So it is time to head back to the bunkhouse and begin our work day!

A lot of First’s on the First Day!

Written by: Steph Dreessen

It’s dark, buggy, quiet, and serene. We’re in the middle of nowhere, yet somewhere along the Kansas and Oklahoma border. We’ve been waiting for the bats to emerge for about 30 minutes, when we finally see one. Dr. Kloepper told us it was most likely a Townsend bat, which roost nearest the cave mouth. She based it on the behavior of the time the bat emerged as well as the fleeing behavior when the bat was outside of the cave. We also saw some Big Brown bats, after the Townsend but before the Mexican Free-tailed bats. Then another few minutes went by with more insect buzzes, along with some false hope of us trying to see what wasn’t really there. To be honest, I didn’t think the bats would come at first. We weren’t hearing nor seeing anything that we’ve read to be common before the emergence in the literature.

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The mouth of the cave from a side view.

Then I heard the flapping. It sounded like fabric being whipped around in the wind. It was awesome to say the least. The experience of the emergence through video cannot compare to what it’s like in reality. It was interesting that the bats didn’t emerge all at once, but rather they would come out of the cave in groups. We could see them circling in the vestibule (a big open area right at the beginning of the cave) and then once a large enough group to their liking was formed, they came rushing out. It was exciting to see how many bats were in the cave!

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Dr. Kloepper and Cassi working on various equipment  before the emergence

Then this morning, Dr. Kloepper and I took a stroll through the cave to show me the different caverns and where the bats roost. We were all suited up in our Tyvec suits with our respirators and head lamps on and ready. Right away we saw some Townsend bats hanging from the ceiling no more than 50 feet from the mouth of the cave. As we traveled deeper into the cave we saw a Big Brown bat hanging isolated in the middle of the ceiling. When we traveled a little farther into the cave, we couldn’t see them, but man o’ man could we hear them. Lots of chips and squeaks! We went into the main cavern where the Mexican Free-tailed bats roost and that took my breath away. I stood there for a second just taking it all in. Dr. Kloepper kept her head lamp swaying from side to side so I could see all the cave had to offer. That, and to keep the disturbance of the bats with a bright light to a minimum.

We walked in farther to get a better look at how much father the cave goes, which we couldn’t see or even determine where the back wall was located. As we walked, Dr. Kloepper told me to crouch, as in that position the bats would be less likely to run into me. Not even two seconds after she told me, I felt a bat hit my right shoulder and then leap off. Don’t worry, we’ve taken every safety precaution there is to prevent any detrimental contact between humans and bats. I was surprised at how little I was flinching in the cave, but the fun had to come to an end. We headed out, decontaminated EVERYTHING that touched or might’ve touched anything that came in contact with the cave, and set up our equipment for the night.

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