Written By Dr. Kloepper
I am very pleased to say that we are now at our first bat cave! We hit the road yesterday at 4am with a 14 hour trip ahead of us. We were absolutely loaded to the brim:
Fueled by coffee, PB&Js, and leftover cold pizza from the night prior, we zipped (at the speed limit, of course) along through Indiana, Illinois, Missouri with our final resting stop at the Kansas/Oklahoma border.
The landowners here have graciously provided us with a modest bunkhouse for our stay, and we quickly set up the space: office, sleeping area, cave prep and decontamination area, kitchen. The large space quickly turned cramped as we filled it with our bins and bins of equipment. As soon as we unloaded we turned right back around to head out for our first emergence!
We are very fortunate because the wonderful folks at FLIR ended up loaning us a very nice thermal imaging system for the summer, which gives us much higher frame rates and resolutions than we had previously.
We will use this camera to record the flight behavior of bats as they leave from the cave in the darkness, and we will automatically extract the numbers of bats in frames of the video for validation of an ongoing project using acoustics to predict bat populations.
The first night at the cave was dedicated to determining the proper positioning of the thermal camera for subsequent nights.
We took many recordings, but eventually found an orientation that seemed to capture the entire emerging stream and give good contrast between the bats and the background.
By the time we put our weary heads on our pillows, we had been up for almost 24 hours. We slept incredibly soundly and our new time-shifted body clocks woke us up late in the morning. We then analyzed the video from the prior night, and prepped the equipment to be deployed inside the cave, including Wildlife Acoustics programmable SM3Bats:
After all our equipment was set up, we suited up in snake boots, new Tyvek suit, full-face respirator, head lamp, and protective gloves. Steph came in to observe her first Tadarida colony, while Cassi patiently acted as our outside safety liason (we have 2-way radio control with an outside person every time we enter a cave). While inside we quickly set up our environmental data loggers and microphones–the entire time we kept our lights pointed at the bat guano pile to avoid disturbing the bats. As soon as our gear was in place we quickly left and then decontaminated everything according to the National White Nose Decontamination Protocol.
In just an hour, we head back out for our second night at the cave, and our first night of official data analysis. We are excited to finally deploy everything we have been practicing these past few months–bring on the data!