Written by: Steph Dreessen
Have you ever wondered what it is like to be behind the scenes during a bat emergence at Carsbad Caverns? Well, It takes a lot of patience and the ability to stay quite for a few hours. If you’ve never experienced the emergence at Carlsbad, I’d highly recommend it! It was breathtaking and unique.
Before the Bat Flight program started, Dr. Kloepper, Cassi, and I would head down into the iconic walkway and start setting up our equipment. Cassi measures environmental parameters, so as soon as she is done helping us, she heads back up towards the back of the ampitheater to begin her recordings. That’s when the fun begins for Dr. Kloepper and me.
At this point of time in the day, the cave has now closed therefore Dr. Kloepper and I are the only ones near the mouth of the cave. We have a thermal camera and ultrasonic microphone set up, along with a FLIR thermal camera. To power the FLIR thermal camera, we carry down a 100 pound power bank. We use this equipment to film and record the acoustics of the bat’s emergence. Since we get all of this set up before the program starts, we have about an hour before the emergence starts.
After waiting for a while, the FLIR starts to pick up movement inside of the cave, the characteristic counterclockwise circular flying pattern that the Mexican free tailed bats do before they leave the cave. Then we hear the wings of hundreds of bats as more and more congregate near the mouth of the cave. The sound of hundreds of bats’s wings is similar to a continuous ocean wave crashing the shoreline. As the bats emerge, they pass by only a few feet above your head! They fly so close that you can feel the breeze from their wings beating so furiously. When the bats first emerge, they have a dense stream that gradually rises to the opening before the bats reach the openness of the night sky.
Dr. Kloepper and I also move the FLIR to different spots to get different points of view of the bat emergence, which requires some heavy lifting (the power bank) while simultaneously remaining slient. The aspect of staying quite is sort of challenging for me just because I’ve never been too great at being quiet. I used to be that kid in the movie theater that would always ask those annoying questions. I’m not that way anymore, but I usually announce myself by bumping into things.
Roughly an hour passes by and the bats are done emerging, all three of us begin packing our equipment up so we can head back to our hotel.
This was our fouth cave out of a total of eight caves, meaning we’re halfway done with our research trip! We’ve collected some great data and are always working on analyzing it whenever possible, or when we’re not out and about exploring what the region offers to tourists like us!