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Belle Bats

Bat Bioacoustics Research Team at Saint Mary's College

Month

May 2017

Sunday Funday

By Morgan Kinniry

After over a week of working hard in the field, Dr. Kloepper decided that the research team deserved a day off. Because it was Sunday, we all headed into town for a day of fun activities that could be found in the area. The plan was that while I went to mass, other members of the team could go to a coffee shop for Wi-Fi and cell phone service. Our goals for the day also included floating down the Rio Grande in an inner tube, visiting the natural hot springs, and eating a famed green-chili cheeseburger for lunch. Many rumors were swirling about who had the best green-chili cheeseburger in town. Since none of us were locals, I decided that I would find out the best lunch spot from the parishioners after the mass I would attend.

In Truth or Consequences, I attended mass at a parish called Our Lady of Perpetual Help. As I walked into 11 o’clock mass, I saw that the assembly was quite small and made up of approximately 65-70 people. My presence as a newcomer did not go unnoticed. Mass began like any other mass would with an opening procession, and liturgy of the word. As the priest took his place for the homily, rather than getting into the expected synopsis and analysis of the readings, he asked “Do we have any visitors celebrating mass with us this weekend?” I quickly glanced around the small congregation and realized no one raised their hand. Not wanting to lie in the middle of mass, I raised my hand indicating I was a visitor. The priest then curiously asked where I was from and what brought me to Truth or Consequences.

I responded that I was in town from Notre Dame, IN for biological research on a colony of bats. With that answer, the entire congregation turned around with an intrigued and collective “Oooooh”. At that point, I could feel my face turning red. The priest then kindly went on to ask questions about the bat colony and began saying that I will enjoy the area. Before he could finish his thought, I asked out loud: “Where is the best place to get a green-chilli cheeseburger?” The priest and the parishioners then responded in unison without hesitation, “Tony’s on South Boulevard!” The priest then continued on that Tony’s closes at 2PM so I should head over there right after mass.

With that, he then went into the rest of the homily and mass continued as usual. After mass ended, the gentleman next to me gave me more detailed instructions on how to get to Tony’s and explained that he lived next door to the restaurant. I thanked him and then met up with the rest of the team to head to lunch. When we pulled up to the restaurant, sure enough my friend from mass was waiting outside of his house to make sure that we found the restaurant. The green-chilli cheeseburgers at Tony’s were as delicious as promised and did not disappoint. Sunday Funday then continued with a free-floating tube ride down the Rio Grande followed by a soak in the natural hot springs, which were so relaxing! Special thanks to Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church for sending us to the best green-chilli cheeseburger establishment in town!IMG_1477.JPG.jpeg

First Week on the Ranch

By Morgan Kinniry

In the week that we have been at the field site, so many things have happened and I have had the opportunity for so many new experiences. The beautiful New Mexican scenery blew me away when we first arrived. The first night, Dr. Kloepper took Felix and I to the cave site to observe the bat emergence without worrying about data collection yet. Once the bats took flight out of the opening of the cave, it was like nothing I have ever seen before. Thousands of bats began to fly out of the cave in a dramatic stream. They then went underneath a natural land bridge and up into the twilight for a night of foraging. The stillness and quiet of the desert was replaced with faint chirps and the flapping of thousands of pairs of wings. I felt like I was standing in the middle of an episode of Planet Earth. The stream of bats was flying so close to me I could have reached up and touched them. It was incredible and my words cannot do it justice.

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The next day, other collaborators of the research team began to arrive. We then headed up to the front of the ranch to pick up the trio of falcon and hawk experts from Oxford University. On the way there, we brought with us a gallon of sour milk (that expired in March) to throw away that had been in the refrigerator when we arrived. The sour gallon of milk was at my feet during the drive. Unfortunately, the gallon of spoiled milk was no match for the bumpy desert roads. After a streak of road bumps, the gallon of milk tipped over and spilled smelly chunks onto the car floor. Right away the stench was widespread and I told Dr. Kloepper quickly that the milk had spilled. She stopped the car rapidly and all of our effort was diverted into cleaning up the spilled milk that had the potential to make our car smell like rotten dairy for the rest of the trip. Luckily, the spill was not as bad as it could have been and over the past few days has seemed to mellow out with the help of some Febreeze and Clorox wipes.

After all of the team arrived, we began settling into a schedule of data collection that includes a 3:30 AM wake up for data collection/observation at dawn that ends around 8:00 AM. After arriving back at the bunkhouse, naps are encouraged along with afternoon data analysis before dinner at 5:00 PM. After we eat dinner, we depart on the 35-minute journey to the cave site for observation/data collection of evening emergence until around 9:00 PM. It is a different sleep schedule than I am used to but I don’t feel exhausted. I think it is because I am so eager to go in the cave, see the bats emerge, or collect new data every day.

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One of the bigger projects taking place during this month is collecting thermal imagery and acoustic recordings of bats returning to the roost in the early morning via drone. The drone has been a source of frustration for the team at first because it could not get off the ground successfully without unnecessarily deploying the parachute. This issue took several days and many test flights by the drone team to work out. Eventually, replacing the electrical board and motor of the drone did the trick. As of this morning, the drone had its first successful flight and data collection.

It has been outstanding working with so many motivated, intelligent, and innovative researchers through this project. Even though frustrations of equipment failure have come up, it makes seeing the successes that occur that much more satisfying. I feel so honored to be a part of this team and look forward to what the rest of the trip has in store!

Somewhere Over the Steel Yard

By Morgan Kinniry

Today was the inaugural day of the BelleBats summer research project! Dr. Kloepper, Felix and I met at the BatMobile at 4AM South Bend time to get a head start on our long journey. We wanted to get a good start to the first half of the journey before stopping at a hotel in Texas for the night.

Severe weather was a concern as we began to drive into tornado alley, and Dr. Kloepper kept a close eye on the radar as we drove into Oklahoma. For the majority of the day, we had managed to dodge cells of severe weather seamlessly. At this point, we were making great time and hoped to stop for the night earlier than originally planned. Shortly after passing the border of Oklahoma, we began to drive into a rain storm. I was driving the gargantuan Chevy Suburban BatMobile while Felix and Dr. Kloepper navigated. The rain storm then began to escalate quickly. Severe Weather alarms began blaring over the radio and our iPhones were notified that there was a Tornado Warning Issued by the National Weather Service.

And for good reason:

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We were unsure if we should keep driving down the interstate to pass through the storm cell, or if we should exit and seek shelter. The radio warnings were terribly confusing for us because they listed counties and towns that the tornado was expected to hit. But, being travelers we were not sure exactly where we were in relation to those places. Clarity finally came with the warnings when the announcer reported that a tornado was predicted to hit the exact stretch of interstate mile markers we were driving on. We then attempted to exit the interstate as soon as possible. Remaining calm, we pulled off at the nearest exit hoping that the predicted “quarter-sized hail” would not bruise the BatMobile. Dr. Kloepper and Felix scoured their maps for a nearby gas station with an over hang that we could park under for refuge, but had no luck.

After driving down a road for several miles with rain falling down in heavy sheets, the only shelter in sight was a steel yard. The steel yard was a fenced in property that seemed bizarrely abandoned yet welcoming at the same time. Steel beams and rigs sat around the barns and parked cars presumably belonging to employees were parked outside. About half a dozen pole barns sat with open gates and wide open sliding doors. After pulling into the garage for shelter, we saw more long, circular steel beams sitting on truck beds. Strangely, inside the structure we were parked in, some sort of water source had steam rolling off it. There was not a person in sight at this point, but we were just thankful to have found shelter.

After watching the rain fall from safety and thankfully not seeing any funnel clouds forming, some steel workers appeared and told us that they had been in a shelter. They let us know that an all clear had been issued and that the storm was headed in the opposite direction of our travels. We were good to head back onto the interstate!

For the rest of the day’s drive, we saw plenty more ominous skies and had our fair share of heavy rainfall and some lightning. Luckily, no tornado warnings or watches were issued again. We even saw a rainbow!

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We made it to Amarillo, Texas where we stopped to enjoy some Indian food before turning in to rest for the night.

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