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.
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.
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!