Friday, July 20, 2012

Bats Entertainment

It seems crazy, I know, but watching bats is one of my favorite summer time activities.  I just sit outside in the evening, shortly before dark, and they appear, gliding and maneuvering with great skill above me.  I like to sit still and see how close they will come.  Of course, that depends on how many insects are around me.  A single bat can eat 3000 insects in one night.

                                               image: Jessica Nelson/Nat'l Sci Foundation

I watch the aerial displays and observe that there is more than one species flying overhead.  One emerges early and is larger with slower, erratic flight.  It seems to circle the small opening in the woods on a regular flight path.  Another seems smaller with faster wingbeats but frequent glides.  It also arrives early to the opening.  The first could be a Red Bat, Lasiurus borealis.  I have seen them hanging from the eaves during the fall.  The other is possibly the Silver-haired Bat, Lasionycteris noctivagans.  Our cat has captured one of those in the past.

It is difficult to identify flying bats without a bat detector, a device that would convert the ultrasonic sounds made by bats to a frequency humans can detect.  According to several sources, the Red Bat makes sounds in the 39-50 kHz range, while the Silver-haired Bat has a range of 26-38 kHz.

Still, just watching the aerial antics is entertaining.  I have seen bats fly toward an insect, only to have the insect drop suddenly out of the flight path.  Interactions between 2 bats flying in the same area are also fun to observe.  Sometimes, if I listen carefully, I can hear a chattering sound that bats sometimes make while flying.

 I can't wait for my granddaughter to visit so I can show her "bat watching" just as we have had fun together watching the birds.

 I have some of my favorite children's books for bats ready to read to her also.
 And I'm sure, the bats will be here, too, performing their nightly feats of aerial agility.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Colorado fires and other mishaps

Colorado fires and other mishaps...or how I spent my summer vacation.

We had planned our trip to Colorado several months in advance, but as the time approached we watched with concern as the fires burned in that state.  Our first destination was through Poudre Canyon to StateForestStatePark, just northwest of Rocky Mountain National Park.  We arrived just as the road was reopened and saw the firefighters mopping up the area.  We saw the charred trees everywhere--evened a house burnt to the ground!  But there were lots of spared homes and grateful people--grateful for the hero firefighters who saved their lives, homes, and possessions.

At the campground, the next mishap was observed--the effects of the bark beetle damage to pine trees.  In some areas, I would estimate that 60-70% of the trees were dead and standing.  In the campground, of course, these dead trees had to be cut due to the danger they presented to campers.  But still, the view (picture above) was spectacular.

Each dawn and dusk we heard an owl hooting--one we had never heard before.  It turns out that it was a Boreal Owl (normally found further north)--or rather, two of them.  The hooting was distinctive and continued for a prolonged amount of time.  We never did see this beautiful bird, but I will not forget the sound it makes.

Colorado, like many places in the US is coming off of a dry winter--as evidenced by the lack of snow left on some of the peaks, low water in the snow fed ponds, and dry areas along the trails.

However, we found some icy cold streams with beautiful views--just the thing to soak tired feet after a 10 mile trek!

And we even found a small pile of snow on one of our trails.
Our last mishap (or you could call it an adventure) was our climb up Mt. Bierstadt, a 14'er just west of Denver.  Now, to a flatlander like myself, 3 miles does not seem far, especially since I have run several half marathons (13.1 miles).  So I admit, I was not mentally prepared for the task at hand.  We did have food, water, extra clothing, rain gear, etc. but what we didn't have was enough time before the eventual rain.  Yes, during our time in Colorado, the rainy season began.

The trail started with a descent through the willow bog (a special place of beauty and special natural community).  So the first mile through the bog results in little elevation gain.  All of the close to 2800 feet elevation gain occurs in the last two miles.  That is a grueling steady assent.  I now realized that I was not mentally prepared for the task.  As the day became more and more cloudy,  we decided to enjoy the scenery at 13,000 feet--until the cold temps and wind caused us to shiver and seek lower ground.

As we were nearing the bottom, we heard the helicopter overhead and realized there was a mountain rescue underway.  Apparently someone had fallen and broken a leg.  Apparently these kinds of mishaps--hypothermia, altitude sickness, broken bones--are frequent occurrences in this wilderness (according to Forest Service personnel).  One tiny mishap can have huge consequences in this environment.

We left, enjoying the peak from the road this time, and recounting the lessons learned during this summer vacation of mishaps.

1. Firefighters deserve our gratitude and support for putting their lives on the line every day.
2. Good can come from bad--the beetles can destroy trees but can also enhance the view of the mts.
3. Icy cold water can offset the ravages of plantar fasciitis.
4. Both mental and physical preparedness are necessary in wilderness conditions.
5. A mishap can be a cherished memory--it is all in how you look at it.