A bat book you won’t be able to put down

There are great scientists, and there are great communicators, and then there are those who can can communicate science extraordinarily well. I often think of this Venn diagram, and of how much I value the area of overlap between the two spheres.

Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac, Scott Weidensaul’s Living on the Wind, David Quammen’s Song of the Dodo…these are some of the books that I go back to time and time again to bathe in the exquisite writing and drink in the massive content of ecology, biology, physiology and conservation. 

Complex scientific content broken down into accessible concepts and wrapped in adventurous storytelling. 

Today I add another book to this canon of science literature. A book I honestly had sitting on my shelf for over a year before picking it up, on a whim, because of an experience I had over the summer in Panama. I had been out checking a moth light trap in the highlands of western Panama when I heard what I assumed was some bat activity overhead. I retrieved my microphone and did some recording of the night sky. When I returned home, I transferred the recordings to my computer and attempted to listen to them again. I could hear intermittent chittering, but the graphical spectrogram told a different story. There were many sounds apparently in the upper registers of the recording, outside of the human hearing range. I lowered the pitch to bring them into range (see below for link to recordings), and immediately experienced a chorus of bats; bats hunting the moths which were coming into the light. It was a whole new world of natural wonder, and one that I frankly had been ignoring all these years. A week later I was heading to Colorado for work, and searching for something to read on the plane. I looked over the stack of unread books on my desk and immediately zeroed in on one, The Secret Lives of Bats, by Merlin Tuttle. The name sounded familiar…was this the guy who took the amazing photos of bats pollinating Saguaro cacti in the Sonoran Desert? (spoiler alert: yes, he is).

I am so glad I picked it up.

Merlin Tuttle’s The Secret Lives of Bats

I read a good half of the book on my flight to Colorado, and devoured the rest on the return trip. From Merlin’s earliest recollections of his first encounters with Gray Myotis bats, to his multiple near-death experiences studying bats around the world, to the numerous scientific breakthroughs he and colleagues made through their observations over the years; this is as much a story of human perseverance and dedication as it is about bat biology and conservation. On several occasions my heart was pounding in anticipation of the next paragraph, and throughout the book I was enraptured with the complex and exquisite life of bats portrayed by a man who has dedicated his life to their survival. This book demystifies the undeserved stereotypes of bats, and provides hope for the future of bats, both for their important ecological services they provide to humans, as well as their intrinsic value as fellow residents on planet earth. 

You will likely recognize some of the photos presented in the book, especially those of bats pollinating, feeding, and rearing young, from the pages of National Geographic. Tuttle peppers the book with descriptions of these photography excursions which provide a behind-the-scenes view of some of the most iconic bat photographs ever made. In the age of White-nose Syndrome and other very real threats to bats globally, it is refreshing to read a living history of previous threats and conservation measures which have worked to restore several species to sustainable numbers. Will we be able to save our future bats from the things that threaten them today and tomorrow? As Tuttle demonstrates in The Secret Lives of Bats, one key element is removing the unfair stereotypes of these charismatic mammals by shining a light on that which is typically only found in the dark. I, for one, am now on a mission to learn more about our local and regional bats, and to consider how I will be a force for their conservation. I have also relocated The Secret Lives of Bats to my “must read again soon” bookshelf. 

Good reading!

David

You can purchase The Secret Lives of Bats through Merlin Tuttle’s website here:
http://www.merlintuttle.com/book/

Bat Recordings from Mount Totumas Cloud Forest Lodge, Panama:
Original:
https://soundcloud.com/woodcreeper/bats-foraging-over-mt-totumas-cloud-forest-lodge 

The same recording as above, but pitch-shifted  down 12 kHz: https://archive.org/details/VOC1707040349TotumasBats1HPFiltPitchShift12

Departure Day 12/8/15 – Getting to the Lodge at Pico Bonito

A 5:30am international flight meant a departure from cape may just after midnight. Sure I could have pushed it, but who can sleep before such an adventure anyway? Podcasts and wawa coffee got me through and I made it to the gate before it opened, along with a Mexican couple and soon a family from Guatemala. Just hearing Spanish again got me excited for the journey ahead. But first I would have to contort into a pretzel for a three hour flight to Houston.

Sunrise finally arrived and it was beautiful
Sunrise finally arrived and it was beautiful

The flight couldn’t end fast enough, but once there and after a quick bite, it was all smiles and hugs with the rendezvous of Leica Sport Optics’s marketing manager Jeff Bouton, Israel’s Jonathan Meyrav, and Nina Cheney from Eagle Optics in Middleton Wisconsin, only 15 minutes from my old stomping ground in Madison. Already on the plane was Rob Ripma from Indiana, who has led several tours to Honduras and therefore represents our #1 ringer (or scapegoat, depending on how things go) for the trip.

Whereas I was just trying to form myself into as small a ball as possible on the way to Texas, the second leg has been all reference material: previous trip lists, scouring the Costa Rica field guide (many species overlap both countries and I don’t yet have the Honduras guide), and listening to the Honduran bird playlist put together by Michael O’Brien. So many of the songs brought me back to my months in Costa Rica over a decade ago…so many more just reinforced the nature of tropical birding: diversity is king!!

A lovely Honduran woman sitting next to me indicated she couldn’t read or write when the flight attendant passed around our entrance paperwork to fill out and immediately I was plunged back into the Spanish speaking world with little preparation. How fun it was though to work through addresses, and then the 10 questions that you better answer NO to lest you face the wrath of customs. We got a kick out of the “$10,000.00 or more” declaration question…sí, ¡yo tampoco! In the end I remembered more of my conversational Spanish and she got her paperwork filled out. You’ve gotta have some serious street sense to navigate this world unable to read or write. She had spent the last three months visiting an aunt in Denver Colorado. Too cold for her at her age, she said; but it was beautiful. She’s happy to be going home too.

Next stop, Honduras! Shit…I never did make it to the cash machine in the US!

Almost as soon as we arrived, we were whisked off in a bus headed for the Lodge at Pico Bonito where Elmer gave us an orientation…

Elmer giving us an orientation on the way to Pico Bonito
Elmer giving us an orientation on the way to Pico Bonito

…and we settled in for the 3 hour tour…

With a bus like this - we're in for some serious birding! Look out Honduras, team Leica has arrived!!
With a bus like this – we’re in for some serious birding! Look out Honduras, team Leica has arrived!!

but had to stop for our new favorite fruit, the Rambutan!

Rambutan - to eat me is to love me
Rambutan – to eat me is to love me

A few more stops along the way for provisions also resulted in some good fun…

Sure, they're great for birding, but when you need to check the score from one store away in between stops in Honduras, never fear, the new Leica Trinovid HD is here!
Sure, they’re great for birding, but when you need to check the score from one store away in between stops in Honduras, never fear, the new Leica Trinovid HD has your back!
lost in translation takes a creepily poetic twist #honduras
lost in translation takes a creepily poetic twist #honduras
They're great for just about every situation, including racking up a few lifers while you guard the market! The new Leica Trinovid HD - adventure in every view. Hmm...is it just us, or does that shorty look like a Silverline edition??
They’re great for just about every situation, including racking up a few lifers while you guard the market! The new Leica Trinovid HD – adventure in every view. Hmm…is it just us, or does that shorty look like a Silverline edition??

And finally, just before dark, we arrived…

A welcome sign, followed by a welcome drink, followed by some of the most welcoming hospitality ever. The lodge at Pico Bonito is pure gold!
A welcome sign, followed by a welcome drink, followed by some of the most welcoming hospitality ever. The lodge at Pico Bonito is pure gold!

And here we are- after a wonderful dinner at the lodge, watching bats feed on the hummingbird feeders and the moth traps, and after a brief but good look at a Great Potoo, day 1 is coming to a close. I can barely keep my eyes open- and we’ve only just begun!

Stay tuned for more tomorrow. In the meantime, here are a few yet-to-be-named moths from a few minutes at the moth sheet.

Happy Naturalizing!

David

IMG_1480 IMG_1481 IMG_1474 IMG_1475 IMG_1476 IMG_1472

Back…to the TROPICS!

when Jeff called and asked if I wanted to come to Honduras for a new Leica product launch, I immediately checked my schedule and earmarked vacation days and said OF COURSE!! While I’ve been to South America twice in the last decade, both times for work and little free time, this will be my first time returning to the Central American tropics since around 2001…and I am STOKED!! Honduras generally, and the Lodge at Pico Bonito, specifically, have been on my short list of places I want to visit. Having crossed paths with James Adams, who runs Pico Bonito, over the last five years I know that one can expect great things around the lodge, and even more within a short drive from it. Getting to do it all with a stellar group of birders, naturalists and great writers, just sweetens the deal! So stay tuned as I blog about our adventures over the next week. In the meantime…where is the ticket agent!?

All's quiet on the United front
All’s quiet on the United front

 

The future of woodcreeper.com

To radar, or not to radar, that might be the question. Well I finally got my site back online after some file and database issues caused every link to lead to a blank page…frustrating! It seems like everything is fixed now and you can browse the archives as you wish. If you’re looking for some background on how to read the radar for bird migration, check out the FAQ at the top of the page, or use this link.

This week marks my last days as a Leica employee and two weeks before me and my family head back to Cape May so I can assume my new role as Director of the Cape May Bird Observatory. As you can probably guess, I’m beyond excited about this new opportunity, and grateful for my time with Leica Sport Optics which really broadened my experience in areas important to excelling in my new role. Sometimes the stars align.

As for woodcreeper.com, a new hosting plan has ensured that my overhead costs will be less than before, which helps ‘keep the lights on’. I will keep the site going as an archive of radar data and analysis for as long as it remains useful. As for going forward, that’s a little more up-in-the-air at this point. Given my recent life schedule, daily radar updates are unlikely to continue. Perhaps I’ll post periodic radar analyses when possible and/or when notable. Quite likely I’ll also be posting thoughts and ideas from my new life as Director, musings on migration in general, and reposting things I find interesting on the web and otherwise.

So there you have it, an official update! Thanks again for being a supporter of woodcreeper.com, and please say hello if and when you’re down in Cape May after August 1st!

Good Birding,
David

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Front overtakes the migrants over Lake Erie shoreline – possible fallout conditions today at Magee Marsh

Click on the image for the animation! (then go birding!!!)

Base Reflectivity from 7:30pm on 5/6 - 5:30am on 5/7. Frontal storms overtake migrants in the early morning hours.
Base Reflectivity from 7:30pm on 5/6 – 5:30am on 5/7. Frontal storms overtake migrants in the early morning hours.
Base Velocity from 7:30pm on 5/6 - 5:30am on 5/7. General trajectory is from the SW->NE. Frontal storms overtake migrants in the early morning hours. Many birds made it north of the front, but a good number appear to have fallen out under the storms.
Base Velocity from 7:30pm on 5/6 – 5:30am on 5/7. General trajectory is from the SW->NE. Frontal storms overtake migrants in the early morning hours. Many birds made it north of the front, but a good number appear to have fallen out under the storms.