Saturday, August 15, 2009


I just changed my residence here in South Deerfield, moving to the house next door (literally). Unfortunately, it does not have wireless internet, so it may be awhile before I am able to blog again. I am writing this from a cafe' right now, just before closing. Stay tuned, though, more to come.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Holy Chiroptera, Batman!

I am quite certain that I like bats more than the average person. Still, there are some places I would rather not encounter them. Like inside my house. That is exactly where I found one flitting about in South Deerfield on Tuesday night, August fourth.

It was around eleven PM and I decided I would go out and see if I could find any insects around the lights in town. I opened the door to exit my room to be greeted by an airborne blur and the breeze and sound of wingbeats. I recognized the animal immediately, if only because the next door neighbor had a bat in her own home the week before and the situation was still fresh in my mind.

The bat was doing the flying equivalent of pacing up and down the dark hallway, looping through the kitchen at the other end, and coming back toward my room. Naturally, my first thought was to get my camera and see if I could take some pictures. I chose the kitchen as my vantage point, and got many, many fine shots of the empty room along with three appropriately ghostly images of the bat zipping by the fridge.

At times it seemed the bat had left the area entirely, but it turns out it was still making the rounds, just skimming two to three inches off the floor on occasion. I was incredibly impressed by the aerial skills of this little insectivore. Ok, it really wasn’t that little. Surprisingly large in fact, so I surmised it was probably a “big brown bat,” Eptesicus fuscus, perhaps the most common and widespread species in North America.

Once I had my fill of photography frustration, I simply opened the kitchen door and away it went, presumably to hunt moths and beetles, just like me. It turns out I did exactly the right thing when confronted with a bat in one’s residence. In the weekly e-mail newsletter from the Athol Bird and Nature Club came this tidbit from Mass Wildlife:

“With summer's hot, humid weather finally here, some Bay State homeowners may discover bats residing in their homes! Attics are the most common portion of a house in which bats roost and raise their young. After a few hot summer days, an attic may become too warm for the bats, forcing them out and sometimes into people's living quarters as they search for cooler places to roost. What's a homeowner to do? Fortunately, a single bat flying in a room can usually be dealt with quite easily. Open an outside window or door in the room containing the bat and close off the rest of the room from the house. It's usually only a matter of a few minutes of circling before the bat locates the open window and leaves the house. Bats do not attack people or fly into people's hair.
If a bat has landed, it can be assisted out of a house in several ways. For a bat on a curtain, place a jar, coffee can or small box over the bat, carefully working the animal into the container, and cover it. A bat on the floor can be covered with a towel. Another method is to put on leather gloves and simply pick up the bat and release it outdoors --don't use cotton gloves or handle a bat with bare hands. Whatever method is used, don't worry when the bat squeaks loudly when handled. Take the bat outdoors and release it. If anyone has had direct contact with a bat or if a bat is found in a room with a sleeping person, the bat should be safely captured but not released. Contact local health officials for assistance in evaluating potential rabies risk and submitting the bat to the Department of Public Health for rabies testing.
Little Brown Bats and Big Brown Bats are the most likely species to be found in buildings. In some cases, with small numbers of bats, people don't mind their presence and concentrate on blocking holes and cracks leading into the human living quarters. Where there is a large colony in house walls, biologists recommend that homeowners wait to initiate eviction proceedings until the first week of August through November. Waiting to evict the colony allows time for young bats to mature and leave the house on their own.
Because Massachusetts and other northeastern states are experiencing a sudden and unexpected decline of bat populations due to a white powdery fungus on bat faces called White Nose Syndrome, the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife) reminds all property owners with a summer colony of ten or more bats to report report the colony's location, type of structure where the bats reside, and how many bats are in the colony, by calling….”

This is good information. You can learn even more about bats, and what you can do to help foster a better understanding of these maligned creatures, at Bat Conservation International, the world’s leading organization devoted to bat welfare.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Cash for Clunkers

I try and avoid political hot potatoes on what should be strictly a nature blog, but this government program is aimed at mitigating extravagant fuel consumption, and it also points to a part of human nature that is a bit disturbing.

Even ardent supporters of President Obama’s policies and initiatives seem to be raising eyebrows at this popular program designed to replace “gas-guzzlers” with more fuel-efficient vehicles. One criticism is that the bar is set so low (one needs to only improve their miles per gallon by less than a factor of ten) it is really going to have a negligible effect. An improvement of fifteen or twenty miles per gallon in performance would seem to be a better threshold to qualify for federal funding help.

My criticism has much more to do with our American sense of entitlement to a personal vehicle. Why are my tax dollars being used to subsidize your car? I should at least be allowed to borrow it now and then if I have a financial stake in it. Never mind that I don’t drive (I can, I have a license, but I find it so nerve-wracking as not to want to bother), it is the principle of taking from the collective community to give to the individual that I find offensive.

President Obama would have been far wiser to use those funds to greatly expand public transit across the nation, including commuter rail lines. His reluctance to do so points out how pathologically isolated we have become. We can no longer tolerate “others” on the bus ride to the office, let alone any other destination. Even if we do climb aboard a coach, we plug our ears with MP3 players, bury our face in a book, or stare out the window. Whatever happened to striking up a conversation? Flirting? Sharing?

No, we would rather go into financial debt for our very own personal, mobile space than have to deal with “strangers” any more than we already do. I could go on about how some drivers need to be taken off the road no matter what kind of vehicle they are behind the wheel of, or how distracted, sleep-deprived, and angry the average operator of a car has become, but mostly I am simply saddened by our collective disdain for interacting with each other in public.

Tomorrow I take the bus, like every weekday morning, from South Deerfield to the UMass campus in Amherst. I will enjoy joking and conversing with the fine ladies and gentlemen that share that commute. I encourage you to explore your own transit options and make the most of them, both economically and socially.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


I haven’t been to the Campus Pond at the University of Massachusetts in many weeks now, but back on June 8 I was treated to a large, very cooperative amphibian as a photo subject during my lunch hour. The bullfrog, Rana catesbeiana, is native here, but elsewhere in North America, where it has been introduced, it might better be called the “bully” frog.

The species is named for the early English naturalist Mark Catesby who explored the southeast United States in the early 1700s, documenting his findings in words and illustrations published as Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands. Just like its human namesake, the frog has had “legs” to parts of the world far removed from its native eastern U.S. haunts.

It has, in fact, been those meaty hind legs that have caused the dispersal of the bullfrog around the globe. Prized as a delicacy, frog legs are a staple appetizer on many a restaurant menu. It is far less expensive to harvest the amphibians locally than to import them, so consequently the bullfrog was introduced to various new territories including the western U.S. and British Columbia, Cuba, Jamaica, Mexico, South America, Europe, Asia, even Hawaii.

That humans prey on bullfrogs, along with herons, raccoons, snakes, and other animals, is not enough to mitigate the effects of what the bullfrogs themselves eat: which is nearly anything and everything. Where bullfrogs have been introduced, native wetland fauna can suffer dramatically.

Bullfrogs have been at the least implicated in the decline of the western pond turtle in the Pacific Northwest (they eat the hatchling turtles), the Mexican garter snake in parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Mexico, and native frog populations in California.

Any animal smaller than the bullfrog is fair game, though, and even tarantulas are on the menu, along with various large insects, small rodents, and birds.

I have a hard time now hearing that deep bass call of “jug-o-rum” without cringing a bit. Every organism surely has its place, but when Homo sapiens extends the boundaries of place for an animal like the bullfrog, all hell can break loose in the aftermath.