Behind the Curtain

Curtain + BatNature can be an amazing place. Yet, we can easily miss parts of nature that could be amazing, remarkable and enjoyable simply because our senses are not capable of engaging with everything nature has to offer.

Earlier this month, I was up in the mountains near Lake Isabella in Kern County, California. I knew there should be bats at this location, so as night arrived, I was outside with my iPad and Echo Meter Touch. The Echo Meter Touch, along with the app the iPad app for it, allows you to “hear” bats. It has a high-frequency microphone module that plugs into the iPad (or iPhone). When the app detects bat sounds from the module, it alters the frequency so we can hear them, plus it creates a sonogram or graph of the sound. Then it suggests the top bat species that the bat could be. This is really cool and gives an idea of bat activity and possible bat species.

This has been an interesting experience. I love discovering this part of nature, a key part of nature that is often missed because bats don’t follow our schedules. But the idea that our senses are not capable of engaging with everything nature has to offer really hit home this last time “listening” for bats near Lake Isabella. I started checking for bats about 20 minutes after sunset and kept the detector on for 30 minutes. The Echo Meter Touch showed me I had 29 passes of 6 species of bats during that time. That was pretty good activity! (The list you see here has been cropped and modified in form so as to make it more readable for the blog.)

Bat recording list 5-13-16 modBut … as much as I tried, I only saw one bat flying by. One out of 29 passes! Now admittedly, I am not a young person like my adult kids with great night vision, but even then, it is unlikely that they would have seen more than a few bats. It was pretty dark out.

It was like a curtain of darkness blocked my view of the bats that were there. How often have any of us been in places where these amazing mammals are flying and yet had no idea they were there? This is actually a problem for the conservation and protection of these bats. If people don’t know they exist, no one knows if their populations are affected by environmental pressures from pesticides to global climate change.

Acoustic monitoring, the official name for finding bats by their sounds, is a way of opening that curtain. Scientists can use this to detect and monitor bats in many areas, gathering important information about them. Anyone can also open this curtain if they have an iPad and get an Echo Meter Touch. I am finding it to be a lot of fun!

On the screen capture of bat recordings from the night described, bats are labeled with the first two letters of their genus and first two of their species, the scientific name of genus and species. So for example, LANO is a silver-haired bat or Lasionycteris noctivagans.