EXCHANGE: Bat researchers have it good at nature preserve
CHARLESTON, Ill. -- A finely meshed net was up, strung across a path that broke through the trees.
The hope was to get a chance for an up-close look at a night flyer, a small creature that likely populated the heavily wooded area. But how abundantly and in what variety were questions that needed to be answered.
Biologist Tara Hohoff said the likelihood of success with the net was uncertain, so the research she and others were conducting on the bat population also relied on other methods.
"If we catch bats at all, it's a good night," she said.
The sun was starting to set in the woods in an area of the Warbler Ridge Conservation Area southeast of Charleston.
While waiting for the time of day bats find most inviting, Hohoff talked about what her group was doing and how they do it. She pointed to a nearby dead tree that she said was an example of what bats might find attractive as a roosting location, a bit of a prophetic remark.
Dusk soon arrived, and with it an announcement from Mark Davis, Hohoff's fellow biologist with the Illinois History Survey, that bats were "just pouring out" of the tree she mentioned.
And about 10 minutes after sunset, Ashleigh Cable, an Eastern Illinois University graduate student in biology and another member of the survey's bat conservation project, was at work.
She found a bat that had flown into and was caught in the net, which had such a fine mesh it was difficult to see at the closest of inspections. Cable removed the animal from the net, giving the group a chance to weigh, measure and collect other information about it.
It was an eastern red bat and, as the work carried on into the earlier hours of the following morning, a big brown bat and an evening bat also ended up in the netting.
"There really are bats just everywhere," Hohoff said.
The Natural History Survey research team is studying bats and habitat throughout Illinois. They're trying to track population figures as well as see how habitat affects those numbers.
With Warbler Ridge part of an ongoing natural area restoration project, the site offers a "unique opportunity" to look at the bat population changes over time, Davis said.
"We can start baselining," he said. "We can track into the future."
Davis noted that bats face a population threat with white nose syndrome and other diseases, and they're beneficial because they eat a large amount of insect farm pests.
Warbler Ridge is a 1,000-acre tract of protected land owned by the Grand Prairie Friends, an Urbana-based conservation group, purchased in sections over the last six years.
It led to a nature preserve that tracks from near the Woodyard Conservation Area on the south side of Charleston to near Fox Ridge State Park southeast of there.
The Grand Prairie Friends funneled money from a partnership to the Natural History Survey for the bat research at Warbler Ridge, said Sarah Livesay, GPF executive director.
Apex Energy LLC provided the funding to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which the group was able to obtain for the project, Livesay explained.
Since acquiring the land, the Grand Prairie Friends have worked to restore Warbler Ridge to its more natural environment and add a trail system for public access.
With the eastern red bat that was the night's first catch, the researchers weighed it and measured its wings, which Hohoff said helped with its identification.
With the help of team member and recent EIU graduate Chloe Derrick, Hohoff also held the bat's wings over a light. She said that was to check for injuries and also helped determine if it was an adult or a juvenile, based on joint development.
Once the data was recorded, it wasn't long before the bat was airborne once again.
The bats' flight routines are the reason why the mesh nets are placed along paths and more open locations, Davis said.
At dusk when they first awaken, they want to find water and will take a more open path to it so they don't have to navigate through a lot of trees, he said.
"Bats want to get funneled into a corridor," Davis said.
If certain species of bats are captured, ones that are endangered or threatened, they're banded and small radio transmitters are placed on them for future tracking. Davis said two bats on threatened species lists, the Indiana bat and the northern long eared bat, might live in the area.
The research teams also uses equipment to record bat calls to help discover what species are in the area. There are also systems to collect insects and other methods to help study their diet.
The Grand Prairie Friends also has plans to help with the bat population at Warbler Ridge, Livesay said. Artificial tree bark for bats to use to roost will be placed on poles and wetlands will be added to draw the insects on which bats feed, she said.
Source: Journal Gazette & Times-Courier, https://bit.ly/2L5rekm
Information from: Mattoon Journal-Gazette, http://www.jg-tc.com