Stories from the Field

Back in 2014, I worked for the U.S. Forest Service (FS) with Nadja (Na-dee-uh) Schmidt, a seasonal wildlife lead for the Deschutes National Forest Sisters Ranger District.  Nadja invited me to come out and mist net bats with her recently and I was super excited because I'm a long time bat fan, but a first time mist netter. My role in the situation was limited by the fact that I don't have a rabies vaccination, so I helped with decontamination procedures and data collection.

Bats are soooo cool and I owe a lot of my bat love to Nadja; she’s a great mentor! I find the shape of their faces and ears incredibly fascinating. Check out the ears on this big brown bat – complete with mites bats echolocate to navigate and find food, so they need those specially adapted faces and ears to do so.

We set up two mist nets and acoustic equipment outside of a cave east of Bend. The FS gated the cave several years ago due to a variety of factors, including vandalism and graffiti, so we set everything just outside the gate.  I didn't know what to expect!  I donned a Tyvek suit like Nadja and Joe, a super knowledgeable FS cave ranger. While Nadja and Joe set up nets and equipment, I prepped the processing table. It was super quiet at the cave mouth and hard to believe anything lived in it, but bats started to emerge just before sunset.

Nadja Schmidt

During our three hour session, Joe and Nadja extracted 15 bats from the two mist nets. Apparently, fifteen captures denotes a slow night but Nadja was excited that we documented seven different species!  Nadja walked me through the process of species identification, determining sex (not super difficult), assessing reproductive status, aging each bat, and obtaining a wing-damage index value.

This work is a part of a larger effort underway to help monitor and minimize the impact of white-nose syndrome. In Central Oregon, the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon State University Cascades, and U.S. Forest Service collaborate to monitor bats across the landscape. White-nose syndrome, an emerging disease affecting hibernating bats, is named for the characteristic white fungus (Pseudogymnoascus destructans) that appears on their muzzles, ears, and wings.  Since its identification in New York in 2006, WNS spread rapidly across the eastern half of US and Canada, and caused widespread death of bats in eastern North America. In 2016, natural resource professionals detected WNS in Washington. Responsible for more than 5.7 million bats in eastern North America, natural resource professionals in Oregon are concerned WNS will make its way here.

I love working with Nadja. She's quiet, a deft handler, and super comfortable with the bats. I spent the night narrating what might be going through each bat's mind - most of it related to unbridled fury towards the bat handler.  I look forward to my next opportunity to go out with Nadja et al. By that time, I’ll be vaccinated!