Bats in the Belfry – Hundreds of Them!
Are you feeling a bit batty these days? The busy summer season is winding down and the kids are getting ready to go back to school – so much to do. Well maybe this story will help get your echo locator back on track.
There are bats in the belfry of the Leadville National Fish Hatchery – hundreds of them!
So how do they know there are hundreds? Because they counted them! That’s right on Monday, August 12, a group of bat-counting volunteers gathered at the hatchery at dusk along with local wildlife biologist Jenni Windorski with the US Forrest Service.
“Twice a year we do some baseline population and data counts (on little brown bats) out at the hatchery,” explains Windorski. There is a maternity roost in the attic of the National Fish Hatchery which is home for hundreds of little brown bats.
When the group counted in June, there were just shy of 600 bats. The count earlier this month indicated also half that number at 310. So why the drop in number?
Windorski explains: The are likely done raising their babies and are out flying on their own now. In addition the cooler weather does affect the population as well. Bats generally migrate to warmer weather. For some that’s as far south as Salida. For others, it’s hundreds of miles away in Mexico.
So, why count them?
The result is the ability to see population trends – because bats are not doing so well overall, especially out east because of the white nose syndrome. The hope is that will not hit these populations.
The main benefits of bats to the natural environment has to do with what they eat: bugs. The kind of bugs that tend to want to munch on humans especially during a certain time of the evening. As well as the type of bugs that like to eat crops, thereby eliminating or reducing the need for chemical pesticides for famrers. They are also good pollinators in other parts of the country.
So how long has this roost been in the fish hatchery rafters? As far back as anyone can remember. For most visitors to the popular tourist attraction, they wouldn’t even know the bats were roosting above. The drop ceiling provides a buffer between bats and people. In addition, since bats are nocturnal, and people generally are at the hatchery during the day, the two mammals rarely cross paths. But both are encouraged to enjoy the facility.
In fact, explains Windorski, when they redid the roof during the Hatchery’s renovation a number of years ago, they specifically built the groovers on the north and south windows to allow the bats to stay and have a place to live.
So how do you count hundreds of bats? One! Two Th-ree! (think Count Dracula) Actually the process is quite simple. Bat-counting volunteers sit on the north and south side of the historic hatchery and are given a counter. Click, click, click! The results are then calculated and an average number determined.
As the cooler weather sets in, that number will disapate. But like everything else around these parts, come spring, the bats return to bring life once again to the belfry of Leadville’s National Fish Hatchery!