Storytime 35

likely little brown bat Myotis lucifugus perched on tree
One day four years back, I was checking out the neighborhood pond and noticed something slightly odd about a tree at the head of one portion of the trail; it seemed to have some dry leaves adhering directly to the trunk, which of course is not where you typically see leaves hanging. Had it been anywhere else, I likely would have passed it by without even noticing, but this was right at eye level and warranted a closer look. As you can see, it wasn’t leaves at all, but a bat clinging to the trunk at midday – identification is tricky when working from the limited photos that I obtained without disturbing the critter, but I suspect this is a little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus.)

This find was curious, because the area plays host to plenty of bats, but they do not generally roost in exposed places like this, and I have never seen one at such a low height since. The risk of rabies is high enough that I did not disturb it, even though I’ve had my shots (no, really – I used to work in animal shelters and rehabilitating wildlife, so it was recommended,) and since the behavior was atypical, that was potentially another indication because infected animals often act differently. I did several natural-light shots from different vantages and left it alone.

I actually like bats – they’re delightfully creepy-looking, but distinctive in nature and fun to watch on summer evenings as they wheel over the pond or street in search of insects. The Girlfriend does not share my enthusiasm, especially not when I engage in a favorite past-time, which is tossing small stones into the air just as they’re approaching to watch them follow the descending object down in a tight spiral, eventually determining (by sound, it seems) that it is not actually a nutritious insect – at this point they are often just over head height. One night out in the open lawn near the pond and not even trying to draw one nearer, one passed so close by my ear that I heard its soft chittering in passing.

From time to time I endeavor to get a photo of one in flight, which understandably is a challenging pursuit. I’ve succeeded a couple of times, without producing anything impressive; one time can be found here, while another can be seen below, taken under a highway overpass in Florida when I was experimenting with B&W film.

unidentified bat caught by flash
To capture this one, I set up under a bridge that was a known haunt, and you could even smell their presence since guano has a distinctive odor. It was ridiculously dark, so I locked the shutter open and tracked the movements of the bats with a low-powered flashlight, triggering the flash unit when one passed within the camera’s field of view; I actually caught two in this frame. Focus is just a shot in the dark, as it were, so this didn’t turn out as badly as it could’ve.

My most memorable experience came at dusk, decades back, while my cousin and I were tossing a Frisbee back and forth. The light had dropped almost too low when he sent a smooth and flat toss my way, and about halfway to me, a bat fell in behind the Frisbee and followed it closely, giving the disk the appearance of towing a pair of fluttering leaves in its wake. I just watched it pass open-mouthed, since the Frisbee spanned about the same as the bat’s wings, which would make it weigh roughly four times the mammal’s own mass; what the bat could possibly have been thinking I can’t imagine. And as I type this, I’m wondering why I’ve never gone out since with a Frisbee and a video camera to try and repeat this experience. Looks like I’ve got something to try tonight…

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