Appreciation barbecue at the field station

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Every field season, it’s a tradition for the field station to hold a barbecue and invite friends and local bat researchers like Teodora Ivanova (holding her baby) who, together with Bjorn Siemers from Germany, started the Tabachka Bat Research Center. Seated two seats back from Teo is one of Bulgaria’s very first bat researchers, Eberhart Undzhyan. Hristiyana “Chris” Stomoayalova (front right) is the landlady for the station, who promptly responded to our calls when the refrigerator and the washing machine broke down. Thanks to all of the friends of the Siemers Bat Research Center for keeping Bjorn’s dream alive!

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The Siemers Bat Field Station in Tabachka, Bulgaria

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Antonia Hubancheva, Daniela Schmieder, Paula and Merlin Tuttle, and local neighbor Georgi Guder at the Siemers bat research field station in Tabachka, Bulgaria.

Our Friday the 13th flight from Paris to Sofia was uneventful. From my window seat on the plane the views of the Alps were spectacular. I hope to go there some day. But this trip we are working in Bulgaria! My Lonely Planet travel guide says:

wild wooded mountain ranges speckled with remote villages and enchanting monasteries to vibrant modern cities and long sandy beaches hugging the Black Sea coast, Bulgaria rewards exploration.”

This is a country of mountains, forests and rivers and a wide diversity of plant and animal life. The Bulgarians tell me they still have bear, wolves and lynx. I’m impressed!

We are at the Siemers Bat Research Station in the quaint village of Tabachka.  There’s a church, a post office and two stores in the village where we can get essentials. And the most essential of essentials is yogurt. Bulgarians are crazy about their yogurt. A favorite summer starter is cold cucumber-yogurt soup called “tarator.” In addition to cucumbers and yogurt, it consists of walnuts, which grow all over the village, and fresh dill. The store was out of fresh dill and promised to provide it later. At dinnertime the dill was retrieved and we were handed a bunch of plants freshly pulled from someone’s garden. That’s what I call a custom order! This place is going to be fun!

Toni has freshly plucked dill for the tarator (cold cucumber-yogurt soup).
Toni with plenty of dill for the tarator (cold cucumber-yogurt soup).

One of the locals, Georgi, welcomed us with a pail of milk straight from his goat, still warm. He brought photographs of some of the bat researchers he met two years ago, when a workshop was held at the station, and a bat photo postcard. He was thrilled to learn that Merlin was the photographer and got his autograph. I’m looking forward to a festival the village is having on June 28th, when we can meet all the local talent!   

 

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Adventures in Kruger National Park, South Africa

Shy young elephant, Kruger Nat'l Pk, S. Africa
Shy elephant, Kruger Nat’l Pk, S. Africa

It’s been a few weeks since our adventures in South Africa, particularly our daytrip to Kruger National Park. To tell you the truth, I’m just calming down enough to be able to re-live the experience. Once the photography was deemed accomplished, our most generous hosts Frances and Peter Taylor suggested we take their pickup truck on the two-hour drive to the world-renowned Kruger National Park. Since this was a last-minute whim, we were unable to get reservations to spend the night in the park, so we were day visitors. But we did see many more animals than I ever imagined in one day in the park. On our way into the park via the Punda Maria gate, we went through the town of Thohoyandou, where  The University of Venda is located and where the traffic police were lying in wait. I was stopped for speeding. (more…)

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Mamba Mountain

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Valerie’s photo of a huge black mamba with head raised, as seen in the bottom foreground

Valerie Linden and Sina Weier, graduate students from Germany doing research on the bats in this area shared an exciting bat netting experience with us during a braai last night at Peter and Frances Taylor’s home in Louis Trichardt, South Africa.

Valerie and Sina were trapping and netting for bats one night last week in a rocky area of the Goro Game Reserve dubbed “Mamba Mountain,” due to the number of Black mambas (Dendroaspis polylepis) in the area. These snakes are endemic to sub-Saharan Africa and are the longest venomous snake in all of Africa, averaging around 2.2 to 2.7 m (7.2 to 8.9 ft) in length.

Within one hour of bat netting, these two fearless women had three encounters with mambas,“considered the most-feared snake species in Africa, and also possibly in the whole world.”

Their first encounter of the evening was when Valerie unknowingly stepped on a juvenile, which quickly escaped. Next Sina saw an adult about 3 meters long. She quickly jumped upon a rock to get out of its path. The mamba came towards Sina on the rock, looked up at her, then went around the rock and out of sight. When Valerie saw the mamba in the photograph, she first saw its body draped over a rock. She followed the body down to the ground, realizing the raised head of the snake was within a meter of her foot! (See head in bottom center of photo) She jumped backwards a couple of meters and took this picture of the snake she estimated to be 4-5 meters long. After the third black mamba sighting in one hour, the researchers decided to pack up their nets and work elsewhere. 

Merlin's signing copies of Nat'l Geo magazine and bat prints for Valerie and Sina, aka Valerina
Merlin’s signing copies of Nat’l Geo magazine and bat prints for Valerie and Sina, aka Valerina

 

We wish them continued good luck on the rest of their work here in South Africa–Be Safe!!!

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NASBR 43rd & 16th International Bat Research Conference, San José, Costa Rica

The end of conference banquet: Merlin and Paula Tuttle with Ann Froschauer of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Merlin has attended every NASBR conference, since the beginning.

 

Corey Kane, a writer with the Tico Times, wrote an excellent article. During the conference, he interviewed Merlin and included some of his photographs. I’ve included the link, if you care to read all about it: http://www.ticotimes.net/More-news/News-Briefs/Costa-Rica-hosts-largest-ever-bat-conference_Sunday-August-18-2013/

Rodrigo Medellin accepting Merlin’s latest Pallid bat at cardon flower taken in the Baja in April 2013.

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Merlin’s Recovery Progress

Side view showing tumor on top

Merlin’s recovery news is mixed. For the first two weeks following the initial tumor removal, he seemed to be making a miraculous recovery. Then he started getting unexplained headaches and left-side body numbness. His surgeon was out of town, but when he returned he ordered a CT scan and organized an appointment for the next morning when he explained that the scan showed either a blood clot or an infection in his brain and that he would have to perform emergency surgery.

I took him directly from the doctor’s office to the operating room where a team of surgeons and anesthesiologists was waiting.

Birds-eye view showing tumor on left (actually on right side of brain)

On recovery, it was explained to us that, in addition to removing a blood clot, they had found a bacterial infection. As a part of treating the infection, they had removed a several-inches-in-diameter section of Merlin’s skull, which will have to be replaced in a third surgery, probably in May. 

Since bacterial infection in one’s brain is serious and cannot be treated by oral antibiotics, he’s having to continually wear an IV pumping unit and bag of antibiotic fluid for six weeks and meet daily with a specialist to adjust treatment and track progress.

Merlin is fast walking a mile a day, answering emails and doing some work at the computer, but he is not yet allowed to work out or drive. He is still planning to be back in the field photographing bats by late April. He has enjoyed hearing from family and friends and is deeply appreciative of all their kind encouragement.

 

 

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Season’s Greetings!

A Cave nectar bat (Eonycteris spelaea) pollinating a wild banana flower in Thailand, September 2012.

Over the past year, we collaborated with German colleague, Ralph Simon, taking more than 20,000 photos of bats pollinating highly bat-dependent flowers in Costa Rica, Cuba and Ecuador for an article scheduled to appear in the May 2014 issue of National Geographic, then collaborated with Daniel Hargreaves and much appreciated Thai colleagues to photograph 32 species of bats in Thailand, including rare painted, bumblebee and naked bats.

We have lots of continuing plans for 2013, including field work in Mexico, Costa Rica and Sulawesi to better document bat values, assist colleagues and local conservation projects and prepare for a coffee table book on bats of the world, a long-time dream of Merlin’s.

Over the past year, we gradually noticed Merlin beginning to lean to the left and struggle unusually to maintain his balance while climbing around in caves and other rugged terrain. Finally, two weeks ago, I convinced him to see a neurologist, and an MRI scan of his brain revealed a meningioma about the size of a golf ball. Fortunately, the tumor is benign, well defined and in an ideal location for successful surgical removal. A highly respected neurosurgeon, Dr. Craig Kemper, will remove it on January 10. We anticipate Merlin being in the hospital for two to three days, but requiring about three weeks at home to get back to full speed.

Thank you so much for following this blog the past year. As long as you’re interested, I’ll continue blogging about our projects. Merlin and I wish the very best for you and for bats in the coming New Year!

 

 

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