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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Portraits: Bats of Bulgaria

Merlin Tuttle and Antonia Hubancheva set the Tuttle trap in front of the cave
Setting the bat trap outside the entrance to the cave

Our first night in the field we set a bat trap in the entrance of Orlova Chuka Cave where we caught six species of bats, four of which we were able to photograph. The others were nursing mothers we had to release. We haven’t been able to capture more bats for the last three days due to unseasonably cold, rainy weather.

Myotis myotis (Greater mouse-eared bat)
Greater Mouse-eared Bat (Myotis myotis)
Myotis capaccinii (Long-fingered Bat)
Long-fingered Bat (Myotis capaccinii)
Mediterranean Horseshoe Bat (R. euryale)
Mediterranean Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus euryale)
Rhinolophus mehelyi (Mehely's Horseshoe Bat)
Mehelyis Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus mehelyi)

Several of these bats will now be kept in captivity for several days, during which time we hope to train them for photographs of catching insects.  Antonia Hubancheva is training the Myotis and Daniela Schmeider is training the Rhinolophus. The next post will probably be a video of training the bats.

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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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The Hala Bala Bat Hall of Fame

Just four nights of photography at Hala Bala yielded photos of 18 species of bats, including the rarely seen Naked Bat, the tiny, cute Tailless and Spotted-Winged Fruit Bats. Here are nine of the beauty queens and runners up:

The Naked Bat (Cheiromeles torquatus)
The Tailless Fruit Bat (Megaerops ecaudatus)
The Spotted-Winged Fruit Bat (Balionycteris maculata)
Trefoil Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus trifoliatus)
Lesser Hairy-winged Bat (Harpiocephalus harpia)
Malayan Free-tailed Bat (Mops mops)
The Malayan Slit-faced Bat (Nycteris tragata)
The Gilded Tube-nosed Bat (Murina rozendaali)
Least Woolly Bat (Kerivoula minuta)

 

 

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In Search of Naked Bats in Thailand’s Deep South

Our destination was Hala Bala Wildlife Sanctuary to seek and, hopefully, photograph the world’s largest insectivorous bat: the Naked Bat, Cheiromeles torquatus.

Narathiwat Province borders Malaysia.

We were met at the Narathiwat Airport by Pipat Soisook, Curator of Mammals at the Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Natural History Museum, and Sunate Karapan, Director of the Hala Bala Research Station.

The research center’s lodging was spacious and comfortable, and we had it all to ourselves, since the usual clientele of researchers were staying away, we were told, due to violence in surrounding areas.

This background about the violence came from the Lonely Planet’s guide to Thailand:  Over 100 years ago, the Kingdom of Siam conquered this area, but an Islamic separatist group wanted to secede from Buddhist Thailand, and independence is still an issue today. Foreigners are not the targets, but can be in danger, as when a market was bombed just prior to our arrival.

The Hala Bala Wildlife Sanctuary was one of the few places where we could reliably find the rarely seen Naked Bat. It was an exciting place to work, where we could potentially run into a tiger, leopard, sun bear or a King Cobra. In the early morning, we were often serenaded by gibbons while eating breakfast. At mealtime, we had to contend with a pet Great Hornbill named Wang, a bird the size of an eagle who tried to dive-bomb us or rob our food, especially his favorite: roti, a type of flatbread.

Merlin gets a love bite from Wang, the Great Hornbill

Next I’ll tell you about our experiences netting and photographing 18 species of bats, including photos of Naked Bats as well as very cute and tiny Spotted-Winged and Tailless Fruit Bats.

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