In our previous blog, Teresa told us what it was like to follow Merlin into a hollow tree in the rain forest. Now she tells us what it was like netting and radio-tracking bats, and what happened to the bats once we caught them.
My next adventure with bats began when I accompanied Merlin and the Trinibats teams netting and radio-tracking rare bats to see where they lived. It was a lot of work packing and carrying all the necessary equipment to the middle of the rain forest, then keeping vigilant watch over the virtually transparent nets for hours on end. This was my first experience with bat netting and I kept thinking to myself, “These bat people are hardcore!” It’s tough work!
Captured bats had to be promptly and gently disentangled. It wasn’t a breeze! When bats with two-to-three-foot wingspans think they’re about to be eaten they can put up quite a fight.
However, as Merlin demonstrated during his onsite sessions photographing bat portraits, most quickly calmed and even enthusiastically ate from his hands once they realized they weren’t being harmed. Even the bright-eyed vampire bat (Desmotus rotundus) became gentle. The variety was amazing! Bats are adorable to me, even the “weird” ones, and it was a true joy to finally see them up close and learn to handle them properly. Watching Merlin’s infectious dedication inspired the group, myself included.
The next morning, radio receiver and antenna in hand, Daniel led a small group of us, always following in the direction of the loudest ping-like beeps from his receiver.
I was forced to abandon my vigilant watch for snakes to keep up with the pace Daniel and Merlin were going. Again such trust paid off. Finally, deep in the forest, the signals were loud and directly overhead. We looked up, and there indeed was a gaping hole some 40 feet up in one of the forest’s largest trees. This was something that only a handful of people have ever seen, the home of Latin America’s largest bat, a true carnivore that is rarely seen even by professional bat researchers! We set up to monitor the roost with a night vision camera, then trekked back to our vehicle after dark. Nothing looked the same, and we no longer had radio pings to guide us as we left the transmitted bat behind in its roost. I was grateful for Merlin’s still uncanny sense of direction that had first been fine-tuned many years ago when he led expeditions in the deepest parts of the Venezuelan rain forest.
Over the remaining week Merlin’s intrepid wife Paula and I would follow him and Daniel into a variety of new bat adventures, finding bats in some of the most unexpected places. Among us, we carried up to six tripods and flash stands in addition to cameras, flashes, varied lenses and radio transmitters. Merlin relied on Paula’s long experience to help set up his photo equipment while I interviewed him, filmed the bats and recorded his special knowledge.
Paula Tuttle helping Merlin Tuttle take bat portraits in the rain forest near Tamana Cave in Trinidad.
I’ll continue my personal account as soon as we can catch up a bit more on the time consuming photo editing, so stay tuned for further blogs. We’ll also be sharing Daniel’s first-ever video footage of parent Spectral bats taking turns babysitting versus hunting, including bringing rats and birds home to share with their mate!!