Sunday, February 23, 2014

Big Deal for Big-eared Bats

     The extra special feature of the Red Hills is the presence of over half of all the state's caves.  And the special feature of some of the caves is they harbor a number of bat species.  Of these half dozen or so species, the coolest is the Townsend's Big-eared Bat with the scientific name, Corynorhinus townsendii.  This edition of the outback highlights one particularly special cave, Havard Cave, the above special bat species, and the very dedicated researchers working to help preserve all the above.  Following the long-term Red Hills bat census efforts by Stan Roth, retired high school teacher from Lawrence, Dr. Bill Jensen and student Mitch Rens of Emporia State University are continuing his biennial winter bat census.  They practice extensive precautions to dis-infect all clothing, instruments and other supplies used in this research project.  This is necessary because of the potential for the presence of the fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans and an absolute need to prevent any possible spread under even the slightest chance of its presence.  As its name implies, the fungus can be deadly to some bat species.  White-nosed Syndrome (WNS) is the disease caused by the fungus and has caused as high as 95% mortality in some species in some caves in the eastern U.S.   Spores of the fungus have been discovered in at least one cave in Kansas but, fortunately, no WNS has been identified to date.
        Two Townsend's Big-eared Bats hang out in a state of torpor, hibernating in Havard Cave.  One has ears extended and the other ears folded.

A group of Big-eared Bats congregate to conserve energy through the winter.  For some unknown reason, one of them is an outcast.

 Bill and Mitch peel off their protective gear and sanitize.  It's a cumbersome but necessary precaution.

            Mitch swabs the wing of a Tri-colored Bat for testing for the fungus that causes White-nose Syndrome.

                The "Grand Canyon" of Havard Cave is one of the most impressive features of 
any Kansas cave.

The "Big Room" of Havard Cave with the author.

   Lee Ann shows the beauty of the canyon and
 ceiling sculpture of Havard Cave.

               Dr. Jensen exits the narrow entrance after an exhausting day of spelunking and biology.
[All Red Hills caves, including Havard Cave, are on private property.  Because of the fragile nature of these caves and their inhabitants, locations should never be disclosed.  Their conservation depends greatly on honoring this condition.]

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Red, White and Blue ... birds

The male Cardinal in all his glory.


Winter brings so many treats,
     which grace our yards with feathered beasts,
who come forth now to hopeful feasts,
     on suet and sunflower seeds.

The cold deep snow has brought them here,
      they come to offerings without fear,
 no food is found in fields so near,
     we're glad they're around to give us cheer.

To cedar bough red birds retreat,
     awaiting each their turn to eat,
the bluebirds take to their own seat,
     anxious for refreshing drink.

Many birds frequent our place,
    each species with a special grace,
but these blues and reds just seem to make,
    the best of hues in brilliant shades.
This Eastern Bluebird is not mad, just thirsty.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Goose Music

     Like giant winged snowflakes softly settling to the ground, these snow geese emulate nature's winter symphony.  I defer to Aldo Leopold's elegant prose below to describe the beauty of geese.

"If then we can live without goose music, we may as well do away with stars, or sunsets, or Iliads.  But the point is that we would be fools to do away with any of them."  Aldo Leopold from A Sand County Almanac.

Thousands of snow geese with a smattering of blues, Canadas and White-fronted geese swarm like flies on a stubble field in southern Kansas.