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The Batgirls' Race Against Time

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The walls of time kept closing in. I had speaking engagements on May 9, then another at Presque Isle Festival of the Birds near Erie, Pennsylvania on May 11-13. One day home on the 14th, and on the evening of the 15th we were headed for a full week in Alaska. What to do with the bats? Because I was hardly to be home for the next two weeks, I’d been planning to take them up to Columbus to the Ohio Wildlife Center for safekeeping on May 9, and pick them up on our way back from Alaska on May 21. But something in me stopped dead at the thought. Stella had already aborted her baby. What if Mirabel delivered in that span, which was squarely in the time when big brown bats give birth? What if the bats stopped eating and slid backward, traumatized by the upheaval? What if they were handled by someone who didn’t appreciate just how sensitive they were? What if they could actually be ready for release before I had to leave? The morning of May 9 came, and I made a snap decision not to take them to Columbus, but to leave them in their tent, and see how they were doing when I landed briefly at home on the 13th.  Maybe four more days would do it. I was listening hard to my little voice, hoping it was right.

When I came home on the 10th, it was cold, dipping into the 40’s, and I knew they’d be unable to fly. I weighed them. Good—right around 19 gm. each. Keep eating, keep losing weight, batgirls. I had faith that they’d be OK.
I forged on to the festival in Presque Isle, PA, giving it my all for the weekend. When I got back on May 13, it’d be do or die—release them, or leave them for another risky week in the tent, with Phoebe, who was staying home to finish out her last week of school, sneaking in during the day to replenish their mealworms and water. I didn’t like the idea at all. Wearily, I unpacked the car, lugged my suitcase into the bedroom and left most of it untouched as I began to repack for a week in Alaska starting the 15th. I’d have tonight and tomorrow home, and then I’d take off again. I wasn't happy about that. I felt my life had gotten away from me, and I didn't want the bats to suffer for it.

A bat illusion. Mirabel's on the tent wall; Liam's outside!

I looked up from my work with a start, glancing at the clock. It was 9:10 pm and my girls would be out of the roost and looking for their evening meal. Rats! I ran out to the garage through a misty rain, the crickets, frogs and toads singing all around in the cool night air. I flipped the switch and the garage fluorescents buzzed to life. And both bats were hanging high in the flight tent, and both instantly took flight. I couldn’t tell luggy Mirabel from agile Stella. Both circled the tent one, two, three, five, eight times, flew as I’d never seen them fly. I stood transfixed, laughing with delight. Stepped into the tent. They dove at my head, like bats are supposed to do, swooped low and threatened to tangle themselves in my hair. Go ahead! I’d love that! Twice, Mirabel landed on my back and I laughed aloud. Then she took off again, circling and circling.

I zipped myself back out of the tent and ran to the house. “FAMILY MEETING IN THE GARAGE!!” I ran up and downstairs, gathering Bill and Phoebe and Liam. They filed out. “THIS IS BIG!! “I chortled. “Did Mirabel have her baby?” Phoebe asked. “No no no, much better!” The bats were hanging up again, looking around quietly with swiveling ears. I stepped into the tent and extended my arm like a circus ringmaster. “Presenting the Flying Battista Sisters!” The bats clung resolutely. I tickled their tail membranes and finally Mirabel and then Stella launched back into the air. Once again they circled, dipping and diving. Mirabel landed on the ground, then sprang back up, rising to the top of the tent. On the last possible day they could have chosen, the bats were ready to go. Oh, hallelujah!
Here's the fatroll of a 25 gm. bat.
Compare with the slender Stella below. 

I gave them a big bowl of mealworms. They’d earned it. The next afternoon, in between packing for Alaska and doing the ten thousand things a mother has to do to leave her human kids in the care of someone else, I wrote a note for the babysitter, watered all the plants, then tenderly gathered up their blue roosting towel with them inside and drove the Battista sisters  into Marietta for release. They’d come from town and back to town they’d go. You don’t release town bats in the country. They’d need to find a nice old house with a snug hot attic for their maternity roost.

This photo is from Stella's last day with me. She was flying so fast and so frequently it was all I could do to get a photo of her. Mirabel, only slightly less zippy. Both making five to ten circuits of the tent at one go. Both aloft for 20 minutes continuously. It was like a miracle, one I didn't want to question.  


Truly remarkable story. You'll let us know if they come back to visit you, won't you? Love the bat illusion photo.

It sounds as though getting the bat children to be ready to live on their own is as arduous as getting the human children ready.
You are one of the few people I can think of who would not be offended by someone comparing our human children to our fur children. Or feathered or finned, for that matter.
Children are children--they are our responsibility--but our responsibility is to PREPARE them to fly and leave.

Just ask Bill and the kids if you wonder how involved I got with those temporary batchildren of mine. You'll get eyerolls and sighs. Yet they get it now, too. I know I seemed incredibly mule-headed to them, straight-arming all suggestions that I just "let them go!" without knowing that the girls were 100% ready. I felt a great weight of responsibility not only to prepare them to fly and leave, but to right the wrongs I'd committed in overfeeding them. No doubt in my mind that guilt was a primary motivator. I'd gotten them in their fat little fix, and it was my job to get them out of it. And I've learned volumes about bat care thanks to my little guineabats.

This post is missing just one thing... the sound of trumpets blaring!

You are amazing! Thank you for your blog, art and books!

Congratulations! That is so wonderful. Intuition comes from dedication. You have both in spades, so it's marvelous to hear that both paid off for these little bats.

Oh, how lovely! I love a happy bat story.
And of course, I love you, too.xxoom.

Posted by Anonymous June 3, 2012 at 1:15 PM

Miracle worker.

Awww, yay! So glad to read this happy ending, and to know your (and Mirabel & Stella's) hard work paid off!

YAY, YAY, YAY!!! So excited!!!:)

That's great.
I've been following the saga but today is the first time the internet gremlins let me post a comment.

So happy for the batgirls! And the photo of Stella clinging to the tent wall -- those little toes are exquisite!

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