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Oklahoma Cave Bats

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Cimarron River, Oklahoma. I felt I'd been dropped in the middle of a Clint Eastwood Western, the landscape was so different and so grand.

What lies beneath this foreboding landscape? A beautiful cavern.

I can't describe how wonderful it was to be shown around Oklahoma by people who love her. Debby Kaspari and Tim Ryan know Oklahoma in all her moods (boy, do they!). They've got the birds and wildlife and landscapes down cold. They've got all her quirks and peculiarities filed away, ready to pull them out at a moment's notice. So as soon as the Lesser Prairie-chicken Festival was over and my last workshop had been given, we took off on a little expotition.

First stop was Alabaster Caverns. I hadn't been in a real cave since I was a girl, dazzled by the colored lights in Luray Caverns in Virginia. What a treat it was to descend into this wonderland--a gypsum cavern, peopled by fantastic mineral formations and my new favorite mammal, bats!

Originally mined for gypsum, which is used in wallboard among other things, the cavern's owner realized he was sitting on a natural wonder, and he opened it to the public. You can still see the miners' graffiti on the wall. The lead in Orlando's pencil inscribed the soft gypsum, and halted any further deposition, so his signature remains perfectly clear since around the turn of the 20th century, while the other graffiti have grown over with minerals. I had the notion that this cave was alive.
Being a bit of a claustrophobic, I was happy to see the cavern pretty well-lit.

The idea of going into the bowels of the earth, straight back and down, gave me the wilhelms. But the lighted banister, which was pleasantly warm to the touch in the dank cavey air, helped immensely. I didn't let go of it except to take photos. Some passages were pleasantly large and high-ceilinged, while others were a bit narrower. But all were surpassingly beautiful.
There were some truly gorgeous formations and crystals.

The little visitor's center had the most extraordinary skellington of a Mexican free-tailed bat. I looked at those straw-fine wingbones and marveled that my Dee Dee hadn't broken every bone in her body blundering around in our basement. (Still haven't heard how the flight tests went, by the way. Still waiting to know if she'll be releasable, since the distal tips of her first three fingers on each wing got broken, so her wings curve under.) UPDATE--11:04 pm, May 23--Dee Dee is off meds and doing well in flight tests, finally extending her wings all the way and getting more lift. Lisa Fosco, Director of Animal Care at Ohio Wildlife Center, hopes for quicker progress now. Cross your fingers for Dee Dee's fingers!

Isn't that the most exquisite little flying DaVinci machine? Look at those shoulders! and the hair-fine spurs on the heels, which support the flight membranes. It was so very tiny, a miracle.

I was all in a lather to see some bats, and finally we spotted a lovely pair of cave myotis, a life bat for me!
I think our guide was pleasantly surprised by the ecstasy with which I greeted this sighting, having inured herself to the fearful reactions of so many thousands of cave tourists.

I angled around until I could shoot into their little squinched up faces.
You have to love that, all cuddled up in the cool cave for the winter.

I have to take an interlude here, much as I want to stay in the light.

Bat Conservation International announced on May 12, 2010, that white nose fungus has been found on a western Oklahoma cave myotis, a species which commonly winters with Mexican freetail bats. Each new species affected by this deadly disease, which has killed at least a million bats in the East, increases the potential range and devastation of this horrible epizootic. A leap from Tennesse and Missouri all the way to Oklahoma?? This is what happens when flying animals are attached by an epizootic. Infection in Mexican freetails could spread white nose syndrome from coast to coast and well into Mexico. Bats desperately need our help, as scientists race to learn more about this dreadful disease, which is leaping like wildfire into Tennessee, Delaware, Maryland, Missouri and now Oklahoma. It also spread northward into Ontario and Quebec in Canada. Bats across the continent are at imminent risk.

I didn't treat white nose syndrome in my series of bat posts last winter. My heart couldn't face it. Still can't, really, but it's what's happening. As we look at the possible extinction of entire bat species, I feel the planet wobbling.

We spotted an eastern pipistrelle, a truly teeny weeny little animal, delicate as a fairy.
It was about the size of a silver dollar. Here, I'll flip it around so you can see its face and its charmingly pointed eartips.

It was so very good to see my friends again. I knew when I saw them and my heart started singing again that bats will always be in my life. How I wish I could throw a shield over them and protect them.


Some people say you're a little batty.
I know better, you're totally batty.

Ha! What Rondeau Ric said...!

I visited Luray Caverns in VA at least six times when I was a girl. There were bats and I don't think I was very impressed.

Now, I can't stop smiling at one the size of a silver dollar.

Wonderful post... that cave looks pretty awesome! I think Howe's Cavern in upstate New York is the only cave I've ever visited.

Of course, I am terribly sad about what's happening with the native bat population. It's just awful.

Yes, I've been to Luray Caverns too!

What adorable little critters. Sometimes I just can't think of the devestation of bats by this fungus. Too, too sad without being able to do anything about it.

Same goes with the awful oil spill. Honestly, when I'm watching the news and they start talking about the oil spill, I have to change the channel.

Thanks so much for going into that cave for us - as I share your eeepy, claustrophobic feelings for such adventures. What a beautiful place and great pics of those wonderful bats!
Truly, the WNS news is too sad to bear, but we must be able to help - some anyway. I would encourage everyone to follow Julie's link to Bat Conservation International to see how.

Colene, you da bomb.
In order to take a decent bat shot it helps to have lived with them. You really have to get that lens up in those teeny little squinched up faces and see if you can find an eye...
I do hope that WNS leaves us some bats to repopulate. Probably the scariest epizootic ever. West Nile was bad but it seems to have subsided, after some sad jayless crowless chickadeeless years, great horned owls staggering around...I pray WNS will lose its potency in sort of the same way. We just don't have enough bats to spare. And we need to support BCI in their rush to find out what it is and what we can do about it, other than wring our hands.

Oooooh, how I love watching bats leave their caves (or bridges) for night-hunting.

By the way, today was the second time in recent days that I've seen a bat flying around (alone) in the daytime. The first time was at Penns Creek, but today a bat was flying quite low (hip-level) in the downtown area of my tiny town. Is this normal?

No, sadly, Delia, that doesn't sound like normal bat behavior to me. WNS can cause bats to fly at weird times and in weird ways. They starve and are forced out to forage at all hours and in the snow, even. It's like a wasting disease. Remind me where you are??

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