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Red Bat Release: To the MOON, Alice!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Cards and letters keep rolling in. I do appreciate the outpouring, and the beautiful sentiments that let me know how much Chet Baker meant to those of you who have written. I'm saving them. I won't lie: it's hard for me to read them, when I spend much of each day trying so damn hard to forget and get on with things. Lots of times I have to refrain from opening the mail until I'm in the right frame of mind, feeling bulletproof. My speaking schedule is packed, and while I don't much feel like being in public, the travel has been a blessing.  I'm trying to get back to my running routes, but I usually end up in a puddle of tears as I remember him so vividly, running in front of me, nosing at that log, jumping that ditch, eyeing those cattle. I remember all the places where he used to cross the road so he could keep an eye on oncoming cars. He was so smart about cars. I even remember the spots where he liked to stop for a poop. With all that's going on right now, running helps keep me grounded, centered and sane, but there's a fresh dart to the heart every time I go out. Maybe I need to find some new routes, ones that aren't haunted by sweet apparitions.

They say the Universe sends us what we need. When the timing's right, it's magic. I couldn't have received a better gift on the Very Bad Day of September 1 than a red bat in need of love, comfort and wasp larvae. On this, our third installment, the bat is being fed for the last time, in preparation for release.

This isn't a great photo, as it was taken in very low light, but look at the gorgeous lines of this little animal as she investigates the padded Critter Keeper that would be her home for three days and two nights. I purposely keep short-term rehab bats in small plastic containers with toweling or nonskid drawer liner as padding, to keep them from breaking their delicate finger bones should they beat their wings against the sides. This bat was a model guest. Every time I checked on her, day or night, she was either sleeping or preening--she wasted no time or energy that I saw, trying to find a way out.

I just love the long slender forearm, the hand part of the wing being folded along it, the jet-black webbing crinkled up between hand and forearm. Her hind leg is extended, joined by a membrane to the tail and the other hind leg. Her head is up, and she's taking in information with eyes and nose. Once you get used to bat architecture you can begin to appreciate what a beauty she is.

She looks deceptively big and blimpy here. Most of what you're seeing is fur and membrane. Her little body is slender, and if you squint you can see her sides--quite vole-like, with a little waist, even--and the outline of her tail. The big furry areas along her sides are her coat--the heavily furred patagium, or wing membrane, that, along with the furry tail membrane, allows this little marvel of adaptation to wrap herself up and survive midwinter temperatures, hanging by one foot from a twig in the woods, pretending to be a dead leaf. 

Red bats are migratory, and you'll see them flying through Halloween and even into winter. I've seen them hunting insects on warm late January days. A good number, surprisingly, may stay around to winter here in southeast Ohio. But most are thought to head south. An excellent article at the Bat Conservation International website explains red bat hibernation strategy. A study of 13 male red bats wintering in southern Missouri (hardly subtropical!) showed that when temperatures dropped below freezing, the bats did, too--from tree branch roosts to the leaf litter below! 

Radiotelemetry showed that red bats used leaf litter on exposed south-facing slopes for roosting, and that they left the litter when temperatures became mild, to forage at night for moths. They went deep into torpor when temperatures were cold, buried or sometimes completely exposed in the leaf litter. Their vivid red-brown coloration makes more sense when you think of them hibernating beneath an oak in the litter.

The realization that red bats might hibernate in leaf litter was born when bats in many parts of temperate North America were observed flying up from the forest floor during prescribed winter forest burns. This led to the radiotelemetry study by Brad Mormann and Miranda Milam from which I've excerpted these notes. 

 I'm pretty sure you weren't hibernating, lying there on your back on a warm drizzly evening, Missy. I don't know what you were up to, but it wasn't good.

I'll never tell. Thank you for the room and board. I'm feeling much, much better now.

 Let's take a look at some more videos! In this one, you can see more of her body as she relaxes in my glove. I'm barely holding her, as she's so absorbed in her feeding that escape is far from her mind. 

I love this one, for the way she tackles a nearly mature paper wasp pupa. WOW. 

This movie gives you some excellent Tiny Pink Tongue action. She's fed, watered and ready to fly.

 To the MOON, Alice!!


There were three people documenting this momentous event with iPhones: Shila, Bill, and Liam. All the video here is Liam's, except for this slo-mo Bill took. It's really cool because if you can make it out in the dim light, you can see Alice turning on her sonar just before she takes off. She opens her lips and flares them as she sends out sonar signals. And then she works her wings free and heads for the moon.

I can always tell when a bat is plotting escape from my glove when it lifts its head, opens its mouth and turns its head rapidly side to side. It's scanning its environment with sonar. I may not be able to hear its ultrasonic sonar clicks, but I can see it emitting them.

This is how it feels to release a strong, healthy red bat who might otherwise have died.

The night was one bat more beautiful, and that's way more beautiful than it was before.

More Red Bat! Now, With Shmoos!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

I don't know about you, but I think the world needs more red bat videos. To that end, I have three one-minute shots of delight. Movies 4 and 5 depict the second feeding session for the little juvenile red bat found helpless on her back on a sandy playground in Reno, Ohio. The feeding session in the first two videos was from the morning after she was found. She'd had a nice big feeding the evening before, and had presumably rested all night in her towel-padded Critter Keeper.

So the next morning it was wonderful to see how much more lively and capable she was. I had to cut the wasp grubs up the evening before; this time she handles an older pupa with alacrity. It did my heart so much good to see her gain strength.

We chopped the videos up into one-minute segments because Instagram will take only one-minute videos. Liam, again, is videographer.

One of the coolest things about bats, I think, is the way they seem to get that you're trying to help them. They struggle a bit, but shove a nice juicy grub in their mouth and they're all over it, thank you thank you! I will eat that! You won't get any argument from me! This is delicious! More, please!

I suspect that if I'd had to keep this bat longer; i.e. if it were mid-winter and not safe to release her for several months, she'd be the kind who'd probably sit on top of my glove, accepting food from the forceps, needing no restraint at all. I love it when they get to that point. 

But this little bat is on the fast track to release. All I wanted to do was build her up so she could fly again, and send her on her way, for it is the height of red bat migration now and she has a long way to go. I hope that wherever she ends up, it's not ruined by that pill Irma.

This next one, Red Bat Movie 6, is my favorite feeding video. It was taken the next evening, the evening of her release. As you can see I had quite a time restraining her--she was fast and strong and she wanted out! And you may need to watch it a couple of times. In trying to catch her I scared her, of course, and she HIDES HER EYES twice. Once she ducks her head into my glove and the second time she covers her eyes with her sweet little wings. Ohhhh. I can hardly stand it. 

If you can watch this last video, and still say you "hate bats," well, I'm afraid I'm giving up on you. 
Leave a comment that starts with "EEEEEW" on my Facebook page and poof! I will make it disappear. It's one of my few magic tricks. 

Because under that incredibly soft plush red fur, frosted silver, is an old soul with hopes and dreams and terror, too, in her wee breastie. All she wants is to fly up to the moon again, sometime soon. And in my next post, she will get her wish.

LOVE HER. Love her fiercely, tenderly, as I do. If you're here and watching, that's the way to go--toward the light. If you want to pass it on, show that last video to somebody who "hates bats." 

P.S. Dark, rainy morning here, September 14. Birches turning gold, heading into fall fast. Talking on the phone, looking out the studio window. At 7:58 AM, the female bobcat who's taken James' place zoops out from behind the spruce, picks up a chipmunk like you'd pick up a dropped wallet--casually, easily--and melts back into the woods with her breakfast without even putting the birds up off the feeder. It. Was. Awesome. We've gone from nine omnipresent and gluttonous gray squirrels to None. 
No. Squirrels. That's a natural balance I can get behind. And waay better than James ever achieved. :D 

Come to think of it, I haven't seen Notch the naughty bunny--a regular each morning at the feeders-- for a week. Damn. That's what I get for falling in love with a Shmoo.**

RIP Notch. In heaven, Julie's lettuce, geraniums and lobelias are planted right in the ground. You won't even have to climb up into the planters.

**Shmoos were the creation of Al Capp, the brilliant cartoonist/creator of Li'l Abner. My DOD, who loved sly social satire, used to read Li'l Abner aloud to us at the breakfast table. This Wiki link will tell you more than you need to know about Shmoos. 

Little Bat, Lost

Monday, September 11, 2017

Friday, September 1, was an awful day. I'd pushed through August 30 and 31 thinking, oh, this isn't so bad, I'm relieved, actually. I've got work to do. I got up that day and gathered up all the trappings of a dog's life: the two nice clean beds,  the funky bed, the food, the treats...couldn't touch the collars and leashes yet, so I left them in the drawers. I wanted to get all the obvious stuff, the countertop and living room and studio stuff, out of my sight. I buried my nose in the funky bed a couple times and carried it out to put with the trash. I mean, you don't save a giant dirty dog bed just so you can smell it...or do you? No. You don't. Stop it. Stop crying. Put it in the can.

It was like that. Awful. Fighting with  myself the whole way, I drove to town with cans of expensive dog food and a 30 pound bag of Fromm's kibble that I'd recently opened. The cans rolled around in the back of the car, thrashing like a thing alive, and I fought back tears as the frugal child of Depression-era parents rounded the curves, determinedly taking all that good food back to the stores. I prayed that the customer service person at Giant Eagle would be the nice woman with frosted hair, and she was. She didn't bat an eye, understanding instantly why a person would up and buy $64 worth of canned dog food the same week her dog died. Crazy, hopeful heart, swimming up De Nile, hedging against reality. He can't be dying. Look. I have all this food.

 This kind and lovely woman looked me in the eyes and told me a story about her two elderly pugs that both went blind and developed diabetes, requiring special food and two shots each per day. She had to leave work at 9 AM, rush home, shoot them both up and feed them, then rush back, all on her brief break. Same thing at dinnertime. Two and a half years of this, before she finally hit the wall and admitted to herself that it wasn't fair to the dogs or her; that it was nothing but a holding pattern against the inevitable.  And she had them both put down on the same day. Good Lord. Crass as it sounds, she made me feel, I don't know...lucky... that Chet had been holding his own, more or less, until he wasn't. And that it was all so clear. We bonded. Dogs, man. They can lift you so high, but they can, through no fault of their own, rip your heart out, too. You can substitute "People" and "Love" in that sentence. "Life," while you're at it.

I went to my favorite pet store (the kind that has only shelter animals for adoption) and got sad faces and hugs from lovely Christy and Ethan. They took back the enormous bag of Fromm's, even though it had been opened. I felt humbled and grateful and appreciated in this small town. I felt embraced, figuratively and literally. I could buy people food with the money they gave me, and I did. It felt right. I was grateful. I seriously didn't know how much longer I could keep throwing fistfuls of money at poor Bacon, trying to keep him among the living. It had been a hard year and a half.

Prompted by the kindness I'd been shown, I was losing it again. At that moment, Shila texted to ask where I was, whether I was in town. (She's a little witchy, that way, and others). 

Yes, I'm in a parking lot in Marietta, crying, why do you ask?

Come to my office, and I'll give you a session, she wrote.

 I think that's about the only thing I'd have said yes to at that moment--cranio-sacral and polarity therapy from my best friend. Yes. Oh, yes.

So I drove out to Wellness Unlimited in Reno, Ohio, and lay on the table while Shila worked her magic on me, settling my nervous system, letting me cry and fall asleep three different times from the sheer comfort of healing touch and pure kindness, saving me yet again. After the session, Shila said, "Let's go out and gather some acorns for Jemima. The jays have been going crazy in the oaks out back." So we walked out to look for acorns on the ground. We couldn't find any. What were there were still small and very green, and hanging on the branches. Shila walked over to a second tree and I followed her. 

I will say here that I wasn't exactly sure why Shila wanted to gather acorns for Jemima, she who eats so well on chicken and rice and sweet corn and pecans. But I knew enough to follow her out into the back lot behind her office.

Under the second tree, we were distracted by an enormous orange and yellow wasp darting back and forth just above the ground. "Ooh look, a cicada killer! What's it got?"

The wasp was making repeated sallies at something very odd looking, lying on the ground. 
"Oh my God!" we said in unison. "It's a red bat!!"

The bat was in defensive posture, wings spread, but when we knelt beside it it brought its wings in and covered its eyes.  My heart got a brand new crack in it. I mean, look at that little creature, legs spread wide, covering its eyes, so afraid, so helpless.

Oh, sweetie. How did you get yourself in this pickle, here on the ground?

I can't tell you. I just want to cover my eyes and forget about it. I want you to go away. But the big wasp is scaring me so.

For one of North America's larger bats, it was so, so tiny. What looks like its junk here--the pink protrusion--is actually the base of its tail, which extends down into the well-furred tail membrane. Examining these photos, I can see (in retrospect) that it's a female, probably a juvenile. The other hint to that is the heavy frosting of her fur. Males are more uniformly red. I was way too excited to do a proper evaluation of this little bat's junk. I was programmed to receive, and get this bat into Zick's Hotel, Spa and Hostel for whatever she might need. And she'd be able to check out whenever she was ready.

Shila ran to fetch a towel and lidded plastic shoebox from her office while I fought off the urge to pick it up with my bare hands (never! even after two rabies shot series). It was a cool, rainy afternoon and the poor craithur was cool to the touch, nearly torpid. I couldn't divine what on earth it was doing lying on the ground. Red bats occasionally roost on the ground in leaf litter, but this one had nowhere to hide. I didn't know what the cicada killer had in mind by circling around and darting at the bat, but I knew it was nothing good. Could the wasp have stung it, hoping to paralyze it and carve it up for food, the way they do cicadas? What an awful thought!  And: Not on my watch! Begone, wasp!

Using the towel, we gently folded the bat up and put it in the Tupperware with the lid on tight. It'd be fine for the ride home. I started thinking about what I had at home to feed it. I'd had to throw out all three bins of homegrown mealworms when they became infested with mites, what a bummer! Teeming with lovely tiny worms, and a moving gray mat of mites. Nope. Not in my basement. Out they'd gone.

I couldn't think of a better food for a compromised bat than wasp larvae. I've resorted to robbing paper wasp nests many times in the past when I've been suddenly caught with a creature needing live food. I can't even remember now how I hit on it, but paper wasp larvae are the bomb, and easily obtainable, if you have the guts. I remember now that I might have gone into the combs I knocked out of my greenhouse out of curiosity, just to see the larvae and pupae in different stages, and then it occurred to me that the baby box turtles I was raising might appreciate them, and I was off, feeding wasp grubs to animals.

Having done this more than a few times, I have noticed, while harvesting wasp grubs, that in the past four years or so there is a situation with parasitic larvae in the combs. Pictured below are three healthy wasp grubs--the three big fat ones. Also in the picture are three parasitized wasp grubs--the small round shriveled ones with black heads. And there are five predatory larvae in with them (the thinner ones with tiny brown heads).  I suspected these to be the larvae of another wasp or perhaps a fly, because structurally they are similar, if a lot slimmer and more mobile. Sharp eyes of entomologist Sam Jaffe spotted lepidopteran characteristics (the prolegs are a dead giveaway!) He suggested Chalcoela iphitalis, the Sooty-winged Chalcoela moth, as the parasite.

This is a healthy paper wasp nest--you can see eggs and grubs in the cells. Also, the cells with silken roofs are not perforated. There are healthy maturing wasp pupae in the roofed cells.

This me holding the healthy nest next to one that is badly parasitized. It's dirty and full of silk layers, and all the caps that should have pupae beneath them are perforated in many places. They've been chewed through, and there are predatory larvae in the cells that should hold healthy paper wasp pupae. Ut-oh.

A possible culprit is here in Jim McCormac's excellent blogpost about a moth that bedevils paper wasps. Many thanks to awesome entomologist Ted MacRae for helping me try to figure out what these larvae might be.  And to  similarly awesome Sam Jaffe for pointing me to Sooty-winged Chalcoela. And to Ohio's pride, all around naturalist Jim McCormac for writing it up. If I'd been smart I'd have let some mature to see what they pupated into. But I had a hungry bat!! 

Inquiry fell behind the need to feed this beastlet. Between the three nests I knocked down (all I could find), I got enough larvae, both paper wasp and parasite, to feed the bat for four sessions.

And now, the bat. Movie 1 is her first feeding. Oh, she's so slow and cold and sad. But she gets a little more gusto with each juicy grub I give her.

She's perking up!

I fear I frightened her a bit with my chuckles and snorts. Look how much more lively she is after only three larvae!

Truly, I'd been so sad that finding this little waif and seeing her come back to life was almost too much for me to take. It was too sweet. I had to laugh in delight.

I just want to say that when Shila and I get together, stuff like this happens. She suggests we walk out into a light rain under some oak trees to look for acorns??? and we find no acorns. No, we stumble upon this magic little animal my favorite bat of all favorite bats who might have died had we not been right there, at that spot, at that moment.

The little voice is strong in Shila, and it's strong in me, and when we get together, it fairly shouts. And we listen. We listen hard.

The Enchanted Garden

Friday, September 8, 2017

This is a post I wrote in August, before a lot of other stuff happened. I stuffed it away and saved it for a time when I wouldn't feel like writing. Which turns out to be now. I keep checking: still got nothing.

I took the enchanted basil forest down in early August. 
Best basil I've ever grown. I had little to do with it. It was the rain that made the leaves big and tender. Wow, what beautiful basil. And for once I harvested it in the height of its growth, not in October when most of the leaves have fallen off and the rest are yellowing. Beautiful!!

After the cutting. The plants are still there, and may well send up just that much growth again before frost. Yikes!

All that basil reduced down to this many leaves, which Liam helped me strip off the stems.
And all these leaves, with some pine nuts and parmesan and a lot of olive oil, made 13 jars of delicious pesto. Just finished my dinner, 3 cheese ravioli drenched in fresh pesto. Mmmmm! Good thing I ran today, and am going to rake the yard again.

Amazingly, the manure-fed rhubarb is still going pretty strong, and I've made some bitchin' cobblers lately. Oh I love that stuff sooo  much. Just looking at this photo makes me feel thankful.
I so vastly prefer shopping in my garden to shopping in the produce aisle. I love summer cooking. It's so easy and fast, with all this organic produce flowing into the kitchen.

Speaking of happy, here's the first big crop of golden raspberries we've had. Yes, that's young asparagus curling around, from the seeds I planted in the greenhouse two springs ago. It'll probably be five more years before I can harvest any, but that's OK. I'm waiting anyway.

My dear friend Connie Toops has given me a couple of batches of raspberry plants from her amazing mountainside garden in North Carolina over the last five years or so. Cutting all the trees that were shading them, liberal applications of cow manure, and a rainy summer were apparently what they required to really take off, spread and give us enough to carry some in from the garden. I.E. enough so that they aren't all gut-picked right there in the patch. Ahhhh!! sooo good.

Best of all, there have were still some on the plants for Phoebe. It's been lovely for Phoebe to have a little time here rolling around with me in August's glorious bounty.  She had a beautiful two weeks with Chet Baker. She went back to school August 26, and, goodbye kisses given and received, he very quickly got on with the business of leaving this world. Bless his little soul. A gentleman to the end. As I think about it, it was best that way, a perfect visit, with him feeling pretty good, even able to go on hikes, and Phoebe able to remember him that way. I brought him to her arms when she woke up each morning. 

Sweet puppy kisses and golden raspberries. Life was good for Phoebs. Right next to them, the last naked lady finishes her bloom.

They're softly fragrant and so divine with that ethereal cerulean-violet on their petal ends. Ahhhh. 

Once again, there's South Africa to credit for this wonderful plant, Lycoris squamigera, often called the Surprise Lily for the way its broad strappy leaves come up in spring, wither away by June, and then boom! there are multiple tall spikes of fabulous pink "naked ladies," i.e. without any leaves, popping up as a surprise in August! I'm thrilled that these transplants from an old home site down Dean's Fork have taken hold in my heirloom garden, right in front of the peony I harvested there. Home again. The naked ladies don't bloom in the woods. I should get serious, take a shovel and dig some more of them next spring. 

Buddleia is adding its sweet perfume to the powerful scent of tuberose come evening.

I'm really pleased with this combo, more thought out than most of mine, on the corner of the old garage. I'm breaking the rules by planting 4'  tuberoses in front of shorter things, but they're there to smell! No stepping over other plants to get to them. This is a hedon's garden, after all.
And the tuberoses are almost as tall as I am this year. I don't even have to lean over to bury my nose in them. I made a sweet little bundle this spring selling off most of my tuberose bulbs at two gardening talks I gave here in Ohio. I had too darn many to plant, and no place to put them. Sold a bunch of Achimenes rhizomes, too, which took a little more salesmanship. The tuberoses were snapped up immediately. They were beautiful--enormous bulb clusters, manure-fed, and I sold them for $4 apiece. I hope to rebuild my stocks and offer them in coming years. What I sold was about a decade's worth of propagation. Man, I love being able to produce something people really want and sell it in person (as opposed to online). No postage, no hassle, just grab, gimme some cash, and go. 

I've put in a bed of annuals--Salvia farinosa "Victoria," Angelonia and zinnias--behind the tuberoses. I tried to keep it all purple, pink and white. Succeeded. Sometimes it works out.

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