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Bat Map

I have always loved that crossover between the ariel insectivores, between the swallows and the bats. Between the diurnal and the nocturnal. In a word: twilight.

Looking to the southwestern skies, framed by silhouetted redwoods, I watched for the appearance of the first bat. The change over of swing to graveyard. At 8:30 PM there were still a few violet-green swallows catching insects on the wing. At 8:32 the unmistakeable flap-flap-flap of a flying mammal appeared from stage right, while the last swallow made it’s last foray. This is the time of the bats!

I wanted to sketch a bat map, a record of bat movement over a finite time period. I mean really finite, I mean three minutes.

Before the bats appeared, I sketched the silhouetted redwoods as a way to frame the composition and as a way to give me points of reference when it came time to map their flight across the sky.

I may be able to identify all the common species go birds by sight and sound that inhabit the area around my cabin but I have no clue how to identify the 12 common species of bats that live in Santa Cruz County. There are over 1,400 species bats worldwide and the are the second numerous order of mammals after rodents! I know, by default, that they are micro bats because mega bats don’t occur in North America.

Once the two bats appeared it was about going from the eye to the hand as I traced their path in the twilight sky, a sort of flittermouse Etch A Sketch. I felt like a vessel and the bats were dictating the line through their flight path. The bats were creating the sketch, I was just taking notes!

Cabin Birds Part Two (Audubon’s Birthday)

“Spring work is going on with joyful enthusiasm.” —John Muir

“to live in this world
you must be able
to do three things
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go”. -Mary Oliver

Spending two weeks during my Spring Break at my cabin in the Santa Cruz Mountains gave me the opportunity to slow down and notice the most important things in life. That is life itself. (A nod to you Mr. Ebert)

Birding just adds another layer to experience. It is a soundtrack that not many hear. To those aware, the signs of spring are everywhere. To the calls of the Pacific wren and dark-eyed junco to the sounds of the newly arrived neotropic migrants like Wilson’s warbler, Pacific-slope flycatcher, and black-headed grosbeak. The latter bird I heard on my last day at my cabin, when I heard a district “clip” contact call. I headed out to the deck to see this beautiful flash of orange, back, and white.

This was a First of Season (FOS) bird for me. The males arrive on their breeding grounds from Mexico just ahead of the females and the males proclaim their place in the world with their robin-like song. This has always been a favorite cabin bird and it arrives in mid April most years.

The sky above the San Lorenzo River is filled with newly arrived swallows at this time of year. The most common species are tree and violet-green swallows. Swallows are insectivores and are aerial acrobats that catch flying insects on the wing. Like the Swallows of San Juan Capistrano, swallows are a sign of renewed and the turning of the season from winter to spring.

The aerial insectivore, one of North America’s most beautiful swallow.

Just as I was packing up the car to return to San Fransisco, the natural world gave me a parting gift. I noticed that a pair of chestnut-backed chickadees were cleaning out one of the nesting boxes that I had built and hung on a redwood near the parking lot. This gives me such a sense of joy that I have played a small part in helping to create life.

The two weeks I spent in Paradise was a great was to slow down and really appreciate life.