Question: What’s scarier, giving a presentation about bats to a group of fidgety kindergarteners or climbing down a rocky trench and into a massive cave?
Answer: Neither! Both are fantastic opportunities that will enrich your life and give you newfound knowledge about how beautiful caves are, how curious children are, and how out of shape you are.
This week was split for me between fieldwork and education. The first half was spent in the field, checking wildlife cameras, monitoring bald eagles, and setting up tarps in caves to collect guano. This last task was especially exciting because it was a new one for both me and the park. We wanted to start a new project in which we collect bat guano and send it to a lab. The lab will hopefully respond with a list of species that it believes are roosting in that cave. In order to get these results, however, we needed to do some work.
The lab prefers fresh guano, so we set up tarps in the caves. Emma, who is the wildlife technician, and I climbed down trenches and into caves with headlamps to try and find piles of bat guano. When we found an area that looked promising, we set up a tarp over it. When we return in a few weeks, there will hopefully be a layer of fresh guano on the tarp that we can collect and send to the lab. Setting up the tarps was challenging in the dark caves. We had to carry a heavy backpack full of equipment and find a rock that was (hopefully) clean of pack rat scat to set it on. Then we had to balance ourselves on a rock and teeter precariously while tying the tarps into place. For all the climbing and balancing we did, it was surprisingly fun, and I can’t wait to hear what species of bats each cave is home to.
In addition to working in the field with Emma, I spent the week creating new materials for my Bat Chats and delivering the program to visitors. Normally I talk to small groups of visitors who walk by with their families and stop because they’re intrigued by the skeletons and models on my table. This week, however, a teacher from a kindergarten group asked me if I would give a presentation to her kids. When I said that I’d love to, she very orderly marched her kids in line in front of me and then stood by to translate my speech into Spanish for some of her students. The kids were a great audience and had lots of fantastic questions about what types of insects they eat and how big they are and if they could hold the preserved bat. They were all excited to pass around the objects and gasped when I told them the flying fox, a species of fruit-eating bat, can have a wingspan of up to five feet. They were an even better audience than many of the adults that I talk to!
I feel incredibly lucky that I get to work at a place where I can teach people about bats while simultaneously learning more about them myself. I can’t wait to tell the next group of students about the guano collection project!