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November 08. 2013 9:32PM

Stacey Cole's Nature Talks: From 'Big, Bad, Bat' to one that was never seen again


 

The delightful story of the "Big, Bad, Bat" was told in our column of Sept. 28. It was quoted from a letter from a Bedford reader to her adult children. Now comes another "bat" story from one of our longtime Exeter reader-friends who recently wrote: "I enjoyed the bat story in one of your recent columns. My son, John, has lived in Anchorage, Alaska for 30+ years. Consequently, I sometimes look at the 'Alaska Daily News.'

"Now for the bat story: One night in the wee hours — I became aware that there was a bat flying around in our bedroom. It was buzzing over my head back and forth. I got up, turned on the light, and started wondering how I would dispatch the bat. All of a sudden the bat flew into the hall. My brain clicked, and I closed the door and went back to bed and to sleep. The next morning I looked for the bat, but could not find it. I never saw the bat again. End of my bat story!"

Bats (Chiroptera) frequently loom large when in flight and especially so in a darkened room. This is basically because of their large wing size compared to their small body size. The bat's wings are made up of two very thin elastic layers of skin stretched over its forearm and hand — the skin is then attached to the side of its body, foot or leg. Another membrane usually extends from the legs to its tail and can cover up all or part of the tail. Since bats at rest usually sleep with their heads hanging down and rarely move, they frequently remain out of sight in attics, closets and like hiding places.

Most bats feed almost exclusively on insects. Bats have excellent hearing that even allows them to detect insects walking across leaves and other ground cover.

With respect to flying insects, bats emit high frequency sounds that hit their prey. They then utilize the sounds that are reflected back to capture moths and other insects while both hunter and quarry are on the wing. This feature has been likened to man's use of radar. Combining a bat's high speed flying and its sound reflection abilities, these mammals can easily feed themselves even during the darkest of nights.

As a P.S. to his letter, our Exeter reader-friend added: "I am also enclosing a story about bald eagles that I read in the 'Alaska Times' on October 11, that I thought you might be interested in."

Indeed so! The author, John Schandelmeler, Daily Correspondent for the "Alaska Times," is a lifelong Alaskan who lives near Paxson. He commercial fishes in Bristol Bay and is a two-time champion sled dog racer.

The following excerpts are quoted from his column in which he writes about bald eagles eating dead salmon in open water at the Paxson Hatchery in the Guikana River. He adds: "... this created the best viewing of bald eagles in years. I counted more than 100 eagles in a four-mile section (of highway) just above Paxson Lodge. The bald eagle is our national bird, but Ben Franklin was not pleased about it. He called the bald eagle 'a bird of bad morals, who doesn't get his living honestly!' That said, one must admit they are impressive creatures.

"Female birds in Alaska weigh an average of 14 pounds. Their nests are huge. One recorded nest was 20 feet deep and 10 feet across. It weighed more than a ton. The young hatch early and fly at eight to 12 weeks. They lack the distinctive white head until they are four or five, but their size will be the same as that of an adult.

"Bald eagles live for 20 years in the wild. They may go twice that long in captivity. Back in the 1950s they were placed on the endangered species list, mainly due to breeding problems caused by the chemical DDT. Concentrations of DDT in apex raptors caused calcium binding which resulted in thinning of eggshells and greatly reduced nesting success. When DDT was outlawed in the late '60s, the population of eagles and other raptors rebounded quickly. Adult bald eagles have few natural predators. Power lines get a few, as do wind turbines. Some are poisoned or accidentally trapped. For the most part, once they get past their first year, they are pretty safe. It is illegal for anyone other than a Native American to even possess an eagle feather, so predation by man is almost nonexistent. In years past that was not the case. An estimated 70,000 eagles were shot in Alaska between 1918-30. There was a $3 bounty paid for them prior to 1940. I guess the feds thought the birds ate too many salmon. Salmon are the reason Alaska is home to half of North America's eagle population. The best guess is between 50,000 and 60,000 birds, with the vast majority concentrated along the coast. Paxson hosts one of the better interior eagle populations. Bring your cameras; see you here!"

Stacey Cole's address is 529 W. Swanzey Road, Swanzey, 03446.


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