Leadville Life

One, Two, Three Bats at the Fish Hatchery?!

By Mary Jelf, Leadville Today Contributor

On a recent moonlit night, a group of volunteers gathered in the cool air, armed with lawn chairs and clickers to gaze at the wall of the Leadville National Fish Hatchery, to observe and count bats.

Bats_Fish Hatchery_Mary Jelf_Leadville Today

Bat Counters sit at the ready with clickers in hand waiting for the bats to leave their roost in the ceiling of the Leadville National Fish Hatchery building and be counted. Photo: Leadville Today/Mary Jelf

There is a maternity roost of little brown bats in the top of the historic building where bats hang and keep each other warm during the day.  Around twilight, they leave the roost in search of food, which is generally insects.  According to Jeni Windorski of the US Forest Service (USFS), each bat can eat its own weight in insects every night, making them very useful in keeping the insect population in check.

Why count the bats?  To keep an eye on changes in their population numbers.  The Myotis lucifugus species is being affected by a disease called white nose syndrome, which started in the Eastern US, but is spreading westward.  By counting bats at different locations during their summer residency, the USFS can work to identify what factors may change how they live.

Bats tend to roost in high parts of buildings, caves, and mines.  Windorski reported that when places are found to have bats, efforts are made to keep those spaces open for the animals with bat gates and other methods.  When the roof at the fish hatchery building was recently updated, the new design took into account the need for bats to enter and exit from both sides of the building.

Lin Denham participated in a bat count recently at another location where her post only counted two bats.  “I wanted to see more bats,” she replied, when asked why she came back for another round.

In addition to actually counting the bats, Windorski also sets up an SM2 Bat Song Meter, generically known as a “bat detector”, to record their ultrasonic echolocations.  These vibrations are not audible to humans, but can be analyzed in a lab to identify bat species by their unique signature.  If we could actually hear this, it would be loud like a smoke alarm.  During the count, Windorski also uses a device that picks up the ultrasonic waves and translates them into a frequency we can hear as clicks.  There is a ramping up of clicks just before a bat emerges from the roost to help with a successful exit. Windorski says that there is also a rev of clicks when a bat gets close to prey.  They send extra clicks to hone in on an insect, then knock it unconscious with their wings, catch it in the membrane that stretches between their legs and tail (the uropatagium), and scoop it into their mouths.

Bat Detector_Fish Hatchery_Mary Jelf_Leadville Today

Doesn’t everyone have one? The SM2 Bat Song Meter.

When counting bats, one must be vigilant and not count the ones that circle back and roost near the exit for a time.  They come out as singles, or in groups of two or three.  It can also be tricky not to count bats that exit from one side of the building, but then cross over to the other side.  The trick is to keep your eye right on the exit point, then make just one click per bat. 

During the count, observers noted that some bats were exiting sooner than expected, when conditions were lighter.  Windorski noted that sometimes scouts are sent out before the rest of the colony to check conditions and report back.  It also could be caused by hunger, since a big storm the night before may have cut short their feeding time.

The count ends when it is either too dark to see the bats or after ten minutes pass from the last bat seen.  The numbers from clickers at each exit point are added and average to get an accurate number.  The number from this count was 499 bats.  This is lower than the 811 bats counted earlier in the summer, which is normal.

“The babies are mostly grown now, which would mean less total bats here, “said Windorski.  “The cooler weather can also cause an earlier start to migration.”

After an evening paying such close attention to bats and learning about their habits, it was interesting to note that they live this way, each and every day, whether visitors to the fish hatchery – or counters with clickers – are there to notice or not. 

LT Contributor Mary Jelf practices living joyously in the high country. She relies upon beginner’s luck and the kindness of strangers. Some days she turns thoughts into words to share to make the world a better place.advice from a bat



Ranchers Benefit from Conservation Knowledge

By Mary Jelf, Leadville Today Contributor

Ranchers, small landowners, and Rockies Rock school kids recently attended an educational pasture walk sponsored by the Lake County Conservation District and hosted at the ranches of Mary Smith and Ray and Joan Dawson.

Dawson Pasture Walk_Jelf

Ranchers and community members enjoyed the recent Pasture Walk at Lake County’s historic Mary Smith Ranch and the Ray and Joan Dawson Ranch (pictured here). The tour was led by the the Lake County Conservation District. Photo: Leadville Today/Mary Jelf

Bill Gardiner and Josh Tashiro from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) facilitated the tours and discussion. At the NRCS, their job is to work with private landowners on plans to create conditions for optimal harmony between plants, animals, and the goals of the landowner.  This form of land management involves intentional rotation of grazing animals on small parts of a larger pasture system.  The scheduling controls the disruption of the natural growing of the plants and allows the plants time to regrow and flourish before the next grazing period.  Animals are used as the harvesting system to do the kind of work needed, exactly when and where it is wanted by the landowner.  The advantage of using animals for this purpose is that they end up well fed with just a fence and maybe a whistle, while machines require gas, maintenance, and paid workers to operate them.

Pasture Walk_Bill Kneeling_Jelf

Bill Gardiner from the Natural Resources Conservation Service examines some of the hay in the field.

Pasture management plans begin with going to the fields and finding out what’s there.  A plant species list is compiled, and soil depth and composition are determined.  After this inventory, questions are asked to determine what has taken place to create the conditions for those plants to grow in that way.  Then there are conversations to understand the owner’s time, knowledge, lifestyle, and desires for the land.  Finally, a plan can be made to optimize the natural processes of growth with all of those factors in mind.

Gardiner cautioned against using the word “weed” when discussing any particular plant, because people tend to use that word to name anything they don’t want.  Assigning some plants as “good” and others as “bad” is just philosophical, depending on what someone wants to see or what animals want to eat.  Tashiro also cautioned on removing any particular plant from a system based on a single characteristic, without understanding how that plant works with the others in the system. For instance, some plants might not be highly palatable for animals, but may help with water infiltration or prevent soil erosion.  Removing everything initially thought of as a “weed” could have unforeseen consequences.  The functioning of the pasture system as a whole is more important that any one piece, such as a particular plant species.  It is more useful to work toward conditions that you do want, rather than working to eliminate what you do not.

Participants were able to learn about these practices first-hand from walking the ranches with the owners and the conservationists. On Mary Smith’s ranch, she explained that there are three different pasture areas.  Currently four horses and four burros graze in two of the three areas.  As the group walked the land (and were reminded to stay away from the burros), they noticed differences in the three pastures.  They determined which differences were related to climate factors like moisture, which were related to grazing, and which were related to the work Smith had done in clearing out areas formerly full of debris. Pasture Walk_Barbed WireGardiner explained that since only a few animals had range over a large area with a wide variety of plants, the animals could be very picky about eating only their favorite plants for most of the time they were there.  As the “desirable” plants were eaten down, other plants flourished and made it harder for the desirable plants to regrow well.  Smith learned that by dividing each pasture into even smaller plots and grazing animals on the smaller plots for shorter periods of time before moving them, animals would have to eat down a wider variety of plants and the whole system would regrow differently when the animals were moved.

In comparison, the Dawson Ranch is mostly left to grow on its own until cutting time.  There is also a smaller section where three horses graze for a few months in the summer.  Standing on the fence line between two areas, it was striking to see that the plants on the untouched side were taller and more expressed, and that there were more different kinds of species on the grazed side.  As the curious horses wandered over to the group, participants watched them graze their favorite grasses from in between the other species, which apparently were able to take hold from the continued mowing down of the tastier grasses.  Mr. Dawson was interested in the idea of dividing the grazing portion of his land into even smaller parcels and limiting the time animals spent in each area to see how that would affect regrowth and variety of species.

The services the NRCS offers to land owners are free, and can even include financial assistance in purchasing fencing necessary to implement the plan.  More about their work can be found at their website, www.co.nrcs.usda.gov.

Dawson Pasture Walk_Kids_Jelf

Ranchers, landowners, and Rockies Rock school kids recently attended an educational pasture walk at the Dawson Ranch (pictured) sponsored by the Lake County Conservation District.

LT Contributor Mary Jelf practices living joyously in the high country. She relies upon beginner’s luck and the kindness of strangers. Some days she turns thoughts into words to share to make the world a better place.

One response to “Leadville Life

  1. Nice writeup for Edith Seppi. She was the best “love Leadville” you could have. Dee Roe

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