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Friday, April 30, 2010

Spring Fallout & Wildlife Rescue

I have two stories to report, one is good news about migration and the other is about a tragedy averted.

The winds were perfect last night for a big migrant flight. The cold weather and north winds had frustrated many northbound migrants efforts to continue to their breeding grounds and they've been bottled up somewhere south of NYC. Last night an abrupt shift in winds and temperatures along the east coast had the effect of suddenly flooding Prospect Park with new birds.

I didn't get into the park until around 8am and caught up with Doug near the Vale of Cashmere. He had been out at sunrise and described to me the spectacle of hundreds of tiny songbirds flying in from the south and dropping into Prospect Park. By the time I arrived on my bicycle, there were songs coming from high in the trees, from the middle story and from on the ground. Yellow-rumped Warblers seemed to be trilling from everywhere. As I pedaled from 5th Street, passed the bandshell and along Center Drive I heard Blue-headed Vireo, Wood Thrush, Northern Parula, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler and Ovenbird. It was truly amazing and I could probably write several pages describing the sounds and behavior of all the birds I encountered ... but something else happened in the park this morning that left a much greater impression on me...

Doug and I were winding down the morning (he was heading out of town, I had an appointment) and rushing down to the south end of the park to check the Peninsula and Lookout Hill. As we entered the Lullwater path, just beyond the Nethermead Meadow, I noticed something small and brown hanging from a Locust tree, over the edge of the water. I thought, "Great, another bird caught in monofilament." Fisherman in the park frequently get their lines tangled in trees or shrubs and don't clean it up. I've posted a few stories about rescuing birds that get stuck in these unintentional traps, but what I saw this morning made me both angry and upset. A length of fishing line with a small hook on the end was hanging from the tree with a Little Brown Bat snared by his thin, tail membrane.

I walked down to the edge of the water to assess the situation. The bat was caught by a 2 foot length of fishing line tangled in a young tree about 15 feet above the ground. I thought that I might be able to bend the branch down, so climbed up in the tree as high as I could. Unless I gained about 75 pounds immediately, there was no way I would be able to bend the branch. Doug was in a hurry, so left me alone to figure out how to rescue the bat. I called wildlife rescuers Bobby and Cathy Horvath, but got their voicemail. Out of desperation I called the city's 311 line. After a 15 minute conversation where the operator filled out official forms for submission to the "proper agency", I realized that nobody was going to come to this animal's rescue. Several birders came by while I was in the Lullwater, but nobody had any useful suggestions. I rode over to the Nature Center in the Boathouse, hoping that someone there could help.

The center was closed, but Jonathan was working and, when I told him about the bat, he said he'd be right over.
Jonathan came over with a telescoping pole, some gloves, wire cutters and miscellaneous tools. The pole was a little short, so we taped a section of aluminum molding to the end of it. I thought that I might be able to release some of the monofilament from the branches, so the bat would be closer to the ground, and we could reach him. It was really awkward trying to position the 20 foot long pole without hitting the bat. At one point, I bumped the bat and he grabbed a hold of the pole, which made matters worse. I couldn't lower the pole because the section of fishing line that he was attached to was too short and would pull on the hook. It was around that time that I noticed Jonathan was yelling across the water to a couple of park workers in one of those small, eco-vehicles that you see around city parks. They turned out to be the veritable cavalry.

Martin and Mark work for the Prospect Park Alliance's Natural Resources Crew. Martin is very experienced in wildlife rescue and their appearance wasn't a coincidence. Trish and Doug had seen them on Lookout Hill, told them about the trapped bat and sent them our way. As I stood at the edge of the water, holding a ridiculously long aluminum pole with a Little Brown Bat clutching on to it for dear life, these guys sprung into action. After Martin attached a rope to the tree's branch, Mark grabbed a bow saw and began slowly cutting into the branch. The plan was to cut partway into the branch, then lower it towards the water, while I guided the bat (now firmly holding onto the pole) towards the shore. It's great when a plan comes together, because after only a few minutes, we had the bat on the ground and Martin ready with his wire cutters to clip the barb off the fishing hook.

Martin was having some trouble clipping the hook because the bat was trying to gnaw through it himself. I suggested holding him out of the way, so Martin had a clear shot at the barb. He gave me a leather glove so I wouldn't get bit. Little Brown Bats are a lot smaller up close than I expected. Its head was only about the size of the first joint on my thumb and it reminded me of a really cute field mouse. I held one wing to the side and kept his sharp teeth away from the clippers. After a few, tense minutes, Martin had removed the hook. Fortunately, the hook hadn't torn the bat's tail membrane and only left a small hole, which should heal quickly. I carried him over to a tree to allow him to climb to safety. At first, he didn't seem to want to leave my gloved hand, so Martin picked him up and placed him firmly against the bark. The Little Brown Bat quickly got the idea and scurried up the tree and out of sight.

We may have saved only one, 12 gram animal, but they all matter. It's sometimes hard to see, but there are a lot people out there who really care about the welfare of wildlife, even in New York City. Without the help of the Audubon Nature Center, the Natural Resources Crew and a few thoughtful Brooklyn birders, the future of one Little Brown Bat would have been hopeless.


Location: Prospect Park
Observation date: 4/30/10
Number of Species: 73

Wood Duck
Great Blue Heron
Green Heron
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Broad-winged Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Chimney Swift
Belted Kingfisher
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Eastern Kingbird
Blue-headed Vireo
Barn Swallow
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
House Wren
Winter Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Hermit Thrush
Wood Thrush
Gray Catbird
Blue-winged Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Northern Parula
Yellow Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Pine Warbler
Prairie Warbler
Palm Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Worm-eating Warbler
Northern Waterthrush
Louisiana Waterthrush
Common Yellowthroat
Scarlet Tanager
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow


Yojimbot said...

Nice save!

cathy hovath said...

Good picture of the bat . I am glad that the info that I gave you about how to release the bat worked out for you and the little guy !

Stephanie J said...

Hi - hopefully you see this. My husband found a little brown bat in our daughter's (empty) pool this morning - July 12, 2010 - and it seems to be pretty weak. My husband has since put the little guy in an empty Kleenex box, and I'm wondering what to do with it... there are often bats around our house at night, but I'm hesitant to set this guy out in the trees, because during the day, there are a few cats that prowl around & I'm worried they'll try to eat the bat. I've searched the internet for what to do - and pretty much the only suggestions are to take it to a rehab clinic... but since we're in a small town, and I'm pretty sure there's no vet working in the area right now, I'm stuck! Any ideas? If so, please email me!!! Thanks!!!

Rob Jett said...

First, only handle the bat with gloves, both because they have very sharp teeth, plus, if it is rabid, it can be transmitted via their fur. I'm not an expert, so perhaps Cathy Horvath can offer some advice. Check their facebook page here:

Rob Jett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sarah Beck said...

I am looking at photos of bats for some illustrations I'm doing and stumbled across your story which I very much enjoyed reading.
Thank-you for saving the bat! :)

* Lavinia* said...

Thank you for helping this litte brown bat!

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