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Wednesday, 19 April 2006 00:00

Winged migration of a different sort

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After getting all the two-leggeds to bed last night I went out to the yard to wrangle the four-leggeds. Dusk was slipping into night. The full “fish moon” was climbing above the mountains on the southeastern horizon.

Native Americans had names for each of the full moons. These names were different from different regions and different tribes. The April full moon was known as the full “pink” moon as its appearance coincided with the blooming of grass pink or wild ground phlox. Other names for the April moon include “sprouting grass” moon, “egg” moon and my personal favorite “fish” moon. Coastal tribes called the April moon the fish moon because it appeared about the time shad would fill the streams and rivers heading upstream to spawn.

I remember April nights on Horseshoe Lake in Louisiana. We would get to the old shotgun shack that was the camp around dusk and fire up the grill. Then we would get in the johnboat and head out on the lake. We would kill the motor and just drift along in the twilight listing for the telltale splash that would tell us the buffalo (fish) were spawning.

If we heard the splashes – that sounded like people falling out of the cypress trees – we would begin to set our nets. If we heard nothing it was back to the hot embers and a grilled dinner. After dinner and a few fish tales we would head back onto the lake for another listen. The fish would usually spawn sometime in April so fish moon resonates with me.

But the wildlife swimming under this fish moon was stroking through the air. As I walked down by the garden, a large bat fluttered by just a few feet above my head. I stopped and watched and my small backyard was filled with these acrobatic insect hawkers. I broke some small sticks and would toss the inch-long pieces into the air and watch the bats buzz in to check them out. By this time night was settling in. I couldn’t tell for sure how many bats were in my little hole in the woods but there were surely a dozen or more.

I can only guess as to the identity of these furry fliers. Size suggests one of four species – big brown, red, hoary or silver-haired. Large is a relative term and we’re talking about bats. The above species are four of the larger bats of the Southern Appalachians. Color was of no use as an identification tool in the twilight. From a cursory study of habitats and habits I believe my visitors last evening were silver-haired bats.

I believe both hoary and red bats can be eliminated because of the feeding habits exhibited. Reds and hoarys are often noted for their high and direct flight while feeding. Hoarys are also noted as being one of the last species of bats to appear in the evening.

Big browns do appear at dusk and feed near the ground with a slow, erratic, fluttery flight pattern. But in most cases big browns are associated with buildings. Plus they are not highly migratory and since there is no history of big browns in my yard, I eliminated them.

That leaves the silver-haired bat and they seem to be a good fit. These are relatively large bats – 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 inches long with a 10 to 12 inch wingspan. They emerge early in the evening and are slow-flying. They also forage near the ground. Siver-haireds are fairly solitary and uncommon woodland creatures but they do migrate in small groups and are often found in the Southern Appalachians during April.

Hopefully these guys found enough insects to keep them around for another evening. I plan on delaying Izzy’s bedtime this evening so she can do some bat watching. We didn’t have any luck calling owls last night.

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