Monday, October 30, 2006

Red Bat -- Then and Now

Red Bat - Laciurus borealis

Kellye Rosenheim, who is leading Wendy Paulson's Central Park bird walks when Wendy is in Washington [her husband, Henry Paulson, was appointed Secretary of the Treasury last June] had an interesting encounter with a red bat a week ago. There was one detail in her description that jogged my memory about something I'd read about the same species of bat.

Here, in her own words, is Kellye's well-observed description of her bat encounter[1], followed by a paragraph written by a noted ornithologist fifty years earlier[2], followed by a PS from Marie[3.]

[1] Picture this: 8:30 am, Sunday, October 22, a little chilly. I had a friend visiting from Colorado so we were watching this cardinal in a tree just ahead. All of a sudden, something hissed at it and I thought it was a snake coming out of the leaves to strike at it. But I put my binoculars on it, and it was a bat, with its side to me and the "snake's body" that I thought I saw was its wing extended out.
I could see its face. Its little mouth was open with the teeth showing. It was hanging upside down, not, I believe from the branch, but clinging to a big leaf, kind of hiding behind it. The fur was red all over its body (about 4 inches long) and the skin on its wing was black except where the bones underneath were -- there it was reddish, like its fur. It was just awesome. Eventually, it retracted its wing and went back into hiding, but not before a hermit thrush dove at it as it would at an owl.

As for where it was, exactly, let's say you want to walk down to the Point. You're on the sidewalk running east-west from the Boathouse, and you turn toward The Point on the path. You stop off near that railing on the right and step out onto the rock cliff.

Looking down, you see the swampy area below. If you were to look out at eye level, you'd see the willows on the left, but straight ahead there's a tree, I don't know what kind -- not an oak or an evergreen -- that has oval leaves, pointed at the end, about 4 inches long and the leaves hang down vertically from the twig branches they grow on. They grow in a line down the branch.

The bat was hanging onto the leaf near its stem, or so it appeared. I'm quite certain it was not grabbing onto the little twig branch because we would have seen its feet. The bat itself was at eye level, if you're standing on the cliff there.
It kind of looked like a dead leaf behind some green leaves. In fact, I should say, the leaves on its tree were all still green.

[2] Here's the article I remembered when I read Kellye's description:

In the the August, 1956 issue of the Journal of Mammalogy in an article on page 442 entitled Migration Records of the Red Bat, Lasiurus borealis, the ornithologist John K. Terres wrote:

"On September 1, 1955, I caught a live female red bat with my hands that I saw hanging from the branch of a wild black cherry tree in Central Park, New York City. The bat was only about eight feet above the ground, and bore a striking resemblance to a dead brown leaf. It hung from a twig among a cluster of green leaves, and was asleep when I caught it. I examined it for ectoparasites but found none. I returned it to its perch by putting its feet to the twig, which it clutched, and after a momentary shuffling of its wings, seemed to go back to sleep. When I came back to look for it the next day it was gone." [Note: John K. Terres wrote The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of N.A. Birds, a fine reference resource many of you may have]

[3] PS from Marie: Yesterday morning I went to the spot Kellye described, and stood on that rocky ledge looking down into the Oven. There are only two trees that could possibly be her bat tree, a Black Cherry, pretty much straight ahead, [somewhat shiny green leaves] and a Hackberry with a branch growing out and almost touching the rock. I think it more likely that the bat was in the Black Cherry.

A thought occurred to me as I stood there. Could this Black Cherry have been John Terres' very tree in which he saw his bat back in 1955? I figure that even if he had been quite tall he couldn't have reached out and removed a sleeping bat that was 8 feet up in a tree. Consequently, he must have been standing on an elevation where the trees' higher branches could be seen at eye level. Like the rocky ledge looking down into the Oven, where sharp-eyed Kellye Rosenheim saw her first red bat.