July 28, 2008

Western Big Eared Bat Found in Barn

Posted by Steve N.

I finally identified this bat. Western Big Eared Bat (
Plecotus townsendii). Look at those funky long ears! At first I thought it was a Long Eared Bat (Myotis Evotis), but their pelage is darker and the ears not as long. It is using the barn, the room next to the swallow's nest, for a day roost. This bat is all by his/her self and has been hanging out (no pun intended) on the ceiling. We are very lucky to have it occupying our barn because they are usually seen east of the Cascades. In fact, on the east coast of the U.S. these bats are endangered. I wonder how far it came to move into our barn...

The scats I found range from about 1/8 in.-3/4 in. long. Note the color of the scat in the photo below. These bats feed primarily on moths. He/she found a great spot. I hit and kill about 50 moths every night driving up the road to the campus.

Getting a decent picture of this bat was a challenge. I tried to get close a few times and the bat would fly around the room, up and down, fast and slow. A few times it flew so close to my head I felt the wind produced by its flapping wings. Western Big Ears are extremely versatile in flight. They vary from slow, long wing flaps (cruising) to quick and short flaps (hunting). They have even been seen hovering!

-Steve (photos courtesy of author)


1. www.batsnorthwest.org
2. Maser, Chris. 1998. Mammals of the Pacific Northwest. Oregon State University Press

July 27, 2008

Wolf pack confirmed in Washington State

Posted by Jason K.

Exciting News! - a wolf pack has been documented living in the Methow Valley in the north-central Cascade Mountains of Washington! (which is only about a four hour drive / 80 miles from Alderleaf)

Here's the link to the Conservation Northwest announcement:
Wolf Pack Confirmed in North Central Washington

I've found evidence of dispersing individual wolves in the Cascades here and there over the last ten years, though no evidence of resident animals. Its so exciting to know there is now an established pack!

July 25, 2008

July Wildlife Tracking Apprenticeship day

Posted by Jason K.

We had quite the adventure during the July meeting of the Wildlife Tracking Apprenticeship. I took the crew out from the Alderleaf property to study carnivore sign while exploring new territory.

We started out the day looking at some bobcat sign on the Alderleaf property. It wasn't too much later that we came across this:

A tree that a black bear had tore apart to feed on the inner bark (cambium). We counted at least 20 trees like this in the area. Cambium is actually a popular springtime food for bears.

Further down the trail, near a small unnamed wetland, we found an area where at least one bobcat had been marking extensively with scrapes and scat:

Mossy areas seemed to be preferred (probably because the moss holds scents longer than other substrates in the area). We eventually made it out to a large beautiful nearby lake:

and learned that it's inhabited by a healthy river otter population, as we found numerous otter scats. This one contains crayfish remains:

The best unexpected discovery of the day was these:

Aplodontia (mountain beaver) tracks. The top track is a front foot, the bottom track is a hind foot.

These shy nocturnal animals, native only to the northwest, spend most of their time underground, and come out to feed on shrubs. They live in the forest and rarely venture far from their tunnel entrances. Finding their tracks is uncommon. We were lucky that this one happened to walk through a dried up mud puddle.

They have very unique tracks. Since they are prolific diggers, the front foot has large claws and is curved inward. The hind looks similar to a squirrel's hind track, as both species are in the rodent order.

Looking forward to next month, as we will be focusing on trailing skills.


You can find out more about the Wildlife Tracking Apprenticeship at: http://www.wildernesscollege.com/wildlife-tracking-apprenticeship.html

July 23, 2008

Persevering Barn Swallows

Posted by Steve N.

In the barn a few weeks ago, frustrated at failed friction fire attempts, I heard a faint peep from above. I saw a nest stuck against the frame of the roof near the center of the barn. It was made of mud pellets and straw and was heavily lined with downy feathers. Inside were three baby birds I had not yet identified.

With some help from Jason, I learned that these were barn swallows. Barn swallows (Hirundo rustica), grow to about 7 inches and have a metallic blue backside with a deep orange front. They also have long tail streamers, which are feathers adapted for fast, accurate flight.

As I climbed up a bookcase to get a better look at the babies, an adult flew into the barn and regurgitated some food into one hatchling's mouth. The other two about peeped their heads off, and as the adult left the nest she saw me. Her regular work interrupted, she began alarming and circling my head, flapping restlessly. The call was like an annoying, high pitched, loud hiccup. Annoying to the point where I let them be for the night.

The Barn swallow's aerodynamic anatomy allows it to fly quickly through the air, and thus contribute to the ecosystem (and my peace of mind) by nabbing pesky mosquitoes and other insects in flight. At any time during the day, one can look up to the sky from the barn entrance and see several barn swallows in flight. They are known to nest in colonies and participate in cooperative breeding, in which helpers, along with mom and dad, will often feed young.

The following day, I returned to the barn to find two of the three babies dead on the floor of the barn. The third, still very small, repetitiously stepped up to the nest's edge and flapped. Two adults, perched on the lights to either side of the nest sang and occasionally flew up to poke at the youngster's wings. The following day I found the last of the brood dead beyond the other two corpse. Kerry graciously gave them a memorial and removed them from the barn.

Activity in the barn slowed the following week and I went back to playing with fire... just smoke, rather. On the 4th of July, Filip informed me that, since it is early in the summer, these swallows may try for young again. As predicted, a second brood of four nestlings has been produced. These babies have a fluffed bundle of hay to land on if they get the urge to take off early. Today, there were only two in the nest and no evidence of any dead birds. The twp remaining are beginning to get color in their anterior feathers and the eyes are open wide, as the photo above shows.

There is a lesson to be taken from these swallows: perseverance. Their young were lying dead on the floor of their home, but instead of mourning, these swallows got back to business. Their display of drive and dedication is apparent in their nesting and feeding behavior, and this second brood seems to be successful. I took this lesson and used it in making fire, and after ruining spindles, carving notches too small to hold a coal, and having five coals go out on me, I finally made fire... the catch... with store bought materials!
-Steve Nicolini (photos courtesy of author)

sources: -Alden, Peter, and Dennis Paulson. 1998. National Audubon Society Field Guide to the Pacific Northwest. Chanticleer Press, Inc.
-Ehrlich, Paul R., David S. Dobkin, and Darryl Wheye. 1988. The Birder's Handbook. Paul Ehrlich, David S. Dobkin, Darryl Wheye (self copyright)

July 13, 2008

New blog with Alderleaf students and staff!

Welcome to the new blog with students and staff at Alderleaf Wilderness College. Stay tuned for stories, experiences, expressions, and information from the campus.