Monday, April 13, 2009

Eastern Red Bat

While out birding, botanizing, and otherwise exploring the forests of southern Ohio last Sunday, I had a remarkable bat experience. Slowly cruising a seldom-used forest road, I saw an Eastern Red Bat, Lasiurus borealis, flash over the car. Wow! It was mid-afternoon with crystal clear skies stretching forever – not the sort of situation one expects to see bats coursing about.

I dumped the car on the side of the road, and leaped out with camera in hand. It quickly became apparent that the bat was making regular patrols along the gap created by the road, and his pattern soon became apparent. By stationing myself along his flight path, I managed some interesting photos of a beast that doesn’t often provide this sort of opportunity for observation.

In this shot, he appears to be checking me out, and he probably is. Devilishly fast, this Red Bat seemed rather loafish in flight from afar, but up close it flashed by like a rocket, sometimes within fifteen feet. We were probably stirring up insects, and he was snatching them up. I took lots of photos, and few came out at all. Mostly, I came away with empty blue sky and trees, as it was largely a matter of luck and pointing the camera in the general direction of the critter.

You can see some of the diagnostic field marks of the Eastern Red Bat in this shot. They, especially the males, are a gorgeous rich rufous red overall, and that distinctive coloration was very apparent. They also have small white tufts of fur behind the wings and just forward of the wings, and you can see one of those patches in this photo. The hand-like skeletal structure is also visible through the thin, membranous skin of the wing.

After about fifteen minutes of active foraging, the bat shot up into some tall trees and disappeared. As they normally don’t remain on the wing long, I figured it was siesta time. After a while, I found him cemented to the bark of a Black Oak, Quercus velutina, about fifty feet up. He chose to perch by a patch of Hypotrachyna lichen, which made him a bit more visible. Red Bats are among the so-called “tree bats”, and roost on the bark or amongst the foliage of trees, where they blend extraordinarily well.

Like the above photo, a rather bad digiscoped image, but it wasn’t possible to get very near the animal. Lately, when one sees odd behavior with a bat, the recently discovered white nose syndrome might jump to mind. But that disease is not known among the tree bats, such as Eastern Red Bat. This species is quite migratory, and this individual may have recently returned from the south. Whatever the case, it was hungry, and red bats are well known to forage during the day, although more typically towards dusk.

We just got very lucky, and had a rare opportunity to closely observe one of our more interesting mammals in action.


dAwN said...

Very cool...How strange that is was out foraging in the daylight. Thanks for sharing the pics. I am amazed you found that red bat way up in the tree when it was resting.

nina at Nature Remains. said...

Good job to find it way up on that tree! Have never found a Red Bat--would love to come across one--

jhawknurse said...

We found 2 this morning, climbing up an oak tree. They have been snuggled up about 3-4 feet off the ground. You wouldn't see them unless you know they are there!