Search This Blog

Sunday, June 14, 2015


battyis the birders’ generic term for any “little brown bird” that flits through the underbrush, from branch to branch, in and out of foliage so quickly identification is impossible. LBBs make up a large portion of the avian world  (one-third of the color plates in my Birds of Washington field guide are coded with a brown half moon), so whether that flash of brown in the bush is a sparrow, thrush, or wren usually leads to an animated discussion among a flock of birders.

I had an LBB sighting of another sort the other day. My wife and I were sitting in the living room taking a breather from chores, making small talk when a floppy fluttering movement entered my peripheral vision. I looked out the deck door just in time to see a leathery dark form flop against the screen door and cling there. Sure enough we were having an LBB visitation. A little brown bat now clung to our backdoor screen. Bats are creatures of the night, nocturnal death to mosquitoes and other night flying bugs. “So,” I wondered, “why is this LBB flying about at midday and a bright, sunny one at that?” I stepped out on the deck to get a closer look.

Bats are not the stuff beauty pageants are made of; they’re sinister creatures perhaps best described by the adjective “creepy”: translucent, veiny wings that fold up like an oriental fan, hook-like claws, squat, mousy bodies with fur that seems to say “home sweet home to fleas” ears perky like a cat’s and a face only a bat mother could love (“blind as a bat” is surely mama bat’s blessing), a nose like plastic surgery gone wrong, and a miniature set of fangs no finger should tangle with.

Over the years here in the Valley we have had many batty experiences: being buzzed by them summer eves in our alcove; watching their twilight exodus from Bach’s barn, entire squadrons of flying mammals winging their way through the fading colors of a Valley sunset, silhouetted against the glow of evening like Halloween construction paper cutouts; up too close and personal when one squeezed its way between chimney and drywall and began swooping back and forth along the ceiling, sending the wife scurrying on all fours to crouch under the nearest piece of furniture. The intruder darted out to our sunroom where it adhered itself to a skylight well. I scooped it up in my insect net and released it outside. Nothing too unique about these encounters…bats, like moles, just a part of the Valley experience….

Until one winter evening during the Christmas season. Against the winter’s chill, we decided to build a cheery fire in the fireplace. Later that night the comforting warmth of crackling hemlock gave way to a smell so caustic it singed our Christmas spirit. It was then I remembered the living room bat experience: one bat, I reasoned, couldn’t have raised such a stink: it must belong to a colony. I investigated further and discovered bats were hibernating in the dead air space between the chimney and the inner wall, (thus the living room intruder).The stench? Bat urine and guano, the summer’s accumulation, warmed by the evening’s fire, which understandably was our last of the season.

One evening next spring I staked out our chimney and sure enough around dusk a number of bats exited the chimney flashing and took flight. The next day I called the County Extension Office (back in those friendlier pre-budget cut days) and jokingly asked if they had a batman I could talk to. My call was promptly transferred to their batcave. I was connected to the Extension’s bat expert, an enthusiastic fellow brimming with bat facts. We must have talked for half an hour. I shared our bat issues, told batman: nothing personal against bats but I would prefer not sharing the same living space with them. “I’m not surprised, he replied, “Bats seek out warm, sheltered places to winter…like your chimney space,” he chuckled and continued. “ A fellow in Goldbar called me to his home where I discovered a colony of seventy-five bats living in his attic. “Here’s what you do,” he advised me, “Go out this evening, count the bats as they come out, and note their exit point. The next evening count them again and when your recount matches the previous number, climb up and plug the access hole.” At dusk the next evening remove the plug to allow any stragglers to exit and replug the opening.”

The stakeout at dusk. First one bat took flight, then another, followed by a third, a fourth…. They shot out of the flashing like winged fireballs from a roman candle. Thirty-two I counted before the activity ceased.  Thirty-two; now I didn’t quite know what to do. That guy in Goldbar had seventy-five. Should I try for a record? Just a fleeting thought. As per batman’s instructions, the next night I noted the exit of thirty-two leathery creatures, then climbed the ladder and plugged their access. If memory serves, the next day a brace of bats, probably juveniles, puzzled over being displaced, clung on the siding by their old nest. Another wriggled its way under a bamboo shade on one of the sunroom windows. The follow-up unplugging, I recall, yielded no more bats, and except for a re-roofing project which uncovered and scattered two more small colonies living beneath the old shakes, our LBB issues disappeared.

Until the other day when our little visitor came out of nowhere and fastened itself to our screen door which leads back to the question: “What brought this creature of the night to our screen door at midday?” Unless its colony is disturbed, a bat flying in daytime is highly unusual and though no cause for undue alarm, warrants caution. Bats are among the few warm-blooded mammals known to be carriers of rabies, and strange bat behavior may indicate the animal has health issues. The County Extension’s batman told me he could not recall a rabid bat being found in Snohomish County; regardless bats should not be handled barehanded dead or alive (remember the tiny mouth with tiny fangs?). Bearing all this in mind, I brought out the insect net, scooped the LBB gently from the screen, carried it to the back of the property, and carefully shook it out in the tall grass. I was careful not to touch it.little brown bat

Note: if you have bat issues, questions about Pacific Northwest LBBs, or are just plain batty, you’ll find the website batsnorthwest. org helpful.

Print this post

No comments:

Post a Comment