week one: 06/02-06/08 part two

thursday: emma and i went to the nearby ninigret wildlife refuge to check on a pen of juvenile new england cottontail rabbits.

File:New England cottontail.jpg
new england cottontail. credit: wikimedia

the new england cottontail is, for various bureaucratic reasons, not yet listed as an endangered species, but is in fact endangered due to declining habitat ranges and competition from the eastern cottontail, a visually identical species nonnative to the area but apparently able to outcompete the new england in the same niche.

n.e.c. holding pen. one may be seen, with difficulty, in this picture.
n.e.c. holding pen. one may be seen, with difficulty, in this picture.

the four specimens in the pen came from the rhode island zoo, but i think the coastal program is trying to establish a breeding stock on a nearby island that future rabbits can be pulled from to repopulate new england. we set up camera traps to observe their movement between the mini-pen they were first housed in and the larger 2-acre pen we released them into that day.

later, i drove on back roads across almost half of rhode island as a dry run for a bat survey route that night.  similar surveys have been and are being conducted across new england to assess the populations of cave-dwelling bats that have been decimated by white-nose syndrome, a poorly understood fungal disease. the survey measures ultrasonic bat cries with the anabat:

the anabat. surprisingly expensive. credit: titley scientific website

we had to jerry-rig this little device to the roof of our car in a plastic green bucket and tie the whole thing down with kayak cords. on top of our white hybrid van, gliding along silently at a constant rate of twenty miles per hour, it probably baffled onlookers.

driving along narrow, sometimes unpaved and unmarked roads while trying to navigate using a complex list of incomprehensive directions cluttered with marginalia was difficult. because emma had to pick up her car on the way back, i drove back to the pond house alone, which, due to my inadequate navigational/driving skills, was more stressful than i care to admit. by the time i reached the wooded gravel trail that led to the house, i was thinking solely of eating dinner and taking a break, and wasn’t at all expecting, as i turned a bend, to be faced with this sight:

view of watchaug pond from the van
view of watchaug pond from the van

in contrast to the wooded, enclosing path that had preceded it,  the kettle pond was both visually refreshing and comforting in a way that, upon retrospection, was due to my opinion of the pond house and its eponymous l.b.o.w. having changed without my conscious knowledge from being temporary quarters to something of a domicile, or, to use a less fitting but more emotionally evocative phrase, a home.

after dinner, emma drove the bat survey route while i navigated. despite the cloudy, moonless sky, and occasional light showers (that i would have been much more worried about had i known then how much the anabat cost), i’m not proud but also not ashamed to say that we were only slightly lost three times.

friday: after a highly educational f.i.s.s.a. training course, we looked over the results from one camera trap, and deleted any photos that were triggered by plants moving in the wind, or other non-rabbit activity.

one example of what the camera trap caught
one example of what the camera trap caught

there were more than 10,000 photos on one card alone; needless to say, we didn’t finish the task, although looking at photos of baby rabbits is hardly a task in the first place.

we also extracted the bat survey results from the anabat and looked at them with the appropriately named program analook, which shows bat cries in the form of a spectrogram, with (i think) octaves/second on the y-axis and time on the x-axis. this is an example of a result:

bat call
picture obtained from this website: http://www.nrri.umn.edu/bats/methods/detectors.asp

achieving the results we did from this survey, i felt like a prehistoric shaman happening upon an auspicious arrangement of scattered lizard bones, or seeing a favorable confluence of stars in the night sky.  though multiple factors: 1) inexperience, 2) inclement weather, 3) unreliable technology, were working against us, we managed to find more bats than our supervisor said she had ever seen on that route.


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