Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A Million Ghost Faced Bats

Sunday May 28, 2006, Tamaulipas, Mexico
Sunday we had breakfast and coffee and met an Audobon director, looked at the cabina owner’s photo slide show of snakes and a gruesome jackass that had been killed by a jaguar. We left Gomez Farias around 10 and headed to Quintero Cave. Along the way we stopped to examine and take photos of a very interesting tree. It flowered along the trunk, had branches and leaves similar to ocotillo. Air plants, or epiphytes, and flat cactus pads adorned the branches throughout. It was quite unique, decorated and draped by climbing, clinging, prickly arms. As we took it in, we admired one interesting growth after another. I pressed a couple of the flowers between a sheet of paper in my field guide and saved a small branch with leaves as well. Then on to the cave. Easy to drive to, steps to walk up, graffiti all around. Quite a popular destination. Inside the cave was pretty massive, and it was fairly extensive with domed spots used by certain bat species that like to roost in cup-like domes. Inside there was a huge mexican free-tailed colony, a small cluster of about 20 hairy legged vampire bats, we could see by their rounded ears. Also, glossophaga. The cave had at one time had quite a bit of standing water, as evidenced by the water line, several feet up the wall. But perhaps for 40 years since landowners down the hill had laid a pipe to send the water down to livestock, or agriculture maybe, the cave had dried up save for a couple pools in tiny ceynote like bowls containing endemic crustaceans moving their luminescent bodies like ghosts on curtain like appendages.
Next we headed to cave two of the day.

Quintero Gruta
Bat pollinated tree – hard fruits, look like citrus but more goard like, make maracas. Flowers from trunk, epiphytes adorn, flat long cactus intertwine, interesting leaflets like ocotillo
Red bellied squirrel
Anis orioles
Kiskadee (like)
Target range
Cuevo Quintero ~ approx 12 species use through year; had ~100,000 Tadarida brasiliensis at site visit, also hairy legged vampire (15-20), and Glossophagus

The water level in some areas was several feet, but maybe 40 years has been dry piped for agriculture. Many domes, limestone cups smooth rocks.

We sat at the mouth of the cave and discussed how to go about affecting the practice of guano mining in Mexico. From my notes: there is a permit process in place in Mexico, maybe oversight is within their energy department. In the US, the Lacey Act is that which has the potential to legislate the movement of guano and appropriate collection practices.

Guano Exports – investigate DOI USFWS Office of International Affairs, Customs, Department of Ag
Recommended action: Take action with Position Paper, cover -
*Reason why this is an important issue
*Biological impacts
*Be vigilant about the issue
*Document the size of the problem

as we drove to the next site, near Aldama, we listened to Louis Armstrong – when you’re smiling, hello dolly
Passed fields of blue agave
Tamaulipas crow
Fig tree
Black vulture
Black iguana
Heard Gypsy Kings along long bumpy gravel road to Rancho ???
Yellow necked woodpecker
Cahuamas (beer quart), Mayemos (pacifico…not sure what this note meant)

Stopped off at two large ceynotes, first containing 2 native fish, crustaceans, across way was elephant foot tree, a diver was killed there.
Second ceynote had a grebe and tree duck.
Mot mot
Elegant trogon
White tailed deer
Black tree duck
Red-billed pigeon
Gray fox
Hawk with barred tail (roadside)
La asulfrosa ranch (the water has a lot of sulfur)
Los Cuarteles Cueva – Huge and extensive. Five species were there when we visited, plus opossom, and lots of dermestids canvassing thick, spongy guano. At least a million ghost faced bats fly in a large room, their naked babies clinging to the ceiling. I'd like to say that the little ghost faced bats were cute, but they were probably the strangest most ghoulish looking offspring of any creature ever. Their helplessness, however, endeared me to stay low, quiet and ready to help any that fell from the ceiling in the bat mayhem. The cave was very humid, warm, with a few openings where trees have fallen through, and other openings to the surface. It is the most impressive, extensive cave I've ever been in and I am a little freaked out that we may get lost forever in the maze. We don't. We capture 2 mormoops and 1 lesser mustached bat with a handnet and drove to Hotel Mansion Presas del Rey in Aldama, Room 107. Flew bats in the hotel room to photograph, with SportsCenter highlights of the Suns and Dallas NBA playoff series game in the background. No bats were injured during the photoshoot and they were released back into the night immediately after. That was a fabulous, one of a kind experience - flying bats in a hotel room, that is. Mormoops are gentle and mellow, have long legs. At rest, their bodies hang pendandant; uropotagium extends and tail comes out of membrane, can extend and pull back in.

Ghost-faced bat (Mormoops megalophylla)
Lesser mustached bat (Pteronotus personatus)Common Mustached bat (Pteronotus parnellii)
Lesser long-nosed bat (Leptonycteris curasoae)
Vampires (Desmodus rotundus)
Wind scorpions
Tiny frogs

Monday, May 28, 2007

Bat Falcon Love

Saturday, May 27, 2006, Tamaulipas, Mexico
Saturday we decided not to get up at the crack of dawn, but were ready to go at 10:00. We headed for Gomez Farias, which sounds like a person but is actually a place. Another long drive. We stopped off for Mango Pay (pie), which was so delicious I had two pieces. Then climbed a bit of elevation into moist tropical forest, and assured our rooms at a local guest house. After checking in we stopped for cokes, fantas, and modelos. Then headed to eat Langostinos, filets, rice and fries. After lunch we went on a boat and did some birding, which was fantastic. We saw birds in every direction. That night we went to Agua de Ojo (Ojo de agua?) and set up the photo tent and equipment quickly.

Side note on the value of taking a trip to mexico with high ranking people (branch chief and assistant director). It has allowed me to hear the casual conversations between two individuals who have influence. Even hearing the questions they ask about habitat, the comments they make, the general way they conduct themselves. My general impression: I am super impressed with Bruce’s photography abilities and his ability to make things happen. Somewhat amusing, he does not travel well. He likes things to run smoothly, and needs to have an assistant to attend to the details in life: like keeping organized, setting alarms, waiting at border crossings, tracking lists, making phone calls. On the other hand, he is king of delegation, at least of the details. He could practice a little self control when delegating the obvious (like his repeated command for me to catch the bats after each fly through the chamber). On not traveling well…when traveling in mexico, or anywhere in latin america (possibly all travels abroad, but I’ll withhold comment until I have the other continents on my list) one should expect a few delays, discomforts, inconveniences. For people who travel many times to these areas, this is part of the fun, of not knowing exactly what you’re going to get, and rolling with it. Predictability and smooth travels may occur in the most stringently planned itineraries with guide companies. I wouldn’t know, I prefer not to travel that way (well perhaps when I’m 90).

Ate mango pie; took frog photo; ate langostinos and tilapia
Male bat falcon gave female bat falcon a dragonfly

Butterflies: blue morpho, pale yellow, pale green, orange. Dragonflies: green, black

Blue-crowned mot mot
Muscovy duck
Slider turtles
Green jay
Mexican jay
Ani (groove or smooth billed?)
Ringed kingfisher
Green kingfishers
Snake on bank shelf had just eaten
Green heron
A couple warblers
Orange/black oriole
Tamaulipan parrot snake (?) looked like a green vine, narrow (leptophis mexicanus)
Central american yellow bat (Rhogeessa tumida)
Tiny bat with black, frost tipped fur
Evening bat (Nycticeius humeralis)
Jamaican fruit bat (Artibeus jamaicensis)

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Military Macaws and Common Mustached Bats

Friday, May 26,2006, Tamaulipas, Mexico
Friday was an early start. We met at 06:00, headed into the mountains, watched the sun rise over the sierra madre; fog crawling along the spine of the mountain. We were in search of blooming agave, but the agave weren’t yet in bloom, so instead we drove past unadorned stalk after stalk. We parked and walked to look for anything in flower. Found a cactus poking out here and there among limestone rocky hillside. Next we went to a small community in search of birds. We found a beautiful flock of military macaws squawking and carrying on. About 48 of them. Feeding on pecans in huge shady pecan trees. That kept us all occupied for a couple hours. Watching and admiring. Afterward we headed back to the room for a siesta. That night we went to a nearby park – the same one arnulfo and I had netted at last year. The net site was parallel to the small river that runs through the park, and just downslope from the vampire cave. We set our nets and captured a Lucy’s warbler with a chestnut cap. Soon after dark we began catching bats. The first, a Common Moustached bat (Pteronotus parnelli). We caught several common vampires (Desmodus rotundus) probably from the cave. We also caught a Sturnira lilium (Yellow shouldered bat). We flew everything through Bruce’s flight chamber while he took premium photos. Then tore down, packed up and headed back to the motel. It was a long day after a long day before. And yet, to think I was getting paid to do the things I had done, not exactly the sort of thing to complain about.

Roadrunner (greater/lesser?)
Military macaw ~ 48 flock eating pecans in giant pecan trees
Common mustached bat (Pternotus parnellii)
Little yellow shouldered bat (Sturnira lilium)
Common vampire bat (Desmodus rotundus) – in mistnet and cave
Lucy’s warbler - caught in mistnet

Ate cabrito (baby goat) and watched old Spanish movie, which Bruce insisted on narrating and predicting coming scenes

Chunky guacamole, chips
Cara cara

Saturday, May 26, 2007

In search of Mormoops megalophylla, My weekend in Tamaulipas Mexico with Bruce and Jim

Thursday was a long travel day, spent in a cramped flight from phoenix to houston, where we hopped on a cramped flight from houston to brownsville. When arnulfo picked us up, I was cramped between gear and a student he had brought along. A bumpy mexican highway to Cuidad Victoria. We finally arrived and our hotel rooms had been given away so we had to find another.