CWHC participates in the delivery of BC bat capture course

Silver-haired bat (Lasionycteris noctivagans), a migratory bat species that occurs across most of Canada and the United States

Nobody is born a bat researcher but with the right training, anyone can become a bat researcher. That is, as long as you are comfortable being in the wilderness at night, working long hours, handling wild animals, and adapting to a challenging and unpredictable environment.

Dark-nosed small-footed myotis (Myotis melanorhinus), a small species of bat that only occurs in southern British Columbia and the western United States

This past July, Cori Lausen and her team with the Wildlife Conservation Society Canada shared their wealth of bat knowledge and experience by offering a bat capture course in the diverse ecosystems of southwestern British Columbia, with the highest bat species diversity in all of Canada. Canada is home to about 17 different bat species (plus a few vagrants) and southwestern British Columbia hosts 13 of them! The goal of this course was to increase capacity of bat research in Western Canada. Fifteen people from B.C. and Alberta participated in the course, including Parks Canada biologists, staff from consulting firms, members of environmental groups, and university students.

I was lucky enough to be invited to help deliver the course and learn more about western Canadian bat biology.  Based in Prince Edward Island, where the coastal, agriculture-dominated landscape of rolling hills sees cool and damp summer nights, it was a novel experience for me to be conducting nightly fieldwork in the mountainous, hot, dry, and wild desert of the Fraser Valley around the town of Lillooet.

One of our field sites, wetlands surrounded by stunning mountains, at the Splitrock spawning channel

Most days started with in-class sessions covering a wide range of topics relevant to studying bats, including: net and trap types, welfare and handling considerations, decontamination, and much more. Late afternoons, we’d head to various field sites to set up nets and traps and prepare for a full night of capturing bats. Each field site represented a different ecosystem with its own challenges, from trapping by a maternity roost in a building where hundreds of little brown myotis can be captured, trapping over rivers and ponds using chest waders and belly boats, to strategically positioning nets in coulees and on the tops of cliffs to very specifically target the elusive and high flying spotted bat.

Setting up a mist net high above the Fraser River

At the end of this comprehensive course, participants had learned how to set up various configurations of mist nets and harp traps, how to carefully extract bats from nets, identify bat species and age and sex them, take morphometrics, apply bands, light tags, and radio tags, decontaminate work surfaces and gear to limit the spread of white-nose syndrome, and more. Additionally, dead bats from storage were used as well to teach participants how to insert passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags. On the last two nights of trapping, participants were challenged to put all they learned in practice by having to decide where to set up traps and what traps to set up, considering target bat species. Honorary awards were given to teams with the highest number of bats, greatest bat species diversity, and most unique bat species captured at the end of the night. This friendly competition triggered great discussion among participants, demonstrating they were well on track to becoming bat researchers in their own right, taking their newly learned skills across western Canada to increase quality bat research, aiding in our understanding of bat biology and our ability to protect bats from the many threats they face.

Forest fire visible from one of the field sites

An additional challenge that we were forced to learn to work with, was fire safety. British Columbia is facing many forest fires and the Lillooet region was no exception. The dry grasses of the desert ecosystem are particularly susceptible to catching fire. When arriving at field sites, we made a habit out of cutting the grass and spraying it with water before parking our vehicles there, to minimize risk of ignition upon contact with the hot underside of vehicles. At one field site, we could see a forest fire creep over the top of a nearby mountain. We held a field meeting to prepare and agree on a plan in case it would come to an evacuation. All night we monitored the fire as it slowly crept down the mountain side. Fortunately, the spread was relatively slow during our time there and none of our field sites were under direct threat.

Spotted bat (Euderma maculatum)

I was very impressed by the delivery of the course by Cori and her team with the Wildlife Conservation Society, as well as by how quickly participants became comfortable with all aspects of capturing bats. As three of Canada’s hibernating bat species are federally listed as endangered (little brown myotis, northern myotis, and tri-colored bat) and three additional migratory bat species are assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) as endangered (hoary bat, eastern red bat, and silver-haired bat) it is essential that all those who handle wild bats are properly trained with the welfare of these animals kept to the highest standard. This extensive field course covered all aspects of capturing bats in manners that are safe and responsible. Seeing so many western bat species (we caught nearly 350 bats, representing 10 species) was an absolute treat for me with the highlight being the two big-eared bats: Townsend’s big-eared bat and spotted bat.

Townsend’s big-eared bat (Corynorhinus townsendii)

While I have been studying and capturing bats for about a decade, primarily in eastern Canada, I learned a lot from Cori and her team. The landscape and species diversity in British Columbia offer challenges as well as opportunities that are very different from those that I am familiar with. I look forward to the next opportunity to help increase capacity for conducting bat research in Canada, as well as expanding my own knowledge of and skills with working with the many amazing Canadian bat species.

I wish to thank Cori Lausen for giving me the opportunity to participate in this course, as well as the rest of the Wildlife Conservation Society bat team, and all the participants of the course. We all learn from each other and by working together we are able to achieve so much more in working towards better understanding and protecting our Canadian bats.

Article written by Jordi Segers, National Bat Health Program Coordinator (CWHC)

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