Empty Air

Late and early in the day, I enjoy watching the angled light fade from the ridges, bottoms to tops, and the creatures of the blue hours of dawn and dusk dominate the sky over our pasture, barn and garden.

With all the snows and spring rains, the creeks have held better than usual against the rain-sparse summer months, and our aquatic insect population is, as Garrison would say, above average.

And in the way that wolves increase when rabbits and mice are plentiful, the predators of the skies–the several varieties of dragon- and damsel-flies, also arising from water hatchings–are more abundant than I’ve ever seen. With all the mayflies, midges and beetles on the wing, our odonates are eating well.

But after admiring their aerial acrobatics several days in a row, it dawned on me (or dusk-ed, I can’t recall which) that in a normal year, the dragonflies would not be the only predators on the wing: there should be bats. I thought back and could recall seeing only one or two so far this summer.

It’s one thing to read about the crisis in biodiversity, and another to see it (or NOT see it) in one’s own back yard. It’s entirely possible our absence of bats is the result of White Nose Syndrome.

Just this week, another bat–the Virginia Southeastern Myosotis–has been added as the 9th species in 14 states to suffer marked mortality because of White Nose Syndrome, a disease about to enter its fourth year unexplained, uncontrolled, and possibly uncontrollable by any practical measures until it has run is uncertain course.

Meanwhile, the gnat population is worse than I can remember. The dragonflies make a difference, but bats are the X-wing Warships that would normally take the lion’s share of flying insects on the wing, all night long, after the cold-blooded dragonflies have clocked out.

There are many, many living systems and species (or entire classes of animals) in ill health these days. I think about this early and late, when I see empty sky where bats should be.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. I’m very sad to hear about your bats succumbing to white nose. They are so practical and also so whimsical, with their erratic flight at dusk. Watching them is one of my favorite things about my favorite vacation spot, Bass Lake, near Yosemite National Park. Just like watching lighning bugs when I was a kid in Tennessee.

  2. Your missing bats must be the ones that have taken up residence in my attic. I love having bats around, as they keep the insect population down, but they’re not welcome in my attic. We’re trying to figure out out to “move” them out without harming them, so we can secure the screens to the vents and discourage their moving back in. Any suggestions anyone?

  3. Hi Debbie,
    Re: bat removal. I seem to recall seeing something about that. Sorry, I didn’t do any research to lead you directly to the water.

    The essence of it is a device that lets the bats out, but they can’t return. It also means that someone needs to identify and eliminate all other possible entry access to the attic, while they are still hanging around.

    Sounds easy? It’s not a great time to be working in an attic unless you live in the Southern Hemisphere. Something to think about and reserach. Or there’s always 1-800-Batman. (yes, I just made that up) Hey, it’s a free call anyway.

    Good luck.