Tag Archives: ct deep

Haunted haven for bats

This story was originally published on our new Medium blog platform

When the world turns orange and red and the cold winds begin to howl, an ominous chill ushers in the Halloween season.

What is it about October that gets us just a little more spooked?

Is it the devilish expression that glows from the jack-o’-lanterns at dusk? Or the way that a bump in the night sounds more like a poltergeist than a raccoon getting into the trash?

As the daylight hours become shorter, and the cloak of night grows, I can’t help but wonder:

What’s really lurking in the dark?

My superstitious nature makes me think that it could be ghosts. The naturalist in me thinks it’s probably bats.

At historic Fort Delaware, it’s both.

Constructed in 1859, Fort Delaware has been called one of the most haunted places in the world.

Located outside of Wilmington, in the middle of the Delaware River, it once housed as many as 12,595 Confederate prisoners of war, of whom about 2,500 spent their final days imprisoned here.

Popular with paranormal enthusiasts, strange noises and mysterious apparitions color this historic site. Visitors have claimed to hear the soldiers’ voices and footsteps sneaking through the halls.

Here, bats and ghosts live side by side, hiding in the damp, dark nooks and crannies that this Civil War era former prison camp offers them as shelter.

Bats wedge in between bricks in Fort Delaware’s walls. Credit: DE Division of Fish & Wildlife

However, something else spooky but far more sinister is also lurking at Fort Delaware — white-nose syndrome.

White-nose syndrome is a disease that affects hibernating bats and is caused by a fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, or Pd for short. Sometimes Pdlooks like a white fuzz on bats’ faces, which is how the disease got its name. The fungus grows in cold, dark and damp places and attacks bats while they’re hibernating. As it grows, Pd causes changes in bats that makes them become more active than usual and burn up fat they need to survive the winter.

White-nose syndrome has killed millions of bats throughout the northeast and beyond since 2007, making any place that continues to house bats, including Fort Delaware, critical to the fight against WNS.

Biologists from Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s Division of Fish & Wildlife are hard at work to prevent the spread of WNS and study the bats that hibernate at Fort Delaware every winter.

Supported by federal grant funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, biologists are persevering to protect bats through research and education.

Combining natural and American history, the Division of Fish & Wildlife has collaborated with DNREC’s Division of Parks & Recreation to provide Fort Delaware State Park visitors with a unique experience that covers both bat conservation and the history of the fort.

“Visitors for the ghost tours are well aware of the bats lurking in dark places and I imagine it adds to their spooky experience,” said Holly Niederriter, Delaware Division of Fish & Wildlife biologist.

This team has also worked to design and implement protocols to prevent the spread of WNS from Fort Delaware.

Their research has informed the timing of seasonal ghost tours that conclude in late October to prevent disturbance to hibernating bats.

“The bat program at the fort has reached thousands of people to teach them about the impacts of WNS, the importance of bats and what they can do to help bats,” said Niederriter. “Far beyond the boundaries of the Fort — throughout the state — the federal grants have funded critical surveys, monitoring and protection efforts.”

A Haunting in Connecticut

Further north, another former prison with a storied past has become a haven for bats.

Prisoners of the oldest surviving state prison in the nation spent their nights underground in the tunnels of the first operating copper mine in the North American colonies.

When it was still an operating prison, more than 800 prisoners were incarcerated over a period of 54 years, starting in 1773 and ending in 1827, when the state decided it was costly and inhumane.

Water dripped constantly from the surrounding rock and prisoners wrote that “armies of fleas, lice, and bedbugs covered every inch of the floor,” which itself was covered in “five inches of slippery, stinking filth.”

Nowadays, bats are the only inhabitants of Old New-Gate Prison (potential ghostly roommates aside).

Little brown, tri-colored and northern long-eared bats have all used the copper mine to hibernate during the winter months.

In recent years, less than a dozen bats over-winter in the prison. Connecticut was hit hard by WNS and these low numbers are consistent throughout the state.

“The counts at all of our sites are small since WNS arrived,” said Jenny Dickson, wildlife biologist with Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. “For us, any number of bats still found in hibernacula is good news.”

Recently, grant funding from the Service was used to improve a gate in place at the mine to protect the bats from being disturbed while they are hibernating. The existing gate at the site was updated to allow bats to enter the mine more easily, and more cool air to flow in as well.

Every time a bat is woken up during hibernation it has the potential to burn as much as ten days worth of stored body fat. When that happens multiple times over the winter, the chances of surviving until spring are greatly reduced.

“Not only does the new design allow bats to enter and exit the mine more easily, it also helps protect an important historic site,” Dickson said.

Now open as a museum and preserved as a national landmark, tours and events are hosted for curious visitors. CT DEEP and the Department of Economic and Community Development, are strong advocates for their resident bats and work together to bring programs about bat conservation to the public.

“This partnership has allowed many people, who may not know much about bats or their current battle with white-nose syndrome, to learn how important they are to our everyday life and how they can help our conservation efforts,” Dickson added.

These projects were supported by federal grant funding from the White-nose Syndrome Grant program, State Wildlife Grant program, and the Wildlife Restoration Grant Program provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program. These programs help to support important conservation initiatives throughout the Northeast region.

“User pay – public benefit” funding supports boating and clean water in Connecticut

The Service recently awarded $16.6 million to support recreational boating and clean waters in 21 states. States receive this funding under the Clean Vessel Act to support the construction, maintenance and renovation of sewage disposal facilities – or pumpout stations – for recreational boaters. We had an opportunity recently to talk with Kate Hughes Brown, the state of Connecticut’s CVA and Boating Infrastructure Grants coordinator, about the state’s decision to take the CVA program a step further on Long Island Sound.

Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection received $1.5 million from the CVA program this year, and $16 million to date. This “user pay, public benefit” funding returns revenue from taxes on boats, engines, motorboat fuel, and fishing equipment by investing it back into resources for boaters.

The state is taking their commitment to recreational boaters and clean water a step further. It recently announced that all recreational pumpout stations in Connecticut now offer free service to boaters. It is the first state to make these services fee-free, and boaters, anglers and outdoor enthusiasts are praising the decision.

Demonstrating boat pump out

Photo courtesy of Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection

Kate Hughes Brown says the state wants to “provide the best possible service for boaters by eliminating one more obstacle to having clean and healthy waters for people and for wildlife.”

Big Al on Thames #3

Photo courtesy of Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection

Since 1993 the Connecticut DEEP has worked with the Service, marinas, yacht clubs, boatyards, municipalities and non-profit organizations to install 141 pumpout stations and complete more than 525 projects in the state. The CVA funding helps small marine business owners and other local entities serve boaters, and ultimately protect the waters of Long Island Sound.

“This is now part of doing business in Connecticut”, says Brown. “We have people who are dedicated to boating, fishing and swimming in clean water and preserving the marine environment for future generations. Business owners are providing cost share matches to help fund the individual projects.  In this way, they show that they are committed to providing improvements over time, and maintenance of these facilities for a continued successful program.”

Beacon Point Marina 4

Photo courtesy of Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection

Brown says to check out the state’s new interactive map, making it easy to locate all pumpout stations in Connecticut.

 

Airlift to Great Gull Island – A mission for the terns

The northeastern population of the roseate tern is listed as endangered. Credit: Sarah Nystrom/USFWS

The northeastern population of the roseate tern is listed as endangered. The roseate tern colony at Great Gull Island makes up about half of the population in the Northeast. Credit: Sarah Nystrom/USFWS

Today you’re hearing from Suzanne Paton, biologist with our Coastal Program. Here she is on the right, sitting with Julianna Barrett of Connecticut Sea Grant, who secured funding for some of the lumber and who we are collaborating with to develop a habitat management plan for the island (along with the museum).

Today you’re hearing from Suzanne Paton, biologist with our Coastal Program. Here she is on the right, sitting with Julianna Barrett of Connecticut Sea Grant, who secured funding for some of the lumber and who we are collaborating with to develop a habitat management plan for the island (along with the museum).

In fall 2012, Hurricane Sandy destroyed the dock that gave us access to the largest nesting colony of endangered roseate terns in the western hemisphere.

To monitor the 1,500 pairs of roseate terns and improve the habitat, we have regularly worked with the American Museum of Natural History, which owns the 17-acre island that supports the colony–Great Gull Island, just northeast of Long Island.

When spring rolled around, we had to table our planned construction work on the island. Our agency had provided funds through the Cooperative Recovery Initiative (learn more about that here) to terrace some hillsides (to turn the hillsides into step-like areas) and construct nesting structures that have successfully attracted nesting roseate terns in the past. But delivery of lumber to the island was pretty much impossible. Not only that, but the hurricane had eroded a significant portion of the island, leaving less available habitat for nesting birds.

The former dock on the island. Volunteers wear straw hats to protect their heads from strikes by adult common terns that will aggressively defend their colony and nests. Credit: Sarah Nystrom/USFWS

The former dock on the island. Volunteers wear straw hats to protect their heads from strikes by adult common terns that will aggressively defend their colony and nests. Credit: Sarah Nystrom/USFWS

Despite the efforts of the museum, the island would not have a dock for the 2014 season. We put our heads together and decided to approach the Army National Guard for help. We requested their assistance on behalf of the museum and in support of an endangered species—and they were happy to help! After a few weeks of logistical planning, we were ready to go.

Great Gull Island is a 17-acre island located northeast of Long Island. The island is owned by the American Museum of Natural History and run as a research station to study common and roseate terns. Over the course of the summer, more than 50 people arrive at the island to volunteer time to work with birds. The island is host to the largest colony of common terns on the east coast and to about 2,000 pairs of roseate terns. Credit: Sarah Nystrom/USFWS

Great Gull Island is a 17-acre island located northeast of Long Island. The island is owned by the American Museum of Natural History and run as a research station to study common and roseate terns. Over the course of the summer, more than 50 people arrive at the island to volunteer time to work with birds. The island is host to a large colony of 8,000 common tern pairs and to about 1,500 pairs of roseate terns. Credit: Sarah Nystrom/USFWS

On April 25, the Army used their CH-47 Chinook helicopter and crew to transport 28,000 pounds of lumber in three separate air lifts from the Groton air across the Long Island Sound and the 8 miles to Great Gull Island, where Helen Hays from the museum was waiting for them.

Crews of workers are now assembling the nesting structures and blinds needed for observation, and it is just in time for the return of the first birds to the island this week! We are all so incredibly grateful that the Army was willing to support this important endeavor.

The lumberyard, Rings End, was also incredibly supportive, packaging the lumber in three discreet bundles to match the specification provided by the Army. Volunteers were recruited from Connecticut Sea Grant, Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and Audubon Connecticut, and retired carpenters from Electric Boat in Groton were organized and transported via boat to help with the construction on the island. CT Sea Grant also provided some of the funding for the lumber through a grant from the Long Island Sound Futures Fund.

All in all, it was a perfect example of multiple agencies and numerous partners working together to support the important work of recovering one of the Northeast’s most elegant endangered species.

Populations in the northeastern U.S. greatly declined in the late 19th century due to hunting for the millinery, or hat trade. In the 1930s, protected under the Migratory Bird Act Treaty, the population reached a high of about 8,500, but since then, population numbers have declined and stayed in the low range of 2,500 to 3,300. Credit: Amanda Boyd/USFWS

Populations in the northeastern U.S. greatly declined in the late 19th century due to hunting for the millinery, or hat trade. In the 1930s, protected under the Migratory Bird Act Treaty, the population reached a high of about 8,500, but since then, population numbers have declined
and stayed in the low range of 2,500 to 3,300. Credit: Amanda Boyd/USFWS

Check out some more photos from Great Gull Island on our Flickr page. There was coverage in The Day and by WTNH, as well as on the Great Gull Island and UConn blogs.

We are investing $102 million in resilience projects and $65 million in recovery projects, totaling $167 million in funding to protect our coast and strengthen our communities against future storms like Hurricane Sandy. Learn more at our website.