Tag Archives: Long Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex

In the quest to study bats on Long Island

Last year, biologists at Long Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex in New York conducted a survey to determine which bat species call Long Island home. 

As the summer sun set and people wound down from a long day of work, a team of biologists from the Long Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex and the Biodiversity Research Institute were only just beginning their workday. They walked quietly down refuge roads and trails carrying ropes, poles, and reams of mesh as fine as a hair net. The only light came from their bright headlamps. The biologists were on an important 10-day mission: catching bats.

The health of every bat species is important, but biologists were specifically interested in confirming the presence of the federally threatened northern long-eared bat. “We wanted to locate potential maternity colonies and roost sites on the refuges so we can protect them and appropriately manage the habitats they use,” said Camille Sims, the wildlife technician.

To survey bats, refuge staff and BRI scientists used a technique known as mist netting. Camille Sims, the wildlife technician, describes the mist net as as undetectable, fine netting that acts like an invisible volley ball net, gently capturing bats while they search for food. The nets are monitored continuously from dusk until midnight.

Kaibab Bat Survey

Here you can see what a mist net looks like. Photo by: Dyan Bone, Credit: U.S. Forest Service

“We checked the nets every 10 minutes for bats that may have been captured,” Sims said. “As bats fly down roads and trails where the nets are set up, they hit the net and drop into a small pocket. When we find a bat, we lower the net and gently untangle the bat to retrieve it from the net.”

The biologists weighed the bats, measured their forearms and ears, determined their gender, age, species and reproductive status.  Each bat was also fitted with an identification band and wings were examined for signs of white-nose syndrome, a deadly fungal disease that has devastated bat populations across North America.

Upon completions, bats were safely released back into the night sky.

Ann Froschauer USFWS_little brown bat

This little brown bat may look uncomfortable but using a net is a safe and effective way for biologists to catch passing bats. Credit: Ann Froschauer/USFWS

During the 10-day mist netting surveys at two refuges within the Complex — Wertheim and Elizabeth A. Morton — the team of scientists caught 5 eastern red bats and 26 big brown bats at Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge and one eastern red bat and one northern long-eared bat at Elizabeth A. Morton National Wildlife Refuge. The northern long-eared bat also received a radio transmitter to track its location.

The biological team found no evidence of white-nose syndrome during the summer surveys, but they remained alert for signs of the disease. The fungus that causes white-nose syndrome mostly affects bats during the winter, but scarring on the wings and remnant traces of the fungus can be detected in the summer. The team at the Complex doesn’t know where their bats hibernate, but northern long-eared bats have been found overwintering on Long Island in crawl spaces under buildings.

In 2015 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the northern long-eared bat as threatened, primarily due to the threat of white-nose syndrome. In the Northeast region alone, the species has declined by up to 99 percent from pre-white-nose syndrome levels at many hibernation sites.

“As someone who cares about wildlife, I am concerned about it [white-nose syndrome] and I wouldn’t want the disease to spread to the bat populations here on Long Island, so I think it’s great news that we haven’t found signs of the disease here,” said Sims.

After many long nights, the summer surveys were completed and the team could catch up on some much needed sleep – knowing that no evidence of white-nose syndrome was found in the bats they documented on Long Island.

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The surveys mentioned in the blog were conducted from June to July 2017 at Wertheim and Elizabeth Morton National Wildlife Refugess. The Long Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex uses information gathered during the surveys to determine which bat species call the refuge home and identify habitat-use during migration and breeding seasons. This information is important for species protection and best habitat management practices.

To learn more:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Midwest Region Endangered Species profile on Northern long-eared bat: https://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/mammals/nleb/index.html

White-nose syndrome: https://www.whitenosesyndrome.org

A Pisten Bully is much nicer than it sounds!

These machines could move mountains.

It’s hard to imagine that big, powerful machines like the Komatsu Excavator and Pisten Bully are used to preserve a delicate marsh ecosystem.  But elevation loss from rising seas and sinking land is a challenge facing many coastal marshes.

During large storms, marshes act like buffers, absorbing major surges of floodwater. Over time, sand and sediment can get washed away from these areas. A lack of sediment and healthy vegetation reduces the marsh’s ability to absorb water,  leading to floods in nearby towns. We strive for a healthy balance of water and sediment, the perfect conditions for healthy salt marsh vegetation.

That’s where the land movers come in! The large Pisten Bully spreads the sediment used to gradually increase the elevation of the marsh while the Komatsu Excavator distributes a fine layer to support growth of vegetation. Remu pontoons help distribute the weight of this mammoth machine and keep the soil from compacting. Lasers located on the buckets measure out the proper gradient, or slope, of the ground as they go.

Biologists aim to restore the marsh’s natural hydrology, or water movement, by building up sediment and creating  natural meandering channels. Channels draw off excess water, and specialized coir logs, made from coconut husks, trap and build up sediment in lower areas. With the growth of healthy vegetation this spring, this work will make these marshes stronger against storms. The mud and roots may look bland now, but in no time this marsh will be booming with high grasses and saltmarsh sparrows.

The race is on! Despite the excavator’s pontoons, heavy machines can damage the freshly sprouted grass. Staff must work quickly to establish roughly six inches of sediment before new marsh grasses spring up from mud. Biologists will be busy monitoring the hydrology and sediment movement throughout the marsh as vegetation grows.

Marsh restoration in the wake of Hurricane Sandy is a top priority for staff at the Long Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Restoring the marsh provides people with the security of a resilient coast that can hold up against storms and provides vital habitat for countless unique wildlife and plant species.  It’s mighty work for these mighty machines.