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The Kloepper Lab

of Bioacoustics and Animal Behavior at Saint Mary's College

Month

May 2018

One More Day!

By Kate McGowan

Almost two years ago, while sitting in an English classroom, my attention was drawn to a fellow student when I overheard her say “bat cave road trip.” I began actively eavesdropping on her conversation and learned that she had spent her summer on an extended road trip traveling from bat cave to bat cave and conducting research with another student, a biology professor, and the professor’s dog, whom had used as a pillow while they had been hiding in a bathroom at 3:30am on a stormy night while camping. My immediate thoughts: Where and how do I sign up?

Come two years later, and we are only a day away from this summer’s bat adventure! In 24 hours time, Dr. Kloepper, Lily, Morgan, and myself will be boarding the SMC Belle Batmobile for a 23-hour drive to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. We are eager and excited to get on the road! Lily and I have been working on a playlist for the long drive, although this playlist so far only contains one song (called “We Are All Bat People”).

Amongst other various projects, my primary focus this summer is to study the predator-prey relations between hawks and bats. This project is split into two parts, with Lily focusing on characterizing hawk attacks while I investigate the acoustic and flight dynamic response of bats to predation threats. One of the most difficult and exciting aspects of this project is the lack of previous research on bat response to predation: nobody has studied it yet! This also involves using the help of a trained hawk named Belle, who is equipped with video and acoustic recording devices to collect data as she flies through emerging bat swarms. Additionally, I will be continuing a project that focuses on how bats adjust their echolocation calls as they move from open spaces to the cave edge when reentering the cave after foraging.

Our prep for the summer has consisted of memorizing various raptor species native to New Mexico, learning how to use SM3 wildlife acoustic microphones (and removing the centipedes they had accumulated from being in the Saint Mary’s nature area), sorting through field supplies with Dr. Kloepper, and self-teaching ourselves how to use the video features on our “fancy” Lumix cameras. This includes learning how to use manual zoom and focus when filming moving targets in order to practice for filming raptor attacks on bats in the field site. To practice, we’ve gone on multiple field trips – Notre Dame, St. Pat’s Park, Potato Creek, etc – to film any moving wildlife we can find. We now have portfolios of geese, swans, turtles, the golden dome, snakes, ducks, and more geese. While this was initially a challenge, we are loving the new cameras! Future nature photographers?

I am honored and excited to be a member of this team, and I cannot wait for our adventure to begin! To the bat cave!

Coming into Focus

By Lillias Zusi

I can’t believe it’s almost time to start our New Mexico journey! We have been working to finalize our research projects all semester, and have been packing and preparing for the summer for the last two weeks. The time has absolutely flown by! It seems like just yesterday I was frantically trying to choose a senior comprehensive topic while finishing off my semester in Australia, and now here we are!

A big part of our prep over the last few weeks has been to list and practice identifying all the different kites, hawks, and eagles that we could potentially encounter during our research… and there are a LOT! We will have to be able to identify them in the field, usually from a distance so we’ve been practicing distinguishing different species from each other. Thank God for Quizlet! Another big part of our preparation includes spending a lot of quality time with our new fancy cameras. We’ll be depending on them for most of our data collection, so it’s important that we figure out how to follow fast-moving birds. Kate and I been heading to nature-heavy areas here in town like St. Pat’s Park and Potato Creek, and have filmed everything that moves – ducklings, families of geese, songbirds, fish-catching ospreys, swimming snakes, frogs, turtles, … and occasionally each other.

P1010365
A wild Kate appeared!

The hardest part of figuring out our fancy cameras has probably been getting skilled at using the manual focus while zooming in and out. Hopefully we’ll master that before we start our recordings of the hawks and bats…

When we aren’t pretending to be freelance nature documentary photographers, we have been learning about all the different recording equipment that we will be using in the field as we pack it up and label it. We’ve been doing everything from getting crash courses in Electrical Engineering from Dr. Stevenson to learning how to efficiently pack scientific recording equipment from Dr. K.

Packing_Kate_DrK
Packing up all the electronic equipment requires a LOT of labeling!
Labeling_Kate
Look out world, we’ve got sharpies and we’re ready to label.

 

In addition to all this, the past two weeks have also been full of bat-themed puns, strange insect-themed rock music, impromptu nature walks, bonding time with Dr K’s adorable dogs Kaipo and Kona, lots of laughter, and LOTS of freelance photography material.

We leave in a week from today! I can’t believe how much I’ve learned in these two weeks alone, and I can’t wait to get into the field. I’m so grateful to Saint Mary’s Biology Department and Dr. Kloepper for this incredible opportunity!

Until next time!

 

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