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!