GBI presents the second in a three-part series drawn from the on-the-ground journal of vegetation technician, Justin Chappelle. This installment has a particular focus on the Bat Blitz at Joshua Tree National Park.
For part one, click HERE.
Justin Chappelle’s Journal
4/26/2018: Mojave National Preserve
I decided to work longer hours the previous and present week, so I could take a day trip to the Mojave National Preserve with my visiting family. My goal was find to interesting plants, see a Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia) forest, and to look for various bird species in the area.
Along the sides of the roads, we got to see a large number of Palmer’s penstemon (Penstemon palmerii), desert milkweed (Asclepias erosa), and various milkvetch (Astragalus spp.) species. In the washes, we could see mesquite mistletoe (Phoradendron califonicum), prickly poppy (Argemone munita), smoke tree (Psorothamnus spinosus) and isolated creosote brush (Larrea tridentata) with dodder (Cuscuta denticulata). Birds were hard to find in the area, but I did manage to see house finch (Haermorhous mexicanus), turkey vulture (Cathartes aura), and black throated sparrow (Amphispiza bilineata).
After visiting the visitor center in Kelso, we drove north towards the Joshua Tree forest. I have never seen so many large, healthy Joshua Trees in an area. We were at a higher elevation, so we managed to see Joshua tree, mojave yucca (Yucca schidigera), banana Yucca (Yucca baccata), blackbush (Coleogyne ramosissima), and a few juniper (Juniperus spp.). The Joshua Trees were blooming during this time and I got to see some of the flowers up close. In the same area, desert paintbrush (Castilleja angustifolia/chromosa) were trying to steal the show with their florescent red flowers. When I looked across the Joshua Tree forest, I thought it looked like something out of a Dr. Seuss book! Each Joshua Tree had their own shape and charisma. I was really impressed with the Preserve. If I were to visit this place again, I would want to go to Kelso Dunes or the New York Mountains to look for endemic Mojave Desert plant species.
4/28/2018: Death Valley National Park
Death Valley National Park had many titles. This valley was considered the hottest, lowest, and driest region in the United States. My family and I went at the perfect time! The temperature stayed around the mid-80s and many people did not want to walk around for long periods of time. One of my goals was to go to the lowest point in the United States, which was located in Badwater. When we traveled there, we noticed it was also a dried flood basin. The salt that accumulated here formed small salt pinnacles along the sides of the trail. Even the walkway was slightly wet and you could easily mistake it for snow…if it wasn’t 90°F out. When you looked to the east, 200 feet up, you could see a sign that said “Sea Level”!
Traveling throughout the region, each geologic rock formation had brilliant colors!! Red, tan, beige, blue, green, brown, orange, and black were the main colors. All of the angular conformities, deformation of rock strata, and volcanic legacies were incredible to view! Just stopping along the road and exploring each of the rock formations was worth the trip!!
Unfortunately, I did not see many plants or birds. I did manage to find iodine bush (Allenrolfea occidentalis) by Badwater and athel salt cedar (Tamarix aphylla) by the visitor’s center! There were not many birds to see except for a Eurasian collared dove (Streptopelia decaocto) and American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) flying around the tourist areas looking for food.
4/29/2018: Red Rock Canyon
The final day of my parent’s visit, we went to Red Rock Canyon! This area was considered BLM land found west of Las Vegas! This area had magnificent geologic formations, trails, fauna and flora! At the visitor’s center I saw black chinned (Archilochus alexandri ) and Anna’s hummingbird (Calypte anna) flying to the flowering shrubs and hummingbird feeders. I was pretty excited to actually watch the hummingbirds. You usually could hear them chatter or fly by, but you never see them stand still or perched.
We drove around the busy roads and pull offs throughout the park. During our pull off breaks, I would search for blooming plants such as calico cactus (Echinocereus engelmannii), prickly pear (Opuntia spp.), and various penstemon and take macro pictures of their blooming flowers. Due to time constraints and parking availability, we could not hike amongst the red rocks, but we did get incredible view and some good pictures as we drove by the rocks!
5/7-11/2018: Bat Blitz at Joshua Tree National Park
For the whole week, I went to Joshua Tree National Park for a Bat Blitz! The goal for the bat blitz was to set up nets to catch and record bat species and their physical traits. Recently, the National Park System received a large amount of funding for bat monitoring. Since white nose syndrome (Pseudogymnoascus destructans) was becoming an issue in different regions in the United States, the Mojave Desert Network wanted to record bat populations before white nose syndrome arrived in the area. I joined MOJN I&M along with other National Park crews to investigate the various bat species in Joshua Tree National Park.
Each night, we would be separated into three groups over three separate areas throughout the park. We were supposed to monitor high priority bat areas indicated on a National GRTS (Generalized Random Tesselation Stratified) Spatial Sample. Each group would be made of five to ten people. The groups would have a leader, an acoustics specialist, four bat handlers, a photographer, a data recorder, and the rest of the group would be equipment Sherpas.
Around dusk, we would put up three to four mist nets per site. Each net varied in size ranging from six meters long and three meters high to twelve meters long and nine meters high. When a bat was caught in the net, the bat handlers would take the bat out of the net and go to the data recorder for processing. The bat handler would describe to the data recorder each bat’s code, age, sex, reproductive status, forearm length, teeth wear, and weight. The data recorder would make additional notes in case they saw parasites on the bats. After the processing, the bat would be released into the wild!
5/7/2018: Bat Blitz Day 1: Cow Camp
The first day, the group had to go to Cow Camp, Baker Dam, or Key’s Ranch. I was assigned to go with the Cow Camp group as a data recorder/equipment Sherpa. The site was hard to get to!! First, we hiked a mile through Joshua Tree forest. All of the yucca trees were amazing to look at. Each one of them was unique. The next step of the journey was to skirmish through a boulder field. This section of the trail was difficult to maneuver, because there was no established trail! Plus, we had to look out for cacti, rattlesnakes, and slippery rock faces. I had to move slowly through this area, because I was carrying equipment with a weird weight distribution. The last section of the trip to Cow Camp involved walking through a wetland that had a lot of sedges, rushes, and grass. When we finally arrived, we immediately scouted the area out for potential mist netting locations to catch bats. We put up four nets that evening. Four small, single nets were installed in the bat fly zones that were entering the pond area. The three tiered large net was installed in the middle of the area to catch the bats that were flying around the pond itself. After the nets were installed, we all headed to the processing area, so the bats would not see our lights.
The nets were raised at 7:40pm and the Canyon bats (Parastrellus hesperus) were starting to fly around. Unfortunately, the bats saw the nets and they easily maneuvered around them at the beginning. When the sky got darker, we started to catch bats!! The grand total was three bats!! …..We were hoping for a higher number, but the wind and net placements were not ideal. We caught a Townsend’s bat (Corynorhinus townsendii) and a California Myotis (Myotis californicus). We had a Big Brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus), but it chewed through the netting and escaped. Our acoustics specialist recorded other species: Mastiff (Eumops perotis), Pallid (Antrozous pallidus) and other myotis species that were flying around all night. Unfortunately, we did not catch any of them. When we did get back to base camp, we found out that Key’s Ranch group caught seven bats and the Baker Dam group caught 64 bats!! Everyone was shocked that Baker Dam caught so many bats!!!
5/8/2018 Bat Blitz Day 2: 49 Palms
Early in the morning, I was awakened by bird calls! Almost everyone was asleep and exhausted from the previous night, so I had to be quiet as I maneuvered around base camp. I spotted a large diversity of birds such as the Cactus Wren (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus), White Throated Swift (Aeronautes saxatalis), Black Throated Sparrow (Amphispiza bilineata), Scott’s Oriole (Icterus parisorum), and Phainopepla (Phainopepla nitens) to name a few. On the hillside by our campground was an amazing beargrass species called Bigelow’s nolina (Nolina bigelovii). They were blooming at the time, and they were absolutely gorgeous! The pollinators loved this plant! Even some bat species pollinate this plant at night. We saw the plant’s pollen on some of bat species we caught later in the week.
Fast forward to the midafternoon, we got our new group together and drove to the 49 Palms trailhead located at the northern section of Joshua Tree National Park. This trail was 1.5 miles long over mountainous terrain. The temperature was over 100° F and I had to carry a chair and a single mist net. I was well hydrated and found the trail very enjoyable. A few people almost got heat exhaustion and were not prepared for the 49 Palms trail. Luckily, we were going to a shaded oasis with a few water sources.
When we did get to the 49 Palms site, it looked so bizarre and out of place. This California palm tree (Washingtonia filifera) oasis was found within a large, rocky canyon. Within the oasis, we found Stream Orchid (Epipactis gigantea) patches everywhere!! Most of the pools contained macroinvertebrates and tree frog tadpoles. My co-worker was especially excited for tonight, because we might catch a yellow bat (Lasiurus xanthinus). Yellow bats loved to roost in palm trees, and there was a good chance we would catch one tonight.
That evening, we put up the nets around 7:40pm. At first, the bats were able to see and avoid the net, but we were able to get a few bat species before the end of the day. We caught five bats in total! We caught three Big Brown bats, one Canyon bat, and one yellow bat!! Everyone was very excited to get the yellow bat. We saw them flying around, but they managed to avoid the net multiple times. One was caught in the large three tiered net. Everyone was posing with the bat and took multiple pictures. Most bats like the Big Brown bat would want to bite your finger off, but the yellow bat was docile and graciously posed for the camera! The evening was a success due to the yellow bat!!
5/9/2018 Bat Blitz Day 3: Key’s Ranch
Today, the Bat Blitz group was separated into four different teams. We had around five to six people per group, so bat handlers were stretched thin. The goal was to explore Cow Camp, Key’s Ranch, and Barker Dam again along with a new mining site! I was put into the Key’s Ranch group for the evening!! Key’s Ranch belonged to a homesteader who built a ranch in the middle of Joshua Tree National Park. The homesteader left a few buildings behind along with a huge amount tools, mechanical equipment and an Oldsmobile in the yard. To get to the actual pond, we had to walk over another series of boulders with heavy equipment. Since there were not many people in our group, each one of us had to carry nets.
By 7:40pm, we put up three single tiered nets and one three tiered net. We got a white throated swift and a Canyon Bat immediately!! We ended up catching 35 bats (Eight species total) that night! We caught Canyon bat, Big Brown bat, Pallid bat, Mastiff bat, California Myotis, Yuma Myotis (Myotis yumanensis), Mexican Free-Tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis), and a Yellow bat. We were constantly taking bats out of the net and processing them. Some of the bats had various parasites like ticks and bed bug relatives. I was shocked that we caught six mastiff bats!! They are the biggest species in United States! We also caught the smallest bat species in the United States, which was a Canyon bat!
Overall, the evening was a success!!! The Barker Dam group caught 52 bats and Cow Camp caught 23 bats!
5/10/2018 Bat Blitz 4: Willow Hole
Our last main day for the Bat Blitz was today! The beginning of my day, I decided to tag along with my boss, Allen, to look at a potential bat monitoring site in Joshua Tree National Park. We did not explore this site earlier, because it did not contain proper habitat for bats. According to the GRTS, this was supposed to be a high priority site for bats. We walked through the dry creosote bush desert and did not see any good places to set up a bat monitoring site beyond a large creosote bush. There was a wash nearby, but it was outside the GRTS spatial sampling.
In the evening, I could choose to go to Willow Hole, Cottonwood, or 49 Palms for bat monitoring. I ended up with the Willow Hole group! We hiked 3.5 miles through sandy trails through Joshua tree forests. The last mile was within a series of boulder canyons. We encountered the most venomous rattlesnake in North America called the Southwestern speckled rattlesnake (Crotalus mitchellii pyrrhus). We were told to be careful, because it could be aggressive! The snake had no fear and continued slithering in the middle of the trail.
When we arrived at the Willow Hole site, there weren’t any good places to put up a net, so we decided to put the nets near any willow opening. The site was highly disturbed and contained a large amount of weeds such as cocklebur (Xanthium spinosum) and various tumble mustards (Sisymbrium spp.). This site even had the worst trifecta of bromes ever growing within the same space. Cheatrass (Bromus tectorum), Red Brome (Bromus rubens), and Ripgut (Bromus diandrus) were catching the mist nets and getting in our shoes!!
At dusk, we put up the nets and waited for bats to fly in. We ended up catching a Grey Flycatcher (Empidonax wrightii) at the very beginning. Eventually, we started to get various bat species. We caught Townsend’s bat, Pallid bat, Canyon bat, and Big Brown bat. Pallid bats were really common on this site. They were my favorite bat even if they get parasites and smell like musty pepperoni. These bat species were known to go after scorpions!!
The group total at the end of the bat blitz was 280 bats and 11 different species!! I never realized that there were so many bat species found throughout Joshua Tree National Park!! Everyone involved were incredibly smart and excited, even when the environment or bats were not cooperating. I loved seeing all the different bat species, especially the Pallid and Mastiff bats! Each night, I was able to record data precisely and accurately and submit the data sheets to the data manager at the end of the trip! I loved Joshua Tree National Park. There were so many different plants and birds to identify during the day and a variety of bats to catch at night! I will always remember this trip as a highlight.
On Friday, we headed back to the office and unpacked everything. I was completely exhausted by the time I got home. After a few restful days, I was able to proceed to the next major project, Integrated Upland Protocol!!!
Keep an eye on this space for the final installment of Justin’s journal.