Friday, December 28, 2012

Bat and WNS Update from Bat Conservation International

December 2012, Volume 10, Number 12

Bats in the News - WNS Survivors Face a New Risk

Some hibernating bats emerge from a wintertime exposure to White-nose Syndrome with few symptoms of the devastating disease that has killed more than 5.7 million bats in North America. Then, just as they are recovering from the infection, they seem to be attacked by their own immune systems, the U.S. Geological Survey said in a news release.

A little brown bat with White-nose Syndrome. Photo courtesy of Al Hicks, NY Dept. of Environmental Conservation
Researcher Carol Meteyer, of the USGS, and colleagues suggest that these bats show evidence of "immune reconstitution inflammatory syndrome" (IRIS) – a condition first described in HIV-AIDS patients. This hypothesis, proposed in the journal Virulence, represents the first natural occurrence of IRIS ever reported. "For both humans and bats, IRIS can be fatal," the agency said.

Meteyer's co-authors are Daniel Barber and Judith Mandl at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
With IRIS, after an organism's immune system has been suppressed for a time then reactivates, it can detect an infection and "go into overdrive, resulting in severe inflammation and tissue damage in infected areas," the scientists said.

"The potential discovery of IRIS in bats infected with White-nose Syndrome is incredibly significant in terms of understanding both the reasons for bat mortality and basic immune response," said USGS Director Marcia McNutt. "This discovery could also prove significant for studies on treatment for AIDS."

In AIDS patients, the immune system is suppressed as the HIV virus attacks white blood cells. It is reactivated through antiretroviral therapy. But in patients with secondary infections, the renewed immune system overacts and can cause major damage to healthy tissue.

Bats' immune-system activity (along with body temperature and metabolism) is dramatically reduced to conserve energy during hibernation. This allows the Geomyces destructans fungus, which causes WNS, to invade the bat's muzzle, ears and wings.

"Animals that survive WNS often "emerge from hibernation with normal-looking wings," Science News said in a report on the research. "But as their body temperature warms back up and their immune systems reactivate, their health takes a nosedive. Within days, dark patches riddle their wings. ... Over the next two weeks, these and other immune cells encapsulate the fungal patches, walling them inside scablike structures. Soon the scabs fall away, leaving the wings with huge holes. Flight becomes limited, if not impossible."
 "It's cellular suicide. It comes out in a huge wave, going out to those areas of infection and killing everything," Meteyer told The Washington Post.

"We see strong similarities between human IRIS and the pathology associated with WNS," she said in the news release. "We hope that these findings will stimulate more experimental studies that yield insight into the role of the immune response during IRIS in humans as well as hibernating bats."

Friday, December 21, 2012

Happy Winter Solstice!

Look!  It's the first day of Winter and we FINALLY 
have some snow!!!

This was our morning walk this AM - the wind was blowing, the snow was horizontal, but it was snow and that's all that counts in the end.  Huzzah!

Meanwhile, in the house, I finally got an extension cord for the tree and for the first time my tree was lit.  In fact, this is the first tree I have ever had on my own.  The bulk of the tree is still outdoors, where it's providing shelter for the birds (in fact, you can see it leaning against the maple tree in the first photo).

Have a Cool Yule, Everyone!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Second Anniversary & the Christmas Bird Count

December 13.  That is my anniversary date for moving to Michigan.  December 15 is the day I started at work.  This year on the 15th, my second anniversary, I was up before the crack of dawn to take part in my third Christmas Bird Count since moving out here (my first one was two days after starting at work).  

It wasn't quite O-dark-thirty when I was to report for the Count, but the sun had yet to cross the horizon when we showed up next to the crane fields at nearly 8 AM.

Over there, beyond the horizon, we could hear the early morning chorus as the cranes started to awake, stretch, make sure everyone made it through the night, and then head out to the fields to feed.

The morning take-off is just as impressive as the evening arrival at the roosting grounds.  

The only difference is that soon the fields were full of cranes - a handful here, several dozen there.  As the day progressed and we drove the roads in search of birds to count, we got to see many cranes right up close.

But cranes were not our only target.  We had an area of several miles through and around the Waterloo Recreation Area to cover.  But it was a chilly grey day, with rain never too far away.  

I think the birds must've felt the same way, for they were pretty Spartan - few and far between.  When we donned our gay apparel (hunter orange) to walk the Hoffman Trail, we expected to see/hear at least two or three red-headed woodpeckers.  Not only did we not see or hear a one of them, but we didn't see or hear ANY birds at all!

Oh, we saw evidence of birds...

 ...and mushrooms galore...

 ...but no birds until we reached the edge of the woods, where a few goldfinches called in the distance out by the marshy area.

Cause?  We suspect the lack of water this year.  See this foot bridge?  There's usually water underneath.  I've even see it with water above!  Not this year.

We scanned the fields.  

The guys continued through the field to the road while Nancy and I went back to bring the car around.

Along the way I had a new Michigan discovery:  deer carrots.

I think I've mentioned before how in the fall the roadsides bloom with signs for "Deer Carrots" and "Deer Apples Sold Here."  It's now the end of hunting season, and here's where those deer treats end up.

After lunch (homemade turkey soup and quiche Lorraine - mmmmm), we headed back out, but the birds remained elusive.  Oh, we had a few bluebirds, lots of mourning doves, and Greg even spotted about 45 or so horned larks, but for the most part, the numbers were disappointing.  Not a single robin or cedar waxwing.  And where were all those winter finches we'd been hearing about!?  I had my heart set on seeing some evening grosbeaks, but it was not to be.

Still, it was a good day in good company - and as long as I had a blanket for my legs, I was happy.  I can think of much worse ways to spend an anniversary.

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Meteor Drizzle

It was a brisk 20- or 30-something last night when I got home from a small Christmas Party at the house of one of our board members at work.  I was more concerned about getting home in time to let the dog out before he made a mess indoors, than I was about paying attention to the sky.

When I walked in the door, Toby rushed downstairs as if to say "at last!" and danced around, eager to get out to relieve himself.  It was nearly 9 PM, after all, and I'd been gone over 12 hours.  He peed, then ate, and we went for our walk.

What a beautiful night.  The sky was dark (no moon), despite all the light pollution (neighbors and neighboring cities), and Orion and Saturn were bright up above.

 In the image above, you see Orion in the center, 
with Sirius (really bright blue star at the bottom) 
just coming over the horizon.
Saturn is just out of range off the top of the photo.

As we made the loop back toward the house, I saw not one, but two meteors streak across the sky out of Orion's feet.  A few minutes later, a third streak rushed across the sky.  Rumor had it that we might see up to 60 meteors this night, so I figured a little night time photography was ahead of me.

We got home and I dug out the camera, tripod, and remote cable release.  I got things assembled and we went out into the back yard, where the worst of the neighbors' lights were blocked by the house.  I set up the tripod and started shooting - leaving the shutter open for 5-20 second intervals (playing around with the ISO), hoping a meteor would streak across the sky while it was open.  Five or six did, but as bright as two or three of them were, the camera didn't register most of them.

Here's the one shot that worked:

Unenhanced image

Same image, lightened so the streak(s) show up.

Tonight's meteor shower, or drizzle, as it turned out for me, had two possible origins.  The first was the Geminid Meteor Showers.  I did a little research on these, and it turns out that they are a fairly new occurrence in our skies.  Most of our meteor showers have been around for hundreds, if not thousands of years, but the Geminids only appeared in our skies about 150 years ago.  They occur when our planet passes through the orbit of an asteroid we call 3200 Phaethon.  The meteors are bits of debris (some no bigger than a grain of sand) burning up as they pass through our atmosphere.

The other potential source, new this year only, is the tail of debris cast off by the comet 45P/Wirtanen.  Apparently Earth is passing through this tail at approximately the same time it's going through the asteroid's orbit.  So, in theory, there could be two meteor showers happening at the same time!

Now, I was out there about 10:00-11:00 PM (-ish).  The experts were saying that the best show (the most meteors) would be between midnight and 3:00 AM.  Well, I didn't think I was going to be awake at that time, but lo! and behold! I was.  It was about 12:30 when I grabbed the camera set-up again and headed back into the yard, thoroughly bundled up (standing still for an hour or so in a frosty yard at midnight in December is a chilly prospect).  I positioned the tripod where the other neighbor's light was mostly blocked and looked up at the sky.  Where were all the stars?  It seemed a high fog had moved in, rendering the view unusable.  What few stars I could see were all hazy and blurry.  No good.  The good news, though, was that I could go back inside and get some sleep knowing I probably wasn't going to miss much.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Very Sad

Bat Conservation International

Photo courtesy of Lindy Lumsden
“We don’t know precisely what happened to it, … but there is one important thing we do know: it was the last Christmas Island pipistrelle (pipistrellus murrayi).”   
   ~Timothy Flannery, The Sydney Morning Herald, November 17, 2012 August 26, 2009. That was the last time this small bat’s echolocation call was heard. That lonely call was, quite possibly, “one of the few times that an extinction of species in the wild can be marked to the day,” says the IUCN.
It did not have to happen. The once-abundant species, named after the island it inhabited, began declining in the mid-1990s. By 2006, the population had fallen by more than 80 percent. Scientists raised an alarm with the Australian government, and the Australian Mammal Society and the Australasian Bat Society were confident the species could be saved at a relatively low cost. But the response was tentative and leadership was lacking. A government committee was formed, but it deliberated for months. When scientists were finally given permission to start a captive-breeding program, it was too late. The little insect-eating bat, which weighed less than a U.S. nickel, had disappeared from the Earth.
This “lack of brave decision making in the face of uncertainty, and … lack of accountability for stalling decisions contributed to the loss of the [Christmas Island] pipstrelle,” says Dr. Tara Martin of Australia’s national science agency.
This tragic lesson shows us the importance of bat conservation across the globe. During this season of sharing, you can help by spreading the word about the Christmas Island pipistrelle. Knowledge is power and by sharing this story with your friends and family, you can remind those around you just how fragile and precious our planet really is.

Dave Waldien, Ph.D.
Dave Waldien
Interim Executive Director
Bat Conservation International
Bat Conservation International P.O. Box 162603 Austin, TX 78716
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