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Interns scout for bat habitats at Bayou Cocodrie refuge

FERRIDAY — Scouting for bats is not a typical job that comes with most summer internships, but three interns for St. Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge are doing just that.

Laura Fleissner, John Barker and Andy Taunton have spent the past week at Bayou Cocodrie, which is managed by the St. Catherine Creek staff, scouting habitats for Rafinesque Big-eared Bats. Fleissner is a student at the University of Wisconsin, Barker at Northwestern Louisiana State and Taunton at Mississippi State.

The trio scouted a section of land on Bayou Cocodrie called Brooks Brake, a forested area with towering trees and thick foliage. Brooks Brake is home to a number of Water Tupelo trees, an ideal habitat for Big-eared Bats.

“We started at the north end of Brooks Brake (Monday) and we’ve scouted about two-thirds of the unit. Our goal today (Wednesday) is to try and finish,” Barker said.

“So far, we’ve marked about 85 potential habitats and 30 current habitats.”

Fleissner stressed that they wanted to mark potential habitats as well as current ones, even though it hasn’t always been done that way.

“We’re doing things a little differently this summer. In the past, we would only mark current habitats, but this summer we’re taking time to scout potential trees, so it’s very time-consuming,” Fleissner said.

When scouting the trees, the three measure the width and height of the hole at the base, if there is one. In addition, they measure the height of the tree itself, and the height of the cavity inside it.

“We also mark down whether or not it has a chimney hole higher up in the tree, or just a base hole,” Fleissner said.

“In the winter, the Big-eared Bats tend to stay in trees with more chimney and less base openings. It’s theorized they do that because of there being less air flow and temperature fluctuations.”

Barker said Water Tupelos are the only trees in which the Big-eared Bats will take up residence.

“We’ve never found one in a hollow Cypress tree. Granted, there aren’t many Cypress trees around here, but when we do scout one, there hasn’t been anything in it,” Barker said.

And even when they do scout Water Tupelos, actually seeing the bats isn’t always easy.

“Sometimes I don’t get it, why bats use some trees and not others, because this tree should be a perfect home,” Fleissner said, referring to a Water Tupelo with a small base opening and a chimney opening.

After taking a second look, Barker said he was able to finally see a bat when he used a flashlight and mirror.

“Laura has to see to believe, so we try to accommodate,” Barker joked.

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