By Sara Bunge and Sharilynn Wardrop
Over the past five years, BC Parks staff in the Okanagan have been working with volunteers to monitor bat populations in three parks: Sun-Oka Beach, Okanagan Lake and Fintry. In these parks, there is a close connection between the buildings and the bats, with many of the heritage and recreation buildings serving as important maternal roosting habitat for bats, including species that are at risk. Bat houses also provide habitat for populations in these parks.
The original goal was to monitor populations to see how bats are doing in general and how they respond when buildings they are using for roost sites are renovated or removed and when bat boxes are added. This monitoring data is now even more valuable—it will provide critical insight into how bat populations hold up in the face of Whitenose Syndrome, if and when it is discovered in the Okanagan. Whitenose Syndrome is a fungal disease that has devastated bat populations in Eastern Canada. It was discovered in two bats in Washington State in spring 2016.
So what have we learned?
The team’s aim is to count bats at least twice in the spring before the pups are born, and at least twice after. To do these counts, someone must sit for an hour at sunset counting bats as they emerge from their roost. It is labour intensive work that is done by a team of BC Parks staff, park visitors, local residents and many other volunteers.
In Sun-Oka Beach Park, bats that were roosting in the concession building have shifted to one of the four bat houses that were recently installed. These houses are positioned to receive shade at different times of the day and therefore provide different temperature ranges. This allows bats to select preferred accommodation at different times through the season. The team has counted as many as 330 bats in a single box.
An old shower building that once housed bats in Okanagan Lake Park was removed in 2015. Staff rubbed bat guano – which is just bat poop – on to three newly installed bat houses to entice the bats back once they emerged from hibernation in the spring. It appears to have worked! There were as many as 309 bats counted in a single house this summer. The team used the opportunity to learn more about how to provide the best environment for bats, installing devices into the new bat boxes to monitor temperature both inside and outside, and compare that with bat numbers and any indicators of health they were able to observe.
In Fintry Park, the heritage buildings provide essential refuge for huge bat populations, in addition to several bat boxes that have been installed near the Manor House. So far, the Fintry team has counted as many as 1396 bats emerging from the packing house and 1028 from the Manor House. Preserving bat habitat will be an important element of the recently announced upgrades to Fintry Park’s heritage buildings.
Bat monitoring work is expected to continue in 2017. If you are camping in one of these parks, watch for it. Maybe there will even be an opportunity to help out!