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Feb 11, 2019 4:25 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Some February Sightings

Biologists from the NYSDEC have documented bats overwintering on Long Island. This silver-haired bat was found in Springs in December 2005. MIKE BOTTINI
Feb 11, 2019 4:57 PM

There’s a Facebook group called “Long Island Wildlife Photography,” administered by Jim Botta, that has many absolutely stunning photographs posted every day. And every so often there’s an unusual post, including a number of photos of otters that have been helpful for my island-wide river otter survey.A post on February 5 by Tina Zito caught my attention, and based on the number of comments it generated, the attention of many others in the group. Tina had managed to photograph a bat flying overhead just after sunset, but while there was still enough light for a decent image. Most of the commenters pointed out that it was February, when bats should be deep in hibernation, and long past the time of year to be migrating. Adding to the confusion, all seven bat species found on Long Island prey on aerial insects—what flying insects could possibly be out and about in mid-winter?

The report prompted a comment from naturalist and photographer Luke Ormand. That same day, he wrote, “I was at Wertheim in the early afternoon. We were standing on the bridge that spans Carmans looking north to the train trestle bridge when a bat (looking much like the one in [Tina’s] photo) appeared. It spent some time flying around the bridge and surrounding woods and briefly perched on a telephone pole ... On a semi-related note, I was at Swan River Preserve in E. Patchogue later that day and had some flying insects (they looked like small versions of mayflies) which I thought was particularly interesting given the fact that it’s February.”

NYSDEC biologists Samantha Hoff and Casey Pendergast have been studying the endangered northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis) here on Long Island for several years, documenting them using crawl spaces under houses as hibernating sites two years ago. This was an exciting find, as the fungal infection called white-nose syndrome, which has killed millions of bats across North America, is contracted and spread in hibernation sites, yet the crawl spaces and the bats using them here on eastern Long Island are free of the deadly fungus.

Samantha and Casey hypothesize that our mild winters enable bats to emerge from their hibernacula on warm evenings, as they did last week, and feed. What insects are available now is another interesting question. To answer that, they’ve enlisted volunteers through Long Island Nature Organization to set insects traps out on warm nights. The insects collected are sent to an entomologist for identification. The results of this research will be one of many topics covered at the upcoming Long Island Natural History Conference on March 22 and 23.

Perhaps even stranger than seeing bats flying around last week was the sighting recorded by John Van Niel on February 4. While taking his class out for a field trip upstate, after two consecutive days of temperatures hitting the 50°F mark, he came across an unusual track in the thin cover of snow, headed directly to a freshwater pond. Each print consisted three distinct marks arranged like the toes of a turkey, but with the center “toe” twice the length and width of the outer two.

An excellent tracker, John quickly realized he was looking at a frog track, with the outer “toes” the rear legs and the central almond-shaped mark the body print. This was most likely a wood frog, our earliest and most hardy frog in terms of breeding in vernal ponds that may still be covered in ice. In fact, this species’ range in North America extends beyond the Arctic Circle!

Among its adaptations is the ability to manufacture and store glucose in its cells that acts as a form of anti-freeze, enabling the frog to withstand temperatures as low as 23°F. Even more amazing is what happens to the body fluids between the cells: as much as one third of that fluid can freeze solid without harming the animal.

The wood frog is easily identified by its black, zorro-like mask. With the exception of breeding time in the vernal pond, where it does a great imitation of a duck to attract a mate, and winter hibernation, this frog is found on the forest floor searching for insects, beetles, spiders and other invertebrate prey.

Dai Dayton reports that Ligonee Brook is full and flowing. It should be a good year for the brook’s intermittent alewife spawning run.

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