Oct 6 2013

Batty About Bats

Melissa Crytzer Fry

This is not an early Halloween post, though I suppose it is fitting since we’re into October and parents kids are already amped up on the Halloween candy that hit shelves two months earlier. No, this is an update.

As you may recall from my last bat post, I’m monitoring bat activity at my hummingbird feeder. The study encourages us to submit photos of our rare nectar-sipping visitors for identification, because two types of backyard bandits drain Arizona feeders from July-October: the endangered Lesser Long-Nosed and the threatened Mexican Long-Tongued. Here they are, in action:

And, yes, if you keep reading, you’ll find a writing lesson hidden between the backwards feet of these bats (True: a bat’s feet are rotated 180 degrees, meaning its knees face backwards. This rotation allows a bat to to hang by its feet and to navigate while flying).

But let me tell you: photographing these buggers in not an easy feat. Look at the way they swoop and skitter about (thanks, hubby, for setting up an infrared video camera).

My first solo photography attempt failed miserably — maybe because I had a flashlight, a camera, and a gun to juggle WHILE taking photos? The next time, hubby accompanied me. Again, no go. Zero shots.

But on the third try, we got lucky:

We realized you actually have to shoot before you SEE any bats at the feeder. If you wait until you see them, they’re gone. It’s all about anticipation. They are that fast. Click to enlarge.

Ted Fleming, the researcher heading the study, successfully identified our visitors from this single photo! We’ve got the Mexican Long-Tongued nectar eaters. When I indicated I was a little disappointed we didn’t have the Lesser Long-nosed, he had this to say:

I think you should celebrate having Mexican long-tongues at your place. They’re much less common than lesser long-noses. Arizona houses tens of thousands of lesser long-noses seasonally but only a few thousand long-tongues (nobody really knows).

OMG … music to my ears (and I had already begun to celebrate, happy just to know “who” was hanging around). But, of course, one photo was no longer enough. I dragged hubby outside again. I needed more, more, more! And he got these … Please click to enlarge so you can see the ‘horn’ on the nose, the tongue length, and the incredible skeletal systems:

Even if we hadn’t gotten any shots, I was reminded of the line in the novel, Glow, by Jessica Maria Tuccelli that states, “The agony of waiting brings the joy of fulfillment.”

This experience has really been a metaphor for the writing life, I realize. When you photograph fast-moving bats, here’s what you’ll experience:

  • A Need for Patience – Bat photography is an art. Like all art, it challenges you to resist the urge to get up and leave before something beautiful happens. Give up too soon and you might miss it.
  • Lots of time in the dark – You will spend lots of time wondering if you really know what the hell you’re doing.
  • Anticipation – You really do have to contemplate the bat’s next move if you want to be successful at capturing him in your lens at just the right time.
  • Exhilaration – The small victories – a wing-beat near your head, soft as a lullaby, or a bat nearly brushing your cheek – can lead up to the big reward: completing a task you deemed nearly impossible (In this case, the “money” shot. In your case …?)

For Readers, For Everyone: Do you think things that you’ve waited for offer a sweeter reward? What are some examples in your life?

For Writers: Do you recognize the roller coaster of patience-darkness-anticipation-exhilaration in your own writing? In your life? In what ways?

Stay tuned for next week’s update about the ghostly apparition in the historical society window. Hint: my cousin went back and took her own photos … Yes, I guess I am getting in the spirit of Halloween.


18 Responses to “Batty About Bats”

  • avatar Julia Munroe Martin Says:

    I’m not going to lie, bats make me a bit squeamish, especially when I think of them that close in the dark… that said, I LOVE your photos, wow, are they amazing! It’s very cool the way the bats are suspended in action.

    As for writing, the quote from GLOW really says it all for me right now: “The agony of waiting brings the joy of fulfillment.” It’s what I hope and dream… as I ride the roller coaster of the writer’s life.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Well, I have to hand it to hubby. Last night, the bats were very fearless and kept flying RIGHT at the camera lens, then they’d cut really quickly and change directions. Hubs never even flinched! Me, um … well, I confess: I ducked once (and I was wearing a hat). But the wingbeats really were something to experience. In a crazy way, they were soothing. I’d always been a little leery of bats too, but now I’m just in awe. Maybe because THESE bats are so cute and puppet-like!?

    Though the GLOW quote would resonate with you as well.

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  • avatar Laurie Buchanan Says:

    Oh my Gosh — the photographs are amazing! I’m so glad you remind your readers to “click to enlarge” because you can see a lot of detail that way!

    As to the patience-darkness-anticipation-exhilaration in my writing…I’m currently waiting for the characters in my manuscript to reveal the “O” aspect of the MOM factor: Motive, Opportunity, and Means.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Oooh, Laurie… I need to know more about your manuscript! 😉 I’m sure the “O” will be revealed soon!

    Could you see the little nose appendage? These creatures are so cool.

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  • avatar Erika Marks Says:

    BATS!!! Melissa, of course you were giddy when he emailed that news back–how cool!!

    It’s true about the waiting and the fulfillment–it is such a roller coaster, especially in publishing. We get news of acceptance and then have a new hurdle to climb and then another–but we wouldn’t stop for the world, would we? Still, it makes for some serious nausea, all of that up and down…I always think about a great George Carlin quote: The only thing better than being first is being “next”–and I think for those of us who submit our writing, there is that constant feeling of being “next” which is thrilling at one turn and agony at another.
    Can’t wait to share all these photos with my family! Thank you, dear!

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    Melissa Reply:

    I guess I’m just destined to be a roller coaster enthusiast (I am, actually)… so maybe that explains the attraction to the gut-wrenching ride that is publishing.

    Oh my gosh… YES… that George Carlin quote is PERFECT. Yes, yes. I want to be next. “Pick me! Pick me!” Ha!

    Hope the family loves the bat photos. I’m still marveling that we got them.

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  • avatar Annie Neugebauer Says:

    Oh Melissa, you know I LOVE this post! Those photos are absolutely stunning. Now if only you can find a way to make that feeder look “scarier” you’d have an amazing Halloween print. 🙂 And your lessons on bat photography really do correlate perfectly to writing. Holy waiting, batman! (See what I did there? 😉 )

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    Melissa Reply:

    I was hoping you’d like this (I think you were on vacation the first bat post I put up last month?)

    I got a good chuckle out of your Batman comment. Yep, I see what you did there! 🙂

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  • avatar Cynthia Robertson Says:

    Great photos, as always, Melissa. You show me parts of Arizona I would miss if not for you and your camera!
    Yes, I agree about the patience for writing. It often feels as if the day will be a wash, but I stick it out a bit longer, and next thing there are some words worth reading on the page. Another instance is when I keep trying to write a difficult scene, and it doesn’t seem to be working, but each day I get up and go over it, and through sheer persistence, it slowly inches toward the scene as I imagine it in my head.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Hopefully I won’t run out of things for show-and-tell! Sometimes, I feel like I’ve seen it all, but then some crazy insect will walk by that I’ve never seen before. So I’m just going to keep my eyes opened!

    Oh yes… the patience of getting the scene, the words, the story right. I second that.

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  • avatar Jessica Vealitzek Says:

    So so fun to see! Thanks for sharing… and, yes, I think writing is like life in general–down times and up times, and it often changes when you least expect it.

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    Melissa Reply:

    I figured you’d enjoy, given the bat love you’ve shared in the past! 😉

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  • avatar Linda Anselmi Says:

    Wow, Wow, Wow! You are making a reluctant bat fan out of me. AWESOME pics. We have seen one or two bats over the years (we think) so I told hubby to keep the hummingbird feeder fresh for a while longer. Strangely we saw hummingbirds until a couple of weeks ago – near the end of sept. Way late for us.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    I can’t remember where you live, Linda… Sorry. These bat visitors seem mostly to be in southern Arizona, and not even near the Phoenix area. Not sure why. But if you DO see any at your feeder, I must know!

    I, too, have changed my tune about bats overall!

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  • avatar Linda Anselmi Says:

    I should explain it is hard to tell when they dart so fast, but cant think of a bird at night moving in that way…

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    I agree with your assessment.

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  • avatar Shary Says:

    Wonderful photos and videos. And how exciting that your visitors are the rarer of the two types of nectar eating bats. The good things are definitely worth waiting for. Any idea how many you have? I imagine they fly so fast that it’s hard to count.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    It IS hard to tell how many we have, but my best guess (after reviewing some of the videos) is maybe around a dozen.

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