77 The Bats of Blawenburg
Not all Tales of Blawenburg are about the early history of the village. This blog was inspired by a recent visit by a bat to my house in East Blawenburg. It prompted me to think about the other bats in Blawenburg.
I’ve been called many things over the years. I had a variety of nicknames in my younger years, but the one that was most common was Roach. My nickname was associated with the insect (cockroach), not the remains of a marijuana joint. I’ve also been told that I have bats in my belfry. Crazy, huh? Well, it turns out to be somewhat true. Over the years, bats have paid visits to my house in East Blawenburg. While I don’t have a belfry, I’ve had several bats in my house. And that’s not the only place they visit in Blawenburg.
Downtown Blawenburg Bats
Until recently, the favored meeting place for the local bats was Blawenburg Church. They have probably been meeting there since the church was built over 190 years ago. The belfry (steeple) was providing an easy point of entry for the bats, and then a short trip to the attic allowed these winged creatures to form a colony. Geese have their gaggles, turkeys their rafters, and crows their murders, but a group of bats is simply a colony. These tiny critters with big wing spans aren’t birds. They are considered mammals because the females give birth to a live pup, just one, and feed their offspring with their milk. They have hair rather than feathers, and like humans, they are warm-blooded with the ability to maintain a constant body temperature.
Bat with fully flattened wings
The church bats (suspected of being Dutch Reformed in their beliefs) found the old church attic a great place to bear pups and raise a family. There were plenty of bats in the colony, and in warmer weather, they provided a spectacular sight as they flew from the belfry at dusk to feed on insects throughout the night. The problem with bats is that they are messy. Their excrement, called guano, accumulates wherever the colony lives, and the guano provides a fertile ground for fungi. The mold produces spores that can spread infection through the air. The church bats deposited their guano on the attic floor and the insulation that rested between its joists.
Those messy bats have been excluded from their church penthouse, shushed out by an environmentally-friendly bat removal company. Before the bats exited the church, the openings where they entered were sealed, and they were provided a one-way exit. Tough luck if they forgot to take everything with them! Once they were gone, the steeple and attic were cleaned up, and the area was sanitized before new insulation was installed. It was quite a project.
Old bat-soiled church insulation was removed by workers in hazmat suits.
East Blawenburg Bats
Living in an old house (circa 1843–see Blog 27) is filled with unpredictable events. Over the almost half-century we’ve lived in Blawenburg, there have been several bat visits. Mice are common visitors, too. Despite our efforts to seal up the points of entry, these critters still like to pay us visits.
The bat visits aren’t frequent, but they are memorable. One time, I was sleeping comfortably when I was awakened in the middle of the night by a swooping sound. It wasn’t loud, but not something I could ignore. In the shadows of the night light, I saw the bat flying around the bedroom, up the hall, and back through the bedroom again. My wife, Evelyn, and I both covered our heads with the bed sheets as the swooping mammal sought a way out. We had to do something, so I grabbed the nearest bat removal object I could find, my tennis racket, and swung it wildly as the bat flew by. Eventually, I hit it, and the bat landed on the rug. It was still moving, so I dumped the contents of a nearby trash can and put it atop the bat. We talked about what to do next, and Evelyn suggested sliding a file folder under the trash can and turning it over. Great suggestion. It worked then, and several times since. I took the bat downstairs and released it outside. It immediately flew away, which made me happy. After all, I didn’t want to be labeled “bat killer” by my neighbors!
Bats came and went unpredictably, and I kept a tennis racket next to my bed for several years, just in case! Over time, I was getting pretty good at capturing and releasing bat visitors. I learned they will only fly around for a while, and then they perch as high in a room as they can. I was able to successfully use the trash can method for several bat visits, even when the bat was perched atop a curtain.
Enter Pandora, the Bat Cat
On a cold January night in 2022, we were watching a TV show, when our cat, Pandora, aka Pandy, abruptly jumped off my lap and ran into the first-floor bathroom. Then she ran out of the bathroom into the foyer. Before we could think about what she was chasing, a bat with a wingspan that seemed like it was two feet (really about 10 inches) flew into our family room and did swooping circles around the room several times. We ducked, and Pandy began jumping up in a futile attempt to capture the intruder. Finally, the bat left the room, and Evelyn told me to close the dining room door so it wouldn’t travel to the second floor. Bats like to perch in our dining room for some reason.
Evelyn closed off the family room, so there were only two rooms where the bat could be, the kitchen and the dining room. We turned on all the lights wondering where it was. We didn’t have to wonder for long. Pandy was on the sill of the china cabinet in the dining room, trying to climb up higher. Sure enough, the much smaller looking bat was on the handle of one of the decorative baskets on the top. Despite looking so large when they fly, most bats are only about three inches long when they tuck their wings in.
L-Pandy, the Bat Cat, looks up at the bat. R-The bat looks down at Pandy.
My first thought was to employ the trash can method. I tried to carefully lift the basket off the cabinet with my left hand while holding a trash can in my right hand and standing on a small stool. Needless to say, that didn’t work. The wise bat took off, went across the room, and perched behind the curtain valance on the top of the window. We let it rest while Evelyn got a step ladder. No trash can for this one, I thought as I donned a pair of leather gloves. I gingerly went up the ladder. Step one. I couldn’t see the bat. Step two. There it was, and it looked like it was sleeping. I knew I had to move fast, but not so fast that I would startle it. So, with one slow and steady move, I reached up and grabbed the tiny bat. It easily fit in my glove, and my finger held it snuggly. It was squeaking loudly, telling me it wasn’t happy. I asked Evelyn to quickly open the dining room and outside doors. I walked out to the porch with it squeaking all the way. I put my hand on the porch sill, opened my glove, and before I could see which direction it went, our visitor flew away.
The bat was gone. The adventure was over. Our only job then was to praise Pandy for alerting us to the bat and helping us return it to the outdoors. Pandy was restless for a while after the bat left, but we gave her plenty of attention and a well-earned nickname, The Bat Cat of East Blawenburg. This makes me wonder. If she is the Bat Cat, what does that make me? Maybe, the Bat Whisperer of East Blawenburg. That’s better than being nicknamed after a cockroach!
I've wondered if the visiting bat is telling the other bats about its encounter with the Bat Cat in that old house in Blawenburg. So far, no other bats have shown up, but I wonder if they are just regrouping for a return visit some night when we least expect it. Time will tell, but if more visitors arrive at our house, Evelyn, Pandy, and I are ready.
1. While no bat census was taken in Blawenburg, there were likely more bats than people in this tiny village before their recent removal.
2. Bats are the only mammals that can fly. Their wings are their fore-limbs, and resemble hands with skin between the fingers.
3. Bats have a bad rap, especially around Halloween. This is probably because they are nocturnal and can be scary when they swoop around people. The truth is that bats help keep our environment in balance by eating thousands of insects each night (in season, of course). Because of their importance, some people keep bat houses outside on their property.
Bat with flattened wings - https://www.liveanimalslist.com/mammals/bats.php
Cat and bat - Both pictures were taken by Evelyn Cochran on location.
Bat Cat–Amazon.com (You can buy pet costumes for many occasions.)
Church – Jeff Knol
Copyright © 2022 by David Cochran. All rights reserved.