All eight of Ontario’s bat species found in county
By Jenn Watt
Published Nov. 21, 2017
Using information gathered this year, biologist Paul Heaven will be returning to bat roost sites in 2018 to better understand how the animals choose the locations they do and to gather more information on the populations that live in the county.
Heaven spent the months of May through August setting up ultrasonic recording devices to identify bat species throughout Haliburton County with funding obtained by the Haliburton Highlands Land Trust.
The project asked local residents to report bat sightings to the land trust. Then Heaven would follow up, requesting permission to place a recorder on the property for three or four nights.
Plenty of people responded and the results demonstrate that the county has all eight species of bats that reside in Ontario, including the four endangered species: little brown myotis, northern myotis, tri-coloured bat and small-footed myotis.
However, the presence of the bats doesn’t indicate the populations are in good health. Heaven said white-nose syndrome has taken a heavy toll on bats across the province, in some hibernation sites wiping out the colony altogether.
“We’re not seeing many of the tri-coloured bats and northern myotis,” Heaven said. “I think we are feeling the effect of the white-nose syndrome, particularly with those species.”
Little brown myotis were the most prevalent, found at 26 of the 56 sites visited.
While at some sites there might be between 20 and 200 calls recorded, there were a few that had as many as 6,000 calls recorded.
“What we expect is going on there is these areas of high activity are actually maternity sites, where you’ve got the females and pups all grouping together,” he said.
“It’s really exciting to see these potential maternity roost sites scattered throughout the county where these moms and pups are foraging and roosting.”
The two-year project is funded with $104,000 from the Ontario Species at Risk Stewardship Fund, which pays for the study as well as the educational component, bat box building workshops and bringing in expert speakers.
In the coming year, Heaven said there will be more opportunities to teach area residents about bats and he intends to develop best practices materials. “What does a landowner do with a bat population in their attic? Things like that,” he said.
This project fits into the mandate of the land trust, which sets out three priorities: acquisition, research and education.
“We also wanted to make sure that whatever we do … involves our own lands to a certain degree,” said land trust chairwoman Mary-Lou Gerstl. “We certainly wanted something we could do on our land. Something that involved community to bring awareness.”
The land trust has four properties and bats were identified at all of them.
Heaven said while the recordings allow him to identify species of bats, it does not monitor the population size.
“You could get one bat that’s just going around the bat recorder or you could get many bats that are going by once,” he said. “We don’t really know what’s going on with the population.”
He also pointed out that the research is skewed to favour bats that reside around the forest edge, since sites were selected based on local residents reporting sightings. Bats that prefer the forest, such as the northern myotis, may have been found less frequently because of the way the project was set up.
Gerstl said the next phase of the project will be for Heaven to return to some of the sites for follow up.
Educational materials will also stress the importance of preserving bat habitat.
Turtle mortality project continues to inform
The land trust’s turtle project was one of the features of a recent conference in Quebec City hosted by Corridor Appalachien and the Ontario Road Ecology Group.
Paul Heaven did a presentation about the Haliburton County project, which was co-ordinated by the Haliburton Highlands Land Trust.
“There was tremendous interest in our project and results,” Heaven said.
The presentation demonstrated that a standard culvert “functions exceptionally well if combined with a well built barrier wall,” he said. “You don’t need to spend money on high-end underpasses.”
Representatives from universities as well as the Ontario Ministry of Transportation and its Quebec counterpart made inquiries about the Haliburton project, asking for copies of the report.
Land trust chairwoman Mary-Lou Gerstl said $9,000 of funding received by her organization has been given to the county to take over maintenance of the turtle wall, which is on Gelert Road near Wintergreen Pancake Barn.
“The turtle project was one that was near and dear to the hearts of people in the county,” said Gerstl, who is pleased the research continues to be shared and inspires other municipalities to replicate their work.
She said she hopes when the county does future road projects it keeps the turtle barriers in mind.
“This is such a cheap and ideal way to limit any damage that’s done [to turtle populations]. It’s just a no-brainer as far as we’re concerned,” she said.