British Columbia

Counters keep tabs on fatal syndrome with annual Vancouver bat tally

Volunteers all across B.C. are scouting the ground for guano and keeping their eyes on the sky this month — it's time to count bats, and the B.C. Community Bat Program is looking for volunteers to help out.

Every June and July, volunteers head out at dusk as bats emerge from their hiding spots

White nose syndrome is fatal to most of the bats exposed to it. (Ryan von Linden/New York Department of Environmental Conservation/AP)

As dusk falls one evening in June, Danielle Dagenais has her eyes trained on a crack in a wall.

Black droppings the size of sesame seeds on the ground below are a sign bats have made a home in the siding of the Stanley Park Rowing Club. 

When the sun goes down, the bats hanging in the walls wake up to go find food — and Dagenais doesn't want to miss it when they fly out.

"There is so much we don't know about them," she said. "We are learning things every day."

Dagenais works with the B.C. Community Bat Program and it's a busy time of year. In June, dozens of volunteers are recruited to help with a bat count across the province. 

The organization wants to know how many bats emerge from their roosts each year because a mysterious fungal disease called white-nose syndrome has decimated bat populations in Canada.

Syndrome fatal for bats

That's concerning, because although many people might never see or notice them, bats are a vital part of the ecosystem.

"They control our insect populations," Dagenais said.

"They're one of the main animals out there at night time controlling the insect populations. And many of these insect populations are ones that attack our crops."

"There is so much we don't know about them. We are learning things every day," says Danielle Dagenais, regional coordinator for the B.C. Community Bat Program. (Mike Zimmer/CBC)

At the rowing club, many members might not even realize a group of bats has been living in cracks in the walls for 15 years, Dagenais said. 

Bats return to the same roosting spot every year, where females give birth to one pup. If a population drops in one location, it can be assumed white-nose syndrome has affected them.

'Quite a spectacle'

At the rowing club, the group counted 42 bats last year. Dagenais said she expects that number to be higher this year, once the pups are born later this month.

With over 70 roosts estimated to be in Vancouver alone, the B.C. Community Bat Program is always looking for more volunteers to help count.

The first count runs now until June 21, with a second count happening July 11 and August 5..

Humans and bats can live peacefully together, Dagenais said, and the little animals will make a home almost anywhere they can hide and hang.

Curious if you might have bats roosting in your own home?

Dagenais suggests walking around your property at dusk and listening closely — they make little noises when they wake up.

"It's kind of like a squeaky chatter, a cross between a bird and a squirrel," she said.

It might take some patience, but they'll eventually come fluttering out. 

"It's quite a spectacle in the sky to witness."

A colony of bats has lived at the Stanley Park Rowing Club for 15 years. (Mike Zimmer/CBC)

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