Gone “Batty” for Bats

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“Hey! I was napping here.” A silver-tailed bat fails to impress us with a showy display of hissing and teeth baring. Photo by L.J. Bailey

Don’t be deceived by this silver-haired bat’s ferocious appearance! You would be upset, too, if strangers burst into your room while you were sleeping and pulled you out of your bed only to put you in a paper bag. That’s kind of what happened to this little guy who was found hanging off a building in Chicago’s Loop this morning – snoozing! Although he did not appear hurt, we relocated him to a preserve south of the city anyway. Bats’ echolocation (the ultrasonic method they have of “seeing” their surroundings) becomes confused with unnaturally smooth surfaces like building glass. Thus, downtown Chicago is a not a friendly place for bats. Plus, these bats are so tiny that they are eaten by crows and seagulls, much the way songbirds are picked off by them, too.

Wasn’t I concerned about rabies? I’m so glad you asked. While you should never ever handle any wild animal, especially a bat, some people (like me) have been trained how to safely do so. However, very few bats actually have transmittable rabies viruses. The United States Center for Disease Control reports that only 6% of the bats submitted to them for testing have rabies. Bats submitted to them were sick or injured enough to be easily caught and contained, so this is not an accurate sampling of the actual percentage of rabies-carrying bats in the wild. Therefore, it is likely that a bat you encounter in the wild poses no rabies threat (or any other threat) whatsoever.  However, it is possible that bats active during the day, found in your home or on your lawn, or generally on the ground unable to fly could have active rabies virus. This is why you call the experts to help you out.

If not all bats are rabid, what other myths are there about bats? I’m glad you asked that as well:

  • Bats are not blind. They can see well even in low light but use a combination of eyesight and echolocation to zero in on some of their smaller insect prey.
  • Bats do not want to hang out in your hair. Sorry if you thought your new ‘do would be a great draw. Because bats rest upside down, they become airborne by dropping off of their perch before using their wings to swoop up. This creates the impression that they are aiming for your head. They’re not. They want nothing to do with you.
  • Bats are not bloodsuckers – mostly. Out of the over 1,200 species of bats in the world, only 3 feed on blood. Interestingly, not one of those species is in Europe, although you might think so given the stories and folklore surrounding bats and vampires.
  • Bats are not rodents with wings. Stop thinking that. Genetically speaking, they have more in common with primates than they do rodents. They’re also not birds – they’re mammals.

Bats also have many amazing qualities and help us out in ways we might not be aware of:

  • One bat can eat as many as 1,200 insects in an hour of feeding. You know how the mosquitos are out of control in the Chicagoland area? We need more bats.
  • Bats are critical pollinators for the plant kingdom.
  • Furthermore, fruit-eating bats perform the vital function of seed dispersal.
  • Bat poop (or guano), when collected responsibly, can have a very positive effect on local economies. It serves many functions, including acting as fertilizer.
  • Bats are tourist attractions. Bats don’t want to see us, but many of us want to see bats. In Austin, Texas alone, one bridge known for harboring tens of thousands of bats, generates $10,000,000 in tourism revenue each year. There are places like Carlsbad Caverns and others too numerous to name that generate a lot of revenue for the local community.

What if we saw bats as the allies that they are and not scary flying mice who want to nest in our hair? Check out Bat Conservation International for more information about this fascinating animal.

Striking Memories

Picket signs ready for pickup at the Hyatt in downtown Chicago. Photo by L.J. Bailey

Fred Klonsky muses on Duncan’s ridiculous comment and remembers the historic CTU strike – 6 years ago! His post is here: https://wp.me/p4C3g-oiP

I’ve been treated to my own memories of the CTU strike in my Facebook memories feed, and what strikes me is how passionately we believed in our fight, not just for ourselves but for our kids.

So, to the striking hotel workers in Chicago and the potentially striking teachers in L.A., I send you solidarity. As a former CTU member, I still feel a kinship with my fellow brothers and sisters.

A Scientist Walks Into a Bar: The Arapaima

The Field Museum: A Scientist Walks into a Bar event hosted by The Hideout. Photo by L.J. Bailey

The arapaima is a rather robust fish found only in Brazil and Guyana in the Amazon basin. Above is a picture of one of the fish where you can judge its size against a human being’s size. Not too long ago, many of the fish caught were fifteen feet long; today there are no fish longer than ten feet being caught. The arapaima are important to indigenous communities who rely on the fish for food, as well as cultural and religious ceremonies, and when arapaima size and population became alarmingly low, the Amerindians asked the scientific community for help to preserve these animals.

Lesley De Souza had been working on her Ph.D. in Neotropical fish studies when she came across this opportunity to head to the Amazon in Guyana and study the arapaima, and she took it. Part of her plan was to place a radio transmitter on the fish to track their movements. Because the arapaima move into the flooded forests during the rainy season, external transmitters were out of the question as the fish could become tangled in tree roots and injured or even killed. The plan was to surgically implant the transmitters in a cavity in the fish. Lesley studied the specimens in the Field Museum to form an idea as to how this surgery would work and received extensive veterinary advice.

You see, things become complicated because this is a fish that does not breathe underwater. Every five to fifteen minutes, the arapaima must return to the surface where it gulps the air before submerging to rest on the bottom of the water column again. In fact, it is this predictable behavior that led to the conservation concerns today. However, Lesley felt confident that she could perform the surgery quickly so as not to jeopardize the animal’s breathing.

Of course, things in the wild often do not go as planned. When they caught the first arapaima for the procedure, Lesley carefully took her surgical tools to open the cavity for the transmitter. Much to her surprise, the scales were hard, almost like an armor, and impossible to cut through. She started to doubt her ability to perform this procedure, but one of the members of the indigenous community who had provided invaluable information on the arapaima already asked why she wasn’t simply removing the two scales. She hadn’t thought of that and took a hemostat (similar to a pair of tweezers or forceps) to pry the scales free. This became one in a long series of events where the indigenous communities’ expertise proved invaluable, reminding members of the scientific community that it is critical for them to work with the people who know the land best and have been there for thousands of years.

One of Lesley’s biggest surprises was discovering that arapaia secrete milk from glands in their head to feed their young. This was not even well-known in the scientific community until recently, and it was not officially confirmed until an analysis of the stomach contents of a young arapaima showed the presence of signatures of the milk. The indigenous communities were surprised the scientists did not know about the milk – even more proof that scientists need to listen to indigenous people who are experts on their land.

Are there any surprising facts about plants or animals that you have discovered? Tell us about it in the comments. Thank you for reading!

Illinois teacher shortage? We warned you.

A repost from the incomparable Fred Klonsky about the failure of CPS and other systems in 1. recruiting teachers of color and 2. hiring and retaining teachers.

From the article:

Combine falling competitive compensation, phony teacher accountability measures that evaluate teachers on how well their individual students perform on a high-stakes test and blaming teacher unions for everything under the sun and this is what you get.

No teacher is surprised, I’ll tell you that.

Read the rest here: https://wp.me/p4C3g-oia

Heartland Cafe, Target, and the Future of Rogers Park

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Heartland Cafe, likely the 1970s. Photo from Tom S. on Yelp.

The Heartland Cafe was opened in Rogers Park in 1976 by two activists and has been a vital part of this community ever since. Politicians like Barack Obama spoke and held rallies here, and it is one of the places I know I can eat nourishing vegetarian food without resorting to grilled cheese and French fries. Tom, the owner, also owns Earth First farms in Michigan and supplies the cafe with fresh, wholesome ingredients. It’s a bastion of hippiedom, or what I understand hippie culture to be about.

When the news came through on the Rogers Park Facebook forum about the entire property going up for sale, I felt like the heart of the neighborhood was in jeopardy. It’s up for grabs by some developer – all three parts: the cafe, the Red Line Tap, and Heartland Studio Theatre. Given the recent developments, many of us are concerned about what this means for the neighborhood.

We have had signs of major changes in the neighborhood. A mini-Target is slated to open that, in all fairness, is supposed to be a part of the new development including a few affordable housing units, but required the destruction of CHA Caroline Hedger Apartments’ senior recreation area. In the meantime, senior citizens have had to walk down the street to enjoy a temporary recreation center – many suffer mobility issues and cannot do that. Supposedly a new recreation area is part of the development; however, records show that Caroline Hedger suffers from major, chronic neglect putting senior citizen residents at risk. Adding the recreation center is fine but will any of the money from this development return to the CHA development for major safety improvements?

In addition, the Target, parking garage, and housing were touted as a major coup for the financial health of Rogers Park, but some of us cannot forget that this was built on land owned by the Chicago Housing Authority: public land.

There’s talk on the forum of buying the Heartland Cafe property and turning the business into a co-op, but the property has been on the market for three days now, and given the neighborhood’s up and coming status, it likely won’t remain on the market for long. Without a serious financial backer to support the conversion of the businesses to a co-op, I see this as more of a pipe dream than anything else.

I don’t want to mourn the death of a Rogers Park institution before seeing who ends up purchasing the property and what they do with it, but I have my doubts that whoever buys it will see value in Heartland Cafe’s rich cultural history and its contribution to the artists’ corridor on Glenwood. All around me, rental properties are charging more for one- and two-room units, and I’m worried this once-affordable, beautiful, and diverse neighborhood is on its way out. Please, please prove my prediction to be incorrect!

No One East of Michigan Avenue

I’m usually assigned to the East Route for bird rescue and salvage monitoring. It’s an area I never paid much attention to until I began monitoring. It’s mostly residential over there with multi-million dollar condominiums, a beautiful park, and a dedicated Mariano’s that has a live pianist playing jazz and classical music. Think of the Aon Building (formerly called the Amoco Building for old-timers), and the neighborhood is mostly a little north of that, east of Michigan Avenue. The park has its own gazebo and fountains and its own dog park within the park.

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The sun rises over Lake Michigan. Photo by L.J. Bailey.

The thing I cannot figure out, though, is where all the people who do not have homes go east of Michigan Avenue. I arrive downtown anywhere from 4 to 5:30, depending on sunrise times, and I walk from the L to my route, passing through the Loop area before it wakes up for the day. I pass over a dozen people sleeping on the streets, especially when the weather is warmer and they are not sleeping in the L cars. There is a group sleeping under the Cultural Center overhang. There are people spread on those uncomfortable bus benches that were designed to keep people from actually curling up on them for the night. There are people huddled under construction scaffolding. Many are regulars, and I have come to recognize them with their refrigerator box blankets and piles of old clothing and possessions in plastic bags. Some people have bags of Corner Bakery food lying next to their heads – I am pretty sure those are provided by a giving soul who wants to help people by providing a bite to eat. Some people are awake at that hour and chatting quietly amongst each other.

Yet, when I cross Michigan Avenue and end up by Michigan Plaza, Swissotel, The Fairmont, the Hyatt, and then into the residential areas, there are no people sleeping in doorways, under construction scaffolding, or curled up in the beautiful park. Where has everyone gone – why and how? I don’t see anyone attempting to sleep or even walk over there. I also do not see CPD on regular patrol over there, at least at this hour. It’s like its own isolated town within Chicago, a private enclave.

There is one gentleman I run into occasionally over there named Alex. He hides, and when he sees me coming, he emerges from somewhere and chats me up a bit, telling me about the birds he saw and how he helped a volunteer pick up a dead bird and bag it. I don’t want to say where it is I see him, but it is in the same spot every time, and I wonder how he is able to skirt the unwritten code that seems to govern who can sleep or even hang out in this area. I’m conducting a little research on this question. I know there are Kennedys and other famous people living over there and that most of the area is comprised of condominiums. Are they responsible for enforcing the unwritten code – no one east of Michigan Avenue? This bears some investigation.

Wild Goose Chase Success

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Annette Prince holds a rescued Canada goose. Do NOT try this yourself. Leave it to the professionals. Photo by L.J. Bailey.

Licensed, trained professional and Chicago Bird Collision Monitors director Annette Prince captured an injured goose at Burnham Harbor today (pictured above). CBCM received calls yesterday about the goose and volunteers were unable to locate her until today. We took a trip down Lake Shore Drive (dodging Bears tailgaters and triathletes) to see if we could spot her. I watched Annette perform a goose rescue with no net! I thought about my own goose capture struggle and how Annette made it all look deceptively easy.

As a side note, do NOT try this yourself as it is against federal law to disturb a migratory bird like a Canada goose without a special permit. Also, you could do more harm than good to the goose, even with the best of intentions. Geese are difficult! Take it from me. Call the hotline in the metropolitan Chicago area at 773.988.1867 to report an injured bird and wait for a trained monitor to assist you.

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A not completely adult gull with foot injuries is transferred to CBCM for rescue and veterinary care. Photo by L.J. Bailey.

The woman who rescued this gull was one of the most generous people I have met in a long time. She waited for us to leave the bird patrol downtown, rescue the goose, and then drive all the way up to Belmont and Lake Shore to pick up this injured gull she held in her arms as one might hold a cat. This gull was unusually docile in transport, likely because he was immature and injured. (As a side note, I don’t recommend ever putting your face this close to a wild animal – they don’t understand we are trying to help them and will do anything they can to escape your clutches.)

Still, it was so touching to see the care with which she handled this little creature, whispering to him in Polish and telling us that the gull knew we were there to help him. Annette gave her a hug and thanked her for her kindness and patience. She said goodbye to the gull after he was loaded in the carrier, and as we drove off, I watched her in the rear-facing mirror looking both relieved and teary-eyed.

I have met the kindest people on these rescue missions, and it is a privilege to experience human empathy and concern for our fellow creatures. It was worth traveling downtown at 4 a.m. in a thunderstorm to be a part of this project. Days like today, I have great hope for human beings.