Flying fox colony searches for tick paralysis bats are a difficult daily task October to December each year.
Bruce and Ann Johnson identified the tick paralysis problem in 1990, though there were reports of unexplained deaths in 1986. They set up the first bat hospital at Whiteing Road followed closely by Pam Tully at Zillie Falls in 1991 and lastly at Tolga by Jenny Mclean in 1997. The 4 maternity camps in the wetter Tablelands were unoccupied from 1998 to 2002 and so the first 2 bat hospitals ceased operations. The flying foxes returned to Whiteing Road colony in 2003, but abandoned it again after Cyclone Larry in 2006. We did the searches in the intervening years, but in 2010 the SFFs set up a new maternity camp on Malaan Rd, only about 1 km from the Whiteing Rd camp. This camp is now occupied every year during pup season with at least 20000 bats. Thankfully it is on land owned by bat-friendly people. Other camps where we have done flying fox colony searches over the years have been at Lakeside in Yungaburra and Powley on Lake Tinaroo.
We start opening up our tracks for colony searches in the Tolga Scrub in September. This can be a lot of work especially if the Little Red flying foxes have been camping there in large numbers during the year. Their preferred roosting very closely together often puts too much weight on branches, causing a lot to bend and eventually break. This in turn opens up the canopy and allows various pioneer plants to establish such as stinging trees and wait-a-while. We rarely encounter snakes, but often large Golden Orb spiders have made their webs across our tracks.
We only have a few volunteers to do searches, though everyone has the chance to help at least once. It’s a difficult task for a number of reasons:
- It takes time to learn where the tracks are so that you know where you’ve been and where you haven’t been.
- The volunteer needs to be tolerant of large spiders and other wildlife as well as recognise dangerous plants.
- The volunteer needs to have good figure-ground perception to see the bat on the forest floor and selective hearing to hear the calls of the pups.
- Ideally the volunteer is capable and confident to handle a wild bat and remove the tick.