The Siemers Bat Field Station in Tabachka, Bulgaria

Antonia Hubancheva, Daniela Schmieder, Paula and Merlin Tuttle, and local neighbor Georgi Guder at the Siemers bat research field station in Tabachka, Bulgaria.

Our Friday the 13th flight from Paris to Sofia was uneventful. From my window seat on the plane the views of the Alps were spectacular. I hope to go there some day. But this trip we are working in Bulgaria! My Lonely Planet travel guide says:

wild wooded mountain ranges speckled with remote villages and enchanting monasteries to vibrant modern cities and long sandy beaches hugging the Black Sea coast, Bulgaria rewards exploration.”

This is a country of mountains, forests and rivers and a wide diversity of plant and animal life. The Bulgarians tell me they still have bear, wolves and lynx. I’m impressed!

We are at the Siemers Bat Research Station in the quaint village of Tabachka.  There’s a church, a post office and two stores in the village where we can get essentials. And the most essential of essentials is yogurt. Bulgarians are crazy about their yogurt. A favorite summer starter is cold cucumber-yogurt soup called “tarator.” In addition to cucumbers and yogurt, it consists of walnuts, which grow all over the village, and fresh dill. The store was out of fresh dill and promised to provide it later. At dinnertime the dill was retrieved and we were handed a bunch of plants freshly pulled from someone’s garden. That’s what I call a custom order! This place is going to be fun!

Toni has freshly plucked dill for the tarator (cold cucumber-yogurt soup).
Toni with plenty of dill for the tarator (cold cucumber-yogurt soup).

One of the locals, Georgi, welcomed us with a pail of milk straight from his goat, still warm. He brought photographs of some of the bat researchers he met two years ago, when a workshop was held at the station, and a bat photo postcard. He was thrilled to learn that Merlin was the photographer and got his autograph. I’m looking forward to a festival the village is having on June 28th, when we can meet all the local talent!   


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Rare Lesser woolly bat caught

Merlin and Koos taking a break from bat netting to eat a South African favorite dish--bobotie
Merlin and Koos taking a break from bat netting to eat South Africa’s favorite dish–bobotie–made by Koos’ wife Riekie

Merlin would like to photograph Long-eared bats (Laephotis) catching green stink bugs which are a pest of macademia nut orchards here in South Africa. Koos Steyn has been providing invaluable help in netting and trapping for Long-eared bats on a mountain where they’ve previously been found. But even though the rains have ceased and the temperatures are warming up a little, it’s still cool in the evenings, and we’re not catching very many bats.


IMG_1642Unfortunately, we didn’t catch any Long-eared bats, and on our way back to the Taylor’s home, we got a flat tire we had to change.

But the next morning, Koos checked the trap and found a rare Lesser woolly bat (Kerivoula lanosa) inside. Here are the photos Merlin got.

Lesser woolly bat (Kerivoula lanosa)
Lesser woolly bat (Kerivoula lanosa)
Lesser woolly bat (Kerivoula lanosa)
Lesser woolly bat      (Kerivoula lanosa)

We couldn’t have gotten the Lesser woolly bat without Koos Steyn who teaches agronomy at the University of Venda and has his own macademia orchard. Koos has been finishing up his PhD and working with his colleague Peter Taylor in documenting local bats and their feeding behavior for the past several years.


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In Search of Naked Bats in Thailand’s Deep South

Our destination was Hala Bala Wildlife Sanctuary to seek and, hopefully, photograph the world’s largest insectivorous bat: the Naked Bat, Cheiromeles torquatus.

Narathiwat Province borders Malaysia.

We were met at the Narathiwat Airport by Pipat Soisook, Curator of Mammals at the Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Natural History Museum, and Sunate Karapan, Director of the Hala Bala Research Station.

The research center’s lodging was spacious and comfortable, and we had it all to ourselves, since the usual clientele of researchers were staying away, we were told, due to violence in surrounding areas.

This background about the violence came from the Lonely Planet’s guide to Thailand:  Over 100 years ago, the Kingdom of Siam conquered this area, but an Islamic separatist group wanted to secede from Buddhist Thailand, and independence is still an issue today. Foreigners are not the targets, but can be in danger, as when a market was bombed just prior to our arrival.

The Hala Bala Wildlife Sanctuary was one of the few places where we could reliably find the rarely seen Naked Bat. It was an exciting place to work, where we could potentially run into a tiger, leopard, sun bear or a King Cobra. In the early morning, we were often serenaded by gibbons while eating breakfast. At mealtime, we had to contend with a pet Great Hornbill named Wang, a bird the size of an eagle who tried to dive-bomb us or rob our food, especially his favorite: roti, a type of flatbread.

Merlin gets a love bite from Wang, the Great Hornbill

Next I’ll tell you about our experiences netting and photographing 18 species of bats, including photos of Naked Bats as well as very cute and tiny Spotted-Winged and Tailless Fruit Bats.

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