Eerie, exciting and enlightening

Beginning this evening, the Weminuche Audubon Society will host several events befitting of the season that can only be described as eerie, exciting and enlightening.

Tonight at 7 p.m., society members and friends will gather at the Pagosa Springs Community Center for a regular monthly chapter meeting entitled, “Pagosa’s Going Batty!” As with all local Audubon events, the general public is invited, admission is free and refreshments will be served.

Society president Susan Halabrin, along with Audubon Colorado Southwest Regional Director Becky Gillette and U.S. Forest Service Visitor Information Services Officer Phyllis Wheaton (of the Pagosa Ranger District), will openly discuss bats, their fascinating characteristics and the often mysterious myths that invariably surround them.

While a quarter of all mammals are bats, bats are the only mammals that truly fly. Utilizing echolocation, or sonar, they can negotiate 90-degree turns in mid-flight. As efficient predators, many devour their entire weight in insects every night. Still others eat fruit, while a few are actually carnivorous.

Their essential ecological contributions notwithstanding, bats are mostly nocturnal. That, and the fact that at least three species found in the Americas live solely on blood, manifests their diabolic reputation as “evil creatures of the night.”

Fear not, however, the half-a-dozen species found locally prefer insects.

With that in mind, the society will direct a fascinating field trip Sunday night, Oct. 26, from 6 to 8 p.m. Again, the public is invited, as the group sets forth in search of bats, owls and other night-prowling beings.

This pre-Halloween spook-fest will take place along the trail in Martinez Canyon. Participants should meet on the west side of North Pagosa Boulevard, precisely 3.5 miles north of U.S. 160. Makeshift signs will point the way to where parking is available behind the canyon entrance, just north of the northernmost turn onto Capitan Circle.

Aside from donning appropriate apparel, including a hat, jacket, gloves and suitable hiking shoes, attendees should carry a flashlight with fresh batteries. As twilight gradually gives way to an impenetrable veil of darkness — a mere two days before New Moon — the evening promises to be supremely sinister.

The following Thursday, Oct. 30, the Weminuche Audubon Society and volunteers will again join the U.S. Forest Service in preserving wildlife habitat, this time in the Kenney Flats area of the San Juan National Forest. The course of action will be similar to one carried out on National Public Lands Day, Sept. 27.

From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Forest Service officials, society members and willing volunteers will work an area along Forest Service Road 006 east of U.S. 84, approximately 15 miles south of Pagosa Springs. There, participants will attach small metal signs to dozens of standing dead ponderosa snags, in an effort to protect them as valuable wildlife habitat.

The brown signs with white lettering read, “Wildlife tree, saved for their food and shelter. Do not cut.” An estimated one third of all birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians in the county’s national forests depend on snags for their survival.

The event — intended to inform wood gatherers and other forest users of the importance of snags to wildlife — is the second of six single-day ecological projects the local Audubon chapter will complete by the end of May 2009. All six projects are being funded by a $7,000 grant the chapter received from TogetherGreen in June, as part of its nationwide Volunteer Days program.

Born of a $20 million grant the National Audubon Society received from Toyota last March, TogetherGreen is a five-year program designed to fund conservation projects, train environmental leaders and offer volunteer opportunities to significantly benefit the environment.

Anyone wishing to assist in this crucial habitat preservation venture should meet at the Kenney Flats turnoff by 9 a.m. Oct. 30. Audubon will provide the signs, lunch and beverages, while the Forest Service will provide nails and limited tools. Rangers will also discuss the vital role snags play in nature.

As always, dress appropriately for the season and remember, this is a forest project where no modern “facilities” are available.

A little more than a week later, on Saturday, Nov. 8, the Weminuche chapter will conduct its third Volunteer Days event of the season.

At 9 a.m., men, women and children alike will gather in the south conference room of the Pagosa Springs Community Center to construct pre-cut roosting boxes. These amazing boxes help non-migratory birds endure our long cold winters.

During the morning hours, participants will assemble the boxes already prepared by volunteers and local scouts. Free lunch will follow, then all will carpool to various areas to post the boxes. Bring a Phillips screwdriver and naturally, appropriate outdoor attire is necessary for the afternoon exercise.

For more information on the Volunteer Days projects, TogetherGreen, or Weminuche Audubon Society membership, contact Weminuche Audubon Society President Susan Halabrin at (970) 749-6143, or shalabrin@aol.com.

chuck@pagosasun.com