What’s not to love about fall? In my heyday I truly wished summer was endless. Now that I’ve borne four children into the world and my bikini bod is a thing of the past, spending the day cavorting around in a bathing suit isn’t quite what it used to be. And since I am responsible for the electric bill, September and October are near and dear to my heart ( or is it my wallet?). It’s a real shame this fall has been so hot and we weren’t able to turn the air conditioning off until just a few days ago.
Now that there’s a chill in the air, I can bundle up in my most comfortable jeans and sweatshirts. Ahhh, I feel more relaxed just thinking about it. Summertime is all about fresh vegetables from the garden and grilling on the deck, but those kinds of meals take a lot of preparation and there’s usually a significant amount of cleaning up afterwards. Crockpot recipes are just the ticket when it’s cold outside, and are about the easiest meals to fix and there are no pots and pans to wash when dinner is over.
I hope you were able to enjoy some time outdoors with your family this past weekend. My family spent Sunday afternoon at a local farm, checking out the livestock, going on a hayride, and picking out pumpkins. Trips to the pumpkin patch are some of the fondest memories I have of time spent with my children.
Our youngest’s vocabulary is just beginning to expand dramatically, and this past weekend she learned how to say goat and cow and petted a bunny for the first time. She pretended to drive a tractor and played in the corn maze and climbed over bales of straw.
When it was time to head home, we bought a peck of Honeycrisp and Granny Smith apples that my kids and I turned into a tasty pie for dessert. And the fresh air was certainly good for our appetites. Every of last speck of dinner was consumed in record time and the pie didn’t last long either. Yes, fall is such a wonderful time of year.
The leaves are changing color now. With each gust of wind, colorful leaves swirl though the air in their final dance of autumn. And the pinnacle of fall, Halloween, is just around the corner.
Now is also a great time to buy or build a bat box and put it up. Don’t worry, the only vampires that will be visiting your house will be of the three- and fourfoot variety wearing costumes and saying, “Trick or Treat.” Of the more than 1,000 species of bats in the world, only three of them are vampire bats, and, rest assured, none of them are found here in Southern Maryland.
But there are quite a few species of bats that call Maryland home and they could use all the help they can get from us humans. Of the less than a dozen species that live or migrate through our state, several are listed on state or federal lists as threatened or endangered, and three species are under review.
Habitat loss, wind turbines along migratory routes and disturbances to maternal colonies
are all major threats to bats. In some parts of the world still today, bats are hunted for bushmeat. And you’ve probably heard of the disease that’s wiping out bats in huge numbers, White Nose Syndrome, which was first detected in Maryland in 2010.
Recent surveys show that bat populations in Maryland are dramatically declining, Little Brown Bats 96 percent, Tri-colored Bats 95 percent and
Northern Long-eared Bats 88 percent.
This is a terrible thing because bats have very important niches to fill in our ecosystem. Many eat massive amounts of insects, including bugs that damage agriculture. Some bats help pollinate plants and fruit-eating bats in the tropics eat and then disperse seeds that will grow and restore areas of rainforests that have been cleared or damaged. We need bats.
All the species of bats in Maryland are insectivores. And that’s good news for us outdoorspeople. Bats can consume up to half their body weight in insects every night. And pregnant or nursing bats will eat double that in a night. Bats eat gypsy moths, stink bugs, gnats, wasps and even mosquitoes.
A bat box can provide a roosting place for mother bats during their reproductive season, March through September. In Maryland, the Little Brown Bat, Big Brown Bat, Northern Long-eared Bat and Evening Bat are all likely candidates to use a bat box.
If you have the room,
setting up two or three boxes is ideal. That way a mother bat can move its pup if the nursery isn’t the right temperature. And some bats will overwinter in boxes, especially in the more easterly parts of Maryland that do not have caves or mines.
Anytime of the year is a good time to put up bat boxes, but it may take a while for bats to find your box. Bats are a lot like purple martins and will not seek out new roosts unless forced to move or the colony gets too big.
There is no surefire way to attract bats, but if you occasionally see
bats swooping around at dusk, there is a good chance your box will get occupied. Keep in mind that bat boxes installed on buildings or poles have greater occupancy than those mounted on trees and are safer for the bats.
In Maryland, boxes should be oriented southeast or southwest and should get at least six to seven hours of direct sunlight daily. Painting the exterior black can help trap heat. Locate the box 20 to 30 feet from tree branches and other obstacles and 12 to 20 feet above ground. And bats prefer to live within a quarter-mile of a water source such as a stream or pond.
You can purchase a ready-to-install bat box or get the whole family involved and build your own in an afternoon. There are countless free design plans available online and many books with birdhouse plans also include bat box instructions.
And, we are getting to that time of year already. A bat box would make a nice Christmas gift and is a great way to help educate people about the benefits of bats living in their backyard.