Saturday, June 7, 2008

Your Batty Old Aunt

Everyone has a slightly loony older relative. Glenn's is an older woman in Texas: Apart from her Texan habit of stretching Glenn's name into two syllables ("GLAY-un!"), she is known for dragging family members to events they're not particularly interested in. Once, after Glenn had endured 22 hours of air travel from his native South Africa, she picked him up at the Dallas airport and drove him directly to—wait for it—a drivers' training course!

Last year, when my first nephew was born—my parents' first grandchild—my other sisters and I swore we'd never be That Kind of Aunt. We'd be cool and fun to hang out with. We'd never resort to cheek-pinching or any other forms of auntly evil.

And last week, I had to eat my words.

We had promised to help out on Thursday night at one of Sea and Sage Audubon's Summer Bat Walks at San Joaquin marsh. Of course, we had totally forgotten that this was the same evening that Glenn's nephew, who had just finished his freshman year of college, was flying into town for a few days of R&R before his summer camp counseling gig began.

So now was our turn to be the dorky aunt and uncle: "Guess what? We know you just finished finals, are recovering from the flu, and suffering from jet lag, but you still have to spend the evening with us in a mosquito-infested swamp looking for bats!"

Thank goodness, he's still talking to us...

We got to San Joaquin a little after 6 to help set up for the 7:00 presentation and walk. It was still light out, and the resident Yellow Warbler was still singing his little heart out.

After setting up the chairs and projector for the introductory slide show, we had time for a quick check of the front ponds. The American Avocet babies had grown visibly since last weekend, and noisy bands of Killdeer worked the mudflats.

The introductory slideshow—presented by Orange County's best and only authority on bats—was a joy. Bats are a surprisingly varied bunch of animals, but all are—counterintuitively—freaking adorable. Some have darling fox-like faces with shiny little button noses; other are weirdly Furby-like, with big plasticky-looking ears and big shiny eyes. And they can fly, and many eat the kinds of bugs that everyone hates—what could possibly be cooler?

During the walk, we volunteers got to hold electronic bat monitors—receivers that could pick up the high-frequency calls of bats and play them back as audible signals. (Our nephew got drafted into manning the receiver that could also record bat calls.) A clicking sound from the monitors meant that feeding bats were nearby.

The monitors clicked a lot. We learned to recognize the erratically darting objects overhead as bats, and there were a lot of them. A few late-feeding Black Skimmers were there, and Glenn caught sight of what might have been a gliding owl.

We headed home just before 10, and agreed that seeing one of the tropical flying foxes with a six-foot wingspan would be a very good thing indeed.

There are definitely worst things one can inflict on a younger relative.

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