Until reports started being received by the P.E.I. Department of Forestry’s Fish and Wildlife Division of bats flying around in freezing temperatures in the winters of 2013 and 2014, there was a general belief that the Island’s bat population overwintered on the mainland.
Rosemary Curley is now retired but at the time she handled many of the calls to the Department from people reporting the unusual phenonium of wintertime bats.
Even with the first reports, Curley said there was speculation that the bats might have blown across Northumberland Strait.
“It soon became apparent there were too many of them all in one spot to be blowing over. The whole thing was surprising,” she recalls.
The bats subsequently froze to death. Many of the ones that were submitted to the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative at the Atlantic Veterinary were found to have been afflicted with white-nose syndrome. The deadly fungal disease is believed to be responsible for wiping out 90 per cent of the population in bat colonies.
Curley said her department handled several reports of bats but, curiously, there were no bats reported west of Travellers Rest.
“I wonder if anyone in Summerside or further west actually saw winter-flying bats but did not report them,” she wrote to the Journal Pioneer. She’s currently writing a book on the mammals of P.E.I. and welcomes calls from anyone in western P.E.I. who recalls seeing winter-flying bats. She’s also interested in hearing from anyone with information on active bat colonies. She can be reached at (902)569-1209.
Part of the mystery to the origin of the winter-flying bats was solved when staff observed bats flying out of abandoned wells. That, she said was the first evidence that some bats over-wintered in P.E.I.
“It would be in the hundreds,” Curley said in describing the number of bats observed flying in conditions not conducive to their survival. “In certain areas there were a lot, up through Stanley Bridge, New London,” she reported.
“It was just by luck that two wells were found that the bats were coming out of them,” Curley recalls. “Other than that, we would have had no idea where they were coming from.” In some communities, staff could not determine where the bats had been hibernating. She acknowledges there have been many reports of bats being found in attics during the summer months, but she said that environment is generally uninhabitable in the winter months as bats must hibernate in locations where the temperature does not fall below the freezing point.