Monday, October 11, 2010

All Gone ...

On the ride to Sunrise Mountain I passed the exit for Hibernia, which at one time was home to the largest bat hibernaculum in New Jersey, the abandoned Hibernia Mine. My friend Laura had mentioned it the weekend before, wondering if it was worth a trip. On the way back from the the hawk watch I decided to find out.

The site, part of the Wildcat Ridge Wildlife Management Area, was very easy to find. Exit the interstate, turn north, and it's a few miles up on the right.

After finding the site, and realizing I was way too early for the show, I went looking for some dinner. I found a deli, bought a sandwich, and headed back.

The accommodations are sparse, but it was a nice day, and I enjoyed my sandwich while I waited for sunset.

I was there to see the bats, which exit the mine at dawn and dusk (in my case dusk). As recently as 2008 there were some 30,000 bats making Hibernia Mine their winter home. Guides books and websites recommend arriving thirty minutes prior to sunset. I was there in plenty of time.

While I waited I enjoyed the company of a dozen or more ruby crowned kinglets, along with several species of woodpeckers, migrating blue jays, and several nuthatches. Squirrels and chipmunks were quite active. At one point I counted eleven chipmunks within scampering about.

After finishing my sandwich I took some pictures.

The mine entrance from the viewing platform. The gate is to keep humans out while allowing clear access for the bats.

Work at the mine started in pre-Revolutionary times, continuing up until 1916, when iron mining moved west. It was then that the bats moved in, finding the dark, damp, cool (you can feel cool air flowing out of the mine) conditions quite to their liking. Over the years, the mine began to deteriorate and the mine owners decided to seal up the mine. As this would have been disastrous for the bats, officials form the NJ Endangered and Non-Game Species Program worked with the owners to seal the mine to human entry while allowing access for the bats. In 1994 the state acquired the property.

Recently a new gate was installed as the old one was vandalized, and a second access way added for the bats.

At the same time the mine shaft was stabilized.

But it may have all been for naught.

I waited and watched.

As did the raccoon in the image above (click the image to bigafy; the raccoon is to the right of the gate, at the same height as the yellow sign).

Sunset was at 6:29 PM. I began my vigil at 5:49. I left at 7:10, fifteen minutes after civil twilight ended.

I did not see a single bat. Not a one.

The most recent census had found but 1700 bats in the mine. A decline of over 90%. The culprit is believed to be white nose syndrome.

My unofficial census found none.

They were all gone.


Ron a.k.a. Danudin said...

I just know that Bruce Wayne is coming to get you Steve. The Bat Cave is supposed to be secret - Blabbermouth!
I didn't know you lived in Gotham City!

Susan Gets Native said...

That made me go bats=big trouble.
Loved the raccoon. You got photobombed!