It was so pleasant this evening, sitting out by the firepit with a glass of wine after a delicious meal of grilled Georgian Bay whitefish (thank you, Lepage Fishery of Lafontaine).
To the west, the sky turned turquoise and peach and mother of pearl; above us birds fluttered; all around, insects hummed. This unusually warm and dry summer continues.
But there was something missing that tugs at my heartstrings.
Every year since we moved here some 30 years ago, evenings have been marked by the joyous flitting of bats, swooping through the crépuscule – the French word captures the dangerous magic of the time before nightfall better than any English translation.
I confess to having had an extreme distaste for bats in the bedroom. We had four or five such intrusions after which, a decade or two ago, we ejected our bats from the attic. Where they went I do not know, but still they were here on summer nights, and I watched their sonar feats, enjoying the thought of millions of mosquitoes consumed.
I grew to appreciate their role in our ecosystem and purchased a bat house to replace the off-limits attic. Bats are fussy, the house has to be just right and many of those on sale at craft sales or farmers’ markets don’t fit the bill. I bought one such and did some research and discovered it was the wrong size, got another at greater expense and mounted it on our balcony. No takers.
Still, we had bats. Last year there were two, and I rejoiced because I had feared that I wouldn’t be seeing them.
This year, I have watched. And nothing. Bats have been part of this property, part of my home since I came here, and a summer night just isn’t right without them. So I mourn.
Three species of Ontario bats were declared endangered in February of this year.
Last year, I heard an expert from the Ontario ministry of natural resources explain why Ontario’s bats may disappear within a decade. The reason is white-nose syndrome, a fungus first identified in a cave in Albany, N.Y., in 2006. It’s believed humans entering caves - to view the amazing sight of huge colonies of hibernating bats - transmitted this disease that is not native to North America. White-nose syndrome was first identified in Ontario in March, 2010. The MNR urges people to refrain from entering caves or abandoned mines in order to avoid spreading the infection.
There’s another familiar missing from my property this year: the barn swallow, that used to fill the air with its cheerful chattering overhead. That’s because the barn where our local population had nested for generations was pulled down last year (the farmer kindly agreed to postpone demolition until after nesting was over).
I remember fondly a lazy summer afternoon a few years ago when I was reading a book outside while keeping an eye on the antics of a family of newly fledged swallows that had ended up on my washing line. The young ones clutched the line while their parents circled, encouraging them to fly. The babies resisted for a couple of hours and finally one brave one took off, then another – and that was it, they had flown, to live the rest of their lives on the wing.
The barn swallow was listed as threatened here in Ontario in May, 2011. It is thought their decline is food-related – there are fewer insects. As gardeners, we must all be mindful of the need to retain healthy insect populations, and not get sidetracked into a desire to have picture-perfect foliage with no bites taken out. I rejoice when I see foliage that has served its purpose, to sustain life in a food chain of which I am part.
Last year on August 20, I counted 40 swallows lined up on the hydro wire along my property. This year I saw none – plenty of non-native starlings, however.
I still get to enjoy the swallows at a stable in nearby Tiny Township that I visit once a week. There, they nest in the arena. Today, I noticed their absence. They probably left two or three weeks ago, embarking on an amazing journey which takes them at least to Costa Rica and even as far as Argentina! And some have only just emerged from the nest.