A year ago, scientists learned that a large bat hibernaculum exists somewhere near Chapel Pond. They inferred as much when dying bats were discovered flying around Route 73 last March, long before bats usually emerge from hibernation.
Peregrine falcons that nest near Chapel Pond also discovered the bats. They returned from their winter habitat early this year, in mid-February, and a state biologist thinks they did so to feed on the sick bats. The bats suffer from white-nose syndrome, which has devastated bat populations through the Northeast.
“We observed the falcons foraging on bats both last year and this year,” said Joe Racette, a senior biologist with the state Department of Environmental Conservation. “They’ve been coming back a little bit earlier every year, but I think they learned last year that there was an early food source.”
Racette said DEC has not been able to ascertain the exact location of the hibernaculum, but he noted that a rock climber has seen bats in a crack on the Spider’s Web, a cliff on the north side of the highway.
Meanwhile, DEC plans to close, starting Monday, more than two hundred rock-climbing routes on three cliffs to protect falcon nesting sites. Some or all of the routes should be reopened later in the spring or summer once scientists learn where the falcons are actually nesting.
“We close the routes early on to allow the falcons to choose nest sites without being affected by human activity,” Racette said.
All the climbing routes on Moss Cliff in Wilmington Notch and on Lower Washbowl near Chapel Pond will be closed until further notice. In addition, DEC will close all but twenty-four of the 167 routes on Poke-o-Moonshine’s Main Face.
DEC will post updates on the closures on its website.
Following is a list of the routes on Poke-o’s Main Face that will remain open:
2. Goat’s Foot on Rock
3. High and Dry
5. Big Buddha
8. Pearly Gates
10. Battle Creek
11. Static Cling
12. Certified Raw
13. Air Male
14. Son of a Mother
15. Phase III
18. Puppies on Edge
19. Hang ’Em High
20 Group Therapy
24. A Womb with a View