Hampton Plantation Kitchen, and Rafinesque big-eared bats

No visit to Hampton Plantation is complete without a side hop over to St. James Santee. Ghost Dog greeted me, as always. The Old Georgetown Road never disappoints.

I planned to spend an hour or so hiking at Hampton, however…Hurricane Ian, though gone, left a wake of mosquitoes that were not to be believed. I was just here two weeks ago, and the mosquitoes were dying down. Well, they were back with a vengeance, like springtime. I saw two couples flee the park they were that bad. But hey, what better to draw out rare bats than a mosquito feast? I managed to pay my respects to John Henry Rutledge, but that was the furthest I could get.

So plan B went into action, and it turned out just fine. I sat up on the porch, in an old wooden rocking chair, and soaked up the peace and quiet of nature sounds. The sun was warm. The park usually closes at 5, so it was interesting to see how the evening shadows looked.

And I found another handprint! One of may favorite spots at Atalya Castle is a handprint out front. My hand fits in that one exactly right, I like to think it is Anna Hyatt Huntington’s. Well, turning my chair a bit to catch some more rays on the porch at Hampton, I noticed a feature I had missed, all the times I had been there. The handprint shown below. My hand didn’t match this one at all. You can see the rocker from the chair at the bottom of the picture.

The only real disturbance during this peaceful interlude came when the spooky Halloween sound machine went off while I was sitting on the porch. It – startled me – to say the least.

The Old Kitchen at Hampton is a large, separate building off to the side of the big house. For the past thirty years, access to the building has been limited because of a rare bat species, Rafinesque’s big-eared bats. This was my first opportunity in all my visits here to actually go inside the building.

The bat net was set up outside along the side of the building. Bats had been coming out at night via the chimney, and via this route from where the floorboards were and the side openings of the building foundation.

The old old well was excavated under the original kitchen. It had been filled in and the second kitchen was built over it. Aside from the huge fireplace and oven we were able to see, there were two mor fireplaces on the other side of this one. This kitchen fed up to 350 people a day.

As dusk fell, things got batty quickly. Four cameras in the roosting attic showed us when the bats began to fly. Some did go out the chimney.

The bats were only handled by the professionals. We ended up catching four in the nets, however you have to be so gentle and careful in handling, two of them managed to get away.

Once captured, the bat was placed in a pre-weighed paper bag so it could be weighed, and the transmitter prepped. Our bat here weighed in at 15 grams, and was a female.

Handling a tiny, fragile, angry, biting bat did not look easy. In addition to the surgical gloves, the handlers wore other protective gloves to deter bites, and were pre-treated for rabies just in case. We got a good chuckle from one of the biologists who told us she prefered to use batting gloves – ba dum bum – under her surgical gloves, they have a nice leather palm but you can retain some dexterity and feel.

One of our captures never made it to this point, he skedaddled out of there at the first opportunity. This girl got her hair cut, a tiny transmitter glued on, and the hair replaced to camouflaged the transmitter.

A couple of short videos below:

Our Girl was successfully released, with her transmitter sending a signal. The study being done is aimed to learn more about the bats and their roosting habits. The ultimate goal specific to Hampton Plantation is, they would really like to add the interior of the building to be publicly accessible for interpretive purposes, without disturbing the bat colony. It’s an incredibly delicate balance.

Thank you to the biologists from ESI, it must really be a fun day at work with people gawking at you trying to glue a transmitter to a bat. They were so gentle with the bats, and patient with us people! Ranger Hannah, and another young lady biologist who’s name escapes me, were also wonderful. They answered some really good questions, and I know everyone learned at least something from the program. I’m grateful the public was able to participate.

To cap off this already-amazing evening, the Stargazers were out. Hampton Plantation is in an area with a lesser amount of light-pollution. The Friends of Hampton Plantation (I recently joined) have a Facebook page that lists events to come. Astronomers from the Grand Strand Astronomers and the Lowcountry Stargazers were out in force, with telescopes and cameras set up in the field by the main parking area. I got to see the Milky Way, and many stars before it clouded up a bit. The final part of this learning adventure was rolling down the long, sandy driveway with only my parking lights on, so as not to disturb the stargazers.

Another great day of learning and relaxing at a favorite place.

Related Posts and Pages

Hampton Plantation – May 2022
Hampton and St James and more – September 2022
St James Santee
The Santee Delta

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