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More notes for St Clair Cave: Nov 3, 2012, August 21-28, 2011, May 8, 2011, March 19, 2009, August 3, 2008, July 29, 2008, June 3, 2006, March 21, 2006, March 21, 2006.

St Clair Cave

January 19-21, 2010
Fieldnotes: RS Stewart
Team: Stewart, Pauel, Fenton, Lim, Stokes, Dreager

Pteronotus parnellii, St Clair Cave - Click for medium resolution
Pteronotus parnellii, St Clair Cave - Click for medium resolution
St Clair Cave was visited on January 19-20 by R.S. Stewart and J. Pauel of the Jamaican Caves Organisation (JCO) in assistance to the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) to gather data, video, and images that will be used in an upgrade of the "Bat Cave" exhibit at the ROM in Toronto. All work was done with the appropriate permits in place (NEPA and JTI), applied for, and issued to, the ROM.

The four members of the ROM team, Brock Fenton, Burton Lim, Elaisha Stokes, and Randy Dreager arrived in Kingston on the evening of Tuesday, January 18. Jan Pauel met them at the airport to drive them to their hotel, thereby eliminating the ordeal of negotiating with taxi drivers. The next morning, Jan met with them again, and assisted in the collection of the video permit in town. This would take two visits, as the permit wasn't ready to go when they first tried. Jan made it quite clear that when they returned in an hour, they expected it to be done, and available. The intervening time was spent finalizing arrangements for the ROM's rental car, changing money at a cambio, and other necessary tasks. The permit was ready on the second try, delivered with a smile, and the crew then headed to Pollyground in two vehicles - the rental, and Jan's Landrover Defender.

After checking in with our sistren, Marie, where the team would stay in Pollyground, the crew made the trek to the entrance, and set to work. The objectives for the first day were netting (capture and release), and the collection of echolocation audio files. Time allowed for a brief visit toward the Inferno before the emergence began, with the farpoint being the Junction (intersection of the entrance passage, Lemon Ridge passage, and the Inferno).

Mormoops blainvilli, St Clair Cave - Click for medium resolution
Mormoops blainvilli, St Clair Cave - Click for medium resolution
The emergence began at approximately 17:45 local time. Two mist nets were used - one in the collapse pit below the entrance, and the other about 6 metres north of the entrance on the hill above. The netting was done primarily by Burton, while Brock collected the audio data in the outer part of the cave, and Randy and Elaisha took care of the video work.

The tasks at the cave itself were completed by about 20:30, and the team then hiked back out to Pollyground where several specimens that were temporarily collected were photographed at high resolution in a holding chamber at Marie's. Subsequently, these were released, presumbably somewhat confused, but able to sort out their location and begin foraging. Once gear was stowed away, several well-earned Red Stripes were consumed, and then Jan returned to town to meet with Stefan who had flown in from Canada that afternoon.

Fortunately for Jan and Stefan, the ROM team had no intention of starting too early the next day. The vice-chair and chair of the JCO had important matters to discuss on Tuesday evening, with this aided by the application of much cold beer, and consultation went on well into the early morning hours. Accordingly, the complete field group was not assembled at Marie's until just before noon on Wednesday. At about 13:00, the hike to the entrance began, with arrival about forty minutes later.

Some of the ROM's gear had been stowed at the cave the previous day to make the load a little lighter, and all was still present, and safe. The equipment that had gone out the evening before, and brought back, was lowered into the pit with a 9mm line, and the ROM team members were belayed as they climbed down the roots. The day's tasks then began.

Pteronotus macleayi, St Clair Cave - Click for medium resolution
Pteronotus macleayi, St Clair Cave - Click for medium resolution
Brock had sussed a good spot on Tuesday to set up his photographic equipment, and he set straight to work. Two infrared motion detectors were mounted with clamps to formations (no damage occurred), back from, and on either side of, a gap between a large breakdown boulder and the passage wall. This caused a funnelling of bats that concentrated numbers in an area less than a metre wide, and several high. The motion detectors were in turn connected to high-speed flashes. When the emergence began, the bats would trip the flashes and create high-resolution images on a tripod-mounted digital camera that had the shutter left open repeatedly for short periods. While this setting up was being done, Randy and Elaisha videoed the entrance collapse area and recorded interviews with Burton. These activities were finished by about 14:30, and all except Randy then moved on to the Junction.

The journey to the Junction was uneventful, and after a short break, we headed in. Our farpoint was just beyond the first bouldered restriction, about 20m in. The water was quite clear - perhaps because of a flushing event during the heavy rains of December 2009 - and bat numbers were low. This suggests that the air in the Inferno Plus was fairly good, allowing the roost to extend further in than if it were poor. During our previous visits, we have observed that the extent of the roost is reduced by well over 100 metres when high biological oxygen demand makes the air of the Inferno Plus unbreathable, even for bats. Because of this, the roost area is pushed back in the passage toward the Junction. However, it should be noted that we saw cane trucks en route to Worthy Park, so refining might have been underway, with a corresponding deterioration of the air in the Acheron. I continue to suspect that the air quality in the Inferno is affected both by the Acheron and accumulated guano in the water on the bottom of the passage. If one or the other is poor, the total area of the roost still approaches maximum. If both are poor, the Inferno Plus is not available, and the area approaches minimum. We do not know if the furthest reaches, at the Acheron, are ever used as a roost when both inputs are good, having not been there under such conditions.

Pteronotus quadridens, St Clair Cave - Click for medium resolution
Pteronotus quadridens, St Clair Cave - Click for medium resolution
The total time spent in the Inferno was about 20 minutes, in the outermost part. Little distubance resulted. Video of the relatively low numbers of bats present was recorded, with the camera only being removed from the drybag when we were stopped at a relatively dry rock. Along with the high-quality video, Elaisha also took some of herself with a small HD video digital camera to post on a blog.

We now made our way back to the entrance collapse, reaching it at about 16:30. Afternoon rain was coming down outside, but no matter - it would probably end before the emergence began - and we sat ourselves under a dry overhang to wait. At about 17:15, the rain eased off, and then stopped. Brock made final adjustments and checks of his gear, and at about 17:40, the first few bats started to appear in the pit. Several of us arranged ourselves behind Brock to wait for the first flashes, which soon came, slowly at first, then more and more often. It was quite cool to see his system in action - efficient, and elegant. The JCO would like to construct something similar for our own work.

Burton ascended the roots to open his net at about 17:30, and after I watched Brock's rig in action for a few minutes, I headed up myself to observe and lend a hand. It turned out this wasn't necessary, as Burton's obvious expertise easily enabled him to keep up with the catch rate, by himself, in short order. It was a pleasure to watch, and he was quite tolerant of my questions while doing it. By about 19:30, Burton had what he needed, as did Brock, and we began the process of derigging and packing up for the hike out. Gear was hauled out of the pit with the 9mm line, the team below were belayed as they came up, and at about 20:00, we headed downslope to the dry river bed, and wended our way back to Pollyground using the track established for the Bourdain shoot.

Chilonatalus jamaicensis, St Clair Cave - Click for medium resolution
Chilonatalus jamaicensis, St Clair Cave - Click for medium resolution
Once back at Marie's, Brock set to work on high-res shots of the specimens, and most of these were then released to resume their normal activities. A couple of bats were retained to show at the local primary school the following morning.

After dinnner, an appropriate number of Red Stripes were consumed (that meaning we drank out the place), important issues were discussed, and a fine time was had by all.

The following morning, just before 9:00, we made the short walk to the primary school to find the entire student body lined up along a porch that runs the length of the building. A wireless microphone that fed into the school public address system was handed to Brock, and he swung into action. It was clear that he very much enjoyed sharing his knowledge, and was well practised at doing so. He began with an intro on the basics of bats, then invited, and answered, some very pertinent, very good questions from the students. After this, he and Burton worked their way along the entire length of the line-up allowing everyone to see a bat close-up for the very first time, while answering more questions. Some 30 minutes later, the students were ushered back into their classrooms, we had a final chat with the headmistress, and the future headmaster, and then returned to Marie's. The vehicles were packed up, and then a final gear check was done (this, apparently, not as thorough as it might have been, as Elaisha left her shoes behind, which all of us overlooked - but she assured us they weren't that great a pair of shoes, anyway, and it wasn't a concern). An uneventful drive back to town followed, which brought the St Clair January 2010 fieldwork to an end.

Mormoops in flight, St Clair Cave - Click for medium resolution
Mormoops in flight, St Clair Cave - Click for medium resolution
Before closing this account, several things must be noted:

The ROM crew was a pleasure to work with. They were highly knowledgable, happy to share that knowledge with both us and the local community, tougher than they believe themselves to be when it comes to visiting the underground, and great people to spend time with during both the caving and the apres-caving socializing.

The load carried by the ROM crew was substantial, and heavy. It must be kept in mind by all who view videos of the hike in and out that some of those packs weighed over 20kg.

The percentage of the total group made up of Canadians has never been as high during a JCO outing, and may never be repeated - five out of the six of us. I've never heard so many "eh's" while underground before in my life.

Guy's incredibly bright, home-buit LED headlamp array, now on Jan's helmet, was of great help during all of the ROM's video work, as it is with ours - we continue to be grateful for him having left it with us.

St Clair Cave - McGrath Survey, 1954, plus JCO Survey of the Inferno Plus, 2006

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