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Nature fans go batty in Central Park night

Bradley Klein, right, points into the evening sky

Bradley Klein, right, points into the evening sky as he enlightens participants with facts about bats during exploration and walk in Central Park late Friday night. (July 15, 2011) Credit: Craig Ruttle

Married couple Danielle Gustafson and Brad Klein love walks in the park.

They especially enjoy Central Park after dusk, when their bat-detection gear comes in handy for spotting the typically maligned mammals.

"What draws people to bats is that they have such a public-relations problem. Bats don't have a great reputation," said Klein, 50. "They are something that needs a little love and good ambassadors."

The nocturnal winged things certainly have boosters in Klein and Gustafson, founders of New York City Bat Group and residents of Brooklyn. Friday night, the pair led the first of three summer bat walks hosted by the Museum of Natural History in Central Park.

The 29 people in attendance eagerly used tools that Klein and Gustafson brought in their "batpacks" such as night-vision goggles and heterodyne bat sensors, which pick up echolocation ultrasound signals made by bats and ordinarily too high-pitched for people to hear.

Some on the sold-out walk, such as Ian Hays, 28, of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, have long been fascinated by bats. "They're really, really old mammals. The species get so crazy, so diverse, so strange," said Hayes, a member of Bat Conservation International.

Others signed on to learn something new. Mineola resident David Brody said he's not a fan of bats, per se, but is a fan of nature. He said he was just taking advantage of programs offered through his museum membership, which he's retained for 35 years.

"It's a unique experience to walk in Central Park at night and see bats," he said.

The next two walks are Friday and July 29. Tickets are $40 for adults and $25 for children. Reservations can be made at amnh.org. This is the museum's 10th year hosting bat walks.

Those at last week's event spotted about a dozen bats swooping through the night sky and hunting insects in the hour-and-a-half tour. Klein and Gustafson shared an iPad slide show about bats species -- there are nine in New York State, none of which drink blood -- and pamphlets about white nose syndrome, a disease devastating the bat population around the world.

Attendees also learned about plenty more wildlife taking to the skies in Central Park, including swifts, herons, fireflies and dragonflies.

"In most of life, it's rude to interrupt, but in natural history, it's not," Klein said. "You can always interrupt me if you see something flying ahead."

Thomas Betlow, 7, leaned to frequent bouts of finger-pointing at the sky and choruses of "I see one!" during the walk.

"I'm going to tell my friends I saw some bats and caught a firefly," said Thomas, of Hampstead, Md.

His aunt, Laura Betlow, 48, of Milford, Conn., seemed equally impressed by the event: "I have never seen bats in real life until tonight."

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