A guest post by John Hawell of the Clyde Bat Group
17 August 2010. Tonight’s bat walk at the National Museum of Rural Life, East Kilbride is the second in a series of six weekly walks taking place on Tuesday evenings. The walk is scheduled to begin at 8:45pm and it’s a wonderful, calm evening following a pleasant sunny afternoon.
We have seven adults and three children booked onto tonight’s walk and we are very pleased to welcome Anita from National Museums Scotland, in Edinburgh.
After our usual introductory talk and issue of bat detectors, reflective arm bands and torches, we set off. It isn’t long before we hear our first bat twittering through the bat detectors at 9:11pm. It is a soprano pipistrelle echo-locating at about 55 kHz. I am asked ‘Do I give bats names’? Well no, but very soon we have a ‘Jimmy’ and a’ Fred’ flying round about us! There is great excitement as the bat detectors are increasingly busy with twitters and more bats come into view against the still bright sky.
Anita captures the moment with her camera. The results are excellent – take a look.
We move on and witness more and more bats joining the party. By 9:25pm there is a real buzz about the place. Bats, all of them soprano pipistrelles, are flying in all directions – some of them come skimming quite close to us now as they fly beneath the tree canopy. It’s brilliant!
Of course, these bats are feeding and, like all our eighteen species of British bat, they eat insects. Pipistrelles specialise in eating midges ~ lots of them. Apparently a single bat can consume about 3,000 midges in one night! One can’t help but think what a great job they are doing, but at the same time wish they’d eat more!
More questions are forthcoming – ‘If bats damage their wings can the damage be repaired, and will it leave a scar?’, and ‘Can you identify individual bats, and young from adults, and males from females?’ I’ll try to answer them here. Small holes in bat wings heal up very quickly but larger tears are more of a problem and may never heal properly. Broken bones can have miniature splints applied and will repair as well as if we were treated for such injuries by the National Health Service. Young bats are distinguishable from adults, at least until the young go into their first winter hibernation. Apart from checking the obvious, male and female bats are pretty much indistinguishable to look at, but some of their calls are different.
Like other mammals, bats can sometimes be identified as individuals. Perhaps there is a bump on their face or a particular mark on their wing, and so on. In addition, bats have personalities and it is often the way they behave that identifies them. For research purposes individually numbered tags are attached to the bats.
At last we reach the farm and Mairi the Clydesdale horse comes across the field to welcome us. She seems pleased to see us but alas we have no polos to offer. Maybe next time. The two black farm cats also spot us and come to say hello.
Mairi the Clydesdale at National Museum of Rural Life
At the farm house garden we hit another hot spot for bats. Again, all of them soprano pipistrelles, but it’s great to see them and hear the bat detectors conveying their otherwise silent messages to us. It has been a really good evening.
Friendly cats at National Museum of Rural Life
We make our way back through the farm to our starting point. There is just an occasional bat now; they don’t like to fly over the open fields. The two cats follow us, both black in the darkness. Not easy to see but we know they are there. Last year we were worried they might get lost if they followed us, and follow us they did. Ewan and his dad used to take them back to the farm in their car afterwards. Not this year though – we’re now wise to their ploy for a free ride!
The walk finishes just after 10:00pm. It has remained calm, warm and dry throughout, and we’ve seen loads of bats – plus the bonus of Mairi the Clydesdale and the two friendly farm cats! We are all well satisfied and bid everybody a good night.