Saturday, 27 June 2015

The Continuing Adventures of Batman!

Bats are an important component of the ecosystem of The Howe and as such are part of the CFWN monitoring project. Here, our MSc student from York University, Andy Clark, gives us a flavour of his nighttime adventures:

I have not been able to explain my research to my Dad since I told him I’ll be using a Bat-Detector. I’ll start trying and he’ll say “Wait, so you’ve got an actual Bat-Detector? That’s awesome.” And then he’s gone, Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-ing away. But what I’m doing is actually quite cool, it’s useful science, and it’s remarkably simple. And almost everything, to all intents and purposes, has ‘Bat-‘ in front of it.

Apart from being iconic inspiration for Bruce Wayne, bats are brilliant. First of all they’re the only mammals that have ever evolved the ability to fly. Their wings are made of exactly the same bones as our hands and fingers – theirs are just stretched out & have a big wing-membrane of skin between them that joins right along the side of their body to their little feet & tails. That makes the iconic bat-symbol.

We have 6 bat-species around the Howe of Cromar, and most of all they eat midges. If you go down to a river around sunset – I’ve seen them as early as 20-past-9 at night – you’ll see them flapping manically and swooping around eating the tiny little flies that bug us so much. You may know that bats ‘see’ in the dark by using echolocation – they squeak at a pitch far higher than we can hear, and then work out where things are by the way the sound reflects back. Each bat species calls at a distinct pitch & in a distinct way. Well here’s something really cool – they can do that, while they’re flying, and pick out individual midges (that are also flying) and hone in on them. And here’s something even cooler – they don’t just bite them out of the air. Bats will grab a midge with their back feet, while they’re flying, and scoop it forward into their mouths! Try doing that with your dinner!

There’s a species you’ll see called ‘Daubenton’s’ that particularly like water, and will actually pick insects off the surface of the flowing river in the same way.

Other than that you’ll most likely see one’s called Common or Soprano Pipistrelles. They’re all less than 6cm long & have a wingspan between 20 and 30cm. If you ever get a chance to see one up-close, they’re surprisingly cute.

So what do I do?
 
I’m trying to find out if any particular type of habitat or land-use is really good (or bad) for bats. To do that I have my trusty Bat-Detector, which simply listens to the ultra-sonic clicks of bats and I record the sounds on a Bat-Dictaphone. Back at the Bat-Research-Base I run those through the Bat-Super-Computer to work out what frequencies – and therefore species - I recorded. From when their calls get really excited I can even work out when they catch a midge!

The Bat-kit!

 Holy-Science Batman!” you must be thinking. With this simple little survey I’m working out where bats are most like to be, and where they’re getting the most to eat. Then we can work out how to make the most for these midge-eating heroes of the night.

I hope to see you out some night. You’ll find me blasting around in the Bat-Prius, doing Bat-Science.

A sonogram, from which we can identify species.
Andy Clark (aka Batman...).

I would just like to add that if any of the local bat enthusiasts would like to contribute their observations we would be delighted to include them and they would be very much appreciated! As with all our work we will contribute our findings to the relevant national and regional recording schemes, in this case the BatConservation Trust’s National Bat Monitoring Programme, and NESBReC.

Dave Parish, dparish@gwct.org.uk, 07889 891956.

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