Now that the dark nights are upon us and the days are relentlessly shortening, we find ourselves confined indoors and apt to miss what’s going on in the great outdoors. One animal associated with darkness is the bat and back in September the Teme Valley Wildlife Group enjoyed an excellent evening walk around the walls of Ludlow castle looking to see if we could find any. We were led by Shropshire Bat Group’s Phil Playford who met us at the castle cannon and briefed us on the various species he hoped we might see. He provided us with monitors to detect high frequency bat-calls and off we set.
The last time I went round the walls of Ludlow Castle in the dark was on a ghost walk with my neighbours. I can’t remember noticing any bats although I do remember going to the pub afterwards. On this occasion I was delighted to see four different species of bat, whilst the calls of a fifth showed up on my bat detector. Phil was hugely knowledgeable and very enthusiastic and had brought a lamp and an infra-red monitor to help us learn about his subjects.
The five species we identified were common and soprano pipistrelles, they scooted round the castle battlements; noctules, which flew higher overhead but kept out of sight; brown long-eared bats which conveniently flew under a street-light so we could find them and Daubenton’s bats, which were out hunting over water. These latter were my favourites. We left the castle to look for them and walked over Dinham Bridge and down to the River Teme. Phil set up his lamp so that a beam of light played across the river just above the waterline. As the Daubenton’s bats swooped down for insects they turned away at the light-beam and it was possible to see them clearly, even well enough to see their white tummies.
Sixteen species of bat live and breed in Britain. They all eat insects, mainly beetles, moths, flies and midges although it is thought that Daubenton’s bats can scoop up small fish from near the surface of water. They manoeuvre, communicate and locate prey using high-frequency ultrasonic calls called echolocation. They breed in the summer, each female having just one infant, and during the winter they hibernate in trees, buildings or caves. Apart from recording their calls, they can be distinguished by noting their size, the type local habitat, flight patterns and the time relative to dusk when they are first seen in the sky.
I have been fortunate, or perhaps not, to have two different bats fly around my bedroom. Young bats have to practise to get good at echolocation and can sometimes fly through house windows by mistake. Anyhow, I survived the experience and so did they. It just remains for me to wish you all a very Happy Christmas and we hope to see you at Stoke Bliss and Kyre Village Hall in the New Year.