If you go down to the woods tonight

Bat Group members settle down for a long night's "action" Photo Jude Hirstwood

Friday  saw  8 of us make the mad decision to spend a whole night out in the woods. The idea was to try to locate where bats appear first in the wood with the hope of finding a roost. We then hoped to track them when they returned. A huge amount of kit was assembled. Remote detectors were set up, transect routes assigned, mist netting equipment made ready. For two hours we walked the transects recording what we heard. The problem was that bat activity that night was phenomenal. – The echolocating calls were unrelenting with barely any quiet moments.  At one point we were picking up strange calls which we realised were pipistrelle social calls – the males calling out to females in an attempt to get them  to play doctor’s and nurses. These calls went on for hours.  It was a beautiful moonlit night and there were so many insects by the water that the bats had a real feeding bonanza . Even in the small hours the woods were full of noises, a heron calling at 2 in the morning,  munjacs barking, crickets doing bat impressions, the rustling of small creatures in the undegrowth, the rustling of early sausage rolls being opened, the sound of radios going off as drowsing humans turned over onto their radios, while others bantered like old married couples. At about four we leapt into action (sic) to try and find where the Myotis were roosting. The woodland was very dense and we had limited success , but we now have a better idea of the area involved. Then we finished off the night by going to watch pipistrelles from a nearby roost returning home.

This was an amazing sight. When we count them out they shamble out in two and threes over a period of an hour or so. At first they came back in dribs and drabs but things soon got more frenetic and there could be at least fifty wheeling about at high speed, flying elaborate loop the loops without seeming to bump into each other. They seemed in no rush to go to bed, but eventually the early arrivals went back in – in some cases coming back out shortly afterwards as though worried about missing something. Over the  next three quarters of an hour we watched as  hundreds of bats came home and as the sun began to rise we were able to get some film of their activities. But mostly we just sat in silence at this dare I say it – awesome- night.  I kept thinking how you could put it into words.  – a particularly competitive quiddich match,a lot of geeks rushing into an i-stores to buy the latest gadget. Hyperactive children playing in that ” there will be tears in a minute” way. By six it was finally over and we staggered off home for  some sleep. There are still several hours recordings to analyse. The decision was made not to try to quantify the soprano pipistrelles. It’s going to be a case of seeing what we can spot against the constant background of feeding sopranos.  And that is going to take time

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