2013: Advent Biology: A summer of Bats

by on December 1, 2013

A late entry from me, and very much self indulgent…so Ecology, then.

My absolute favourite part of ecological studies is the fieldwork- I’m happy to be out in all weathers, in any gear, with scientific equipment ranging from GPS trackers to a bamboo pole and a plastic bottle. I spent this summer working as an assistant ecological consultant, and though it felt like the busiest of times, I barely touched the sides of just what doing that sort of research entails.

It’s a frantic sort of life; the seasons in which you can survey are varied for the type of survey you’re doing, and of course the project doesn’t always fall on the right season for the animals or plants you’re most likely to need to think about. There are various Acts and laws protecting environments and species which you need to account for when writing up recommendations to go with your survey report, and I hope to give more of an overview of these later on. I’m going to start, however, with bats.

Bats are wonderful things. We have 18 species in the UK, though one of those isn’t resident when it breeds. All of them have declined in population numbers (along with many of our other resident mammals. Bats are about ¼ of all our mammal species here) and bat surveys were one of the staples of my summer, starting in April and continuing through to September. There’s various ways to go about looking for bats, and the ones I got to play on most were activity surveys-particularly transects.

Transect surveys take place after dusk or before dawn, and in my experience, are two to three hours of walking at a fairly slow pace, listening intently to your bat detector(more on those later, too). It’s a good idea to see your route in daylight too, as factors such as lighting, hedgerows, water bodies, crops, buildings and trees are all going to change where your bats might be hanging out. You also have listening stops, where for several minutes you remain in one location with your detector (usually a handheld device, often with attached recorder). Because bats use echolocation, sound is fantastic for finding them by-though the bat detector is needed for you to hear them, as the frequencies are out of our hearing range! You might catch the sound of a bat finding its way out to forage, or hunting, or even seeking a mate, if it’s the right time of year. You can even tell species from the calls. And if you’re really lucky, you might spot the creature making the sound as it flies over your head.

Bonus points if it’s following you to eat the insects you’re stirring up!

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