Quantock Hills Blog

More volunteers, more transects, more Bats!

- Summer is here (allegedly) so it must be time to dust off the bat detector!

Iain Porter

Posted by Iain Porter on 18 May 2015

More volunteers, more transects, more Bats! Saturday saw the start of the AONB Services bat monitoring programme for the summer with a training session for new volunteers held at the Events Room in Ramscombe – many thanks to Andy Harris, Ranger at the Forestry Commission for hosting us!

The evening started with Tony Sergeant, ecologist at Somerset County Council, explaining what makes bats so fascinating. Did you know there are over 1,100 species of bats in the world and 17 species in the UK. They are the only truly flying mammal – others such as the flying squirrel just glide. The smallest bat is the bumblebee bat which weights a paltry 2grams and the heaviest is the Indian Flying Fox which weighs in at 1.6kg. Tony then went on to explain why we are keen to monitor bats, highlighting their importance as pollinators and insect control – did you know a pipistrelle bat can eat 3,000 midges in one night – before showing us some of the UK bat species.

I then gave a quick run through the gizmos and gadgets we use to capture the calls of bats, which we can use to help identify which species they are. In the UK all bats feed on insects. It is thought that they have evolved to hunt at night to avoid other aerial predators such as birds or prey. This presents a slight issue in that it is dark and eyesight – bats are not blind, in fact their eyesight is almost as go as humans - is not particularly useful, so the bats have come up with a cunning way of being able to navigate around the night sky. They shout and listen for the echos coming back to create a sound map of their surroundings. This is called echolocation.

To be able to build up an accurate sound map bats have to call at very high frequencies, between 20-110Khz – humans can hear frequencies between 20Hz – 15Khz – and very loudly sometimes 110db, which is as loud as a jumbo jet taking off. Individual bat species echolocate within specific frequency ranges that suit their environment and prey type. This means that by using bat detectors we can identify what frequencies the bats are calling at and narrow down what species are flying about.

After a short break and with the sun setting we headed out into the woods armed with a variety of bat detectors to see if we could put into practice what we had just learnt. First we heard a few Tawny Owls with the males and females calling to each other. I have to admit to being slightly concerned as to whether we would hear any bats on our detectors due to the high winds and cold night but thankfully after half hour or so they started to come out. Twenty minutes later and it sounded as though we were surrounded with common and soprano pipistrelles foraging all around. We even heard the distinctive feeding buzz as the bats hone in on their prey.

It is always encouraging the interest shown by volunteers and I am looking forward to going out on summer evening over the coming months trying to learn more about these fascinating animals. 


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