My First Bat Swarm

 Jason Ball @ Natureheads.com

4am and my alarm goes off. Strangely it doesn’t take me long to pull myself out of bed. I get dressed, pocket my bat detector, and grab my camera and tripod. Off I go to meet the rest of the trainees on the Bats and Bat Surveys course, run by the Bat Conservation Trust.

By the time I got there most of the group were already in place, quietly seated and bat detectors buzzing. Above us was a weird display of dark fireworks. Apparently silent at first, it’s not until you begin to listen to a bat detector that you appreciate that it’s not quiet at all – these bats sound riotous! At the same time, the swarm of bats in the sky is the opposite of sinister. This is a playground.

Soprano Pipistrelle dawn swarm

Soprano Pipistrelle bats were swarming at dawn

Baby bats are getting used to their wings, exploring the power of flight. Parents are calling out and encouraging the clumsy youngsters. Hundreds of conversations are taking place overhead, whilst each one of the bats in the ‘swarm’ is busy imaging their environment from the echoes of their ultrasonic shouts. I suppose it’s like turning a stutter into a superpower.

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As a bat haven, this training venue is about as good as you get. During the last couple of days and nights we have discovered that we are surrounded by bats of many kinds. Arguably some of our cutest wildlife, these marvellous mammals are made mysterious by their noturnal flying habits and super-sonic communication. Bats are the most ignored of our mammals, yet they make up more than 1 in 5 of the mammalian species in the British Isles and 1 in 4 of the world’s 1100 types of mammal.

The course has been the intense and intelligent introduction to bats that I was after. Brilliant. I already loved bats, but experiences like this get you hooked. (As a member of BCT I got a discount too.)

I’d say to any nature fan that a bat walk, or a course like this one, opens up a world you really should know more about. Take a look at www.bats.org.uk to discover batty events near you, and your local bat group.

Jason Ball @ Natureheads.com

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