Batty about bats

I have been coveting a bat detector for ages now. The niggly little desire to own one began way back in June with the 30 Days Wild Challenge. Unfortunately I was on maternity leave at the and I couldn’t get my meagre budget to stretch enough to get one . Seeing as I’m now back at work I decided to splash out. Not as extravagant as the new Joules wellies I’ve also had my eye on, but equally practical! I did my research and the Magenta 4 bat detector seemed to fit my needs- affordable and easy to use. The parcel arrived just in time for some Halloween bat detecting. I love getting Amazon parcels, even though I know what they are and  that ive paid for them its still a little bit like Christmas!

For once Amazon hadn’t gone overboard on the packaging and I managed to get into it pretty quickly. My heart sank a little when I realised that batteries were not included – noooooo!I’d made the school boy error of not ordering any. Fortunately the house is quite full of those annoying talking childrens toys that require tons of batteries, so I raided them instead!  4 AAA batteries later and I was ready to roll!

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I am a complete novice when it comes to bat detection. The magenta 4 is brilliant-it comes with really straightforward instructions on how to assemble (well, insert batteries) and how to get started. It also has an inbuilt torch which proves extremely useful, not only for working out what frequency you are currently set to, but also in preventing me from face planting in the mud! The detector also makes listening in to bat echolocation possible, picking up sounds that can’t normally be detected by our ears and translating them into ‘clicks’, ‘slaps’, ‘tocks’ and ‘chirps’. As each bat species uses a different frequency locating it’s prey and navigating the environment using a detector can help figure out what bat species are about.

We know that we have bats on the farm.  On summer evenings I have watched at least a dozen bats flitting about over the main yard. More  hunt low over the fields to the rear of the farm. The farm does provide ideal habitat  for bat species. Ancient farm buildings, a lot of which are unused and undisturbed, provide plenty of roosting opportunities. In fact when the car is parked alongside one of the barns it gets covered in a layer of bat poo! We also have a large number of dead trees with cracks and crevices that can offer homes. The pasture, woods and water courses around the farm offer a reliable source of insects for the bats to feast on. The hedgerows and fencelines act as navigation aids and allow safe passage between hunting grounds and roost site. Sometimes they even decide to pay us a visit indoors!

Unfortunately, by the time I managed to slip out and start waving the detector about (probably not the intended technique) I couldn’t see any bats flying. It isn’t the best time of year for using a detector. The evenings have cooled suddenly and November is the time bats start to hibernate. They have spent September and October building up fat reserves to see them through the long winter. As the temperature drops, bats will enter Torpor,  to decrease the amount of energy they need to stay alive. They can go in and out of this state, depending on ambient temperature. As the months march on and daylength shortens the bats start to hibernate. Hibernation is different from Torpor– the bat’s body temp and metabolic rate drops even lower and they stay in this state for prolonged periods of time.

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Despite not picking up any flight sounds, I did pick up something with the detector. There was an awful lot of ‘clicks’ ‘chirps’ and ‘slaps’ coming from beneath the roof of the kiln, one of the barns used to house calves. I picked up similar noises from under the arches of the grain store, the old bull barn and stables, as well as the workshop beside the farmhouse.These noises were part of the social calls that bats produce when roosting.  The noises could also have come from mice which can produce ultrasonic squeaks that can be mistaken for bat chatter. However, the sites at which the detector picked up noise are definite bat roosts, so its more than possible that I was eavesdropping on bat conversations!

Either way it made a nice change  to be out in the dark instead of wasting the evening in front of the telly. The stars were out too; another awesome perk of living in the countryside means minimal light pollution and a clear view of the milky way. I can’t wait for summer and a chance to really get to grips with bat detection!