Midlands Bat Conference 2014

On Saturday 26th April BrumBatters met up at with other batty kind at the Midlands Bat Conference in Warwick. The Regional conferences are held every two years and feature talks, workshops and ‘spotlights’ on local bat groups.

It was great this year to see a blend of strategic bat conservation at the national level, headed up by a talk from Carol Williams, the Director of Conservation at BCT, academic studies and innovative projects being carried out at the local level. Two Brumbatters gave talks: Rachel Fryer on her undergraduate project looking at emergence behaviour of Natterer’s and Brown Long-Eared roosts; and Morgan Bowers on the evolution of the Flight Cage.

(c) Mike Ryan

Morgan Bowers talking about ‘Flight Club’. (c) Mike Ryan

I gave an update on our Batlas Project – two years ago we were at the planning stage, and on the 26/04/14 we were a few days off our official launch! Each bat group’s activities reflected their geography (from largely rural Lincolnshire covering a huge area to urban Brum) and their core members (from consultants, to academics and amateur enthusiasts). It shows that anyone can get involved in bat conservation, and you pick up your knowledge and contribute your expertise from other fields as you go along.

(c) Bat Conservation Trust

Rachel Fryer’s talk on roost emergence behaviour. (c) Bat Conservation Trust

Workshop topics included sound analysis, bat parasites, research techniques and how bats use buildings. I learned more about domestic architecture and the nooks and crannies bats can wedge into – if your thumb can fit into a hole, then a smaller bat species can make its way in!

I hope in two years’ time to give an update on our Batlas findings, and lessons learned from the surveys – and see if the more elusive species have been found in our urban and suburban quarters.

Guest Blog: Fly Away Paul by Rachel Fryer

Rachel Fryer is back with another bat care guest blog:

When Paul the common pipistrelle bat first came into my care 27th November 2013, he was estimated to be around 4.5g and still had a small tear in his membrane. He and Kevin were the first bats I have cared for (rather than just collecting and passing onto a carer).  I measured the forearms of both bats to get an idea of their size. And both were very similar; Kevin 31.2mm and Paul 31.23mm. I then fed them up to a healthy weight over the winter, as they were too light for release prior to the hibernation period.

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As Paul cohabited with Kevin (also a common pipistrelle) for some time, I recorded the total meal worms eaten each day between them (blue bars). They initially ate between 13 and 19 mealworms per night, rising to 30 after a few days. They consistently ate well but with regular dips in appetite. Paul was separated from Kevin for two days early on, and so I then recorded the number of mealworms eaten individually (orange bars) and continued this when Kevin sadly didn’t survive. I thought this might be interesting to graph and it does appear that the bats had regular peaks and troughs in appetite.

kpgraphI monitored Paul’s weight throughout the (just under) 4 months that he was in my care. I did this ‘now and then’, so as not to disturb him too much. His weight had increased to a chunky 6.7g by 29th December and dropped a little to 6.2g by 25th January, 5.8g on 18th February and 5.6g on 11th March. He flew like an absolute pro in the flight cage on 10th and 25th January and became a resident of the flight cage 16th March when the weather warmed up. Paul continued to be a strong flier and a feisty bat and was successfully released (see video below) near where he was collected, at Brunswick Park, Wednesbury on 8th April.

Although other carers, including Morgan and Chris, cared for Paul before me, and certainly did the hard work with him when he first came into care, I feel like Paul was my first success. It was so lovely to see him through to the release and watch and listen to Paul loop around us, before disappearing and becoming a wild bat again.

-Rachel

And behind door number four…

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The bats in the flight cage are gearing up for soft release next week!  Paul, Wriggle & Purple have been in soft-release box number 4 (Paul doesn’t really get on with soprano pip Finn, so Finn has been on his own in box 2).  Much to my surprise today, I checked on the boxes to find Paul inside Finn’s box, and Finn cuddled up with Paul’s ladies in box 4!  As precocious as this is, it does mean that both of the boys are now showing return to roost behaviour and are ready for release.

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So I popped Paul (who by the way is looking magnificent – fluffy and heavy and ready for spring!) into the soft release box, and put fresh water and food in for them.  (When we first started using the flight cage, we had to find food dishes that were perfect for our needs – the right size – I had to be able to fit two of them inside the box – and shape - they had to be shallow and heavy enough that the bats wouldn’t be able to tip them over.  We actually opted for furniture casters from B&Q in the end!).20140403_170513sm

Bats fed, watered and tucked in for the evening (rain will probably mean a night in for them!) I then turned my attention to settling in our new mealworms.  (The squeamish of you should look away now!) If you’ve ever wondered what half a kilo of beetle larvae look like, here you go!  They will keep our bats going for the next few months while our existing colonies breed and recover in numbers.  If you fancy having a go at breeding mealworms for our bats, you can email me for details on how! – Morgan

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2014 Residents in Action

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2014 will be our first full year in which we have had use of the flight cage here at BrumBats, and we’re wasting no time, with four residents in the cage already preparing for release within the next few weeks.  Its still pretty cold, so activity is low, but we flew some of the bats as part of their ‘flight test’ to see if they were ready to move in recently and filmed it.  Soprano pipistrelle Finn (above) was not the least bit interested in flying and preferred to sleep so we left him to it in the bat box, but Common pip Paul did us all proud.  Firstly, he showed off is ace flying skills while we filmed him from beneath…

…and then exhibited a particular type of behaviour (return to roost) which means that he is ready for soft release, and will be sent on his way as soon as the weather warms up a bit.  Here’s his fantastic first time returning to ‘his’ bat box…

We’re all very excited about the 2014 season.  We recently ran our Introduction to Bat Care course, and already have a substantial waiting list for the next one – not to mention the BrumBats Flight Cage project is on the agenda for both Midlands Bat Conference and National Bat Conference (I am a wee bit terrified about that one but don’t tell anyone!).

Anyway, hope you enjoy the videos; I hope to be posting shortly to report on our first soft-releases of the year!

-Morgan

Guest Blog: Launch of BrumBats Batlas project!

Another guest blog for you this week, about the launch of our Batlas Project from Ben Wood.  Ben (@BenMarcWood) is an ecologist in training who has been working on the Warwickshire Barbastelle Project. Ben’s interests beside bats include birds, insects and plants.  

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Saturday saw the launch of the Batlas project with a training workshop at Sandwell Valley RSPB Reserve. The project involves a network of volunteers and aims to survey every tetrad (2km x 2km square) in Birmingham and the Black Country for bats within the next 7 years and use the results to create distribution maps for each species present.

Being new to BrumBats I arrived looking forward to meeting the group and getting to know some other bat enthusiasts. The afternoon began with an introduction to the Batlas co-ordinators, the three survey areas and instructions on how to carry out the surveys. Attendees were encouraged to meet their co-ordinator and take on at least one tetrad to survey for two nights in 2014.  I chose to cover two tetrads close where I live but I overheard that some keen volunteers were taking at least 4.  We then discussed between us over coffee and cake about where the best potential bat habitat in our area would be were planning to carry out the surveys.

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The introduction was followed by an excellent and informative talk on bat echolocation led by Lisa Worledge (@BattyLisa).  Lisa explained the components of bat sounds and how to recognise a few common bat species using a heterodyne bat detector. Having learned to rely on the frequency of calls, I found it very helpful to learn how to split apart bat calls by the rhythm or the length of call. We were aided by some very convincing bat impersonations by members of the group!

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The evening concluded with a dusk walk around Forge Mill Lake although, unfortunately, the temperature dropped quickly and not a single bat was heard. Nonetheless at the end of the session, likely spurred on by the coffee and cake provided, the Batlas volunteers were all keen to get started by choosing survey spots and travel routes within their chosen tetrads. I already have some locations in mind and am looking forward to getting out on my bike and listening to some bats.

- Ben Wood

Silver Wings

20140315_102546smWe had a special visitor to the flight cage yesterday – local jewellery designer Anna de Ville, who specialises in custom-made wildlife-themed charms, broaches, necklaces & earrings.  Anna wanted an opportunity to see some bats up close prior to embarking on some new bat-themed designs!  Cersei & Joffrey came out to show off for her a bit – both demonstrating their awesome flying skills, and behaving enough for Anna to get a good look at some of their anatomy up close (thumbs, toes, whiskers & ears were all examined for detail.  It was also a great opportunity for a pre-release flight test for the bats who have now gone back to RAF Cosford  for release! 

20140315_103113smI also got the opportunity to see some of Anna’s designs – which I have to say, totally blew me away!  They were real-looking, yet stylised, and seemed to really capture the essence of the animal (See the badger below!).  I can’t wait to see what she comes up with for bats!  So watch this space, as I’ll share the designs with you as soon as I see them.  In the mean time you can take a look at Anna’s website here: www.annadeville.co.uk 

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Guest Blog: Rachel’s Bat Care Story

Continuing the series of guest blogs by our bat carers about their experiences caring for bats, meet Rachel Fryer, one of our newest bat carers:

Rachel checks bat boxes

I have been interested in bats since 2007 and have been attending batty events and carrying out surveys for a few years now. I attended my first bat care training day with Staffordshire Bat Group in 2011. Since then I have had little involvement in bat care.

My early experiences included collecting juvenile bats for another group which I’m a member of, the South East Staffordshire Bat Group in 2013. The first occasion being during one of my honours project bat surveys at a Natterer’s bat roost. At another roost nearby – a Soprano pipistrelle roost which I had identified and counted earlier in the season – two juvenile bats had appeared in the living space. Being “the bat lady” known on site, I was asked to help. It was not possible to return the bats to the roost immediately. So I remembered the advice given by bat carers and placed both bats in a ventilated box with a towel and small bowl of water. I then passed the bats onto another carer from the group with the intention of returning the bats to the roost ASAP. I was eager to hear how the bats were doing but unfortunately these bats and another which I collected, didn’t make it. I found this saddening and disappointing.

I had to consider if I am cut out for bat care. You need to be able to step back, and accept that bats will not always survive. But I also think that to be a carer you need to actually care. So there must be a balance between these two feelings.

I came to know Morgan Bowers well during my involvement with the Black Country and Staffordshire Naturalists group. Some events I help with include bat walks, surveys and bat box checks. I attended some further training with Brumbats; feeding bat pups. And attended a couple of bat releases; an attempted return of 2 juvenile bats to a maternity roost and the release of adult brown long-eared bat, Stella, at RAF Cosford in October 2013. It was a joy to hold Stella and see her fly away and become a wild bat again.

Kevin & Paul snuggling up

Since then I have over-wintered two Common pipistrelle bats; Kevin and Paul. Kevin was a juvenile found grounded and in a weak condition at the end of July 2013. Paul was an adult bat with a torn membrane. Both have been no trouble, roosting together and eating mealworms regularly. Kevin and Paul often vocalised while roosting together and I always wondered what they were saying! I think bat carers have the potential to learn a lot about bats, while also doing their bit to help.

Unfortunately I lost Kevin 27th January 2014 for unknown reasons. This saddened me again. I had a bit of a soft spot for Kevin as he seemed to be good natured. In reality, his less-feisty character may have been a hint that he wasn’t a strong bat. However, Paul is still going strong at 5.8g and as feisty as ever. He flew amazingly well during his two visits to the flight cage. It was great to see him doing so well but also lots of fun! I’m looking forward to seeing Paul soft released with other bats in spring this year. The day he decides to leave the bat box for independence, I will feel I have done my job.

I’m now looking forward to BrumBats ‘Introduction to bat care’ course in March to refresh my understanding and learn more.

If this blog has inspired you to get involved in bat care, take a look at our bat care pages or send me an email: morgan@brumbats.org.uk