I Like Big Bats (& I cannot lie)

The Reremouse

So I’ve had a bit of a hiatus from blogging and social media, due to personal reasons, but I have lots to share with you and catch up on – not least, the significant finds as part of the BrumBats Batlas project and our bat box scheme. I’m going to blog this weekend about our second (and most exciting) discovery, but for now I want to talk about big bats.

There are three closely-related species of bat which are generally lumped together as being our ‘big bats’ in the UK: serotine (which I’ll focus on another time), noctule and Leisler’s bat. The latter two species are pictured below, and are superficially similar. They are both quite chunky bats, with the tragus (the flap of skin inside the ear) shaped like a mushroom, but the noctule is larger (weighing in at up to 40g – twice the weight of a Leisler’s) with paler (often gingery) fur…

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Batcasting

I have said “yes” to the ever persuasive and enthusiastic Morgan and we are going to make a recording and thus a podcast of the BrumBats “Introduction to bat care training”, so more people can access it.

Morgan and her husband P have done all the hard work, set up “the studio” in their sitting room and got all the power point slides together, made flapjack and tea.

I need to turn up looking presentable in case Morgan takes photos…of course she will, and sit on the sofa and chat about bats; not too hard then.

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We are going to make the podcast so that people can access it on line and be informed about the basics and have time to reflect on if these roles are really for them. Usually when we have taught this sort of course, the first back in 2007, we have tried hard to put people off because it is not for everyone. It can be distressing at times and success rates, although improving, are not great. Plus saving one bat is protection but saving a roost or a habitat is conservation and that is ultimately more helpful to bats. So there are some arguments against bat care. But the main reasons bats come into care are down to things that humans are probably responsible for, so it does seem only fair to try and redress the balance.

Once people have gone through the on line course then they are better set to decide on the next steps, if any, for them and come along to more practically orientated courses.

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So, sit on the sofa, close to Morgan so we can both see the laptop and are both close to the microphone and its shield. P. tells us this will make us sound balanced….really? We are unbalanced by years of bat care this is not going to change things. But sitting next to each other and looking at the slides and photos makes the words come and the memories flow and we can chat and interact and add a few stories and so the recording builds a slide and a track at a time.

We stop a few times and go back when sounds from outside like an ice cream van get on to the recording, it is an amazingly sensitive set up that P. has built. After about 3 hours we have it recorded and now P. and Morgan have the job of editing it down to a course.

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We hope that soon prospective BrumBats  bat collectors and carers  will be able to access the podcast and slides on Youtube and it might help other bat groups too. We look forward to hearing how you find the course.

My thanks to Morgan and P for a very nice  afternoon.

by Chris Sherlock

* The course has been edited together and you can now see the two podcasts on youtube:

Tiny Wood, Big Bats

The Reremouse

Friday night was the third in a series of four woodland bat surveys that the Herefordshire Mammal Group are doing for us. The first was at Merrions Wood, the second was at Sutton Park, and the third at Cuckoos Nook & the Dingle. I was particularly excited about this survey as we knew virtually nothing about the bat species on site, as the woodland – you can see me talk more about the unique geology and flora of the site here on the 2011 Raising the Barr video – is a bit remote, and so the survey involved carrying LOTS of equipment over fields and down into the Dingle.

As well as Denise & David from the Herefordshire Mammal Group, and John from the Shropshire Bat Group, I was joined by @MelodyJoans@JakeLo65@TeganFell@Scott_DPTG@WalsallHeaths and @ChaseRanger for a night of batty awesomeness.

In just a…

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Bat Centre TV

The Reremouse

I was very privileged this week to once again represent BrumBats on TV. I popped into BigCentreTV in Walsall on Thursday to appear as the guest on their evening news programme.  I was interviewed by the incredibly friendly Monica Plaha. The lovely staff there have edited together the three interview segments and you can watch them on youtube here:

It was the third time I’ve been invited by local media to talk about the work that BrumBats do. You can watch the other videos below:

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The Sopranos

The Reremouse

Today was graduation day in the BrumBats flight cage, where we moved 8 common and 3 soprano pipistrelle bats into the flight (which is basically an aviary in which we teach orphaned bats to fly). There are another 15 bats waiting to move in, but they need to be self-feeding on mealworms before that’s possible. I took a few photos of our new residents, and thought I’d take a minute to show you the difference between our two most abundant pipistrelle species (there is a third, Nathusius’s Pipistrelle, which is larger and rarer – and I’ve never even seen one!)

The following photos are all common pipistrelles – they have a dark face (aka the bandit pipistrelle) and quite perky ears.

Now, if you compare the common pipistrelle (below, left) to the soprano pipistrelle (below right), you can see that the soprano is pinker in the face, paler in general…

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Serotine, Serotine

The Reremouse

This is Vlad.  If you’ve seen me do a bat talk this year, you will have met him – he has been staying with me since the summer when he came up from the Avon Bat Group to spend a few weeks in the flight cage.  Alas, he would not fly at all, and it was looking quite likely that he’d go back down to Avon to become a permanent education bat. Today he had his first chance to use the flight cage since he came out for the winter in October, and to everyone’s surprise, flew perfectly well and actually seemed to enjoy himself!

Vlad is a Serotine (Eptesicus serotinus), which is one of our largest UK bat species.  His overall size and appearance (and if you heard him, his echolocation) are very similar to a Noctule bat, but he’s actually a different genus.  Serotines are one of…

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Everybody was Wu Fu Fighting

The Reremouse

Next time you’re in London, I’d highly recommend popping into the V&A Museum (its right next to the Natural History and Science Museums).  Walk down the awesome (yet, not too ostentatious) hall of sculptures, and pop into room 44, the China exhibit, and start looking for bats!

Rather than the ‘creatures of the night’ and harbingers of doom/dracula/general spookiness that they are here in the West, bats in China are seen as a symbol of good luck.  The Chinese word for ‘bat’ is ‘fu’, which is (effectively) the same as their word for ‘fortune/luck’ (the pronunciation is the same but the symbol very slightly different).  As such, bats can be found in art, carvings, ceramics, paintings and embroidery (from the 17th century onward), and particularly in ceremonial objects.

Bats are often pictured in groups/circles of five bats in the symbol ‘Wu Fu’ (Five Fortunes), which are Happiness, Health, Wealth, Longevity…

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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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