Those of you who have access to my Facebook will have seen this little fellah's picture before :
Aren't bats brilliant? Really? They're, like, my third favourite animal after Rhinos and Pangolins. The only true flying mammal, there's none of this glidey-aboutey, jumpey from tree-to-tree nonesense. It's all about the real, hairy, flapping about using tiny muscles and wings made of skin and stuff!
Brilliant... Especially their feet... Lookit his feet!
There are two main kinds of bats in the world, there's the big fruit-eating beasties like the one in the toe-curlingly cute picture above, known scientifically as MegaBats, who weigh about the same as a bag and a half of sugar and can have a wingspan of just under six feet! And there's the ones that you see flapping about in Scooby-Doo cartoons and churchyards and the Public Park after dark (What? is it just me that sometimes wakes up in a paddling pool, illuminated only by the waxing moon and a small campfire mostly comprising empty crisp packets and some dry bread that the ducks wouldn't eat) - Actually, thinking about it, I can't really talk about that, what with the impending court case and everything. But it's these that we're going to chat about.
They fly around, from dusk onwards, filling their spiky little faces with insects and squeaking at really high frequencies and if you weren't paying attention, you wouldn't realise just how many of the little monsters there are flying just above your head.
Our local park had an organised bat walk a couple of years ago, and I took the MiniDandy out to see what it was all about, it was an OK-ish kind of way to spend a summer's evening, full of people wearing bush-gear and wearing wooly knee-socks over their trousers (even though we were on a gravel canal path and the nearest bracken was a good half-mile away) and for the first hour or so we saw a grand total of no bats whatsoever.
Suddenly ! (Actually, I'm sexing this up a bit... The word 'Suddenly!' might be gilding the lily a bit, but I don't know any other way to say it that's less boring than 'Then') the group leader's bat-detector started to make rythmic clicking noises and he said,
'That's a Noctule Bat, making his way up the river, going into town to feed'
We all looked around and saw a sky full nothing.
'OH!' he gasped, his bat detector making a series of high pitched buzzes, 'That's a couple of Pipistrelles having a disagreement over a flying beetle!'
He was really getting into his stride now.
'Can you hear how the tone changes pitch, it gets higher?' He paused and waited for us all to nod sagely as if we had any idea what he was talking about, 'That means he's closing in on his prey!'
Luckily it was a warm night, the occasional star was out, the MiniDandy was in her element, the novelty of being out on the park at dusk was enough for her and she was no-where near as... well... not exactly bored, maybe just glad that it wasn't costing us anything... as I was. Then we went around a bend in the path and the detectors that were spread throughout the group (including the one that the MiniDandy was holding) all went mental.
We looked up and the sky was full of bats, caught in the last waning crespuscular rays of the setting sun, they were wheeling and diving and zipping through gaps that were obviously way too small for them. There were hundreds, if not thousands of the skinny-winged wee buggers (in the true sense of the word, in that they eat bugs) - It would be so easy to turn the 'Gay Description' knob (LOL, I said knob!) all the way up to eleven, and start going on about 'seamless aerial ballets' and 'breathtaking displays of aerodynamic pulchritude'... But I like girls and beer, so I'll just say that it was bloody impressive.
We stood there for about half an hour until the cloud of bats dissipated, it seems that the feeding frenzy was their breakfast, and they slowly spread out all over the park to suck up insects (around 3,000 each) until the temperature dropped. We carried on down the path, catching sight of the occasional Noctule and Soprano Pipistrelle, towards the lake.
'This is where the Dauby's live,' Said our Guide, 'There's a colony of a few hundred living on the island in the middle of the lake.'
I made a joke about them being lucky to have an island, as we had to make do with a paper bag floating in a septic tank, we'd have to go to work down t'mill for fourteen hours a day, week in, week out and when we got home, our Dad would thrash us to sleep with his belt...
You know that feeling you get when you wish you'd just said something in your head? - Well, I felt a little like that as our very worthy guide gave me a bit of a hard stare. I resolved to be educated silently after that.
He told us about how Daubenton's Bats pick insects off the water with their tails and flip them into their mouths (or something, in truth I was still embarrased about the whole Monty Python thing, so I wasn't really listening - but it was something like that, maybe they use a spatula, I'm not an expert) and how they often come out during the day if they get hungry. It was all very fascinating.
Eventually the evening drew to a close, we'd had a little flying display from the Dauby's and apart from another hard stare from the guide when I gave the detector back, it was a night well spent. We even bought MiniDandy her own bat-detector, which we've used a couple of times (Once as a hammer, and another time we propped a door open with it)... Good times.
I would suggest going on a batwalk to anyone who enjoys being genuinely impressed by the wonders of nature (Ooop.. better watch that knob again, take it back down to 2.7) One thing though, you might not be as lucky as us, you might only see a squirrel being taken roughly from behind by a badger, although that's still nature, in a way, and I guess it'd be a good story to tell the chaps at the pub over a medium sherry.