Bats know best!

Sunday, 6th September 2009

Over 30 friends and members of the Helford MCG gathered at Mawgan Village Hall for an evening “bat talk and walk”. Dr Carol Williams, with her characteristic enthusiasm, delivered a 30 min. crash course in bat identification, life-cycle and habits before we ventured out into the gathering gloom assembling in the woodland car park on the Trelowarren Estate. Bat detectors swung into action immediately and to our delight we heard several pipistrelle bats as they hunted for insects overhead using their stuttering echo-location calls.

Carol had stressed the richness of the Helford River woodlands for 16 species of bat so we set out with great expectations from the car park to the lawns and buildings adjacent to the main house. The moon rose as we toured the extensive grounds and the tawny owls hooted in the woods but bats – they were silent! With ears fully attuned and waiting we quietly discussed the habits of bats, when are the young born – early summer, hopefully as the weather warms and insects are on the wing? How far from the roost do bats hunt for food – most within 1km but others, such as the robust high-flying noctules can travel much further? Do males and non- breeding females frequent the nursery roosts – no?

Perhaps the strong evening breeze had deterred the insects? We headed back to the car park woodland and WOW! Immediately we heard the Common pipistrelle echo-locating at 45khz and hunting overhead. Our detectors positively vibrated with the sound. At one stage there were also social calls indicating that there were male bats in the vicinity displaying and courting over-head. This was the moment that the sensitive infra-red binoculars swung into action and some people were lucky enough to catch glimpse of the aerial displays.

The sheltered car park may have been warmer that night favouring the insects or was this a chance encounter with a courting area (or ‘lec’) frequented by male bats strutting their stuff for the benefit of the ladies? It was an evening to remember, confirming what Carol had told us, that bats really do know best when it comes to finding the best places for a good night out.

© Helford Voluntary Marine Conservation Area