Bat Surveying in the Preseli Mountains

Unexpected, close encounters

If you have ever had dozens of bats flying and swooping directly above your head as day light approaches you will understand the pure magic and joy of it.

Spare parts rule the roost

After the first amazing surveying experience, I knew I couldn’t give up after one bad experience with lofts. Before the dreaded loft, the rest of the night had been so enthralling. I had to give attics the benefit of the doubt. She again Cian and I woke up at 2:30 am and snuck downstairs back to the street corner, waiting to picked up. This time the set up was very different. We were joined by two more ecologists and me and Cian became very much spare parts. We were introduced to the ghost busters (sorry bat ecologists), who were carrying space age looking machines. They quickly delegated who would survey which part of the site. It was explained to us that when a site is very big more than one ecologist is needed to make sure are the data is collected properly. If any bat presence is missed it could impact them badly when development plans are being made. So ecologists like to be very thorough for the protection of their bat friends. Cian and I accompanied the ecologist who brought us to a smelly barn, where he had noticed bat activity the last time he came. “Just two common pips, probably bachelors snuggled up in the gap in the breeze block”. He told us. He came on his own last time at a different time of year and wanted to check again with some help. “If you want to help, you could go and survey that building over there.” He said pointing us to a shed area next to a shady pond.

So, off we went bat detector in hand seeing what we could find. Pretending we were real ecologist we took on board the advice he gave us the time before and starting circling the building for signs of bat activity and potential roost entrances. It was quite difficult to see in the darkness, so we wandered off down the lane bat detector in hand. The lane was surrounded by trees on either side and eventually we picked up some noises on the bat detector. It was so exciting to hear them near by and It made being the darkness in a strange place a lot less terrifying. By ten past four, we could see the bats flying past us through the trees. We made our way back to the shed, as they would be returning back to the roost soon. The bats were so close flying right in front of them to the pond in search of food. We got to the shed and It wasn’t long until the bats followed. The bat detector was going crazy with sound. Although, we didn’t need the bat detector to know that the bats were there! They were flying right above our heads – dozens of them. Doing loops and swoops than flying towards the shed roof amazingly close only to change their minds at the last moment. It was soon obvious that was were their main entrance was. For about 10 minutes they carried on with this routine of flying above our heads, then pretending they were going to enter the roost only to fly away again. Finally one brave maverick made the first move and landed on the side of the shed and crawled into the tiny gap. This little one was so close I could make out the brown colour to their fur in the dusty light. Slowly more and more bats crawled their way into the building. All was over by 5 am, but the experience of seeing all of those bats was magnificent.

The two other ecologists didn’t see any bats and the ecologist we came with noticed those two bats return to the breeze block in the barn. Us two spare parts though, we found the maternity roost and I made sure I counted all 32 of them. Cian was too in awe to count them, looking up at the amazing creatures in wonder. I would have too, but watching them enter was mesmerising and I didn’t want to let the ecologists down. At 5am there was decent light and we all observed the building. We found bat poo below the roost and sadly and mother and baby common pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus) who it seemed may have accidentally fallen from the roost. No attics needed to be climbed into for this surveying experience. I supposed I will have to find another attic to climb…

If you want to know anymore information about bats please do check out you local bat group. They do all sorts of free events for you to attend. I will be making a blog post about the three species we found on the surveying visits; Long eared bats, Soprano Pipistrelle’s and common pipistrelle’s and about bat conservation. Please do check it out.

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