Discovering bats in Waterford

Albert Nolan

Reporter:

Albert Nolan

The welcome cool of the evening finds the whole family sitting on deckchairs out the front of the house.

As dusk starts to settle, the first insects start to gather around the aging streetlight that has lit up my house for the last 30 years. They are soon joined by a few fluttering moths, but these are not the main attraction tonight. Recently it was proposed to install a brighter light, but thankfully funding fell short and I can still enjoy the dark and discovering its hidden wildlife.

I was holding my bat detector, converting the calls of the bats into a sound that we could hear. Each species of bat calls at a different frequency, and combined with flight pattern and habitat you can generally tell the species of bat. As with any study in the natural world, there are always calls that remain a mystery.

The kids wandered in and out and find a better use for the bat detector. They realised that it can make an amazing range of noises, when they munch a packet of crisps or scratch a nylon surface. There fun was only broken by the first clicks on the detector, as a bat emerges from its roost to feed.

We stared at the light and soon saw our first bat. The bats flight was quick and erratic, and after a few checks on the detector we identified the bat as a soprano pipistrelles. They come to feed around the light for years, but I have yet to discover where they are roosting. All that flight needs plenty of fuel, and they will devour up to 3,500 insects throughout the night. This is an important pest control service, and when their tummies are full the females will return to their roost to suckle their pup.

They also have one baby each summer and are careful to pick the best maternity roosts. It needs to be warm and dry but with no droughts or strong lighting. Our attics make the perfect roost and they can squeeze in through the smallest gaps. After the summer they generally move out to cooler and dryer places to hibernate for the winter.

Bats can create a little mess, but a sheet of plastic spread on the floor will collect any droppings and these can be removed at least once a week. Bats are fully protected by law and it is illegal to disturb them at their roosts. You can still carry out works, but this is dependent on the species of bat and roost size. Bat conservation website has very good advice on bats in the home.

At a recent bat training event we found a mother and pup that had fallen out of the roost. The lady leading the bat is qualified to handle bats, but I had never been so close to a bat before. Every detail was visible and we were all talking in hushed but excited tones. The pup continued to feed while all this drama was going on, and I was surprised at how big it was compared to its mother.

A ladder was quickly found and the family returned to the roost. Male bats roost in different locations but the sexes can feed together. Bats have a neat strategy to avoid competition while feeding together. They can change their echolocation calls and this allows them to hunt different insects. Larger prey like a moth are sometimes taken to a convenient perch to be eaten. If you find a place with lots of discarded wings, this would be a good spot to observe.

Other common species of bats are Leisler's. These are large bats compared to the pipistrelles. Leisler's are early risers and are out while it is still bright. This often leads to confusing with swifts, but the birds sweeping wings helps tell it apart from a bat.

Leisler's have a direct a powerful flight and need a larger space to turn so their flight is more deliberate. They will also roost up high as they need a long drop before been able to fly.

Over the water you will find daubenton's. They have large feet that they use to gather insects just above the surface of a pond or river. Their calls are a series of rapid clicks that are compared to a machine gun.

Bats are fascinating to watch and can reveal quiet intimate behaviour. I was recently observing two bats and they were actively feeding and calling. Suddenly all went quiet and the bats briefly touched before continuing on their way.

We can help bats by leaving more areas of flowers filled grassland in our gardens and through tidy town’s projects that will attract insects. This will also feed swallows and other insect eating birds.

Keeping our cats in an hour before and after dusk helps bat. As they emerge from their roost they are vulnerable to a waiting cat. Over the years I have gotten a few presents of a tattered bat.

If your group are interested in doing a bat talk or walk during the summer please contact Albert at albert.nolan@rocketmail.com or 089-4230502. Albert is also available to give walks/talks to schools, tidy towns, youth and community groups.