It all started a couple of years ago when I decided to get myself a bat detector, as bats were something I saw but had never heard.
I live in the Eden Valley, a place that has been my home for almost seven decades, growing up during a time when it was common place and completely normal to be out with my friends all day long during the warm summer months, playing in the open fields, climbing trees and swimming in the river. The valley contains the River Eden, it flows through my home town and on to Hever, Chiddingstone, Penshurst, and beyond.
It is old, very old and remains for the most part, open fields and ancient woodlands. A perfect habitat for bats, all around are small ponds, large ponds, and lakes, one favourite I often visit in summer is near Staffhurst Wood, Daubentons bats and Pipistrelles frequent it and I am able to sit at the waters edge watching the Daubentons weaving their way very quickly over it's surface taking the emerging insects as they do so. Pipistrelles seem to be everywhere and are often seen in the high street and down at the river where we have a bridge, it's many hundreds of years old and the Pipistrelles can be seen passing back and forth underneath it.
The bridge is cared for by the Great Stone Bridge Trust, which was "possibly" formed in 1511, and "Legend has it that it was in response to complaints made by two ladies of the Parish who found it inconvenient to use the stepping stones crossing", the Great Stone Bridge Trust owns and manages the water meadows upstream for the benefit and enjoyment of the people who live here. I sometimes try to imagine Henry VIII passing by and going over the bridge whilst on his way to Hever! Who knows...
Recently we had a bat walk there and at least 40 people came along, and where we were treated to expert advice and information as the evening progressed. I was able to lend a couple of my bits and pieces to those who had never ever seen a bat, let alone heard one before! Many were astonished as they heard and watched bats whizzing past within a few feet of their heads.
I have used different types of detectors to help me understand things, and eventually I settled on the Elekon bat detector, for several reasons, they are so well designed, from the ground up, and in the case of the Batscanner, I just love the tone it has and the fantastic readout, with its large, brightly lit green numbers on a black background, it's just perfect for use in the dark. I love when bats fly past unseen, their calls passing from one side to the other through my headphones and is something that certainly helps me to be looking in the right place, as activity can be heard from whichever side it is coming from.
My little home is not old, but sits on the edge of town and virtually every night in summer when the air temperature is right, I have wall to wall Pipistrelles, specially where the street lights are, and through the trees and lanes. They fly so close to my windows, you could almost touch them.
On one occasion there were three or four Pipistrelles flying as they do, eratically, up, down, left and right, whizzing between the buildings only to reappear seconds later as they cover the area in search of food, amongst all this activity I am certain I was watching a Mother Pipistrelle and her pup, the pup was two or three feet behind her and it was almost as though they were tied together with invisible string, the pup mimicking her every twist and turn... The pup was learning the ropes and it was something that I shall never forget. I see Common Pipistrelles and Soprano Pipistrelles, Noctules are around but I am not sure I have actually seen one yet, and, possibly a Leislers, the bats are present every night if the air temperature is right and that's something I have learned, as it does seem that air temperature has a huge effect on things.
Of my detectors, one is static and weather proof, so I can set it up at places I know and leave it there for a week, I have set it to record over entire nights, the bats triggering each recording upon their arrival and I discovered quite a bit about things around me in the process, for example, their visits slowed down a lot at one stage and it honestly seemed like all the bats had gone and everything just stopped!. However, I discovered this was not the case, as after midnight, typically from 1am onwards, bats were here, and here in numbers, staying around all night right up until 4.30/5.00am. It seemed they had just shifted their arrival by nearly five hours and every night it was the same. What a nice suprise it was to find this out...
My others are mobile, one records as well and I use it coupled up to it's microphone thats mounted on a handle I made, it is setup to record automatically and resides in a small bag thats slung over my shoulder or in a pocket, in conjuction with this I use my favourite, a Batscanner Stereo, and using my headphones with it allows me to wander about in the dark whilst adding the benefit of 'direction' to the calls I hear.
During the following days I look at the recordings, their detail, and try to understand it all, I am still very much a beginner, but am finding it all sooo interesting. My Batlogger detector came with free software called Bat Explorer which is amazingly well written, it gives me the audible sound analysis, spectrograms, and even a built in Bat Species Library, its full of information and the entire software is very well laid out. Couple all this together with my excursions out, and my understanding has gone up fast, I have learnt what different bats sound like but it's still far from easy when you are out in the thick of it, as its the sounds, sights, behaviour and location of the bats that really does it for me, and it's the combination of all these things that helps me to get an idea of what is around. Many bat species have overlapping frequencies, but their sounds can differ, as does their behaviour...
Being a country boy though, I like nothing better than to be out and about watching and listening to these amazing little creatures of the night that live alongside us in my home valley!