Tales from the field – bats and sunrises

Our graduate ecologist Gavin has mainly been nocturnal this summer! Here he reflects on a busy season of bat surveys.

Yesterday evening was the final bat survey of the year for Burton Reid. It’s been a long old slog, but now we have our evenings back and we can return to a normal sleep pattern.

Our dusk activity surveys begin at sunset and the last few surveys have felt a little odd, starting not long after 6pm. In mid-Summer we start around half nine when the world around us has already wound down and is mostly tucked up in bed by the time we finish two hours later. Recently though, our survey commutes are shared with the evening traffic and there are plenty of people about to watch us with interest, confusion and sometimes suspicion as we wander around our transects, wrapped up in anticipation of the cold. This month bat activity has been steadily decreasing with the temperature.

We completed our dawn surveys in August and September. Unlike many ecologists, I don’t mind dawn work. Once I have got over the initial feeling of dread at the 3 am alarm, there is much to look forward to. A nice quiet breakfast with plenty of coffee, clear roads and easy parking are often followed by beautiful sunrises and I find it is just lovely to be out at that time of day. There is a short crossover of the last bats and the first birds with a split-second mistaken identification of a swallow for a pipistrelle. Then you get to go home as everybody else is on their way in to work. Perfect.

Back in the office, going through the data from our surveys, we appreciate how lucky we are to be working in this part of the country. Lesser and Greater Horseshoe bats are present on many of our survey sites along with the more common bats. Today’s data analysis has thrown up a Barbastelle and a Nathusius Pipistrelle! Devon supports most of the British bat species and it’s encouraging to know our work is helping to keep it that way.


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