Bats, Bees and a lot of Bugs!

I mentioned that I would be busy with bats this week, in my last Post..  It was a busy old time of it really, with a very big surprise involved!

Yep, That's me - up a ladder getting face to face with bats, bugs and bees!

You’re probably guessing the bees will have been the surprise, judging by the Title of the Post?  Wrong!  You’ll have to read on to find out more…

It all started out with drive over to the west of the County, to the Wildlife Trusts’ Bracketts Coppice to be precise.  This is a wonderful site with lots of lush undergrowth, and even a ‘dingly dell’ stream running through the middle. 
Oh yes.. Before we get into the details – time for me to be really boring and mention some law things.  Bats are protected by law and it is illegal to kill them (obviously) and even to disturb them unless you hold a licence.  I do hold a licence as do Muckers and Emma (you’ll meet them later).  If you do happen to see a bat box somewhere, please do not be tempted to have a look inside.  Not only is it illegal if bats have ever used it, but you might also find yourself face to face with a bunch of angry hornets!  Leave the box checks to us lunatics who like to spend our time facing such dangers at the top of a ladder! 
Back to the post..   The first few bat boxes are in my favourite part of the reserve..  On a gentle slope in oak woodland, with a mix of bluebells and wild garlic underfoot – fantastic!  Having stood by and watched the first four boxes being checked and revealing no bats, it was then my turn…   It’s been a while since I’ve been quite so high up a ladder, and it takes a bit of getting used to!  By the time I got around to opening up the boxes all was well, which was a good thing really – as I was met by the beady eyes of a couple of noctule bats staring back at me!  Cool!  Probably my favourite amongst the bat world – they are big (as UK bats go!), have really sharp teeth and have thick, sleek fur that is a rich, deep golden brown in colour.

Noctule bats - complete with big teeth!

On we went, checking more boxes and I managed to find a maternity colony of about 30 Brown long eared bats clustered in one box, as well as a single soprano pipistrelle.

There did seem to be an inordinate amount of bee activity for some reason..  We don’t often find bee nests on our rounds, but today we had one nest that had been dug out by badgers and another that had taken over one of our boxes!

Bee nest - after a badger visit

Not overly obvious from the pic - but there were a LOT of bees buzzing around here!

Moving on to the next day of bat box surveys, this time we headed off to another DWT Reserve, with a group of young volunteers who make up the V Team (click to read their blog).

The first 10 or so boxes followed a common theme..  old birds nests.  These were all cleaned out, after ensuring that they were no longer in use of course.  Our persistence paid off in due course, as we started to find bat droppings in the boxes..

Inspecting the evidence.. yep, definitely bat droppings!

Onwards we pressed, and were rewarded by long eared bats!  A maternity colony of about 20 bats was left in peace as they are near to giving birth.  A male in the very next box provided a great opportunity for me to show the volunteers the features of these bats.

Brown long eared bat - living up to its name...

Muckers went up the ladder next, and wasn’t too pleased to find a hornet nest..  Fortunately for her, it was an old one -so no need to worry about getting down quickly! 

Muckers tries to show her delight at finding a hornets nest

Want a closer look?  I took a quick clamber up the ladder to get a shot of the nest..

The things you do for a picture of a hornets nest

And here is the result..

Hornets nest - with a bat dropping!

Emma was next up the ladder, and failed miserably to find any sign of bats.  She did get her picture taken though and will be disappointed if I don’t include it here..

No bats in there Emma!

At this point you are wondering one of two things..  1. Why does the title say ‘bats, bees and a lot of bugs?  No mention so far of any bugs!  2. So where is the big surprise?

OK.  Bugs first.  There were bugs.  A LOT of bugs!  It was rather warm day and every box seemed to have its entire bug population sunning itself on the doors.

Steve O getting covered in bugs from above!

Anyway, on to the big surprise..   Muckers went up the ladder to check one of the boxes found a bat..  Great, but not really a surprise to find a bat in a bat box!  She pondered for a while, then asked me to go up and have a look as she knew it wasn’t a long eared bat and it wasn’t a pipistrelle or a Natterers (the only other bat species we have recorded here)

I have to say, I was rather thrown at first.  I knew what it was, but could quite comprehend it being there..  A Bechsteins bat was peering out at me!  Often referred to as Britains rarest mammal (though I’m not sure that’s still the case now) it was major discovery to say the least!

A bechsteins bat. Easy to identify - they look like a Gremlin!

Katrina went up the next ladder, uttered the words ‘there’s another bat in this one’ and up I went to have a look.  Another Bechsteins!  Definitely not the same bat from the previous box, I started to wonder about my ID skills..  Double checking everything again I was finally satisfied that yes, they were absolutely Bechsteins bats. 

So, it’s a big cheer all around – for finding a new species for our Reserve.  Well done to the team!  what’s next?

That’s an easy one.  Next, is more bats..  This time the venue is Brownsea and I’ll be working with the BBC as they film bats while 2 artists produce paintings inspired by their experiences.  Should be a good couple of days -or should that be nights!

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