Bats, the only mammals capable of active flight, are an extremely successful and varied group of animals and occupy a wide range of ecological niches and habitats. Some are insectivorous while others eat fruit; some bats specialise in fishing and others collect nectar and pollen from flowering tropical plants. They play a key role as 'pest controllers' seed distributors and pollinators in their respective habitats.
It wasn't until the discovery of echolocation in the 1940s as their unique orientation method that they mystery of their ability to successfully fly and hunt at night was solved. Our fascination with these nocturnal mammals and their largely secretive lives brought more than 20 of us together for an evening appreciating the bats of St Michael's churchyard at the end of the Bio Blitz last Saturday.
We began by discussing some of their unique biology and ecology before using hand-held bat detectors to listen in on their foraging behaviour in the sky above our heads in the churchyard. We were treated to multiple passes just over our heads by Serotine bats, one of the larger UK bat species which feeds on cockchafers and other large insects.
Gareth Harris, Wiltshire Bat Recorder, kindly set up a static bat detector in a tree in the churchyard at the start of the Bio Blitz week and its job was to listen in and record bat calls in the churchyard over a five day period. After downloading the results, we are able to report that it detected Common Pipistrelle, Soprano pipistrelle, Brown Long-eared bat, Serotines, Noctules and Leisler’s bats. It's so exciting to have evidence of six different species using the churchyard at night. When combined with the numerous hedgehog tracks, the wood mice and bank voles we caught and the 50 species of moth recorded during the same week it is clear that the churchyard is teaming with nocturnal life and should be cherished and celebrated as an important wildlife environment within the village.