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Sunday, 13 June 2021

"There are no bats" - the difficult client

                    
    


                    There are no bats,
                    I’d know if there were.
                    I looked in the attic,
                    And under the stair.

                    I know what to look for:
                    They’re big, with red eyes,
                    I know I’d have seen them,    
                    There’s only dead flies.

                    I need a bat survey,
                    Heaven knows why.
                    The council are idiots
                    And I’m sure that they’re sly.

                    There’s some sort of agenda,
                    You bat people, it’s clear,
                    Are in league with the planners,
                    The Daily Mail gives a steer.

                    I must commission a survey,
                    I will, with bad grace,
                    And I’ll pay your invoice,
                    At a snail’s pace.

                    You stand on my property,
                    With your gadgets and things.
                    It’s all stuff and nonsense,
                    There’s nothing here with wings.

                    For there’s no bats at all.
                    What’s that that you say?
                    Four species roosting?
                    Can’t be true - no way!

                    Those things are bats,
                    Coming out of my roof?
                    I thought they were moths.
                    That’s God’s honest truth.

                    So how can we kill them,
                    And make them go away? 
                    They’re not part of my plans
                    So they cannot stay.

                    A license you say,
                    And create a new roost?
                    I’m writing to the Telegraph,
                    To give their circulation a boost.

                    For there are no bats,
                    Whatever you say.
                    My convenience matters,
                    And I’ll find a way…


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Thursday, 10 June 2021

The thirty-seven quid bat detector



When I was first involved with bats, there weren't many models of bat detectors available. The Bat Box III was king. A couple of types of time expansion detector were available for those with deep pockets and the low-cost option was the basic Magenta II heterodyne.

The Magenta was also available as a kit, but required some soldering skills. Luckily I'm a dab hand with a soldering iron, so it was my first bat detector, and it did a good job for me, whilst I learned some basic skills.

Today of course there are a plethora of types of detector on the market and the advances in technology over the past couple of decades have been simply amazing. I like to monitor what bat detectors appear for sale on eBay, mostly out of interest and partly in case any stolen ones turn up - I've lost a couple over the years. One machine that keeps appearing is the Haynes bat detector kit. At about £25 this seems and looks thoroughly cheap and nasty, so I've had no experience of it. However, I got to thinking about public bat walks...




To be honest, I'm no enthusiast for doing bat walks - there are much better people than me for talking enthusiastically about bats to groups of the public (TV is fine - they camera looks much friendlier to my mind). But occasionally there's nobody else and we shouldn't squander chances to influence people about bat conservation! 

To give everyone an enjoyable experience you can never have too many bat detectors, but there are two problems: an armful of bat detectors costs a lot of cash. This isn't a problem for me, as I have access to the armoury of a well-equipped bat consultancy, but I'm not keen on handing valuable kit to random people who may, or may not look after it.

So I wondered if I could do something useful with one of these Haynes kits at minimal cost and so £25, including postage saw one landing through my letterbox. It's a very basic heterodyne bat detector and electronically very similar to the old-school Magenta II I first learned on, giving me a pleasant sense of 'coming home'.



It's a very simple kit - a well-made printed circuit board, with plug-in battery connector, microphone and speaker, plus knobs for the two controls It all goes together into the supplied case in about ten minutes (longer perhaps, if you read the instructions properly). And it works perfectly well as a simple heterodyne detector, ideal for bat-walks or kids. 

The microphone is one of the old security ones, which has a pronounced peak in sensitivity around 40kHz. It works ok for Pipistrelles or Myotis bats, but is a bit deaf at the lower frequencies and the chances of picking up a horseshoe bat are probably negligible. But this will never be a serious piece of survey equipment, so why worry? Will they hear bats and be happy? Yes, they will.

It has draw-backs though. First, the case is cardboard. It's coated in some sort of polythene film, but robust, it is not. Secondly, the microphone protrudes from the top, in a manner almost designed to ensure it gets broken off. So, low-cost it may be, but it won't last long. Or will it?


A quick ferret about on Amazon secured me a solid plastic case for £12 (possibly a trawl through the local pound shop might produce a suitable bit of tupperware for less than that). I drilled a hole in the top for the microphone and two in the front for the two control knobs. Finally, a group of small holes allow the speaker to be heard. The nuts on the control shafts hold the circuit board in place and some heavy-duty, double-sided sticky pads hold the battery, speaker and microphone securely in position. I mounted the speaker inside, so that it peers through the hole in the case, thus protecting it. This probably narrows the field in which it picks up bats a little, but it seems ok.

To finish off, I dusted off the label printer from the back of my desk drawer and there we have it. For thirty-seven quid and less than an hour's light work I have a nice, solid bat detector, which should see many year's service, helping people to hear their first bats. It can probably withstand being dropped regularly and smeared in whatever sticky confection junior is munching. And if it gets lost or dropped in a river, at that cost I won't cry about it. 

Given that nearest alternatives cost two or three times as much, I reckon it's worth making a few of them for your local bat group.

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Saturday, 5 June 2021

The old bat is back - PLEASE back the old bat!

Many moons ago, when I was first getting into bats, several people inspired me to try to make a difference in bat conservation. One of those was Anne Youngman, the irrepressibly enthusiastic Scottish Officer of the Bat Conservation trust. Although Anne has now retired you can't keep a good'un down and I'm delighted that Anne agreed to write a guest blog about her fund-raising efforts.

PS - I accept no blame for the title!



Hello, my name is Anne Youngman and I’m going to run a marathon. Well, “running” might not be quite the right word, let me re-phrase that. I’m going to…. gently jog… a marathon.

That might not sound very exciting but wait ……...it’s not just any old marathon but ………. Pause for dramatic effect. Its going to be ….

 Do Do do Do Do DOOOO…… Fanfare of golden trumpets  ….

MY FIRST EVER MARATHON….

Ta Da!!  applause, more fanfares of golden trumpets, possibly followed by ambulance sirens!

 And why, you may ask, I am going to run a marathon?

That’s a batty good question.  I’m old, I’m creaky, I should know better, but, I have at least three good reasons.

  1. First and foremost. To raise funds for the Bat Conservation Trust, a cause dear to my heart.
  2. It’s a personal challenge to myself
  3. It’s a great excuse for a picnic and lots of cake.

Why do I want to help The Bat Conservation Trust? I love bats, I love seeing them flitting about in the night sky, I love hearing them on a bat detector. I want my grandchildren to grow up in a world that’s beautiful and where bats are part of a healthy thriving natural environment. That’s what BCTs work is all about. I’d like to tell you much much more about the Bat Conservation Trust but they do SO much, I know I can’t even begin to do them justice.  But here’s a brief flavour of some of it. BCT:
  • run a Helpline which deals with thousands of calls every year,
  • run survey programmes for volunteers (which I have really enjoyed taking part in)
  • produce educational resources,
  • deliver training to audiences which range from bat carers to planners to Police Wildlife Crime Officers.
  • To summarise – BCT is a small charity doing an excellent job with limited funds. They are a bit like the creatures they strive to protect, small, often overlooked and very beneficial. They really DO deserve our support.

    After retiring – what did this old bat did next?

    I worked for BCT as their Scottish Officer for 15 very happy years until I retired in 2017. Although I have retired, I still want to “do my bit” for bat conservation.

    I decided to get fit.  I started Couch to 5 K, actually I started it 4 times before I eventually got through the whole programme.   For those of us who still think “in old money” 5 K (five kilometres) is just over three miles.

    After Couch to 5k it was Park-runs

    Then I did something really brave (for me).  I joined the local Triathlon club. Now I’m a Super Veteran Triathlete!!!!  (Please, do feel free to cheer and whoop as you read this.)

    Even I am impressed by the sound of it. However, all it really means is;

    • I’m old
    • I can swim
    • I can cycle
    • I can gently jog

    And

    •  I can do these three activities one after the other.
    •  I don’t do them fast; I don’t do them elegantly. I’m not a natural athlete by any means, but I reckon I’m one of the world’s best plodders.  

    I set myself a target of doing a half marathon in 2020 (DONE- Hurrah) and a full marathon in 2021. When I saw The Bat Conservation Trust’s Facebook post asking for volunteer marathon runners it felt “meant to be”. 

    So here I am, doggedly plodding my way through a 24 week “Couch to Marathon” training plan (and praying I won’t get injured.)

    Running a marathon will be a huge personal challenge.

     Have I mentioned

    • I’m old
    • Creaky
    • And have never run a marathon before?

    Oh!  I did mention it, sorry, at my age I get a bit forgetful.

    Cake

    I mentioned a picnic and lots of cake.  I’ll say more about these once I have explained the route …



    The route I have cunningly planned my marathon along the towpath of the Union and Forth and Clyde canals (in Scotland), starting at Ryal and ending at the Kelpies. This route has the advantages of;

    1.      Being FLAT (apart from one DOWNHILL section at the Falkirk wheel)

    2.      There should be no cars to worry about.

    3.      It has wonderful bat habitat

    4.      It has some inspiring features (colourful bings, sky high aqueducts, a long spooky tunnel, the occasional Palace, the Falkirk Wheel and the amazing Kelpie sculptures)

    And last but not least  

    5.      Its a place dear to many bat workers because of the Bats and the Millennium Link Project (BaTML).

    PICNIC and CAKE – so where does a picnic and (lots of) cake fit in?

    As it’s a virtual London marathon there won’t be crowds of supporters cheering me along the route or over the finishing line. Pity, I will need the motivation. So, my second cunning plan is to invite everyone who; lives nearby, likes bats, likes cake, likes picnics to come along to the Kelpies (If COVID restrictions allow) with a picnic around 3pm on Sunday 3 October to cheer me over the finishing line.

    I am fondly imagining little kids running along side me in their bat man capes (with Chariots of Fire music in the background!).



    HOW you can help? – its so easy, you do NOT need to start a 24-week training plan or run 26 miles….

    You can sponsor me –  this will help BCT continue its bat conservation work

    BCT London Marathon 2021 page

    Anne's fundraising page

    PLEASE consider making a donation. This is a VERY good cause and I can think of few people who deserve your support more than Anne!

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    Wednesday, 2 June 2021

    The dawn survey blues

     


    Bleary eyes and head-torch hair, coffee-breath and walkie-talkie in hand.
    Hunched close against the cold, waiting for the survey to start.
    Bitching about sleeplessness and swapping tales of sat-nav errors.

    Peering into the gloom, shifting from foot to foot.
    Swapping the detector hand, to stuff the other into a jacket pocket.
    Asking myself the perennial question: Why the hell do I do this?

    Slowly a glow appears on the horizon, the first herald of day.
    A blackbird shouts first and soon the dawn chorus grows.
    The flit of a bat returning and swarming, joined soon by many more.

    The drive home, slow and careful, swerving to avoid a suicidal badger.
    Chill forgotten, sleeplessness forgiven, tasteless, tepid coffee accepted.
    Thoughts of bat and birds and badgers. I recall now, why I do it.

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    Thursday, 20 May 2021

    Early career ecologists and hamster-powered scootering

    My recent post, suggesting ways early career ecologists can take charge of their own skills developments generated a lot of positive feedback (Field skills for early career ecologists). So here are another couple of suggestions for ways to circumvent the shortage of volunteering opportunities, get on that hamster wheel-powered scooter (souped up wheelie-bins are so unfashionable these days) and make the most of this summer (or whatever we have that vaguely resembles a summer).

    I suggested that developing your bird ID would be useful, but don't forget bird calls. Now this is something that terrifies all but the most hardened bird-watchers. Like most people, I bought a CD of bird calls years ago and found it difficult to fix the different calls in my addled little mind. The problem is that, whilst birds like Chaffinches have a nice, easy to remember call sequence, many species have more complex characteristics, which are a lot harder to make sense of, especially with no one to guide you through the maze. 

    I don't do many bird surveys, but when I'm doing a dawn bat survey, the dawn chorus is a wonderful thing and it really bugs me if I can't sort out who's who in my head, so I've recently returned to trying to expand my repertoire of calls I can ID. I've found two excellent resources, which have helped a lot.

    The first is a series of radio programmes, originally broadcast on BBC Radio Four, in which ornithologists Brett Westwood and Stephen Moss, listen to birds, discuss the calls they hear and explain how they identify each call in a chatty and accessible way. You can buy each of the five series (garden, farmland, coastal, mountain and moorland and water birds) as CDs, though I've downloaded them as audiobooks and listen to them in the car. After listening to each one a few times I found the call characteristics finally started to cement themselves into my addled brain.

    The second resource is an excellent app, which allows you to easily record bird calls using your mobile. It analyses them for you and suggests what species they are. Like all auto-id software it has to be treated with caution, but at worst it gives you a starting-point as to what the bird could be. In practice, I find it's remarkably good at picking up fainter calls and the accuracy is better than I expected. The app is called Birdnet, produced by Cornell University and is a free download from the app store. I found it astonishingly effective and easy to use.

    There's a more advanced version from the same source called Merlin Bird ID. My go-to person for ornithology advice, Scott Bland reckons it's the bee's knees and Scott knows his stuff (that's a polite way of calling him a bird-geek).



    When looking at any professional technique it's easy to fall into the mistake of thinking 'I can't do that', but, as my granny used to say, you don't know what you can do until you try. Phase 1 habitat surveys are an excellent tool for broad-brush assessment of habitats on a site, but the technique is actually easier to use than you might think. The new UKhabs habitat classification is starting to edge into the industry, but Phase 1 is so well-embedded in the industry it will be a long time before we see the last of it, so it's worth learning. The good news is that the handbook is freely available and I strongly recommend getting a copy, going out into the field and giving it a go. You can buy a copy, but if pennies are tight you can also download it free of charge from the JNCC website: Phase 1 habitat handbook.

    You'll need a base map of the place you're practising (nature reserve, farmland, wherever you like) to write all over and there's no better place to get that for free than the Magic website (magic.defra.gov.uk), from where you can print a large-scale map segment. Need a bigger map than A4? Sellotape is your friend!


    There are a couple of things to bear in mind when you do this. The handbook will have you record each patch of habitat onto your map, using a specific brand of coloured pencils. This is very enjoyable, but not really necessary in this day and age, unless you like colouring in (my engineer step-sons seem convinced that's what I do for a living anyway). I scribble notes all over my map and then produce a fair copy later. If you're a whizz with the free GIS package QGIS you could produce a great map using that, but the object of this is to practise the field skills of identifying the many habitat types in the field, using the descriptions in the handbook.

    Secondly, nowhere is it explained the scale you should work to, which confuses some people. The answer is quite simple - it depends on the purpose of the map you're creating. I have seen Phase 1 maps of entire counties, which inevitably have a "broad brush" approach. On the other hand, I've seen a supermarket car park beautifully mapped, with the different habitats within the flower beds all identified and marked. What earthly use the latter was, I do not know, but it was really colourful and pretty!

    So, give it a go. Stoke up the hamster with some high-energy rodent treats, shove him in his wheel, get on the hamster-powered scooter and get out and about. Spend a few sunny days, pottering about, practising some Phase 1 mapping and identifying bird calls. Whilst you're at it, remember to stuff some field guides in your bag - species identification skills only come with practise - lots of it. Not only is it enjoyable and surprisingly therapeutic, what you learn will help give you a step up the career ladder and set you aside from those uni. class-mates you're now competing with for jobs. 

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