Wednesday, 5 June 2013

The Bat Walk at Berry Head

We met at Berry Head Visitors Centre, and were welcomed by the Ranger. The bat walk started at 8pm and it was great to see so many people there, about 25 including some children. We got a talk about Berry Head and why its an exceptional site for conservation, made of limestone and with 200 foot cliffs and caves. The quarrying for limestone has taken a huge chunk out of it, but is now where the bat caves are, so some good has come from it.


Meadows on the flight route heading inland. It looks small here but is quite big.

The Greater Horseshoe Bats are very rare, and there are about 100 or so living in the caves at Berry Head. Apparently we don't have more because the temperature in the winter drops to about 1 degree centigrade in the caves. It's just too cold to sustain a bigger population. This means the bats are not in as good condition when they emerge from hibernation and have to fly further inland to catch food because the cave is surrounded by water on 3 sides.


The caves are in danger of eventual collapse too, so the Trust is working with many organisations to generate funds to better maintain the environment. This includes possibly building a barn inland in the woods on Berry Head, which can be insulated and more safely maintained, heated and monitored to try to increase numbers and provide an alternative site should the caves collapse. Of course there is no guarantee that the bats will 'move house'

We watched images of the bats in the caves and looked at types of specific behaviour. We then went off in search of cow pats.....to find the dung beetles that they feed on as a favourite food source. So we picked up dollops of cow dung into trays and added water to see the beetles swimming out. It was fun.They have an instinct to burrow downwards and were trying to do that even on our gloves!

Off we went looking at the landscape management, getting some information on why conservation is so important. They need the cows, the hedgerows, woods, and low levels of light so as not to disrupt their flight routes.


Then we went off to a natural viewing platform right next to the quarry edge to watch them emerge. It took ages and I'm glad I had a winter jacket on! We all stood still and quiet and eventually out they came. We were so close, they flew right up in front of us and over our heads. They flew around the quarry face in front of us and then finally up over the top, off to feed inland, and this is where we got a great view of their shape and size against the sky. We saw about 40 bats.

It was magical-a creature I've never seen before.

If you want to see what it's really like and exactly where we stood, take a look at this YouTube video from The One Show in 2011 (it's just under 5 minutes long). It shows Berry Head from above so you can get a feel for the place.

So back at home I looked at the flight map and it turns out my back garden is alongside their main flight route inwards towards Dartmouth way (I didn't know that - English Nature did a tracking exercise and mapped the bats movement all around the area). I know that we have pipistrelles in the garden as they are very small, dart about and stay for a while flying right over the patio and garage and up and down the garden. This is very typical and fairly easy behaviour to identify. 

I also now know that we do have Greater Horseshoe Bats flying over. On Saturday night - no surprise that I was on 'bat watch' .........over they went just 2 though. It was easy to identify them as they don't fly around and about the house and garden, they just go over once, they are much bigger. It was so much easier having seen them up close and knowing in which direction they travel.

Hubby says we'll go back up to watch them again at the viewing point when it's warmer and still. We can go on our bikes. We usually get pipistrelles flying about us when we cycle up the lane to Berry Head. One even flew straight through hubbys legs as he cycled. They brush against you and it's a lovely feeling....if you like bats of course!

Welcome to new follower Shy Songbird, I hope you'll be posting again soon. Welcome to Gemma, who I now have a link for.

11 comments:

  1. Fantastic! I've been waiting for this post all week Suzie. I am so envious that you have Horseshoe Bats flying over your garden- lucky lucky you. It sounds like a really interesting evening.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks CT, I'm rather worried as a few followers have been waiting for this post-I hope it lives up to the expectations! I am really going to try to get some photos of bats in the garden. I've been out a few times as it's warm and still, but they are so fast. The cat thinks it's great that I'm out so late with him. He just jumps about catching May bugs(cockchafers).

    ReplyDelete
  3. What a great post - absolutely fascinating reading about your local Greater Horseshoe Bats. Can just imagine how thrilled you were to realise they flew over your garden and then spotted them :) Wonderful :)

    We get the occasional Pipistrelle here and, I think, one other type which is a different size and has a different flight pattern. Bat walks are a great way to get children interested - mine used to love them when little (especially the bat detectors they often hand out)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The ranger said we have about 8 different species of bat at Berry Head, so that's something I must look up! It's very hard to identify them isn't it, as it's almost dark when they're about, however, their size and movement must give a lot away. Glad to hear you liked the post.

      Delete
  4. I loved reading this. It sounded a fascinating evening and I've enjoyed learning a bit about the Greater Horseshoe Bats as well. That's an added bonus that their flight route is over your own garden so you can watch them at home. And I think I'd be making a few visits to the viewing point, too!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Wendy. Funny that I thought we'd have a lot more birds in the garden, but it seems that we have completely different wildlife here. I love garden birds and really miss not having so many, but on the other hand I have new and exciting wildlife to watch out for. For my bird watching I have all of you to keep me up to date with your wonderful images instead.

      Delete
  5. It was wonderful reading this post and watching the video. We walked a little way down the path by the limestone quarry never realising we were close by. How exciting that you have them flying over your garden too!
    Sarah x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Sarah. When you come back to Brixham, you'll know exactly where to go to see the bats now!

      Delete
  6. Hi Suzie, Thank you so much for the very kind mention :-) First of all well done on the beautiful dragonfly on the previous post, I'm so envious of you people with ponds, i would love a small one but have so many trees and bushes which would shed leaves wherever I put it so not sure it's viable.

    Your bat evening sounded really exciting and I had to laugh about hunting for cow pats, not many people can say they do that ;-) The information on the Horseshoe Bats was very interesting. I think the bats we used to see around the eaves of our house at dusk must have been using the loft but that was some years ago and I haven't seen a bat at all for ages which is sad.

    Things have conspired against me recently :-( but I do hope to get a post out soon.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thanks ShySongbird. We have had another 4 or 5 dragonfly emerge, I missed most of them but found the nymph casings. The bat walk was really fun and I cant wait to go back again when the weather is just right and see them come out.

    ReplyDelete
  8. What a fascinating visit. We have bats (not sure what kind) that fly past our windows at dusk and it's a lovely sight. x

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for taking the time to leave me a comment. I read them all. At the moment I'm struggling for time making it difficult to reply individually to each comment, but I'll do my best.