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.