The beauty of bats

I was sitting musing in my study the other evening, gazing out over the garden. Outside, the light was beginning to fade, and I was busy convincing myself I'd done enough work for the day.

Suddenly, two shapes swooped low across the sky, speedy silhouettes diving and then spinning up out of sight again. Bats, of course. I've never ever seen them in the garden before. In fact, I think I possibly saw more bats in my garden when I was living in London than I have done so far in Cornwall.

So this was pretty exciting. They ducked in and out of the garden for a few minutes, chasing insects. When I went outside, however, they'd disappeared in the time it took me to run downstairs, pull on my shoes and go out through the back door.

The same thing happened the next night, and the next. The bats weren't hanging around: they were off to forage elsewhere.

Bats don't always have the best of reputations. The tale of Count Dracula is a great story, but not one that has done bats any favours. Given that many of our mammals in the UK are nocturnal, it doesn't seem fair that bats have suffered so badly in the scary creature stakes.

Mind you, I suspect the night-flying bat was already the subject of frightening myths, like other creatures of the dark, long before Bram Stoker put pen to paper.

It's worth watching out for bat walks, often run by local conservation groups for free. They're always great fun. There's something thrilling about walking along in the dusk with a group of hushed people, background noise crackling away on the bat detector.

Then, all of a sudden, come those little regular sonar pulses picked up by the detector as the bat whooshes in and then away again. The frequency of the sonar gives away what species it is.

Everyone looks up, trying to spot it, and it's surprisingly easy, even in the dark, as the black shape of the bat speeds by against the night sky. Children love bat walks – the thrill of being out late, the excitement of seeing and hearing bats – and adults become children, too, full of excitement.

There are seventeen bat species breeding in the UK, and thirteen of these are found in Cornwall. One species – the greater horseshoe – could even have been designed for Cornwall as it often uses old mine shafts for its roosts.

If you're wondering how this particular species got its name, just Google a picture and take a look at its nose. It's a rare species in the UK, but all bats, even more common ones like the pipistrelles, are protected here because of declining numbers.

I'm pretty sure my two garden visitors were pipistrelles ('pips', as bat lovers affectionately call them). They're among the earliest bats to emerge of a night, so the timing fitted. I remember meeting a pipistrelle bat face-to-face when I first moved to Cornwall.

I was staying in a B&B, as was a visiting bat ecologist. She was caring for an injured bat, and she'd brought it with her. Under her watchful supervision, she let me hold the little creature.

It was amazing feeling the tickle of its fur and the clasp of its fingers round mine as it pulled its way gently round my hands. Wonderful!

My two pipistrelles continue to visit of an evening. I wonder where they're roosting, and where they'll find to hibernate in the coming autumn? Here's wishing them insect-filled bellies followed by a warm winter sleep.

Amanda arrived in Cornwall to study at the University of Exeter's Tremough campus in 2010. The plan was to go back to London – but she fell in love with the beauty, tranquillity and people of Cornwall so she left her stressful job behind and made the move to the Westcountry permanent


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BATS. Megabats, Flying-foxes, Fruit bats and Microbats: The beauty of bats
The beauty of bats
BATS. Megabats, Flying-foxes, Fruit bats and Microbats
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