Thursday, 23 May 2013

22nd May - "And Where, and Where ... is the BATMAN?"

It has been quite gloomy by day, but as is usually the way the skies cleared around the late afternoon and the wind dropped, and it was quite a pleasant evening if not a little cool.  I have been looking for the opportunity to get out and try the new toy I received as a birthday present, and this evening looked ideal.  I set off at just before 20.00, and headed for the pond.
When I arrived the car park was full of anglers, but they hadn’t been fishing, they had started to clear the weed from the centre of the pond.  I spent some time talking to them, and discovered some interesting facts about the pond.  Firstly it used to be a large bog, and it is spring fed from over in the west corner, where there is a well.  It was first cleared in the seventies, but does require maintenance.  I was told the overall depth is about six feet, but there is a layer of silt between one and two feet deep.  There are plenty of Smooth Newts, and maybe Palmate, but there has not been any sign of Great Crested Newts.  Of the fish, Carp are the most numerous, but there are also Roach and Rudd, and some Pike.

As I stood talking a pair of Mallard fed amongst the duck weed, the first I have seen here all year. Also I just had to take a picture of the wonderful reflection in the water caused by the late evening sun.

Leaving the pond I walked along towards Old Down Wood, looking back the moon was now quite high in the sky over Lye Way Farm, and not far off the full phase.

As I entered the wood the sun was still high enough to light up the bluebells, but in the time I had walked to a good position to take some photographs, it had dropped below the trees and the opportunity was gone.  I walked around the main path, it was still a little early for bats, but as I walked on I was alerted to the calls of Blackbirds and Tits.  I followed their alarm calls walking through the undergrowth.  It took me to the south side of the wood, but as I made my way, I had to stop to photograph the low sunlight picking out the trunks of the Larch trees, and turning certain parts of the bark golden.

In the end the Blackbirds achieved what they wanted and I saw a Tawny Owl come out of the top of an Oak tree close to the main path towards Gradwell, and fly over my head and off, still being pursued by the Blackbirds.  I wasn’t able to see the owl up close, but I was able to enjoy more of the sunlight turning this time the beech leaves golden, it looked like autumn had arrived early.

Looking down the main path, the larches were lit up again, with the same golden glow, it really was magical.

The sun was almost set now, it was just gone 20.30, and looking across the filed from the wood towards Brislands lane the sun was on fire behind the trees that line the footpath.

I walked back to the main path, and switched on my toy, a bat detector.  It works by picking up the echolocation sounds the bats use to communicate and to locate their prey as they fly around.  Set the frequency to 45 kHz, and walked along the main path towards Old Down Cottage.  As I past the big Beech tree it started clicking, and looking up I could see bats above me.  From their size and the frequency at which I was picking up the clicks these were Pipistrelle Bats.  These are the commonest and most widespread of British Bats, in summer they are normally found roosting either singularly or in small groups in the crevices of buildings or trees.

The calls would range between 45 and 65 kHz, at the top end they were clicks but at the lower they would sound more like slaps.  They flew around the openings in the trees and just under the canopy.  As they came into the clearing I tried to capture them on film, this is the best I could get.

I left the Pipistrelles and walked out of the wood heading back to the pond, coming out, I varied the frequency dropping it down to the lowest at 20 kHz.  I immediately got a call which was more of a chipping sound than a click, I couldn’t see any bats around me, but as I came into the open I saw one over the white house.  It was quite large compared to the pipistrelle, and from the size and the frequency of echo I considered this to be a Noctule Bat.  These are one of the largest bats, and are normally found flying quite high above the tree tops.  It is a widespread species.  They are primarily tree dwellers in the summer, living in rotten tree holes and woodpecker nests.

At the pond I picked up some more Pipistrelles flying around the bank under the trees and even flying out over the water.  The detector opening up a whole new experience in watching these mammals as they zipped around me in the now gathering gloom.  The sounds were different here, and would range from slaps around 45 kHz up to higher wetter clicks at about 65 kHz.  Listening to recording of both the Common Pipistrelle and the Soprano Pipistrelle I believe the bats around the pond were in fact Sopranos.  The two have only just been separated as distinct species, with the Soprano being more likely to be found around water and wetland.

I wanted to explore some other areas so headed off to Winchester wood.  The bat detector did not pick up any bats, and I didn’t get any response to playing a Nightjar call, but I did manage to hear and see a roding Woodcock as I came into a clearing.

My final stop was Weathermore Lane, there are a lot of bat boxes here, and I was picking up calls between 450 and 80 kHz, but it was now dark and I didn’t have any torch strong enough to help locate any flying around.  I suspect the majority were Pipistrelle again, but I will have to come back here, better prepared another time, I am sure there are some other species here

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