Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Scottish Easter surprise!

Leisler's bat. Photo courtesy of Hugh Clark

Anne Youngman – BCT’s Scottish Bat Officer (and first time blogger!) shares a rare batty discovery in the North East of Scotland

I just had the MOST exciting Easter ever. No Easter bunnies for me but bats instead. Not just any old bat, I’ve just seen my first ever Leisler’s bat. For anyone who can’t quite understand my excitement hang in there and I’ll explain……

Leisler’s bats are pretty rare in Britain, they can be found in the midlands and the south of England and if you look VERY HARD and are VERY LUCKY you might find some in Dumfries and Galloway (you’d then throw a party with all your batty friends to celebrate). This bat was found near Nairn on the North East coast of Scotland. Nairn is a lovely place for a seaside holiday but its hundreds of miles away from what bat people think of as “Leisler’s territory”.

The bat was found on someone’s settee. Luckily the white settee cover made it obvious; otherwise the brown bat on the brown settee might have been a flat brown ex-bat on a brown settee.

More good luck - the lady who found it had previous experience of bats and knew that this was too big to be a pipistrelle (the bat you are most likely to find in your house). She thought it was a noctule bat.

Noctules are big, sleek, gingery bats. They are closely related to Leisler’s. Finding a Noctule that far north would also be highly unusual and guaranteed to get bat workers in a flap of excitement.

She had the presence of mind to contact a local bat person to ask if anyone wanted to see the bat before it was released. By a process of “jungle drums” (well email actually) the message was relayed to bat worker Mick Canham who lives near Nairn and Mick went out to see the bat. He got a brilliant surprise...

He found a big bat, but instead of a big sleek bat this one looked rather windswept and slightly straggly. It was not a noctule but something even more amazing, it was a Leisler’s!

It’s a female, in good health and with a hearty appetite. (Mick has been feeding her up with mealworms which she munches with great gusto and obvious relish)

What it was doing in Nairn is a complete mystery. We have speculated (wildly) on what the explanation might be and come up with some batty theories:
1. Theory 1 - The bat “hitched” a lift from Ireland or South West Scotland at some time in the past and has been hanging out locally since. It was hibernating in the house and woke up after a change in the weather, got itself into the living space of the house, sat down (perhaps to watch TV?) and was found on the settee.
2. Theory 2 - There is a very small population living somewhere near Nairn (this seems very unlikely but a Swedish bat worker reported hearing Leisler’s bats with a bat detector near Aberdeen years ago)
3. Theory 3 - Something else equally unlikely occurred - If only the bat could tell us!

So what happens next in this batty story ……?

The bat will be released back to the wild once she has a good weight, good weather and has shown she can fly strongly. In the meantime she seems to be enjoying her winter holiday in Nairn, munching on mealworms and generally taking life easy.

Mick will be roaming around the Nairn countryside with a bat detector stuck to his ear in the hope of finding a local colony that has been undiscovered until now.

And for me – I’ve learned that where ever bats are concerned – expect the unexpected.

Anne Youngman
Old Bat
The Attic
Scottish churches house.

About the Scottish Bat Project
The Scottish Bat Project started in April 2003 and aims to: promote greater awareness of bats in Scotland; enable more people in Scotland to appreciate and enjoy bats and get involved in bat conservation; develop the network and activities of Scottish Bat Groups and run a number of conservation projects.
About Leisler’s bat

To find about more about the Leisler’s bat and other UK bat species visit the BCT website

What to do if you find a bat in your house?
A bat flying in a room is looking for a way out!
The Bat Conservation Trust runs the national Bat Helpline to information to the public about bats. If you need help, call the Bat Helpline - 0845 1300 228

Bats have a very sophisticated system for finding their way around in the dark, but despite this, some do end up getting trapped inside buildings. This happens most often between mid-July and mid-August when baby bats are learning to fly, and they are inexperienced in using their newly developed echolocation skills.
This means that when they are finding their way back to the roost after hunting they might crawl through the wrong gap or through an open window, especially if this window is beneath the roost entrance; they will then find themselves inside the house rather than in the roof.
Bats are very small and need only a very small space in order to gain access, so sometimes it can be very hard to tell how a bat got in.

The best course of action is to close the door to the room, and to open the windows to the outside as widely as possible, dim the lights and give the bat the chance to find its own way out.
Bats navigate by sending out high-pitched sounds and listening for the echoes so the bat should soon detect any opening that leads out of the room. If it does not find its way out it will roost somewhere in the room when it becomes light, and will appear again the following evening at dusk.
If you wish to search the room to ensure the bat has gone, the best places to look are in the folds of curtains and behind picture frames and other places that are high up and where the bat can roost out of the light. However, bats have been found hanging from the tassles at the bottom of an arm chair, so do check at a lower level as well.

NEVER try to catch a flying bat - you are likely to injure it severely

Sometimes young bats, which are inexperienced flyers, will become exhausted before finding the way out. They may try to land on a wall or curtains, or they may crash land on furniture or the floor. In this case, you should contain the bat, and then release it in the evening.