Sunday, 18 August 2013

Bat and Moth Night, Chorlton Ees and Ivy Green, 10th August 2013

When I emailed Dave Bishop to enthuse about the Bat and Moth Walk last Saturday evening he asked me if I would write a short account for the FOCM blog.

Here goes………….

My first thought - read Dave's account of last year's Bat & Moth night and smile smugly (no that's not the word I was looking for) I mean contentedly that we had much better fortune this year.

The humour of Dave's description of last year's event did make me smile "Everyone seemed perfectly happy to stand around in the dark and the pouring rain, in a flooded car park, chatting about bats and moths - while the subjects of these conversations were sensibly tucked up in their little bat and moth beds. Eventually sense prevailed and we all went to the pub"

On the night of 10th August 2013 we were blessed with fine weather and an amazing turn out of people to look at and learn about bats and moths AND we did not see the inside of a pub at all.

Our evening started with an introduction to moths lead by Ben Smart. Ben had kindly brought some moths which he had caught locally in his own garden the previous night. It was wonderful to see some of the more colourful and unusual moths which can be found in our local area. The moths included the stunning Red Underwing which has upperwings which are perfectly camouflaged against tree bark in order that the moth can rest unnoticed on a tree and vibrant red underwings which it can flash to startle any predator which disturbs it. Other lovely colourful moths which Ben had brought along for us to see were a Bloodvein, an Orange swift and a Canary-shouldered Thorn. Moths such as the Pale Prominent were really interesting shapes and others like the little Antler moth had very distinctive markings (well, like antlers really) which give them their names. Some were so well camouflaged and "twig like" that we all had to look and then look again to even see them whilst they were resting on their twigs.

I have to confess to rather liking the Dingy Footman which does seem like a rather disrespectful name to give to a lovely silky moth with pale edges to its wing which make it look like it has a halo. As someone who is very keen on moths, I was in my element and it was lovely to see how enthusiastic and pleasantly surprised many people seemed when they saw just how varied and colourful many of our British moth can be.

A moth trap (light trap) was set up on one edge of Ivy Green car park and Ben ran this trap for us whilst the bat walk took place.

 The Bat walk was lead by Richard Gardner. Richard gave us some background information about our UK bats and the types of bats which we may expect to encounter on our walk with him. The group had some bat detectors to share out and Richard explained to us all how these worked by converting bats ultrasonic echolocation calls into sound at a frequency which we could hear. He explained how echolocation worked for bats and what their calls would sound like when we listened to them using bat detectors. I was really keen to practise using my own bat detector which I had recently purchased and it was so useful to have an expert on hand to confirm the identification of the bats.

I think that we all liked hearing the "feeding buzzes" which can be heard through the detectors as the bats close in on their insect prey.
Richard also gave us some really interesting "Bat Facts"

A tiny Pipistrelle bat can eat 2000 - 3000 midges per night (we were both amazed and very grateful for this!)

 Bats fly with their hands. Their wings are made of a thin membrane which stretches across the bones which in our bodies would form our hands.

Bats mate before they hibernate in the winter but the female bats delay the subsequent fertilisation and do not "become pregnant" until the following spring.

We saw and heard both Common and Soprano Pipistrelle bats flying over Chorlton Brook. Common Pipistrelle's peak echolocating frequency is around 45KHz and Soprano Pipistrelle's peak echolocating frequency is around 55KHz. We tuned the bat detectors when were heard the echolocation calls in order to tell which one of the two types of Pipistrelle we were listening to. We could also see the bats when they flew into a clear area where they were silhouetted against the sky. We marvelled at how tiny and agile they were.

After leaving the Brook and heading across the meadow, we arrived on the banks of the Mersey where we heard more Pipistrelles and in addition we saw and heard Daubenton's bats. The sound heard through at bat detector for these bats differ. Pipistrells produce a sound which is often described as a "wet slap". Daubenton's bats sound is a faster "dry click" (a bit like a fast two stroke engine!).

The Daubenton's bats could just be seen skimming the surface of the Mersey, "gaffing" insects from the river. Gaffing is a term which means that the bat is using its feet to grab insects as it is flying along very close to the water.

After some excellent "batting" we returned to the Ivy Green car park to investigate the moths which were being attracted to the light trap. Large Yellow Underwings were flying around the light and the dark yellow colour of their underwings could be clearly seen. Amongst the other moths there were more Dingy Footman, Pale Prominent an attractive "micro-moth" called a Mother of Pearl moth which had pale iridescent wings. My absolute favourite was a Sallow Kitten moth. I saw this species of moth later in the week and thanks to Ben's excellent moth identification and explanations, I was very pleased to be able to recognise the moth again when I saw it.

 My thanks go to both Richard and Ben for this very enjoyable event. I would love to learn more about moth identification and if you are likeminded and would like to take up moth identification (and very importantly) submitting records for the moths which you see in the Manchester area, then perhaps you could let me or Dave Bishop know. If there is enough interest it would be wonderful to draw upon Ben's experience and expertise to learn more about identifying these wonderful insects.
Debbie Wallace

Thanks to Ian Brusby for the wonderfully atmospheric photographs that he took, on the night, in the car park - Ed.

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