Tag Archives: bat

British Animal Challenge: look back at 2014

At the start of 2014 I began a huge challenge: trying to see every different type of British animal in the wild. The list has changed a little bit over the year, but here’s the latest version. It includes mammals, amphibians and reptiles. In all, there are 107 species.

I’d seen a reasonable number before I started the challenge, but many of the ones remaining are, for one reason or another, tricky. Some are very rare, some restricted to small parts of the UK (including tiny islands), and others are hard to see because they’re nocturnal, or live at sea.

So, what progress have I made this year? I’ve visited different corners of Devon, Dorset, Hampshire, Cornwall and Surrey on my quest, and spent quite a few hours trying to see some of our elusive animals.

New species seen:

And species I haven’t seen, despite several attempts:

In all, I’ve seen 45 species, and still have 62 to go. It’s going to be a busy year next year!

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British Animal Challenge: September and October update

It’s been a while since I wrote the last British Animal Challenge update – back in the long, hot days of August. Now the clocks are about to change, and there’s been a lot of rain, so spending time outdoors is less attractive.

I had hoped to see some new bats and cetaceans in September. Sadly I wasn’t able to identify any new bats, and didn’t see any dolphins or whales. My second attempt at seeing water shrews was unsuccessful. But I did see a stoat.

As the Scots voted ‘no’ to independence, my list hasn’t reduced, but the Jersey Toad has been a small addition.

Other animals I have seen in September and October:

In November I’m hoping to see some harvest mice, and maybe some other small mammals.

Going bats?

They’re not the most popular of Britain’s wildlife. I know many people, who, while keen on wildlife in general, quail at the thought of bats. It’s hard to see why they inspire such fear. None of the species native to Britain would cause humans any harm (preferring insects instead). And most bats are happily hibernating by the time halloween comes around, with tacky bat images everywhere.

Having said that, they are quite mysterious – nocturnal mammals with crazy flight patterns, only glimpsed as silhouettes against the night sky. And some look downright weird (take horseshoe bats as an example…)

Britain is home to 16 different species of bat, and given their nocturnal nature I’m going to need some help finding them (and working out which species they are). While many mammals can be distinguished with a good look, telling the difference between bats usually requires specialist equipment to record or transpose their distinctive calls.

I have seen bats before. They nest in the eaves of my parents house, and I’ve seen them flapping around our house as well. One memorable holiday with friends we stayed in a 15th century manor house, and at dusk each day long-eared bats would fly round inside the Great Hall before heading off to feed. This was a bit of a surprise the first time it happened, but it was fantastic to get a view of them in good light. A different species of bat inhabited the outbuildings as well, so we could see them roosting upside down. But despite these close encounters, I don’t know which species I have seen. It will be interesting to find out.

Bat

While some species of British animal will require lots of travel, it turns out I’m ideally placed for bat spotting. Surrey is home to 14 bat species, so, with the help of people who know what they’re doing, hopefully I should be able to see most without having to travel too far.  Luckily, Surrey Wildlife Trust and other conservation groups organise bat walks led by experts with detectors, so this seems like a good way to start.

Hibernation

I’m writing this sat cosily in front of a fire, but feeling sorry for myself as I have a cold. It’s been a hectic few weeks, out every evening for one thing or another, and lots happening at work. Right now, I can’t help envying the hedgehog who is hibernating in our hogitat. I wish I could hibernate.

Hibernation is a very clever strategy for getting through the winter, when there’s not much food around for some animals. Comparing it to a long, deep sleep fails to do justice to it. The body temperature of hibernating animals drops to match its surroundings (but always kept above 1 degree C so it does not freeze). Their heart rate slows, and they can go almost an hour between short bursts of breathing. This reduces their energy consumption by around 90%.

Hibernating animals rely of fat supplies built up during summer and autumn. By now nearly all hedgehogs and dormice will be hibernating. Those who aren’t are likely to be underweight individuals looking for more food before they hibernate. While hibernation uses much less energy than being active, they still need enough fat to keep their bodies ticking over, and also to help them wake up.

On warmer winter days hibernating animals might wake from hibernation, and may even stir to find food or drink. But each time the animal wakes it uses up some of its precious fat reserves, so mild or variable winters are not good for hibernating creatures.

Hibernation is not without its risks. It can take hibernating animals several hours to wake, so they cannot respond quickly to threats like predators or floods. A considerable proportion of hibernating animals do not make it through the winter, not having enough fat reserves. But then winter does kill off a lot of more active animals as well.

Of UK mammals, only bats, dormice and hedgehogs properly hibernate. Other mammals, such as badgers, will reduce their activity, and stay snuggled down sleeping in their setts, but not shut down so much. Given the risks of hibernation, maybe I’d be better off imitating the badger instead… If you don’t see me for a while, you’ll know what I’m up to!