Thursday, 9 July 2009

Batting In Durham.

Himalayan Balsam
7th July. I’m a little late in writing this trip up! Today was a Local Group outing to Durham, and no, it had nothing to do with cricket. A few of the local group were out to find bats in Durham. I must admit my knowledge of bats is minimal and I have never been out of an evening with the specific intention of finding them so we were lucky to have the lead taken by an experienced member of Durham Bat Group. My initial idea was to make it a bat and owl night and I’m not too sure at what stage in the planning owls dropped of the agenda.

We initially stopped at Malton picnic site near Lanchester. We hoped for a few bird sightings, but to be honest more importance was attached to the picnic table for our wine and cheese etc. Thankfully the heavy downpours had stopped by late afternoon. In fact using your imagination you could have believed it was summertime! We didn’t dive straight into the food and wine, but did a little birding first. Highlights for a couple was the Kingfisher flying down river and the Great Spotted Woodpecker. Whitethroat, Chiffchaff and Blackcap were all heard. Other birds of the evening included Kestrels on the journey, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Swift, Swallow and House Martin. I found lots of the invasive Himalayan Balsam Impatiens glandulifera in the area too. A rather nice orchid like flower and some of it growing to at least 7 feet I reckon.

The wine and cheese were nice and I figured that if the group drank enough any lack of bats later would seem less of a disappointment as that trick had worked with the Long Eared Owls last year! We were soon off to Escomb to meet our guide. I was looking forward to seeing the Saxon Church. I was a bit disappointed to find and be told rather than it being a fine old Saxon Church it represented more of a Victorian ‘reproduction’. Anyway this is where we began to find bats and where things began to get more complicated. Bat detectors were shared out between group members and I noted that changes of frequency were required to detect the sounds of various species. Now this would prove difficult for me as without my specs my short sight is not good, so I couldn’t make out the frequency. This didn’t prove to be too much of a problem as we found only three species. (I understand 11 species frequent Durham with 8 of them breeding there). These were Common Pipistrelle, Noctule and Daubentons. There was lots of smack, crackles and pops in the darkness and I did find Noctules were quite large creatures. I must also say that the guide’s information was also really interesting and I’m looking forward to him giving a talk to our group in September. Bats are fascinating, but I have to say that a bat detector has not gone onto my list of future priority buys! On the whole one bat seemed very much like another to me and as far as sounds go I think I’ll stick to bird song. Everyone seemed to have had a good and informative evening though, and whilst a detector is not on my must buy list, a good book on British bat species certainly is.
Now I remember I tell a lie about not having been out batting of an evening. I have experienced the migrating Fruit Bats that hang out in Zambia in their millions. To see the sky full of these bird like creatures on the move, really was spectacular! You didn’t have to concern yourself with the frequency level on a detector either although I kept my hat on when they were overhead! I seem to remember it took them about 30 minutes to pass over

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