Tuesday 26 September 2017

Gatwick's Dark Knights

After only making it back home in the wee hours of this morning, I was awoken at 7.30am to some great news; council workers had decided to try to repairing the communal recycling bin outside my bedroom window with a sledgehammer. I guess I'll really appreciate this the next time I take out the recycling.

Location: edge of Brockley Wood, adjacent to the north west aircraft stands. 

Ah well, the late finish was totally worth it as we got to see a whole selection of bats utilising the site on the River Mole side of Brockley Wood. I also finally got to see a fairly common bat species which has eluded me for 5 years!

Martyn measuring the forearm length of a bat while Laurie takes notes

Martyn Cooke (Surrey Bat Group) is a licensed bat surveyor, who has been monitoring the bats around Gatwick for several years. A harp trap is his preferred tool, one of safest ways to capture bats and minimise their stress, in order to collect scientific data and feed back to the Bat Conservation Trust.

Harp trap set up on River Mole floodplain

The northern edge of the woodland is sheltered by a massive environmental bund, blocking out light and sound from the airfield. The weather conditions were almost perfect, with low cloud, barely a breeze and a balmy 17 degrees celsius. This turned out to be the best night's trapping I've attended in terms of species diversity; we caught 5 species in the harp traps and at least 2 others on the detectors. 

An electronic lure plays out species-specific bat calls

Here's our haul of bats, in order of appearance...

Soprano Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pygmaeus)

Soprano Pipistrelle wing

Whiskered Bat (Myotis mystacinus)

I was super excited when I released this one; just look at his little mouth!

Brown Long-eared (Plecotus auritus). He does have some eyes there, he's just blinking

The new one for my list is was the Daubenton's Bat! That brings my number of wild UK bat species seen up to 9.

Daubenton's (Myotis daubentonii)

These funny looking dudes have big bald patches around their eyes, and are specialists at hunting over water, scooping up small insects while in flight with their big tail membranes.

I didn't manage to get a good shot of the membrane, but we can confirm that this one is a fella

Lovely dark face of a Common Pipistrelle

Common Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus) female

Although we didn't trap one of the rare Bechstein's tonight (previous post about our first Bechstein's at Gatwick) or Martyn's target species the Nathusius' Pipistrelle, we did pick up this Myotis bat call on Martyn's sonobat, which he thinks could be one of the little dudes with attitude...

Bechstein's call?

Thanks to Martyn, Fiona, Laurie, Rina, Luke and Ryan for giving up your valuable time. Also to the bats for doing your bit for science; you all rock.

North West Zone. Approximate harp trap locations in yellow, mist nets in blue

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