Enjoying the Carbon Landscape is an experience for all the senses, from the scent of summer flowers to the chilly nip of a fine frosty morning walk, but whilst we tend to think of wildlife as being there to be seen – it is called ‘bird watching’ after all – it is just as much fun to experience the other sensations of nature, particularly the sounds.
Spring and summer dawn choruses introduce us to a whole choir of birds, many of which we might struggle to see as they skulk in the green trees or the thick reedbeds but whose song we can enjoy. Whilst the birds – with the spirited exception of the omnipresent robin – have largely fallen silent once summer passes, autumn is one of the best times to catch up with one of our most enigmatic animals, the bat.
Britain is home to 18 species of bat at latest count, and the Carbon Landscape is home to several of these. The autumn sees the busiest time of the year for the winged mammals as they face the twin challenges of fattening up ahead of winter torpor and finding a mate to produce next summer’s new broods of pups.
The big summer colonies are fragmenting as adults and this year’s youngsters take to the wing, hunting over our canals, ponds, woodlands and streets. One of the beauties of bat watching is that they can be encountered almost anywhere and an evening stroll down your street or into your garden is just as likely to provide thrilling views of the little acrobats as they swoop and dive in pursuit of midges and moths. Emerging around dusk, fleeting glimpses of their aerial stunts is a real treat however as darkness falls it is time to turn to one of our other senses.
Throughout the autumn we have been leading bat walks at some of the Carbon Landscape sites in Wigan, and whilst we have been lucky enough to get some good views of bats hunting and courtship flights, just as big a thrill comes from using the bat detectors. Despite the old saying, bats aren’t strictly speaking blind, however to negotiate hazards and find food in the nocturnal world they use echolocation.
Essentially this means that they are constantly shouting as they fly, using sound waves to distinguish between the objects in their environment, and whilst these sound waves are at too high a frequency for human hearing, bat detectors translate these high-pitched squeaks into audible noise. No matter what your age or how many times you have done this before, the excitement and open-mouthed thrill of hearing that weird mixture of clicks and chirps emanating from the bat box, culminating in the cheeky raspberry of the ‘feeding buzz’, never loses its appeal.
Even when visibility has long since deteriorated and torches are required, to still be able to track the movements of these quirky creatures is one of the real delights of an autumn evening.