Who knew that a walk among the UK’s only true flying mammal could bring such pleasure to a creative writer? Getting up close to bats in a West Sussex woods was just the thing for our Chichester Copywriter and brought plenty of creative writing inspiration for her fantasy novel with it!
A few weeks back Chichester Copywriter’s Katy booked herself onto a bat walk organised by the National Trust at Slindon College. This involved arriving at the College for 8.00pm, watching a short presentation on the behaviours and habitats of our bats then setting off for a fantastic organised trek through the Slindon Estate to seek out some of the bats living and breeding in West Sussex.
There are 18 species of bat in the UK (17 of which are known to be breeding), ranging from the tiny pipistrelle, weighing less than a £1 coin, to the noctule, which is still smaller than the palm of your hand! On this balmy August evening no less than five species of these fantastic creatures were spotted, including: Common pipistrelle, Soprano pipistrelle, Nathusius’ pipistrelle (the area’s newest resident species), Serotine and Daubenton’s bat.
Common Pipistrelles are the most frequently seen bats in the UK and this is hardly a surprise when you consider that they’ll hunt for as many 3,000 tiny insects in just one night. The soprano pipistrelle is very similar to the common pipistrelle, distinguished only by their higher frequency echolocation call.
Contrary to popular belief, bats aren’t blind. Bats in this country do however use echolocation in a similar way to sonar in order to locate things in the dark. They make calls as they fly, and listen to the returning echoes to build up a sonic map of their surroundings. The bat can pinpoint exactly where an insect is in the dark by how long it takes the sounds to return to them. Bat detectors were put to great use on this walk and the type of bat swooping past could be easily identified at speed just by the frequency at which its call was heard.
Some highlights of the evening included watching a Serotine making quite a spectacle. This particular bat flapped its broad wings leisurely, back and forth, across a clearing in Slindon Woods for more than five minutes. Just above the showy creature a beautiful dusk sky, with stars just beginning to peek through, really set-off the show. Pipistrelles flying over a field against a backdrop of the setting sun were also spotted. Both sights were truly magical.
The Daubenton’s bat also witnessed fishing insects from the water’s surface of a pond in Slindon village. Watching the speed and precision of this small mammal using its feet and tail to scoop insects from the water’s surface was quite an experience too!
Such experiences can do wonders for a creative writer’s vision, don’t you know? Katy is now wondering how she can work these magical creatures into her fantasy novel; given the genre and the wealth of mythology related to bats, we’re anticipating she won’t have too much trouble.
Find out more UK bats from the Bat Conversation Trust.