Fly by Nights
As we are enjoying something like a 'normal' summer, with plenty of warm dry evenings, we have a chance of seeing some nocturnal wildlife, especially bats. In my lifetime these remarkable creatures have gone from creepy to cuddly. The commonest bats are a couple of species of tiny pipistrelles, but larger bats flit around my garden in West Bromwich. I am guessing that they are noctules or brown long-eared bats, but without expert assistance I cannot be sure. They fly low down around the trees and shrubs, perhaps picking insects off the foliage rather than catching them in mid-air.
According to the 'Provisional Atlas of the Mammals of Birmingham and the Black Country' published by the Wildlife Trust in 2003 there are nine species of bats in the area (with an unconfirmed record of a tenth). They may be encountered anywhere from the city centre to the urban fringe, in gardens, parks and woodland, and over water, including canals. It is curious that city foxes are much commented upon but the more interesting city bats less so.
This is the best time of the year for seeing bats. Dusk is in the middle of the evening and bat populations are at their highest, with this year's youngsters on the wing with their parents. They are busy feeding up in advance of their mating season in September, and then their hibernation. As with most insect eaters in this country they either have to migrate or hibernate to survive the winter, and hibernation is the bats' main strategy. Having said that there is increasing evidence of bat migration from northern to southern Europe, and it appears that some bats even migrate here in order to hibernate.
Bats use different roosts, in trees, buildings, and caves and tunnels, at different times of the year. In the summer females and young roost together in maternity roosts, whilst males roost separately. In winter they all gather together in their hibernation roosts. Bats are legally protected and their roosts should not be disturbed. If you have one in your house don't worry, bats do not damage buildings or chew wiring, make no discernible noise and their droppings are clean and odour free. If you want to encourage bats to your house and garden put up some bat roosting boxes.
Elsewhere in the world bats provide spectacular displays and are key players in many ecosystems. In Austin, Texas, and in Zambia, for example, millions of bats emerging from their roosts each evening provide entertainment for locals and tourists. The Zambian bats are fruit bats, responsible for distributing the seeds of millions of trees. In the deserts of Arizona bats act like giant bees, taking nectar from, and pollinating, the characteristic saguaro cacti (the ones in the background of all the old westerns).
Here in the West Midlands we have our own bat group - Brumbats. Their excellent website has much more information: http://brumbats.wordpress.com