A slight breeze arose as it began to grow dark. We moved slowly and quietly between the lighted moth traps that were spread around John and Mary’s land. I don’t know how many of us there were – maybe 20 or so – all ages from around 8 to around 80. Most of us did not know each other I think.
From time to time, the stillness of the night was interrupted … the croaking of a toad by the pond… a tawny owl calling in the nearby trees… or a percussive vibration on someone’s bat detector. The stillness deepened as the night slowly grew darker. We watched and listened – sounds of gentle voices and cool running water, as the sky silently filled with stars.
Bats eat tiny insects including moths. They navigate the night sky by making high frequency calls as they fly, then listening to the returning echoes to build up a sonic map of their surroundings. They are also able to sense density (eg. a flying moth), and memorise significant locations (eg. hedges along their flight corridors). I learned that each type of bat emits a signal on a different frequency, and the detectors were able to pick up these signals and interpret them into sounds we could hear as humans. It was fascinating to learn about these about these intelligent little creatures that have been around for millennia.
The moths, attracted by the bright light of the traps, were placed very carefully into plastic containers, so we could inspect them closely before letting them fly away.A young girl announced she could hear a moth vibrating its wings inside its small jar -but I could not, no matter how hard I tried. It wasn’t terribly thrilling to be reminded that as we get older we lose the ability to hear the higher frequencies – especially as I have always considered myself to have acute hearing!
‘All locked within our own senses’, I heard someone say later on – which conjured up a picture in my head of a myriad species on our bright and humming planet, all with different interrelated and interdependent skill sets – and all emitting signals like a sort of great multi-dimensional symphony.
As the night wore on, the traps became busier, teeming with moth life, and the odd fly or other insect. We peered intently at the exquisite colours and intricate patterns on tiny wings – admiring the beauty of these small creatures and savouring the moth names that floated in the air as we moved between the traps:
Large Yellow Underwing, Rosy Rustic, Drinker, Silver Y, Ruby Tiger, Carpet, Iron Prominent, Brimstone…
Scanning the dark sky I saw flitting shapes of bats, and as my eyes drifted upwards to the stars I felt the motion of the whole universe.
Afterwards we sat outside the kitchen by candlelight, with big mugs of tea. Some of us pored over moth books. Others of us discussed the virtues of different sorts of tea, and the best sort of biscuits to go with them.
A wonderful night out, learning so much so effortlessly out of doors with real experts.
And I have just found out that 2012 is the UN Year of the Bat! Find info on the Bat Conservation Trust‘s website:
John and Mary Breeds hosted our event for Barnstaple and District Local Group of the Devon Wildlife Trust, who will be starting their Winter Programme of talks on Sept 14th. Information can be found on http://www.devonwildlifetrust.org/barnstaple-local-group/
Lastly, by popular vote, the best biscuits to have with a big cuppa tea are ‘Digestives’!