Batty folk

Yesterday evening I spent in the company of a bunch of middle-aged mammals of the bipedal variety, together with countless bats whose bodies are around the size of your thumb. This was in Sutcliffe Park in the London borough of Greenwich, and the event was a bat detection walk organised by Dave Larkin of the Quaggy Waterways Action Group, and Jason Cunningham of the London Bat Group.

I’ve long been fascinated by bats, and know a little about their varieties and habits. I’ve still to fully understand the physics of bats’ echolocation abilities, however, and my knowledge of their ecology in urban and suburban surroundings is minimal.

Sutcliffe Park is a interesting example of suburban ecological planning, and this engineered marshland plays an important role in London’s flood control efforts. The park abounds in water birds and insects of many varieties, and pipistrelle bats, who dart around one’s head, displaying aeronautical skills that would make a fighter pilot weep.

I say it was a bat detection walk we we on last night, and it was just that. The organisers provided hand-held electronic devices that translate the 40–60 kHz ultrasonic bat-chat into frequencies that we humans can perceive, and it was wonderful to listen to pipistrelle bats of the common and soprano types as they went about their business on a windy late summer eve.