Following on from Butterfly and Bees last week, last night was time for another volunteer training event as my duller, identical-and-yet-oddly-slightly-less-attractive twin’s workaday life once again intruded on my precious complaining time.
This time it wasn’t me – ahem, I mean my twin – running the training, but an actual, proper, real-life expert from the Bat Conservation Trust who knew what he was all about and everything. Most disconcerting. I might actually have to put a little more effort in for my next event if my volunteers begin to expect this level of knowledge. As Mr BCT went about his training, showing me up for the disorganised, improv, make-it-up-as-I-go-along teacher that I am, I happily retreated into my natural role of putting the kettle on and ensuring everyone had a hot cup of tea and biscuit. I think I’ve missed a calling.
After a couple of hour’s background and quizzing on pitch, repetition rate, tonal quality and rhythm, we headed out onto Battersea Park with our heterodynes to see what we could find. Passing a cricket match, still ludicrously and inexplicably continuing in the murk, we got our first click; excitement! But alas, it was merely my rather fetching yet static-inducing waterproof scrapping against itself. We didn’t have to wait too long, however. Dodging the lunatic runners and suspect dog walkers you encounter in the urban greenspace gloaming, we soon got our first Pip, diving and swooping along the edge of the lake. A knob twiddle gave the deepest audio at 45KHz indicated that this was, as expected, a Common Pip. Working around the lake, we soon got our first Nathusius’ Pip, swooping in low, all curiosity, over our heads. Later, there was apparently a Leisler, but this must have been while I was off doing something super important and I missed it. Annoyingly, this would have been a first for me.
As the cold started to bite, I reverted to my childhood and had a crack at ‘Bat Stoning’. A little research reveals that this is neither a cruel form of medieval animal cruelty, nor is it something that I just made up. Indeed the art of tossing small stones in the air to trick a bat into swooping for it apparently made an appearance on that bastion of environmental education Springwatch a few years back. I think it was the hairy one and the smug one having a go. I wonder who taught me? Perhaps my granddad. Either way, last night they weren’t biting.
So what did I learn? Well, that Serotines are basically Jazz Noctules and that I’m good at judging call rhythm (formerly a (rubbish) bassist), but not so good at judging pitch (old man ears and too much Tom Waits turned up to 11). I learned that my ‘sonic memory’ is slowly improving, but that there’s no substitute for actually getting out there and having a go when it comes to species ID (OK, I already knew that). I also learned that some of those childhood wildlife games you play might be more universal than you think and that it’s hard to keep up the pretense of a secret identity for even 535 words.