Going a little batty

As someone who regularly goes out spotlighting in the forests around Melbourne I regularly encounter large numbers of microbats flitting around, particularly on warm Summer nights. Aside from the large and audible White-striped Freetail Bat these largely remain unidentified to the casual observer and at best get filed under microbat sp. There are apparently some 16 species recorded in the Greater Melbourne area (although only 5 make it into the inner suburbs) so I was keen to look at ways of exploring this under appreciated part of our mammalian fauna. A bit of googling found the excellent work done by Robert Bender and Steve Griffiths at Wilson Reserve and Organ Pipes with the ongoing bat box monitoring and bat banding programs – https://batboxes.wordpress.com/ On the website I noted that monitoring was on Saturday at Wilson Reserve so I came along to see what it was all about. Wilson Reserve is well known in birding circles as an excellent spot for Powerful Owls although I did not have a chance to have a look this time. At 3pm a couple of cars with ladders rolled in which I rightly assumed meant they were here to check the bats. Robert was very personable and quickly made me feel welcome and I was given the very important job of holding a bag of “important stuff” while we went around and checked the various bat boxes. There are 26 boxes up at Wilson Reserve over a space not much larger than a couple of acres and are roughly split into a forest and a meadow area. My group was given the task of checking the forest area which consisted of Robert climbing the ladder to a precarious height of 5 to 6 meters and reporting on the content of the boxes. In the forest area there was little found aside from a few Huntsmen guarding eggsacs. We moved on to the last few boxes in the meadow where we found two boxes with about 10 bats each – mostly Gould’s Wattled Bat and a few Eastern Broad-nosed Bats. It is not til you see these in someone’s hand that you realise how small they actually are. The bat’s are caught, bagged and taken back to Robert’s house for processing – this clearly does not stress these bats too much – they have been doing it for years and regularly retrap the same bats and have to follow strict ethical guidelines.

Gould's Wattled Bat ready for processing

Gould’s Wattled Bat ready for processing

Processing ran like a well oiled machine and I must admit I felt like a bit of a third wheel for a while until I found my niche as an umbrella holder shading the processors. To handle and process bats you need to have a complete rabies vaccination and some training which Robert and Steve are more than happy to help with. In addition to the processors there are scribes who record all the measurements and more importantly remind the processor what is missing – when there are over 50 bats to process this is very important. I was fortunate to meet “white-spot” – a female Gould’s Wattled Bat who has been around the 5 years of the WIlson Reserve banding program and has been re-caught over 40 times. There were 2 species caught across the day – the majority Gould’s Wattled Bat (~50) and around 5 Eastern Broad-nosed Bats. The EBN Bats are noticably smaller than the Gould’s and clearly occupy a different ecological niche – so much so that they are tolerated in the same boxes as the larger Goulds. There is a fantastic body of knowledge being built up through this program and a lot of thanks must go to Robert and his tireless work. Eventually I graduated to scribe duties where Robert gave me advice on the acceptable ranges for measurements to help eliminate human error in the records.

Eastern Broad-nosed Bat

Eastern Broad-nosed Bat

Gould's Wattled Bat

Gould’s Wattled Bat

I get the feeling that these programs – https://batboxes.wordpress.com/ – are running from the smell of an oily rag so always need volunteers – so if you are curious and want to get involved, come along and have a look – even if it is just to hold an umbrella or carry a ladder. I know I will be bringing Lucas along sometime soon to have a look at these fascinating mini-beasts.

Checking status of Gould's Wattled Bat

Checking reproductive status of Gould’s Wattled Bat

Unfortunately I couldn’t stay to see the bats released in the evening although I will certainly do so in the future. From the leafy suburbs of Ivanhoe I drove east an hour and half to Powelltown where I met up with Steve Davidson –  http://www.themelbournebirder.com/ and Jono Dashper – Flickr for a spot of spotlighting. Neither of them had seen Leadbeater’s Possum so that was to be the primary target for tonight’s somewhat limited time budget. We headed out north of Powelltown and reasonably quickly found a couple of Leadbeater’s Possum which gave good views although the photographic opportunities were limited. After a great experience we moved on – hearing a distant Sooty Owl at one site and encountering some Bobucks and YB Gliders at another. After a few frogs we left for a relatively early, but successful night.

Leadbeater's Possum

Leadbeater’s Possum

Litoria ewingii - recent morph

Litoria ewingii – recent morph