My last professional bat survey of the season was completed last week – at a railway tunnel which is a swarming site for a small number of bats. Swarming sites are locations, often caves, mines or tunnels, where bats – particularly the myotis species – gather in the autumn to mate. We stayed until 5h after sunset to monitor the usage of the tunnel and recorded around 5-6 bats at this site. They are most likely to be Natterer’s bats, judging by the calls, although myotis species are notoriously similar acoustically, and can be difficult to tell apart from sound alone.
The bats were using the tunnel entrance – a great, ominous opening onto blackness surrounded by shrubs and trees – but they spent most of their time flying in tandem within the tunnel and especially around the vertical air vents – circular ‘chimneys’ some 5m wide – which are spaced out down the length of the tunnel.
I’ve recently bought a trail cam and this seemed like a good opportunity to try it out and answer the first question – can it be triggered by bats? I’ve spoken to people who have said that they can, but that the lag between the detection and the shutter closing means that the bat has been and gone before you can get a good photo.
I’ve opted for the Bushnell Trophy Cam Max HD, largely because of the no-glow LED’s which would hopefully reduce the risk of it being spotted and interfered with, but I wasn’t sure how the different cameras available would compare on their sensitivity. It can certainly spot a greenfinch hopping about on the lawn which suggests it is reasonably sensitive to small creatures, but my first test on bats suggested that flight ~6m away was not detected.
I placed the trail cam face-up beneath one of the air vents and there were no ‘triggers’ but I also used the ‘field scan’ setting to automatically take a 10 second video every 5 minutes, regardless of whether the camera detected something to monitor. The result was lots of empty shots, with only dripping water to reveal movement, but I did record one brief pass of two bats flying close together. It’s not great footage – very far from something you might have seen on the BBC recently using their high quality night vision kit – but it is enough to show that the bats are there and it could potentially be a way to monitor the presence of bats in a site such as this over a period of time.
The use of automated bat detectors has really taken off in recent years – this is a great supplement to surveys where ecologists walk or watch and detect bats using hand held devices. A static unit can sit in the field for a week, record every bat which goes past, and be picked up and analysed at your convenience. It lacks the qualitative element which can be gained from an actual surveyor in the field – where did the bat fly, which direction, what behaviour – but it is invaluable to assess the assemblage of bats present, picking up species present at low densities or passage use by rarer species.
In a similar way, I am hoping that the trail cam will be a great way to gather a census of the species of mammals in an area or at least using a trail, even if they only pass that way once a week. With any luck, watch this space for further updates and footage which are hopefully a little better than this!
If anybody has any experience of catching videos of bats in flight using a trail cam, I’d love to hear about it!