Posted: Monday 17th August 2015 by CoedPendugwmDiaries

Betty the Brown Long-eared Bat copyright Kevin HeywoodBetty the Brown Long-eared Bat copyright Kevin Heywood

As the tree canopy captures all available light and the birds are busy feeding young or moulting, July suddenly seems a much quieter time in the woods. Dormice are still conspicuous by their absence, but away from Coed Pendugwm, another special mammal occupied a very memorable week!

It was more than I could have ever hoped for! As I'd driven down to the church about an hour before, I had experienced a multiplicity of emotions; excitement, apprehension and sadness were chief amongst them. Now, however, all I felt was joy and relief. It had been a challenging week, but now it was all worth it! I couldn’t stop smiling all the way home!...

It was a busy Friday afternoon in the office. I was writing a funding bid, when a call came in from a local church warden. They had been treating what they thought was a woodworm infestation, only to find it was actually a bat roost. As soon as the spraying had begun, bats flew out of the old wooden beam in all directions. The work was immediately ceased and advice sort from Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust; the warden was particularly concerned about one bat which was crawling around on one of the window sills.

By the time I arrived, all seemed calm in the church and it took me some time to find the bat, which had now huddled down near the altar. I gently picked her up in my gloved hands, at which intrusion she expressed her disgust by way of a series of vocalisations. At this point, there was an answering call from high above and when I raised my head I saw another bat flying around. They were both long-eared bats. I gave my captive a quick but thorough examination for any obvious injuries and when I found none, encouraged her to join her friend. She was willing and several attempts were made, but always ended up with her on or near the floor.

 

Bats cannot take off from the ground and I was concerned about her weak flying, so I reluctantly took her home. The local bat carer was full to capacity and I’d looked after a few pipistrelles for short periods before. I thought it likely that all she needed was somewhere safe and quiet to recuperate overnight and I could offer that. Little did I know then what I was in for!

copyright Kevin HeywoodThat night must have been tough for Betty (as I eventually named her - ‘the bat’ seems so impersonal!). Away from her home and family, she was understandably stressed and after failing to get her to eat or drink, I did my best to settle her in to my old fish tank, complete with old clothing for her to hide in, a little water and food.

The next morning, she had still eaten nothing and unsure as to whether she had drunk anything, I offered her water on a cotton bud. She wasn’t thirsty but as she brushed past the bud, it turned bright orange! I set to cleaning her and half a dozen cotton buds later was satisfied that most of what was, presumably, the woodworm treatment had been removed. Thankfully, it was very localised, although I’m sure Betty would have preferred that it wasn’t localised on her face! She seemed to appreciate the cleaning as she was then stimulated in to a frenzy of shaking and grooming herself, perking right up!

Mealworms are the food of choice for captive bats, but that doesn’t mean they always recognise them as food. This was certainly the case with Betty. I soon realised that you have to train a Brown Long-eared Bat to eat mealworms! At first she was rather ineffectual, moving the mealworm around in her mouth and then dropping it. I found myself wondering how these bats could possibly eat moths and beetles, when her teeth seemed to make so little headway with the mealworms. She fared better with the pupae and always preferred them. The couple of moths I ‘foraged’ for her were ignored! As the days went by, however, she did improve and I was eventually successful at training her to feed herself!

 

Food wasn't the only challenge. Once she had got over the initial fear, she seemed to crave contact. Sometimes she would refuse to eat, but if I put her back in the tank, she called vociferously. At these times, she only seemed content when she’d found a warm dark spot on my person!

Betty looking for a snuggle spot copyright Tamasine Stretton

I was most concerned at first that she was missing her colony. I wondered whether she would be better off if taken back, so on Sunday afternoon I returned to the church. She showed no recognition of the place and just determinedly clung to me. There was also no sign of any other bats; her calls, which had so clearly elicited a response last time, received no reply. So back home we went together.

Betty on the 'runway' (bedroom curtain)! copyright Tamasine StrettonAn adult bat should only be released if it can fly well. It should be able to take off, fly round and land. Every day I gave Betty the chance to fly round my bedroom, but she would simply sit on my hand or frantically crawl round looking for somewhere to snuggle. Finally, on Tuesday, whilst I had the tank open to clean up, she was fly-hopping from one side to the other. Later that day I put her up on my bedroom curtain, but after crawling backwards and forwards along the top for some time, all she managed was one helicopter flight and this only came after much encouragement from me! She responded to my voice immediately, the only thing which would stop her pacing!
It wasn’t until first thing Friday morning that she seemed very keen to fly. She made several tours of the ‘flight room’ that morning, improving with every attempt, as she realised that most of the walls were too slippery to cling to. A few times she managed to take off, land and take off again, unaided. It was great to watch and as she was now also less needy, I knew that she was ready to go.

That evening, I met MWT colleague, Eley Hart at the church. She had already witnessed the failure on Sunday; we were both uncertain what to expect. At first, I wasn’t too worried that Betty seemed to have no inclination to do anything but snuggle, but as the light faded, my anxiousness increased. We had a good look round for signs indicating where the bats were getting in to the church, but found none. As we chatted about this and that, Betty remained, ears tucked in, resting on my hand.

'Betty's Tree' copyright Tamasine StrettonWe stood for some time admiring a wonderful old Yew tree. Just as I was beginning to think I might be taking Betty home afterall, there was a bat call from the Yew. She immediately pricked up her ears and moved to face the direction the call had come from. Suddenly, completely taking me by surprise, she took off! There was just enough light to watch her as she flew twice round me, then round the back of the Yew. At this point, she was joined by a second bat. They flew round each other a couple of times and then disappeared heading towards the tree.

I felt elated and had a strong urge to do a victory dance! Instead, I gave Eley a big hug and we chatted excitedly as we headed back to our cars. Eley suggested that the Yew would now forever be known as ‘Betty’s Tree’; a fitting memorial to a wonderful little character.
 

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