#30DaysWild 14, 15, 16 & 17: Bats, swifts, rattle and spit

A catch up compendium of four days of wild experiences…

Bats

It is a mystery to me why anyone would dislike bats. I sort of understand people being afraid of them – because of their associations with nighttime and the dark – but even then, once you’ve seen a bat surely you’re captivated?

If I’m right then I suppose the problem might be that most people have never seen a bat. I’m guessing, because I’ve actually no idea how many people have seen bats in real life. Whenever I’ve seen or see them though, it is something magical and exciting and I feel blessed and lucky.

Many years ago I was in a beer garden in Eastern Europe. It got dusk while I was there and some lights came on. I became aware of a shadowy shape passing in front of one of these lights. When I focused on what it was, I saw a bat flying through where the light fell. Presumably feeding on the flying insects attracted to the light. It was a wow moment that I still remember more than 20 years later, even though I can’t remember the name of the beer garden or what country it was in.

More recently I’ve been lucky enough to see bats flying over my garden or sometimes next door. This is in a fairly urban area, not out in the sticks. At the weekend, I went out into the garden at dusk and waited for my eyes to adjust to the light. It wasn’t long before I spotted a bat shaped silhouette over my neighbour’s garden. In a fluttering but deliberate flight. I stood and watched for a while, then went inside and got ready for bed feeling content and satisfied.

Swifts

The next day there was stuff going on. Mundane, everyday headaches. I was stuck indoors for too long dealing with it and grumbly and fed up as a result. About my only chance to get outside was filling the bird feeders. As I did so, late in the afternoon, three or four swifts flew quite low overhead. The first I’d seen in my street this year. They came so close I could see their faces and the detail of their feathers. Shiny and soft-looking, like a living feather boa trailing in the summer air.

Lots of yellow rattle, gone to seed

Rattle

Near where I live, there’s a project to recreate a meadow aimed at supporting bees. In particular a kind of bumble bee called the shrill carder – which I think is a marvellous name for a bee. It’s been a couple of years since these efforts began – with use of herbicide to kill off the dominant ‘alexanders’. I haven’t looked into this enough to weigh up my feelings about it, never mind the science, but this week the penny dropped about the slow rate at which these meadow flowers were returning. (Thanks in part to reading about it in Dave Goulson’s excellent book, A Buzz in the Meadow).

Grasses can dominate and prevent flowers from growing, so parasitic plants which halt the grasses are needed to help the meadow regenerate. Yellow rattle is one such plant – so called because once the yellow flowers have gone to seed its pods rattle. I missed seeing it in flower this year, but this week I spotted clumps and clumps of dried brown rattle. Evidence of the plant’s work to help more flowers grow and in turn to help the bees.

Spit

Isn’t it disgusting when footballers spit on the pitch? Or, much worse, someone spits in the street. Especially now with the coronavirus pandemic ongoing. There is a kind of spit which doesn’t bother me though – and that is cuckoo spit.

The lavender bush in my garden had several globules of this foam hanging from it. Inside are the young (larvae) of tiny bugs called froghoppers. Apparently the foam comes out their bottoms and allows them to produce a protective bubble of spit until they grow into adult bugs. I know they’ve absolutely nothing to do with cuckoos – other than being seen at the same time as you might hear the bird. What I don’t know is what becomes of them if the rain washes the spit away – but that’s what’s happened to the ones of my lavender.

Pic credits: “Pipistrelles, Composite image, 14th August 2019” by john.purvis is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.    Yellow rattle image by me.

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