CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Essex Life today CLICK HERE

Nature’s nocturnal miracles

PUBLISHED: 18:29 18 July 2013

Forever associated with Halloween, horror films and blood-sucking vampires, bats are among our most feared yet least understood animals. But the truth is very far from the myths and these remarkable creatures are, in fact, a miracle of evolution.

The individual bones that make up a bat’s skeleton correspond exactly with those in the human skeleton, the only differences being in size. The bones in a bat’s wings are therefore the same as those which form our own arms and hands, and while over vast swathes of time natural selection has given us opposable thumbs and the precision grip, in bats it has moulded and stretched these bones into wings capable of unaided flight – something we humans can only dream of. In addition to this, and although they are by no means blind, bats can get around purely by echolocation, a natural sonar which constructs a detailed map of their surroundings enabling them to catch prey on the wing and even pluck spiders from their webs with pinpoint accuracy.

Far from being the preserve of experts, we can all get out there and watch bats, with late summer and early autumn being a good time to catch up with them before they get their heads down for the winter. One of the best ways of doing this is to attend a bat evening run by Essex Wildlife Trust, which is exactly what I have done for the past few years at the Langdon Nature Reserve.

As dusk falls, pipistrelle bats are usually the first to be seen, flying manically in tight arcs right over the heads of enthusiastic onlookers. Far from being nightmarish bloodsuckers, these tiny creatures, which feed on insects, weigh less than a £1 coin and are smaller than a mouse. With the aid of a bat detector, you can actually hear them catching insects in flight, which, rather curiously, sounds like somebody blowing a raspberry.

Down by the lake, with torch beams trained, you should be able to catch a glimpse of the slightly larger daubenton’s bat. In direct contrast to pipistrelles, daubenton’s bats will fly low and in a straight line, even picking insects off the water’s surface – it’s not for nothing that this species are also known as water bats. And up in the woods, you may encounter the noctule bat, one of the largest species in the UK, as it emerges to hunt, twisting and diving after prey amid the treetops.

But the nocturnal realm does not belong exclusively to bats. As well as the spine-tingling shriek of prowling red foxes, tawny owls can often be heard – both the piercing ‘keewick’ of the female and the corresponding hoot of the male which, when combined, gives the traditional ‘tuwit tuwoo’. And who knows, you might even be lucky enough to glimpse one of these alluring and seldom-seen birds as they wake from their daytime slumber, silently winging their way through the darkness to claim the night.

In profile

Andrew Fallan is the author of Winging it – Birding for low-flyers, published by Brambleby Books, and is currently living in Southend. You can read more from Andrew in Essex Life as he explores our more spectacular species and the wilder locations of Essex as part of a new regular feature.


More from Out & About

Yesterday, 10:59

Michael Foley is the author of Secret Brentwood, a book which highlights the fascinating collection of historical treasures that have helped make this town the vibrant place it is today. Here Michael shares some of the those treasures with Essex Life readers

Read more
Yesterday, 10:33

Take a stroll around the attractive village of Colne Engaine following part of the River Colne from where the village gets its name | Words and photos: Laurie Page Public Rights of Way Team at Essex County Council

Read more
Yesterday, 09:34

Christmas in Essex has something for everyone with an irresistible combination of modern and traditional. Here are 21 reasons why Essex is the best place to spend your Christmas

Read more
Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Essex is home to some of the most stunning vistas in the UK. From the estuary of River Thames to the North Sea coastline, the county’s scenery is a diverse patchwork of stunning sea views, ancient architecture and vibrant gardens. We pick 9 of our favourites

Read more
Wednesday, November 28, 2018

When winter comes and a frost settles all over our county’s prettiest locations, you’re presented with so many fantastic photographic opportunities. Here are 19 times Essex was prettier than a Christmas card

Read more
Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Are you stuck for things to do this winter? Essex is home to some truly magical places perfect for a family day out or a special event to get you feeling festive. Here are 9 locations you have to visit this season.

Read more
Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The history and heritage of our county’s historic homes is not only contained within their walls but it also stretches out into the land surrounding it. We’ve found 11 great walks that allow you to experience that history first hand

Read more
Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Of all Britain’s coastal counties, Essex can surely claim to be one of the best. With more than 350 miles of shoreline to choose from, the Essex coast is very much what you make of it, so even on those days when you’re planning a little run out to the seaside and want more than just the beach, Essex has the answer

Read more
Tuesday, November 13, 2018

We’ve put together 15 questions that will push your knowledge of Essex to the limit - let us know how you’ve done on social media!

Read more
Tuesday, November 13, 2018

From James Bond to Batman, Essex has been known to bask in a little Hollywood glitz. Here are 19 that have used our county’s incredible locations on the big screen

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Follow us on Twitter

Like us on Facebook

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Local Business Directory

Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search