Monday, 3 August 2015

Have you ever heard crickets chirp at night?

I walked the long route home this morning. I had dropped the car in for it's yearly health check at the local garage before breakfast, which left me making the return journey from town on foot. 
The feeling of autumn that had been so apparent on that odd day last week, has lessened and faded, but has never quite left. It lingers as an undertone like the musty smell of a room, damp from being closed up  and unused for too long. Cob nuts lie cracked and shattered by vehicle wheels where the hazel bushes overhang the road, and every time I pass the hawthorn hedge along that sunny spot at the end of Pitsham Lane the berries are another darker shade of red. The air was heavy, and finally gave way to a short busts of stop-start rain as I arrived at my back door, grey clouds diffusing the light. So different from the night before.  

When darkness fell yesterday there was a chill breeze and layers of wispy clouds highlighted by a bright moon. This moon had been full a few days ago; a rare second full moon within one calendar month, a celebrated blue moon. Now it was slightly out of shape, one side flattened, giving it a deflated appearance like a child's balloon three days post-party. 

I was out bat detecting. The small hand-sized black box with its dials and light up screen which I had ordered on the internet a couple of weeks previously held so much excitement and promise of discovery of an unseen world. If you have never used a bat detector, the simple explanation of how they work is that a microphone picks up the high frequency echolocation calls of the bats and translates them into a frequency audible to our human ears. By turning the dial, you can set the detector to pick up certain frequencies, and as every bat species calls at a different frequency this reveals who is flying over your head!

There was still a glimmer of light in the sky when I left home. Streets, so familiar and everyday, were transformed by nightfall. Moonlight drained colour from the hedgerows, only the bindweed was unmistakable, a hundred luminous white trumpets. Grey plates of hogweed flowers loomed out from the shadowed path-sides.  
A couple of pipistrelle bats had emerged early, and were using the rooftops of the houses beside the old caravan park as an aerial roundabout, but the entrance of the disused railway tunnel and the gardens of the flats built beside it was strangely quiet. On a previous august night some years ago, the sky here was filled with bats, gathering in their pre-autumn courtship disco, some of their calls just audible to the naked ear. Tonight, the few high squeaks and chirps that turned my head were crickets or grasshoppers, calling occasionally and randomly, like clockwork winding down.
A rustle under the hedge could have been a hedgehog, but then, maybe not. It is easy to see the truth in fairy stories when moths blur and flicker in the torchlight, seeming to appear and disappear at will and dance around you.

When I reached South Pond, the waters were deep in shadow, except where the streetlights were reflected. In these pools of light the water's surface was rippled and puckered by insects above and fish below. A shape crossed our torch beam, fast wingbeats zig-zagging across the water. I knew that both daubenton and serotine bats had been recently detected here. I turned the dial on my bat detector to a frequency of 47.8 and a run of measured clicks belted out of the speakers, falling silent as the bat flew away to the left before banking round and making another pass; daubentons. I turned the dial again setting it at 32.2, the peak frequency of the serotine. An excitable irregular call followed the movement of another bat through the torch beam. 

Now, as the growling of my stomach drags me back to today and reminds me it is nearly lunch time, the rain has stopped again and sunshine is flooding into the garden. As if from nowhere, life takes flight; butterflies, two large whites, a comma, and three peacocks exchange places on the buddleia blooms. A multitude of gatekeepers focus their attention on the airspace around the marjoram and the lavender. The rain hasn't found its way into the pot for the courgette plant, and its leaves are yellowing and dusty, I must find time later to water it. Beside the courgette the sweetpeas have exhausted themselves and droop dejectedly. House martins bubble and burble in the apex of the roof next door, but the swifts have left us now. 

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Hello! Thank you for viewing my blogs and profile. I am passionate about the countryside and british wildlife and I hope that this comes through in my blog. I am a nature writer and have been pursuing photography since early teenage years, whilst building a career in conservation. Helping people to reconnect with the natural world is very important to me, whether through direct hands on interaction, education or literature. Please also visit my website, for more information, my current CV, and further examples of writing and photography. You can contact me or keep up to date with new blog posts via Twitter @SophiEcoWild and/or Feedback, comments and audience participation are always welcome! Sophie May Lewis