bat detection

Threave (a National Trust Property near Castle Douglas) is a Bat Reserve and you can follow carefully laid out bat-trails. I do so, having borrowed a heterodyne bat detector from reception.

Following the signs in daytime, when all seven species of bats are in torpor, you get the feel of the sorts of places in which these creatures like to rest. A sign lets you know a roost is close-by.

A wet day – it’s easy to understand staying inside. But at night, where do they get in and out? I am given permission to look inside the potting shed, and at 2.45 pm look up in the rafters for signs of brown long-eared bats. The bat detector is quiet, no echolocation occurring. Of course, they are not hunting but are asleep. I can hear a fly, and an occasional walkie-talkie as gardeners do their work.

Between the sieves, in the corner of the white-washed shed, there is a quiet sign of bats’ presence – droppings caught in gossamer, testing the strength of spider silk.

A spider stands guard above this unsolicited harvest in her nets.



A Threave Bestiary

I am sketching out a bestiary, based on a species count of animals in Threave House near Castle Douglas. Only a few can be shown here.

There is a pride of lions, sometimes only  their paws evident from under the furniture. Perhaps we, the visitors, are being stalked.

There is a disparate pack of dogs, finding diverse places to reside.

One canine is partially visible in the blue and white china cabinet.

Others are busy with a favourite quarry.

Eagles are arrayed in reflective and imperious stances

while horses bend as they gallop, or rest after the chase.

Looking upwards, you can see a salmon leap

and close attention is rewarded by a pair of swallows.

Domesticated animals each find their situation

while others take opportunities as they can.

Some are hard to classify, with nondescript forms.

Only with expert assistance, could I detect bats at roost – around a Chinese good luck sign in the Blue and White ceramics cabinet.

Survey conditions on a July day were wet; the duration was three hours covering each floor of the hunting lodge. Species included stag, cattle, shells (conch, scallop) eagles, dogs (terriers, hounds, lapdogs, retrievers, spaniels), hare, heron, horses, lions, linnet, sphinx, salmon and other fish, lion, butterfly and other insects, sheep, goat, mermaid, bittern, rabbit, cats, swans, snake, swallows, linnet, pochard, trout. An ornithological hotspot (courtesy of Donald Watson)  yielded mallard, pochard, goldeneye, dipper, grey wagtail, hen harriers, grouse, teal, shelduck, tufted duck, snow bunting, goosanders, puffins, gannets, great crested grebe, barn owl, red grouse, black and grey geese, herring gull, dotterel. A second hotspot in the basement yielded frog, tawny owl, blue tit, slug, bee, roe deer, wasps, ladybird, herons, dragonfly, red squirrel.

Threave Estate is an exceptionally diverse Estate in the care of the National Trust for Scotland. A Scottish Baronial House was built as a shooting lodge for what is now a 1,600-acre estate supporting farming, forestry, horticulture, wildlife conservation and outdoor recreation.

Importantly, Threave is the first Bat Reserve in Scotland, with 7 species of bat: Bandit pipistrelle, Soprano pipistrelle, Daubenton’s, Brown long-eared, Noctule, Natterer’s and Whiskered (the last species is very rare in Scotland).

My grateful thanks to staff at Threave and to the organisations facilitating this project with a visual arts award:

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