Written by and photos courtesy of Morgan Hughes
I’m back in the UK as I write this, after my 2nd season as Lead Bat Scientist for OpWall’s research station in Krka National Park, Croatia. While we’re at camp, the days (and nights) are pretty full-on, and sitting here now with a coffee, I can reflect a bit on just what it is that I love about researching and teaching with OpWall, and why I keep going back. I thought I’d tell you about a typical day:
Lead bat scientist Morgan Hughes
I wake up far earlier than I intended. This happens almost every morning, but I’m excited to look at the sound files I recorded the night before. After a coffee (or three) I open my laptop and spend a couple of hours analysing sonograms, classifying them to species where I can. People are milling about; bird team have come back from netting; mammal team have just checked their traps. There is a general atmosphere of excitement and genuine enthusiasm for the science.
After lunch, I try to fit in a quick nap before my lecture, which I give at 3.30pm to a new group of students and Research Assistants (RAs). I cover bat ecology, evolution, echolocation, conservation threats, legislation and public perceptions. After a quick coffee break, we do a second lecture preparing the group for tonight’s survey: what species we can expect to find, what survey techniques we will be using, and why we are doing it. It’s so important to us at OpWall that the students and RAs understand that we’re not just making species lists. The data we collect are fed directly into ongoing research, special projects and (like the bat programme in Croatia this year) sometimes it is even the start of a brand-new approach to research in the area. We are breaking new ground, and I want everyone to feel a part of it.
Nets set up and ready
An hour before sunset, we meet at the minibus, and I drive the survey team to one of our sites. I love driving around Krka at this time of day. The sense of anticipation about what we might catch / record tonight is palpable in the fading sunlight as we set up our nets along the banks of the Krka River. The bat detector is switched on and is recording, alerting us to the activity of bats around our processing area. As the night goes on, bats land in the nets and I quickly extract them, taking them back to processing where they are identified and assessed (species, sex, age class, breeding condition). We take measurements using calipers and weight using spring scales. We then collect ectoparasites for an ongoing research project before clipping the fur of the bats (so we know if we re-capture them) and releasing them back into the night.
Processing station is busy!
A student helps to weigh a bat using scales
Assistant bat scientist Anneka extracts a bat from a mist net
Somewhere around midnight, it is time to pack up. Everyone is washed with adrenaline, having had a rare, up-close experience with wild animals that most people never encounter in their lives. A drive back to camp down dark, winding roads follows; some students are snoozing, while the rest of us watch a badger cub run down the road in front of us. I make a mental note to let the mammal team know where we saw it. Sleep comes less quickly than you’d think as my mind is buzzing with thoughts of tomorrow. I’ve been studying bats for 20 years, and catching them like this for 10 years, and it still feels like a rare privilege every time.
A Mediterranean horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus euryale)