Ratty & Batty (Placement days 8, 9 & 10)

Wednesday took me to Fleetwood in search of Water Voles. My only experience before Wednesday was Ratty from Wind in the Willows who was in fact not a rat but a vole. I suppose the tales wouldn’t have read so well if it was Voley and Moley messing about in boats.

Helen and Ann were the ecologists leading this survey, and work experience Scott came too. It was a scorcher of a day. The site was grass and scrub land with a ditch running around it. The ditch contained a stream with tall vegetation growing on the banks, and some reed beds.

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Ann is a botanist and I picked her brains as we walked around. She explained the difference between Phragmites and Reed Canary Grass from an ID perspective…

Phragmites

Reed Canary Grass

Woody Nightshade

We donned our waders and entered the stream which as it turned out was thigh deep and very silty giving it the feeling of quick sand as you sank slowly before finally settling, unsettlingly close to the rim of your waders.

Water Vole surveying

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We were looking out for Water Vole droppings which are apparently tic-tac size, for runs where they have repeatedly trampled commuting routes, for food piles of neatly trimmed vegetation cut at a 45 degree angle, and for holes potentially with a neat lawn maintained at the entrance.

Cole food pile

The stream was humid, thick with silt and home to many horse flies which set upon us enthusiastically. One bit Ann on the nose almost immediately. It’s as though they can tell when you’re vulnerable, bracing yourself on the bank and a tree branch to try and suck one leg out of the boggy stream with a squelch. That’s the moment you hear a horse fly enter your ear or feel it land on your mouth and you have to hastily complete your movement to free up your hands and wave them away. But they always come back.

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I found a hole which apparently was more likely to be a rat hole. Ann found a food pile which apparently wasn’t the right size to be conclusive. But the site was interesting all the same. I saw several species of butterfly and on the pond on the site damselflies were mating. A Reed Warbler fired through its full repertoire from within the reeds. We left a buffer zone several meters either side of it undisturbed. Inside the reeds was dense and alien. There weren’t even any horse flies in there, just the rustling of many tall stems and the occasional giant chrysalis dangling from a leaf.

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Green veined white

Water bunting

It was a short drive to the beach nearby where we drove to find shade from the afternoon sun and eat our sandwiches. My egg and prawn role was microwave warm after a day in the foot well of our hot car.

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Thursday afternoon was our return to Liverpool for the second of our dusk/dawn surveys at the red brick industrial site. We followed the same time table and stayed in the same hotel. This time though I took the position outside of the side, on the road facing the building. This was where Paul had been on the other survey and he had detected a couple of commuting bats so my colleagues thought it would be nice for me.

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This was good and bad for me. Good because I might see some bats, bad because in Liverpool apparently Thursdays are the new Fridays. While Paul hadn’t encountered another sole during his stint on the road, I had a different experience.

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Most people just looked at me funny. I suppose it’s fair enough, I was stood on a side street facing a large empty building, holding some electronic devises emitting white noise. They probably thought I was either a policeman or a Ghostbuster.

Two women out walking a scotty dog asked what I was doing. I told them. They said they’d assumed I was a policeman. They were friendly and told me about when they’d seen bats in Liverpool before, and also foxes and squirrels. They said I must feel awkward stood there like that. “Bit weird isn’t it?” I said. “Yeah” they said sympathetically.

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After they’d gone a fox appeared from between some railings. It stopped and looked at me as foxes do, then trotted off down the road. An hour or so later the women returned to tell me they’d seen a bat. I told them I’d seen a fox. As we were talking my duet detector let out the familiar wet, slapping sound of a pipistrelle. The bat flew right behind the ladies almost mockingly, like the pandas in that Kitkat advert,  before disappearing into the shadows.

I didn’t detect any other bats on the dusk survey but I did attract the attention of a variety of drunk people one of who fired questions at me about what I was doing as though he was trying to catch me out, before saying good night, shooting me a suspicious look over his shoulder, getting into his car and driving away. As the dusk survey neared its end three young lads observed me from across the road. One asked another loudly what I was doing. His friend replied that he didn’t know but it looked as though I was enjoying myself.

I read for a while before going to sleep between the two surveys. This helped me fall into a good sleep but consequently made it harder to get up at 02:50. I can see this is a technique I will be forever refining. Back at the site from 3am it was now dark and deserted other than the sound of a couple shouting at each other just around the corner.

I tried not to make any noise so as not to attract their attention and was doing well at it until their dog came wandering around the corner with a punctured football in its mouth. A lady followed after it in her dressing gown and bizarrely appeared not to notice me in my high vis jacket as she retrieved Baby and returned to shout some more with her boyfriend.

I detected two more bats and slept soundly back at the hotel with the feeling of a job well done. Back in Buxton I completed my time sheet, practiced some of the sound analysis Helen had sent me and made the station in time for the 14:29 to Manchester Piccadilly.

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It’s been an excellent week. Next week I don’t have anything booked in but I’m sure I’ll still learn a lot and I’m looking forward to finding out what’s in store.

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Creature of the Wheel (Placement days 6 & 7)

Glorious sunshine spread like honey out of the weekend and into the second week of my work placement. Manchester Piccadilly had a bright and cheerful atmosphere as I caught my train to Buxton, looking forward to my first bat survey with Penny Anderson Associates.

Another sunny start to my second week on my placement...

I helped out sorting and IDing aquatic inverts in the lab in the morning and wandered into Buxton on my lunch. It was hot and everyone seemed tanned and happy. I ate my lunch on The Slopes while listening to a couple of guys play the accordion and the fiddle on a near by roof.

Back at work Helen gave me a crash course on using Analook sound analysis software. There was a short test at the end which I did well on making us both pleased with ourselves for our respective teaching and learning skills.At half 4 I climbed in the back of the car and set off to Liverpool with Helen, Kelly and Paul. The journey there painted a beautiful picture of the Peak District national park which Buxton is situated in. Our hotel was on Albert Dock which shone in the afternoon sun, surely the best skyline in the north west. I had fish and chips for tea. So far I was thoroughly enjoying being an ecologist.

We headed over to the site at 9pm. The sun was reflected off the city’s buildings. We needed to be there and set up before sunset and I felt like Charlton Heston in The Omega Man when he raced home to avoid The Family who came out at night.

omegaUnlike Charlton our aim was to remain outside long after sunset, at our site, a beautiful red brick Victorian building. Once we were all in position, Anabat and Duet detectors crackling away in hand, I was all alone. It reminded me of a game I used to play as a teenager when walking home in the dark, imagining like Dr Neville I was the last man on earth, and feigning surprise to myself the first time I encountered another person.

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The sky got darker. A whole society of gulls went about their noisy business, perched on the many walls and towers like sentinels looking out for only they know what. Soon the building turned chocolate brown under the orange street lights and all but a dedicated few gulls cried their way off towards the docks.

No bats. We headed back to the hotel and said our good nights. I set my alarm for 3am. I woke up convinced I’d slept through it but checking my phone in the dark it was only half past 2. I could hear someone snoring in another room. At 3 I got dressed and headed down to meet the others. Hotel night staff asked if I needed anything in the way retail staff are told to engage suspected shoplifters. There was upbeat funky music playing in reception. A couple wearing going out clothes came in holding kebabs as we set off out, back to the site.
 

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The sky was still a kind of blue even is late. It mustn’t get completely dark this time of year. We took up our positions again, around a different building this time, and waited for bats and the dawn. Dawn arrived on time but still no bats. The gulls returned a few at a time. Maybe they’re the reason the bats stay away?

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One gull in particular took up a position above where I was stood and mumbled anxiously at me for over an hour. Occasionally I’d hear bird poo splat on the floor near by. I stopped looking up at the gulls reasoning if I was going to get pooed on I’d rather they pooed on my head than my face.
 

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We headed back to the hotel some time after 5am and went back to bed. It was a humid night and I didn’t sleep well but I’d enjoyed myself. This felt like the first proper work I’d done since starting my placement. Playing an active part in a survey for a client. And while there were no bats, the survey was still necessary regardless of the result. On top of that I got to know some the consultancy staff better and we had a laugh as we headed back to Buxton.Paul and I continued our invert work in the lab before heading home early. A Manchester train was pulling away as I entered the station so I sat on the platform and ate my lunch, before cracking on with this blog as a pigeon sat on the announcement board above me preened its self contentedly in the afternoon sun.

 

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