On Sunday 28 August the group visited Mote Park for an evening walk of birds and bats. As with last year Simon Ginnaw kindly agreed to show us around the park, highlighting points of interest including some of the ancient trees that are in the park and ultimately taking us to an fantastic spot at the side of lake to watch the bats. But more of that later.
Mote park has a history stretching back to Roman times, it is mentioned in the domesday book, entertained royals, was a country estate, saw troops inspected before the Napoleonic war, became a landscaped park, then a municipal park in 1929, was commandeered by the British Army during the Second World War and in 2013 was voted the nation’s third favourite park. During its ownership by the Marsham family in the eighteenth century the park was expanded and improved including damming the river Len to give the lake and demolishing and rebuilding Mote Park House in its current location. The result – a charming park of 450 acres with a variety of parkland habitats – ancient woods, rough grasslands, lake and reedbeds, river and an undulating terrain. If you have not visited recently it is well worth a walk round.
There many trees in the park that are hundreds of years old – one way to roughly estimate the age of a tree is to hug it – each person with outstretched arms equates to roughly one hundred years of age. So with four of us hugging a sweet chestnut tree we determined it was approximately four hundred years old! These trees with their twisted bark are great habitats for many creatures, including pipistrelle bats which can crawl up under fissures in the bark.
During our walk we saw martins, swallows and a few swifts spirally round in search of insects no doubt preparing for their journeys south, great spotted and green woodpeckers making their presence known if keeping mostly out of sight together with the local jays. Another noisy bird was the juvenile great crested grebe, which was constantly calling for food while its parent repeatedly dived for more offerings. Chiff-chaffs, long-tailed tits and blue tits moved through scrub, while coots, moorhens, tufted ducks, cormorants & lesser-black backed gulls drifted around on the lake. A grey wagtail was spotted near where a stream tumbles into the lake and as we made our way along the pathed shoreline of the lake, two kingfishers darted back and forth along the far side.
At this time dusk was approaching. By coincidence the Kent Field Club were also visiting Mote Park for some bat watching and we met up with them and their leader John Pucket in the car park. He had a few bats rescued from failed bat nurseries including pipistrelle – these are so small – they would easily fit inside a matchbox. He also had a larger (and very noisy) Noctule plus a long-eared bat. Afterwards we returned back down to the lake for a true bat spectacle. The sun had set about 10 minutes ago and almost immediately the bat detectors, and then our eyes, picked out the swooping forms of Noctule bats – these are thrush sized bats and emit a ‘chip-shop’ like echo location call (when shifted down in frequency by a bat detector) which speeds up to something like a blown raspberry as they home in on their prey. As we watched, Simon suddenly called out ‘hobby!’ and there, swooping across the sky line, was the distinctive outline of a hobby. It came back twice more, attempting to pick off one of the bats. It was difficult to see if it was successful but the bats certainly ‘thinned out’ for a few minutes in response.
Simon then played a narrow torch beam across the surface of the lake and picked out the pale forms of Daubenton’s bats flying low back and forth across the lake. As last year these ‘water bats’ remind me of fairies such is their magical appearance. We watched them for many minutes. Finally we moved back to the bridge just below the car park and with the aid of torches and the tuned bat detectors Simon identified three types of pipistrelle bats: soprano (55Khz), common (45kHz) and Nathusius (38kHz) – and in the torchlight a maelstrom of bats swirling around the trees, over us and over the lake. Fantastic!
My many thanks to Simon again for guiding us round and to John Pucket for showing us some of his bats ‘in the hand’ and providing further insights into the bat ecology.