Mega-fun with Melbourne’s microbats

ABOVE: Wood ducks on the lush green grass of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne.
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ABOVE + BELOW: Some of the gorgeous Gardens flora.
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ABOVE: I don’t always drink coffee…but when I do, it’s so I can stay up all night on an Earthwatch expedition.

Expedition recap – Melbourne’s Microbats

The expedition team arrived at the Royal Botanic Gardens in the early evening when it was still light, piled high with pillows and sleeping bags and overnight kit. After dumping our belongings in the common room and running through the introductions, we got straight to work on setting up the harp nets to trap our microbats!

We put up around 7 or 8 nets in total, in various spots around the park. Our lead scientist, Casey from San Francisco, knows the most popular flight paths from previous studies, and the nets we used are designed so the microbats fly into the harp-like strings and tumble down into the canvas bags below.

Once the nets were in place, we headed back to the base for a presentation on our pint-sized research subject – learning about the different species, their basic anatomy, range and so on.

Soon, it was time for the first of three net checks. We donned our head torches, grabbed the Anabat (an acoustic device that picks up on the bats’ echolocation) and ventured out into the night.

ABOVE: Geeking out over my flashy new headpiece.
ABOVE: Me, Ryan, Ben and Sarah. Bat-trappers.
ABOVE + BELOW: See anything yet?! The team inspects a net.DSCN9526
We checked harp net after harp net, trying not to show our disappointment when each one came up empty. After all, there are no guarantees on a scientific expedition – particularly when it comes to wildlife.

Perhaps the weather wasn’t right. Maybe we were too early – night hadn’t quite fallen.

But then, in the final one, success: our first microbat!
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ABOVE: A member of the research team strokes the super-soft fur of a lesser long-eared bat.

We hurried back to base to process the little guy as quickly as possible. He (it ended up being a semi-juvenile male) was definitely less than thrilled with the whole procedure, but managed to shoot me a grin for the picture below.DSCN9532-001
ABOVE: A semi-juvenile male lesser long-eared bat is measured and assessed by the Earthwatch team.DSCN9534
ABOVE: Casey answers questions from the group and talks us through the data collection process.DSCN9543
ABOVE: Get your membranes out: checking the bat’s wings to determine its age.

After we’d released Bat No. 1, we had some downtime until the next round of net checks (there’s a run at midnight and one at three in the morning). To fill in time, we watched some David Attenborough documentaries, chatted amongst ourselves (a Brisbane couple I spoke to had just come back from a National Geographic expedition to the Galapagos!) and shared snacks. We also set up our camper beds – I strategically positioned mine in the kitchen, to be close to the food!

Perhaps due to the weather (we had a storm around five in the morning, and rain threatened throughout the evening), the bat yield was low – but we did get one each time we headed out, bringing the total to two males and one female. We were hoping to see another one of the four distinct species of microbats that inhabit the Gardens, but the three we caught were all the same species (the lesser long-ear).

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ABOVE: Rise and shine! (Shine optional).
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ABOVE: Our expedition accommodations in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne. Not bad, huh?

In the morning, we dismantled the nets and shared a hot breakfast. Casey also gave us the opportunity to go onto mailing lists for other bat research expeditions around Melbourne, which I’d definitely be interested in undertaking.

All in all, it was a great experience – I loved seeing the microbats up close and getting to spend the night in the Botanic Gardens. This is a Melbourne summer activity I recommend to anyone interested in wildlife and wildlife conservation.

Melbourne’s Microbats expeditions run until 28 February 2015. Visit the Earthwatch website to view dates and book.

Going in to bat for science


It’s booked! Excited to announce I’ve signed up for my second research expedition with Earthwatch Australia and this time, it’s an overnighter!

The expedition is called Melbourne’s Microbats, and I’ll be working with a small group of citizen scientists (and one actual scientist) to trap and band these miniature creatures in the Royal Botanical Gardens. We’re doing this to record important data about the bats including their species, sex, age, reproductive stage, food supply and habitat.

Earthwatch says:

Eating up 600 mosquitoes an hour is just one of the ways the tiny, fragile microbat helps keep the balance in our ecosystem.

…Information [gathered on this expedition] will establish baseline data on the community composition and critical habitat requirements of insect-eating bats across greater Melbourne, and it will help us develop ways to conserve their populations.

My booking is for the first week of December and I can’t wait!


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Painting the town gold

Some pictures of Golden Wattle in strange morning light. This flowering tree is the official Floral Emblem of Australia, and, at this time of year, you can spot them everywhere – with blossoms ranging in colour from bright, neon yellow to a deep amber hue.

Can you spot the flying insects in the photographs?

Wattles yellow Australia Wattles Australia yellow