ABOVE: Wood ducks on the lush green grass of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne.
ABOVE + BELOW: Some of the gorgeous Gardens flora.
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.
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.
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.
ABOVE: A semi-juvenile male lesser long-eared bat is measured and assessed by the Earthwatch team.
ABOVE: Casey answers questions from the group and talks us through the data collection process.
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).
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.