Night in the Botanical Gardens

Last Saturday night, as part of EarthWatch's volunteer program, I spent a night in the Botanical Gardens, setting traps for microbats. A friend had invited me, and it was bliss to tag along, setting the fine lengths of fishing wire taut and tramping around the gardens in the dusk.

I hadn't known before that there were microbats and mega bats - the former using echolocation to find their prey, and the latter, such as our flying foxes, relying on their mammal senses. The traps we set were 'harp' traps, not, as I imagined, small and bowed, but large structures that send off a faint echo, the wires themselves temporarily stunning these small bats as they tried to weave their way through.

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As luck would have it, our last trap was barely set before a storm whistled through the gardens - rain lashed sideways, a volunteer was nearly impaled by a market umbrella. The hordes of insects stayed home, so that we only found one little bat lady, who our guide weighed and banded. She was tiny, all silk and leather, and clacked and chattered throughout the night as we lay out on stretchers, trying to catch a wink of sleep before dawn came. In the morning the earth was sodden, but the bat was very happy to return to whence she came.