It’s always a good day when you get to start a new project. Today I went out onto Brownhills Common with Ben and Scott to install 20 of our new bat boxes. The scheme is funded by Natural England through their Countryside Stewardship scheme, and through it we’ll be installing another 30 boxes on the SSSI site. I expect that the scheme will be quite successful, primarily because of the nature of the site. Brownhills Common is an area of heathland which, although comprises a variety of different habitats, lacks the mature, broad-leaved woodland that characterises the other sites in our bat box scheme. Instead, the trees are mainly Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris) and as such there is not much in the way of natural roosting opportunities for bats. (Conifers do not tend to have the tendency to form fissures, natural cavities and loose bark that, say, an oak tree does.) In the wild, it is such cavities that bats look for to roost in, and without lots of natural choice, an artificial substitute can be very inviting to a bat!
The boxes we put up at this site are Schwegler 2F boxes, which we’ve had some success with in my other box schemes (most recently we recorded Noctules using the 2F boxes in Merrions Wood). I also have 20 Kent style boxes to go up (These are wooden boxes and not openable, so would not be checked except with a high powered torch from the ground, and then with an endoscope if anything interesting appears to be inside.) and 10 Schwegler 2FN boxes (slightly larger than the 2Fs and with a domed roof) which have been used to some success in areas of nearby Cannock Chase.
Those of you who are local might also have noticed the 28 bat boxes at Walsall Arboretum, near Hatherton Lake. This afternoon we headed over there to number and geolocate the boxes, as well as give them a winter clean-out and reposition a few of them (raising them higher). As this was their first year in position, they had not been checked during the summer, but to our surprise around 1/3 of the boxes had bat droppings inside today. (We suspect pipistrelle and are pretty certain of Brown Long Eared bat droppings in quite a few boxes!) So all in all I am really excited about the bat box scheme’s expansion for 2016.
One sad little note, is that in one of the Arboretum boxes we found this nest with a couple of unhatched eggs and three dead hatchlings. We have no way of knowing what happened to the mother bird. Quite often we find bat boxes that have both old bird nests in AND bat droppings – they don’t seem to be mutually exclusive. This is probably due to a few factors: the bats and birds use different PARTS of the box (birds in the bottom, bats at the top); the bats and birds are active and using the entrance at different times (birds being diurnal and bats nocturnal) and the fact that the main maternity season for bats in the UK is July, and by this time, many baby birds will have fledged.
The other boxes will go up as soon as possible (within a week or two I should think) and we can then look forward to the first of the 2016 box checks in April!