Natasha, one of our first Certificate students this year has been on her placement, here in the Exeter Office, for three weeks now. Here she talks a bit about her experiences and what she’s been up to.
A month in the life of an ecologist
Small brown bodies huddle against the rafter. Long ears hang down. Small inquisitive eyes peer in the red torch glow. We get the callipers ready and carefully measure the tragus (the inner part of the ear): 4.3 mm. It’s a brown long-eared bat (Plecotus auritus). Relatively common but an exciting find for our first ever roost visit – up inside an old primary school loft. “It’s not often you find live bats. Usually just the droppings” Colin says. It’s our lucky day!!
Back in the office, we map the bat locations, droppings, and potential entrance/exit points. There’s a lot to think about. These maps and notes will inform the next steps: emergence surveys and mitigation options.
A few days later, we are out in a field. Long grass. Brambles and nettles biting at our ankles. We are on a reptile hunt. It’s our second visit to this site and I have high hopes after our first survey with toads and a short-tailed vole. Not the target species we were hoping for… but nonetheless exciting finds for an amateur. Lifting the square black reptile mats slowly, my eyes dart over the ground looking for movement. Nothing. Next mat, nothing. Next mat, “snake” my brain shouts. A legless brown reptile lies curled on the grass, half the length of my arm. Jess comes running over and laughs at my mistake. It’s a pregnant slow-worm (Anguis fragilis). I can’t stop smiling. I found something cool under the mat.
Stars shine brightly overhead. It’s 3am and I am waiting in a carpark. Fridays are dawn survey days. Another car pulls up and I clamber in, armed with coffee and lots of layers. 4am. We arrive at the coast and stop in front of a house. Everything is silent. We glide up the path and across the lawn. Two of our team wait out the front, while me and Colin head for the back. Out come our detectors, and right on schedule, we are set up and ready for any incoming bats. The wind whistles and the faint calls of seagulls break the silence. No bats. It’s getting lighter now. A bird swoops past. We look up to see a tawny owl perched on the neighbouring house. My first wild owl in this part of the world. It more than makes up for a bat-free bat survey.
Office time again. Patterns of dots and lines flit across the screen. We are getting our first lesson in Analook. Finding order in the chaos is an art. Slowly but surely, we skim through the sound files. Looking up sonogram patterns and matching the bats. A few thousand more and it’ll be easy. It’s a work in progress but we still have time.
Natasha has one more week to go on her placement. She is doing really well and has learnt loads in the last three weeks. Next week we have more bat surveys for her to be involved in and lots more reptile work. We haven’t found an actual snake yet, but there’s a few more days to go!