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21 September 2014
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Woodland activities - Birds and Bats

Capercaillie c/o RSPB Images/Duggan

Autumn is the season to watch one of nature's most intriguing birds - the Capercaillie.

It's also a good time to watch bats before they disappear for their winter hibernation when they enter a state of torpor.

Capercaillie Capers.
Image - RSPB Images/Desmond Duggan

Glen Tanar pine forestThe Capercaillie is a member of the grouse family which depends on Scotland's Caledonian Pine Forest for its survival.

The bird's numbers have been dropping dramatically with a decline of 20,000 to less than 1,000 birds since 1970.

The bird feeds mainly on blaeberries which also provide important spiders and caterpillars.

Although these birds are rare, there is a chance that you might see them in their natural habitat if you follow our top tips.

A great place for Capercaillie watching include Glen Tanar (Cairngorms, Scotland).

Also worth a visit: Rothiemurchus estate (Cairngorms), Abernethy Forest and Loch Garten RSPB Reserve (Cairngorms).

Capercaillie spotting

* Join a Caper Watch in a forest hide. Abernethy Forest reserve in Scotland runs a Caper watch.

* Look out for a very big turkey-sized bird - the Capercaillie is the largest grouse in the world. Its name means 'horse of the forest' in Gaelic.

* Walk or sit quietly and don't forget to use binoculars to scan the landscape. Watch for the bird's large black shape and a flash of its white rump.

* Watch for the birds crashing their way through the woods at great speeds.

* Capercaillies can sometimes be seen eating Scots Pine needles in the trees.

* Watch out for the Capercaillie 'lek' or dance when male birds strut their stuff in the hope of getting a mate. The best time to see the 'lek' is during the season between April-May.

* The Capercaillie can sometimes be seen on the forest tracks at Glen Tanar estate (Cairngorms) indulging in dust-bathing.

* Don't forget to stay on designated tracks and don't disturb the birds unnecessarily.

Bat watching

Pipistrelle Bat c/o RSPB Images /Chris  ShieldsThere are 16 species of bats which can be found in Britain, coming from two main families - Rhinolophidae (Horseshoe Bats) and Vespertilionidae (Vesper or Evening Bats).

Bats are unique in that they are the only mammals that are able to fly.

They also use echoes from their high frequency ultrasonic calls (echolocation) to locate their prey and to communicate.

Autumn is a great time to watch bats before they disappear for their winter hibernation when they enter a state of torpor.

During the winter bats hibernate in trees, caves or buildings, sometimes coming out to eat and drink.

Good places for Bat watching include Dalby Forest (North Yorkshire).

Also worth a visit: Lost Gardens of Heligan (Cornwall), Crom (Northern Ireland), and Cheddar Gorge Caves.

Bat species

The main species of bat in Britain are:

* Common Pipistrelle Bat - one of the most common varieties renowned for its fast and erratic flight and small size. Look for them flying at about six feet along habitat edges. Nests in trees, bat boxes and buildings. Emerges about 20-30 minutes after sunset.

* Daubenton's Bat - also common but medium in size and distinguished by its fast, straight flight, sometimes over water and along habitat edges. Emerges 40-50 minutes after sunset.

* Natterer's Bat - another medium sized bat with a fast and agile flight pattern, flying over habitat edges and sometimes low over water.

* Noctule Bat - relatively common, large bat with fast, straight flight above trees. Common in open habitats and characterised by its steep dive when hunting for food. Emerges 5-10 minutes after sunset, occasionally before.

* Greater Horseshoe Bat - a rare species found mainly in the south of England. This large bat has a slow, fluttering flight close to the ground. Its calls are hard to detect, even with a bat detector - but listen for a loud warbling. Tends to emerge about 40-50 minutes after sunset.

* Serotine Bat - this bat is found commonly in southern England and is large in size with a fairly slow flight pattern. Look for them above roof height, sometimes flying in a loop close to vegetation.

* Barbastelle Bat - a small bat found rarely across England and southern Wales. Watch for it flying fast near vegetation and along habitat edges. Emerges 30-60 minutes after sunset.

* Brown Long Eared Bat - common throughout Britain, this medium sized bat with large ears roosts in trees and old buildings. It is characterised by its slow flight pattern - look for it occasionally hovering in vegetation. Tends to emerge about 45-65 minute after sunset.

Greater Horseshoe Bats c/o Natural England and Martin HammettTop bat tips

* To watch bats and identify them, you'll need to do your homework or join a bat guide on a specially organised trip.

* Look for the size of the bat, its flight pattern, level of flight, habitat and time of emergence.

* Common bat habitats include woodland, country estates with wooded areas, and habitat edges close to vegetation and smooth water.

* Caves, old buildings and tunnels are also popular with some species of bat including the Greater Horseshoe Bat (old buildings and caves) and Daubenton's Bat (tunnels, stone buildings and bridges).

* Bat detectors are important devices in helping to identify bats in the wild because each different species has its own characteristic call.

* There are several different types of bat device including the heterodyne detector which can be used tuned to the frequency of the ultrasound used by the bat.

* Another listening device is the time expansion bat detector which records the ultrasound of the bat, then slows it down to assist audibility, and enables the information to be displayed on a sonogram or graph.

* Join a bat watching group - the Bat Conservation Trust can provide details of over 90 local groups across Britain.

* Find out more about bat behaviour - the Field Studies Council produces a bat guide with detailed information on flight patterns and call frequencies an durations:

* Remember never to interfere with a bat and its habitat. It is illegal to disturb or handle a wild bat.

Photo credits

Capercaillie image copyright and courtesy of RSPB Images and Desmond Duggan.

Pipistrelle Bat copyright of RSPB Images and Chris Shields.
Greater Horseshoe Bats courtesy of Natural England and Martin Hammett.

Glen Tanar image courtesy of Glen Tanar estate.



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