Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Bats Before Bedtime

Last night saw me down on the Somerset Levels. I had been watching Springwatch, and at about 8.30 I looked out the window and thought, hang on, it's such a beautiful evening what on earth am I doing inside watching television. Sorry chaps, the call of the wild I'm afraid.

We'd had a few heavy showers over the day, but by the evening strong clear sunlight dazzled the countryside, with that intensity one gets after rain as the air is purged of all impurities and heightens the light.

My intention was to drive down to Catcott and hunt a barn owl or two. So half an hour later I found myself standing in a field, surrounded by buttercups and flag iris. Around me flew swallows, from every shrub and tree garden, willow and cetti's warblers made merry with the still air, now the wind had dropped, filling the dusk with an evening chorus. Young cattle bounded and skittered across the field and stood looking at me, not quite knowing what to do until a Buzzard flew across the field, something to chase and they were off. Leaving me to my reverie. On the river, a dozen or more mute swans, a shovler and a selection of mallard, completed a pastoral scene of England, accentuated by Glastonbury Tor in the distance. I was at peace with the world. Sadly though not a single barn owl came into view.

All was not quite peaceful actually. One of the dangers, if that is the right word word, of being on the Somerset Levels at dusk, are mosquitoes, midge and a whole host of bitey annoying little fellahs. I was scanning along the hedgeline hoping to spy a barn owl, but above me there was a constant high pitched humming and buzzing as a cloud of flying insects gathered above me poised to feed. I took a photo (above). If you look closely, there are a few spots on there but that could have been dust on the lens. So a brainwave, put the flash on....................

What a difference and I just think this is beautiful in it's own right. doesn't matter what these are. Like stars in the sky. Those insects are now caught for all time, when we all know in a day or so they will be no more. I had to try another.

It was about 9.30pm now and the light was fading fast. First then a daylight shot taken without the flash (above). Nice in a way but not much to see. But switch the flash on and WOW!!! an absolutely breathtaking photo which really made me think, wildlife is art, art is wildlife. Unplanned but beautiful. Before then I'd not thought of taking photos of insects with the flash, but the effect for me at least was a revelation. The Sky at Night!

That was a good enough end to my visit to the Levels. So at 9.45pm as it was getting seriously dark, I walked back to the car. Something told me to take a detour on the way home. Unsure why, I drove down a very narrow track and in doing so careered headlong into a bat bonanza. In the car headlights, bats wheeled and whirred in all directions, picking off unsuspecting moths trapped by an automotive moonbeam.

Spurred on by my gnat flash photos, could I bag a bat the same way. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, so now, even though after 10pm and nearly dark I began.

First of all this was the scene using the camera and the flash off. It was dark, but all around me bats flashed just feet away. Flash on, and after a couple of failed attempts, the third photo, bingo, what a stunner!

Then the bats came thick and fast, it was almost like the flash was attracting them, or maybe it attracted insects as all of a sudden there were bats everywhere. Sadly after the success of the above photo I never got the bat velocity to Andrew's trigger finger ratio in total harmony. I got the bats but they were a bit distant, those blobs in the middle of the photo (but click to enlarge for a better view).

But hey it was now 10.30 and I thought well, you've had a darn good evening Andrew, time to head home, cocoa, slippers and look at the photos in the warm on the laptop. Just one last photo though. Honestly this was the very last photo I took and what a banker of a shot. Top stuff for me. Just a hand held camera and the speed of my eye and finger co-ordination, no fancy electronics and trigger switches, just being there the right place at the right time. I'm pleased as a punch.

And what are they? Well I believe Noctule bats because of the rich creamy red underside, but more than happy for anyone with more knowledge than me to put me right on that one. I just enjoyed being out on the Somerset Levels in the dark, seeing wildlife in a totally different way.

Sorry Springwatch, I'm sure it was a great programme, but this was better.


  1. Absolutely brilliant, Andrew. Well though up that man :) I have tried to photo local bats a couple of times with no luck. They move at such a speed. Your bat and moth pictures came out really well.
    Much more exciting doing your own thing than watching someone else on the television.

  2. What an exciting evening. Thanks for doing such a great job of writing about it.

  3. What a great post Andrew, I loved it, I did watch Springwatch but now I feel like I have just watched another episode!

    The photos are lovely and the last one, enlarged, is stunning!

    Great stuff, thanks.

  4. Well Done, Andrew! Great pictures.

    I'm still waiting for my Bat picture licence.

    I awarded you the One lovely Blog Award today on BOW,

  5. What a great post. I was thinking about trying some evening shots in an attempt to photograph moths & other nocturnal insects. After reading your account Im definitely going to give it a go!

  6. What a great effect using the flash! The last picture of the bat is so good.Springwatch on the web!

  7. What a great post Andrew and such an engrossing read. Well done on such a brilliant idea. One that we CAN try at home (or out and about more accurately):D

    Methinks you should be presenting Springwatch :D :D

  8. Fantastic Andrew!
    Like you I have never been a flash fan but you have really got something here - can't wait to try it. Inspired.

  9. Thank you all, sorry it's taken me so long to reply. Your comments are much appreciated, and I hope you are having a go with the flash too.

  10. Hi Andrew,
    this was a great post! I love bats and want to paint some eventually. When I come over to England I want to go on a batwatch or bathunt. I love how you photographed it!
    I hope you check out my art website www.marymcandrew.com I love to paint nature and I have a blog there too. I'll add your blog as a link.
    Keep in touch