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Moths and bats
The Friday before last was hot and humid, and as the sun fell the evening crept in sultry and still. Sitting in the kitchen I was aware that there was an inordinate number of moths fluttering about outside. This wasn’t much of a surprise, the last couple of weeks had been moth heaven in East Dulwich. During the day the Jersey tigers had competed with the butterflies in colours and numbers and it was almost impossible to walk in the garden, or up the street, without being batted by one on its mad harum-scarum spiral from nowhere to nowhere else.
Then each evening the kitchen and bathroom walls would usually be alive with moths attracted to the lights and flying in through open doors and windows. We’d had a fabulous procession: knot grass, merveille-du-jour, grey dagger, copper underwing, blood-vein, hook tip, emerald, small magpie, and my own favourite, the delicate pale swallow tailed.
So as I peered out of the French windows near half past nine, it was no surprise to see the large dark outline of what was probably an old lady flapping past. What was a surprise was the sudden swoop of an animated black handkerchief come paddling over the garden. A bat! During my 11 years in East Dulwich, I have caught a glimpse, just a flash as it zoomed past, twice before, of what I thought at the time were bats, but which were gone so quickly I was always left doubting. But there was no doubt now. There were two of them.
For several minutes they tumbled and cartwheeled through the sky, occasionally dipping at the over-abundant moths or skimming the tops of the apple tree. There was even time to call the family out from watching the telly, and alert the neighbours.
They stayed around for at least 15 minutes. I must admit that I may have encouraged them, by duping them into false expectations of food. When I was younger we often tried to catch bats by lobbing small pebbles or clumps of earth up as they flew past. Now I couldn’t resist showing the girls how to lure them down. Each tiny missile was diligently investigated by the bats, which hand-brake-turned and dived down to check it out before it hit the turf. Lower and lower they came, checking out, but ultimately ignoring, every stone I threw.
The air show lasted a quarter of an hour, and a few days later they were back for another aerobatic display. Apparently five bat species are known in south-east London. They definitely did not have the long ears of long-eared bats. I need to download a bat detector ap for my iphone. Anyone fancy developing one?
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