Further Adventures in Ecology

Over the past few weeks my experience as an ecologist has definitely diversified, with the newt season sadly over. Gaining a wider range of experience is definitely a positive thing, although I do miss the newt surveys and they remain among the most fun ones I’ve done so far.

Recently I’ve been up to:

  • Scoping surveys and habitat assessments

The first surveys on a site, these are essentially a ‘walk round’ to identify what further surveys are needed. Although I am essentially useless in this regard and present as a health and safety back up, it’s been a really good learning opportunity in terms of finding out what to look for. Doing these with lead surveyors with different areas of expertise is really interesting. I’m just trying to ask lots of questions without being too annoying!

  • Otter and water field signs surveys

Field signs surveys take place after (or at the same time as) habitat assessments, once habitat has been deemed suitable. For otters we look for prominent features along rivers that are potential sprainting spots, slides, hoults, etc. For water voles you’re looking for burrows, feeding lawns, droppings, and even piles of vegetation chewed off at 45 degree angle where they have been eating. So far my field signs surveys haven’t been very fruitful, with the most I’ve really seen being some otter spraints. I have seen lots of badger field signs while doing other surveys – setts and latrines in particular.

  • Reptile surveys

Reptile mats and tins are placed out to encourage basking, and then checked either early-is or late-ish in the day, when temperatures are appropriate. Reptile surveys are just a matter of going around and lifting them up to see what’s hiding underneath! So far my reptile surveys haven’t been too fruitful, I’ve seen some slow worms but more small mammals like field voles and field mice taking advantage of the warmth!

  • Bat emergence surveys

The majority of the work on this project is bat work, so I’m shifting to a nocturnal lifestyle! Bat emergence surveys are used to detect whether trees or structures are being used as roosts. They are conducted either from 15 minutes before dusk to two hours after, or from two hours before dawn to 15 minutes after. Using a bat detector you note echolocation calls which can then be used to identify species (by people more knowledgeable than me, but I’m slowly getting there). While you do note general activity levels, foraging, commuting, etc., the most important thing is to watch the structure to see if any bats go in or out, so that you can confirm it as a roost. I’ve only seen one roost so far, where 53 common pipistrelle bats poured out of some airing vents at the top of a house! I was warned that bat surveys usually aren’t so easy or fun…

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