We felt them before we saw them. I don’t know if it was a change in air pressure, or just that feeling that you are not alone, but we sensed something on a primeval level. Even after hundreds of generations of urban living, we are not disconnected from nature.
It was the fruit bats. Thousands of them. On a summer evening, in Mallacoota in far eastern Victoria, we were standing on the verandah enjoying the last shreds of the dying sun. Something made us look up, and for the next twenty minutes we couldn’t move. The sky was full of Grey-headed Flying-foxes. Full, seriously, full. Every part of the sky from horizon to horizon had a megabat in it. Sometimes there was a bat-length between them, sometimes less. Watch:
The magic of the experience was partly the silence. It was like every other creature held their breath out of respect for these magical beings. Watch: https://youtu.be/jLEpevbVX8c
In many ways, bats are like people. Many of them live in high-rise “cities” – crowded, noisy places with complaining neighbours. They commute long distances to “work”. They love mangoes and apricots (fruit-bats do anyway – the little ones love mosquitoes, which is an area in which they differ to us!) They have a highly advanced brain, that is quite similar to ours. Some scientists have suggested that they may have evolved from primates.
We had the same feeling coming down from sundowners on Nawurlandja, in Kakadu National Park, last August. It was a balmy still evening and we had stayed well past the sunset. As we came out of the rocks into the carpark we felt it again and looked up. This time it was Little Red Flying-foxes, with a few, larger, Black Flying-foxes amongst them. The Blacks were swirling around, but the Little Reds were on a mission – flying directly north in silent masses. Little Reds can congregate into camps of one million animals. We saw tens of thousands that night.
In Australia, you can see fruit-bats/flying-foxes in many places. We have them in Melbourne, Bairnsdale and Mallacoota in Victoria. They live in Sydney and Brisbane. They are most numerous in the warm tropical places like Cairns and Darwin. Listen for them in their daytime cities (roosts/camps) – they sound a bit like children laughing, squealing and crying all at once. At night, look up. If you are under their flight path you will enjoy a moment of pure wonder.
Please help! Join or follow the Australasian Bat Society: http://ausbats.org.au or FB: www.facebook.com/AustralasianBatSociety
Background: bats are some of the most threatened mammals on the planet. Grey-headed Flying-foxes, for example, have had most of their natural foraging habitat destroyed by farming, land clearing and housing. They hang on in patches of natural bushland, and sometimes have to resort to eating fruit from orchards. Unfortunately, this brings them into conflict with the farmers.
Bats also suffer from a public relations problem – some people are scared of them. Bats have been used to symbolize darkness and evil in books and movies. Nothing could be further from the truth. 99.98% of bats eat insects or fruit. They don’t, and can’t, drink blood. They are completely harmless to humans, and do their best to stay away from us. 3 species out of 1,240 do drink blood, but never enough to harm their prey.