SE­RIES Tales From Prospect House

There are some un­in­vited guests stay­ing at Willow Wren cot­tage . . .

The People's Friend - - Contents - by Mal­colm Welsh­man

I’M not sure what woke me. But as I drowsily opened my eyes, I found a furry lit­tle face with a scrunched-up snout, big ears and tiny beady eyes star­ing at me, only inches away from my nose.

As the lit­tle crea­ture sud­denly flapped its wings, I was brought to my senses and re­alised I was shar­ing my pil­low with a live bat. The next in­stant the lit­tle chap had taken flight and was wing­ing its way back out of our open bed­room win­dow.

I was puz­zled. Be­ing Oc­to­ber it should have been set­tling down to hi­ber­nate along with its mates in the tile-hung back of Willow Wren, the prac­tice cot­tage that Lucy and I had been shar­ing these past 18 months.

It was she who first no­ticed them one June evening, just be­fore dusk.

“There’s a lot of scrab­bling go­ing on un­der the tiles.”

I fol­lowed her out­side to where she pointed up at the tile-hung wall above the kitchen. And sure enough, as we watched, there was an­other bout of scrab­bling and sud­denly a bat flipped out from un­der one of the tiles and shot into the air, whirling away from us.

An­other closely fol­lowed. Then a third.

“Sounds as if there could be quite a few in there,” Lucy mut­tered as the level of scratch­ing in­creased, spread­ing out across the en­tire up­per wall of tiles.

I got my­self a glass and a bot­tle of chilled white wine and sat down on a gar­den bench to count them emerg­ing as the sun set.

“How many?” Lucy asked, com­ing over once she’d fed the cats and dogs. I held up my glass.

“Four,” I replied.

“I mean bats,” Lucy said crisply.

“Oh, bats? Lots and lots of lit­tle lovelies,” I replied, my voice slurred.

In time, in more sober mood, I man­aged to iden­tify my “lovelies” as be­ing lesser horse­shoe bats, one of 17 species that are known to breed in the UK. We had 93 such crea­tures.

I felt priv­i­leged to think they had cho­sen our cot­tage as their main res­i­dence and breed­ing cen­tre.

Fe­male bats usu­ally give birth to a sin­gle pup which they feed on their milk. Our Schip­perke, Win­nie, came trot­ting in early one July morn­ing with a pup from the colony. The baby must have lost its grip on its mum and slipped out from be­tween the tiles.

I prised it from Win­nie’s jaws. It was tiny. Less than the size of a 50p piece, with a slight dust­ing of grey fur. It was prob­a­bly just a week or so old.

It was alive but very slug­gish, and I doubted it would sur­vive.

“Worth try­ing to save, though,” Lucy de­clared, her nurs­ing in­stincts com­ing to the fore.

She promptly went on­line to see what needed to be done. The an­swer was to keep the pup warm and feed ev­ery few hours with a milk sub­sti­tute.

“Un­til the pup re­cov­ers and seems more ac­tive,” Lucy stated, busily mak­ing up some kit­ten milk for­mula which she then ap­plied to the baby bat’s lips with a syringe.

“Go on, take it,” she urged softly while I stood to one side, a scep­ti­cal look on my face.

A few sec­onds passed while the drop of milk quiv­ered on the pup’s lower jaw. Then sud­denly the lips parted and the drop van­ished.

“There. See?” Lucy said, giv­ing me an “I told you so” look.

Through­out the day she con­tin­ued to give the baby reg­u­lar tiny feeds, and cou­pled with be­ing snug­gled up in a ball of cot­ton-wool, it made for a far more ac­tive and alert baby as evening ap­proached.

“What now?” I queried, vi­su­al­is­ing a sleep­less night ahead.

But Lucy had con­sulted the Bat Helpline and had the an­swer.

“Pro­vid­ing the pup is strong enough, their bat re­ha­bil­i­ta­tor has ad­vised we put him back at dusk where he was found. Mum will hope­fully pick him up.”

And so, that evening, with the tiny bat gen­tly placed on the ground be­low the cot­tage’s tiled wall, we sat back and waited.

As the scrab­bling above be­gan, the pup flapped its wings and squeaked. Sev­eral bats flit­ted out, ig­nor­ing it, but a fourth emerged and swooped over us.

It then re­turned to the cot­tage and flut­tered down to the baby. There were sev­eral more squeaks as mother and pup were re­united be­fore they van­ished back up into the roost.

“Well, that was a suc­cess!” Lucy de­clared, beam­ing.

“True,” I said, rais­ing my glass of wine, pleased to re­alise Lucy was as batty as me.

More next week.

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