SERIES Tales From Prospect House
There are some uninvited guests staying at Willow Wren cottage . . .
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.