Column Ilja: Night owls and serotine bats

Ilja is in the woods of Ermelo at night. Weren’t there wolf packs there?

Armed with a bat detector, my cell phone and a dopper bottle filled with cold coffee, my supervisor drops me off behind a small electricity unit on an old camping site. This is an exceptionally dark corner. I grab my cell phone and am immediately blinded by the screen light. Ermelo, 3:30 a.m. – arrival. Plenty of activity. Mainly pipistrelles.

Bat research is a great way to make some extra cash. But the hours are odd. Sometimes your alarm goes off at two in the morning just so you can spend several hours staring at foraging bats. Sometimes there are no bats, and my thoughts wander.

Ermelo, 4:00 a.m. – Serontine bat seen. I’m in the forest. Bats aren’t scary. What scares me are the larger mammals. In the ink-black night, I am acutely aware that the Netherlands has recently been graced by the presence of its very own wolf packs. They must be awake around this time, looking for snacks. My attention for the bats wanes. If there is a wolf in the shrubs, what should I do? Crouch down to appear smaller? Or should I grab a stick to fend them off and make myself as large as possible to assert dominance?

If there is a wolf in the shrubs, what should I do?

Two weeks ago, I faced a different type of predator. An Angry Neighbour. He was, quite noisily so, not happy with my presence on his property. He puffed himself up and transformed himself from a normal man in clogs into a dangerous predator. I was faced with the same issue: skulk away? Strike pre-emptively? I decided to let the Angry Neighbour growl. He doesn’t bite, and I couldn’t find a stick to fend him off.

The twilight sets in in Ermelo. 4:25 a.m. – the birds are starting to sing. A blackbird first, followed by a tired wood pigeon, and then the animals in the woods wake up one by one. A hedgehog scuttles by in front of me. At dawn, the bats return home. My job is to check where precisely they call home. The electricity station is not a bat-home. At around 5.30 a.m., something large moves through the forest in my direction. A wolf? A deer? It’s my colleague. Time to go home. To sleep, just like the bats.

Ilja Bouwknegt is 23, a bachelor’s student of Forest and Nature Management, and an active member of the study association WSBV Sylvatica. She sometimes does bat research at night.

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