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Owaka couple Annette and Murray Patterson are leading a pair of New Zealand long-tailed bat detection walks during the holidays, under the twin banners of South Otago Forest and Bird, and the Catlins Bats on the Map project.
The first, successful, outing took place on December 29, and aspiring chiropterologists (bat scientists) could sign up for the second, at Tawanui, on Saturday, January 16, Mrs Patterson said.
The walks form part of an ongoing study programme led by self-described "bat lady" Catriona Gower, which has identified key Catlins locations for the critically endangered native mammal species.
"There’ve only been a couple of walks over the years where we’ve neither seen nor heard bats, and we both saw and heard several during the recent walk.
"Catriona’s Bats on the Map project secured funding for bat detectors, which make their echolocation noises audible for humans, so everyone can have a go at spotting them, young and old."
She said children’s faces "lit up" on first hearing the distinctive clicking noise of a nearby bat on the wing.
"I still get a thrill when I spot one, and for kids — of all ages — it’s just magical. It’s just so special to have this rare little creature on our doorstep, and to be able to share that enthusiasm with others."
As the bats were nocturnal, coming out to feed at dusk, the walks took place from about 9.30pm, she said.
"We meet very near to the spot we think they may roost, so there’s only a short walk, and the less mobile can be driven."
Although this summer’s walks were for pleasure and awareness only, in November Ms Gower conducted tag-and-trace field trips aimed at improving longer-term conservation efforts.
Those and other results from the two-year Bats on the Map project will be released at an exhibition in June.
Registrations for the January 16 walk can be made at firstname.lastname@example.org.