Family things to do: Going on a Bat Walk

The not so small boy and I love going on bat walks. Our first one was a few years ago, with the nice people from Wild Discovery at Ribby Hall. Since then we’ve been on a bat walk at Platt Fields in Manchester and last week, we booked an early evening bat walk in Heaton Mersey in Stockport with Sustainable Living in the Heatons.

If you’ve never been on a bat walk before, but fancy having going on one, then we really recommend it. They usually take place just as the sun is starting to set, when the bats are coming out to feast on insects while the light fades. Usually you’re given a bat detector to share with a friend or two, and you’re led by a guide who will help you find an active bat spot.

Family things to do: Going on a Bat Walk

On our bat walk with Sustainable Living in the Heatons, we met Fiona and a group of other keen bat fans near Heaton Mersey Park. We were issued with fluorescent jackets and a bat detector, and we quietly walked to the nearby fishing pond.

The bat detectors have a dial which you tune in to try and hear the bats echolocating. We were told that we were most likely to encounter three different bats on our walk, if we were lucky.

What bats could you find?

The common pipistrelle is a tiny bat, about the size of a thumb. It is one of the most common bat species in the British Isles, so probably the one you’re most likely to meet on a bat walk. The common pipistrelle echolocates at around 45 kHz, so if you turn the dial on your bat detector to there, you should hear them clicking as they fly around you. If you are lucky and the sky is clear, you might even catch a speedy glimpse of them silhouetted against the darkening sky.

Other bats we might catch sight of on our bat walk would be the soprano pipistrelle. This bat is very similar to the common pipistrelle, but it echolocates at a higher frequency – 55 kHz.

The third kind of bat we could encounter is the Daubenton’s bat, which is slightly larger in size than the pipistrelles. The Daubenton’s bat echolocates at frequencies between 32 and 85 kHz; though typically it is mostly commonly found at 45 to 50 kHz.

The bats emerge at twilight to hunt for insects over the water. Their main diets consist mainly of non-biting midges and other midges; as well as small flies, mayflies, and moths. Bat detecting over a pond or river is a great place to find them, as these insects are drawn to the water.

Family things to do: Going on a Bat Walk

What did we find on our bat walk?

On our bat hunt, we found lots of common pipistrelles flying around over the pond. We stayed there for quite a while listening to them on the bat detector and occasionally spying them darting over the water and into the trees above. After a while, we walked through the trees to the Heaton Mersey Bowl. The Bowl is a large, steep-sided field, and somewhere I remember sledging as a child. Apparently in the early 1800s, cloth from the nearby bleachworks would be pinned out here. Today the Heaton Mersey Bowl has a football pitch in one corner, and footpaths and benches around the edges. It’s a popular spot with the locals and bats alike.

We had some luck finding bats flying about in the trees surrounding the Bowl. The sky was darkening quickly, so they were harder to spot.

We had a lovely couple of hours watching and listening. It was our third bat walk and each time we’ve had a really different experience. We’ve learned new things about these fascinating creatures and we have developed a fairly deep affection for them. For my birthday earlier this month, I was given a bat detector of my own. I’m really looking forward to building it and seeing if I can find a bat population in my back garden.

If you’re interested in taking part in a bat walk, Facebook is a good place to find events listed. Join local wildlife groups or contact your local bat group. It’s a lovely thing to do on a fine evening with the family.

Family things to do: Going on a Bat Walk

Days Out: The Capybara Experience at Wild Discovery

Every summer the boy and I have a week at Ribby Hall in Lancashire. Since we started going there in 2017, we’ve been visiting the on site zoo, Wild Discovery. Each year we’ve watched it grow, visited their new animals; and every time we visit we spend at least a couple of days at the zoo, just hanging out and learning more about the creatures who share this planet with us.

Days Out: The Capybara Experience at Wild Discovery

Wild Discovery is a brilliant place, it’s really welcoming and very educational; we just love it. The last time we visited, we booked the capybara experience, so the boy could get up close and personal with these giant, and very adorable animals. The session costs £25 and you get to meet the capybara, help to feed them and put together some enrichment activities for them. You also get to spend lots of time with a keeper who will tell you all about the capybara and answer any questions you may have.

Days Out: The Capybara Experience at Wild Discovery

Capybara are a giant rodent native to South America and they are the largest living rodent. The capybara is a close relative of the guinea pig and they usually live in savannas and dense forests. They have webbed feet, which help to make them really good swimmers. They are a highly social species and can be found in large groups. Capybara are not a threatened species, but they are hunted for their meat. They are incredibly docile, which makes them ideal for meeting and greeting the public at Wild Discovery.

The three capybara at Wild Discovery (Mo, Curly and Larry) live in a good sized enclosure with their own pool. They like a good dip on a hot day and love nothing more than having a nice scratch.

Days Out: The Capybara Experience at Wild Discovery

We were welcomed by keepers, Alex and Grace, and we had to wash our hands and wear a mask before we could meet the trio of capybara. There were some safety rules to remember, which is important because they’re still wild animals. We were asked to sit on a log and wait for the capybara to come to us. We enticed them over with some chopped up butternut squash and we got to give them a scratch and feed them by hand, which was incredible.

The boy helped put together some enrichment activities; whilst keepers, Grace and Alex gave us the low down on all things capybara. We were the only ones booked for the capybara experience, so it felt like a really exclusive experience.

The boy was thrilled with his hour in the capybara enclosure. For £25 per person, you get a real once in a lifetime experience. Who else do you know who has given a capybara a good scratch behind their ears?

Days Out: The Capybara Experience at Wild Discovery

If you’re visiting Ribby Hall, or Wild Discovery, it’s well worth seeing if you can book in for one of their animal experiences. The experiences change throughout the year; but at the time of writing you can book onto the capybara experience or the tortoise experience.

We paid for our visit and experience in full.

Days Out: The Capybara Experience at Wild Discovery

Days Out: Wild Discovery at Ribby Hall

At the end of August I took the small boy away for five days at Ribby Hall in Lancashire. We had a brilliant little break, but one of the highlights was visiting the small independent zoo which is on the site, Wild Discovery. We’ve been to zoos large and small, but never have we experienced anything like the interactive and hands-on experience we had at Wild Discovery.

Days Out: Wild Discovery at Ribby Hall

From our cottage at Ribby Hall we could see some of the enclosures at Wild Discovery, which is quite special if you’re staying in the village. We set aside an afternoon to spend exploring Wild Discovery. It’s the kind of thing you can whip around in half an hour, or you could easily spend a day exploring and interacting. We went twice during our stay, which tells you how much we enjoyed it.

There are lots of different animals and birds at Wild Discovery; from farmyard animals like rare breed pigs, pretty little calves, a reindeer, chickens, rabbits, guinea pigs, sheep and even an orphan duck. There’s an exotic house with bats, insects, reptiles and some fish, as well as tortoise, armadillo and lovely little marmoset monkeys.

The favourites with the children were the meerkats, obviously. The family group at Wild Discovery are great fun, especially at feeding time. We were lucky enough to be there a few times when they were being fed. They are such funny, cheeky little creatures.

Days Out: Wild Discovery at Ribby Hall

There is a safari walk which takes you past all the birds, past the Asian small-clawed otters, the capybara, pelicans, alpaca, wallaby’s, rhea and the porcupine (adorably called Pricklelilly).

My son was particularly taken with the Asian small-clawed otters Ollie and Geoff. During a keeper session we helped to put together an enrichment activity for them, putting live mealworms into a ball for the otters to play with and eat. We ended up spending quite a lot of time watching Geoff and Ollie playing in their enclosure and ultimately adopting them both. (We’re planning to visit them again soon).

Days Out: Wild Discovery at Ribby Hall

There are regular sessions throughout the day which you are free to join in with. The sessions are listed on their website, but they currently include; the Farmyard Talk; an Enrichment Activity; Otter Talk and Feed; Pelican Feeding Talk; Meerkat Talk; Farmyard Talk; Armadillo Talk and Meet the Keeper.

These sessions are what made Wild Discovery so special for us both. We really loved that you could spend time with the staff learning about the animals. The keepers would often let you touch the animals or feed them if appropriate. One of our highlights was discovering a freshly laid (unfertilised) rhea egg and getting to touch it while it was still warm.

Days Out: Wild Discovery at Ribby Hall

We learned so much at Wild Discovery, it’s such a friendly place and so hands on. It’s still quite new, I know they have plans to build and extend what they have and add new animals over the next few years or so. It’s such a great place to visit, even if you’re not staying at Ribby Hall.

Wild Discovery will also feature on popular the Cbeebies TV programme “Fern & Rory’s Vet Tales” in 2018. The programme will feature Wild Discovery and showcase several of the animals in the zoo. They will also feature a behind the scenes look into the work of the Exotic Veterinary Team. Worth looking out for!

Tickets to Wild Discovery (with unlimited access for one day) are £7 for adults and £6 for children. Under 3’s go free. For more information about visiting Wild Discovery  visit their website.

We paid for our tickets to Wild Discovery. We’ve not been paid to write this post. We are just sharing a lovely experience of a great attraction.