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Vagrant Bat Species

Parti-coloured Bat © Ian Graham

In addition to the nine species of bat that are known to be currently resident in the North East, certain other species may have occurred or have turned up on occasion. Of these, Leisler’s Bat is given its own species account as there is currently some debate among North East bat workers as to whether it may be more than an occasional vagrant.

Both Lesser Horseshoe Rhinolophus hipposiderus and Barbastelle Barbastella barbastellus were present in Helmsley, North Yorkshire, less than 30 km south of the region, until at least the 1940s (Howes in Delaney, 1985). Neither species is mentioned in Bolam (1926) though that paper did record all six of the current nine North East species that were known at that time. However there are written references to both species in the North East. The Newcastle Weekly Chronicle on 31 January 1880 claimed that Barbastelles were taken in an old cavern or drift near to Twizel House, the seat of the late Mr Selby, 23 years ago. This seems unlikely given Barbastelle’s current known distribution in Britain, although Millais (1906) states “The most northerly location where the species has occurred is the neighbourhood of Carlisle, Cumberland; the Rev. H.A. McPherson examined two examples in the collection of Mr Bond, which had been obtained near Carlisle by the late T.C. Heysham many years ago.”

Millais (1906) also states that Lesser Horseshoe “has even been recorded from Northumberland and Durham” but unfortunately gives no details. The chapter on vertebrates in the Wildlife Trust’s The Natural History of Upper Teesdale (Ashby, 1965) sums up the bats with the sentence “Of the bats, the Pipistrelle is common throughout the dale and the lesser horseshoe occurs up to High Force.” The latter statement is almost certainly mistaken. Durham Bat Group has surveyed Middleton-in-Teesdale annually for almost 30 years without finding anything to corroborate the presence of Lesser Horseshoes and it is unlikely that such a distinctive and synanthropic species would have been overlooked.

Of other bat species, only two, Serotine Eptesicus serotinus and Parti-coloured Bat Vespertilio murinus are thought to have occurred in the region. Serotine has a distinctly southern distribution in Britain, with its core range being south of a line from Suffolk to South Wales (Hutson in Harris and Yalden, 2008) though a single male Serotine was taken near Rotherham in 1977 (Thompson in Delaney, 1985). In the 1980s Durham Bat Group members were aware of a small number of what were thought to be Serotine which occurred for a while along a tree line near Malton, west of Durham. The bats’ calls were recorded but the group was unsuccessful in mist-netting them so their identity was not confirmed (Coult, pers. comm., 2012). A decade later, Geoff Billington (pers. comm., 2005) heard what he felt sure was a Serotine on a bat detector in Upper Teesdale, in the post-breeding period.

The Parti-coloured Bat record is more certain. One was found clinging to a wall, less than one metre above ground, at Seaton, near Seaham on 17 January 2011. The fact that it was found in the middle of the hibernation period suggests that it had been present in this country for a least a few months prior to that. The bat, a young male, was taken into care but died a few days later. Its preserved skin is now in the possession of Durham Bat Group.

Parti-coloured Bats are a northern European species that are known to undertake seasonal migration and some 20 specimens have now been found in Britain or from oil rigs or ships in the North Sea (Hutson, 2008). A further three of these specimens have a tentative connection with the North East. A well-documented specimen (Stansfield, 1966) was collected alive from a North Sea drilling rig called “Mr Cap”, approximately 270 km east of Berwick-upon-Tweed, in 1965. The bat, an adult male, was taken into captivity but died shortly afterwards. Its skull and preserved skin have been stored in Sunderland Museum since then, though the bat thought to be this specimen is labelled with the date 17 August 1978 with no location given. While researching this specimen, the curator, Dan Gordon, came across another, uncatalogued Parti-coloured Bat in the Museum’s spirit collection. The only information with this second specimen was that it was prepared on 21 October 1977 by a D. Cutts with the label stating “Nr Cap, 1965”. Bearing in mind the label it may be that the uncatalogued specimen is actually the one referred to in the Stansfield paper. In either case the provenance of one of the bats is unknown but it is at least probable that it has some geographical connection with the North East given where it has ended up. A third specimen of Parti-coloured Bat was taken 160 miles “off Newcastle” in 2001 but went to Aberdeen and then to the Veterinary Laboratories Agency (Hutson, pers. comm., 2012).

Another bat, which has been mistakenly referred to at times as a Parti-coloured Bat, is in a collection in the Bowes Museum. It has been identified by Noel Jackson and Gill Hinchcliffe as a Hoary Bat Lasiurus cinereus, a North American species with the specimen’s physical characteristics and circumstances described in detail by Jackson (1986). Hoary Bats are long-distance migrants and have colonised both Hawaii and the Galapagos Islands (Dietz et al, 2009). There are five European records of the species, all in autumn, its recognised migration period, of which one is from Britain, in South Ronaldsay, Orkney in 1847 (Harris and Yalden, 2008). While the identity of the bat in the Bowes museum is certain, its provenance is in some doubt. It was purchased in 1906 as part of a collection of birds from the widow of a Mr Carter of Teesdale who is believed to have collected and mounted the specimens himself. The Hoary Bat is in a case with five British bat species, all of which can be found in Teesdale today. However there are a small number of American bird species also in Mr Carter’s collection, which raises the possibility that the bat was collected in America rather than its having first flown to Britain.

Just as tantalising, a possible record is given in Mennell and Perkins (1864) in which they refer to a Notch Eared Bat, V. emarginatus (now Myotis emarginatus) a single specimen of which had supposedly been taken in Longbenton (Newcastle) two years previously. It was apparently carefully examined and compared to figures of Bell and M’Gillivray and its large ears, “their length considerably exceeding that of the head”, was remarked on. The Notch Eared Bat is found throughout France and Belgium (Dietz et al, 2009). It is not a long-range migrant but does frequently travel up to near 100 km (Hutterer et al, 2005). To date there are no accepted records for the Notch Eared Bat from Britain including the Channel Islands but it is a strong candidate for the next European bat species to turn up here (Hutson, pers. comm., 2012). Nevertheless if one were to turn up in Britain it is unlikely that it would be in Northumberland. It seems more likely that it was a case of mistaken identity of Natterer’s Bat which it superficially resembles and of which only one record was known from the North East in Mennell and Perkins day. Unfortunately the specimen was not preserved so we will never know.

References

Written by Ian Bond (last updated Nov 12)