Our Night Out With The Bats !

Our  Night  Out  With  The  Bats !

'An  Indian  Flying  Fox  or  Pteropus  giganteus

‘An Indian Flying Fox or Pteropus giganteus’

 

Bats ! … what  an  unlikely  company  to  hang  out  with !

But  here  is  a  small  account  of  two  wonderful  evenings  which  we  spent  with  the  bats. It  was  a  phone  call  from  our  dear  friend  KT  one  evening, which  set  up  this  unusual  date. “ … there  are  bats  feeding  on  * mahua  flowers …” he  said  and  added, “ … you  will  have  to  hurry … these  flowers  are  not  going  to  last  too  long ! ”

And  hurry  we  did …

We  decided  to  visit  the  spot  the  very  next day. We  have  bats  as  our  neighbours, a  huge  colony  of  ‘fruit  eating’  bats – Pteropus  giganteus -  near  our  residence. We  have  spent  quite  a  few  mornings  observing  and  photographing  them  and  continue  to  do  so  even  today. But  this  colony  is  their  roosting  place  and  now  we  were  presented  with  an  opportunity  to  see  them  in  action. The  ‘fruit  bats’  actually  feasting !

Of  course, we  did  not  wish  to  miss  such  an  opportunity. 

It  would  seem  to  be  a  very  unlikely  spot  for  such  an  event  in  the  daytime !

 

'The  daytime  picture' ... the  completely  green  tree  after  the  flowering !

‘The daytime picture’ … the completely green tree after the flowering !

 

 

'The  Fruits'

‘The Fruits’

 

So  away  we  went, carrying  all  our  camera  gear, to  this  spot  in  Parel, right  in  central  Mumbai. This  is  an  extremely  crowded  location  and  the  traffic  is  very  heavy, both  vehicular  as  well  as  pedestrian. But  now  it  was  the  end  of  the  day  and   the  peak  rush  hour  was  over. There  were  a  few  people, mostly locals  hanging  around  or  the  residents  returning  home  after  the  day’s  work. We  spent  a  little time, observing  the  lone  * mahua  tree. It  stood  tall  and  rising  from  the  ground  below. There  were hardly  any  leaves.  This  was  in  the  month  of  April. Fortunately  we  were  on  a  bridge  and  already  more  than  ¾  of  the  level  to  the  top. And  the  bat  activity  was  immediately  noticeable. Because  of  this  height  advantage, the  visual  angle  was  not  very  steep. But  as  I  set  up  the  camera  on  the  tripod  and  peered  up, I  realized  that  I  was  required  to  crane  my  neck … not  a  very  comfortable  position.

The  tree  was  laden  with  flowers  and  later, when  I  looked  at  the  images  closely, I  could  see  that  they  had  also  attracted  insects … it  was  indeed  a  feast  for  the  bats !

 

The  Ripened  Fruits

‘The  tree  laden  with   flowers’

 

'Black  Ants  atrracted  to  the  ripe  fruits.'

‘Black  Ants  attracted  to  the  flowers.’

 

By  now  we  had  attracted  a  fair  number  of  curious  onlookers. They  wanted  to  know  what  we  were  after. When  they  realized that  we  were  looking  at  the  bats, some  of  them  quickly  lost  their  interest. Others  were  quite  helpful  and  would  point  out  to  the  bats,  as  they  descended   on  to  the  tree, from  almost  complete  darkness. Someone  correctly  identified  the  tree  as  * ‘mahua’  and  added  that  they  have  often  witnessed  such  scenes  in  their  village. But  those  who  were  typical  Mumbaikars  were  not  able  to  relate  to  this, even  when  they  were  residents  from  the  same  locality.

 “ अरे, ते  ‘डिस्कव्हरी” वाले आहेत ! ” ( … arre, te  Discovery  wale  ahet !)  – they  are  from  Discovery – ” said  somebody  and  it  felt  mighty  wonderful  :)

The  bat  activity  was  incessant. They  came  out  of  the  darkness  and  descended  on  the  tree. We  could  make  out  two  types  of  bats  because  of  their  size  difference. They  also  showed  a  variation  in  their  feeding. The  bigger  ones, the  ‘fruit  bats’  or the  Pteropus  giganteus , settled  on  the  branches, gradually  made  their  bat  like  advances  to  the  flower  site  and  were  enjoying  their  treat in  an  unhurried  ‘gourmet’  style. But  in  spite  of  the  abundance  of  the  flowers, conflict  was  inevitable  if  the  bats  got  too  close !

 

'The  Flying  Fox  with  its  treat'

‘The Flying Fox with its treat’

 

 

' ... inevitable  conflict !'

‘ …the  inevitable  conflict !’

 

 

'The  Smaller  Bat'

‘The Smaller Bat’

 

The  smaller  ones  seemed  to  be  in  for  some  ‘fast  food’  treats. They  swooped  right  on  to  the  flower, gobbled  it  up  and  were  away  in  flash. They  were  so  fast  that  we  had  difficulty  in  identifying  where  they  would  land  next … forget  about  photographing  them. But  a  good  idea  was  to  identify  some  flowers  and  anticipate  their  arrival  and  it  did  work  on  occasions. It  was  however, a  shade  easier  to  look  out  for  the  larger  fruit  bats. Ujwala,  would  shine  the  torch  up  in  to  tree  and  that  would  help  me  to  focus  in  almost  total  darkness  higher  up  in  the  tree. The  light  streaks  from  some  passing  vehicles  was  not  helping  either.

Ujwala  was  also  the  principal  communicator  on  the  site … she  talked  about  how  we  wanted  to  see  the  bats  ‘in  action’  and  wanted  to  take  pictures  as  well.  Our  audience  was  suitably  impressed. Some  of  them  wanted  to  know  even  more  about  the  bats  and  soon  a  small  discourse  on  bats  was  delivered  to  the  best  of  our  ability.

It  was amazing  to  see  the  flowers  disappear  right  in  front  our  eyes. The  sheer  speed  with  which  the  bats were  devouring  them  was  incredible. The  target  was the  blossomed  ones … it  was  remarkable  to  see  that  the  smaller  bud  like  flowers  were  not  being  touched … they  were  allowed  to  be  ready  as  a  treat  for  later. During  the  course  of  time  that  we  were  there, it  could  be  easily  be made  out  that  the  tree  was  getting  bare. Of  course, there  was  no  way  to  know  whether  they  were  the  same  bats  returning  or  all  together  different  ones  visiting  the  tree.

Shooting  these  bats  in  action  was  a  little  frustrating. Blame  it  on  the  very  poor  light, the  fast  bats  in  action  or  my  technique … whatever ! The  awkward  posture  that  I  had  to  assume  was  not  helping  either. So we  decided  to  pack  up  for  the  night.

It  was  a  tiring  but  an  exciting  evening  and  we  did  get  some  acceptable  shots. After  some  debate, we  decided  to  visit  the  next  evening  again. The  scene  at  the tree  was  very  different. The  flowers  had  all  but  disappeared. The  bats  must  have  had  a  flowery  banquet  the  previous  night, all  night  long. They  are  known  to  travel  long  distances  in  search  of  food  and  such  flowering  and  fruiting  trees  are  not  too  frequent  to  be  seen  in  Mumbai. Even  the  number  of  bats  seemed  less. Perhaps  our  enthusiasm  was  a  little  lower  compared  to  the  previous  night. But  I  did  set up  my camera  and  took  some   pictures  in  a  clinical  fashion. This  photo  session  was  over  quite  fast   and  we  headed  right  home.

We  have  also  seen  the  fruit bats  feeding on  the  * Umbar  or  the  Indian  Fig  Tree  fruits.  Other  fruiting  trees  which  would  be  on  a  bat’s  radar  are  of  the  ficus  variety  and  even  the  commercially  grown  varieties  like  the Guavas, Chikoos. They  feed  even  on  nectar. They  are  known  to  travel  long  distances  in  search  for  food, often  up  to  30  to  40  kms  in  the  night  and  return  to  their  roosting  places  in  the  early  hours  of  the  day.

Now,  whenever  we  see  bats  flying out  in  the  evening sky, we  cannot  help  but  remember  our   night  out  with  these  amazing  creatures  of  the  night !

* Mahua  -  Madhuca  indica / longifolia

This  tree  is  revered  by  the  tribals  of  the  country, esp  central  India  and  all  its  parts  are  put  to  use. The  seeds  yield  oil, the  cake  becomes  a  fertilizer, the  flowers  are  edible, are  used  to  make  a  syrup  for  medicinal  purposes  and  are  also  used  to  brew  liquor, called  ‘mahuwa’ … a  drink  integral  to  the  tribal  culture, such  as  that  of   the  Santhals, the  Koyas  and  the  Waralis. 

** Umbar  or  Cluster  Fig  or  Indian Fig  or  Goolar Fig  -  Ficus  racemosa

Sanjeev  Shevade

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8 Responses to Our Night Out With The Bats !

  1. tushar patil says:

    Interesting experience. Superb images in tough conditions & amp; very nicely narrated. Mahua fruit is also used as vegetable and is very tasty when cooked.

  2. Sindhu attya says:

    Sanju & ujju,i personally enjoyed narration.it made me feel i am actually going through the action. Great ,guys keep it up & give us great pleasure & knowledge of the nature thank you
    Attya

  3. Pramod Prabhu says:

    Excellent description and what a ‘sharp’ photography. The shining eyes of ‘bats’ are amazingly captured in Camera. I have never seen it before. “Flying Fox” very pertinent. What a patience. Sanju,I sincerely hope that you will be invited by “Discovery” on their Panel.

  4. Siddhesh Dhanipkar says:

    Mahua flowers are beautiful indeed as I saw them first time. Very nice article as always considering both content of article & photographs :)

  5. Shevade Girish says:

    just beautiful,carry on your adventurous night out.expecting more excellent photographs
    & information.

    Girish

  6. alka katdare says:

    Really an adventure and heroic to shoot bats that too so closely! Mahua buds looked very beautiful. Get going and keep educating us about such beautiful nature around us.

  7. kishor thakur says:

    lovely,as uswal your narration is the real key of story … just remember the whole episode!

  8. Hrishikesh Vankore says:

    Intresting experience. Nice and sharp photography..

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