“There’s a bat in the house!” shouted our daughter, fresh off the plane from London, just as she was preparing for a restful night in her parents’ country house.
My wife and I were prepared, to tell the truth. The previous night we had heard the telltale swish of batwings in our bedroom and in the morning had discovered corroborating evidence.
You had to know what to look for. There were little piles of dust on a night table that could only have fallen from an exposed beam overhead. There was also a strange black smudge on a white tablecloth.
To the trained eye, they meant only one thing: a bat had somehow flown into the house, probably via the front door, and found a safe spot on the beam. It’s always the front door because they roost in a dark corner beside the light over the front steps.
I’d done some preparation just in case. I brought our fish pond net from outside into the bedroom and leaned it against the wall on my side of the bed. It has a two-metre wooden shaft and a circular metal rim, and I use it most of the time to scoop flapping birds from the pond when they bounce off the surrounding windows. It’s ideally suited for bat duty with bird-sized bats. I know because it’s happened before.
Falling asleep with bat gear at the ready, you really have no idea what to expect. You just have that Boy Scout sense that you’re prepared if duty calls.
When it did, we both jumped out of bed like firemen summoned by the bell. My wife immediately went about the house turning on all the lights.
Our daughter apologized for awakening us, and cried out, “It’s a small one – about the size of a big butterfly! It may still be in my room. Come and check.”
Our house is open plan, and rooms connect with rooms without doors, joined by large open spaces, staircases and corridors. It’s ideal for bats.
I moved quickly, net in hand, from our room into the living room and kitchen, and looked up at our daughter’s loft bedroom. She was standing above making animated gestures towards the front hall.
“It might have flown down there, Dad!”
Just then, my wife, newly armed with a Swiffer pole, started waving it at a circling bat high above the living room furniture.
“There it is!” she cried.
My daughter flew down the stairs and I quickly moved into the living room with my net pole held high.
The three of us then began the bat catching ritual. Our daughter assumed the role of air traffic control: “Dad – over there, by the bookshelf. Mom – it’s swooping into your bedroom! There it goes!”
We stood with eyes upraised, madly waving our net and Swiffer stick at an agile, circling and banking bat.
It was now nearly midnight. All the house lights were on. Looking in from the silent forest through the living room windows, the spectacle would have been somewhat bizarre: animated shouting, arm waving, pole swishing, and bat and people rapidly moving from room to room.
For its part, the bat put on quite a show. It careened, rose and fell, swooped, circled and tossed itself about. Proving bloody hard to net.
Finally, after about 10 minutes of crazed batdom, I managed to hit the bat with the metal net rim. It fell immediately to the floor in front of me, wings tightly tucked and stunned. I quickly placed the netting over its quivering little body.
It was bigger than a big butterfly, kind of swallow-sized. And, as my daughter quickly pointed out, it was whimpering with pathetic little squeaky cries.
I knelt over it and cried out for a few sheets of paper towels. They were quickly supplied. I gently wrapped the small bat in towel sheets and asked for someone to open the front door. I then sprang to my feet and stepped smartly to the open space.
Once released from my grip, the bat extended its wings and flew off into the dark woods.
We all retired to our beds and fell blissfully asleep.
God knows what the bat did. Our daughter thinks it went to its bat cave and told the others about its great adventure. Hopefully the humans were described as somewhat respectful.
Troy Media columnist Mike Robinson has been CEO of three Canadian NGOs: the Arctic Institute of North America, the Glenbow Museum and the Bill Reid Gallery.
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