These are bad conditions to explore the bats, in this weather they prefer to stay at home. Do we see one today? I want to gauge the fascination of people for an animal that lives in the shadow of our existence. The bat is barely visible to us, and we do not hear her crying in ultrasound, which gives her an idea of her surroundings.
Michael Erhardt passes the long port passage. A seated man in his fifties; with Béret and Harry Potter glasses. So this is what a cantonal bat protection officer looks like. It is Friday evening at half past nine, the agreed time for the public reconnaissance trip, in which we want to detect the bats with the aid of ultrasonic detectors. We are waiting for more visitors. The conditions are bad: people prefer to stay at home again.
Dead animals in the restaurant
Because no one appears anymore, we move the theoretical part to the covered outdoor area of a chic harbor restaurant. Only through a glass window we are separated from the guests, we dine, we drink wine, we laugh. Meanwhile, Michael Erhardt gets his treasures out of his pocket. I shudder when he takes four dead miniature bats out of a blue container, no bigger than a coffee cup. I overcome myself and take one in my hand: it is feather light, the coat soft, the filigree wings pulled close to the body. From the part of my face I only see the ears and a small snout. "Expand your arm," says Erhardt. Before I know it, he scrapes the thumb of the dead bat over my back. Amazingly difficult for the small claw, barely visible to the eye.
Our bat display quickly attracts the attention of restaurant visitors. Michael Erhardt willingly shows the prototypes left and right; After all, we are almost public.
Erhardt and his team of voluntary bat protectors climb in church towers and attics, as if it were the most normal thing in the world. Approximately 600 so-called "quarters" can be found in the cantonal database. The colony of water beds on the screed of the Hurdenkapel has a little less than 90 pieces, the mouse ear area in Altendorf consists of about 70. The largest mouse ear colony in Switzerland is located in the Bündner area Flesch with almost 1000 animals.
For the renovation of the church in Freienbach, Erhardt recommended to integrate two funnels into the jetty so that the animals could go out hunting. "It worked!" He says proudly. The soft construction did not disturb the animals, so they could stay in the church tower. What if loud excavators were started? "Then you would probably have to wait until the animals left the summer quarter in the fall."
The needs of bats have priority. They are protected because their stocks have been greatly reduced in recent decades. In the event that a bat ever ends up in the curtain or finds a wounded animal somewhere, there is even an emergency phone.
The feces determine the type
Now it's time to get started. In a glass filled with liquid, Erhardt keeps a dozen dead baby bats for closer inspection. He opens another glass and sticks his nose in it: "Smell." A biting wave comes to meet me. For the biologist, however, the droppings are just practical: on the basis of the excretions he can determine the food of the bat and thus the respective sex. In Switzerland there are about 30 different species.
Then we go to the lake. The ultrasonic detector remains calm for the time being, only the insects – the feed of the bats – buzz over the water. I do not believe we are discovering another animal. But then clearly sounds the bumpy rattle of a water beard from the detector. In the light cone of the flashlight we catch a glimpse of the hunting animal. Between the rattle, a completely different sound is mixed, a bubbling, like when you blow a straw into a glass of water: the call of a pygmy bat.
Slowly I begin to understand what fascinates the batguards. The animals live close to us and yet they are invisible. Only today I can observe them for a short time – until our two worlds separate again.