Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Just for fun, I uploaded a few videos of some work I did at Manchster University where we put dead bats into a micro CAT scanner. Taking the 4000 or so x-ray images of the bat as it rotated in the chamber I stitched them together into a film. I hasten to add that the bats had all died from natural causes and had been in my freezer for years. In the first one, of a Daubenton's bat, you can see nice details of the skull, teeth, Cochlea and shoulder.


The second is of a long eared bat, you can see the ears as light shadows. Again, nice detail in the cochlea.


Thursday, 22 November 2012

Whiskered bats

Still processing the photos from the Top Hill Low batbox check. We found a couple of whiskered bats, which were a challenge to photograph as they are notoriously wiggly and vicious, but I did get some pictures of the tragus and 'gentleman's part' which are identification features.

And those of a more delicate constitution, look away now...

Film Photography

Nice article on film photography and the Lomo cameras on the BBC website today. I know a lot of photographers who still prefer to use film when they can, it's a totally different process and feel to digital photography. They both have their place in my opinion.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Bats and Biomimetics on television

Tonight on BBC1 at 9pm, I'll be on television with Richard Hammond as part of his 'Miracles of Nature' series looking at Biomimetics, how nature and evolution have inspired engineers. This was filmed in some caves in Bristol where we looked at how echolocating Egyptian fruit-bats can avoid obstacles and how this has inspired technology to help the blind. The work on these bat's echolocation call structures, and the technology we developed to record echolocation went into the 'ultracane' which is a guideance device for the visually impaired. There is some fantastic footage in high-speed infra-red of the bats obviously detecting the wires and pulling in their wings at the last moment. There is also some amazing footage of a blind mountain cyclist using the ultracane technology to steer himself down a forest track.

The footage we shot of the bats actually took about two days, not including the extra two days it took Hannah Sneyd, the researcher for the programme, to bat-proof the caves which are old sandstone mines for the Bristol glass industry and which run under Britstol docks.

We actually filmed two alternative versions, one with Richard Hammond for the BBC and a version without Richard for German TV and the international satellite market. This latter version features some amazing footage using an 'acoustic camera' that superimposes the location of a sound onto a video feed.

Monday, 15 October 2012

For the next six months I'll be working on an Ecosystems Services Transfer Toolkit at the University of York with Prof. Piran White in the Envrionment Department, and funded by Natural England. The tool will be a piece of software which will allow land managers to select from a range of habitat types and management interventions and see instantly which ecosystem services will be affected by that intervention, and whether the effects will be positive or negative. This will then link through to the evidence base for that interaction. The habitats we'll be looking at initially will be uplands, lowland freshwater, lowland agriculture and urban. The first challenge will be to find a structure for the database that is simple but allows for expansion in the future should new query structures arise.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Nathusius' pipistrelles

I was lucky enough to be invited out with the East Yorkshire bat group on their bat box check at Top Hill Low, which is a Yorkshire Water nature reserve. The promise was lots of Nathusius' pipistrelles, and it didn't disappoint with one in the first box we checked, though that one was a bit lively and made good its escape. The movement of very active bats from one box to the next made it difficult to tell just how many there were, as they are not ringed, but somewhere in the region of about seven seemed a decent guess. This has to make this reserve on of the UK hotspots for this species now.

We were joined by Tina Wiffen and others from the Northumberland Nathusius bat project, who we equally delighted with the chance to see and handle so many Nathusius pipistrelles.

I was especially interested in the wing fibre markings as this is supposed to be one way of separating these bats from the other UK pipistrelles, though for all the bats we saw, their size, robust appearance and hairy tail membranes made then pretty obvious.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Have just returned from the annual BCT conference in York. Lots of good talks on offer, as well as lots of interesting trade stands with the latest technology. The Wildlife Acoustics EM3 was popular, giving hand-held outputs of sonograms in the field.

The most interesting talk from my perspective was from Charlotte Walters from the Institute of Zoology who was talking about the results from the iBats project. Charlotte used an ensemble neural network approach (eANN) to try to identify species within the iBats database using parameters extracted from analysis in Sonobat. She managed to get an overall correct classification rate of just over 80% which is comparable to other studies and seems to be about as good as it gets. Myotis as ever were a problem, with Natterer's proving the easiest to identify, with most of the other UK Myotis falling back to about 50% correct classification. The full paper can be found here.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Right, I've now given up with NiMH batteries, you think you've got a good charged set, and then you look away and they've faded. Having got fed up with checking the D500x and finding out that it recorded only two nights out of the four as the batteries died, I've gone back to environmentally unfriendly alkalines. Having done that, I've managed to get seven nights of recording from one set of four batteries (3 second files at 500 kHz) of 2500 files and still had the batteries at 4.7 V, so probably fine for another night or two. I've got an external battery box that will take four C cells, so I would imagine that with good quality alkalines in those I should get up to two weeks recording. I shall check that when we get to August.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

D500x settings

When setting up the D500x, the settings that might cause some confusion are the gain, trigger level, interval and trigger sensitivity. The gain is how much the signal is amplified, so set it low if the bats are near and loud, or high if they're far and quiet. The trigger level is level at which the signal will trigger the device. The interval is the time between recordings in seconds  - this is to avoid recording the same bat over and over again (unless you want to of course). The one that's got me scratching my head is the tigger sensitivity, which seems to be how long the signal has to remain over the trigger level to start the device. The options are very high, high, medium, low and very low. I guess the idea is to have a setting that will not tigger the device over short signals, rain perhaps.
When setting it up, the device gives a handy indication of when it will be triggered, so you can jangle keys or loose change and make sure it will trigger but that it's also not going all the time.
For the purposes of testing it in my garden, I've got gain and tigger level set to 30, interval at 0 and tigger sensitivity at low.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

D500x - it's arrived

After a slightly delayed trip from Sweden via several courier depots and my neighbour, my D500x has arrived. First impressions are that it's small and well built. The menu is quite user friendly, and it's pretty easy to set up. Unlike the older versions with the previous firmwear, this one just needs Windows FAT32 formatted CF cards in it, not the specially formatted ones that the D1000x needs.
As the device is not totally weatherproof, and looks rather high-tech and appealing dangling from a tree, I set about maiking an enclosure to keep the weather off, and make it more discrete.
I started off with an plastic electronics enclosure box and cut a hole for the microphone. I then used that cut-off section as a shield above the microphone. The external power lead annoyingly comes out the front of the device which means you have to bend the lead back in to the battery pack.
For batteries I made a pack up from a 6xAA holder I got from Maplins. That should give about 7.2 V at 2500 mAH. The device only needs about 4 V to work, but six batteries should give some margin if a battery or two fails, which seems to be quite common for NiMH batteries, for me anyway.

The D500x with a 6 AA battery pack wired into the external power socket.

Packed inside the box, the external power cable has to come out and then be net back around again.

All done up inside the box and sprayed a nice drab olive colour.

The microphone is shielded from rain by the cut-out section which has been bolted to the lid.

Deployed for testing in my garden.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Went out newt hunting with Richard Roe, one of my ex students who now runs Kingdom Ecology. We looked at a development site in Cheshire with four ponds to do and set bottle traps at all of them. The morning revealed a good haul of great crested newts as well as a lot of smooth newts, nine in one bottle trap. Torching at night was interesting as we found a fair number of great crested newts that were very light, almost an olive colour which made separation from smooth newts something of a challenge when seen briefly.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

I've been looking into getting a remote monitoring system for bat echolocation. I ruled out the EcoObs batcorder due to cost, so it was between the Wildlife Acoustics SM2+ and the Pettersson D500x. It was not an easy decision, but after weighing up cost, recording quality, expandability and integration into Batsound I went with the D500x. This is to deploy at a couple of sites this summer to be used in conjunction with transects so it's likely to be out in the field for a few months. Needless to say, I'll be testing it in the garden first, let's see if I can get further than the usual species list of P. pipistrellus.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Just got back from running a two day course on sound analysis in the New Forest. It was a good opportunity to review the literature on automated logging of bat passes and automatic recognition of bat calls. There are some very interesting statistical techniques being used, but I have to say, not with a great deal of success, mostly with separating some Myotis species and especially with the separation of serotine from Leisler's. There is also considerable confusion between Plecotus and Barbastellus. Close but no cigar.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Ran the BCT 'Bat Ecology and Conservation' introductory course yesterday at Juniper Hall near Dorking.Went very well, I may alter a little bit of it to include some more of the recent findings around bat phylogeny and the fossil record. We had a fantastic display of live bats courtesy of Jenny Clarke from the Sussex bat hospital, with serotines, Leisler's, Natterer's and all three UK pipistrelles in the same hand (see below) left to right: Soprano, Common and Nathusius'.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was published yesterday. It is not immediately clear who this will affect bat conservation as there is essentially no guidance given (one of the reasons is it now so short). One of the helpful pieces of guidance, PPS9, is now obsolete. It seems that decisions about the maintenance of local biodiversity has been devolved down to the local planning authority who will have to make it up as they go along. This is alarming as many LPAs do not have in-house expertise on biodivesity issues. None of this affects any exisitng legislation protecting bat roosts, but there has always been a grey area about development and mitigation around very small and infrequently used roosts which leaves planners, consultants and the statutory nature conservation organisations somewhat in limbo.
The IEEM have published a response to  the DRAFT NPPF here.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Just back from two days filming in Bristol. As part of a series of programmes on biomimetics, we recreated an experiment we did a few years ago ago looking at how good Egyptian fruitbats Rousettus aegyptiacus were at avoiding obstacles. It should be called 'The Genius of Nature' and will be presented by Richard Hammond in the Autumn. We used a very exciting acoustic camera that records the location of sound emission from the bats and superimposes it onto the video feed. We also managed to get some fantastic high speed infra-red footage of the bats flying through obstancles. The picture below is of the executive Steve Nicholls getting up close and personal to one of the fruitbats (Barry) who was having a bit of a rest. Thanks to Hannah Sneyd, researcher and former project student of mine for the picture.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Off to Bristol tomorrow for two days filming with Oxford Scientific Films to try to recreate an experiment I did some years ago using Rousettus aegyptiacus fruit-bats using their click echolocaion to avoid obstacles.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

More writing for the BCT 'Planning and Designing Large Scale Surveys' course. Slightly complicated by the fact that the Infrastructure Planning Commision (IPC) which would have dealt with major infrastructure projects will hand over it's responsibilities to the Planning Inspectorate on the 1st April 2012 as part of the Localism Act (2011). This means that the planning process (and hence enivironmental impact assessments) are somewhat in limbo until there is a bit more of a steer on how the new processes will work. At least the course will be hot of the press.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Two new snippets of interesting photography news over the past week. The first is a rather sad one in that Kodak will discontinue all E6 reversal films (more commonly know as slide film). While I moved over to Fuji colour reversal filsm some time ago, this is still sad news as it puts further pressure on maintaining E6 processing lines in photo labs. While I admit that taking, processing and then scanning 35mm E6 film is a bit of a chore when I could have just taken digital, the quality from medium format prints from slides is just staggering. It would be a great shame to lose that option.
The other piece of news is that Nikon have finally released the long awaited sucessor to the D700, called unsurprisingly, the D800. This has the frankly staggering resolution of 36.3 Megapixels. Nikon has rather wisely kept out of the megapixel race for some time, but this does put the cat among the pigeons. I have to wonder what anyone will do with that resolution. My favourite lab, Peak Imaging uses a Durst Theta printer which outputs at 254 dpi. This means that the rather meagre 6 MP of my D100 can print perfectly good full frame prints at 12"x8", which is the usual size I print to. A D700 at 12 MP can print to 17"x11" which is quite big, but nice for hanging in a large room, while the new D800 could print to 29"x19", which to my mind is a little over the top unless you want to make a billboard. You could of course say that it gives you more options to crop in post-processing, which is of course true, though to my mind it is always better the get the shot right 'in camera' in the first place.

The warm end to February has also brought out the bats, with several sightings of pipistrelles in the evenings. I wonder how they fared this winter, being mild then very cold for a short period. Not an easy thing for a hibernating mammal to deal with, unpredictable winter weather.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Spring is most certainly upon us, judging at least by the number of squashed amphibians on the local roads, and also by the sudden influx of things to do and the exflux of time to do them in. I'm starting to get to grips with the 'Planning and Desiging Large Scale Surveys' course that I'm writing for the Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) in collaboration with David Shepherd of Baker, Shepherd and Gillespie in Oxford. While most of the surveys methods are very familair to me, the planning process for these large projects will be an interesting thing to learn about.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The Wildlife Acoustics new EM3 bat detectors is now available from nhbs at a tad under £1000. There's a lot of technology in there and I haven't got to grips with the full specification yet, but it looks like full spectrum 16 bit 384 kHz sampling rate streaming to SDHC card, plus being able to listen in frequency division and heterodyne. The big difference is that it also has a screen that shows spectrograms in 'real' time. Not sure how useful this would be in the field compared with off-line analysis in batsound or similar, but it certainly looks good! It's not the first sound analyser for bat echolocation to be able to give a visual output in the field mind you. That honour goes to the Ultrasound Advice 'PUSP' or portable ultrasound processor which has been available for well over ten years now. The technology is looking pretty long in the tooth now, but it's still a very flexible instrument, especially for ultrasound output in the field.
EM3 bat detector

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Was sent the latest update from Wildlife Acoustics on how their new SM2BAT+ remote bat echolocation recording device fits into the survey requirements for the endangered Indiana bat. This is not something that would really affect us in the UK, but they do make a big thing about how their microphone is 'omnidirectional' compared with the more traditional directional designs. This is an interesting comment as the directionality of microphones in the ultrasound range is largely a function of their size and geometry, and that's a basic law of physics. They are understandably cagey about talking about their proprietry microphone technology, but we've spent a lot of time and effort on making microphones as omnidirectional as possible for our bat tracking arrays and have only ever managed it using multiple microphones on a single head and mixing the outputs, and this results in some really horrible phase responses which seriously affects the frequency response. I'd be interested to know how they did it.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Scanning the latest batch of Fuji Provia transparencies back from Peak Imaging, they really do an excellent job, pricey, but excellent. Given how long it takes to scan each slide I do wonder why I didn't just take them with my Nikon D700 and have done with it. I think the answer is that digital tends to make you a lazy photographer, you know you can check exposure, focus and composition straight away, so why bother thinking about it before pressing the shutter? Plus you can always photoshop the results. On balance, using film is still just more fun. Samples from the latest batch are below. I'll upload them to Flickr soon.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

The training brochure for the Bat Conservation Trust professional training courses for consultants is now available.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Have been finalising the dates for BCT Training courses. I will now be running the "Bat Ecology and Conservation" course at Juniper Hall, Surrey on the 16th April and Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire on the 16th July as well as the "Bat Detectors and Sound Analysis Level 2" course in London on the 9th May and Birmingham on the 22nd August. I will also be co-tutoring the two day "Surveying Bats" course at Clumber Park on the 3rd and 4th September.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Was very kindly sent the latest version of Batsound by Lars Pettersson. This is now version 4.1.4 and has a number of added useful features. The first is that you can now play back sounds at reduced speed without having to fiddle about with the time expansion factor. This used to be a real pain if you had recorded something on a D1000x at 500 kHz and then wanted to listen to it at 10x time expansion as you had to put in a time expansion factor of 500/44.1 = 11.34. The second is that you can now export graphic images in a variety of formats icluding windows metafiles, jpeg and png. This is a big improvment as the bitmap images in the previous versions were HUGE when imported into powerpoint. From my point of view, the best new feature however is that you can now more easily extract GPS information from files recorded from a D1000x or D500x with an attached GPS unit This makes import into Google Earth or GIS software a whole lot easier as you can extract all the GPS information from a whole folder into a spreadsheet. Nice

Monday, 23 January 2012

Wildlife Acoustics have launched the new SM2BAT+ ultrasonic monitor. Superficially similar to it's predecessor, this new incarnation can now natively record in zero crossing mode as well as full spectrum. This is now implemented in hardware rather than the cumbersome software conversion previously. This should improve sensitivity as there were reports of the conversion of full spectrum to zero crossing losing a lot of weaker calls. The file format is now standard .wav format rather than the in-house .wac format which took an age to convert from. It will be interesing to see if Anabat comes back with anything in return now that PDAs are getting harder to source as they're being replaced by smartphones.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Sad news to start that year that Kodak has filed for bankruptcy protection. This of course does not mean there will be no-more Kodak film, but it does obviously put the film part of its business under even more pressure. Perhaps this may do the industry some good in consolidating film production for Ilford in black and white, and Fuji in colour, but any loss of diversity in product ranges is a great shame. Personally I moved to Ilford and Fuji some years ago following the loss of the fantastic Kodachrome 25, one of the most naturalistic and finest grain films ever produced.