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Photographing Bats - Steve Parish


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Photographing MegaBats
Up until 2006, my photographic work on Australia’s flying-foxes (or mega bats) was limited. I had simply made records as I encountered colonies, particularly in the tropics. Fortunately (as has often been the case throughout my career), I eventually met up with two bat specialists, Dr Les Hall and Dr Greg Richards. We have been working on a range of books about the biology and behaviour of Chiropterans — the mega and microbats (of which there are 86 species in Australia).

What attracted me to this group of animals was the fact that bats are not only abundant mammals but the only ones that can fly. They also enjoy a close but little-known association with humans and as a result many species are under major threat. While megabats are well-known and often reviled for their noisy activities in towns, microbats (both the cave and tree hollow dwellers), are little known. So, as a major, possibly never-ending project, Les and I have taken on the challenge of photographing as many species as possible. Along with their habitats and activities and particularly their interactions with humans.

Bats’ secretive nature, combined with limited close access, means these animals need to be photographed both in the wild and in captivity. The captive animals we shoot are either research animals or those that pass through wildlife care centres.

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Photographing MicroBats
There are approximately 63 species of microbat found in Australia. Around half live in caves, while the remaining animals live in tree hollows. While the cave bats offer some ease of access, the bush bats are virtually impossible to photograph in their tree hollows in the wild. Even cave bats pose some considerable problems due to access and their high level of sensitivity. Microbats, like all small mammals, are extremely perceptive, have excellent hearing and an acute sense of smell, and therefore are easily disturbed. Over the years, Australian natural history publishing has presented the viewing public with not much more than handheld portraits of the animals. Although a few more adventurous photographers have gone to considerable lengths to photograph captive animals in-flight mainly using light-triggering devices. Others (myself included), have managed to photograph a few species in-flight, leaving cave roosts on a hit-or-miss basis by triggering the camera repeatedly in total darkness. As mentioned, I have taken on the challenge to work with Dr Les Hall to document these fascinating animals in more detail, both in the field and using captive animals (captive for research and those passing through wild care facilities). An expert in these animals, Les has been able to direct me so as to photograph not just individual animals, but photo-sequences that reveal something of the natural history. After a lifetime working with bats Les has been my over the shoulder watchdog regarding the care that is needed when photographing wild bats, in particular, those in small closed caves. Remember if working in a National Park a permit will be required and this is always a good time to check on the approaches required when working with these sensitive creatures.

Eastern bent-wing Macro Bats at Church Cave, Wee jasper News South Wales. Not only was a permit required by NSW National Parks Rangers had to be present while I made this picture. These are females leaving their roost at a very sensitive time when their babies are being encourage to fly alone in search of food for the first time. I was only allowed to make one photograph every twenty minutes.


You might like to view the book that was created with Dr’s Greg Richards
and Les Hall on Australian Bats and their natural history.
A Natural History of Australian Bats: Working The Night Shift – CSIRO Publishing

A WIld Guide to Australian Bats – Steve Parish Range/Pascal Press

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Megabats and Microbats: Photographing Bats - Steve Parish
Photographing Bats - Steve Parish
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Megabats and Microbats
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