Thursday, 27 November 2014

Batty Boat Cruise

Batty Boat Cruise departure point on the Brisbane River, with the CBD skyline in the background

When I returned to Brisbane after living overseas for a few years, I was able to briefly see the city from a fresh perspective as I re-acclimatised to my surroundings. That was when I began to notice and appreciate a strange sight that happens every evening around our downtown district, one that long-term city residents undoubtedly take for granted. If you ever get to walk around the city centre at sunset yourself, you'll see what I mean. The bustling peak-hour crowds, the traffic and the noise will feel familiar no matter which city you are from. And when you look up at the skyscrapers towering into the evening air, well that could be a sight from any modern-day metropolis around the globe, couldn't it?

But then you'll notice the bats.


Black Flying-Foxes, leaving the mouth of Norman Creek
Now don't get the wrong idea - you're not looking for tiny, squeaky cave-dwelling things. In fact, you might mistake these bats for a flock of crows at first, except that their wingspans are larger. Weaving through the buildings, gliding down into the fig trees growing along kerbsides and in parks, Brisbane's resident Black Flying-Foxes (Pteropus alecto) are a sight to behold.

The good people from the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland recognised this natural wonder thirty years ago. In 1984, they began to conduct tours along the Brisbane River to view the massive evening fly-outs from the flying-fox colony at Indooroopilly. I attended my first 'Batty Boat Cruise' this past weekend and I was pleased to see that it is still a popular way to spend a Sunday after all these years, even though a lot has changed for our flying-foxes in the last few decades.

For many years now, most mentions of Flying-Foxes in the media have been in reference to the diseases they carry, particularly 'Hendravirus' and 'Australian Bat Lyssavirus' (ABL). While these diseases do present fatal risks to humans, contraction of them is rare and vaccinations and post-exposure treatments are available. Now that the majority of the population is aware of these viruses, the rules should be simple to follow: never touch a bat and report to the hospital immediately if you have been scratched or bitten by one. If the rest of the world can follow this advice in regards to rabies (which is in the same genera as ABL), then I think we Australians can manage also.

It's not just the perception of bats that has changed in recent times however - their actual ecology is changing too. When Batty Boat Cruises first began, the Grey-headed Flying-Fox (Pteropus poliocephalus) was the most common Brisbane species, but their numbers have crashed in the past two decades and they are now listed nationally as Vulnerable. The species currently most abundant in Brisbane is the Black Flying-Fox, though its local population dynamics are also transforming. Whereas it used to occur in just a few massive colonies in South-east Queensland, nowadays the camps are smaller and more scattered. This can lead people to believe that flying-foxes have become more common, as small colonies become established in places where they have not been recorded before, but it is more likely a case of the animals having to spread themselves out as their food resources start to wear thin in the suburbs.

In light of these changes in the local bat population, the Batty Boat Cruises no longer run to Indooroopilly Island, as the colony there has reduced in size. Instead, the charter offers a wonderfully informative tour of Brisbane's downtown district as seen from the river, then waits at the mouth of Norman Creek for the nightly spectacle to begin. Seeing the bat version of 'peak hour traffic' there is a great experience, especially when offered in conjunction with commentary from a University of Queensland flying-fox expert.

Flying-foxes are special for reasons beyond their aesthetic appeal however. The Australian forest ecosystem relies on birds and insects for day-time pollen and seed dispersal, but at night-time it is the bats that make the system work. The next time you stand on your hardwood kitchen floor whilst drinking honeyed tea and watching your kids play outside under a shady tree, bear in mind that flying-foxes have contributed to all of these things. When certain community figures and politicians advocate for the culling and relocation of flying-foxes for whatever reason, they are adversely affecting a system that they don't fully understand. 

Besides, how could you want to harm this little cutie?

Orphaned baby Black Flying-Fox, being nursed by volunteer wildlife carer Kathy
on board the Batty Boat Cruise

With thanks to the Batty Boat Cruise team and the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland for an excellent day!



11 comments:

  1. really is cute. :) brisbane batty boat cruise... say that 3x fast! :)

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    1. Haha! I can barely say it once! Glad you agree on the flying-fox cuteness factor!

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  2. Thanks, the Batty Boat Cruise sounds really interesting. We'll keep it in mind.

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    1. Definitely! It's inexpensive and the money you pay supports an excellent organisation.

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  3. A great write-up with some important messages Christian. Wish we had bat cruises here - or even flying foxes.

    By the way, sorry about the confusion with Hi-Fly,a company I mention periodically on my blog. they own swathes of land where I bird. the company rear pheasants, partridges and mallards on an industrial scale for hereabouts and selling on a wider basis. These "game birds" are for release in the countryside and the winter shooting industry.
    They run their own shoot locally for which they charge £500 a day to take part.

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    1. Thanks Phil, they are wonderful creatures.

      Interesting to hear about this company. I suppose part of their funds gets put back into preserving the landscape they own, so there are benefits perhaps.

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  4. Christian, The flying-fox species thing is interesting. Grey-headed has declined in south-east Queensland but has increased further south in NSW and Victoria. Black Flying Fox, once essentially a tropical species, is becoming more common in SEQ and north-east NSW. This could be a reflection of subtle climate change.

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    1. I had thought that too! I have a friend in Melbourne who raves about how nice it is to see flying-foxes there for the first time in her life. I really could've written much more for this post (climate change, politicians using fear to their advantage and the dispersal situation at Charters Towers were apl buzzing in my head) but the post had already become large and lop-sided in words vs text, so I gave it a rest. I am planning to check out a camp in the day soon and if I can photograph a grey, i'll mention this interesting situation on the Wild BNE Facebook page.

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    2. I have written about this before, in a couple of posts on birding sites and also in mainstream newspaper articles. It is consistent lso with what is happening with some bird species.

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  5. Thanks Christian for coming on board, and for your great post about our cruises! Perhaps we will see you again sometime in the future.

    Jo Towsey
    Batty Boat Cruise Coordinator

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    1. Thanks Jo, it was a great experience and one I'd happily do again! :)

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