Best methods to observe bats?

What are the best tricks and tactics to get identifiable observations of bats (in flight)? They’re pretty common in the evening sky here, but very few people in the area have posted observations of them.

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Depends on the resolution you want, are you trying to document the simple presence of a bat? Or are you trying to get detailed shots to ID species?


An acoustic bat detector is your best bet to get any information that’s identifiable.


Can you recommend a brand/type?

Identifiable photos of bats on the wing? I would guess you need a great camera and mad skills combined with a lot of luck!

(None of which I have)


I think the Wildlife Acoustics Echo Meter Touch is a good one that can be mounted on your phone. Also in some areas it will do AutoID which is not 100% accurate but gives an idea what you are recording.

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Leave the house door open :laughing:
No but in all seriousness, it seems to be a difficult thing to do. I’ve only ever encountered them opportunistically or deceased ones

Own or have acces to a cooling sewer or bunker lol

(edit) Cooling sewer is not the right term, but I forgot what it’s actually called.

(edit 2) I think I meant an underground cool storage.

How disruptive to bats are camera traps (DSLR linked to infrared motion sensor)? What I’ve come across was either scientists saying you can make it minimally disruptive (for their purposes, which may not be acceptable when done by hobbyists) or hobbyist photographers saying “it’s bad don’t do it” while being interviewed by the local newspaper specifically for their collection of pictures taken that way.

For the moment, all I’m hoping is for lightning to strike twice, I’ve been lucky enough to see a bat flying in the open in daylight around 5pm (perhaps fleeing after its roosting site had been disturbed?). Of course, it was when I had put down my camera to sit down and drink some water, because that’s always when that sort of stuff happens.

I’m an amateur and generalist naturalist. I purchased two bat monitoring devices from Wildlife Acoustics ( and have been pleased. The less expensive models plug into a phone and display immediate responses. The higher-priced models record data (similar to a trail camera) and then that data is processed with processing/analytical software called Kaleidoscope (extra annual fee) back “in the office.” For me, the higher-priced models allow me to record bats in their acoustic ranges and also switch to record birds (and insects and mammals). With bird monitoring, I transfer the audio file to my computer and then listen (no extra costs for processing/analysis software). Although I purchased these devices to record bats, I have enjoyed recording owl species over the night (while I sleep) and understanding warbler migration in my area. Just offering that to say the higher priced models can be useful for species other than bats.

Why record bats and not something else? For me, recordings are least intrusive. Mist nets are used by researchers but with netting, there is always a change of damage and you introduce stress. Also, I’m not tagging or collecting fluids, etc. For me, recordings are easy and with minimal impact.

As an amateur, I recorded bat species and abundance at a local reservoir over 12 months. It was interesting to align activity to temperatures and seasons. I observed bats populations that stay in my area year round, migrate to/from the mountains (in my state) annually, and also the bigger continental migrations (spring and fall arrivals and departures).

For me, I enjoy observing life hidden but in plain sight. Bats are difficult to see or photograph with their flight patterns and preferred times of activity. With my Wildlife Acoustic devices, I am able to see into their world without disturbing them.

Lastly, in my state of Virginia, an amateur can send collected data to a state researcher who will QC the data and submit findings to the national bat monitoring program. An added bonus.


for wild bats that are active at night, this is probably because you invariably will need specialized equipment such as the acoustic bat detectors others have mentioned or else special photographic equipment:

you can use standard photographic equipment, but it seems like you really need to adopt some methods that not everyone will like or be capable of doing responsibly: for equipment, it seems like lighting is really the key, not necessarily cameras and lenses.


As an amateur, I have used camera traps over the years to record birds and land mammals and have refined how best to use those “out of the box” trail cameras. They work great for still images and video.

For me, the challenge with camera traps and bats is for the the device to awaken, focus, and shoot an image in the time the bat passes by. In my area (Virginia), bats tend to roost in smaller numbers in trees so there isn’t a defined location or point to install a camera trap. When in flight, they can be very fast and erratic (like a butterfly).

At dusk, I have sat with my telephoto lens on my full-frame camera set to “high speed multiple frames” and attempted to obtain quality bat images. The camera sounds like a machine gun when the button is pressed. Auto-focus tracks good but not great and that is due to the layers of gray at dusk and sensor confusion on what to focus on exactly. Then there is good and great with focusing. I think many of us switch from “auto focus” to “manual” just before we click to fine tune (crisply focused edges of an animal’s eyeball). With a fast and erratic flying mammal, it is all but impossible for me.

I keep trying when conditions seem good but it is hard. In parts of the country with large roost populations and a defined location like a cave opening, the camera trap may work well.


Unfortunately, this is the understatement of the century - the automatic ID for Echometer gets right some stand-out species (Pipistrelles, Noctules) but really struggles with species where the parameters overlap, as it works pulse by pulse. For proper ID, one needs to learn about details of the calls - luckily, there are some great books for that - but in some regions, even that often isn’t enough. It’s a fun thing to do, but realistic expectations are needed.


I have used the Echo Meter Touch and really appreciate the ease of use and quick learning curve. That device is perfect for us amateurs! I have listened to fellow amateurs describe driving transits (section of road) with one person driving and the other holding their device.

Also from Wildlife Acoustics, I use the Song Meter Mini. I went with that device because I wanted to use it for birds, frogs, and mammals also. This model’s data is accepted into a North American bat monitoring program, something I desired.

One consideration is to give some thought on what you really want to do with it. Some amateurs want to contribute their data to a national citizen-science program. If so, check the program’s requirements before you purchase a specific recording device model.

Lastly, I am sharing a PDF of a presentation I gave on my year of bat monitoring at a local reservoir. I’m an amateur and generalist and gave the talk to my local naturalist club. Providing as an example of what can be done with the data from these Wildlife Acoustic devices.


Occasionally you can get lucky and find them roosting or temporarily hanging up somewhere:

Unfortunately a lot of bats, especially Myotis, are hard to ID unless you can photo key features close-up. That requires having a bat in hand which isn’t always allowable or desirable.


I’ve tried hanging out on a rooftop they would frequent around dusk, but, while the observation was kewl, trying to get a decent photo…No Joy.
Good luck.

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If I go swimming at dusk to dark it takes about 2 seconds for bats to start flying low over the water. I think they show up to eat the insects attracted to the light. I’m wondering if you are near a body of water and shine a low light over the surface it may draw them in. Plus it’s a really beautiful sight.

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I found your slides to be really interesting and fun to read. What a great project‼️

I’ve done it before! Albeit it’s literally just the silhouettes.


And yeah! It does take some skills. It’s pretty much the same as taking pics of swallows and martins, but in the dark, so you also need to bump up the ISO A LOT to compensate for the lighting as well as the high shutter speed.

It may be different in other parts of the world, but in Ireland, there are a dozen or so species, and there are silhouette guides on the internet. You would also need a description of their flight.

To get to species though, you would need to record their calls, to which I do not have access to. :/


In the near future a box with a solar panel, a microphone, an accu, a wifi connection and a raspberry pi will automatically detect bats, records their sound, identify it and sent the information to a central server. In the Netherlands prototypes are produced. Till then you have to do this all manually.