IN a quiet country village, hanging above the banks of a local creek, roosts a small colony of some of Clarence’s most persecuted native animals – threatened grey-headed flying foxes.
Although flying foxes have always been distributed throughout the Clarence Valley, this colony is only a recent addition to the area, having taken up residence in the summer of 2010, just below the local tavern.
Owners of the Copmanhurst watering hole, the Rest Point Hotel, were initially a bit concerned about the new neighbours moving in, but have since come to admire the flying foxes.
Licensee Trent Mortimer, whose parents Tony and Lyn Mortimer own the pub, says he doesn’t have a problem with the flying foxes, a feeling that is echoed by his parents, the increasing number of visitors to the area and locals.
“The flying foxes are definitely a topic of conversation with visitors,” Trent said. “There is an occasional smell from the colony, but we don’t have any issue with them being nearby. In fact, the colony seems to attract visitors. Many people come here just to see them hanging from the trees below the pub, and see them fly out at sunset.”
At dusk on a warm summer evening, the flying foxes heading off to feed at night have created great photographic opportunities for visitors as the embattled animals are silhouetted against a setting sun and glowing sky.
Lyn Mortimer said she receives many comments from people, the most interesting being a concern that the flying foxes have had to keep moving to find new homes, and what environmental factors have led them to make Copmanhurst a temporary home. Or is it temporary?
“The colony has grown in size since the first flying foxes came here before December,” Lyn said. “It’s not a huge colony, and being in the country, with houses spread further apart than in towns, we don’t have much prob- lem with noise, smell and mess. The trees in which the flying foxes roost are under a bit of pressure, but none of that is cause for concern, although people are concerned for the plight of native animals.”
The flying fox colonies often roam to widespread areas in search of food sources and new roosting places.
According to local flying fox researcher Billie Roberts, who has been studying the animals for several years and inspected the colony recently, this group is probably taking advantage of a peaceful place to stop over for a few months.
The recent floods resulted in water coming into Eaton Creek, below which the bats are roosting, and this type of environment is a favourite for colonies. Eaton Creek has been dry for some time, and the change in climatic conditions may have influenced their choice of home.
Seasonal flowering of native trees has also attracted the animals to the area, but with the high rainfall, much of the nectar from flowers has been of little value to the animals, keeping them on the move.
“This colony is made up mostly of threatened grey-headed flying foxes, but there are a few black-headed flying foxes within the colony,” Ms Roberts said. “In most of these colonies the numbers are constantly fluctuating.”
Ms Roberts said many smaller broken colonies have appeared temporarily throughout the Clarence Valley as several species of flying fox scour the area for enough food to survive. The animals she observed at Copmanhurst, and in some smaller colonies, appear to be in less than perfect condition, a direct indication of how scarce food supplies and suitable habitat are.
Lyn Mortimer said: “We often see people walking down the road to take photos, and most people comment on them.”
“I remember the first time Tony rang me and said the bats were here. It was a shock then, but we’ve come to realise they are not causing us any problems and, well, they have to live somewhere.”
Trent and wife, Sheena, also share the same sentiment.
“It is good for business in many ways,” Sheena said. “I also studied flying foxes at university, and I know a bit about the animals. Our outdoor area is under cover and the site offers a good spot for viewing.”
While Sheena can understand the views of others who face constant conflict with flying foxes, she also sees the positive aspects of the colony.
“They do have to live somewhere, and they are welcome neighbours here at least,” she said.
Trent added: “Like I said earlier, initially we thought oh no, bats! But having them here is really quite positive.”