There is a magnificent Weeping Fig just outside the apartment, on the river side. It's tall and spreading and so leafy it's almost impenetrable visually. I know it's stood here since before 1946 – and I suspect long before that, but I'm waiting for more information from Brisbane City Council.
Since we've lived here, however, we've been a tad disappointed by the relative lack of bird life in the tree. I suppose we were hoping for our own natural aviary on the doorstep. There are plenty of Noisy Miners and especially-noisy Ravens and sometimes Currawongs, Butcherbirds and Lorikeets. At dusk bats cross the river and swoop all around the north shore. Some of them land in our Fig; others move on to more highly favoured spots. They're quite large and we often hear wings beating, particularly if they fly between the Fig and the balcony.
This last month, however, has been a very different story. We got back from Tasmania to find the Fig covered with small red fruit. And suddenly there was never-ending action, day and night. There were many more bats in evidence: our Fig had become a major feeding tree. They arrived earlier than usual – some by 5 o'clock, when it was still quite light – to get stuck into the feeding frenzy. As more and more arrived, there was an increasing chance of them choosing places already bagged. The ensuing screeching and squabbling was an extraordinary noise. I was reminded of a small plastic squeaking toy my toddler son used to take everywhere with him. Squeaky Squirrel we called it. Cross bats sound just like Squeaky Squirrel did. The bats' breeding season is March and April, however, so maybe not all the noise was the result of food fights.
It was hours before the mayhem died down. And even when we thought all was quiet, there'd be a sudden flurry of violent leaf disturbance and shrieking. My friend confirmed one day when he was awake earlier than usual that the bats headed back across the river before daybreak, at about 5am. By the time I awoke there were different visitors already harvesting the new day's fruit crop – Figbirds, unsurprisingly. In Australia, you don't get a name like that without good reason.
Figbirds clamber about in tree tops, a bit like parrots my bird book opines. They also eat insects and nectar. The juveniles and females have impressive streaked 'underparts', while the males have a striking red eye surround.
Now, all the fruit has been eaten and tree life returns to normal. The fig-fruit feeding frenzy is over, for another year I guess.
But back to bats. Those in our Fig are flying foxes, either Grey-headed or Black: both reside in Brisbane. Bats live in colonies in 'camps'. There is a camp just a little way upstream from us, in Norman Creek. Both varieties hang there. If you want to learn about flying foxes in Brisbane, study here.
What isn't in here isn't worth knowing, and you can easily dip in for specific bits of information.
My friend and I like bats. When we first arrived in this city, we enjoyed watching them glide across the river each evening and settle in Centenary Park in Fortitude Valley in front of the apartment block we lived in temporarily.
They get a very bad press in Australia, however. Some people just don't like bats, finding them a bit creepy and believing them to be harbingers of doom and all sorts. Very large colonies in urban areas and parks can wreak havoc, badly affecting trees and being noisy and smelly into the bargain. They are also known to carry serious disease, although the risk is often greatly exaggerated. I don't usually recommend reading The Australian, but this piece from last October on 'the pariah of Australian wildlife' is a fascinating account of the history and present-day outpourings of bat-antipathy in this nation.