2017 – The Year of the Hedgehog

It’s taken me a couple of weeks to get this written, mainly because 2017 was such an eventful year for us. I started compiling it and couldn’t believe how much we saw and did in one year; but it was lovely going through the old blog posts to refresh my memory.

First of all the successes and failures of last year’s New Year’s Resolutions. I think these definitely come under the “could do better” category, but we did at least try with most of our wildlife ones, which is more than can be said for my Cut Down on the Prosecco plan. So here’s the progress on our 7 resolutions for 2017.

1.  Build new pond. Well I did achieve this, just not in the place I expected to. The plan was to put a new pond in the garden. That didn’t happen, but I did get an allotment (with my sister) and first job we did was put in a small pond. Within months we’d had frogs, newts and dragonflies, so well worth the effort.

 

2. Get footage of the blue tits fledging. Well this didn’t happen, but it wasn’t for want of trying. We put up a new box with integral camera. Things were looking good when we caught a blue tit checking it out almost immediately. Unfortunately they then decided to nest elsewhere this year. You can lead a blue tit to a nest box, but you cannot make it nest!

3. Seeing new species of butterfly – we actually over-achieved on this one! We managed to bag 5 new species: Duke of Burgundy, Wall, Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary, Grizzled Skipper and Large Blue. This takes us to a grand total of 43 species of British butterfly seen and photographed. Only about 16 to go.

 

4. Try and find ivy bees at more sites. Not only did I not manage to achieve this, I didn’t see a single ivy bee at all. Chris saw a few, but only at sites where we’d seen them before.

5. Start compiling a list of hoverfly species in the garden. I did take quite a lot of hoverfly pictures, (including this lovely Chrysotoxum species) but totally forgot that I was going to start listing them. I could probably retrospectively go back through the photos and list them all – but what are the chances of that happening?

 

6. Do 30 Days Wild again. Thankfully a big YES to this one. I had a fantastic time in June doing 30 Days Wild and was really chuffed to get shortlisted again for the Wildlife Trusts’ Blogger Awards. Not only that but Worcestershire Wildlife Trust were looking for someone to write about it – so I even got a magazine article published!

7. And finally my quest to get a moth tattoo has failed once again. No surprises there.

So on to the other things we got up to last year. 2017 started with the shocking realization that I’d hit 50! To lessen the pain, Chris got us a day at some wildlife photography hides in Worcestershire. We had a fantastic bird-filled day watching kestrels, kingfishers and all sorts of other beautiful birds. Best birthday present ever!

The second big event was getting our allotment. Despite my “too lazy to weed” philosophy, I have always fancied an allotment and my sister and I now finally have one.  We are gardening it organically, feeding the birds, encouraging pollinators and of course we’ve put in our pond. Neighbouring plots even have slow worms, so we’re hoping we can attract a few of those over to ours soon too.

A big change for me in 2017 was that I swapped jobs. I now work 2 days a week at the British Hedgehog Preservation Society. We also fostered a hedgehog called Meadow last winter until his release in the spring.  We’ve rescued one poorly one found during the day and one juvenile that was too small to get through the winter and taken them to our local hedgehog carer Viv. Not only that but we had almost nightly visitations from other hedgehogs in the garden and got some great trail camera footage. So all in all 2017 has been my Year of the Hedgehog.

One of the highlights in the summer was a holiday in the beautiful Isles of Scilly. We had a fantastic week there, packed full of wildlife and wonderful scenery. Although we loved it all, probably the best thing was seeing puffins. We’d thought we might have been too late in the season, but luckily they were still there waiting for us.

Not only did we get some great photos, but the one above even won us a mug in the Scilly Isles photo competition. In fact we won 2 mugs, the other being for an old photo of me, my sister and my Dad taken on St Martin’s in 1972. 

Of course we did all our usual things in 2017 – the Big Garden Bird Survey, the Big Butterfly Count, the Garden Bioblitz, Moth night and the annual pilgrimage to see the bluebells on the Malverns. We’ve visited lots of our old favourite haunts, Wyre Forest, Trench & Grafton Wood, Prestbury Hill & Brotheridge Green etc. But we’ve also found some new favourites: Daneway Banks, Upton Warren wetlands, Wenlock Edge and more.

On the home front we have of course continued to let the weeds grow in the garden pretty much unchecked. The postman may soon need a machete to hack his way through the undergrowth to the front door, but it has brought us a wealth of insects and more. I’d thought we’d done well in 2016 when we recorded our 25th species of bee in the garden, but by the end of 2017’s summer we’d hit 31 species.

Moths continued to be my particular obsession throughout 2017. Overall it didn’t seem to be such a good year for moths in the garden – I only recorded 198 species compared to 211 in 2016. This might have been due to trapping effort, as I suffered a couple of stinking colds towards the end of the year and didn’t put the trap out for the last 2 months. Overall though we have now recorded 297 moth species in the garden – not bad for the middle of Malvern! The really exciting news though was that I recorded the first ever Box Tree Moth (Cydalima perspectalis) not only for Malvern, but for the whole of Worcestershire. This species is colonising northwards, so it was great to get the first record for our neck of the woods.

The sad news for 2017 was that we had to say goodbye to Bert. He was our elderly gentleman with a big voice (the loudest miaow ever!) and a big character. He spent most of his life outdoors, but came to us for his twilight years. We still miss him terribly.

 

So New Year’s Resolutions for 2018 – we might as well aim for a few then there’s a chance we might succeed with a couple at least!

  • Butterfly species – continue on our quest to see more of the British species – hopefully another 3 this year?
  • Film Blue tits fledging – the box and camera are still all set up, so we just have to hope they deign to nest in it this year.
  • Visit 5 new local nature reserves – we have such fantastic places around here, it will be good to explore some more.
  • Sort out the garden pond.
  • Have a go at a Hoverfly Lagoon – there’s a project looking at how to promote hoverflies in your garden, so it would be nice to contribute to that.
  • Of course that moth tattoo that never seems to get done!

Happy 2018 everyone!

 

 

 

Birding in Bewdley

Since the New Year I’ve been suffering (rather pathetically even by my own low standards) from the flu, but by last Sunday I’d finally had enough of my sick bed and was keen to get out and see some wildlife. While spluttering round the house, I’d kept seeing on Twitter that there were lots of Hawfinches in the UK this year and that in particular there was a group of them in Bewdley, which isn’t far from us. People were still tweeting sightings of the Bewdley birds there on the Saturday so we set off on Sunday with fingers crossed.

Bewdley is a lovely little town, right by the river Severn. We’ve passed through it a few times on the way to the Wyre Forest, but never stopped before. So this time we parked down by the river and set off to find Jubilee Gardens where all the Hawfinches were apparently hanging around waiting for their photos to be taken. Since there’s never any guarantee of spotting your target species, we always take photos of other things as we go and the Severn was full of birds as we walked along the towpath.

There were quite a few of these small pretty gulls, several of whom seemed content to perch on the bollards. A quick check on Google when we got home later confirmed they were Black Headed Gulls – in their winter plumage though, so no actual “black heads”.

Another bird that we more commonly associate with the sea is the Cormorant, but there was at least one happily paddling up and down the Severn in Bewdley. It was totally undeterred by the Canada Geese that not only outnumbered him, but were much larger too. The Cormorant faced down at least one goose to get the resting spot he wanted near the steps.

We found Jubilee Gardens tucked away behind the riverfront houses. It is really a small park completely surrounded by the town of Bewdley, but with some large mature trees and a small pond.  There were plenty of small birds flitting around, including a small flock of the lovely long-tailed tits.

A splendid Grey Wagtail was patrolling, with tail wagging, up and down near the pond. I always have to think twice about these, not to call them Yellow Wagtails, despite their obvious yellow colouring.

We knew we’d found the right spot though, when we turned a corner and were confronted with at least a dozen birders with cameras/binoculars/telescopes all pointed up at some of the tall trees. Clearly I’m not the only one who follows the reports on Twitter! There were also a few other, slightly bemused looking, non birders trying to enjoy a Sunday stroll through the gardens and wondering what all the fuss was about.

Anyway we followed the direction all the lenses were pointed in and sure enough there were a small group of Hawfinches, high up in the trees. They may have been distant glimpses, but we had found our first ever Hawfinches. Their powerful beaks were clearly visible even from a distance and they are have to my mind quite quirky, curious faces. We spent about an hour pottering round the gardens, hoping they’d come lower down. Not surprisingly, given the large number of people staring at them, they chose to remain high up in the trees. So these were the best shots we managed, but they are at least recognisably Hawfinches.

I don’t think we’d ever have spotted them on our own, but the combination of helpful Twitter feeds (thank you @WorcsBirding) and of course a large flock of Twitchers made it possible. We just need the equivalent combination for some Waxwings now!

From Green to White

What a difference a day makes. Since my Evergreen blog post our Malvern landscape has been transformed into a frosty white wonderland. It snowed all day on Sunday – the most snow we’ve had in years here and temperatures have barely got above zero. For the first day we couldn’t even see the Malvern Hills – the snow and fog completely blanketed them. But yesterday it cleared and our view was once again returned.

Our mistletoe, that was making me feel so festive, is now even more Christmassy with a frosting of snow.

I may not have been able to get to work, nor get the car out to go to the shops (chocolate supplies are getting dangerously low and I may have to start eating some wrapped Xmas presents!), but it has provided some great photo ops in the garden. I have spent a lot of the last few days freezing my proverbial off, sitting in the garden watching the birds. The bird feeders have needed constant topping up and the water baths have had to be defrosted regularly, but I have been rewarded with lots of bird activity.

As always I had the trail cam out in the garden. Although I didn’t get any particularly interesting footage during the day, that may have been because things were landing on it rather than in front of it!

Similarly my camouflage netting, that I hide behind to photograph the birds, got the same lack of respect from this blue tit.

Most of our regular birds came out during my snowy vigil. Starlings, sparrows and blue tits were all abundant and didn’t seem bothered by me lurking behind my camouflage.

The wren was as elusive as always and the coal and great tits only came out when I went in. The blackbirds and jackdaws made the most of the food, but I struggled to get a decent photo of black birds against a white background. There were some surprises though – the benefit of sitting outside just watching meant that I saw birds I haven’t seen for a while in the garden. So it was great to see this thrush jostling for food amongst the sparrows on the bird table.

Even better a rare glimpse of a chaffinch – we hardly ever get these in the garden, so I was delighted to get even this distant shot of him.

Of course the one bird I really wanted to get decent photos of in the snow was the robin. Fortunately we have two resident robins and one in particular is pretty brave and comes close up to me (not yet managed the holy grail of getting him to eat out of my hand yet, but I’m working on it). I took loads of photos of him – here are a few of my favourites. I think next year’s Christmas cards may be sorted!

While chasing the robin round with the camera, I noticed something larger in the bush right next to me – a redwing. We haven’t seen any of these in the garden for a few years, so I snapped away quickly before he flew off.

And then it got even better! I was keeping an eye out in case the redwing returned and spotted a group of birds in next door’s tree. Unfortunately the tree was at the far side of their garden so I crept as close to our fence as I could get, peered over and discovered it was a small mixed flock of redwings and fieldfares.

They may not have actually been in our garden, but I’m counting them as I’m sure they must have passed through it at some point!

The final star of the show yesterday, although also not technically in the garden, was this magnificent Red Kite, drifting high above. I thought at first it was just the usual buzzard; it was only when I downloaded the photos I could see it was a kite. The perfect finale to my snowy birdwatching day.

Winter Evergreens

I started to feel properly Christmassy this week and that was even before the winter wonderland of snow arrived this morning. Amongst the (many) weeds in our garden we have some lovely evergreen plants, right out of a Christmas carol – holly, ivy and mistletoe too. None have been planted deliberately, they’ve all just arrived. Feed the birds and they deposit berries around the garden, which grow and attract more birds, which deposit more berries – a birdy/evergreen circle.

The ivy must surely be one of the most useful plants in our garden. Not only do the leaves provide cover for a host of insects, the flowers provide a much needed late nectar source (particularly for my favourite Ivy Bees) and the berries provide food in winter for the birds. We are doing our best to encourage the ivy to grow over as much of the fence as possible.

Our holly “tree” is little more than a small bush, but since we didn’t plant it at all, we can’t complain. We first spotted it a few years ago when it was literally a tiny seedling with just 3 leaves on it – presumably a helpful bird had either dropped a berry, or deposited it some other way in the front garden. This was our magnificent tree back in 2013, less than a foot tall. Four years later and it is the same height as me (so approximately 5 times the size).

We first noticed mistletoe growing on our apple tree a few years ago. We now have several clumps, although no sign of any berries yet – don’t know if this is because our mistletoe is not mature enough or we’ve just got male specimens?

Mistletoe may have the romantic connotations of kissing traditions at Christmas, but the actual name may have slightly less glamorous origins. Some websites suggest the name derives from two old words – mistle meaning dung (from the way in which birds may deposit it) and ta meaning twig or stick. So it’s really just a dung twig – not so tempting to kiss under it now!

Given the meagre clumps of mistletoe in the garden, we won’t be harvesting any for festive decorations any time soon. Fortunately my Dad has a garden full of the stuff, I just need to clamber up to get a bunch. Dad has always wanted to go the Tenbury Mistletoe Auctions, so last week we finally got around to going. What an amazing thing it was, no wonder people come from all over the country to see and bid on these winter evergreens.

First up was a whole shed filled with holly wreaths – presumably intended for shops rather than individuals as they were in multiple counts per lot. The auctioneer whizzed along the rows of them, with people bidding for dozens at a time.

The main attraction for most though was the mistletoe – row upon row of berry laden bundles. It really was a very impressive sight.

Once again the auctioneer made short work of the lots – each bundle going in a matter of seconds. No sooner had each one been auctioned than it was carted off and the crowd moved on. The Tenbury Mistletoe sales usually make the local news and here is this year’s report – for those with eagle eyes, yours truly appears at about the 5 second mark – dumpy little woman right behind the auctioneer!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-england-hereford-worcester-42240007/tenbury-mistletoe-auction-draws-crowds-in-bumper-year

We probably won’t put our Christmas tree up for another week, but in the meantime it’s nice to have this midwinter greenery around the garden.

Save Langdale Wood – Update

Since my last post on Langdale Wood, I have now gone back to basics and read the actual planning application and then been back for another look at the wood itself. The result – I came to the same conclusion; it would be terribly sad if developers are allowed to build 50 holiday lodges on this site.

The lodges would be interspersed amongst many of the existing trees. The trees themselves would largely survive, but the clearances in between would be ruined. A wood is made up of more than just the trees and the space and flow of air and light between them is just as important to people and the wildlife. No longer will you be able to look through the trees at open spaces and vice versa.

On my previous visit I’d counted 15 bird species in a short space of time. On my last visit I added two more to my tally.  A pretty little nuthatch was flitting from branch to branch way above me (excuse no. 1 for dodgy photography!).

A much bigger find was a buzzard, spotted halfway across the wood. I took a few distant shots, then tried creeping (ninja style in my head) closer. Unfortunately dumpy middle aged women it seems are not meant for such covert operations, and the buzzard soon spotted me and took off – so this was the best shot I managed of this one (excuse no. 2 for dodgy photography).

The wood was just as much a delight as before and I still feel it would be an awful shame if this Local Wildlife Site is compromised. So my objection to the proposals has now been added to the council’s website. Planning applications are available for everyone to read on Malvern Council’s website. The application for the erection of the holiday lodges in Langdale Wood, plus all associated documents is available to read at:

https://plan.malvernhills.gov.uk/plandisp.aspx?recno=74832

I would encourage anyone who is interested in Langdale Wood to have a look at the planning application and the various documents and comments that go with it. If you do not agree with the proposals, please voice your objections using the “Make Comments on this Application” button. The consultation period ends on 8th December.

If, having read the planning application and perhaps visited the wood yourself, you also think Langdale is worth saving, you might also like to support the petition:

https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/save-langdale-wood

 

Save Langdale Wood

This week I finally got round to visiting a local wood that I’ve been meaning to stop at for donkeys years. Langdale Wood is just on the outskirts of the Malvern Hills and I’ve driven past hundreds of times, often thinking “I must stop and have a look sometime”. Unfortunately it was the sad news that this wood might soon be lost that finally prompted me to get up and go.

I got down there fairly early (for me) and the wood was still lit by a pearly mist with shafts of sunlight giving it a real ethereal quality.

The area closest to the road consists of many huge trees which must be pretty old to have reached such a size. They are all widely spaced with plenty of light reaching the ground; I expect in spring and summer there are plenty of flowers beneath the trees. There are clear paths through the trees, although you could go off-piste if you fancied. Since it was my first visit, I stuck to the path and just followed to see where it would take me.

I’d picked only the second frosty morning of the autumn, and the ground was delightfully crunchy still underfoot where the sun hadn’t yet warmed it up; the ground cover twinkling with its crystalline coating.

While I meandered about, the bird song all around me just didn’t stop. No idea what most of it was, but it was clear there was no shortage of birds. In the hour or so I was there I counted 15 species and that was just the ones I could see – no doubt there were plenty more. I discovered the big problem with big trees, especially when you are of diminutive stature yourself, is that you can’t get close enough to the birds to get decent photos. So for instance, although I saw 4 species of Tit (Blue, Coal, Great and Long tail) I only managed a few poor photos.

I was really chuffed to spot a Tree Creeper, which although it wasn’t actually that high in the trees, did not stay still for an instant. Each time I just got focussed he was off round the back of the tree – so this was the best I managed of him.

There is a decent sized pond in the woods too, surrounded by trees with a patch of bulrushes at one end (I’ve made a mental note to check these for dragonflies next summer). There was a trio of moorhens picking their way around the pond weeds – we played chase for a while, I would move to one side of the pond and they would move to the other! So again a distant blurry shot.

My prize find of the morning though was a tiny Goldcrest. At least I think it was a Goldcrest – it was very, very small and moved like lightning, so I can’t really be sure. This was the best shot I managed of it and you can’t even see its gold crest! There seemed to be a couple of them in one corner of the wood, so I’ll have to go back with a better lens and photographer (i.e. take hubby Chris to do the job!)

The remaining  tally of birds spotted included robins, blackbirds, a wren, a dunnock, several crows, a pair of chaffinches, numerous pigeons, and some noisy jays. No wood would be complete without squirrels and I saw a few about – only grey ones of course, but always a cheery sight nonetheless.

It was only my first (though long overdue) visit to Langdale Wood, but it struck me as quite a magical place. Stunning huge trees with wide open walkways in some areas, but other areas with denser more scrubby natural woodland. It was clearly a popular place with dog walkers, many of whom exchanged morning pleasantries with me as I chased the elusive birds round with my camera. Unbelievably to me though, Langdale Wood is in danger – there are plans to build holiday lodges on it. Not only will this deprive the locals of a unique recreation area, but it will have a devastating effect on the trees and animals that live there.

A campaign group has been set up to try and fight the proposals. You can join the group on Facebook to show your support: https://www.facebook.com/langdalewood/

There is also an online petition – please if you live in the Malvern area, consider signing this petition: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/save-langdale-wood

I have lived in Malvern for quite a while and I honestly can’t think of anywhere in the area quite like it. There are other wooded areas of course, but none as spacious, open and calming as Langdale. Stupidly it’s taken me this long to go and see these woods, so I’ve only seen them in late autumn. I hope I get the chance to visit in winter, spring and summer, not just next year, but for many years to come.

 

Autumnwatch – Malvern Style

I’ve not managed to blog much this month, but it’s not been due to any lack of activity in the garden. We’ve both been suffering from a stinker of a cold and our wildlife watching has been largely confined to the views from the sofa. Fortunately the TV offerings have made up for the lack of outdoor activity. Blue Planet II returned this weekend and “blue” us away (sorry couldn’t resist the pun!).  David Attenborough was a huge influence on me as a child and probably one of the reasons I originally became a biologist – and he’s still got it. Inspirational as ever – false killer whales befriending dolphins, fish that leapt into the air to hunt seabirds and ones that used tools to open clams. All absolutely incredible.

Not only Blue Planet, but we had Autumn Watch last week too. Not quite the same wow factor, but great stuff all the same. The beauty of Autumn (and Spring) Watch is that it is British wildlife, so we’ve either seen the animals featured or can at least hope to see them one day. They often have projects or surveys that the public can contribute to and last week’s series was no exception. They launched a project called Seabird Watch which aims to get the public to analyse thousands of images of seabird colonies. So I’ve been having a go; it’s not as easy as it first seems, but it is very addictive! Here’s one of my efforts – lots of kittiwakes and guillemots.

If anyone wants to have a go there are still thousands of images to analyse – go to

https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/penguintom79/seabirdwatch

Autumnwatch of course featured all sorts of mammals and birds and all manner of fancy equipment for recording them. We don’t exactly have the same budget as the BBC, but I did go wild this week and bought a new gadget – this mini camera. It’s not much bigger than a 2 pence piece!

It’s so small we can fix it to twigs in the apple tree like this:

Of course like all new gadgets it’s taking a bit of getting used to. First few attempts turned out to be upside down. Second set were the right way up, but not exactly pointing in the right direction. I did get these starlings; although they’re not really taking centre stage they do at least demonstrate that it works and has the potential to get some decent footage.

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I have now managed to fix the date, so it doesn’t look like we’re in a time warp from 2 years ago, but I still need to work out the night vision and motion detection bit. It’s made a bit difficult by the badly translated instructions, but hopefully I’ll get there in the end. In the meantime here’s some nice footage using the good old trail camera – not quite the majestic owls from Autumnwatch, but a cute blue tit having a bath instead.

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Again we may not get the badgers and foxes of Autumnwatch, but we do have hedgehogs! I recently built another hedgehog feeding station (the last one having gone for a burton when a magpie knocked the trail camera over onto it and smashed it!) Fortunately the hedgehogs seem quite happy with mark II and this fairly large one has been a regular visitor.

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I was surprised though to see this much smaller one here for the first time. Hedgehogs need to be at least 450g by now to have enough fat reserves to make it through the winter. So if I can find this one again I will try and weigh him to check that he’ll be OK.

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The garden is definitely feeling very autumnal now and we even had our first frost yesterday morning with a chilly 0.1C overnight. The leaves have nearly all gone from the apple tree and my beloved moths are now few and far between. Marking the season though it is Halloween tonight and our allotment produced 3 whopping great pumpkins – the biggest of which here is seen with wine bottle and lemon for scale rather than some weird recipe I’m concocting.

Last year I carved the pumpkin into a bird feeder, but this one was a bit big to hang  up, so it’s just a regular scary pumpkin face. There’s something very satisfying about having grown our own pumpkins.

Finally from Halloween to Bonfire Night and a plea for everyone to look out for hedgehogs (and other small mammals and amphibians). If you’re going to have a bonfire – ideally build it on the day it’s going to be lit. If that’s not possible, then please check it thoroughly before lighting – lift up the base and look and listen for signs of hedgehogs. And please just light it from one side to give any hoggies in there a chance to escape from the other side.

Moth (and Mouse) Night

This weekend is Moth Night (it troubles me every year that Moth Night is actually a weekend!). It was supposed to be a fairly windy night and the various moth groups I follow were abuzz with prospects of exciting migrant moths being blown in from the Continent. One of the themes for this year’s Moth Night was the importance of ivy as an autumn food source. I cleared a path to our patch of ivy, so I could get close up for nocturnal photos and out my moth trap went in hope and anticipation. As anyone who reads my blog, or indeed anyone who has ever tried photographing wildlife knows, things rarely go to plan.

So the moth trap attracted just a measly 10 individuals of 8 species. October is getting near the end of moth season, so I was never going to get hundreds of moths, but I had hoped for a bit more of a selection. There are some lovely colourful autumn moth species, but none of them fancied my moth trap last night. I did get two migrants – both Silver Y moths – seen here with their distinctive y or gamma (hence their latin name Autographa gamma) marks on the wings.

The remaining 8 moths were made up of 2 Common Marbled Carpets, 1 Light Brown Apple Moth, 1 Blair’s Shoulder Knot, 1 Lesser Yellow Underwing, 1 Setaceous Hebrew Character, 1 Black Rustic and 1 Shuttle-shaped Dart. All lovely moths in their own right, but not the most exciting selection.

The ivy was also a complete wash out. Although it was in full flower, I didn’t see a single moth on it. Admittedly I didn’t sit in the bushes staring at it all night, but I did pop out for frequent spot checks. Maybe the light from the moth trap was doing too good a job attracting what few moths there were and keeping them away from the ivy? I’ll keep checking the ivy over the next few nights – it will be too late for Moth Night, but I’d like to get a photo of at least one moth on it. I did check out the ivy this morning and it was buzzing with bees (who had clearly got the memo the moths had missed about it being a good source of food in the autumn!). No sign of any Ivy Bees, but plenty of Honey Bees making the most of it.

One surprise find to finish off Moth Night was this mouse. As I was putting the moth trap away in the garage, I saw movement from the box with the birds’ peanuts in. A mouse had got stuck in there and looked just as surprised as me. A quick photo and he was running free in the garden again, although he may have preferred to stay in the garage with the bird food.

Table Manners

Our garden furniture doesn’t seem to have had much use this summer; we normally try and eat outside quite a lot, but the weather just hasn’t been tempting enough. Of course in true Too Lazy style, the garden table is still sitting out on the grass, where we left it a couple of months ago. Various things get dumped on it, including the occasional hedgehog feeding bowl, which fills up every time it rains. The sparrows had taken to using this as an impromptu bird bath, cramming themselves into the small dish with barely room to flap a wing.

Today though I looked out to see that one of the unfortunate sparrows was suffering an altogether different experience on our table – he had become lunch for our local sparrowhawk. My first thought was guilt that I’d encouraged the sparrows, only for this one to become today’s special on the sparrowhawk menu. My second thought was can I get the camera in time? And for once I did. Not the finest set of photos; there was nothing I could do about the bits of grass and weeds obscuring the view, I just had to snap away getting as close as I could before the sparrowhawk spotted me. Thankfully the window cleaner had been literally an hour before, so I could at least see out of the patio door; the photos would have been a lot blurrier otherwise.

The black tripod visible behind the table had the trail camera set up on it. Needless to say, the trailcam was pointing in the opposite direction and missed all the action!

I headed out into the garden a bit later, not really expecting much after the excitement of the sparrowhawk. It may not have been quite so dramatic, but I was chuffed to find a Common Darter resting on the table – in almost the same spot the sparrow had met his unfortunate end. I never find it very easy to get all of a dragonfly in focus, so having failed a bit on the full body angle, I tried focussing on its head and the amazing compound eyes.

The sparrows don’t actually need to be using the tiny terracotta bowl as a bird bath. Having seen them all squashed in there, I had bought them a more spacious bird bath and put it right next to the table. They don’t seem that keen on it and are a bit wary of the slippery sides. I’ve yet to see one bathing in it, although they did have a tentative paddle a few weeks ago.

Bird bath

Our robin however has taken to the new bathing facilities quite happily, maybe because he doesn’t get jostled for space by the sparrows.

Bird Bath
Bird Bath
Bird Bath

While I was gathering together these clips and photos of goings on around the table, I remembered that last year I’d videoed a wasp eating chicken on the table – not a chicken with an appetite for wasps, but a wasp tucking into some cooked chicken that we’d left out. I’d never got round to adding this to the blog before, so here are a few clips now:

Wasp eating chicken
Wasp eating chicken
Wasp eating chicken

So our garden table may not have seen much of me and Chris this year, but it’s still getting plenty of use from an assortment of winged wildlife!

Rehab Time

Yesterday must be right up there as one of the most interesting days this year. I got to spend the whole day at Vale Wildlife Hospital & Rehabilitation Centre near Tewkesbury. It was a one day course learning about hedgehog first aid, care & rehabilitation and the whole thing was fascinating!

The day started in the classroom with introductions – the other participants on the course included some experienced hedgehog carers, some planning on starting hedgehog rehabilitation and some who just loved the hedgehogs in their gardens and wanted to learn more.

Caroline, the charity founder, started with an overview of the legal issues surrounding wildlife rescue, which were much more complicated than I had realised. Then we had an introduction to some of the diseases/parasites that hedgehogs can suffer from; many of which can be transferred to humans, so careful hygiene is essential when handling hedgehogs (as it is with any animal).

We then ran through everything associated with the successful care and rehabilitation of hedgehogs. This covered everything from initial “is the rescue really necessary”, to examination & diagnosis, first aid, rehydration of dehydrated animals, feeding, care of hoglets,  treatments of parasites and other diseases, common injuries, record keeping, rehabilitation & release and sadly euthanasia.

In the afternoon we had two practical sessions. First looking down a microscope to examine hedgehog poo for signs of parasites. Not as easy as it sounds and it must take a while to get your eye in with this. Second was practising giving subcutaneous fluids to a hedgehog. Obviously we couldn’t practise on a live animal, but we all got to have a go on a deceased individual (sad to think that not all the hedgehogs could be saved, but at least we got to learn something from a couple of those that didn’t make it). Dehydration is a major problem for many rescued hedgehogs, so learning to do this properly is vital for anyone considering their rehabilitation, but not something that should be tried without proper instruction.

The Vale Centre cares for all manner of wildlife, not just hedgehogs. As part of the course we got a guided tour of their facilities. Just seeing the scale of simple things like food prep or laundry (an awful lot of dirty animal bedding) really brought it home how much work they do. There is of course a lot of much more technical equipment, like this heated x-ray table.

Warmth is often a critical factor in the survival of the rescued animals, particularly for baby ones. Brooders such as this one, allow them to be kept constantly warm, until they are big enough to regulate their own body temperatures.

The small mammal and hedgehog wards are fitted out with row upon row of cages, each with their own patient records on clipboards, just as you would find in a human hospital.

Each animal patient has a unique identifying number and the staff record daily weights and observations, flagging up any that are cause for concern. Colour coded tabs allow instant identification of those needing fluids, or medication, or assessment, or samples etc.

While we were getting our tour a young squirrel was being syringe fed (although we were supposed to all be objective and unsentimental, a collective “awwh” went up in the room).

A more adult looking squirrel was either interested in the syringe food, or interested in us – not sure which.

Hedgehogs account for a large proportion of the animals admitted to Vale. Last year of the approximate 4500 animals admitted, over 1000 were hedgehogs. This year they look to be getting similar numbers and the wards certainly had plenty of hoggy patients. Of course being nocturnal animals most of them were fast asleep in their cages, burrowed into nests of shredded newspaper. But I did spot one venturing out of his sleeping chamber. The hedgehog cages are split into two connecting “rooms”, one a sleeping chamber and one for the food and water.

Birds account for about 70% of Vale’s admissions, many of them baby ones. A young sparrowhawk and a duck were admitted while we were there. These baby pigeons were just two in the indoor bird ward yesterday.

Outdoors there were yet more birds, from small birds like sparrows and pigeons, up to swans and gulls. All waiting to be strong enough to be rehabilitated – it is vital that they regain the strength in their flight muscles before being released.

Vale’s ethos is very much about rehabilitation. Animals are nursed back to health so that they can not only be released again, but be released with quality of life equivalent to what they would have naturally.  If this can’t be achieved, then sadly euthanasia may be the only option.

There are one or two exceptions, such as this stunning European Eagle Owl. This bird is not native to Britain so cannot be released into the wild here.

And finally an unlikely looking trio of a fallow deer, an emu and a rhea, all of which will be living out their natural days at Vale.

Although our course was aimed primarily at hedgehogs, it was great to see some of the other work the centre does too. I would recommend this course to anyone considering caring for one or more hedgehogs. This and of course getting some practical volunteering experience with an already established hedgehog rescuer if you can.

When I was a little girl I wanted to be a vet, but was probably way too lazy to study hard enough. I realise now with hindsight that I probably wouldn’t have had the emotional strength to make a very good vet, even if I had worked hard enough. People who work with animals, like the amazing staff at Vale, have to care for the animals whilst at the same time making really difficult decisions on a day to day basis. It would be so easy to make choices for an animal to make the person choosing feel better, rather than thinking what is really right for the animal. The staff at Vale always put the interests of the animals first and I have huge respect for them.

To find out more about Vale Wildlife Hospital and the work they do, check out their website: http://www.valewildlife.org.uk/     Charities like this cost a fortune to run, but do such an amazing job – any and all donations would be very welcome.