Hedgehog Self-Anointing

The hedgehogs have been busy in our garden and I’ve been busy watching them over the last few weeks. I could spend hours watching them – which is fortunate as I’ve ended up with a lot of trail cam footage – mainly of them stuffing their faces with the food I’m putting out. But amongst all the scoffing, there’s been some really interesting behaviour; so here’s another hoggy update.

If you’ve read some of my recent blog posts, you might remember that a few weeks ago  we took custody again of Fred, one of two young hedgehogs we’d rescued from a hot lawn earlier in the summer. Fred had been cared for by Malvern Hedgehog Rescue until he was old enough and big enough to come back to our garden. He seems to have settled in well and appears regularly on the trail cam. He’s now been seen several times doing this to the older, larger hedgehog:

Initially we had no idea what was going on, but thanks to Little Silver Hedgehog (https://littlesilverhedgehog.wordpress.com/) we now know that Fred was probably self-anointing. A bit of googling revealed that this slightly odd behaviour is common in hedgehogs. If they find a smell that they find particularly interesting (not necessarily a pleasant one!) they will lick or chew at the source of the smell and then twist round to lick themselves with frothy saliva. It’s not clear why they do this – perhaps trying to blend in with the smell of their surroundings? If this is the case it seems Fred was finding the smell of the larger hog really interesting and either wanted to smell the same (hedgehoggy equivalent to wanting to smell like a celebrity’s perfume!) or was just trying to fit in with the local hedgehogs?

Whatever the reason, he was very persistent to the point that he really started to annoy the larger hog (who I am now calling Fred Senior). Fred Senior initially starts to curl into a ball, perhaps thinking he’s under attack.

But once he realises it is only a smaller hedgehog he spins round and snaps at poor Fred with an annoyed squeak.

Fred is undeterred though and continues rooting about in the adult’s spines before wriggling about to lick the smell onto his own spines.

Without the trail cam we would never have known about self-anointing, let alone witnessed it in our own garden. Hopefully we’ll get more interesting behaviour from our prickly friends over time.

With autumn fast approaching (technically already here as we’re passed the equinox), we decided to provide a (hopefully) des res for our hoggy friends. We could have built one ourselves, but this is after all a Lazy Garden, so an online purchase did the job instead. New residence features an entrance tunnel, which hopefully the hogs can get in but the cats can’t. Runners beneath the box and ventilation gap in the top allow air to circulate and prevent condensation.

hedgehog-box

The box has been tucked away in a corner of the garden and following advice from the good people of Twitter, has been provided with straw bedding and a plastic sheet on top to prevent the lid getting cold and wet. I’m also trying to gather up leaves in the garden as they fall to dry out and provide further bedding.

Of course having put the box out, I couldn’t resist setting up the camera to see if it would get any action. I put some food out near the box to tempt them into the corner of the garden. Really chuffed that within the first couple of nights Fred headed into the box to check it out. I don’t expect him to set up residence in it just yet, but it seems a good sign that he’s investigating it.

Fred senior has been making the most of the food and sniffing round the box, but I’ve not actually caught him going in it yet. But I was really pleased last night when a beetle had fallen in the food bowl (beetle was probably not so pleased) and got stuck – Fred senior was munching the regular food when he clearly spots the black beetle and snaps it up. Beetles are apparently a favourite food, so it was great to catch this on camera.

One extra thing I’ve been trying to do was to get some footprints.  I’d seen on other blogs that you can get ink sheets for recording animal footprints – so another internet purchase later and our hogs are immortalised in ink! The pads contain harmless black ink which the animals simply walk through then leave footprints on the attached cards. Of course they don’t just walk neatly where you want them to and most of the prints were either smudged or crisscrossed over each other. But I did get at least the couple of clear prints in the photo below. They’re really quite sweet little footprints. You can just about see a few dots which are the tips of their claws in front of the toe pad prints.

hedgehog-footprint

As a final bonus in this mainly hedgehoggy post, a different mammalian video. I tend to leave the trail cam running during the day after a night hog filming (mainly because I don’t have time in the mornings to go out and switch it off). Most of the time I just get clips of grass swaying or pigeons rooting about, but last week I was surprised to find a squirrel! Of course it’s a grey not a red squirrel, but it was still nice to watch.

Ivy Stakeout

As stakeouts go, this may not have been the most action packed and I doubt they’ll make a movie of this one; but the end result for me was all the excitement I needed! We’d been seeing loads of posts on social media about Ivy Bees (Colletes hederae). This species of bee was only discovered in Britain in 2001, when they were spotted in Dorset. Since then they’ve been spreading north and have reached as far as Staffordshire.  They forage pretty much exclusively on ivy flowers, so the adults emerge in time to match the ivy flowering in September.

As usual bee envy set in and we (well mainly I) wanted to see them too. There is a very large stand of ivy down the road from us, so when Chris went for a walk with his camera last weekend, he was under instruction to look out for ivy bees. And much to my delight, he found them! Of course now I knew they were in Malvern, I wanted to spot one in our garden too.  So this is how I came to be staking out the ivy in our garden today. It’s not a huge patch of ivy like the one down the road, but it is flowering, so I sat down to wait.

Since I wasn’t immediately inundated with the desired bees, I spent time observing the other insects. There was a surprising amount around considering it is now technically autumn. This grasshopper may have been missing one back leg, but it was making the most of the sunshine, sitting on top of one of the solar panels for the pond pumps.

grasshopper-on-solar-panel

There were also a few Green Shieldbug nymphs, of varying stages, meandering about the leaves at my feet, with at least one adult visible but out of photographic range.

shieldbug-nymph

shieldbug-nymph-2

I got a bit excited when I spotted something on the ivy flowers, but it turned out to be just a Common Wasp.

wasp-v-vulgaris-on-ivy

One of my favourite hoverflies clearly wanted in on the photo shoot too – this is Helophilus pendulus, which is sometimes known as The Footballer because his stripy thorax is supposed to look a bit like a football shirt!

hoverfly

There were quite a few bees about – such as this rather tatty looking Common Carder (top) and slightly fresher looking Honey Bee (bottom)

carder-bee

honey-bee

I was about to give up for the day, when a single bee landed next to the ivy.  It didn’t hang about long, so I didn’t get the chance for many photos, but at least I got enough to confirm it was an Ivy Bee – my stakeout had paid off!

ivy-bee-7

Although I was very pleased to have got a pic of our Ivy Bee, the photos Chris took last weekend were loads better, not least because they show the bees actually on the ivy! So here are a couple of my favourites.

ivy-bee-media-2

ivy-bee-media

The Bees, Wasp & Ant Recording Society (BWARS) have got a mapping project going to record the spread of the Ivy Bees, so our sightings both in the garden and down the road have been duly logged. If anyone else spots these distinctive bees, do please record them as well, so that they can build up a better picture of the current distribution. http://www.bwars.com/content/colletes-hederae-mapping-project

Moths Reach Double Century!

When I first started on my mothy learning curve, I never dreamt just how many moths we would get in our garden. The first year I kept a serious count (2014) we hit 127 species, which I thought was amazing. In 2015 we got 155 species and I thought we’d never beat that. This year as we reached the upper 180s, grim determination set in that we’d reach 200. Of course as soon as you set your mind to something like that, everything seems to slow down, but gradually the numbers edged closer to the magic double century. We finally reached number 199 last week with a species I’d been longing to see – the delightfully named Vestal Moth. This is an attractive migrant species, that I’d been envying on other people’s twitter feeds for a while, so I was really chuffed to get one in the garden. Shame it didn’t hang around long enough for a better photo.

vestal

Following the excitement of the Vestal, there were then a few nights trapping with nothing new to add to the list. Lots of interesting moths, but nothing to take me to the magic 200. Lunar Underwings were particularly abundant and very varied. Both the examples below are Lunar Underwings, but they look quite different.

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Lunar Underwing

Finally last night in flew not only number 200, but numbers 201 and 202! Number 200 was this – a Blair’s Shoulder Knot. Don’t know who the original Mr Blair was (presumably not Tony), but I was very happy to see his moth. Funnily enough it had been a Blair’s Shoulder Knot that took me to my final figure of 127 species back in 2014. A lucky species for our garden perhaps?

blairs-shoulder-knot

No. 201 was a Black Rustic – which actually looks a lot glossier and blacker than this photo suggests.

black-rustic

No. 202 was the autumnal looking Sallow. You can see how easily it would blend in with piles of autumn leaves – as would the Centre Barred Sallow below.

sallow

centre-barred-sallow

So I’m very happy to have reached 202 species of moth and we’re not even in October yet. Hopefully we’ll get a few more species before the year is out.

Why have we recorded so many more this year? Well I think it’s partly because of the Garden Moth Scheme. Having to make sure I trap at least once a week over the summer months, has clearly paid off in terms of overall species count. I did run the traps quite a lot last year, but there were definitely weeks when it was too wet or windy or I just didn’t feel like getting up at the crack of dawn to check it! Secondly I’ve made more of an effort to identify the micro moths. Previously I’d ignored a lot of them as being too small to identify or even photograph, but I realise now I was missing out on a whole range. Many of the micros are very beautiful when you get close enough to look at them properly (I feel a micro moth post coming soon!)

Of course all this will leave me with a problem for next year. Realistically moth numbers in our garden can’t keep increasing at this rate. I know there are several species that we’ve had previous years that have been no shows this year, but then some that we’ve seen this year maybe won’t appear next. Will I be disappointed if we don’t get more next year? Maybe, but then I could always start compiling a definitive list of all moths species seen in the garden to date since I started trapping. Or of course I could start obsessing about another group – anyone know anything about hoverflies?

In The Pink

This week I managed to combine a visit to Slimbridge Wetland Centre with meeting friends for lunch – a win-win day out in my book! Slimbridge is only an hour’s drive from us and is the most amazing wetland reserve, overflowing with birds both native and from abroad. If you’re into bird watching, it must be one of the top UK sites to visit. In the few hours we were there, we only managed to get round maybe less than half of it (probably due to too much time scoffing sandwiches and yapping in the café!)

I was trying to take photos as we meandered around, but there’s almost too much to take in and I kept forgetting to actually snap away. For some reason, when I got back and looked at the photos, I appear to have got a bit obsessed by flamingos! Nearly half the day’s photos seem to feature them. There are apparently 6 species, although I think I’ve only got 3 here (which vaguely irritates my OCD that having unwittingly got a bit obsessed, I didn’t then photograph them all!)

These first ones are Caribbean Flamingos – the brightest pink ones we saw. The colour always seems unnatural to me, but logically I know that it’s due to their food and that Slimbridge aren’t dying their flamingos for our gratification!

caribbean-flamingos

This next one is an Andean Flamingo and possibly my favourite of the ones we saw. The feathers are absolutely stunning. Unfortunately this species is classed as Threatened – mainly by hunting, mining activities and habitat loss.

andean-flamingo

The next two photos are of Lesser Flamingos. In the upper photo you can see the teeth or serrations along the edge of the beak that it uses to filter the food out of the water. The lower photo I included just because I like the way they sinuously wrap their necks around – it’s hard to tell where one bird ends and the next begins.

flamingo-head

flamingo-knot

Besides flamingos, there were birds everywhere – particularly geese and ducks. Many had clearly learnt that visitors = food, but this Bar-headed Goose was way too dignified for that and just sailed serenely by.

barr-headed-goose

There were lots of quite showy birds, but for some reason I really liked this South Georgian Pintail Duck. Nothing flashy, just quintessentially ducky!

south-georgian-pintail

Probably my favourite photo of the day is this seemingly two headed duck! (Ruddy Eider Ducks I think)

two-headed-duck

We listened to a very interesting talk by one of the WWT volunteers, all about the Great Cranes. Slimbridge has been heavily involved in a project to reintroduce these majestic birds into Britain. It’s hard to believe but these huge birds were once common here until they were hunted to extinction. Fortunately they survived in Europe and thanks to the efforts of the WWT, they have got a toehold back in Britain.

cranes

It’s not all birds at the wetland centre though. They have several mammals, including otters, a beaver, voles, shrews and these adorable harvest mice – the only ones who would pose nicely for photographs. Unfortunately they were behind glass, so the images aren’t great, but they were wonderful to watch – such quick inquisitive little creatures.

harvest-mouse

harvest-mouse-2

Final bird of the day though was this Spoon-billed Sandpiper – made entirely of Lego. They were setting up giant Lego animals while we were there for a children’s trail opening this Saturday. The lady who gave us the Crane talk had told us about these little birds (in non-Lego reality they are apparently tiny) and how the WWT is doing such valuable work to try and save them. This was the closest we got to seeing one though!

spoon-billed-sandpiper

You don’t have to be into birdwatching to enjoy Slimbridge, although it is obviously a bonus if you are. I’d definitely recommend it as a day out for anyone even remotely interested in wildlife and conservation. For more information go to: http://www.wwt.org.uk/wetland-centres/slimbridge/

Hedgehog Comes Home

Happiness is a Hedgehog come Home! Very happy to report that this evening the male hedgehog that we’d rescued from our baking hot lawn a couple of months ago has recovered and been returned to the Too Lazy garden. We picked him up tonight from the Malvern Hedgehog Rescue, where he’d been cared for by the wonderful Viv. Viv had named him Fred (and his sister is Freda).

When we found the babies in July they were too small to survive on their own and at the time we feared that something must have happened to the parents. You can read about their initial rescue on the original blog post here: https://toolazytoweed.uk/2016/07/19/too-hot-for-hedgehogs/

This is what the babies looked like when we found them in July – way too small to be out on their own.

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And this is what Fred looks like now, admittedly looking a bit sulky in the cat box we brought him back in tonight.

hedgehog-basket

He is now big and round and weighs a healthy 600g or so, compared to only about 90g when we found him. His sister is still not quite big enough to be released, but even when she is, she will probably go to another garden. Instead we will get a different rescued female back – so that we don’t end up with brother and sister – we don’t want any dodgy soap type plots going on in our garden! Fred has also been microchipped, so that should he decide our garden is not desirable enough (maybe he’ll want a tidier garden?) and is found in trouble elsewhere, Viv at Malvern Hedgehog Rescue will know his history.

We brought him home early evening but had to wait until dusk to release him. I opened the cat basket next to a positive buffet of hoggy food and waited for him to come out. I was so excited with this, I even missed the first half of Great British Bake Off to wait for him to emerge! If I could have got hold of the Born Free music, I would have been tempted to go for it. Half an hour later he emerged, had a bit of a scratch and headed straight for the food. This bodes well for his future! It was too dark for decent photos with the camera, but I did manage to get one with a flash (didn’t want to take many with the flash though and frighten him on his first night back).

hedgehog-fred

Fortunately for once I’d got the trail camera pointed in roughly the right direction, so it picked up Fred’s first forays back out in the wild.

He didn’t hang around for long before he headed off into our abundant weeds. With a bit of luck, Fred will settle back into our neighbourhood. We still have at least one other adult hedgehog using the garden – possibly even one of Fred’s parents. Hopefully there won’t be any family agro between them!

If anyone finds a hedgehog in need of help in Malvern the rescue centre details can be found at http://www.malvernhedgehogrescue.co.uk/ It is run on a completely voluntary basis and relies on donations, so if anyone can help towards her running costs, please donate – either as a direct donation or by donating foods, cleaning materials, help towards vet bills etc.

Mellow Fruitfulness

It may only be September, but it is starting to seriously feel like autumn in the garden now and has been for a few weeks! The nights are drawing in and the garden is starting to mellow into autumn, plant by plant. I’m hoping our resident hedgehogs are doing enough to fatten themselves up for the winter; but judging by the amount of time this one spent at the food bowl the other night, I think he or she at least has got the right idea!

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We’re planning on getting a hedgehog nest box this year to help them out a bit further. Hopefully we can find a suitable spot for it under the brambles that are gradually taking over the back end of the garden.  Said brambles have been fruiting for weeks now – lovely fat juicy berries.

Blackberry

The beauty of picking blackberries from your own garden, especially if you garden organically, is that you know there’s nothing untoward been sprayed on them (with the possible exception of the lower ones which may fall foul of neighbourhood cats scent marking!)

Blackberries

I’ve picked some, but there are too many for us really, so I’m hoping the birds will take their fill, although they seem at the moment to prefer the suet bird food provided and are spurning the healthy fruit option!

Our other fruit crop is from our Discovery apple tree, which is an early cropping variety with lovely red sweet apples.

Apples

The tree a few weeks ago looked like this – laden with apples that were already starting to drop on our shoddy attempt at a lawn.

Apple tree with apples

Again there were too many apples for the two of us, but fortunately Chris has a cider-making friend who kindly came round and cleared most of them for us. Hopefully we’ll get some of the finished product! So a day’s apple picking and a few weeks later the tree is looking like this – leaves just starting to change colour from green to yellow in places.

Apple tree without apples

Another “crop” from the garden are the artichokes – Globe ones. To be honest they don’t really get harvested as I always leave them until they’re too big and tough. And anyway, I love the purple flowers which the bees go crazy for and they give fantastic structural interest amongst the prevailing weeds!

Artichoke flowers

Small mushrooms are also popping up now in the “lawn” – another autumnal sign. I’ve no idea what species they are or whether they are edible, so they’ll stay where they are amongst the grass.

mushroom

One final thought – as if the approach of autumn wasn’t daunting enough, some of the apples from the tree have already made their way into this – Christmas is coming!

Mincemeat