Another Hog Blog

I’ve been getting some really nice hoggy video clips from the assorted cameras in the garden lately; the perfect excuse for another hog blog!

Freda our resident 3-legged hog is still with us and doing well around the garden. It is now about a month since she was wooed by Wodan, so if she is pregnant we may well have the patter of tiny hoglet feet soon. Part of me hopes so, but at the same time it is late in the season to be having babies, so they may struggle to put on enough weight for the winter, so I am also worried for her and potentially them. Watch this space.

In the meantime though we still have plenty of other hedgehog activity. Wodan seems to have wandered off now that he’s either had his wicked way with Freda or finally got the message that she’s having none of it. But we do have Pink, a juvenile hedgehog that I fostered until she was big enough to be released. Pink came from a litter of hoglets that couldn’t be returned to where she came from (the best option) due to a dog attack. Instead she seems happy to make her home in our garden, although she is of course free to come and go as she pleases. Here she meets Freda, just a couple of nights after she was released into the garden. Freda is considerably larger than Pink, who wisely tucks herself up as Freda approaches.

When Pink met Freda

Fortunately Freda was more interested in the food than in Pink and they both carried on eating without any further argument.

Pink seems to have decided to make one of our hedgehog houses her regular home, which is great. She has been really busy the last week furnishing it to her liking – in and out with as much nesting material as she can find. For a young hedgehog she is doing a fantastic job at nest building, even if she is sometimes a bit over-ambitious with the stuff she tries to drag in there.

Gathering nesting material 1

It is amazing how much she can carry in her mouth and how determined she is to get it all back to the house.

Nest gathering

Fortunately the house she has chosen to nest in is the one with a built-in camera. So not only do I have footage of her gathering from outside, I can also see her bringing it in from the inside.

Bringing in nest material

Her behaviour pattern seems to be to wake up when it gets dark (as she should of course), then go out for something to eat for the next few hours. Around 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning she then resumes her nest building until it starts to get light. Finally as the sun comes up she retires to bed for the day. As hedgehogs shouldn’t really be out in the day, it’s not often I get daylight footage; but this is her heading back to the nest first thing in the morning after a hard night’s eating and gathering.

Time for bed

She’s packed her nest so full that it’s getting a bit of a struggle to get in there. She has to clamber over the pile of leaves and grass, before pulling it back over herself. She can then snuggle down (with a bit of a yawn) safely away from draughts until it’s time to start all over again.

Bed time

So hopefully both Pink and Freda will continue to make our garden their home. The garden is not enclosed so they are free to roam if they wish. Hopefully though they will realise that here they have a plentiful supply of food, hedgehog houses and more than enough weeds and wildlife to provide for all their hedgehoggy needs. And we will get to continue to enjoy their company in our garden.

Spring in the garden

The Spring Equinox has been and gone already and I’ve been gathering video clips for weeks now with signs of spring. I blogged about the allotment last week, so this time it’s the turn of the Too Lazy garden proper. I’ve had the cameras out all over the garden and got so many videos it’s taken a while to sort through them; but here are some highlights from the last few weeks.

Our first hedgehog woke from hibernation and appeared on the trail camera at the end of February – quite early, but given the mild winter we’ve had, maybe not too surprising.

 

It wasn’t long before one became two and a second larger hedgehog appeared in the same part of the garden. This second one didn’t seem too keen to share the food with the smaller one and there were a few tussles the first night. I had hoped One-eyed Tim, one of last year’s hedgehogs, might have appeared by now, but neither of these are optically challenged, so I hope he’s just late coming out of hibernation.

 

The garden birds, in particular the blue tits, seem to be feeling the spring in the air too. Blue tits used to nest in our garden, but for the last few years, they seem to have turned their noses (or beaks) up at it and although regular visitors, they must be nesting elsewhere. I did get hopeful when the old nest box we’d stuck on the apple tree seemed to be getting a bit of attention:

 

Unfortunately despite repeated visits to check it out, they seem to have found it lacking in some way. They may not be favouring our garden for their nest, but they’re not averse to making use of the nesting material we’ve put out for them. I’d filled an old hanging basket with hay and moss raked up from the lawn and the blue tits wasted no time helping themselves to it.

 

In the absence of nest box footage, I thought I’d make the most of the hay/moss collection and try and get some different shots of this activity instead. First I tried putting the GoPro on a branch above the basket, which worked reasonably well.

 

I then had a go putting the camera inside the basket cage itself. The blue tits weren’t bothered by it at all, so I got some half decent shots of them tugging at the moss to get the best bits.

 

Last month I succumbed to the urge to get yet another camera for the garden – this time one trained exclusively on a feeder. We can live feed it to the living room, which is great, although most of the time we end up just watching peanuts swinging in the breeze. But I did eventually manage to get a brief clip of the blue tits – once again happy to avail themselves of anything on offer in the garden (except the nest boxes).

 

The blackbirds made an early start gathering nesting material at the end of February – or at least the female in this video clip did, the male seemed more interested in making sure we got his best side on film!

 

The squirrel wasn’t doing anything particularly spring-like, other than checking whether the hedgehogs had left anything worthwhile; but I can never resist the squirrels, so here’s his few seconds of fame too.

 

The water bath seems to have been coming into its own again now spring’s here too. This blackbird was making the obvious use of it by bathing and of course lots of birds just drink from it.

 

But one magpie in particular has been using it for something a bit different. He or she has been eating bits of the cat food that I leave out for the hedgehogs. Most of it is eaten straight down, but some pieces are perhaps too hard, so it has been dropping them in the bird bath, presumably to soften them up a bit.

 

So there’s plenty of activity in the garden already this year and that’s without even discussing the insects that are all starting to appear too (I’ll save them for the next blog post). I love this time of year when everything is optimistic with the promise of the summer to come; perhaps the wildlife in the garden feels the same?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Bird in the Box

As the old saying goes (with just a minor adjustment) a bird in the box is worth two in the hand (although I’d be delighted if one landed on my hand too). So after blogging last Saturday about how excited I was that something had pooped in our new bird box, things got even better. I kept checking the box camera for more evidence of use, but didn’t really expect any more excitement. But at about 5pm, just as it got dark, the blue tit returned. I thought he or she was just going to check out the box again then leave, but it settled down in the corner and basically went to sleep!

I didn’t realise until I watched it just how much they fluff themselves up when they sleep. It looked like a totally different bird – just a small ball of fluff – it almost looked like a small mammal rather than a bird.

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blue-tit-fluffed-up

It was still there when I went to bed, so I made a point of getting up early (on a Sunday!) the next day to check on our new lodger. It was still there so I sat with my finger poised over the record button ready to get a shot of it leaving. At about 07:30 as it was starting to get light, the blue tit started fidgeting and stretching its wings and then with little further ado, it was off.

I would have blogged about this sooner, but I’ve been hoping the blue tit would honour us with his presence again, so have been checking the camera as it got dark each night. No sign though of any return visits, so I’ve decided to blog with what I’ve got so far. After a bit of practice I’ve more or less mastered the new software enough to cut and splice assorted short clips together into one film. The Oscar candidates for editing have nothing to worry about though!

Since all the footage was shot after dark the camera had switched to infrared and the video is black and white. Hopefully if we can get a blue tit in during daylight we might actually get some colour footage, which would be nice. But in the meantime, here is the star of our show.

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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.

30 Days Wild – Day 2

TWT 30 Days Wild_countdown_02Day 2 on the challenge and I feel a bit like a marathon runner (actually I’ve no idea what that feels like and probably never will!) just getting going and setting my pace so I don’t run out of steam. So with that in mind, Day 2’s activity was none too strenuous and involved dragging my lazy bones only as far as the garden. I did however have to get up BEFORE the crack of dawn, so still feel deserving of some kind of medal.

So the reason for getting up at such an ungodly hour – to listen to the dawn chorus. This is something that always seemed such a lovely thing to do (memories of Bill Oddie enthusing about it on past TV programmes perhaps), but somehow I’ve never quite achieved – the lure of the duvet has always been too strong. So 30 Days Wild felt like the time to finally do it.

Unusually, I was organised. A digital dictation machine was borrowed well in advance (couldn’t think how else to record it as my phone is from the dark ages) and a few practice runs attempted – not at ridiculous o’clock in the morning of course, but in more civilised early evenings. We live in a pretty quiet street, but you don’t realise how much noise there actually is until you start trying to record something relatively quiet like bird song. First attempts resulted in 30 seconds of a neighbour hammering something. Next one a dog barked incessantly. Third one sounded as if the Hell’s Angels had decided to do wheelies down our street. Fourth attempt was going fine until Chris came outside and announced we’d be having beans for tea – all duly recorded (I might have kept that recording if he’d said we were having something that sounded a bit more glamorous and foodie than beans!) At least they proved the sound recording worked.

Sunrise this morning was supposed to be about 5am here in Malvern. According to the RSPB website the chorus begins about an hour before sunrise, so by 4am I was up and out and sitting in splendid isolation in the garden (for some reason Chris declined to get up and join me!) Last night I’d been stressing a bit that I wouldn’t be able to identify the birds from their songs. I listened to various bird recordings online to try and memorise them – with little success. But as I got up this morning, I thought to hell with that – it’s way too early in the day to be stressing about anything, much better to sit back and just enjoy the birds as they come. I already pretty much know what birds we get in the garden and it seemed unlikely that a nightingale would suddenly start singing without me realising it!

Initially it seemed our garden was silent. I could hear birds singing in the distance but it was too faint to hear properly, let alone record. First noise that would have been audible on tape was a plane going over about 04:05 am – I didn’t even really think we were on a flightpath – just shows what you can notice when you’re alone in your garden in the dark! Gradually the bird song seemed to move closer – like a Mexican wave of tweeting washing over Malvern.

BlackbirdAbout 5 minutes later, the blackbird started up. I can say this with confidence as I could see him on top of next door’s roof. It was still pretty much dark, but he was singing his little socks off – and really loud. I know I’ve heard blackbirds sing before but I’ve never consciously sat and just listened to one – beautiful but definitely loud. Here’s a brief recording of him.

Once the blackbird had got going, more birds seemed to join in, although I couldn’t identify anything specific from the mix. I would have expected perhaps robins and the wren – if anyone can confirm whether these are on the next couple of audio clips, that would be great. Of course the main thing  you can still hear over-riding everything is the blackbird.

 

About 04:30 the bottom of the garden was filled with lots of cheaping voices – the sparrows had woken up. We are fortunate to have a lot of House Sparrows in the garden and they clearly all woke up together.

 

As I’m not normally up in the garden in the semi-gloom of pre-dawn, it had never occurred to me that bees might be up at that time too. I had always sort of assumed that they didn’t stir until it got warmer. But while wandering the garden with my microphone, I became aware of lots of buzzing around the raspberry canes – sure enough about half a dozen Tree Bumblebees were making the most of an early breakfast. They are just about audible on this clip.

 

The robin appeared on the fence about 04:45 and looked at me as if to ask “what on earth are you doing up at this time and does this mean  you’re going to feed me?” (and I did).

PigeonThe bigger birds were the last to get up. Just after I’d seen the Robin, I could hear the woodpigeons faintly in the distance. Just before 5am they finally came close enough to record, although their gentle cooing was rudely interrupted by a Jackdaw squawking.

 

As everyone in the garden now seemed to be up, I decided it was time for me to go back to bed. It was actually very relaxing sitting in the garden for an hour that early (once my body had got over the shock of being up!) With none of the usual modern day distractions, it was like some kind of sensory relaxation therapy to just sit and listen to the (mainly) natural sounds all around me. I might even be tempted to do it again!

Primroses 30 WEEDSIt’s Day 2 as well of my 30 Lazy Garden Weeds – this time the Primrose. It is a native plant and must surely be one of Britain’s most loved wildflowers and I doubt anyone weeds these out. Our garden in spring is a mass of these yellow clusters and the bees love them. They provide a much needed early season nectar source for the bees and they brighten up the garden no end. Even Shakespeare wrote about them in Midsummer Night’s Dream “And in the wood, where often you and I
Upon faint primrose-beds were wont to lie…”

Hungry Mouths to Feed

Hooray the robins in our garden have successfully fledged!! Two juvenile robins have been flitting around our garden all week, with the parents never very far away. They may be able to fly, but they still seem determined to sponge off Mum & Dad (typical teenagers) for as long as possible. So I’ve spent the week chasing them around the garden trying to get the perfect shot of them being fed by the doting parents. The results were mixed to say the least – if I got a perfectly focussed photo then they weren’t doing anything very interesting. If they started feeding the chicks, then in my excitement the photos came out blurred!

The adults were as always pretty easy to photograph – they seem to love the camera and pose happily on any available perch.

Robin

They’ve always taken a keen interest in whatever was out on the bird table and of late I’d seen them flying off with their bounty rather than eating it there and then, so I’d suspected chicks might have hatched. We’ve never spotted the robin nest, so perhaps they’re nesting in one of the neighbours gardens and just using us as a buffet?

Robin (3)

The fledglings appeared a week or so ago. Initially they were shy, keeping to the bushes, but have gradually got bolder. At first I thought it was just one – perhaps one fledged before the other. The one below looks particularly dejected as if it’s been told of by the adult, although it’s probably just fed up with the bank holiday weather like the rest of us!

Juvenile robins (7)

This weekend though, I started seeing two of them together (although this photo only shows one and a half fledglings!)

Juvenile robins (1)

Despite seeing the parents feed them several times, it took ages to catch them doing it somewhere where I could get a relatively clear shot with the camera. Of course when I did, the photos came out blurred – the excitement must have got to me! But you can at least see the parent is feeding a suet pellet to the eager juvenile.

Robin and baby (5)

Robin and baby (2)

They seemed to use this corner of the garden regularly to feed the young – perhaps the thorny Berberis twigs offer some protection from the neighbours cat? So I tried setting up the trail cam to capture the action – 163 videos of twigs blowing in the wind later and I got a few brief snippets of the young. They were indeed still using this area to feed them, but always it seemed just out of camera shot.

So I may not have got the perfect photo or perfect video, but the main thing is that we seem to have 2 healthy (and very greedy) fledgling robins in the garden. Fingers crossed we get the same success with the blue tits.

Busy Birds

The birds are certainly busy in Malvern at the moment (as no doubt they are all across the country of course). There is a constant buzz of activity in the garden, be it gathering nesting material or just a feeding frenzy over the food we put out. The sparrows in particular have been keen on last year’s artichoke flowers for nesting material. It’s amazing how much they can stuff into their beaks, ending up with  ludicrously oversized moustaches!

Sparrow nesting material

In true Too Lazy fashion, we had left the old flowers standing thinking they would provide seeds for birds and maybe shelter for overwintering insects. We hadn’t realised they would make such good nesting material, but clearly the sparrows knew better. We’ve seen them plucking at the flowers in all weather, even when the high winds rock them about in the video below.

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We already knew the blue tits had been checking out the bird box, so it was really nice to see this one taking nesting material in, although he or she did seem to be struggling a bit to get it all through the hole!

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Birds of all sorts have been eating us out of house and home in the garden, hopefully building up their energy reserves for nesting. The blue tits regularly perform for the trail camera, but it was nice recently to get footage of the starlings and sparrows who have tended to be more camera shy. Being able to see the starlings close up like this you can appreciate what beautiful and colourful birds they really are – not just the plain black they can sometimes appear from a distance.

Starling on suet

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The sparrows gather round the suet feeder in groups of up to about 8, although they can rarely manage to squeeze more than 3 or 4 on it at any one time.

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There are still several species that have so far refused to be filmed although we see them regularly in the garden – Great Tits, Coal Tits, Goldfinches and of course the Sparrowhawk. Chris was out in the garden the other day, bent over a flower trying to get a shot of a bee, when the sparrowhawk swooped over him and grabbed a sparrow right out of the bushes. Chris carried on photographing the bee, oblivious to the action behind him! The trail camera was of course in the garden, but also pointed in the opposite direction. I could only watch frustrated from the living room, no camera within reach!

 

Dunnock Dating

The dunnocks in our garden are clearly getting frisky. They’re normally quite shy birds staying out of sight in our plentiful undergrowth, but this week I caught them displaying in a quite amazing fashion. (Look away now if you don’t want to see parts of a dunnock that are maybe best left to the imagination!)

I caught this pair outside the patio doors while I lolled on the sofa – fortunately for once a camera was within reach. As I hadn’t been anticipating a photo shoot, conditions weren’t ideal – I had to try and focus over the coffee table and dodge the cat’s scratch post; both of which obscured my view a bit, but I didn’t want to move and alert the dunnocks to my presence. So apologies if the photos aren’t quite as sharp as I’d have liked.

Dunnock pair

I thought at first the pair were just rooting about for food – and indeed that did seem to be what the male was mainly interested in. But the female started behaving very oddly. I thought at first there was something wrong with her – she seemed to be repeatedly straining her rear end (cloaca as I’ve since found out) while fluffing her feathers at the male. He didn’t seem particularly interested in her antics – can’t say I blame him, it wasn’t an attractive dance she did! The photos show her rear end in various stages of flexing (I did warn you to look away!)

Dunnock closed

Dunnock half open

Dunnock open

A quick bit of googling revealed that female dunnocks may mate with more than one male and that the males will peck at her cloaca to get her to eject the previous male’s sperm. This female seemed to be actively encouraging him to do so. I’d never heard of this behaviour, let alone seen it.  So you learn something new every day – even when just lolling about on your sofa!