One Year or a Thousand

This isn’t one of my usual posts with pretty photos of moths or hedgehogs. Instead I’ve got photos of bits of plastic decomposing, or not, in our garden. This may not be the most aesthetic post, but it does touch on something we should all be concerned about. We subscribe to a few groups who send us magazines and I am also partial to the occasional wildlife or the odd foodie magazine. Many of these publications arrive in single use plastic covers. With everything in the press and on our minds of late over the use of these plastics, I was particularly pleased, when a year ago, our magazine from the Butterfly Conservation charity arrived with the following note:

Our magazine was wrapped in a bag made from biodegradable or compostable potato starch. Why can’t all magazines come like this?

So maybe I need to get out more, but I thought it would be really interesting to see just how long it would take for this starch bag to decompose. I decided to put the potato starch bag outside and document its hopeful decay. Old lab habits die hard though and I felt the need for a “control” subject, so fished a real plastic magazine bag out of the bin and placed it next to the starch bag for comparison. So here we have on the left a traditional plastic bag and on the right the compostable starch bag from Butterfly Conservation.

I laid them side by side on the patio, weighted down with stones. Of course the starch bag should really have gone in the compost bin to degrade quicker, but then I wouldn’t have been able to monitor it. This way I could compare how the starch bag changed while the plastic magazine bag remained the same.

Initially I was a bit over-optimistic and planned to photograph the bags every week, expecting rapid change. Clearly these things take longer, especially when just sitting on a concrete patio! So after 3 weeks there wasn’t much change, apart from various bits of crud having landed on the bags.

By May this year though there were the first signs of decomposition of the starch bag in the top right corner.

By September, the starch bag was really starting to break down, whereas the plastic bag on the left looked pretty much the same.

By November, a year since I put the 2 bags out, the starch bag has almost completely disintegrated. The plastic bag on the left looks pretty much the same as it did when I laid them down originally. Cleaned up the plastic bag on the left would still be very much recognisable, the starch bag on the right is barely there.

They say a regular plastic bag takes anywhere between 10 and 1000 years to decompose (depending presumably on which “they” did the research). The thought that a plastic bag that was used solely to cover a magazine that we read once, then discarded, could still be here any time up to 1000 years from now, is fairly horrifying. If Butterfly Conservation can distribute their magazines in biodegradable starch bags, surely there can be no excuse for any other magazine not to be doing the same?

 

 

Autumn Hog Blog

I’ve managed to go almost 2 whole months without doing another hog blog, but there’s been lots happening in the garden and I can no longer resist! Pink & Freda are still with us, plus at least one other hog, possibly more.

Pink is still using the nest box with the camera in, which is great. In the three months since she was released she has continued to ram the box full with leaves and straw. The first video below shows how empty the box was the night she was released – just the straw I’d put in there to start her off and you can still see the entrance tunnel on the right of the sleeping area.

First night in hedgehog house

 

Three months later and you can see how much nesting material she has managed to cram in there. Some days it is impossible to see anything through the camera because the leaves are pushed right up to the lens. Still it’s better for her to be well insulated than for me to have good views of her sleeping.

Full Hedgehog house

 

Here’s a view from outside Pink’s house. You can see how much nesting material is already in there and she’s still taking more in. Considering this will be her first winter, she is doing really well making her nest warm and snug. Fingers crossed she manages a successful hibernation.

Hedgehog coming and going

 

Freda, our three legged hedgehog, continues to thrive in the garden. She can move very well on 3 legs and is surprisingly agile. The cameras caught her hopping over the bars at the bottom of the BBQ with no trouble at all:

Freda hopping over BBQ

 

Hedgehogs aren’t the only animals benefitting from the food we put out. We are also feeding several local cats. Most of the cats I think have perfectly good homes to go to, but one I suspect maybe a stray. He is an elderly looking gentleman, a sort of greyish tabby colour, who looks like he’s seen a lot of life! We’ve named him Roughtie Toughtie. I was pleased therefore to get a video of him and what I think is Freda sharing food quite amicably one night.

Hog & cat sharing dinner

 

Freda was courted quite determinedly by a male hog called Wodan when she first returned to our garden in the summer. I had wondered whether she would have a second litter, but as it got to half way through October, there were no signs of any hoglets. But then last week I downloaded the camera footage and spotted what looked like a small one. I wasn’t sure at first but then found these clips which clearly show a much smaller one next to an adult. (sorry for the flashing effect on the video, not sure what was going on with the camera!)

Little & Large hog

The adult hog with the hoglet wasn’t Freda (too many legs), but then the hoglet may not have actually been with the adult, they may just have crossed paths. I’ll probably never know for sure whether they were Freda’s or another female’s.

Hedgehogs need to reach an absolute minimum of 450g by the time they start hibernating to stand a chance of surviving the winter. The bigger they are the better their chances, but anything below 450g at the start of November is going to need to be rescued. I’d only seen one hoglet but there might have been more, and the one I’d seen looked very small. I faced the prospect of sitting up that night trying to catch hoglets to weigh them.

So I wrapped up warm, took a torch, the kitchen scales and a pair of gloves outside with my kindle to read – potentially I could be out there a long time! Fortunately the hutch was empty so I had somewhere to put any hoglets I found – I prepped it with fresh bedding and food and water and sat down to wait. After an hour there had been no sightings of hedgehogs and I’d played a lot of sudoku on the kindle. Half an hour later and I could hear rustling but still no sightings of hedgehogs of any size. So I decided to have a walk about with the torch. Heading down the garden I spotted Freda, another adult (possibly Pink) and a hoglet! I grabbed the somewhat surprised hoglet and popped it on the scales – 240g, way too small to make it through the winter, so in the hutch it went. I gave it another half hour and went back out – another hoglet, just 206g this time. Into the hutch it went with its sibling. An hour later I thought I’d have one last look in case there were any more and spotted a third – 238g.

All three spend the night in the hutch until I could get them to Viv of Malvern Hedgehog Rescue (http://www.malvernhedgehogrescue.co.uk/) the next day.

Hoglet trio

The three hoglets turned out to be 2 females and 1 male. So far no other small hoglets have been spotted on the trail camera, so I’m hoping I managed to get the whole litter.

Roughtie Toughtie the cat spends a lot of time sleeping in our garden and since he looks like he may have no home,  we’ve bought him an outdoor kennel. Needless to say I have yet to see any evidence that he is using it, but we can but try. The night I caught the hoglets, I’d had the cameras out as usual and filmed one of the hoglets investigating the cat kennel just before I caught him/her for weighing. He or she struggles a bit to get in the big kennel, but was clearly determined to check it out.

Hoglet in kennel

 

I seem to be totally unable to resist a new gadget for watching wildlife in the garden. The latest one I found is this illuminated hedgehog feeder. The hogs don’t seem bothered at all by the light and started using it straight away. We’ve put it in front of our patio doors so we can sit on the sofa and watch them feeding. Freda has been using it and at least one other unidentified hog (not Pink as I’ve been able to watch her in her hedgehog house at the same time as this one was feeding in front of us). With the lights off in our living room, I can creep along the floor with the camera and photograph/video the hedgehogs feeding without them realising I’m there. Took a bit of trial and error working out how to stop the camera flash and also realising that I needed to clean the smudgy glass in the patio doors!

Hedgehog at new feeder

When I took the hoglet trio into Viv for overwintering, I ended up bringing back a bigger hog for fostering (seemed a fair swap). Gwendolen, as I’ve called her, just needs fattening up before she can be released. Hopefully if the weather stays mild this can be soon, but after the risks of bonfire night have passed. Here she is checking out the strange sounds and smells in our garden from her hutch.

Gwendolen hedgehog in hutch

 

So that’s a round up of hedgehog activity in the garden over the last couple of months – lots going on. To end though, the annual plea to please be careful if you’re considering building a bonfire this year. Bonfires just look like an ideal home to a hedgehog, so please only build them just before you’re going to light them. If for some reason you really have to gather the wood together earlier, please try and move it all before lighting or at the very least lift it up and check underneath for sleeping hedgehogs. Only light the fire from one side, to give any creatures under there the chance to escape from the other side. #rememberhedgehogs.

Moth Trap Intruders

Nearly at the end of October and we’re coming to the end of “moth season”. Moth numbers are dwindling as the nights get colder, so it seems a good time to review what I’ve had in the trap. It’s been an interesting year for moths, but they aren’t the only animals the trap attracts. So I thought I’d share some of the Moth Trap Intruders (a name shamelessly copied from a very interesting Facebook group I’m a member of) I’ve had over the last few years.

Sadly I can’t compete with a blogger who had the most amazing moth trap intruder ever – a puffin! Have a read of http://www.surfbirds.com/community-blogs/amigo/2017/06/17/puffin-in-the-moth-trap/ if you don’t believe me.

But puffins aside, there is still quite a variety of animals that find their way into our moth trap. The biggest and probably most impressive non-moth I get in the trap is the May Bug or Cockchafer (Melolontha melolontha). It is a huge beetle and I remember being absolutely amazed the first time I found one in the trap. Chris wasn’t quite so impressed when I woke him about 5am waving a large beetle in his face!

The May Bug isn’t the only large beetle we get though. These jazzily coloured Sexton Beetles pop up occasionally too.  Not as big as the May Bugs, but the Wildlife Trusts describe these as the undertakers of the animal world, burying dead animals. Slightly gruesome to think that perhaps the reason these appear in the traps is because there is a dead mouse or bird nearby that they’ve been burying.

Smaller still are these, which I thought initially were water beetles. Thanks to a kind reader I now know they are bugs not beetles, a type of water boatman. They must have flown in from a nearby pond. Some summer nights they can appear in large numbers in the trap, trying to swim about ineffectually at the bottom. Caught and released into some water they whirl around surprisingly quickly.

Caddisflies are common intruders. There appears to be a variety of species, but I’ve yet to get to grips with identifying most of them. Some of them have quite strikingly patterned wings and look like they should be easy to identify, but I suspect they are more difficult than they look.

I did manage to identify one tiny black & white caddisfly, mainly because I initially thought it was a micro moth. It was so small, I potted it up to take a photo so that I could zoom in on it. Turned out not only to be a caddisfly, but to be a fairly rare species –  Leptocerus interruptus. It is associated with the Severn catchment which I suppose we just about come under here in Malvern.

Bees and especially wasps often end up in the moth trap and fly off in the morning when they have warmed up. In the summer months I sometimes put the whole trap inside a mosquito net tent to empty it. When there are large numbers of moths, they will sometimes escape quicker than I can count them and the net tent catches them before they disappear. I was a bit surprised one morning to find myself sitting in this tent with a large and slightly angry hornet! I have nothing against hornets, but being stuck in a small tent with one was slightly alarming even for me. The hornet found the entrance to the tent only slightly slower than I did (I rarely move that fast first thing in the morning), so I only got this one poor photo of it.

Another occasional intruder is the mayfly. These alien-like insects can hatch in their thousands if not millions and swarm over rivers. A lot of fishermen’s flies are designed to look like mayflies as they are a favourite food of fish like trout.

These beautiful green Lacewings are also occasionally attracted to the light. They are so transparent and delicate the camera struggles to focus on them and I’ve yet to take a photo that does them justice.

Various leafhoppers get attracted to the light. My favourite is the weird and wonderful Eared Leafhopper (Ledra aurita). Again difficult to photograph, these strange little insects are so well camouflaged I’ve never seen one in the wild, only when they come to the moth trap.

Various other invertebrates have also ended up in the moth trap over the years. Ladybirds, snails, slugs, spiders, flies, mosquitos and shield bugs have all appeared, but I’ve not thought to photograph them – something to keep in mind next summer.

Invertebrates may be attracted to the light but if I don’t get up early enough in the morning, birds are then attracted to the invertebrates. I may not have a puffin, but plenty of other birds have cottoned on to the benefits of moth trapping. The blackbirds have learned to check the grass around the trap in the morning for stray moths. The robins take their entomology to a whole other level though. If I turn my back they are on the trap itself and on one occasion I felt the robin literally land on my back itself. Whether I had a moth on my back or he was just trying to get a better view of the trap, I don’t know.  Once I’ve emptied the trap I put all the moths in a quiet corner of the garden near the house where they can rest up on the egg boxes until the next night. The birds of course have learned to watch where I put the eggs boxes. I have had to become increasingly devious to prevent them helping themselves to a moth buffet. The photo below is from a day where I obviously wasn’t careful enough!

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.

Incoming Insects

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks for migrants (of the insect type) in our garden and around Malvern, so I thought I’d collate what we’ve been seeing.

First up an insect that is really only a migrant by name – the Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta). A beautiful dragonfly that used to be fairly uncommon in the UK – hence the name Migrant, but is now well established. This particular one was buzzing for insect prey on some rough ground at Chris’ workplace.

We’ve been blessed with at least one Painted Lady butterfly (Vanessa cardui) in the garden most days for the last month or so, but apparently we are not alone. Every few years the country gets a “Painted Lady Summer” when they come over in huge numbers from abroad – and this is one of those summers. Some people have reported seeing them in their hundreds (a friend of mine in Edinburgh got driven inside by having so many of them on her patio it freaked her out!). Sadly we’ve not had that many, probably because we’re the wrong side of the country, so the most we managed to count on the buddleia was 5 at one time. But that’s a record for us, so we’re happy to see them even in low numbers.

We tend to be more lucky with the moths. First a very small migrant moth, but one which some years can come over in huge numbers. The Diamond-back Moth (Plutella xylostella) is only a few mm long, but somehow manages to survive the journey over from the continent and into our Malvern garden. Most years we only get 1 or 2 at a time; the most we’ve ever had in the moth trap in one night is 20, but they can apparently arrive in their thousands. Not the greatest photo of this one below, but you can at least make out the joined up diamond pattern on its back.

A larger macro moth – the Silver Y (Autographa gamma) is another one we see regularly in low numbers. They have a characteristic Y shaped mark on the wings (although admittedly it is upside down) and are often active during the day. The first one I ever saw, was nectaring on some lavender during the day – I thought initially it was a Hummingbird Hawkmoth from the way it moved, but  know better now!

We have seen genuine Hummingbird Hawkmoths this summer, but I’ve not managed to get any photos – they’re just too fast and I’m just too slow most of the time. But here’s one we did manage to catch a couple of years ago.

 

Undoubtedly though the highlight of my moth-ing career so far, and probably the best catch I’ll ever get, was one from a fortnight ago. I’d been enviously enjoying photos of Bedstraw Hawk-moths (Hyles gallii) on various social media for a couple of weeks, but never dreamt I’d be lucky enough to catch one in our garden. But at the beginning of August I got up to empty the trap and nearly fainted at the sight of a Bedstraw Hawk-moth sitting there. I was so nervous opening the trap in case it flew off – no-one would ever believe me unless I could get a photo of it! Fortunately it was a docile beauty that didn’t object too much to being potted up and photographed.

I posted some photos on Facebook and a few fellow moth enthusiasts came round to see it before I released it unharmed. When I put it out on some Rose Bay Willow-Herb, it vibrated its wings for a few seconds to warm up:

Then it shot off like a rocket. We have a large buddleia bush nearby and it circled that a few times. I watched in horror as 3 sparrows flew out from the bush trying to catch it, but thankfully the moth was quicker than the birds and it got away. Don’t think I could have lived with myself if I’d seen it get eaten by the sparrows!

I am told this was only the 5th record of a Bedstraw for Worcestershire and probably the first record for Malvern. I doubt I’ll ever see another one and unless a Death’s Head Hawkmoth lands in the garden, I doubt I’ll ever have a more exciting moth find. But each weekend from now on I will open the moth trap in hope because you just never know what is going to be in there!

 

 

 

Freda – A Hog’s Tale

If anyone reads this blog regularly, they will know that hedgehogs feature quite a lot. We feed the hogs, put water out for the hogs, provide houses for the hogs, pester the neighbours to put gaps in fences for hogs, watch the hogs on cameras and generally worry about our hogs and their well-being on a near daily basis.

When we got a hedgehog house with built in camera, we were thrilled to get one using it regularly. Never staying the whole night, but most nights he or she would come and have a rest for an hour or so, before continuing with the nightly foraging. Here’s a compilation from a few nights of resting and yawning!

Hedgehog Yawning compilation

This hog came at a similar time every night, so we think it was the same one. Following the events below, we hardly saw one using the box for months, our regular just stopped coming. So I think the yawning one above is the one who went on to have an eventful summer – Freda.

In the middle of May we caught a hedgehog with difficulties on one of the cameras. There was clearly something wrong with one back leg in the video below.

Hedgehog in need of help

I messaged Viv our local hedgehog rehabilitator and she kindly came round to help me look for our limping hog. I had thought I might have to sit up for nights trying to see the struggling hog, but thankfully Viv found it in one of our hedgehog houses. “It” turned out to be a “she” and so she was named Freda. Freda had one back foot missing completely. We’ll never know what happened – whether it was an animal attack or a strimming incident, but it was heart-breaking to see.

Hedgehogs can manage quite well with one back leg missing, but it is usually best to remove the leg entirely. If they are left with a stump it drags on the ground when they walk and the wound keeps getting opened up again and infections would set in. So it was decided that it would be best for Freda to have the leg amputated and she would stay at Viv’s until her wound had healed and her spines had grown back.

Poor Freda had more drama in store though. Having survived the operation successfully, it turned out she was pregnant. In June she gave birth to 5 hoglets. Unfortunately Freda had developed an infection and was unable to suckle the babies properly. Sadly by the time this was discovered it was too late to save the  hoglets.

Fortunately Freda herself responded well to antibiotics and began to recover from her ordeals. By the middle of July she was well enough to be fostered back to us in our hutch in the garden. We could feed and monitor her for a while and it would free up space at Viv’s for other hedgehogs in more need. I pointed a camera at the hutch to check how Freda was doing on her first nights in the hutch. Although she could move around the hutch well on 3 legs, unfortunately she seemed completely stressed out by it all. She could now smell the garden and like most wild animals was desperate to be free. She was climbing the front of the hutch and scratching at the walls trying to get out.

Freda in rehab hutch

Stress can be a killer for hedgehogs, so we couldn’t keep her cooped up like this any longer. Viv has someone with an enclosed garden that she uses to do soft releases for hedgehogs like Freda. Freda could be released into this garden and monitored to make sure she could cope back outside on her own and move around OK with only 3 legs. Fortunately Freda proved that she could cope very well, so after a week it was decided to catch her and bring her back to our place to release in the garden properly this time. It is always best to release hedgehogs back where they came from if at all possible, so Freda came back home.

I put her in the hedgehog house with the inside camera and blocked the entrance so she’d stay there until it got dark. She settled right in and had a bit of a nap as if she knew she was home. When it got dark enough, I unblocked the entrance and off she went.

Freda release night

The video below shows her emerging from the hedgehog house (ignore the date on one of the cameras, it wasn’t set right). Almost immediately she finds some smell she’s interested in and starts self-anointing – a good sign I think that she’s behaving naturally. Then off she trundles into the rest of the garden.

Freda release

We had cameras set up round the garden for the next few nights to check she was OK. Fortunately she seems happy to stay in our garden where there is plenty of food and water. Her gait may not be gainly but it doesn’t stop her moving around and finding food, water and shelter.

Freda getting about the garden

We weren’t the only ones pleased to have her back in the garden. By the second night she had already attracted an admirer. We’ve had a one-eyed hedgehog in the garden for some time – we hadn’t known whether it was male or female, but given the attention it was paying to Freda I think we can safely assume it’s a male. I’ve named him Wodan – the Anglo-Saxon variation on Odin the one eyed god! In the video below Freda goes into the hedgehog house and within minutes Wodan is running up and down looking for her, before realising she’s in the house and following her in.

First encounter

Wodan may be keen, but Freda is less so. A couple of nights after her return to the garden he pursued her for at least an hour and a half. They circled round and round with lots of annoyed huffing from Freda.

Persistent Pursuit

The same happened inside the house – she clearly wasn’t impressed and did her best to turf him out.

Freda & Wodan

Whether Wodan got his way with Freda in the end – well we won’t know unless of course she has another litter of hoglets. It’s getting late in the year for hoglets to be born now – they won’t have enough time to put on weight before the winter. So that will be the next worry for us and for Freda. Fingers crossed though that the dramas are over for Freda now and that she can live a long and healthy life in the relative safety of our garden.

A huge thank you to Viv at Malvern Hedgehog Rescue http://www.malvernhedgehogrescue.co.uk/  for all she’s done for Freda and all the other hedgehogs in her care. Hedgehog rescues like Viv’s tend to be self-funded so please consider supporting your local one. Donations of food, supplies or just good old financial support are always welcome.

Or why not consider becoming a supporter of the British Hedgehog Preservation Society https://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/ – raising awareness and campaigning on behalf of our native hedgehogs.

Or simply help the hedgehogs in your own garden. Put out shallow dishes of water; all year round but especially in hot dry weather. Supplement their natural food with either meaty cat or dog food, dry cat food or good quality hedgehog food. Leave a bit of your garden wild to provide natural food and shelter. Simple things that can make a big difference.

 

Bees, Bats, Butterflies and Birds at Bridge Cottage

We’re just back from a holiday in Exmoor and as usual have returned with hundreds of wildlife photos, having spent the week in our usual glamorous manner. Most people probably take swimming costumes, flip flops and suncream on holiday; we took a moth traps, bat detector,  underwater camera and trail cameras! We stayed at a lovely cottage by the River Barle in Withypool, Somerset – an absolutely idyllic location, with plenty of wildlife potential.

Our holiday coincided with the start of 30 Days Wild, so the perfect excuse for wildlife watching, not that we ever need an excuse. The cottage had loads of bird life including sparrows nesting around the guttering. A pair of blue tits were nesting in the apex of the shed. They were really devoted parents bringing food constantly despite the rain (hence dishevelled photo below) and removing the faecal sacs to keep the nest clean.

There were plenty of mayflies hatching while we were there and the swifts made good use of them flying low over the water and snatching them out of the air. Best of all we could hear a cuckoo calling every morning around dawn. The sound of a cuckoo combined with the sound of the river is a great way to wake up in the morning.

Not surprisingly the abundant insect life attracted bats too. We got the bat detector going and were rewarded with clicks and chirp noises that sounded different to our usual Pipistrelle bats at home. The clicks were closer to the 47-48kHz frequency than the 45kHz we get at home, so perhaps these bats were either Daubenton’s or Natterers? Unfortunately we didn’t manage to record the noises to be sure and it was too dark to actually see the bats.

The first day we arrived at the cottage we had glorious sunshine and a warm night – perfect conditions for an evening glass of wine in the garden and to put the moth trap out! We couldn’t believe the abundance of moths we got in the morning. Many of the moths we caught were species we’d seen before but never in such numbers – buff tips, white ermines, brown silver lines – all species which we see occasionally in Malvern, but rarely more than single individuals. There were 2 species though that we’ve never seen before – Nut Tree Tussock and Campion – nice to add to our life lists of species.

As usual an Elephant Hawkmoth stole the show, but it did have competition from this stunning Puss Moth!

The River Barle which ran past the garden had sparkling clear water (every day except the last day when heavy rain had clouded it).  One of the first things we noticed were several dead Signal Crayfish both in the water and on the river bank.

These are an introduced species and are causing serious problems by outcompeting the native crayfish and by tunnelling into river banks leading to erosion. There are projects to actively remove them from rivers like the Barle, so it could be the dead crayfish we saw were part of this.

On a cheerier note, there were lots of presumably native minnows swimming in shoals near the river bank. So armed with our waterproof GoPro camera, I heroically waded in with my wellies. A slight miscalculation between height of wellies and depth of water, led to some wet feet, but at least I managed to video the minnows!

The river also had numerous tadpoles, who remained hidden in the plants near the bank during the day, but emerged into a sheltered inlet in the evenings. They were much darker than the tadpoles we get back home in the pond, so they may be toad tadpoles rather than frogs.

 

The cottage garden was well planted with plenty of shrubs and flowers for wildlife, including some gorgeous lupins that the bees absolutely loved.



One even got so carried away it forgot where it was and landed on my hand.

We saw a few butterflies in the garden, including our first Painted Lady of the year, but the highlight had to be this – a Green Hairstreak. To see these little beauties previously we’ve had to travel to nature reserves, so to have one virtually fly up to us in the garden was amazing. So amazing that I fumbled with the camera and only managed one rubbish photo – but it is just about recognisable as a green butterfly!

So we can highly recommend a stay at Bridge Cottage in Withypool for anyone interested in wildlife – there’s certainly plenty of it. The village itself was charming with a pub, shop and café – what more could you want from a holiday?

We did of course venture out while we were in the Exmoor area in search of more butterflies, but I’ll cover those in subsequent blog posts – watch this space!

 

 

 

 

 

Hedgehog Awareness Week – Hog Blog

It’s Hedgehog Awareness Week and time for another hoggy blog! There are lots of hedgehog events going on around the country; we may not have any events in the garden, but there is plenty of hedgehog activity. Our first hedgehog emerged from hibernation at the end of February. We now have at least 3 hedgehogs out and about at night, possibly more, but as we don’t mark them it is hard to know for sure. I think I’ve seen One-Eyed Tim – one of our released hogs from last year, so it’s nice he’s made it through the winter hibernation. They don’t always get on and there can be a fair bit of pushing and shoving!

Every night we can hear hedgehogs snuffling around the garden and some nights we can hear them up to a lot more than that – Love is in the air! On a slightly less romantic note, there are also plenty of deposits round the garden to indicate their presence too. Here’s a photo from last year, showing a typical hedgehog poop with bits of beetle clearly visible.

Last year our neighbours replaced the fence running between our gardens. Thankfully they were more than happy to leave gaps for hedgehogs to come and go between the gardens. Here’s a compilation of hedgehogs using our “Hedgehog Highway”.

Highway Traffic

 

Hedgehog Highways like this are vital for linking up gardens to provide sufficient habitats to support a healthy hedgehog population. You can find more about the value of connecting gardens on https://www.hedgehogstreet.org/ but basically all you need to do is make 13cm/5 inch square gaps in your fence to allow them to come and go. There are moves afoot to try and make it part of the legal process to include Hedgehog Highways in all new housing developments’ planning applications. So far over half a million people have signed a petition to try and get the government to act on this: https://www.change.org/p/help-save-britain-s-hedgehogs-with-hedgehog-highways

Having provided access to you garden then food, water and shelter should be the next things on the hedgehog help tick list. Shallow dishes of water dotted around the garden can be life savers not only for hedgehogs but for all kinds of other creatures.

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Leaving areas of your garden a bit wild (or very wild in our case) will provide habitat for insects which would be the natural food for hedgehogs. If you wanted to supplement their diet further, then meaty cat or dog food (poultry flavours in jelly would be best), dry cat food or specialist hedgehog food can all be offered. NEVER give them bread or milk. You can provide a feeding station like the one on the British Hedgehog Preservation Society’s website: https://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Feeding_Station.pdf or check out Little Silver Hedgehog’s advice on https://littlesilverhedgehog.com/2016/06/20/build-a-hedgehog-feeding-station/

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I realise not everyone wants their garden to be a total wilderness like ours, but if you do decide to do some tidying, please be hedgehog aware. Strimmers in particular can cause horrific injuries to hedgehogs, so always check an area carefully before charging in with the strimmer. A hedgehog’s natural defence is to curl up, but this won’t save it from a strimmer, so please be careful.

If you leave some wild areas in your garden, hedgehogs may choose to nest there, but many people also like to provide a nest box or hedgehog house. There are lots of these available on the market – the best designs have a base and an integrated tunnel of some kind that not only keeps out cold draughts but deters predators too. We now have 4 boxes in our garden, all of which are currently being used and 2 of which had hibernating hogs in over the winter. Here’s one of our hogs last autumn gathering nesting material (some of which appeared to be fighting back given the struggle he was having) and taking it into his hedgehog house.

Nest gathering

 

Our 4th hedgehog house was only bought a month or so ago and came with an integrated camera to film them inside. We waited with baited breath for a couple of weeks until a hedgehog finally deigned to check it out. We now have one popping in for a bit of a nap most nights. Having the camera in there is a revelation – seeing a hedgehog yawn for a start is just one of the best things ever!

 

Hopefully one will choose to use this box as a regular day nest or hibernation nest or dare we even hope – to have babies in!

Although most people love hedgehogs, they do still have a lot of dangers to face in their lives and can often be found in need of help. If you do find a hedgehog that looks like it’s struggling for whatever reason, don’t delay, seek help as soon as you can. If you don’t know a number for a local contact, call the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (01584 890801) and they will tell you your nearest one as well as giving you basic advice on first aid for your casualty. You can also find information on first aid on their website: https://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/First-Aid-Leaflets.pdf

If you don’t have hedgehogs in your garden, or perhaps don’t even have a garden, there are still things you can do to help. It could be as simple as picking up rubber bands on the street. Every day hundreds of rubber bands get dropped (often sadly by postmen) and hedgehogs (and other wildlife) can easily get a leg or even head stuck in the bands which can then cause horrible injuries or even death.

You could support your local hedgehog rescuer – most of them are volunteers who are self funded and do amazing work rehabilitating sick or injured or orphaned hedgehogs. You could help by volunteering with them (help is often needed cleaning out and feeding), or donating food or other supplies (even old newspapers are useful) or a more monetary contribution. My local hedgehog rescuer Viv (http://www.malvernhedgehogrescue.co.uk/ ) often has over 100 hedgehogs in her care – a massive undertaking and amazing commitment.

Or you could support the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) https://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/ who work to promote hedgehog awareness, campaign on hedgehoggy issues, fund hedgehoggy research and supply hedgehoggy information to schools and other organisations.

So why not celebrate Hedgehog Awareness Week by pledging to do at least one thing to help hedgehogs!