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!

 

Red Mason Bees

The fabulous weather over the Easter weekend brought the blossom out in full force on our apple tree and with it a flurry of bees all around the garden. The tree is of the Discovery variety so produces early blossom for early apples and the bees certainly seemed to appreciate it.

I have two bee hotel boxes on the garage wall just a few feet away from the apple tree. These were used last year by both red mason bees and some leaf-cutter ones. So far this year it has mainly been the red mason bees buzzing around it. Initially all I could see were several red masons flying up to the holes, checking them out and rapidly flying away again. They were not only really quick, but the bee hotel is quite high up on the wall which meant I had to wobble about on a chair to try and get a photo – all of which goes to excuse this blurry shot!

I couldn’t understand at first why they kept coming and going, without actually going into any of the tubes. They would repeatedly check out the same tube. A quick google revealed that they were probably males, who emerge first. The females emerge a bit later having been laid further back in the tubes and the males were hovering around waiting for a fresh female to emerge. Having failed to get a decent still photo, I tried to get a video of them using the GoPro on a stick (more wobbling about) with mixed success:

The females must have started to emerge a few days ago. The males clearly don’t hang about or spend a long time “wooing” the females, as I found this happy couple immediately below the bee hotels. It looked as if the male had grabbed the female immediately as she emerged and the pair had dropped to the ground.

A bit of grovelling on the ground and I managed to get a video of the loved up pair.

The males are a good bit smaller than the females and he does look a bit like he’s hanging on for dear life. She also doesn’t look that impressed and seems more bothered by washing her antennae!

With the apple blossom so close to the bee boxes, it provides plenty of pollen for the bees right on their doorstep.


The red masons obviously aren’t the only ones making the most of the blossom while it lasts.  I’ve counted at least 8 species on the tree in the last week, but here are just three – a Nomada bee, an Ashy Mining Bee and a Red-tailed Bumblebee.

We already have the two bee hotels on the side of the garage, one on the front of the house and one old one just lying in the garden. The spring sunshine seemed the perfect opportunity to get the old one back up and add a new one to the bees’ property portfolio. The neighbours had replaced the fence between us last year and it catches the sun for a lot of the day, so it is the perfect place for more bee hotels. So the old one went up along with this new beauty. There may be more to follow as the fence looks very bare and basically – why not?


I’ve not managed to get photos yet of any bees using the new one, but within hours there were a couple of red mason bees checking it out.

Bees of course were finding places to nest long before we started thinking of providing bee hotels. This, I think, is the entrance to a ground nesting bee’s nest – possibly one of the Andrena species. There are a few of these little holes dotted around our so-called lawn.


Every garden must have space for at least one bee hotel/bug house. Even if you don’t really have a garden you could put one on an outside wall. So why not give a home for nature and put up a bee hotel?

 

Spring Insects

This last week the insects seem to have been coming out in force in the garden. After the relative quiet of the winter, it’s great to hear the buzz of insects in the air again. Moths may not buzz, but it’s still really nice to have them appearing again too. March brought the start of the Garden Moth Scheme for the summer. After a few weeks of fairly plain looking moths (sorry Common Quakers, but you aren’t the most showy of moths), it was nice last weekend to get a few of the more beautiful ones – in fact the Pine Beauty and Oak Beauty.

Hopefully it won’t be too long before the really spectacular hawk-moths start turning up in the trap too.  Butterflies have been proving a bit more elusive than the moths; so far I’ve just seen a few Small Tortoiseshells in the garden, but not managed to nab any photos.

Wasps may not be popular with everyone, but when you study them close up, they really are stunning insects and they are already making themselves known around the garden this year.

In the last 2 weeks, we’ve already recorded 12 species of bee in the garden – a promising start to the bee season. First up was my perennial favourite – the Hairy Footed Flower Bee. The males appeared first, patrolling frenetically around the garden, seeing off anything remotely bee-shaped that got in their way.

The last few days, I’ve been seeing more of the females – distinguishable by their all black bodies with orangey pollen brushes on the back legs. Our garden has naturalised primroses all over the place and the bees love them.

Another favourite is the Tawny Mining Bee, in particular the females who have this bright red foxy looking hair all over them. I spend (some may say waste) an awful lot of time chasing these round the garden, trying to get the perfect photo to do them justice.

Not quite so showy and much smaller is the Red Mason Bee. We get these little bees every year, finding nooks and crannies in the brickwork to nest in.

The much larger Red-tailed Bumblebee is also on the wing now, although so far I’ve only seen Queen bees like this one (I think).


The strikingly coloured Mourning Bees have already been busy on the rosemary flowers. These are also a favourite, not least because of the obvious white “kneecaps” which make them a cinch to identify.

Buzzing like a bee, but actually a fly, Bee-Flies seem particularly abundant this spring. I’ve previously only ever seen the one below – the Dark-edged Bee-Fly. They seem to torment the male Hairy Footed Flower Bees by hovering around “their” primroses. They also seem curious about us and often hover in front of me as if they’re trying to work out what this huge being is?

But there is a second species of Bee-Fly – the Dotted Bee-Fly. I’ve been hoping to see one of these for years and have chased a lot of the Dark-bordered ones around fruitlessly trying to find one with dots on. Then I read on Twitter this week to look out for the white stripe on the abdomen – easier to spot when they are flying than the dots on wings whirring like mad. And so I was thrilled when using this marker, I finally spotted one – complete with dotty wings and white striped bum (white stripe is more apparent in the second photo below).

As for other groups of insects, well they’re all starting to appear too. Hoverflies are always fairly abundant, although tricky to get a decent photo of. This male (male because its eyes meet in the middle, so I’m told) Eupeodes was more obliging than most.

A single Cinnamon Bug so far, but easily visible against the primrose leaves.

I’ve always had a soft spot for the Shield Bug family of insects. We’ve recorded 7 species in the garden in total, although so far this year we’ve only seen the green one and this Dock Bug.

Not had the time yet to go rooting about in the undergrowth looking for beetles, but did at least spot the first ladybird of the year. Slightly disappointingly I think it is a Harlequin, so not an ideal spot, but hopefully some of the native species will appear soon too.

Final photo for the blog, this crab spider lying in wait for a bee. I know they’re not actually insects, but having spotted him today posing so nicely on the red valerian, it seemed rude not to include him. I thought these spiders were supposed to be able to camouflage themselves, but this one doesn’t seem to be doing a very good job.

So that’s a round up of the spring invertebrates currently buzzing/flying/crawling around the garden. It feels like everything is springing into life at last and we can look forward to an insect (and arachnid) filled summer.

 

 

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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring & Surprises at the Lottie

Spring has well and truly sprung down on the allotment, bringing with it some old favourites, a new generation and a big surprise.

Being fair-weather gardeners we’ve not done much down the lottie over the winter, but when we have been down a pair of robins tend to follow our every move – always on the look out for a freshly unearthed worm.

I’ve been going down more frequently for the last couple of weeks to check on the pond – it’s frog spawn season! So I was very pleased when on 2nd March I spotted for the first clump of spawn in the pond. It could only have been laid a day or two before, making it about 10 days earlier than last year.

So out with the camera and the GoPro to record the start of a new amphibian generation.

 

By the 9th of March 3 more clumps of spawn had been laid – you can see the difference in size of the embryos and jelly in the photo and video below.

The GoPro did catch a blurry image if what I assume is a pair of frogs in a passionate embrace underwater. Having said that the smaller one does look a bit toad-ish to me, but there’s been no sign of any toad spawn in the pond so far. I read somewhere that 80% of toads return to the pool they were born in to breed, so it may take some years before we get any toad spawn.

In the hope of getting some froggy action on camera, I left one of the trail cameras running on the allotment for a few days. I ended up with a lot of videos of cats walking by, but eventually got this one – a stand off between a cat and a floating frog. Thankfully the frog has enough sense to dive when the cat makes its move.

I did have hopes of getting a fox on camera as I know we have them on the allotment. But what I did get next was a huge surprise – a badger drinking from the pond!

We’d no idea we had badgers down there, so this was a real bonus. It looks like another pair of frogs get spooked by the badger and also dive for cover. Needless to say the camera has been left down there in the hope of getting more footage – but so far nothing but more cats.

Hopefully in the coming weeks I can get footage of the frog spawn developing into tadpoles. Fingers crossed the newts return soon too and maybe even a toad or two. All this does show the  benefit of putting in a pond – this one only went in 2 years ago when we first got the allotment. We’d expected frogs and newts would use it and maybe birds would drink from it, but never dreamed that we’d get a badger. I guess “Build it and they will come”!

 

National Nest Box Week

It’s National Nest Box Week again (14th to 21st February), so no prizes for guessing what today’s blog post is about. The idea of Nest Box Week is to encourage people to put up more nest boxes for their garden birds. It’s coming up to the time of year when birds start thinking about finding a mate and then looking for a suitable nest site. So by putting up the nest boxes now, the new couples will hopefully have plenty of choice come the spring.

We did have an open fronted nest box on the fence last year, but had to take it down when the fence was replaced. So this weekend seemed the perfect time to put it back up again. Open fronted nest boxes are suitable for robins and wrens, both of which we get in the garden, so fingers crossed they fancy the new location.

We also had an old and slightly tatty nest box more suited to blue tits; it had seen better days, but we’ve stuck it up anyway on the apple tree in case our birds aren’t too picky!

We’ve still got the two blue tit nest boxes up on the garage wall, one with a camera fitted. So far the blue tits have refused to use these the last few years, despite using one previously in exactly the same location! We remain ever hopeful that this year will be the year we get footage of a nest!

Even if you don’t have a suitable space to put up your own nest box, you can still help by sponsoring one. Many wildlife organisations have schemes whereby you can sponsor or “rent” a nest box, giving the charities much needed funds to support their chosen species. Our local Worcestershire Wildlife Trust runs just such a scheme, so we’ve sponsored Nest Box Number 15 again this year. We supported the same nest box last year and got a lovely letter saying a family of blue tits had used it – result! Fingers crossed for more of the same this year.

National Nest Box Week may be aimed primarily at birds, but if you can, why not consider providing a home for other animals. Hedgehogs can benefit from extra places to hibernate, but they also need places to sleep during the day for the rest of the year. So although it may be too late for hibernation this year, a hedgehog house put out now could be used through the spring and summer as a day nest.

 

 

Big Garden Birdwatch 2019

It’s that time of year again – the Big Garden Birdwatch. I think every year I write a similar post about that mixture of anticipation and frustration that this fantastic bit of Citizen Science brings. The usual feeling of “where have all my regular birds gone” followed by the joy a pair of blue tits bring when they appear in the nick of time to make the cut. The red kites last week were undoubtedly magnificent, but when you’ve been sitting freezing your proverbial off for an hour, the sight of a pair of blue tits can be just as rewarding.

I did our garden count on Sunday, an unfortunately blustery day, which I presume is what put a lot of our birds off; rather than just sheer wilfulness to avoid being counted. In the end I only recorded 27 birds of 7 species – way below our garden norm and less even than I can see just glancing out now.  But data is data, so I hope our paltry count will still be of use. So all I saw was:

  • 14 sparrows – there may actually have been double that but, they were in the bushes and impossible to count more for certain.
  • 2 collared doves
  • 1 wood pigeon
  • 2 magpies
  • 1 blackbird
  • 5 jackdaws
  • 2 blue tits

I did try to take photos of those that landed on the bird table, but our overgrown teasels were flapping about in the wind in my line of sight, so I only managed one of the jackdaws.

The blue tits were a bit easier as they were feeding in the apple tree closer to the house.

While, I watched a mainly empty garden, Chris took himself off to his workplace and did the Birdwatch there. Bird envy is a terrible thing, so I tried to be pleased for him when he came back with these photos of a Grey Wagtail and Chaffinch.

So that’s it over for another year. Apparently this year was the 40th anniversary of the Big Garden Birdwatch. It started as a survey just for children to do, but thankfully us adults are allowed to join in now too. Our garden birds often seem to make themselves scarce during this annual count, but it still gives me an enormous sense of satisfaction to know that we’re contributing to a really useful bit of science. And sitting just quietly watching the wildlife in your garden for an hour, with no interruptions or distractions is no bad thing either!