Mammals in our Garden

Great excitement in the Too Lazy world this week as our mammal tally for the garden increased by 25% from 4 to 5!  Our initial 4 were mice, grey squirrels, pipistrelle bats and of course hedgehogs.

An awful lot of our trail camera efforts are directed at filming the hedgehogs. We’ve filmed them eating, drinking, nesting and in this case having a good old scratch!

Scratch And Roll

 

We did originally video the mice in our garage (who were helping themselves to the bird seed until we invested in proper storage containers). But since then mice have also cropped up on the supposed hedgehog videos, often cheekily investigating either the hedgehog feeding station or even the hedgehog’s house. We’ve not managed to work out for sure what kind of mice they are – probably either house or wood mice. If anyone can shed any light on the species, it would be much appreciated.

mouse in hedgehog house & feeding station

 

Grey squirrels are regular visitors to our garden too. Often attracted to our bird feeders and caught on camera doing acrobatics in the apple tree like this one.

Squirrel

This last month or so we’ve been finding quite a few hazelnuts, still in their green wrappers, dotted around the lawn. It was clearly the work of a squirrel and we finally managed to catch him on camera, bringing the nuts into the garden (no idea where the nearest hazelnut tree is though).

Squirrels

 

The bats have so far proved impossible to film. We obviously don’t want to use any intrusive lights or indeed anything that might put off the bats who regularly visit our garden. With all our natural vegetation (aka weeds), there are plenty of insects at night  – although I try not to think of the bats eating my beloved moths, I know they have to eat too! We have determined that our bats are most likely Common Pipistrelles as they echo-locate at a frequency of about 45kHz and other species who use that frequency are much rarer. The best I’ve managed so far is this brief video of the bat detector picking up some of their calls.

 

Finally this week we got a brief glimpse on camera of a much longed for 5th mammal species – a fox! We’ve seen them running down the street occasionally at night, but never knowingly had one in the garden. So it was a lovely surprise to download what I thought would be just hedgehog videos, to suddenly see a fox emerge from the undergrowth at the bottom of the garden.

Fox movie

So long as Mr Fox doesn’t have a go at our hedgehogs, he will be a very welcome addition to our mammalian fauna. I think it’s likely that we’ll stick with 5 mammal species in the garden for the foreseeable future. It’s unlikely that we’ll ever get a badger or rabbits and I’m hoping we don’t get rats (not that I mind them that much, but the neighbours wouldn’t be too happy with us), so unless we have more than one species of mouse, I think this will be our lot. But the 5 we’ve got are all more than welcome to share our little bit of Malvern for as long as they want.

For the Love of Hogs

There’s been a lot in the press this week about dwindling hedgehog numbers, so I thought it might be a good time to recap a few things that can be done to help hedgehogs in our gardens. Many urban or suburban gardens can have hedgehogs but being nocturnal animals they may go unseen. Look out for tell-tale droppings – about the size of a ladies little finger and usually a dark brown or black colour. This prime example (yes I go around photographing poo in my garden!) even shows the remains of a beetle (jaws next to red arrow) – one of hedgehogs’ favourite foods.

If you think you have hedgehogs, or even if you don’t think you’ve got them but would like them, there are several things you can do to help. The first is of course access – if a garden is completely blocked off and surrounded by a high fence or wall, no hedgehog is going to get in.  We discovered our hedgehogs were using a gap under the fence to get between us and the neighbour’s garden.

Hedgehog under fence

Having realised this was one of their entrances, we put up this little sign to mark the spot.

You can buy these Hedgehog Highway signs from the British Hedgehog Preservation Society – get two to mark either side of the fence if you can, to discourage people from filling in the gap. Try and make holes or gaps in fences (about 5 inch square is all that is needed) and encourage your neighbours to do the same to connect as many gardens as possible. Hedgehogs can roam over a mile a night so they need lots of connected gardens.

Having made it possible for hedgehogs to get in and out of the garden, providing extra food and water can really help them. A shallow dish of water (or even better several dishes) in the garden can be a life saver for hedgehogs, especially in a hot summer like the one we’ve just had. Water can be just as vital in the winter when non-frozen water can be in short supply.

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Putting out some extra food will also be a big help, giving them that extra boost to put on much-needed weight before winter hibernation. The best foods to offer are either meaty cat or dog food (poultry/white meat flavours in jelly are best) or dry cat food or specialist hedgehog food. All of these foods can of course be taken by local cats, so if this is a problem, then perhaps consider building a feeding station. I built this one a few years ago (based on instructions from Little Silver Hedgehog https://littlesilverhedgehog.com/2016/06/20/build-a-hedgehog-feeding-station/ ) and the hedgehogs quickly got used to it. You can find a similar design on the British Hedgehog Society’s website  https://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Feeding_Station.pdf

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If you can consider leaving a bit of a messy or wild area in your garden (we have no shortage of those in ours) then it will benefit all sorts of wildlife but particularly hedgehogs. Not only will it give them areas to shelter in, but the weeds will provide food for the insects and other invertebrates that will in turn feed the hedgehogs. If you’ve got a pond, please check that it is hedgehog friendly. Hedgehogs can swim, but if they get stuck in a pond with no way of climbing out they will eventually tire and drown. Sloping sides to the pond, or a few large stones or a ramp will provide safe ways of getting out for any hedgehogs that have accidentally taken a dip.

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.

Similarly please check compost heaps or piles of leaves carefully before sticking a dirty great fork in – these are ideal places for hedgehogs to rest up and they can easily get spiked. If you are planning on a bonfire – please don’t pile the wood up and leave it for days. Bonfires look like perfect places to sleep for hedgehogs and so many get burnt alive in bonfires. Best to build and light a bonfire the same day. If you must gather the wood earlier then please lift it all up and check underneath before lighting.

Many people like to provide a nest box or hedgehog house. There are lots of these available on the market – the best designs have an integrated tunnel of some kind that not only keeps out cold draughts but deters predators too. We have a couple of boxes in our garden – it’s taken a couple of years but we finally have hedgehogs using both of them, so do be patient.

Here’s one of our hedgehogs (One-eyed Tim – named for obvious reasons) collecting nesting material for his house.

One-eyed Tim the Hedgehog

And here’s some more clips of what I think is a female hedgehog at our other hedgehog house. In the first clip she seems to be trying to drag something in that is still attached as she has a real struggle with it!

Nest gathering

The slight flashing you see on this second clip is just the infrared going off – nothing that would disturb the hedgehog.

Emerging from hedgehog house

 

Please keep an eye out for sick or injured hedgehogs. As a general rule most hedgehogs seen out during the day are in trouble and need rescuing. The exception to this is a pregnant or new mum hedgehog who might take short breaks from the nest during the day to gather nesting material or food – she will generally be a large hedgehog and be moving quickly and purposefully and won’t stay out too long. If you see any small hedgehogs or wobbly confused looking ones, or particularly ones just lying out in the sun, then best to rescue them immediately and get them to your local hedgehog rescue. 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. I found these two babies out on our lawn a couple of years ago on a baking hot July afternoon. I took them straight around to our local hedgehog rescuer Viv, who thankfully managed to save them. Fred & Freda as they were called weighed less than 100g when they were found and wouldn’t have lasted long without intervention.

The other problem to look out for is young hedgehogs that are too small to get through the winter hibernation. If you see any really small ones towards the end of October/beginning of November try and catch them to check their weight. They need to be an absolute minimum of 450g (but preferably bigger) to get through the winter. If they are too small, get them to your local hedgehog rescuer. Last year we had a small hog in our garden at the end of October. You can see how much smaller he was than the adult in the clip below.

Adult & juvenile hedgehog

I weighed him and he was only 400g, so probably wouldn’t have made it through the winter. Thankfully Viv took Tiny Tim (as we imaginatively named him!) in and he thrived under her care over the winter, before being released back in our garden in the spring.

Finally 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.

Having hedgehogs in your garden and knowing you are doing your own small bit to help them is such a rewarding thing. They need all the help they can get at the moment and a few small changes could make a big difference locally, and if we all did it, then who knows what a difference it could make nationally.

 

Clouded Yellows & Big Butterfly Count

For one reason or another I’ve not had the chance to blog this last month, despite it being full on Butterfly Season. So to make up for lost time, this blog post is a bit of a catch up on all things butterfly in the Too Lazy world. Firstly we’re still in the midst of the Big Butterfly Count – one of the biggest citizen science projects in the world.

As I type this there have already been over 74000 counts and there’s still a few days to go. So if you haven’t done it already, get along to https://www.bigbutterflycount.org/ and find out what it’s all about.

We’ve done several counts in both the garden and down the allotment. The lottie produced, not surprisingly a lot of “Cabbage Whites” – in reality a mix of Large, Small and Green-veined Whites. In the garden, our first common blue of the year obligingly turned up in time to get counted. Similarly it was nice to count Painted Ladies and a Red Admiral to add to the tally of Whites, Gatekeepers and other garden stalwarts.

A trip to Trench Wood in early July was prompted by reports of large numbers of Purple Hairstreaks coming down and settling low enough to get photos. Seemed too good an opportunity to miss. Trench Wood is always a delight and this year was no exception. The wood was full of the usual Meadow Browns, Gatekeepers and Ringlets, plus plenty of Whites and White Admirals.

The ever gorgeous Silver-Washed Fritillaries were also out in large numbers, tropical looking as they bombed around the open rides.

My target species for the day – the Purple Hairstreak – didn’t disappoint. Almost as soon as I left the carpark they were visible along the path, settling comfortably on the bushes either side. The reports I’d read hadn’t exaggerated – there were too many to count and I’ve never seen them settle so well at a reachable height!

A quick trip to the nearby Guarlford Straights gave me the chance to see some lovely butterflies practically on my doorstep. Common Blues were probably the commonest species, flitting about the dry grass in the sunshine.

Amongst the Common Blues I found at least one fairly fresh looking Brown Argus. It’s only a couple of years since we saw our first ever one of these, so it’s still a bit exciting to spot one.

Small Coppers were also reasonably common. Athough none would pose nicely with their wings open, I found the underside of the wings to be just as beautiful in a more subtle colour pallet.

Finally the high spot of the last few days was a trip to Venus Pools in Shropshire. It’s a small reserve (with as the name suggests, some pools) run by the Shropshire Ornithological Society, but it’s also really good for butterflies. In particular, Common Blues were everywhere – they should be renamed Abundant Blues! We’ve never seen so many in such a small area, including several courting couples like these.

Amongst the Common Blues, were the occasional Brown Argus and Small Copper.


Also present were Painted Lady, Small Tortoiseshell, Large, Small & Green-veined Whites, Speckled Wood, Gatekeeper & Meadow Browns. But the real reason we’d driven 50 miles was reports of Clouded Yellow butterflies. For two weeks prior, we kept seeing gorgeous photos of Clouded Yellows at Venus Pools on social media. Having never seen one, this seemed the perfect opportunity. We spotted our first one almost immediately – unmistakeable bright yellow, but very, very fast. Only once did one stop long enough for us to grab some quick photos.

So not the finest pics, but recognisable enough to count as butterfly no. 47 on our quest to see all the British species. Well worth the 100 mile round trip! So all in all this last month has been a butterfly filled delight. Fingers crossed all this hot weather won’t spell trouble for the caterpillars and next year’s butterflies.

 

 

A Lot Going on at the Allotment

We’re well over half way through 30 Days Wild already, but I’ve not had chance to blog much this month. This certainly hasn’t been due to a shortage of wildlife though. The allotment is particularly busy at this time of year with everything (especially the weeds) springing into life. A neighbouring plot has regular slow worm sightings, which I view with great envy. For some reason we can’t tempt them onto our plot even though it is just a few metres away. But I sneaked a peak into said neighbour’s compost bin the other day and was delighted to spot a lovely large slow worm happily sitting on top of the compost.

Unfortunately the compost bin was too high and I was too short to be able to hold the camera high enough to get the whole reptile in focus, which was a bit annoying. So I went back the next day with my GoPro camera on a stick and did a short video to fit it all in. The slow worm didn’t move so it’s not exactly an action packed sequence, but at least you can see the whole animal.

Slow worm on allotment

 

A few sunny June days have also allowed me to try out my latest moth pheromone lure – this time trying to attract the currant clearwing. We have plenty of currant bushes down on the allotment, so it seemed a reasonable assumption that we’d get the moths, but I was still amazed how quickly they came. No sooner had I put the lure out and turned round to get the camera when there was already a hopeful moth buzzing round the trap. Within minutes I had about half a dozen. They were smaller than I expected and are most unusual looking insects. If I didn’t know they were moths I don’t think I would ever have guessed. See-through wings on a body striped a bit like a wasp with a strange pompom tail. They were of course all males having been fooled into thinking my lure was an attractive female.

I did try the lure out at home later – we don’t have any currant bushes there, but I was just curious. Surprisingly I got even more moths in the garden than I did on the allotment. The currant clearwing moths are obviously reasonably abundant in our area and yet I’ve never even glimpsed one without the lure.

Next insect of interest was a large red damselfly laying eggs in the allotment pond.

I didn’t see the male, but there obviously must have been one, because the female was very busy ovipositing in the pond. You can see her in the next photo curving her abdomen round to place each egg carefully in position.

I did try and video her laying the eggs, but she managed to position herself at an awkward angle to film, so apologies for the blurry (and shaky) camera work, but you can hopefully see how carefully she positions her abdomen, delicately probing to find the right spot.

Damselfly ovipositing

The other really interesting insects we’ve been getting at the pond are signal or semaphore flies – small long legged flies with the grand name of Poecilobothrus nobilitatus. The males have white tips to their wings which they wave about like semaphore flags to signal to each other and to females. I’ve spent ages trying to film their displays, but they are so small and so quick it is very difficult to focus on the right bit of the pond at the right time! But in this first shaky video below a male can just about be seen energetically trying to see off another male with his assertive wing display.

signal flies males

In this second shaky video a male (on the right) is trying to woo a female (on left) with his hopefully impressive courtship display. Not sure how convinced she was!

signal flies male and female

But the big excitement for me is the development of our tadpoles into mini frogs. We’ve been anxiously watching over them since March and spotted our first mini frogs in early June. I’ll do a full froggy update soon hopefully, but here are a few photos for now. We seem to have them in all stages of development still – many are still just tadpoles, some now have back legs only, some are starting to show front legs and some like this one below are virtually there apart from the remains of a tail.

The froglets are generally only about the size of a fingernail, but they are perfectly formed – frogs in miniature.

They can of course breathe in the air now, and some are already starting to explore beyond the confines of the pond. We have to be very careful where we tread as the grass is now full of tiny froglets.

So plenty going on down the allotment and that’s without even looking at the bees, the birds, the hoverflies and butterflies that we see regularly too. Not all the plots on our allotment site are gardened organically, but ours is and I feel we reap the benefits. So what if we loose the odd vegetable or some fruit to caterpillars or slugs or pigeons – the rewards of a plot full of wildlife far outweighs the losses. I can live without the odd lettuce or raspberry, but I wouldn’t want to miss out on mini frogs and semaphore flies!

 

300 moths and counting

In autumn last year I did a tally up of the number of moth species I’d recorded in the garden since I began looking about 5 years ago. I was amazed to find it was over 290, but then of course I started thinking, wouldn’t it be wonderful to get to 300. I thought I was sure to hit the magic number by the end of the year, but as the months rolled on I got stuck at 297.

So as the spring moths started appearing this year, I started ticking the new ones off – no. 298 the Satellite, no. 299 the Early Tooth Striped. No. 300 was tantalisingly close, but what was it going to be? Sod’s law being what it is, around this time I got a bit behind identifying some of my moth catch. I’d taken loads of photos, but not gone through them all properly. So the next moth I identified was a little micro moth called the Sulphur Tubic (Esperia sulphurella) – moth no. 300 had arrived. But then this week I went back through some of the photos from earlier in the month and found another new one – the Silver Cloud (Egira conspicillaris). As I’d technically caught the Silver Cloud first, it took the noteworthy no. 300 spot and the poor old Sulphur Tubic got bumped to no. 301. So here it is, proud no. 300 – the Silver Cloud. This moth has quite a restricted distribution in the UK, so I’m lucky to get it here in Malvern.

Having been pipped at the post for the glory of being no. 300, I felt the Sulphur tubic deserved a photo too. So here it is, a pretty little moth only a few millimetres long.

Having hit the magic number 300, I thought I’d have a look through my records and share my top 10 favourite moths. This proved harder than I expected, because I just like all of them! So in the end, here are my top 12, just because I couldn’t whittle it down any further.

So in reverse order  – at No. 12 is the Scarce Silver Lines (Bena bicolorana). I’ve included this one because it is just too beautiful not to.

At No. 11 another moth that is so perfectly marked, it’s hard to believe it’s real – the Black Arches (Lymantria monacha).

At No. 10 the first day flying moth on this list – the Six Spot Burnet (Zygaena filipendulae). It’s a beautiful glossy black moth, with 6 clearly defined red spots – I always like a moth that fits its name.

At No. 9, a moth that gets my vote for its mastery of camouflage – the Buff Tip (Phalera bucephala). It looks just like a broken twig, particularly of a silver birch tree, but it even blends in pretty well with this apple tree twig I used for the photo.

At No. 8, not my favourite looking moth, but it makes the list because the individual I caught was the first record of this species in Worcestershire – the Box Tree Moth (Cydalima perspectalis). I felt quite proud to have caught the first one, although it’s not good news for anyone growing box trees, as it is a pest. It is an introduced species having only been recorded in the UK from 2007.

At No. 7, a moth that is not only striking in appearance, but has a great name – the Leopard Moth (Zeuzera pyrina). I like moths and I like cats, so put the two together and it’s bound to be a winner for me (although on that principle I could also have included the Puss Moth or one of the Kitten moths).

At No. 6, the second day flying moth on this list – the Scarlet Tiger. Stunningly colourful moths that fly on sunny days and are often mistaken for butterflies. We were lucky enough to have a whole flock of them come into the garden one afternoon.

At No. 5, a cute moth that looks like it’s got a pair of glasses on its head – the appropriately named Spectacle (Abrostola tripartita). I’ve spent a lot of time photographing these moths, always focussing on the heads to get their funny specs and tufted topknot in.

At No. 4, the first of the big guns moths – the Lime Hawk-Moth (Mimas tiliae). These are great big moths (up to 7 or 8 cm across) and seem almost too heavy to fly.

At No 3, probably one of the most beautiful moths of all and with another fantastic name – the Merveille du Jour (Dichonia aprilina). Despite its Latin name it flies in September/October and is always a joy to find in the trap at the end of the summer. The name means Marvel of the Day in French and it certainly is.

My second all time favourite moth has to be the amazing Hummingbird Hawk-moth (Macroglossum stellatarum). A medium sized moth, it hovers over flowers so well it often gets mistaken for an actual hummingbird. It is actually an immigrant moth from as far away as Africa, but nearly every year we get at least one in our garden. They are so quick, it is virtually impossible to get a sharp photo of them, so I’ve often resorted to videoing them instead.

 

Hummingbird Hawk-moth

But finally there could only ever have been one moth that was my No. 1 favourite – the biggest, the pinkest and the best – the Elephant Hawk-moth (Deilephila elpenor). I can still remember my utter amazement the first time I caught one of these (Chris was less enthusiastic when I woke him at 4am to show him my prize specimen!). And they still thrill me today whenever one appears. They just don’t look real – big fat pink bodies with pink and green wings. If I were to make up a moth this would be it and I will never tire of seeing them.

It’s a Frog’s Life

I’ve been virtually staking out our allotment pond since the middle of February, hoping for frog spawn.  As it turns out, it was probably a good job we didn’t get any spawn that early, as the heavy snow at the beginning of March would probably have wiped it all out. But in mid-March there were squeals of excitement down the lottie, when we spotted the first magical clusters. We had frog spawn! We’d put in the pond too late for spawn last year, but we did get several frogs and newts using it throughout the summer. So it was great that the frogs at least deemed it suitable for spawning in. No sign of any toad or newt spawn yet, but I live in hope. As I’d just got a waterproof GoPro camera a month or so ago, the arrival of the frog spawn seemed the perfect opportunity to test it out. So here’s my very first underwater video, taken on the first day we spotted the frog spawn – 11th March.

Frog Spawn

Since then I’ve been down the lottie regularly to check on progress. We can’t be sure exactly which day the frog spawn was laid, but I would guess it was only a day or two before we saw it. At first there was only one clump, but two days later there were three. So I’ve been trying to keep a video/photo diary of the development. I’m still getting the hang of the settings on the GoPro and also on getting things in focus, so apologies if the images are sometimes a bit blurry. So first up here are the eggs on Day 2 – pretty much perfectly round dots in their jelly bubbles.

No real changes were visible to the naked eye for the first week or so, but by day 11 they were starting to change shape. No longer perfectly round, the eggs were more like fat commas.

Two days later and the comma shaped were definitely elongating, with the suggestion of a tail.

By day 15 there were definitely mini tadpoles inside the jelly blobs. No sign of movement yet, but heads and tails were clearly visible.

Day 18 (28th March) and the tadpoles had started to hatch. Some were still in their protective jelly, but quite a few were clearly visible stuck to the outside of the eggs. These were all on the first clump of spawn we’d seen, the tadpoles in the other two clumps were not surprisingly a few days behind, having been laid later.

Day 20 and most of the first clump had hatched. They were starting to move a bit more now and had got a bit bigger so that gills were just about visible on some of them. They were still feeding off the jelly of the spawn.

Day 20

 

Day 24 (3rd April) and some of the slightly larger tadpoles were starting to move away from the jelly clump. Some of the tadpoles on the other two clumps of spawn were now starting to hatch too.

Day 29 and they were free swimming – the pond was alive with wriggling tadpoles. They were grazing on the algae growing on the sides of the pond and on the rocks.

I felt ridiculously proud of them that they had managed to make it this far, despite the rubbish weather spring has thrown at them! But they’re not out of the woods yet – as the next video shows there are still dangers lurking in the pond!

Day 29 8th April

 

Newts will eat tadpoles, so the chances are that not all of these will survive, but hopefully there are enough of them that some at least will make it. The newts have to survive too. With a bit of luck maybe we’ll get some newts laying eggs too – the newt in the video appeared to have a bit of a frilly ridge so is perhaps in breeding condition.

So that’s the progress so far in the first month of our tadpoles lives. Hopefully enough of them will survive that I’ll be able to do an update in a month or two’s time, as the tadpoles develop into baby frogs. Fingers crossed!

 

Spring Is In The Air (and in the Pond)

It is now a couple of weeks since the official start of spring, but it’s felt like it’s been a bit slow actually happening. But having looked at some of the animals we’ve seen in the last few weeks, maybe spring is slowly, tentatively, making itself known after all.

So first up, one of my all time favourites and the first bee of the year – the Hairy Footed Flower Bee. As is so often the case with these, I heard it before I saw it – a male buzzing energetically around the primroses. No sign of any females yet, I think they emerge slightly later.

March also sees the start of the annual Garden Moth Scheme. It’s been a particularly cold and wet start so I’ve not had a huge variety, but numbers are slowly picking up. Here’s a nice trio of the Orthosia genus – a Common Quaker, Clouded Drab & Twin-spotted Quaker.

The moths may be trickling in, but the butterflies have been very slow – not seen a single one in the garden yet this year. But we went for a walk in nearby Priory Gardens a week or so ago and spotted quite a few. A bright yellow Brimstone (way too fast to get a photo), several Commas and at least half a dozen Small Tortoiseshells – all basking in the sunshine.

One thing I’ve been particularly looking forward to is the arrival of frog spawn in our allotment pond. We put the pond in too late last year to get spawn laid, but this year we were good to go and the frogs didn’t disappoint. Here’s a quick video using the new GoPro camera. More froggy updates to follow in the next blog post as the tadpoles develop.

Frog Spawn

 

We didn’t see any frog spawn in the ponds at Priory Gardens, but there was plenty of bird activity. A couple of moorhens and lots of ducks, including this splendid looking mallard. There’s something about watching ducks on a pond in the sunshine that is not only really relaxing, but feels very spring-like to me.

The previous blog post was all about the peregrines up on the hill, but they weren’t the only birds we saw that day. This male bullfinch looked to be enjoying the spring sunshine sitting on a wild cherry tree (cherry blossom buds being one of their favourite foods apparently).

We also spotted jackdaws that had found some crevices in the rock face to nest in. The hole didn’t look that big, but they were taking quite sizeable twigs in there, so perhaps it opened out inside.

I don’t know if this dunnock was sensing spring or just feeling a bit odd, but it was behaving very strangely. It spent about 10 minutes sitting on top of the hedgehog house (not a safe spot since the neighbour’s cat often sits there), fluffing up its feathers repeatedly and shuffling about. It looked almost as if it was incubating eggs but there was no nest there (I did check it hadn’t laid anything). It stretched its neck out a few times and gaped its beak as well. I know dunnocks have some weird mating habits, but there didn’t seem to be another dunnock around for it to impress with the behaviour. Whatever it was doing it got fed up eventually and flew off into the bushes quite normally. If anyone can shed any light on the behaviour, it would be very much appreciated.

The dunnock may have been behaving strangely, but it was perfectly obvious what this blue tit was up to – gathering nest material. I saw someone suggest recently that you could provide nesting material by tying two hanging basket frames together to form a rough ball and filling them with moss and the like. Apologies to whoever’s idea it was, as I can’t remember where I saw it to be able to credit them properly – but it was a great idea, thank you. We had some old hanging baskets kicking around the garage and the “lawn” is full of moss,  so this was an easy idea to achieve. And the blue tits seem to appreciate it as almost immediately they started taking great beakfuls of moss and flying off with it.

Once it had got a beak’s worth of moss it would then stop on a twig to rearrange the moss a bit more tidily (presumably so it could see where it was flying), before taking off.

Blue Tit gathering nesting material

If only these blue tits had taken the moss back to the lovely nesting box with camera in that we’ve now had up for 2 years in exactly the spot where they used to nest! But no, they must be nesting elsewhere and all we’ve got on the nestcam is a spider’s web! Still at least we know they are nesting somewhere and that we’ve helped a little bit.

And finally spring must surely be on its way because our hedgehog is back! Whether it is Fat Sam from last year emerged from hibernation or a completely different hog, I have no idea. But it looks big and healthy and has a good appetite.

First hedgehog of 2018

None of these signs of spring maybe big newsworthy events,  but sometimes it’s spotting the small things in life that gives the most pleasure. And we’re certainly very happy that spring is finally on its way to Malvern.

 

Spring Cleaning

There’s been a lot in the press and on social media lately about the importance of cleaning your bird feeders. This is something we all probably know we should do, but don’t get around to as often as we should – I know we are definitely guilty of this. So with the first day of spring last week, what better time to have a spring clean for our feathered friends. Armed with a bucket, rubber gloves, scrubbing and bottle brushes I set to work.

I hadn’t really noticed how many bird feeders we’d actually got, until I came to have to clean them! It seemed best to do them in 2 lots, not only because there were quite a few, but so that the birds still had something out there left to eat while I slaved over the bucket. All washed, the two batches got hung out to dry in a rare spot of sunshine.

The bird baths got a good scrub too, since the  birds seem to use them for all manner of bodily functions, not just drinking and washing! It might just be a coincidence, but having cleaned the birdbaths, I’ve seen goldfinches using them for the first time – they must be fussier than the other birds!

I was a bit concerned that the birds might have been put off by me interfering with their feeders, but I needn’t have worried. They were back on them in no time. I must have hung the suet balls in a slightly different position, as the starlings could now reach them from below rather than balancing from above.

The blue tits were equally happy with a nice fresh supply of peanuts.

There are plenty of vantage points to reach the suet logs, but for some reason our female blackcap preferred to contort at this odd angle to reach a particular bit.

The male blackcap took a much more standard approach.

The goldfinches have been regular visitors to the niger seeds for a few weeks now, but the siskins’ visits are much more intermittent. So it was great today when this male siskin turned up and stayed long enough for me to grab the camera and sneak out the patio doors to get some photos. I had hoped it would sit facing the goldfinch so I could get profile shots of them both, but you can’t have everything!

So the feeders are all clean and the birds seem happy with my efforts. I’ve made a note on the calendar to try and clean them a bit more regularly from now on.

Although I was happy with the bird feeder cleaning, last week was actually a very sad one for us. We had to say goodbye to our beautiful Norwegian Forest Cat, Puddle. She’d been with us for the last 13 years, since she was a kitten and we are devastated to lose her – far too soon. Although an indoor cat, she loved sitting watching the birds with me from the comfort of the sofa. She was the sweetest natured cat I think I’ve ever known, and I will miss her for ever.