2018 – Some Highs, Some Lows

Every January I tend to do a review of our previous wildlife year, so here goes. 2018 was a mixed year for us to say the least, with some difficult family issues and the loss of our beautiful Norwegian Forest Cat – Puddle. It’s been 9 months and I miss her every day. Family problems have meant we haven’t managed to get out and about as much as normal and consequently the blog posts have been a bit thin on the ground. Hopefully 2019 will bring happier times. I can’t think of any better therapy than getting out and enjoying the wildlife both in our garden and beyond, so hopefully 2019 will bring more of that.

Having said all that, there were a lot of positives too. 2018 started well with some birdy highlights. We saw our first ever Hawfinches at Bewdley and also a pair of Peregrine falcons up on the Malverns less than a mile from our house. Hopefully the peregrines will return this year and we’ll get some better photos. We “rented a nest” through Worcestershire Wildlife Trusts scheme at Knapp & Papermill and “our” nest box was found to have blue tits with 8 chicks hatched in the spring.

The Beast from the East weather front blew in during March, bringing the most snow I can remember for a good few years. It may have been cold but we had the bonus of fieldfares and redwings in the garden, which was great. We also had another day in a photography hide, this time overlooking a reed bed full of buntings and warblers and the occasional lightning flash of a kingfisher.

 

There was delight in spring, when the pond which we’d put in at the allotment the previous year had its first clumps of frog spawn. With the help of our new GoPro camera we watched the spawn turn to tadpoles and then to mini frogs. Hopefully at least some of these will have survived and will return to their ancestral pond to mate this year.

At the end of May we headed to the Isle of Wight for a long weekend. Our main aim (other than to sample the local hospitality) was to see 2 more species of butterfly – the Glanville Fritillary and the Adonis Blue. Thankfully despite an unpromising foggy start, we managed both of these, plus a few precious glimpses of some red squirrels.  During the year we also managed to see a Large Heath and some Clouded Yellow butterflies, taking our tally of British butterflies to 47.

The trail camera was of course out almost full time during the year and with it, we were really excited to get our first glimpse of a fox in the garden. Hedgehogs of course featured heavily, with both feeding the wild ones and fostering a few rehabilitating ones. We were really worried in the summer when our neighbours announced they were replacing the fence. Thankfully they are lovely neighbours and readily agreed to have 3 gaps put in their new fence specifically for hedgehogs to come and go. The hedgehogs soon found the new gaps and as can be seen in the video clip below have been making good use of them.

Highway Traffic

 

As well as trying to bag as many butterfly species as possible, the moth trap has also been put to good use; one of the few things I’ve managed to keep going throughout the year for the Garden Moth Scheme. This year alone we have recorded 220 moth species in the garden. Overall since I began moth trapping I’ve found 331 species – not bad for a fairly regular (albeit scruffy) suburban garden. This year’s moth haul has included a couple of beauties I’ve been dying to find for a long time – a Rosy Footman and a Chinese Character.

As well as the regular moth trapping, we had a go with pheromone lures, managing to attract Currant Clearwings to the garden and the fabulous Emperor Moth on Hartlebury Common.

And that’s pretty much a summary of the year – very quiet in the latter half, but some really nice wildlife moments in the first half.

So of last year’s New Year’s Resolutions, I think the only one we managed to fully achieve was to see 3 new butterfly species – we actually managed 4! Of the remainder:

  1. Video the blue tits fledging in the garden – well they didn’t use the nest box with the camera, so that drew a blank. But we did support a family of blue tits at Knapp & Papermill reserve through the rent-a-nest scheme, so that is something at least.
  2. Visit 5 new nature reserves – I don’t think we managed any locally, but we did do some on the Isle of Wight and we revisited a few of our favourite ones around here instead.
  3. The pond – well the pond in the garden hasn’t progressed at all, but the one on the allotment is doing great, so that’s sort of a result.
  4. Make a hoverfly lagoon and monitor it – well I inadvertently made one by leaving a large tub of garden cuttings out by accident. It filled with rainwater and is now probably ideal hoverfly larval habitat. I didn’t do any monitoring on it, but maybe that’s something I can do in the spring.
  5. A moth tattoo – still not managed that, but a new tattoo parlour has opened up in Malvern, so my chances of getting it done have improved.

So that brings me to 2019’s resolutions, hopefully I’ll have a bit more success with these ones than last year.

  1. Photograph 3 new British butterfly species – this would bring our total to 50 out of the 58 or 59 candidates.  We’ll probably have to travel some distance for this – the perfect excuse for a holiday.
  2. Visit 5 new local nature reserves – we’ve bought Worcestershire Wildlife Trust’s book with all their reserves in, so no excuse not to achieve this one.
  3. Go and see the red kites in Wales – I’ve been wanting to go and see the red kites near Rhayader for years, so 2019 is going to be it!
  4. A trip to the seaside to find some rockpools and try out the GoPro camera in them – fingers crossed for some hermit crab action!
  5. Finally sort out the garden pond.
  6. That moth tattoo!

Happy New Year everyone!!

 

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.

 

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.

 

The Adventures of Tiny Tim the Hedgehog

I’ve been meaning to do an update on our garden hedgehogs for a while now, so today is finally the day. Although we haven’t seen a hedgehog in the garden since December 17th, we now have a resident foster hog – here’s his story. In my last hedgehoggy blog post, way back at the end of October, I mentioned that we had a large and a small hedgehog visiting the garden.

The two often appeared together, although they tended to arrive separately. The little one (Tiny Tim) generally seemed quite interested in the bigger one (Fat Sam as I’ve been calling him), but Fat Sam didn’t seem quite so impressed!

Adult & juvenile hedgehog

They would sometimes even go into the feeding station together. On one occasion the Tiny Tim got trapped in there for a few minutes when Fat Sam decided to plonk himself down just outside the entrance – effectively blocking the Tim in. The video below is a compilation of several short trail cam clips taken over a few minutes while he was trapped! Eventually Sam got bored and wandered off, freeing the youngster.

Hedgehogs

Although it was great to see the two together, I was worried  that Tiny Tim might not be big enough to get through the winter. The only way to be sure was to catch him and weigh him – hedgehogs need to be an absolute minimum of 450g to have enough fat reserves for hibernation.

Unfortunately our diminutive visitor didn’t come at a regular time, so the only way to catch him or her was to sit out and wait. After a couple of fruitless nights (my commitment to sitting outside in the dark didn’t extend beyond a few hours at a time) and a few false alarms (Fat Sam got himself weighed too – a very respectable 800g), I eventually got lucky at the beginning of November.  Fortunately he turned up at the feeding station at about 8:30pm and was no doubt a bit surprised to find me lurking nearby with a set of kitchen scales. The little guy only weighed about 400g so wouldn’t have made it through the winter without some help. So into the cat basket he went and along to Viv at Malvern Hedgehog Rescue.

Viv checked him over and found he had a cough, so he was treated for lungworm; a potentially fatal condition, so another good reason to rescue him besides his size. Viv was also able to confirm Tim was indeed a he!

A couple of months later and Tiny Tim is not so tiny any more – a very healthy 1100g, plenty big enough to survive hibernation now. So he’s come back to our garden to stay in the hutch until the Spring. I’ve not taken a photo of him, as I wanted to let him settle in and don’t want to disturb him any more than I have to. I will try and get the trail cam pointed at the hutch, to see if I can get any footage of him moving around at night. Hopefully though he’ll settle down and hibernate, but if not he’s got a des-res with food and water until it’s time to let him go. Many thanks to Viv (http://www.malvernhedgehogrescue.co.uk/) for getting him through the winter.

Tiny Tim may have spent most of the winter in the lap of luxury, but Fat Sam had to take his chances in our neighbourhood gardens. Fortunately  several of the neighbours like hedgehogs too and don’t mind having gaps in their fences so that the hogs can roam freely between the gardens at night. This footage shows Fat Sam squeezing himself under our fence and into next door’s garden.

Hedgehog under fence

We’ve put a couple of hedgehog houses out in the garden in hope of tempting Fat Sam to hibernate. I got my hopes up for a few days when the trail cam spotted him checking out one of the houses,

Fat Sam hedgehog in box

Unfortunately it didn’t impress him enough for him to make a nest in it. Hopefully he found somewhere more to his liking elsewhere in our garden or in one of the neighbours’ gardens. There are certainly plenty of wild untidy bits in ours that would hopefully make good nesting sites.

Fat Sam may not have made it his home, but the hedgehog house did attract some other visitors. This mouse appeared several times, clambering up the old clematis stems to sit on the box.

And this large fluffy cat (one of the neighbours’ not ours) also seemed to like sitting on top – perhaps knowing there were mice nearby?

Hopefully I’ll be able to post some videos of Tim in his hutch at night, but failing that I’ll post an update on Tiny Tim and Fat Sam in the spring when they come out of hibernation. Fingers crossed for a successful hibernation for hedgehogs everywhere.

 

2017 – The Year of the Hedgehog

It’s taken me a couple of weeks to get this written, mainly because 2017 was such an eventful year for us. I started compiling it and couldn’t believe how much we saw and did in one year; but it was lovely going through the old blog posts to refresh my memory.

First of all the successes and failures of last year’s New Year’s Resolutions. I think these definitely come under the “could do better” category, but we did at least try with most of our wildlife ones, which is more than can be said for my Cut Down on the Prosecco plan. So here’s the progress on our 7 resolutions for 2017.

1.  Build new pond. Well I did achieve this, just not in the place I expected to. The plan was to put a new pond in the garden. That didn’t happen, but I did get an allotment (with my sister) and first job we did was put in a small pond. Within months we’d had frogs, newts and dragonflies, so well worth the effort.

 

2. Get footage of the blue tits fledging. Well this didn’t happen, but it wasn’t for want of trying. We put up a new box with integral camera. Things were looking good when we caught a blue tit checking it out almost immediately. Unfortunately they then decided to nest elsewhere this year. You can lead a blue tit to a nest box, but you cannot make it nest!

3. Seeing new species of butterfly – we actually over-achieved on this one! We managed to bag 5 new species: Duke of Burgundy, Wall, Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary, Grizzled Skipper and Large Blue. This takes us to a grand total of 43 species of British butterfly seen and photographed. Only about 16 to go.

 

4. Try and find ivy bees at more sites. Not only did I not manage to achieve this, I didn’t see a single ivy bee at all. Chris saw a few, but only at sites where we’d seen them before.

5. Start compiling a list of hoverfly species in the garden. I did take quite a lot of hoverfly pictures, (including this lovely Chrysotoxum species) but totally forgot that I was going to start listing them. I could probably retrospectively go back through the photos and list them all – but what are the chances of that happening?

 

6. Do 30 Days Wild again. Thankfully a big YES to this one. I had a fantastic time in June doing 30 Days Wild and was really chuffed to get shortlisted again for the Wildlife Trusts’ Blogger Awards. Not only that but Worcestershire Wildlife Trust were looking for someone to write about it – so I even got a magazine article published!

7. And finally my quest to get a moth tattoo has failed once again. No surprises there.

So on to the other things we got up to last year. 2017 started with the shocking realization that I’d hit 50! To lessen the pain, Chris got us a day at some wildlife photography hides in Worcestershire. We had a fantastic bird-filled day watching kestrels, kingfishers and all sorts of other beautiful birds. Best birthday present ever!

The second big event was getting our allotment. Despite my “too lazy to weed” philosophy, I have always fancied an allotment and my sister and I now finally have one.  We are gardening it organically, feeding the birds, encouraging pollinators and of course we’ve put in our pond. Neighbouring plots even have slow worms, so we’re hoping we can attract a few of those over to ours soon too.

A big change for me in 2017 was that I swapped jobs. I now work 2 days a week at the British Hedgehog Preservation Society. We also fostered a hedgehog called Meadow last winter until his release in the spring.  We’ve rescued one poorly one found during the day and one juvenile that was too small to get through the winter and taken them to our local hedgehog carer Viv. Not only that but we had almost nightly visitations from other hedgehogs in the garden and got some great trail camera footage. So all in all 2017 has been my Year of the Hedgehog.

One of the highlights in the summer was a holiday in the beautiful Isles of Scilly. We had a fantastic week there, packed full of wildlife and wonderful scenery. Although we loved it all, probably the best thing was seeing puffins. We’d thought we might have been too late in the season, but luckily they were still there waiting for us.

Not only did we get some great photos, but the one above even won us a mug in the Scilly Isles photo competition. In fact we won 2 mugs, the other being for an old photo of me, my sister and my Dad taken on St Martin’s in 1972. 

Of course we did all our usual things in 2017 – the Big Garden Bird Survey, the Big Butterfly Count, the Garden Bioblitz, Moth night and the annual pilgrimage to see the bluebells on the Malverns. We’ve visited lots of our old favourite haunts, Wyre Forest, Trench & Grafton Wood, Prestbury Hill & Brotheridge Green etc. But we’ve also found some new favourites: Daneway Banks, Upton Warren wetlands, Wenlock Edge and more.

On the home front we have of course continued to let the weeds grow in the garden pretty much unchecked. The postman may soon need a machete to hack his way through the undergrowth to the front door, but it has brought us a wealth of insects and more. I’d thought we’d done well in 2016 when we recorded our 25th species of bee in the garden, but by the end of 2017’s summer we’d hit 31 species.

Moths continued to be my particular obsession throughout 2017. Overall it didn’t seem to be such a good year for moths in the garden – I only recorded 198 species compared to 211 in 2016. This might have been due to trapping effort, as I suffered a couple of stinking colds towards the end of the year and didn’t put the trap out for the last 2 months. Overall though we have now recorded 297 moth species in the garden – not bad for the middle of Malvern! The really exciting news though was that I recorded the first ever Box Tree Moth (Cydalima perspectalis) not only for Malvern, but for the whole of Worcestershire. This species is colonising northwards, so it was great to get the first record for our neck of the woods.

The sad news for 2017 was that we had to say goodbye to Bert. He was our elderly gentleman with a big voice (the loudest miaow ever!) and a big character. He spent most of his life outdoors, but came to us for his twilight years. We still miss him terribly.

 

So New Year’s Resolutions for 2018 – we might as well aim for a few then there’s a chance we might succeed with a couple at least!

  • Butterfly species – continue on our quest to see more of the British species – hopefully another 3 this year?
  • Film Blue tits fledging – the box and camera are still all set up, so we just have to hope they deign to nest in it this year.
  • Visit 5 new local nature reserves – we have such fantastic places around here, it will be good to explore some more.
  • Sort out the garden pond.
  • Have a go at a Hoverfly Lagoon – there’s a project looking at how to promote hoverflies in your garden, so it would be nice to contribute to that.
  • Of course that moth tattoo that never seems to get done!

Happy 2018 everyone!

 

 

 

Autumnwatch – Malvern Style

I’ve not managed to blog much this month, but it’s not been due to any lack of activity in the garden. We’ve both been suffering from a stinker of a cold and our wildlife watching has been largely confined to the views from the sofa. Fortunately the TV offerings have made up for the lack of outdoor activity. Blue Planet II returned this weekend and “blue” us away (sorry couldn’t resist the pun!).  David Attenborough was a huge influence on me as a child and probably one of the reasons I originally became a biologist – and he’s still got it. Inspirational as ever – false killer whales befriending dolphins, fish that leapt into the air to hunt seabirds and ones that used tools to open clams. All absolutely incredible.

Not only Blue Planet, but we had Autumn Watch last week too. Not quite the same wow factor, but great stuff all the same. The beauty of Autumn (and Spring) Watch is that it is British wildlife, so we’ve either seen the animals featured or can at least hope to see them one day. They often have projects or surveys that the public can contribute to and last week’s series was no exception. They launched a project called Seabird Watch which aims to get the public to analyse thousands of images of seabird colonies. So I’ve been having a go; it’s not as easy as it first seems, but it is very addictive! Here’s one of my efforts – lots of kittiwakes and guillemots.

If anyone wants to have a go there are still thousands of images to analyse – go to

https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/penguintom79/seabirdwatch

Autumnwatch of course featured all sorts of mammals and birds and all manner of fancy equipment for recording them. We don’t exactly have the same budget as the BBC, but I did go wild this week and bought a new gadget – this mini camera. It’s not much bigger than a 2 pence piece!

It’s so small we can fix it to twigs in the apple tree like this:

Of course like all new gadgets it’s taking a bit of getting used to. First few attempts turned out to be upside down. Second set were the right way up, but not exactly pointing in the right direction. I did get these starlings; although they’re not really taking centre stage they do at least demonstrate that it works and has the potential to get some decent footage.

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I have now managed to fix the date, so it doesn’t look like we’re in a time warp from 2 years ago, but I still need to work out the night vision and motion detection bit. It’s made a bit difficult by the badly translated instructions, but hopefully I’ll get there in the end. In the meantime here’s some nice footage using the good old trail camera – not quite the majestic owls from Autumnwatch, but a cute blue tit having a bath instead.

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Again we may not get the badgers and foxes of Autumnwatch, but we do have hedgehogs! I recently built another hedgehog feeding station (the last one having gone for a burton when a magpie knocked the trail camera over onto it and smashed it!) Fortunately the hedgehogs seem quite happy with mark II and this fairly large one has been a regular visitor.

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I was surprised though to see this much smaller one here for the first time. Hedgehogs need to be at least 450g by now to have enough fat reserves to make it through the winter. So if I can find this one again I will try and weigh him to check that he’ll be OK.

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The garden is definitely feeling very autumnal now and we even had our first frost yesterday morning with a chilly 0.1C overnight. The leaves have nearly all gone from the apple tree and my beloved moths are now few and far between. Marking the season though it is Halloween tonight and our allotment produced 3 whopping great pumpkins – the biggest of which here is seen with wine bottle and lemon for scale rather than some weird recipe I’m concocting.

Last year I carved the pumpkin into a bird feeder, but this one was a bit big to hang  up, so it’s just a regular scary pumpkin face. There’s something very satisfying about having grown our own pumpkins.

Finally from Halloween to Bonfire Night and a plea for everyone to look out for hedgehogs (and other small mammals and amphibians). If you’re going to have a bonfire – ideally build it on the day it’s going to be lit. If that’s not possible, then please check it thoroughly before lighting – lift up the base and look and listen for signs of hedgehogs. And please just light it from one side to give any hoggies in there a chance to escape from the other side.

Rehab Time

Yesterday must be right up there as one of the most interesting days this year. I got to spend the whole day at Vale Wildlife Hospital & Rehabilitation Centre near Tewkesbury. It was a one day course learning about hedgehog first aid, care & rehabilitation and the whole thing was fascinating!

The day started in the classroom with introductions – the other participants on the course included some experienced hedgehog carers, some planning on starting hedgehog rehabilitation and some who just loved the hedgehogs in their gardens and wanted to learn more.

Caroline, the charity founder, started with an overview of the legal issues surrounding wildlife rescue, which were much more complicated than I had realised. Then we had an introduction to some of the diseases/parasites that hedgehogs can suffer from; many of which can be transferred to humans, so careful hygiene is essential when handling hedgehogs (as it is with any animal).

We then ran through everything associated with the successful care and rehabilitation of hedgehogs. This covered everything from initial “is the rescue really necessary”, to examination & diagnosis, first aid, rehydration of dehydrated animals, feeding, care of hoglets,  treatments of parasites and other diseases, common injuries, record keeping, rehabilitation & release and sadly euthanasia.

In the afternoon we had two practical sessions. First looking down a microscope to examine hedgehog poo for signs of parasites. Not as easy as it sounds and it must take a while to get your eye in with this. Second was practising giving subcutaneous fluids to a hedgehog. Obviously we couldn’t practise on a live animal, but we all got to have a go on a deceased individual (sad to think that not all the hedgehogs could be saved, but at least we got to learn something from a couple of those that didn’t make it). Dehydration is a major problem for many rescued hedgehogs, so learning to do this properly is vital for anyone considering their rehabilitation, but not something that should be tried without proper instruction.

The Vale Centre cares for all manner of wildlife, not just hedgehogs. As part of the course we got a guided tour of their facilities. Just seeing the scale of simple things like food prep or laundry (an awful lot of dirty animal bedding) really brought it home how much work they do. There is of course a lot of much more technical equipment, like this heated x-ray table.

Warmth is often a critical factor in the survival of the rescued animals, particularly for baby ones. Brooders such as this one, allow them to be kept constantly warm, until they are big enough to regulate their own body temperatures.

The small mammal and hedgehog wards are fitted out with row upon row of cages, each with their own patient records on clipboards, just as you would find in a human hospital.

Each animal patient has a unique identifying number and the staff record daily weights and observations, flagging up any that are cause for concern. Colour coded tabs allow instant identification of those needing fluids, or medication, or assessment, or samples etc.

While we were getting our tour a young squirrel was being syringe fed (although we were supposed to all be objective and unsentimental, a collective “awwh” went up in the room).

A more adult looking squirrel was either interested in the syringe food, or interested in us – not sure which.

Hedgehogs account for a large proportion of the animals admitted to Vale. Last year of the approximate 4500 animals admitted, over 1000 were hedgehogs. This year they look to be getting similar numbers and the wards certainly had plenty of hoggy patients. Of course being nocturnal animals most of them were fast asleep in their cages, burrowed into nests of shredded newspaper. But I did spot one venturing out of his sleeping chamber. The hedgehog cages are split into two connecting “rooms”, one a sleeping chamber and one for the food and water.

Birds account for about 70% of Vale’s admissions, many of them baby ones. A young sparrowhawk and a duck were admitted while we were there. These baby pigeons were just two in the indoor bird ward yesterday.

Outdoors there were yet more birds, from small birds like sparrows and pigeons, up to swans and gulls. All waiting to be strong enough to be rehabilitated – it is vital that they regain the strength in their flight muscles before being released.

Vale’s ethos is very much about rehabilitation. Animals are nursed back to health so that they can not only be released again, but be released with quality of life equivalent to what they would have naturally.  If this can’t be achieved, then sadly euthanasia may be the only option.

There are one or two exceptions, such as this stunning European Eagle Owl. This bird is not native to Britain so cannot be released into the wild here.

And finally an unlikely looking trio of a fallow deer, an emu and a rhea, all of which will be living out their natural days at Vale.

Although our course was aimed primarily at hedgehogs, it was great to see some of the other work the centre does too. I would recommend this course to anyone considering caring for one or more hedgehogs. This and of course getting some practical volunteering experience with an already established hedgehog rescuer if you can.

When I was a little girl I wanted to be a vet, but was probably way too lazy to study hard enough. I realise now with hindsight that I probably wouldn’t have had the emotional strength to make a very good vet, even if I had worked hard enough. People who work with animals, like the amazing staff at Vale, have to care for the animals whilst at the same time making really difficult decisions on a day to day basis. It would be so easy to make choices for an animal to make the person choosing feel better, rather than thinking what is really right for the animal. The staff at Vale always put the interests of the animals first and I have huge respect for them.

To find out more about Vale Wildlife Hospital and the work they do, check out their website: http://www.valewildlife.org.uk/     Charities like this cost a fortune to run, but do such an amazing job – any and all donations would be very welcome.