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.

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.

 

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.

Hedgehog Awareness Week

Today marks the start of Hedgehog Awareness Week – an annual event focussed on all things hoggy, organised by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society. I’ve been saving up hedgehog related news for a few weeks now, in readiness for Awareness Week and I’ve got a surprising amount to report!

The big news for me personally was that I handed my notice in at my previous job and had planned to have a bit of time off. That was until I spotted an admin job going at the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) – it was just too tempting to resist.  I applied and am absolutely thrilled to say I got the job! It’s only 2 days a week which is absolutely perfect for me as it gives me plenty of time to be not weeding the garden! So here is my new place of work:

The next big piece of news is that Meadow our foster hedgehog has now been released into the Too Lazy To Weed garden. I took him back to be checked over by Viv at Malvern Hedgehog Rescue before we released him. This is him in the cat basket on the way there.

Viv checked his weight (he’d actually put on a lot of weight as apparently the catfood he’d been on for the last few weeks was a bit rich for him – I’ll know better next time) and then gave the go ahead for him to be released into our garden. He’d been with us since January and in a way I was sorry to see him go, although obviously it was the right thing to do. We waited until dusk, then put the cat basket out under the apple tree where there was plenty of cover for him and just let him come out whenever he was ready. (I was tempted to have the Born Free theme tune playing the background but resisted) This is him emerging from the cat box and taking his first steps in our garden.

Meadow release

I left the trail cam out for the next couple of nights and sure enough he appeared, making a beeline for the food I’d put out. I’m fairly sure it’s him in these next 2 clips as it’s a pretty big hedgehog so I reckon that’s our boy!

Meadow the Hedgehog
Meadow the Hedgehog

Assuming it is him, he seems to be doing well and has obviously found somewhere safe to rest during the day and knows where I put food and water out each night. Live long and prosper Meadow!

I’d been putting the trail camera out in the hope of getting hoggy videos for a few weeks before Meadow’s release. Most of the footage was of course taken in the dark, but I got this one short film of a hedgehog in the very early hours of the morning in daylight (I think the camera’s clock was out by an hour or two though as it wasn’t this light at 04:30am). Hopefully he or she was just getting a last minute snack before hiding away for the day somewhere.

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It’s never easy to distinguish the hedgehogs in the garden (apart from Meadow’s currently distinctive chubby form), so it’s difficult to know how many we get. But a lot of trail cam footage shows a pair of hogs, so we know we’ve got at least 2 (3 now with Meadow).

The first time two appeared together it looked like a fight! Don’t know if it was a territorial dispute between 2 males or an overly aggressive male and female, but the one managed to shove the other half way across the lawn.

hedgehog territorial

The following night though there were 2 hogs again. Not so aggressive this time, although the one did seem to be seriously annoying the other. They circled round like this for well over an hour – was it perhaps the start of mating, with the female playing hard to get initially. Have to admire his persistence if it was courtship, although he did seem to get distracted by the food bowl quite often!

Hedgehog circling

A few days after seeing the possible amorous antics on the trail cam, we spotted several areas of grass, flattened and twisted around – presumably the result of all the circling behaviour. You’ve heard of crop circles, we’ve got hedgehog circles!

So that’s all the news from our garden. If anyone wants to do something extra to support hedgehogs during Awareness Week, there are lots of things that can be done.

To support or encourage hedgehogs into your own garden, you can put out food (never bread or milk) and water. If you have a pond, make sure you install a ramp or some other means for hedgehogs to get out if they fall in. Make sure there are gaps in fences/walls so hedgehogs can come and go between gardens – they roam quite a bit during the night so ideally need a large network of gardens. Be super careful when mowing, particularly with strimmers which can inflict terrible injuries on hedgehogs.

If you don’t have a garden or at least don’t get hedgehogs in it, there are still lots of other ways of supporting them. You could join BHPS – your subscription will help support their work. Or you could simply Text HHOG17 to 70070 to donate £5 to the charity.

There are also hundreds of hedgehog volunteer carers around the country – you could do something to help your local one. Donations of cash or food or other general supplies are always welcome. Our local one is Malvern Hedgehog Rescue and Viv there does amazing work caring for up to 100 rescue hogs at a time. Her website has loads of useful information: http://www.malvernhedgehogrescue.co.uk/

Another great example is Little Silver Hedgehog run by Emma. Not only does she rescue & rehabilitate lots of hedgehogs, her blog https://littlesilverhedgehog.wordpress.com/ is full of useful hoggy advice. In addition she makes beautiful silver jewellery that she sells to raise funds for the hedgehogs – I treated myself to this cute pendant to celebrate getting the job with BHPS.

And finally you could always just tweet or post a message on Facebook (or go old school and talk to people) showing your support for these lovely animals – they need all the help they can get.

Out and About – Symonds Yat

We had what seemed like a brilliant idea yesterday to head down to Symonds Yat to see the trees there in all their autumn splendour. As usual of course we didn’t really see what we’d aimed to see, but as is so often the case with our wildlife days out, what we did see more than made up for it. For a start the glorious autumn sunshine we’d hoped for had been replaced with a dull grey mist. Secondly the trees down at Symonds Yat must be a bit behind the ones in Malvern, as they’d not really changed colour yet. So what we could see through the mist wasn’t really the autumn spectacle we’d hoped for. Still we headed to Symonds Yat Rock which sits high up overlooking the horseshoe bend in the River Wye.  The trees below may not all have been golden brown but the view was still stunning.

river-bend

river

We could see the cliffs where Peregrine Falcons nest and thanks to some very kind people who let us use their telescopic sights, we even saw one of the birds in a hole in the rocks. It was way too far away for us to get a photo – but at least we can say we saw a falcon!

symonds-cliffs

The same helpful couple informed us that the strange noises we could hear were rutting Fallow Deer in the woods below (I’d thought the sound was Wild Boar and was arguing with Chris about it, so  good job we met people who knew what they were talking about!) We didn’t see the deer but were reliably informed by our new-found friends that they do sometimes appear and go down to the river.

We may not have managed to see the deer or get photos of the falcons, but fortunately there was plenty of smaller animals that were much more obliging. Volunteers (possibly our two helpers from above) regularly put out bird food at the viewing point on the rock. This was attracting plenty of smaller birds who were clearly used to the flocks of visitors clicking away with their cameras (actually mainly phones of course, apart from us old fogies with actual cameras!) The highlight was a gorgeous Nuthatch – the closest either of us had ever been to one.

nut-hatch

nut-hatch-2

Various members of the Tit family were also making the most of the bird food. Coal Tits, Blue Tits & Great Tits were all completely unfazed by the visitors. Apparently Marsh Tits frequented the area too, but unfortunately not while we were there.

coal-tit

blue-tit

blue-tit-3

great-tit

A Chaffinch completed the array of small birds we saw up on the rock.

chaffinch

One final surprise though was a visitor on the ground beneath all the bird seed. The Bank Vole had clearly learnt that there were easy pickings to be had here and was also relatively unbothered by all the people.

bank-vole

We could have spent a lot longer up at the rock, but we’d booked lunch in one of the pubs down by the river in Symonds Yat East, so headed back down. Symonds Yat East is on the Gloucestershire side of the river, while Symonds Yat West is in Herefordshire. You can get a tiny hand-pulled passenger ferry between the two – the lad pulling the ferry across must have biceps of steel, as he never stopped going back and forth all the time we were there!

As we stood watching the river and the canoeists braving the rapids, we spotted the unmistakable flash of a kingfisher. Of course we’d left the camera back in the car while we had lunch, so Chris legged it back to fetch it while I kept my eye on the kingfisher. I saw it dive into the water a couple of times and watched it fly back and forth across the river. Needless to say by the time Chris got back with the camera it had flown upstream and out of sight. We waited a while for it to reappear, but no joy. A lovely flock of Long Tailed Tits flew in though to complete our small bird collection for the day.

long-tail-tit

So the day may not have provided an autumn spectacle, but we saw a kingfisher, heard some deer, just about saw a falcon, met some nice people, watched a vole and got lots of birdie photos – I’d call that a result!

Hedgehog Feeding Station

“If you build, it they will come” – not originally referring to hedgehogs, but I was hoping it would still hold true. Following my previous post about attempts to feed hedgehogs mainly ending with success at feeding neighbouring cats, I got some very helpful suggestions via Twitter. Probably the most helpful was from Paula who suggested I try out the instructions for building your own feeding station on Little Silver Hedgehog’s excellent blog (https://littlesilverhedgehog.wordpress.com/2016/06/20/build-a-hedgehog-feeding-station/)

The idea behind the feeding station is simple enough – provide a safe place for the hedgehog to eat with an entrance hole too small for the cats to get in. I’m not the most DIY-minded person, but thought I could just about manage this! So one plastic box, a pair of scissors, some sticky tape and a brick later, this was the result!

The Box

It may not be a build of great architectural beauty, but I was hoping the hedgehogs wouldn’t be too bothered by the aesthetics (or the choice of reading material I’d lined the bottom with). The catfood went at one end, but I also put a few mealworms near the entrance to try and tempt the hedgehogs to investigate further. The trail cam was set up and I just had to wait for morning to see if it worked.

In the morning I was really chuffed to find that the food had all been eaten – of course the question was – Who or What ate it? Trail cam footage first showed the usual cunning cat peering at the box and looking mildly annoyed that it couldn’t get to the food. Then at about 12:40 am the hedgehog appeared to view my handiwork for the first time.

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He or she was cautious at first, peering in and eating the mealworms I’d put near the entrance (or possibly eating the huge slug that had also found its way in)

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Then followed a few more nervous entries into the box until by 3am our hedgehog was striding in and going straight for the food. Clearly his or her confidence was such that by the morning all the food had gone.

08074547

I am so pleased with this – it has way exceeded my expectations, especially for a first night trial. I’ve stocked up on catfood and hopefully this success will continue throughout the summer. The only slightly annoying thing is that my trail cam will only record 15 seconds at a time when in night-time mode, but I can live with that.

I can’t thank Little Silver Hedgehog enough for her excellent advice (do check out her blog for all things hedgehog related https://littlesilverhedgehog.wordpress.com/) and Paula on Twitter for pointing me in the right direction in the first place. Social media working at its best!

 

Hedgehog Update

Just a quick update on our garden hedgehogs. The good news is that we spotted 2 healthy looking adult hedgehogs in the garden last night as it was getting dark. One was more adventurous and came out for a bowl of catfood, the other stayed in the bushes waiting for us to go away.

Adult hedgehog

Whilst it was great to see that we still had our adult hedgehogs, I was then worried that perhaps I’d unnecessarily removed the 2 babies I found on the hot lawn earlier in the week. Of course there is no guarantee that the 2 adults we saw last night were the parents. I contacted the hedgehog rescue lady who reassured me that we’d done the right thing removing the babies from the heat as they could have become dehydrated, got fly strike, or even been predated. They certainly shouldn’t have been out by themselves in the middle of the hot afternoon. Better to have taken them to safety than take any chances.  She also assured me that the babies were doing well.

I’ll probably put the trail camera out over the weekend and hope we get some better footage of our hedgehog friends, so perhaps more updates next week.

After Dark

So my mission to master the Trail Cam goes on! It seems there’s a lot more to it than just pointing the thing vaguely in the direction of some animals, but I guess if it was that easy, we’d all be professional wildlife photographers!

Latest attempts have been at filming our little mammalian friends after dark. We’ve known for a while that we had mice in the garage (merrily munching their way through the bird food supplies), so they seemed a logical subject for our nocturnal trials.

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Hopefully what the garage footage shows is a typical house mouse and not a baby rat! For some reason mice in the garage seem quite cute, but rats are less appealing.

We then turned our attention to the garden at night. Although we do get hedgehogs in the garden they are hopefully still hibernating somewhere and though we’ve seen foxes out the front, we’ve never seen them in the back garden. So the best bet for nocturnal mammals was once again rodents (and next door’s cat) and so it proved to be.

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Again I think it is a mouse and not a juvenile rat, but if anyone can confirm either way, it would be much appreciated. The images still aren’t perfect by any means, but I’m hoping that with a bit of practice we’ll be ready to take better shots once the hedgehogs emerge.

So I am making progress and learning a few things along the way, most of which are fairly obvious when you think about them – but clearly I didn’t think about them first. For instance if you leave the camera out to run through a very cold night into the next day – the first few hours of daylight photos will suffer from the dewy condensation on the lens until the sun warms it up enough to clear. I have a lot of very foggy photos of early morning birds due to this! Ideally you need a fair amount of sun (virtually non-existent here since we bought the camera), but you don’t want to be pointing too much up at the sky. Videoing a swinging bird feeder produces (not surprisingly) lots of films of swinging bird feeders, not necessarily with any birds (258 videos one day alone). At night you need to balance the strength of the infra-red light against the distance to your subject – too strong and too close and it’s a white-out; too weak or too far and it’s a blurry image.

Hopefully spring will come soon bringing more photo ops and tempting this fair-weather blogger out into the garden to rummage through the weeds for invertebrate subjects – I’m missing my little spineless friends!