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.

Moth (and Mouse) Night

This weekend is Moth Night (it troubles me every year that Moth Night is actually a weekend!). It was supposed to be a fairly windy night and the various moth groups I follow were abuzz with prospects of exciting migrant moths being blown in from the Continent. One of the themes for this year’s Moth Night was the importance of ivy as an autumn food source. I cleared a path to our patch of ivy, so I could get close up for nocturnal photos and out my moth trap went in hope and anticipation. As anyone who reads my blog, or indeed anyone who has ever tried photographing wildlife knows, things rarely go to plan.

So the moth trap attracted just a measly 10 individuals of 8 species. October is getting near the end of moth season, so I was never going to get hundreds of moths, but I had hoped for a bit more of a selection. There are some lovely colourful autumn moth species, but none of them fancied my moth trap last night. I did get two migrants – both Silver Y moths – seen here with their distinctive y or gamma (hence their latin name Autographa gamma) marks on the wings.

The remaining 8 moths were made up of 2 Common Marbled Carpets, 1 Light Brown Apple Moth, 1 Blair’s Shoulder Knot, 1 Lesser Yellow Underwing, 1 Setaceous Hebrew Character, 1 Black Rustic and 1 Shuttle-shaped Dart. All lovely moths in their own right, but not the most exciting selection.

The ivy was also a complete wash out. Although it was in full flower, I didn’t see a single moth on it. Admittedly I didn’t sit in the bushes staring at it all night, but I did pop out for frequent spot checks. Maybe the light from the moth trap was doing too good a job attracting what few moths there were and keeping them away from the ivy? I’ll keep checking the ivy over the next few nights – it will be too late for Moth Night, but I’d like to get a photo of at least one moth on it. I did check out the ivy this morning and it was buzzing with bees (who had clearly got the memo the moths had missed about it being a good source of food in the autumn!). No sign of any Ivy Bees, but plenty of Honey Bees making the most of it.

One surprise find to finish off Moth Night was this mouse. As I was putting the moth trap away in the garage, I saw movement from the box with the birds’ peanuts in. A mouse had got stuck in there and looked just as surprised as me. A quick photo and he was running free in the garden again, although he may have preferred to stay in the garage with the bird food.

Patio Patch

The weather seems to have been interminably grey lately and not at all tempting for venturing out, so I’ve been observing a very local patch – the patio right outside our living room windows. Part of the reason for this focus has been my ongoing battle with our resident wren. I love wrens but this one seems determined to taunt me and thwart my every attempt to get a decent photo. So when I spotted him bobbing up and down outside our patio doors, I thought I’d finally stand a chance. Forty to fifty photos later and I had another large array of blurry shots (admittedly some of the blur may actually be due to the less than sparkling state of my patio windows!) These are the best of a very bad selection.

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Since he returned to the same spot several times, I came up with another cunning plan – leave the trail camera pointed at the patio area. Although he did do his best to avoid the area in front of the trail cam, I did eventually get the few indistinct video clips edited together below.

Patio wren

I tried roping Chris in on my wren wrangling mission. The best he managed was this one of the wren running along the fence (gleefully mocking as he goes no doubt).

wren-running

The upside of my on-going struggles was that I ended up filming quite a lot of other animals on the patio, at least one of which was a surprise. I’d been putting some bird food down (to further tempt the wren), but clearly birds aren’t the only ones partial to bird food. This mouse appeared several nights in a row, making the most of the free buffet. This area is literally right in front of our patio doors, but of course at night we have the lights on inside, so can’t see the mouse outside. It does however explain why our cat is always staring out at night!

mouse on patio video

We’ve always had birds pecking about on the patio for insects, but with the bird food out, their numbers increased. Magpies, blackbirds, starlings, robins, blackcap (female only), sparrows and dunnocks all took advantage of the new food supply there and all got caught on the trail camera. Here are just a few stills taken from the videos.

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patio-starlings

patio-sparrows

Since the birds were getting accustomed to coming closer to the house, it seemed the ideal time to try out something I’d seen on another blog. Wildlife Kate had set up an ingenious feeding platform using just a plastic ladle and her trail camera (For Kate’s amazing blog: http://www.wildlifekate.co.uk/my-blog/4588864364). She got such great photos, I thought I’d have a go.  So with a bit of help from Chris (actually he pretty much did it all) I set the ladle up on a post in the middle of the patio. Kate had got a lovely selection of dainty little birds – for the first few days all I got were hulking great jackdaws, who were really too big and too close for the camera to focus on properly. Still I do quite like some of the photos – after all you don’t often get the chance to be quite so eye-to-eye with a jackdaw.

Eventually the birds did start getting smaller, probably attracted by the flapping of the jackdaws. First came the blackbirds and starlings.

Starling on ladle

Then eventually a great tit, the female blackcap and the sparrows. The sparrows mainly benefitted from all the food the jackdaws tended to knock off the ladle onto the ground beneath; but a few did venture up to feed directly from it.

One final, slightly weird photo of a starling landing. I love the way its wings appear surreally wavy (and slightly nightmarish), presumably because it was moving faster than the camera shutter could cope with!

Thank you so much to Wildlife Kate for her idea of the ladle cam, which was brilliant in its simplicity and yet so effective. Kate’s images are far better than mine and well worth a look, but this is something anyone with a trail camera can try for themselves.

So all in all I managed to attract quite a lot into my patio patch with very little effort. And the real beauty of it all, now that the birds (and mice) are confident coming this close to the house, is that I can watch it all through the patio doors – quite literally from the comfort of my own sofa!

In The Pink

This week I managed to combine a visit to Slimbridge Wetland Centre with meeting friends for lunch – a win-win day out in my book! Slimbridge is only an hour’s drive from us and is the most amazing wetland reserve, overflowing with birds both native and from abroad. If you’re into bird watching, it must be one of the top UK sites to visit. In the few hours we were there, we only managed to get round maybe less than half of it (probably due to too much time scoffing sandwiches and yapping in the café!)

I was trying to take photos as we meandered around, but there’s almost too much to take in and I kept forgetting to actually snap away. For some reason, when I got back and looked at the photos, I appear to have got a bit obsessed by flamingos! Nearly half the day’s photos seem to feature them. There are apparently 6 species, although I think I’ve only got 3 here (which vaguely irritates my OCD that having unwittingly got a bit obsessed, I didn’t then photograph them all!)

These first ones are Caribbean Flamingos – the brightest pink ones we saw. The colour always seems unnatural to me, but logically I know that it’s due to their food and that Slimbridge aren’t dying their flamingos for our gratification!

caribbean-flamingos

This next one is an Andean Flamingo and possibly my favourite of the ones we saw. The feathers are absolutely stunning. Unfortunately this species is classed as Threatened – mainly by hunting, mining activities and habitat loss.

andean-flamingo

The next two photos are of Lesser Flamingos. In the upper photo you can see the teeth or serrations along the edge of the beak that it uses to filter the food out of the water. The lower photo I included just because I like the way they sinuously wrap their necks around – it’s hard to tell where one bird ends and the next begins.

flamingo-head

flamingo-knot

Besides flamingos, there were birds everywhere – particularly geese and ducks. Many had clearly learnt that visitors = food, but this Bar-headed Goose was way too dignified for that and just sailed serenely by.

barr-headed-goose

There were lots of quite showy birds, but for some reason I really liked this South Georgian Pintail Duck. Nothing flashy, just quintessentially ducky!

south-georgian-pintail

Probably my favourite photo of the day is this seemingly two headed duck! (Ruddy Eider Ducks I think)

two-headed-duck

We listened to a very interesting talk by one of the WWT volunteers, all about the Great Cranes. Slimbridge has been heavily involved in a project to reintroduce these majestic birds into Britain. It’s hard to believe but these huge birds were once common here until they were hunted to extinction. Fortunately they survived in Europe and thanks to the efforts of the WWT, they have got a toehold back in Britain.

cranes

It’s not all birds at the wetland centre though. They have several mammals, including otters, a beaver, voles, shrews and these adorable harvest mice – the only ones who would pose nicely for photographs. Unfortunately they were behind glass, so the images aren’t great, but they were wonderful to watch – such quick inquisitive little creatures.

harvest-mouse

harvest-mouse-2

Final bird of the day though was this Spoon-billed Sandpiper – made entirely of Lego. They were setting up giant Lego animals while we were there for a children’s trail opening this Saturday. The lady who gave us the Crane talk had told us about these little birds (in non-Lego reality they are apparently tiny) and how the WWT is doing such valuable work to try and save them. This was the closest we got to seeing one though!

spoon-billed-sandpiper

You don’t have to be into birdwatching to enjoy Slimbridge, although it is obviously a bonus if you are. I’d definitely recommend it as a day out for anyone even remotely interested in wildlife and conservation. For more information go to: http://www.wwt.org.uk/wetland-centres/slimbridge/

Out and About – Grafton Wood

Grafton Wood in Worcestershire is one of our favourite butterfly spotting locations and at only a half hour drive away provided the perfect day out yesterday. We went seeking the Brown Hairstreak, as we’d seen them there before. This is Worcestershire’s rarest butterfly and Grafton Wood is its stronghold, but unfortunately yesterday the Brown Hairstreak refused to put in an appearance. Hopefully we’ll have chance to go back later in the month, but in the meantime here’s one we photographed last year.

Brown Hairstreak

We may not have seen the Brown Hairstreak yesterday, but we did manage 14 other butterfly species, so we’re not complaining. One of the highlights was our second ever Brown Argus, having only seen these for the first time last week at Prestbury Hill.

Brown Argus

Common Blues were abundant as well. The name implies somehow that by being common they are maybe ordinary, but when the light shines on the males in the right way (like this one below sharing a flower with another favourite of mine, the Swollen Thighed Beetle), they are simply stunning.

Common Blue 3

The colours in the next photo aren’t quite as vibrant, but I love the way you can see the spots from the underside showing through.

Common Blue 4

I think we get a bit hung up sometimes seeking out the new species of butterfly, so it was nice yesterday at Grafton to see some of the old favourite species and have time to appreciate them in their own right. So in no particular order of preference – Red Admiral, Peacock, Green-Veined White, Brimstone and Small Copper.

Red Admiral

Peacock

Green veined white

Brimstone

Small Copper 2

The Red Admiral and Small Copper can both be seen feeding on Hemp Agrimony. This plant seems to be a butterfly magnet and is the one we saw the Brown Hairstreak on last year.

Butterflies weren’t the only insects of interest yesterday though – the dragonflies and damselflies were abundant too. Highlight was probably an Emperor dragonfly, but the swine thing wouldn’t land, so no photo of that. Next best was this Southern Hawker, which was almost as magnificent.

Southern Hawker

There were lots of Darters about too. At first I thought they were all Common Darters (top one of photos below), but closer inspection of the photos back home revealed a Ruddy Darter too (bottom). The Ruddy one is a slightly brighter red, but the most diagnostic difference is the colour of the legs – the Ruddy’s legs are all black, whereas the Common has paler segments.

Common Darter male

Ruddy Darter

At a small pond we spotted this mating pair of Blue-tailed Damselfies – a new species for us I think. The male is the one at the top and he’s holding onto the back of the neck of the female below, while she curves her body up to his to receive the sperm. They can stay locked like this for quite a while!

Blue Tailed Damselflies 2

Our final sighting of the day was this poor little mouse. Lovely as it was to get a clear view, we think there must have been something wrong with it, as mice don’t normally sit out in full view like this to get their photos taken. Its eyes didn’t look right either; one seemed partially shut. As we weren’t sure though, we left it as it was for nature to take its course.

Mouse

Back at the carpark by Grafton church, we rounded off the day by finding our first ever geocache! Not the greatest level of difficulty, but we were pleased with our success on the first attempt. Another thing to get addicted to “bagging”!

Birds in Focus

At last I’m finally getting some photos that are not only in focus (just about), but have real live animals in them – a dream come true after a couple of weeks struggling with the new trail cam!

Blue Tit trail cam photoI still wouldn’t claim to have mastered it, but the learning curve is definitely on the up. My new 250mm close up lens has certainly helped get (not surprisingly) closer images. The downside of using this lens is that your field of view shrinks dramatically, so you’ve got to be sure you’re pointing somewhere where there’s going to be some action. For some reason I seem to nearly always position the camera slightly too low, so I’ve got lots of clips now of bird feet, while their heads tuck into the bird food out of sight of the lens! I’ve also got a lot of clips of branches shaking, as something lands just above the field of view – I swear sometimes the birds are just sitting there, rattling the twigs to torment me. This underestimation of the required lens height may have something to do with my own height (or lack of), but I can hopefully train myself out of this one.

I’ve been much more impressed with the quality of the video clips than the still photos. But what I have found is that I can often get pretty good snapshots from the videos and turn them into photos. The images of the blue tit above and long-tail tit below were both taken this way.

Long tail tit 250mm lens

 

I tried the new lens out in the garage on the mice and was delighted when it captured two of them for the first time.

Two mice trail cam imageAt least I think I’m delighted, although maybe I won’t be so keen when 2 mice become 4 become 8 etc. They are getting through a lot of bird food as it is. Putting out the trail cam these last few weeks has incurred incidental expenses that I hadn’t anticipated when I first got it. In order to maximise photo ops in the garden, I’ve increased the numbers of bird feeders, so have of course needed more bird food too. There’s also been the additional lens, plus a new ground spike for the trail cam that I hope to try out at the weekend, to get photos of some of the ground feeding birds.

I’ve also been forced for the first time in ages to do a bit of judicious pruning round the garden to get clear shots of the feeders – that tree has just too many twigs growing specifically it seems with the intent of ruining my photos! I’ve been down on my knees trimming bits of grass out of the way of that elusive perfect shot and moving stones and other debris that spoiled the look. At this rate I may even find myself weeding the garden!

But I’m sure it will all be worth it come the spring. We’re really hoping that the blue tits will nest in the bird box again this year – in which case I will be poised ready with my new trail cam skills to capture the moment. Not sure when blue tits start nesting, but spring feels like it’s on its way. Despite a very cold night last night (-4.2°C according to my latest toy – a max/min thermometer for the Garden Moth Scheme), I heard the first froggy croak in the garden this afternoon and the daffodils are almost out, so hopefully the blue tits will feel it too.

In the meantime, here’s a couple of short films of the ever-adorable Long-tailed Tits in the garden today. First film is taken with the 460mm lens and second with the 250mm.

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First frog

Of Mice and Apples

I decided to play dirty this week in my ongoing attempts to capture wildlife footage with the trail camera, so offered bribes to the mice in the garage. We had a load of apples and some cheapo cake from the supermarket,  so I thought I’d see what the mice made of them. The mice clearly don’t take after their garage owner, as they went straight for the apples first and only ate the cake once all the fruit had gone. They must have been really keen on the apples too, as they triggered the camera within 5 minutes of me putting the food out. The first film shows one determined to drag a piece of prize fruit back to his nest – it took him 4 attempts before he managed to carry one off. I am slightly worried that this now means I’ve got a stash of rotting apples somewhere in the garage, so I hope they eat all they’ve carried off.

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The video was shot using the 460mm lens and isn’t quite as sharp as I’d like (having seen other bloggers’ much better images), but it’s not too bad.  I’m still practicing getting the camera set at just the right distance and angle. I did find a very useful video tutorial from Wildlife Gadgetman, which suggested tying a piece of string to the camera, with a knot at the correct distance to aid positioning. A simple trick, but very effective.

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The second video I liked just because of the mouse’s nonchalant flick of his back foot as he trundled through the food. Both videos suffer slightly from glare at the beginning of each film as the infrared light flares before it settles down – I have at least seen this on other people’s videos though, so it’s not just our camera!

The third video shows how good (to my mind at least) the colours are on the daytime shots. This clip was taking earlier today on a very grey morning, but the colours are still good. The pink bits are some berry flavoured suet pellets (not sure the colour is entirely natural though) that the blackbird seems to be particularly enjoying.

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Today the postman delivered my new 250mm lens, so I have high hopes for better close-up shots. The camera’s out with the new lens as I type, so hopefully by tomorrow I’ll be able to post some better videos and/or photos – although it may depend on what I find in the cupboards to bribe the mice with tonight!

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!