Spring in the garden

The Spring Equinox has been and gone already and I’ve been gathering video clips for weeks now with signs of spring. I blogged about the allotment last week, so this time it’s the turn of the Too Lazy garden proper. I’ve had the cameras out all over the garden and got so many videos it’s taken a while to sort through them; but here are some highlights from the last few weeks.

Our first hedgehog woke from hibernation and appeared on the trail camera at the end of February – quite early, but given the mild winter we’ve had, maybe not too surprising.

 

It wasn’t long before one became two and a second larger hedgehog appeared in the same part of the garden. This second one didn’t seem too keen to share the food with the smaller one and there were a few tussles the first night. I had hoped One-eyed Tim, one of last year’s hedgehogs, might have appeared by now, but neither of these are optically challenged, so I hope he’s just late coming out of hibernation.

 

The garden birds, in particular the blue tits, seem to be feeling the spring in the air too. Blue tits used to nest in our garden, but for the last few years, they seem to have turned their noses (or beaks) up at it and although regular visitors, they must be nesting elsewhere. I did get hopeful when the old nest box we’d stuck on the apple tree seemed to be getting a bit of attention:

 

Unfortunately despite repeated visits to check it out, they seem to have found it lacking in some way. They may not be favouring our garden for their nest, but they’re not averse to making use of the nesting material we’ve put out for them. I’d filled an old hanging basket with hay and moss raked up from the lawn and the blue tits wasted no time helping themselves to it.

 

In the absence of nest box footage, I thought I’d make the most of the hay/moss collection and try and get some different shots of this activity instead. First I tried putting the GoPro on a branch above the basket, which worked reasonably well.

 

I then had a go putting the camera inside the basket cage itself. The blue tits weren’t bothered by it at all, so I got some half decent shots of them tugging at the moss to get the best bits.

 

Last month I succumbed to the urge to get yet another camera for the garden – this time one trained exclusively on a feeder. We can live feed it to the living room, which is great, although most of the time we end up just watching peanuts swinging in the breeze. But I did eventually manage to get a brief clip of the blue tits – once again happy to avail themselves of anything on offer in the garden (except the nest boxes).

 

The blackbirds made an early start gathering nesting material at the end of February – or at least the female in this video clip did, the male seemed more interested in making sure we got his best side on film!

 

The squirrel wasn’t doing anything particularly spring-like, other than checking whether the hedgehogs had left anything worthwhile; but I can never resist the squirrels, so here’s his few seconds of fame too.

 

The water bath seems to have been coming into its own again now spring’s here too. This blackbird was making the obvious use of it by bathing and of course lots of birds just drink from it.

 

But one magpie in particular has been using it for something a bit different. He or she has been eating bits of the cat food that I leave out for the hedgehogs. Most of it is eaten straight down, but some pieces are perhaps too hard, so it has been dropping them in the bird bath, presumably to soften them up a bit.

 

So there’s plenty of activity in the garden already this year and that’s without even discussing the insects that are all starting to appear too (I’ll save them for the next blog post). I love this time of year when everything is optimistic with the promise of the summer to come; perhaps the wildlife in the garden feels the same?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Isle of Wight – Part 2 Thwarted By Fog

Our first full day on the Isle of Wight coincided with the first day of 30 Days Wild – the Wildlife Trusts’ annual event to get people to engage with nature.  Perfect day then to go looking for our next two species of butterfly – the Glanville Fritillary and the Adonis Blue. Unfortunately the weather had other ideas and a thick blanket of fog seemed to have covered most of the island. No self respecting butterfly was going to fly in that, so our chances of seeing them were virtually nil. We did make a short half-hearted attempt and had a bit of a wander around the chalky slopes on the southern coast. Fortunately we like all sorts of invertebrates besides butterflies and many of these are fog tolerant.

Snails of course don’t mind a bit of damp weather and we found two new (to us) species in the hedgerows. This beautifully coiled one is a Kentish Snail (Monacha cantiana).

This tiny pointy snail is in fact called a Pointed Snail (Cochlicella sp.). It was only about a centimetre long, but still managed to have at least 8 whorls on its shell.

The other group of invertebrates that braved the fog in reasonable numbers were moth caterpillars. We saw several species, but these two were particularly striking. We’ve never seen them before either in caterpillar form, nor as adult moths. The top one is the caterpillar of the Lackey Moth and the bottom one of a Dingy Flat-Body Moth (thank you to the good people of iSpot for identifying the second one for me).

The other notable invertebrate was a cricket – there were large numbers of these Dark Bush Crickets (Pholidoptera griseoaptera) in the undergrowth. We only saw immature stages such as this nymph.

After an hour of enjoyable but butterfly-less searching, we went to Plan B. Isle of Wight is also known for its thriving population of Red Squirrels. Thankfully the grey squirrels haven’t made it across the water yet, so for the time being the reds have free rein over the island. So we headed inland to Borthwood Copse, a small woodland managed to support the red squirrels. The first interesting animal we spotted when we got to the wood, was another insect. This female Scarce Chaser dragonfly (Libellula fulva) is, as its name suggests, fairly scarce, so it was a really nice find. With its yellow veining and dark tips to the wings, it was clearly different to any dragonfly we’d seen before.

The wood was full of birds, all singing their hearts out (or all shouting warnings that we were intruding possibly). We could hear, if not see, lots of species, but the only one we really managed to photograph was this male Great Spotted Woodpecker.

After a lot of dizzying staring up into trees, we eventually spotted our first red squirrel. I think we had both fondly imagined that the squirrels would come down and somehow just sit waiting to be photographed. Needless to say, they did no such thing and remained steadfastly high up in the branches. Over the course of the next hour we spotted a few (or possibly the same one taunting us over and over) and although they were a delight to watch, they never came close enough for any really good photos. But we did eventually get some recognisable red squirrel photos, so here are our best efforts. We watched this one for a while carrying a bundle of nesting material, jumping from branch to branch.

We followed it by eye until it disappeared with its bundle of nesting material into what looked like a denser patch of leaves. It stayed in there for ages, so we wondered whether this might have been a nest or drey? You can just about make out the denser patch in the photo below.

When it eventually emerged it no longer had the nesting material, but decided to sit nearby watching us below. I know the next picture is really dark, but you can see the squirrel staring directly at us.

 

We had a few more sightings after this. In some they were again carrying nesting material, although we lost track of them in the branches so couldn’t see if they took them back to the same place.

The final photo I know is really rubbish, but I just love the way it looks like he’s just dangling there, when obviously we just caught him mid-jump.

So Plan B worked out pretty well in the end. The fog may have stopped us seeing butterflies that day (don’t worry we got there in the end – see next blog post), but there was plenty of other wildlife to enjoy. That’s one of the things about wildlife watching I love, you are never really disappointed, as there is almost always something amazing to see if you look.

 

 

 

 

Freezing February Birds

It’s February and it’s freezing and being a bit of a fair weather nature watcher I’ve not been out much – other than to constantly top up the bird feeders and defrost the bird baths of course! So it’s been a month mainly of bird watching through the window or via the cameras in the garden. Our array of camera gadgets is slowly growing. Trouble is with each one you get, you tend to want more; or at least that’s how it seems in our house. No matter where we’ve got cameras pointed, there always seems to be something more interesting happening elsewhere in the garden!

Anyway like much of the country we’ve had snow yesterday and today – not a huge amount, but it’s never really got above freezing here.  So it was a nice surprise to download the trail cam in the afternoon and find a pair of goldfinches had visited our new niger seed feeder. Sorry the video is a bit dark, but it was snowing!

Goldfinches in snow

Inspired by our intrepid goldfinches, I got round to sorting through some videos we’d taken in the garden in the last week or so, to see what else I could find.

We’ve got a new GoPro camera which can be remotely activated using a phone. Perfect on a cold day for sitting on the sofa hitting record whenever something interesting appears. I’ve been trying out different angles and distances to see what works best. This video was shot with the camera only about a foot away from the action.

Garden birds

This next video compilation was the GoPro again, but this time filmed from a greater distance looking down. The greater distance does of course give a wider field of view and I think  the GoPro lens may be a wide-angle one too. You can still see lumps of ice in the bird bath although I had already taken two kettle loads of warm water out to defrost it.  Lots of different species of birds have been using the bird bath in this cold weather though, so it’s well worth thawing it out.

Bird bath birds

This next little compilation was filmed with the GoPro strapped to a branch next to some of the feeders. The GoPro has the advantage here over the old trail camera in that it is much smaller, making it easier to position closer to things. You can strap it to twigs that would be too thin to support the trail cam.

Peanut feeder

But I have not abandoned my old faithful Bushnell trail cam. I had it pointed at the same feeders, but from a different angle. I was really chuffed that it filmed a couple of the siskins that we’d been so excited to see the previous week. It also picked  up the female blackcap, although the male still eludes us. It was nice too, that between the two cameras, there was footage of 3 of the 4 species of tit we get in our garden – blue, great and coal. The long tailed tits as usual refused to perform for either camera.

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One final surprise the cameras threw up was a visit from our squirrel – trying (but failing) to get into the peanut feeder.  I suspect he managed to get some of the other food out of shot.

Most of our regular bird species show up on one or other of the remote cameras but not all. So sometimes I just need to get off the sofa and sit in the garden with a “proper” camera. These jackdaws are regular visitors to the bird table and are particularly keen on the suet pellets. It does look slightly oddly like the one on the right is taking suet to the table rather than taking it away?

The wren of course seldom deigns to feature on the trail cam/GoPro videos. But this week he/she was more obliging than usual and did allow me to get a few shots. None perfect, but recognisable at least.

It even sat for a while preening itself, hence the next sequence of three “rumpled” looking photos.

So although it’s bloomin’ freezing, there’s plenty to watch in the garden. The bird feeders are busier than ever, so hopefully our garden birds will make it through this cold spell.

One final photo – a bullfinch, just because they are such gorgeous birds. Not actually taken in our garden but about a mile away near Chris’ work. He was feeding on wild cherry blossom buds at the weekend and he’s just too beautiful not to include in the blog (the male bullfinch I mean, not Chris!).

 

Save Langdale Wood

This week I finally got round to visiting a local wood that I’ve been meaning to stop at for donkeys years. Langdale Wood is just on the outskirts of the Malvern Hills and I’ve driven past hundreds of times, often thinking “I must stop and have a look sometime”. Unfortunately it was the sad news that this wood might soon be lost that finally prompted me to get up and go.

I got down there fairly early (for me) and the wood was still lit by a pearly mist with shafts of sunlight giving it a real ethereal quality.

The area closest to the road consists of many huge trees which must be pretty old to have reached such a size. They are all widely spaced with plenty of light reaching the ground; I expect in spring and summer there are plenty of flowers beneath the trees. There are clear paths through the trees, although you could go off-piste if you fancied. Since it was my first visit, I stuck to the path and just followed to see where it would take me.

I’d picked only the second frosty morning of the autumn, and the ground was delightfully crunchy still underfoot where the sun hadn’t yet warmed it up; the ground cover twinkling with its crystalline coating.

While I meandered about, the bird song all around me just didn’t stop. No idea what most of it was, but it was clear there was no shortage of birds. In the hour or so I was there I counted 15 species and that was just the ones I could see – no doubt there were plenty more. I discovered the big problem with big trees, especially when you are of diminutive stature yourself, is that you can’t get close enough to the birds to get decent photos. So for instance, although I saw 4 species of Tit (Blue, Coal, Great and Long tail) I only managed a few poor photos.

I was really chuffed to spot a Tree Creeper, which although it wasn’t actually that high in the trees, did not stay still for an instant. Each time I just got focussed he was off round the back of the tree – so this was the best I managed of him.

There is a decent sized pond in the woods too, surrounded by trees with a patch of bulrushes at one end (I’ve made a mental note to check these for dragonflies next summer). There was a trio of moorhens picking their way around the pond weeds – we played chase for a while, I would move to one side of the pond and they would move to the other! So again a distant blurry shot.

My prize find of the morning though was a tiny Goldcrest. At least I think it was a Goldcrest – it was very, very small and moved like lightning, so I can’t really be sure. This was the best shot I managed of it and you can’t even see its gold crest! There seemed to be a couple of them in one corner of the wood, so I’ll have to go back with a better lens and photographer (i.e. take hubby Chris to do the job!)

The remaining  tally of birds spotted included robins, blackbirds, a wren, a dunnock, several crows, a pair of chaffinches, numerous pigeons, and some noisy jays. No wood would be complete without squirrels and I saw a few about – only grey ones of course, but always a cheery sight nonetheless.

It was only my first (though long overdue) visit to Langdale Wood, but it struck me as quite a magical place. Stunning huge trees with wide open walkways in some areas, but other areas with denser more scrubby natural woodland. It was clearly a popular place with dog walkers, many of whom exchanged morning pleasantries with me as I chased the elusive birds round with my camera. Unbelievably to me though, Langdale Wood is in danger – there are plans to build holiday lodges on it. Not only will this deprive the locals of a unique recreation area, but it will have a devastating effect on the trees and animals that live there.

A campaign group has been set up to try and fight the proposals. You can join the group on Facebook to show your support: https://www.facebook.com/langdalewood/

There is also an online petition – please if you live in the Malvern area, consider signing this petition: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/save-langdale-wood

I have lived in Malvern for quite a while and I honestly can’t think of anywhere in the area quite like it. There are other wooded areas of course, but none as spacious, open and calming as Langdale. Stupidly it’s taken me this long to go and see these woods, so I’ve only seen them in late autumn. I hope I get the chance to visit in winter, spring and summer, not just next year, but for many years to come.

 

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.

Wildlife Hides – Part 3 The Kestrel

This is the third and final part of the blog about our wonderful day spent at the Wildlife Hides near Droitwich. Our last hide of the day was the Kestrel one. Once again we were a bit worried when the previous 2 groups had all seen kestrels feeding – would they be too full to fly down for us?

Initially all we could see was a very distant kestrel perched on a telegraph pole way across the field.

distant-kestrel

Dead mice were positioned in front of our hide, so we just had to hope she was still hungry. While we waited (with everything crossed) for her to fly down, we could at least enjoy lots of the small birds that were flitting about. The blue tits and great tits posed obligingly on a branch in front of us and a chaffinch was poking about in the mud on the field. A wagtail and an absolutely stunning bullfinch also made appearances, but we didn’t manage to get decent photos of either.

blue-tit

great-tit

chaffinch

While we’d been watching the small birds, the female kestrel had been joined by the male on top of the telegraph pole. After what seemed like an age they eventually both took off and after a bit of hunting about, the female landed on one of the posts in front of us. All 3 of us clicked away frenziedly, to the point that we didn’t even notice the male had landed until it took off again – d’oh! So we only got photos of the female, but she was stunning. I’d never been so close to a kestrel before and hadn’t realised just how beautiful they were.

kestrel

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I think we made a bit too much noise and spooked her (and the male) off, but it wasn’t long before she returned. She was clearly wary of us though and decided to sit on the ground (actually on what looks like a great big turnip?) in the middle of the field for a while, probably hoping we’d go away.

kestrel-in-field

But as we stayed put in the hide and kept quiet, she decided to have another go for the mice.

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kestrel-10

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We could have happily stayed and watched the kestrels for a lot longer, but by now the light was starting to go. Before we packed up for the day though we had one final visitor – an inquisitive squirrel. I know it’s not a red one, but I still can’t resist them.

squirrel

As before while Chris was taking most of the photos, I had a go at videoing. They are such beautiful birds to watch, but you get a real sense of their strength when you see her pulling at the mouse. I wouldn’t want to be at the wrong end of those claws or beak!

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All the hides featured in these last 3 blog posts were at Nature Photography’s site near Droitwich, which is only a half hour’s drive from Malvern – brilliant! Other hide rental sites are no doubt available, but we were very happy with our day and couldn’t have asked for better views of the birds. If anyone’s interested in trying something like this for themselves, here’s their website: http://www.naturephotographyhides.co.uk/  They also have hides in Scotland for red squirrel and mountain hares – very tempted for next year!!

I know in an ideal world we would have gone out and found these animals for ourselves, but when you have limited time and resources, sometimes it’s good to take a short cut. The birds were all still wild and there were no guarantees of seeing anything, so it was a big thrill for us just being able to watch them. For beginners like us, it was also a good way of practising taking birdy photos – it’s very hard to practice if there’s nothing there to photograph!

Pumpkin Feeder

It may have been over a week ago now, but Halloween is still featuring in our garden in the form of our pumpkin bird feeder. I got the idea from the brilliant Wildlife Gadget Man (http://wildlifegadgetman.com/) who posted this on Twitter and I shamelessly copied it.

pumpkin-birdfeeder

Of course as is always the way, the wildlife didn’t appreciate it was Halloween and nothing visited it until the date was long gone. With hindsight, I think I initially hung the pumpkin too close to the house, but it wasn’t helped by the miserable foggy weather around the end of October which seemed to deter all but the hardiest of wildlife in our garden. Eventually though the squirrel appeared to check it out and I got a couple of very grainy grey videos of him, which really aren’t worth uploading so I’ve just taken this still from them.

squirrel-pumpkin

So the pumpkin got moved to the apple tree instead and after a cautious start, the birds have now taken to it (just as the pumpkin itself is starting to show its age and look a bit green around the gills). So far we’ve had sparrows, dunnocks, robins, blue tits and great tits, as you can see from the assorted short videos below.

We left the trail camera running over night quite often. As the birds don’t always go to bed as soon as it gets dark, nor wait until it is fully light to get up, it meant that we got some footage of them feeding in the dark. The robin in particular didn’t seem to be bothered by the light levels and I love the spooky look the infrared camera gives him – maybe he’s channelling the Halloween vibe after all?