A recent cold spell brought quite a bit of snow which settled on the hills and in the valley, mostly covering everything in white, and remaining (along with ice and slush) for the best part of a week. This is most likely what prompted a small flock of around ten fieldflares to take an interest in the windfall apples currently being enjoyed by the blackbirds in our garden.
They went almost as fast as they arrived, as the snow was already melting away so no doubt they’ve gone back to their preferred fields and hedgerows nearby. Still, a rare sighting in our garden and one I was glad to have the good fortune to see.
So far since my previous post in October as the temperature dropped we have had a number of frosts, accompanied by ice, snow, and the occasional mist. Wildlife in the garden looks to be coping, with sightings of blackbirds, coal tits, great tits, and blue tits, various small brownies, along with a pair of bullfinches and a woodpecker (greater or lesser spotted). The trail camera has caught plenty of footage of field and wood mice running over and around the hedgehog house, possibly venturing inside too – it would be interesting to poke an endoscope down there to see what’s been going on inside.
The camera will be repositioned to see what’s visiting during the cold days and nights of January and February, then I think we’ll all be looking forward to warmer temperatures in March.
A brief explore out in the garden after sunset this evening was initially a little disappointing – no hedgehogs, no bats, nothing, despite the very mild weather for mid-October thanks to a tropical storm coming in off the Atlantic this weekend. It was only as I approached the house and the security light that the bat detector chirped into life, seemingly the sky was suddenly full of bat chirps; the reason soon became obvious – there was a vast assortment of night life buzzing around the bright security light, and the bats were having a feast! The bright lights didn’t seem to bother the bats, though they were very good for lighting up their bodies as they fluttered by. There must have been at least two bats in attendance, possibly more, difficult to tell as they came and went and the chirping seemed too much for just one bat.
Just a short report on what the trail camera saw at the hedgehog house. I set it to 24 hours mode with video and photos, the photos were a little underwhelming (they usually are when it is in video and photo mode) but the videos showed some nice footage of blackbirds, robins, and thrushes rooting around in the soil and grass debris that I’d left around the place, but cutest of all was the little mouse that hopped right in front of the camera, as is shown in the short clip below.
Now that I know the camera will detect even a mouse during the summer months, I will set it to night time photo mode and see what it picks up this week. At the moment it is set to high sensitivity (recommended for summer / warm conditions) and high night shutter speed, but with low LED power (because we are only seeing a close up subject and don’t need to cast light into the distance).
Last summer I built a wooden hedgehog house out of an old wooden crate and some bits of wood we had spare (not MDF or similar, but proper planks of wood), put some rubber membrane over it with some sods of grass on top and left it in some undergrowth. To my disappointment nothing made use of it over the winter.
As it’s now approaching autumn again I decided to check it out, inside there were a few mouldy droppings (not big enough to be hedgehog, probably rat) but apart from that nothing much had changed – no extra bedding, no evidence of hibernation, nothing at all really. This time I wanted to complete the job properly so set to with a fork and spade to properly cover the thing with stones and earth, and add a bend to the entrance to put off cats and hopefully prevent cold wind blowing straight in, I’d acquired a short length of air conditioner hose which seemed ideal for the job some months ago, now was my chance to use it.
Here are some photos of what I ended up with, the first two are my original efforts, the next are today’s (hopefully) much improved setup; the house is situated much further into the undergrowth than before as well.
One side is semi-exposed to the air, perhaps this will be enough to allow the wood to breathe (there is also a hosepipe for ventilation on the back wall) while at the same time not letting in too much of the cold during the winter; the rubber membrane will hopefully keep out the damp in case it gets really wet, water should just run off and under (I put some underneath the box and up the side that’s against the earth bank). I’ve placed my trail camera to watch the entrance, which I will try to check weekly.
It has been a funny old year so far, with personal difficulties and changes taking up much of my time. I am attempting to split my spare time between hobbies and interests old and new, including wildflower surveys, gardening (still very new to this), astronomy, and others; some of these hobbies do have potential cross-overs, wildflowers and gardening obviously do, astronomy can be linked to these as well as they are both outdoor type of activities so having a good environment to do them in is important. A garden in the evenings is where the creatures of the night come out, including bats, owls, newts (easier to spot at night in a pond with a torch), hedgehogs, so it can be quite interesting sitting outside on a cool autumn or winter night gazing up at the stars.
Coming back to the present, it’s turning into an amazing year for fruits of all kinds – more blackberries and plums than I’ve seen for a long time, ripening rapidly in what must have been ideal conditions for them, although right now the weather has turned cooler with a bit of rain I’m confident we will see plenty of warm sunny days before the season is over.
The camera trap has been out in the garden in various locations, earlier it spotted a family of young pheasant chicks and their mother strolling by in a section of the garden that we let go to a wildflower meadow for a while; it was interesting to see paths appearing in the long grass that are not visible when it is kept short – I positioned the camera to watch one of these paths the other night, it captured a pheasant hen and also a bright-eyed hedgehog, very good to see them still visiting, if I manage to get a good capture I will try to post it here.
As for the rest of the season, I intend to complete a couple of wildflower surveys down some local road grass verges, but above all just get out and enjoy the sunshine.
Today I spotted a water vole as it plopped into the ditch by a field, it swam through a tunnel under a field entrance and stood on a small ledge at the other side, watching to see what I would do next. After taking a photo I moved and it swam further away, disappearing behind some undergrowth near a hole higher up the bank. This is the first time I’ve spotted a water vole at this ditch, although I’ve often suspected they would be around somewhere.
A couple of weeks ago I moved the trap camera to a new location in the garden in the hope of picking up a hedgehog on a route they have frequently walked in previous years, at first there was nothing, I thought perhaps it was too early, but then upon checking the new captures the other morning I spotted it – a very fast little hog making it’s way up the rockery steps towards a pond and some leafy undergrowth. I checked the next capture, it was even better! The little hog is seen trotting all the way past the camera against the pale looking grass.
At the weekend we paid a visit to Dalby Forest, along one of the walks were some boggy ponds that have appeared since we had quite a lot of rain recently; these ponds were full of croaking frogs! This was the middle of the day.
Tonight while out for an evening walk I spotted another toad sitting on the road, I helped it along to the other side (the direction in which it was pointing) although I suspect it might just go back onto the road, maybe they get confused by the cool tarmac in the moonlight?
Back at the garden pond this evening I spotted several frogs and the first two newts of the season for me, most likely smooth newts. Things will soon hot up in there, may soon see the hedgehogs out from their winter slumber too.
Looking forward to a good spring and summer of wildlife watching.
The past couple of weeks have seen some very mild and most welcome temperatures this February, a change from the freezing fog that seemed to plague much of December and January (it’s still foggy some mornings, it just isn’t freezing right now). Temperatures have been around 11-12 degrees, possibly higher in the sunshine.
The other day while out for an evening stroll I saw an adult toad sitting in the road, I tried to encourage it to be on the grass verge instead but it was having none of it and promptly hopped back onto the road, can’t help them all I suppose. Tonight I spotted two frogs in the pond joined at the hip, they clearly think it’s warm enough for that sort of thing, let’s hope it doesn’t turn too cold again otherwise there could be some disappointed frogs around.
Also spotted a small owl silently flapping over the house and into the garden tonight, illuminated from below by the street and house lights.
The camera trap is set up and active, we shall see if it captures anything interesting!