Monday, 31 August 2009

A quieter night...

Last night didn't seem as busy as the night before, and Nightshift hadn't been by the time we went to bed, which is very unusual for her. The worrying starts when she's late or missing, as we have grown very attached to her over the past year.

Tina the baby goes from strength to strength, exploring more and more, although she wasn't on the patio for very long - she was exploring under the decking of the garden behind us. She really does seem to be full of energy and a really determined little thing:

Most of the other hedgehogs who visit have only explored a fraction of the garden she has. I think she'll be a very successful hedgehog as she seems to find lots of food in the garden besides what we put out. We just hope she doesn't get herself into a tight spot. It was nice watching her wandering along the garden wall a couple of nights ago - peering over the edge. She couldn't tell what was over it, so at least she didn't jump. She does the same with the garden steps - every night she climbs down the top, shallow, step and then peers over the edge. Unlike the wall, which she only visited once, she goes to the steps every night, as if she knows there is something there. We keep building up the steps a little, but apparently not enough for her to risk climbing down.

She also sniffed round the ATM a couple of times on her way in or out, something we've not seen her do before. The local cats do use the ATM at times, so maybe one of them left an interesting scent.

We also have one or more frogs or toads in the garden. The one I helped out of the plastic box earlier in the week is probably living here, but it is even more difficult to recognise individuals than it is with hedgehogs, and we still can't decide whether it was a frog or a toad. There was one on the patio last night, with its head sticking out from under 9b. Little Tina walked right over the poor thing! Checking the video captures this morning we found a great clip - a direct hit on the water bowl. You can just see the eyes arriving on the left of the screen before it jumps.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Things get so confusing

Last night was another bumper night for hedgehogs. On several occasions we had at least three in the garden at the same time, and a couple of time two feeding side-by-side from the same bowl. As snufflehog comments and illustrates with a lovely video, the hedgies seem to be much better disposed to one another, eating together rather than pushing eat other away.

Unfortunately, there was so much activity, we got thoroughly confused and lost track of who was where. We only have a small garden, but as we have tried to make it wildlife friendly there are lots of places for the hedgehogs to go missing. We definitely had three present at one time, and not a single one could be seen. Sometimes, of course, you can hear the munching...

The hedgies do tend to pick up marks on their spines which make them easier to identify - we have Chris visiting at the moment - we know from the Criss-Cross markings on his back. But it can be confusing when they suddenly appear with a whole new set of markings. Nightshift did this one night, and we wouldn't have known it was her except for her behaviour.

We seem to have two small babies, Tina and TinaTwo. We thought they were both Tina until we saw her in two parts of the garden at the same time. We're not sure about TinaTwo, but we can identify Tina from her behaviour, because she is learning the layout of the garden. In the last post I said she had found the patio again. Last night and tonight she didn't find it, she went straight for it, running directly across the lawn to the top of the ramp.

She explored more of the patio - I was hanging out of the back door following her with the night scope, but the she just disappeared. The next sight of her was leaving the garden by the ATM, over an hour later! She came back several times, and we think she was in the garden for at least five hours in total.

Today we did a bit of maintenance in the garden, cutting back the Lady's Mantle. It still gives plenty of cover for the hedgies, but it doesn't block our view quite as much.

We finally covered the fourth hedgehog house/nest box ("9d") in roofing felt. The box was finished about six weeks ago, but we'd run out of roofing felt. I got a length from my father, which we used to cover the roof, but it was extra heavy duty stuff and very difficult to fold round the nest box, so we didn't do the rest of it. We cover the whole box now - base and sides as well as the roof, so they should be waterproof. 9a only has the roof done, but we cleaned it out during the week and it seems as good as new, even though it's been in the garden for a year, which is quite nice since we didn't treat it with anything to avoid upsetting/poisoning the hedgies.

We need to upgrade 9b at some stage. This was only intended to be a "feeding station" - a large box with easy access, on the patio where the hedgehogs were feeding. Then Nightshift moved in permanently. The walls are quite thick, but the floor and roof are only 18mm ply. Last winter it was getting very cold inside (we have a remote temperature sensor!) so we put some sheets of expanded polystyrene above and below for insulation. It helped, but Nightshift had to leave after a few weeks of hibernation as it still got too cold for her. So, 9c and 9d have double-skinned floor and ceiling with loft insulation, so we hope they will be better, and 9b needs upgrading to the same...

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Tiny Tina finds the patio again

Tiny Tina found her way down to the patio again, and had a long drink and some mealworms. The first night we saw her she didn't seem too interested in the mealies, but they now seem a firm favourite with her, just like all the other hedgies.

She also likes to get all four feet into the bowl at the same time, although it doesn't leave much room for eating.

She hasn't shown any interest in the accommodation yet, but neither have any of the other hedgehogs at the moment.

Another busy night

Last night was another busy night for hedgehogs, but as it was rather chilly we stayed indoors. Tina the baby was very active again, with several visits.

On the first one she went snuffling under a large spreading plant and popped out unexpectedly. The plant has hairy leaves and droplets of water collect on them, and she seems to be licking the water from the leaves. There is a large bowl of water to the left, just out of the shot on the other side of the plant, but she seems to like it fresh.

We're not sure what the plant is (great gardeners, aren't we!), but suspect it's a weed as we didn't plant it and it's very invasive. It's been allowed to stay as the hedgies do like snuffling under it, and I think Tina's behaviour has won it another reprieve.

Update: thanks to Dr Hessayon's Flower Expert book, we can confirm the plant is not a weed, but an Alchemilla ("Lady's Mantle") - "a delightful old-fashioned perennial, seen at its best when the leaves are sparkling with dewdrops".

Friday, 28 August 2009

A busy night for hedgehogs

Last night was a very busy night, hedgehog-wise. We were a little late going out to put the hedgehog food out, and we were still on the lawn when a hedgehog arrived at the ATM. To be fair, the hedgehog was ten minutes earlier than usual, so we were not quite expecting it, as they seem quite punctual. We were very surprised to see it was Nightshift, as she normally comes a little later. We were very quiet but she just snacked on the mealworms outside the ATM and wandered off. As it was quite a nice evening we decided to stay on the lawn for a while and watch "up close" in the dark, using the night scope. We had a real treat.

The baby hedgehog, whom we call Tiny Tina, arrived and had a good look round. She even climbed on to my foot! While she was in, two more larger hedgehogs arrived. We were all right at first when they came in, but then they split up, and we were trying to keep track of three of them. The other two were in for about half an hour, little Tina for an hour. We were even more surprised when we went in and checked the cameras watching the ATM, to find that there were actually four hedgehogs in the garden - one snook in when we weren't looking.

Tina was marvellous to watch - she is so inquisitive. She seems to explore part of the garden one night, and then when she returns the next night she can find her way round that part and she goes and explores a new part. She seems to know that the steps lead down somewhere - she has been to the top of the steps each night, peering down, but she hasn't found the extra step we put for her.

She now knows the way out under the decking, and went out exploring, then came in the same way, but instead of the undignified slide in the first time, she has found a better route and comes in quite confidently.

So, between 8:15 pm and 10 pm last night we had six hedgehog visits (not necessarily six different hedgies) and four passes without coming in.

The activity continued through the night. There was a nice moment when Nightshift and another hedgehog came in together and sat eating out of the same bowl for several minutes - normally they just shoo each other away. Unfortunately, that was on a bowl which we haven't got monitored with a camera. I think we will have to rearrange cameras.

I saw something I have not seen before - a hedgehog snoozing in the garden. We have seen that hedgies like to take a nap after their meals. They would regularly have their mealworms, then pop into one of the nest boxes for half an hour. We've even seen them get up, go for another meal and then go back to sleep. It's now over a month since Nightshift left, and we've had no visitors into the nest box since, apart from one brief visit by Nightshift. Well, last night one of the hedgies had a good feed and then curled up against the fence, in a cornet made by a large plant pot. I thought he was just snuffling, but he stopped moving and curled up and didn't move for about half an hour. We then had a very heavy shower of rain which woke him up, and he carried on snuffling.

Finally, we had two hedgies on the patio. Tina made another excursion, and then Nightshift came down just before it got light. I wonder if Nightshift is preparing to move back in to 9c? She didn't visit any of the nest boxes this time, but we hope...

Thursday, 27 August 2009

A lesson learned

We are trying to have a "wildlife friendly" garden (at least that's our excuse for not having pristine flower beds and a beautiful lawn) so we don't use pesticides or weedkiller (we're weed-friendly, too) and we don't even do anything nasty to the slugs when they eat our lettuces. We've tried to remove anything which could cause problems for the lovely hedgehogs who visit each night, but we made a mistake which could have been fatal for another small creature.

A couple of months ago, we went away for a few days and asked our neighbour to feed the birds and hedgehogs while we were away. We put out a large, rectangular storage box on the patio, part full of water, so she could top up the bird baths and the hedgie bowls. After we came back, we stopped using the water in the box, but just left the box out. It has had various insects in it, but no major wildlife - the water is too deep and too far from the top for the birds to use it, and they have three nice shallow bird baths anyway. The box was too high for a hedgehog to climb into, so we didn't worry.

I was rather surprised this morning when I went out on to the patio to find a poor toad in the box, struggling to get out. He obviously jumped in, and it was too deep to jump out. Poor little chap. So, I gave him a leg up and he hopped out, and kindly posed for a few photos, apparently none the worse for wear, but it could have been a very different outcome. So we either dump the box or put a platform in to let the toads get out. I think we favour the latter.

P.S. If you are a fan of CSI and have access to all their wonderful computer technology, you'd be able to see what I look like, as there is a reflection of me in the toad's eye - click on the top photo for a closer view.

More of baby

I didn't update the blog last night, as we were busy hedgehog watching. Baby came again, and she spent a full hour in the garden this time. She is busy exploring and has covered more of the garden each night. Somehow, despite the fact that it is very dark in the garden, she seems to be able to find her way round.

The garden is not very large, mainly a very tatty lawn with flower beds round, and two clumps of sunflowers in the middle(!), and then a low retaining wall and steps leading to a small patio (where we have three of the hedgehog nestboxes) and the back door. The first hedgehog we found in the garden was on the patio, and we couldn't work out how it had got there, as there are steps from the lawn. We found that they use a small "natural" ramp at the left-hand-side, the result of us having a large conifer removed many years ago. The low retaining wall behind the tree had crumbled and natural ramp had formed. Of course, we've since found that the hedgehogs will use the steps instead, if the fancy takes them - they are surprisingly good climbers.

The night before last, baby found the top of the steps at the right hand side of the garden, and apparently decided they were too steep for her. We put some bricks there last night to reduce the depth of the steps, but she didn't look last night. Instead, she found the retaining wall about half-way along, and peered over the edge. Deciding it was too steep, she progressed along the wall, having a sniff at one of the cameras along the way (must find that clip later...) and eventually she found the ramp and trundled down it.

Here she is, eating mealworms in front of "9b", the second nestbox (9a is on the lawn).

She explored all round the patio, although she didn't check out any of the accommodation on offer. Maybe tonight? Then she must have decided it was time to leave, as she can be seen here heading for the ramp at high speed:

She seems to be scratching a lot, one time actually laying on her back for a good scratch. But she seems to be very active and inquisitive, not to say daring. We just hope she doesn't get herself into any nasty scrapes by being too daring.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

A change from the hedgehogs

We love the hedgehogs, but we also feed the birds - it was probably the bird food which attracted the hedgehogs. We have a number of regulars, and they have lots of entertaining behaviour. Although we had a few heavy showers today, we had some sunny intervals, and this young blackbird took full advantage of the weather to do a spot of sunbathing on the lawn... did this rather bedraggled looking dunnock. They do like to fluff their feathers up.

This young Pied Wagtail started visiting a few days ago, although we've had an adult here most of the summer.

The family two doors away had a family of blue tits raised in their nestbox and we have started to get a few visits, usually when no other birds are about

The starlings tend to monopolise the garden when they are around. This young chap is just getting his spotted waistcoat. He seems to be a late baby as most of the other starlings are much more advanced in their plumage. Things have quietened down on the starling front - we just get a flock of about 20 around 6:30 am. This is much quieter than when we had over 20 hungry babies arriving with parents at just after 4 am. It seems many people don't like starlings because of their aggressive behaviour, but we find them great fun to watch, particularly when they all drop in together.

The baby returns

One of last night's babies returned. He found his way into the garden through the ATM this time, instead of the undignified slide he made yesterday, and he found one of the hedgehog bowls full of mealworms. He had a feed of them, but chose to do it with all four feet inside the bowl - I suppose the sides were a little high for him to reach over.

He found his way back to the ATM with no problems - only just over a metre away, but it was pitch dark. The problem seemed to be finding the actual hole. He knew the exit was there somewhere. Poor little thing. At least we know we did the right thing when we put the little flight of steps either side of the hole a few weeks ago - before that we just had a house brick, which was no problem for big hedgies like Nightshift, but would have been a problem for this little chap. I think we'd better put another step on it, though - it's sunk a little since we put it in place. A non-slip surface might help too, as he seems to slip on the wood.

Monday, 24 August 2009

More of last night's baby hedgehog

We've just been looking the the video clips from last night and have realised that we actually had two baby hedgehogs visiting last night.

The first one, the one we saw exploring the garden round our feet, was under the decking of the garden at the back of us. From the camera under the decking we saw the little hedgie exploring, and somehow it worked out the way into our garden. Unfortunately, this is a very steep incline, and you can see the poor hedgie trying to get down. Then at the last moment, it seems to slip - and it was in.

Fortunately, it was a safe garden it fell in to, but it made me glad that a couple of weeks ago we'd put a cover on the open drains at the end of the row of houses - it would have been so easy for the hedgie to fall head-first down a drain.

Some how, the little chap managed to find his way back to the "normal" way in to the garden, the ATM - and after a bit of exploring found its way out again.

Just after this little baby left, one of the regular hedgehogs had a pushing match with another hedgehog, and we were amazed to see it was another baby. Just look at his little legs straining to push the bigger hedgie.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

A real treat

As it it a nice dry and comparatively warm evening, we've just been out live hedgie watching, and we had a real treat - a baby hedgehog. A tiny little chap, far smaller than any of the others. We wonder if it was one of Nightshift's offspring. He went zipping past the ATM and came in at the other entrance to the garden, exploring the top end of the garden for the first time. He was within 30cm of our feet, and then up on to the steps leading up to the ATM, across all of the mealworms, without even tasting one, and then out and back the way he came.

So, we've put some of the other hedgehog food out, which contains sunflower hearts and seeds, in case he prefers that. We've just had two more of the regulars with a bit of pushing outside the ATM, and one of them has just appeared in the lawn feeder. A very busy night!

A busy start to the evening

As the nights draw in, the hedgehogs have started arriving earlier, since they seem to set out on their night's "hunting" at dusk. We had three different hedgies visiting the garden in the half hour up to 9 pm. The first little chap arrived outside the hole in the fence, had a quick scout around and left. Next to arrive was Nightshift. She did a quick tour of the garden, into the lawn feeder for a minute, then down to get a drink. Unfortunately, we were a little late starting to put out the food and water tonight, and had to hurry when the first little chap arrived. As a result, we forgot to fill one of the main water bowls. Of course, poor little Nightshift decided to take a drink from it, and it tipped up when she put her paws on the edge. Still, it didn't seem to bother her and she just moved onto the next trough, which was full. After a good drink, on to the next feeder for a quick nibble, and then out of the garden again. No doubt she'll be back later.

Hedgehog tucking in to some mealworms

One of the hedgehogs having a good meal of dried mealworms in the feeder on the lawn. When we looked this morning a lot more mealies have been eaten since this shot, so we must have had several more visitors - including the blackbird.

The first visitor of the evening

As the nights are drawing in, so the hedgehogs start arriving earlier. Last night the first one arrived at 8:35 pm, tonight it was 8:32 pm. This little chap comes purposefully down the overgrown path at the back of the garden and sticks his nose through the hole in the fence which leads into the garden. You can see the light on his face from the camera which watches the hole from the other side.

Normally, we put a few mealworms on the shallow steps leading up to the hole, and he seems to be looking for them, and not finding any wanders off to see what else he can find.

The next hedgehog arrived at 8:38 pm - and I think it was a different one. We are trying to compile a set of mugshots so we can identify the different hedgies, as several of them look very similar. This one seems to have a dark spot in the middle of his forehead, another one has a stripe.

A couple of night ago, one arrived with a big light-coloured cross on his back - he seemed to have got stuck somewhere. It seems that the marks on the spines only show up clearly in infra-red lighting, and that the marks gradually disappear. One night Nightshift went out with a clear back, and came back with a big circular mark on her spines. It gradually faded and can barely be seen now.

The marks do come in handy for identification purposes. It seems that some people do mark the spines to make it easier to identify the different individuals, but we try and have as little direct contact with them as possible, for fear of frightening them off, although it does seem that they don't get disturbed too much.

Our back garden is quite dark, so we watch the hedgies on the IR cameras or with a night scope we got from Lidl a couple of years ago, but I think we'll be trying some low-level lighting soon, as we would like to get some photos. We've seen some lovely hedgehog photos on other sites, taken with flash, and as this doesn't seem to bother the hedgies we'll give it a go.

So, a little video of the first visitor tonight:

Friday, 21 August 2009

Blackbird stealing the hedgie's food

Most of the mealworms we put out for the hedgehogs are in open bowls, and each morning the starlings descend on the garden and devour any mealworms which the hedgies didn't eat. The other birds visiting the garden don't seem too interested in mealworms - or is it that the starlings have scoffed the lot? In an attempt to keep the hedgie food dry, we have made a feeding station out of a plastic box, following Snufflehog's great idea. The hedgies seem to like it. The starlings don't - we've never seen one inside. Surpisingly, we have a young blackbird who ventures inside and helps himself. We have seven or eight other blackbirds, but they won't go inside, and don't even seem to like mealworms. This chap is in every day. At first he would dash in, grab a mealie and dash outside again to eat it, but it seems he's confident enough to stay inside and eat.

He seems to be quite a brave little blackbird. Most of the other blackbirds are very timid, and scared off by the flock of starlings, but he has been seen to stand up to a starling. Even more worrying - he nips through the hole in the fence, no doubt looking for any mealies the hedgies may have missed - but the alley behind the fence is a favourite with the cats - you can see them looking out longingly at the birds.

From the Archives - Twosie

We've been sorting out our old hedgie videos, and here's the one with the first sighting of little Twosie. The poor little chap was too small to get into the garden through the "ATM" - the hole in the fence.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Well,I've finally started my blog about the visitors to our small garden in Buckinghamshire, UK. During the day we have birds, and during the night, our favourite small creatures - hedgehogs. We first discovered a hedgehog on the patio in August 2008, eating some of the spilt bird food. We started finding out what we could do to help and encourage these endearing, and sadly, endangered little creatures, and started putting out food and water for them on a regular basis.

Soon after that we bought a couple of infra-red CCTV cameras and a multichannel recorder, so we could see what they were doing without staying up all night (yes, it did happen!) Then we built a nest box - now we have four nestboxes. We had one hedgehog, who we called Nightshift, living in one of the nestboxes for a month last year, and she even hibernated there. Then, about a month after she went to sleep we had a very cold spell and she woke up and moved out - obviously not quite warm enough.

Nightshift survived hibernation, reappearing on the first of April this year, and within a couple of days she'd taken up full-time residence in her old nest box. Unfortunately, another hedgie took a liking to it as well, and Nightshift came home from a night's snuffling to find her bed taken, and she had to resort to the first nestbox, which she really didn't like. So, we built nestbox number 3, and Nightshift moved in within an hour of it being put in place. We were regularly getting hedgehogs overnighting in the first two nestboxes, so we decided to build number 4. Nightshift took a liking to number 4 as well, snoozing in number 4 during the night, in between her forays out of the garden, and then going back into number 3 to spend the day.

In the middle of July 2009 she started major renovation work in number 4, and we got the distinct feeling she was preparing it as a nursery, since she seemed to be getting very large, and we were hoping to hear the patter of tiny feet, and the squeak of tiny hoglets. Unfortunately, this was not to be. For two nights, she never left the garden, and we thought the happy moment was imminent, when at 5 in the morning, when she would normally be heading back to number 3 to spend the day, she upped and left the garden.

We didn't see her for a couple of days, then she made a brief appearance in the garden. She's coming back regularly now, two or three times a night, and spending an hour or more in the garden. We hope it's a sign that she has youngsters, who should soon be ready to leave the nest. We're hoping...

In the meantime, the other hedgehogs who were visiting seem to have stopped coming, but we have been getting a few smaller hedgies. The first one we christened Edgar, but we haven't named the more recent ones, as we're having difficulty telling them apart. We know there are at least three, since we have seen three at once, but we don't know how many more.

So that's brought you up-to-date. We'll see what happens next...