I’m not the only one emerging from hibernation at the moment. A couple of days ago we finally saw our first hedgehog of the year. It’s been a long time coming, as we’ve been finding plenty of ‘signs’ of hedgehogs for a few weeks.
We’ve been leaving out food for them, but whereas in previous years we could leave the bowl in the open, I think we need to build a hedgehog feeding station to keep out the neighbours’ kittens this year.
It’s so nice to see the hedgehogs again. I hope the dormice will follow suit for our April box check.
I’ve discovered a new pleasure this summer: sitting in my garden with a cold drink, watching leafcutter bees.
I’d heard of leafcutter bees before this year, but never actually seen one. Now, thanks to our new insect home, I can watch them work.
Leafcutter bees are solitary bees that use small holes to lay their eggs in. They use circles of leaf to create chambers for their larvae to develop in, and stock these chambers up with a supply of pollen before sealing them up. It looks like a lot of work, but is fascinating to watch.
I was surprised how quickly they can cut a neat circle in a leaf. Some of our plants look like they’ve been visited by the very hungry caterpillar. These holes make them unpopular with gardeners who aim for perfection, but I think it adds interest.
It’s satisfying that the insect house we installed earlier this year is giving them somewhere to nest. I’m looking forward to watching the new bees emerge next year, and make even more holes in our leaves. We might have to install some more insect houses for them!
I went for a quick win for my January #WildGarden2016 task – installing two new bird feeders that I was given for Christmas. The feeders are in the shape of poppies, with the flowerhead holding the bird food. I’ve put mealworms in one and seeds in the other.
As the feeders are only a couple of feet high, I had to be careful to position then away from any cover that a cat could use to creep up on a feeding bird.
They’re on quite slender ‘stems’, so I wasn’t sure they’d stay upright in all the high winds we’ve been having, but they seem to be coping with that without problems. I guess the next test is whether they can cope with a fat woodpigeon or two landing on them!
I expect that they’ll attract a different sort of bird to those that use the hanging feeders. I set them up just over a week ago, and today I saw my first bird using it – a robin. I’m not surprised a robin was the first customer – they’re naturally quite bold birds, love mealworms, and don’t use the hanging feeders.
It’s always encouraging to see wildlife making use of new ‘wildlife-friendly’ features in the garden. I’m looking forward to getting cracking on some of the more ambitious plans I have!
I was getting concerned for our garden’s hedgehog population – we hadn’t seen one for a while, and the mealworms I had left out went uneaten for a few days (that never happens if hedgehogs are about!). But I wasn’t expecting my next sighting of a hedgehog to be in broad daylight.
Usually if a hedgehog’s out during the day, that’s a bad sign. The last time we found one in our garden in daylight, it was obviously poorly – sluggish (which is strange, given our hedgehogs never seem to eat any of the thriving slug population in our garden) and disorientated. We ended up taking him to the local wildlife hospital, Wildlife Aid, where he stayed for a few months, being treated for a respiratory infection, dehydration and underweight. (It ended happily, with us being able to release him back into the garden, and him scurrying off, a picture of hoggy health and haste.)
But this time was different. The hedgehog was active and purposeful. I wanted to know more – should I be worried, or was it natural behaviour? A look at the British Hedgehog Preservation Society website soon settled that. While hedgehogs are nocturnal, there are a couple of reasons that a health hedgehog might be out and about in daytime:
it might be a new mum, grabbing a quick bite to eat while the babies are asleep
or it could be an expectant mum gathering nesting materials ready to give birth
It being daylight, I got a good view of the hedgehog and what it was up to. It was collecting mouthfuls of bedding material from our ‘mini meadow’, and carrying them into our hedgehog box. Which hopefully means that ‘it’ was a ‘she’, about to give birth, and planning to do so in our hedgehog box!
According to hedgehog expert Pat Morris, young hedgehogs usually venture out of the nest for the first time 3-4 weeks after their born, so we’ve got a bit of wait before we find out how it’s all gone. But we’ve seen mum (we’ve named her Florence) a few times in the evening, tucking into the cat food and mealworms we leave out for her.
I’ve never been sure how much our hedgehog box gets used. Hedgehogs are rather nomadic, and will use several nests in a single week, so I wouldn’t expect a particular hedgehog to move in and stick his nameplate on the door (entrance tunnel). We know that it has been used from time to time, but I’ve always had a suspicion that the hedgehogs prefer our compost heap to the box (that’s where the fencers found one hibernating when they were fixing our fence, so they put it safely in the box). So it’s really good to know that Florence has chosen to bring up her new family there.
I’m dying to know how things are getting on in there, but obviously I have to be careful not to disturb the young family (if there is one now). Hedgehog mums have been known to eat their babies if they’re disturbed soon after birth. Or it could just drive her to find a new nest. I tried setting the trail cam to keep an eye of the entrance of the box, to keep track of when Florence comes and goes. But the box is in the meadow, so all I got was footage of the plants rustling, and the odd glimpse of prickles. So I’m going to have to be patient. Not my strong point.
Anyway, Dr C and I are delighted to know that the hedgehog box we built is helping a new hedgehog family – hedgehogs need all the help they can get these days. It was well worth the effort of building it!
You’ve probably heard that hedgehogs are having a tough time these days. Numbers in Britain have fallen by around a third in the last 10 years. So they need all the help they can get.
If you have a garden, there’s lots you can do to make it hedgehog friendly. Leaving gaps in your fence, having a variety of lengths of grass and good dense undergrowth, and avoiding slug pellets all help. They also need places to sleep in summer, and hibernate in winter.
Open compost heaps and piles of dead wood are good, easy ways to provide hedgehog hotels. When we had to get our fence repaired after the winter storms the fencers found a hedgehog hibernating in our compost heap.
If you’ve spotted hedgehog boxes for sale, you’ll probably have noticed that they are very expensive. A good wooden one could cost you £50. We had some spare wood, so decided to save some cash and build one ourselves.
Besides the wood and screws, it also required a small length of hose for ventilation, and some plastic sheeting to keep the water out (both of which were easily obtained from our local hardware shop – the type of place you could buy four candles from). We also bought some hay from the pet shop for the hogs to use as bedding.
Neither Dr C nor I are DIY experts, but the instructions were clear and it was straightforward to build. We made it in a (not too long) day.
We sited in the shade next to the fence and a small hedge. We then built a little entrance tunnel from leftover bricks, and covered the whole thing in some earth and greenery.
We’ve evidence that hedgehogs have used it, although I don’t know how regularly. I plan to install a camera in it to find out what goes on in there.
This is my diary of the wildlife where I live in Oxfordshire, and sometimes the places I visit. I am a 16 year old young naturalist with a passion for British wildlife, especially Badgers and Hares. I have been blogging since May 2013 and you can read my old blog posts at www.appletonwildlifediary.blogspot.co.uk