Tag Archives: garden

May Photography Challenge: garden

The theme for May’s photography challenge was the garden. I love plants at this time of year – everything is fresh and verdant, bursting with life. So I spent a happy hour pottering about the garden, trying to capture some of the textures and colours of May.

It took me a while to get round to looking at the photos I shot, and when I did I was disappointed with the results. A lot of them are unusable as the focus was off, or the composition too messy. I must remember to check the images in the screen as I go along, rather than waiting til I upload them on a computer. Here’s the best of the (poor) bunch.

sage
Sage

wildflowers

Buddleia reaching to the sky
Buddleia reaching to the sky
Dandelion clock (plenty of them in my garden!)
Dandelion clock (plenty of them in my garden!)
Fresh ivy leaves
Fresh ivy leaves
wisteria
wisteria
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Hedgehog trailcam footage

My birthday present from Dr C has finally arrived: a trail cam! This is great timing, as the nights are so short now that I miss seeing our hedgehogs (I’m in bed before they come visiting the garden).

I’ve had it running a couple of nights so far (well, three nights really, but the memory card was too full to take any footage on the middle night – beginner’s mistake!). As suspected, most of the footage has been of hedgehogs.

It’s easy to assume that the hedgehog you see is the same each night – ‘your’ hedgehog. We learnt a few years ago that that’s not the case – when we did a proper(ish) census of hedgehog visitors to our garden there were at least 6 different adults and 3 babies. I’ve spent a bit of time looking at the footage for distinguishing features. One of them is fairly easy to recognise, as he has dark marks on his back.

Here’s him again a couple of nights earlier, with a birdsong soundtrack.

Here’s another big hedgehog.

And another hedgehog (or is it the same?)

So I don’t think I’m going to be able to tell exactly how many hedgehogs visit the garden just from the trail cam footage. But even over two nights we know there are several that pass through the garden. (The hole in our fence helps!)

I often put out cat food or mealworms for the hedgehogs, so a lot of the clips are just of them with their noses buried in the bowl. But I enjoyed these couple of ones:

A hedgehog having a shake:

And a hedgehog having a good old scratch:

Most of the clips are of hedgehogs, but we did get a couple of other nocturnal visitors:

A neighbour’s cat (we call her Spot), whose territory seems to encompass most of the town we live in.

Spot the cat
Spot

And, if you look closely at the next clip, you can just about make out a mouse (although I’m not sure what type of mouse it is).

I’m still getting used to the camera, so hopefully the quality of my footage will improve. I promise I won’t post quite so many hedgehog clips next time, I’m just quite excited with my new toy! My ambition is to get footage of baby hedgehogs visiting our garden, as we have seen them in previous years.

Bird nerd part 8: Big Garden Birdwatch 2015

The last weekend in January was the annual Big Garden Birdwatch, when hundreds of thousands of people from across the UK record the numbers of birds they see in one hour. This year I was down in Cornwall that weekend, staying with my parents, so there were four pairs of eyes to keep watch.

The list of what we saw is a little different from what I’d expect if we were at home (see my report on last year’s birdwatch). Here’s what we saw down in Cornwall:

Great British Birdwatch results from my parents' garden
Great British Birdwatch results from my parents’ garden
  • 4 Blackbirds (we usually get a couple)
  • 2 Bluetits
  • 4 Chaffinches (we rarely get chaffinches)
  • 2 Dunnock
  • 2 Great tits
  • 3 House sparrows (we’d beat them on sparrows)
  • 2 Magpies
  • 3 Robins (we usually only get 1)
  • 30 Starlings (We rarely see more than 10 at home)
  • 1 Woodpigeon (we’d beath them on woodies as well – we usually get 2 or 3)
  • 1 Wren
  • 1 Greater spotted woodpecker (We’ve never seen a woodpecker in our garden)
  • 25 Rooks (there’s a rookery in the trees by their house)

No collared doves though – we usually get 2 or 3.

Chaffinch
Chaffinch
Blue tit
Blue tit
Great tit
Great tit
This chaffinch is too fast for me!
This chaffinch is too fast for me!

Later this year they’ll release the full results, which will give a useful snapshot of how the nation’s birds are doing.

 

Scrumping badgers?

My parents have recently moved from south Devon to the Lizard peninsula deep in Cornwall. While, as a patriotic Devonian, I was a little sad I’ll no longer be able to visit them in that beautiful part of the country, I’ve been quite excited by the possibilities of a new territory. I didn’t even wait for them to unpack before coming for a visit.

My first day there I had a quick recce of the garden, to see what wildlife signs I could spot. Apart from the Rookery, there weren’t obvious signs of anything exciting. But night transforms things, so I set up my camera trap in a promising spot, and, once it was dark, headed out with my bat detector. Once again I picked up a species I couldn’t identify, and some more pipistrelles.

While we were out bat detecting, Dr C heard a snuffling sound, and, expecting to see a hedgehog, turned his torch onto the front lawn. In fact, it was a badger.

I haven’t seen a badger for years, so it was very exciting. We were only a few metres away, but it didn’t seem too concerned, and finished its snuffling before disappearing up the road. This made my day.

The next night we got back late, driving past a badger on the road, then spotting another under the apple tree in the back garden. The night after, coming back from the village, we disturbed 3 badgers, who dashed off from under the apple tree.

Sadly, despite all the sightings, I haven’t managed to get a photo of them. I had packed light and not brought my flash with me, and while they did trigger my trail camera, the infrared seems to have broken, as all the clips are black. This is very frustrating, but at least I have had good views of them.

It seems like badgers are regular visitors at the moment. I am not sure what they are eating there, as there are no signs of them digging up the lawn for leatherjackets, and the ground was dry, so it can’t be earthworms. Are they scrumping the windfall apples?

Return of the frog

Soon after we moved into our house we built a mini pond, made of a wine barrel. I was delighted when, a few weeks later, we spotted frogs in the pond and around the garden.

But then winter came. I don’t know if you remember, but the winter of 2010 was a particularly cold one (as was 2011 and 2012).  Since that winter we haven’t seen any frogs in our garden. I don’t know if it’s connected, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the cold had had a bad effect on the frog population.

I used the ‘Dragon finder’ app on my phone, developed by the charity Froglife, to identify what species the frog was (through answering a series of simple questions), and report the sighting, together with a photo and GPS location. It was very easy to use, and I’m looking forward to trying it out on some other amphibians and reptiles.

It looks like at least one has returned to our garden. Let’s hope he’s the first of many!

Getting a hedgehog-friendly fence, and a sleepy discovery

We recently had to get a new fence put up. The old fence was very wildlife friendly. It was covered with ivy, which insects loved, and had convenient gaps for hedgehogs to get through. But it did lack certain qualities you’d look for in a fence (stability and verticality for a start). So anyway, something had to be done.

I’ve talked about the problems of habitat fragmentation in a previous post, and this is just as much an issue for urban hedgehogs as for rural dormice. Our garden isn’t big enough to support a hedgehog (they can have very large territories), but is part of several hedgehog’s rounds. We wanted to make sure the hogs could still enjoy our garden (and we could still enjoy watching them). So when we got a few quotes we were careful to make sure that part of the specification was that it should have a hole in it that hedgehogs could get through.

I felt a bit silly asking for a hedgehog hole, but the fencers took it in their stride (having previously had to do something similar for cats that refused to climb fences). So we now have a neat little hole for Erinaceous and friends.

I was glad we had talked to them about hedgehogs, as when they were clearing our compost heap to put in a new fence post they came across a hibernating hedgehog. Luckily they realised what he was and put him safely in our hedgehog house without waking him. Hopefully the hedgehog won’t be too confused when he wakes up!

Of course, the most wildlife friendly boundary we could have installed would have been a hedge with native fruit and nut trees. Sadly there wasn’t room for that. The new fence, while wonderfully vertical and stable, does look very bare without the ivy. I just need to plot out what to plant to make it a little more wildlife friendly.

Read a post on hog watching

Creating a mini wildflower meadow

Being British I’m partial to a well kept lawn – I like playing croquet, and while I’ve yet to try bowls, I could see it being my sort of sport in a few years time. But while a lush carpet of green has it’s appeal, an untidy jumble of wildflowers is more my style, and requires a lot less effort than keeping the lawn perfect. Establishing a wildflower meadow is not just an aesthetic winner – having a variety of native flowers can attract lots of insects, while the seeds can attract birds like goldfinches. Having a variety of lengths of grass can provide shelter for a whole host of creatures.

So when thinking about how to make our garden a wildlife haven, creating some kind of wildflower meadow was high up the list of things to do. Our garden is pretty small, with only around 5m by 4m of lawn in the first place. Since Dr C wouldn’t allow me to turn all of that into meadow, we settled on around half.

We had a bit of a head start in creating a wildflower meadow as our lawn was not ‘perfect’ to start with. In summer there were buttercups (or a flower that looks like buttercups) that left to their own devices would happily take over. There were also (far too) many dandelions (although I’m not their biggest fan). So our first step was to let the grass and flowers grow uncut in that section of the garden, and let the buttercups expand.

Wildflowers often prefer poor soils, so grasses don’t out compete them. For a small section of the mini meadow we took off a layer of turf, and sowed a mix of wildflower seeds. You can buy ready-mixed selections from any garden centre, which is what we did. But if you’re up for a bit more research you could investigate which wildflowers are found naturally in your local area, and choose a selection based on that. There are a number of specialist suppliers whose websites provide helpful information about the range of native wildflowers and how to establish a meadow.

Being impatient (or as a kind of experiment, if you choose to put a more charitable interpretation on it), I also ordered a big batch of wildflower plug plants, and planted those in the rest of the meadow area.

Not being an expert in flowers, I’m afraid I don’t know the names of all the flowers we have in the meadow. To my shame, I haven’t even counted how many different sorts. What I can say is there are quite a few different species, which means that as soon as one type stops flowering another takes over. It’s only in the last few weeks that we no longer have any flowers in bloom in the meadow.

Encouragingly, this year we still have a good variety of wildflowers, despite not sowing or planting any new ones this year. Some of them are biennials that have survived from last year, while others seem to have seeded themselves from last year’s plants.

The plants grown from seeds seem to have done better than the plug plants, although some of them are still around. Next year I might try and seed another patch with more different types, for even more variety. But hopefully the meadow will, with minimal maintenance, keep renewing itself each year.

While digging up the turf and sowing / planting took a bit of work, the meadow is quite low maintenance (compared to a lawn). In the first year we had to water the new plants while they established themselves, but this year we haven’t had to do any watering, despite the dry summer. We ‘mow’ it with shears twice a year, and apart from that we leave it to its own devices.

The insects seem to love it, and goldfinches have fed from the seeds of some of the flowers, which is very satisfying. It’s also nice to see the tunnel the hedgehogs have created through it.

So if you’re looking for an excuse to be a lazy wildlife gardener, I would recommend creating a mini meadow.

Maybe next year I’ll try and work out which flowers and creatures live in our mini meadow!

Hog watching

The first we knew about our nocturnal visitor was when my infrared motion-triggered camera caught the unmistakeable shape of a hedgehog snuffling on our lawn. We were very excited, having not seen one for years. So, in an effort to encourage it, each night we would put out a bowl of mealworms. The camera was getting regular footage of the hedgehog, and the bowl was emptied each night. Then, as summer progressed and the days got shorter, we would sometimes see the hedgehog munching away, oblivious to the light and us watching through the French window.

Hedgehog eating mealworms
Hedgehog eating mealworms

I wanted to find out more about our nocturnal visitor, so I read Pat Morris’ excellent Hedgehog book. He said that research had shown that what people think of as being ‘their’ hedgehog, a regular visitor to their garden, actually is several hedgehogs. So we decided to try the experiment he suggested. By marking our hedgehog with a small dab of paint on his (or her) spines, we would be able to tell if the one we saw the next night was the same. And he was right – the next day it was a different hedgehog munching the mealworms. So we marked that hog in a different place. By the end of that summer we had seen 7 different adult hedgehogs in our garden, much to our surprise.

We were also able to watch a hedgehog courtship (which seems to involve the male pestering the female until she gives in, temporarily distracted from the mealworms). And then 3 little hoglets started appearing with their mother.

Hedgehog and hoglets
Hedgehog and hoglets

Watching the hedgehogs over the course of the summer was a real privilege and joy. They’re surprisingly quick when they hitch up their skirt and run. They can squeeze through unfeasibly small gaps in hedges, and climb better than you’d expect. They’re not the cleverest animals. They love mealworms, but ignore the slugs that climb into their bowl. Their preferred approach to eating the food we leave out is to climb into the bowl with their food, stand on top of it and then wonder where it has all gone.

My top tips for hog watching:

  • If you don’t know if you have hedgehogs visiting your garden, look out for hedgehog droppings. Many wildlife books are a bit bashful about putting in photos of droppings, but it’s much easier to tell from a photo than and description or drawing. The Collins Complete Guide to British Animals has a good guide.
  • If you have (or can borrow) an infrared motion triggered camera, set it up so it is aimed at wherever the hedgehog is most likely to visit. In our case it was under the bird feeding station, where mealworms sometimes get dropped, and near an ants nest in our lawn.
  • If you have hedgehogs visiting, encourage them to come to a part of the garden you can easily see by putting out bowls of food (meal worms – rehydrated if you buy dried, or dog food).

How to build a mini pond

Frog
Frog

As a kid, I loved the pond in my parents’ garden. It was brimming with frogs and newts (and leeches). My brother and I spent many happy hours catching frogs (the tiny, just-got-legs ones were the easiest to catch, and the cutest – poor little froggies being chased by curious kids). So when I finally got a garden of my own, I was determined to build one.

Building a pond is a great way of increasing the value of your garden to wildlife. It attracts invertebrates, amphibians (who eat slugs – horay!), and can be a vital water source for birds and mammals if it’s designed well. As I mentioned in my first post, our garden is rather small, and since Dr C objected to me turning the whole lawn into a pond, I had to content myself with a mini-pond. But even a tiny pond can be really valuable to wildlife.

Living in England’s equivalent to the Champagne region, the obvious container for our pond was half an old wine barrel, obtained from our local vineyard. Old tin baths, belfast sinks and other similar containers can also make good mini-ponds.

To make it easier for hedgehogs and frogs to access, we decided to recess it, so the top was about level with the decking. Dr C valiantly got on with the digging while I tried to clean up the barrel. After several scrub-outs, the water was still turning wine red, so as we didn’t want drunk frogs, we decided to line it with pond liner.

Once the pond was in place, we used old bricks and stones to create different levels within the pond. This is important so frogs and hedgehogs can easily climb out, and birds have a shallow bit to bathe in. When we had the landscaping sorted, we put the pond liner over the top and stapled the edges to the top of the barrel so they didn’t move.

Creating different levels in the pond
Creating different levels in the pond

We added a couple of handfuls of pond compost, and then filled it with water from our water butt (if you’re using tap water, you have to let it rest for 24 hours so all the chlorine can evaporate off, before adding any plants or creatures).

Picking plants for a small pond can be a bit of a challenge, as you need to find something that won’t spread too much. We managed to find a dwarf water lily for surface cover (most water lilies like to be planted quite deep), and then picked a couple of native oxygenating plants plus a small iris for the edge. Waterside Nursery have a good range of wildlife friendly pond plants.

Newly planted pond

Newly planted pond

I’ll save telling you how the pond has fared for another day, but here’s a sneak preview…

The mini pond
The mini pond

If you’re keen to have a go at creating your own pond, the RSPB provide some good guidance. Waterside Nursery’s website also contains lots of useful advice about building a wildlife pond and picking the right plants.

Welcome to the Wild South!

To start my blog, I thought maybe an introduction to my wildlife garden might be in order. We (Dr C, Fat Cat and I) live in a small town, and have a small garden (about 7.5m by 7.5m). Since we moved in (back in 2009) we’ve been gradually trying to turn it into a haven for bugs, birds and other beasts, and have had more success than I anticipated.

The RSPB have some brilliant resources for making homes for wildlife, and many of the ideas we’ve used have come from that.

When we moved in, the garden had a couple of decked areas, a lawn, a couple of borders and a small box hedge. A rampant buddleia has been an attraction for butterflies, bees and birds. Since then we’ve added a bird feeding station, a barrel pond, a small area of meadow, a hedgehog house, birdboxes, some small trees in pots, a wood pile, a raised vegetable bed, an insect log, a bird bath, and probably some more things I’ve forgotten.

Since then we’ve seen 25 species of bird in the garden, along with hedgehogs, a fox, mice, a slow worm, frogs, various pond life and numerous insect species. It’s been really satisfying seeing how quickly wildlife starts to make use of the things we’ve provided. Watching the garden has been a real source of pleasure to me, and I’ve learnt a lot along the way.

The meadow
The meadow
Raised bed & buddleia
Raised bed & buddleia
The mini pond
The mini pond
Bird feeding station
Bird feeding station