Squirrel Selfie

I’ve recently taken the plunge and bought a trail camera. I’ve wanted one for a while and our recent hedgehog visitor was all the reason I needed to finally go for it…

This weekend I decided to set up the camera next to the ground feeder for the day. I’ve got loads of footage and photos to look through, but my favourite footage I’ve seen so far has been of the squirrel.

It noticed the camera and got braver and braver throughout the day until…

Squirrel Selfie!

I managed to grab a still from the video. Not the best quality but it makes me giggle –

Bumblebee Nest Box Project

The latter parts of last Winter felt like a long old slog. We had several snowfalls from December through to Match and while I love snow and those half light Winter days, I found myself impatiently waiting for the first signs of Spring. In preparation for when the warmer weather would eventually arrive, I decided to start work on my beehouses and habitats in the garden.

My first project has been a Bumblebee nest box. It’s a bit of an experiment. Last year I was the grateful recipient of a bird box containing a nest of Tree Bumblebees who had taken up residence in my Mother in Law’s garden. Tree Bumblebees, despite what their name suggests, are famously adaptable and will nest just about anywhere they think looks comfortable – one nest was found in an old tumble dryer outlet hose! They seem to love bird nesting boxes –

This has the added benefit that they can easily be moved if they are inconveniently situated.

I’d enjoyed watching the comings and goings from the nest box until the end of the season. When the new Queens emerged and the nest died out, I missed them. I wondered if there was a way that I could encourage them to return to the garden this year, and maybe set up home?

Bumblebee Nest Box Project

You will need :

– A bird box. Mine comes from Wilkinsons – their boxes are good value and I use them as the basis for many of my bee habitats.

– Some garden moss

– Animal fur (optional). Mine was loose fur kindly donated by my cats after I’d combed them.

Firstly choose the site where the nest box will be placed. It needs to be somewhere where the bees won’t be disturbed and the nest box won’t be subject to vibrations. Tree Bumblebees live quite happily alongside humans but on rare occasions they have been known to act defensively if they feel their nest is being threatened. So choose your site carefully – mine is placed on a wall right at the back of a flowerbed, at a height of around 7 feet from the ground.

Double check that the bird box fits securely on it’s fixings, so it is flat against the wall and won’t blow around too much in the wind. This can be a problem in my garden which is a bit of a wind tunnel, and I sometimes have to reshape the holes on the back of the bird box slightly to make sure they fit properly on the nails used to hang it.

Collect your moss – there is no shortage of this in our shady garden after winter. Let it dry out for a few days so it isn’t damp when it goes into the box.

Once your moss is dry, place it and the animal fur if using into the box. We are trying to make it feel like the box has been previously used as a birds nest, which seems to attract bumblebees. Screw the front onto the box and hang, and wait to see if it attracts visitors.

I couldn’t believe it when, just a couple of days after hanging my box I saw a Tree Bumblebee Queen going in and out of it! After a few days of furious activity, it all went quiet again so sadly I think something must have happened to the Queen. I hope that as one Queen found the box and liked it enough to start nesting, others will – so I will be keeping an eager watch for the rest of the season. Who knows, maybe one of last year’s Queens will emerge from hibernation and find it?

My City Patch

I’ve just realised that I’ve never written here about my other patch that I visit at least once a week. This one isn’t where you might expect – it’s in the very centre of Manchester, a stone’s throw from Piccadilly Station.

On the edge of some wasteland used as a car park sits NQ Growboxes, a small allotment project for city residents who want some space to grow.

I’m lucky enough to have this amazing space 5 minutes walk away from my office, and discovered it one day when out walking at lunchtime during late may last year on a day when I was thoroughly cheesed off and just needed some space.

It was the dragonflies and damselflies I first noticed. Being so close to the canal they use the growboxes as a roosting point and hunting ground. Then as I examined the flowers more closely I realised they were absolutely covered in bees. Very unusual bees in fact, tiny Hylaeus or Masked Bees. I’d only ever seen these a couple of times before and never managed to gain a decent photo. I knew I had to return with my camera.

Of course I discovered the site on a Friday, but I couldn’t wait to return. On my way to our apiary in Salford the next day I took a small detour and toured the growboxes with my camera for an hour.

I was chuffed to manage my first half decent photo of a Masked Bee. They are seriously tiny – the larger species are 5-6mm long and they are very, very fast.

I was also thrilled to see my first (and to date only) Sharp Tailed Bee, a klepto-parasite of Leafcutter Bees.

From then I’ve visited the boxes at least once a week. I learned that the most numerous Hylaeus bee on the site is Hylaeus signatus, the Large Yellow Faced Bee, which is nationally scarce and so a special thing to find.

I was able to spend a lot of time with this lovely little bee over the Summer, and eventually got some great photos. I have to say that chasing them around has greatly improved my photography and fieldwork skills!

I was also pleased to find a male Wool Carder Bee in a lavender bush one day. Again, this is still my only sighting!

By the end of the Summer I’d counted at least 15 bee species there. Some can’t be identified to species, for example these beautiful metallic Lasioglossum (Furrow) Bees.

There are 4 species that look almost identical and they can only be identified properly via microscope, but as they were the first species I’ve seen in April this year and the last I saw well into September last year I’m pretty sure they are different species. No single species of bee has that long a flight time.

NQ Growboxes bees 2017 –

I’m looking forward to seeing what I can find at the site this year. I’ve seen the first bees arrive there this week and as it’s earlier in the season I’m confident the species count will be higher this year.

It’s not just all about the bees and dragonflies either. The boxes are home to butterflies, wasps and numerous other insects, while birds swoop overhead. I’ve never visited the site during the evening but I’d be amazed if there weren’t bats.

Even after the bee season had finished, I’ve still visited the growboxes each week to see what’s going on – often accompanied by the resident Wren.

I’m so lucky to have such a wonderful spot so close to me. I love being able to access nature in the heart of the city and during the long working week. It’s also a brilliant hotspot for wildlife and shows the value of brownfield sites for nature. We must treasure places like this.

A Prickly Affair

Some of my earliest nature memories involve hedgehogs. When I was very young and went to stay with my grandparents they had 4 or 5 hedgehogs that used to visit them each evening. My gran would feed them dishes of cat food on the patio next to the house and together we’d watch their visit before I had my own supper (a treat only allowed at Granny’s house)! And headed off to bed.

Then when I was a little bit older a mother hedgehog nested in the ramshackle garage next to our house. Until the hedgehog family left the garage was off limits, but I was allowed the briefest of glimpses to see mum and her babies before they left.

In the intervening years, I’ve seen few, if any live hedgehogs. Sadly, most of them that I have seen have been victims of the road. That is until I was driving home from a friend’s house late one night last year and I saw a small dark shape step off the curb and into the road. I came to an emergency stop on the deserted road and the shape looked up at the car. Hedgehog! I looked at it while it sized up the car and eventually decided it was safe to proceed across the road safely, where it disappeared into the night.

This was only a couple of roads away from me, so now I knew that hedgehogs were in the area I went round the garden and was able to create gaps in between fence panels on two sides of the garden, to create a hedgehog highway in and out.

I didn’t have that long to wait. One dark Autumn evening my husband suddenly yelled “HEDGEHOG”! And sure enough, one was snuffling around the garden. We saw it again on a couple more occasions before it disappeared, we hoped into hibernation as winter took hold.

It seems that ‘our’ hedgehog may have chosen our garden as it’s hibernation site as just after dawn broke on Sunday morning I heard the alarm call again – “HEDGEHOG”!!! There it was, snuffling around the pond and picking up fallen sunflower hearts from around the bird feeder.

We were initially quite concerned, as a hedgehog out in daylight is usually ill and needs urgent attention. But he seemed perky and bright, and after a quick query on Twitter we learned that sometimes hedgehogs wake a little early at this time of year as they are extremely hungry after winter hibernation. My husband ran out with some hedgehog food which seemed to be gratefully received, and then the hog disappeared again.

Until that evening when it reappeared just before dusk. I’d been prepared and left out food and water and these were wolfed down, adding weight to the theory that we just had a very hungry hog on our hands.

While it was about in the half light I took the opportunity to take some pictures of our visitor –

For the next couple of evenings the hedgehog returned after dark, at a much later and more hedgehog-appropriate hour. I haven’t seen it since, but have continued to put food out each evening which has disappeared by the morning. This has given me the final push to buy a trail camera to see if it returns, and I am looking forward to learning more about our garden wildlife after dark.

I am so happy to have had our hedgehog visit, and that it seemed to have found our garden an appropriate habitat in which to spend the winter. By the autumn I’ll be installing a hedgehog house to hopefully make it even more comfortable if our visitor returns, and it’ll be even better if he brings some friends with him!

A strange place to sleep…

I put some empty bee houses up a couple of weeks ago, and as dusk falls tonight one of them is housing an unusual inhabitant…

She seems to be roosting. I’m not sure why she hasn’t chosen one of the largest tubes as she could fit her whole body in there. But who am I to question?

My first Early Bumblebee of the year. Spring is definitely on the way.