A Prickly Visitor Returns!

In April, I was pleased to see the return of a very welcome visitor – a hedgehog!

A neighbour had an old shed removed which I suspected the hog was using as a nesting place and that very night I was thrilled to see one turn up in the garden!

I already had the hedgehog feeder in place – which I’d made out of some old slabs and bricks left by the old owners of our house, so started leaving food out nightly and the hedgehog soon seemed to work out the way in and that the bowl magically refilled with food each day! I always leave a bowl of water at that end of the garden too, as hedgehogs drink a lot.

It seemed to be an opportune time to invest in a hedgehog house, so I quickly ordered one which arrived a couple of days later and I set about creating a home fit for a hog. Hedgehogs like to create their own nests so some hay placed inside the house to start it off, and some left in a pile outside for the hedgehog to bring in itself, then the house was ready for guests and all I needed to do was wait.

In the meantime, I was curious as to how the hedgehog was getting into the garden. It’s fenced all the way around with concrete baseboards, but there were some small gaps where the fences met and also a larger hole where some of the boards had come loose. So I set up a trailcam next to the gap in the fence to see if this was the favoured route, and bingo.

I was very impressed by the hedgehogs upper body strength as it hauled itself over the baseboard, and I hadn’t realised what good climbers they were. All the same, I wanted to make it a little easier for our nocturnal visitors so a quick trip to an orange-logo’d DIY warehouse and several block paving slabs later, and a hedgehog step was born!

Within a couple of weeks of the house being in place, I started noticing that the hedgehog was spending time in there each night during it’s visit – apparently they do this when checking out potential nest sites. A few nights of this and I was over the moon to see the hedgehog return in the early hours of the morning and start taking big mouthfuls of straw and leaves into the nest!

Once it was to it’s liking, the hedgehog promptly checked in and fell asleep! Since then, it’s stayed over on a regular basis. Not every night though, as hedgehogs apparently have a few nest sites on the go at once. Which makes sense I guess, as if something happens to one of the nest sites they always have somewhere else to go.

I put food out in the feeder when I return from work each evening. I started to notice that on the days that the hog stayed in the house, it would often get up in the early evening to have an early snack, before going back to bed until a more hedgehog-appropriate hour after dark. The major benefit of this is that I’ve managed to get some colour footage of the hedgehog, especially while the evenings are quite light.

The most extreme example of this was one weekend where I was only at the house sporadically and would be away in the early evening, so I put food into the feeder at lunchtime. Only for the hedgehog to rise at 1pm for it’s snack! This worried me initially as hedgehogs should NOT be out in the day unless they are a nursing mother, but it returned to it’s normal routine as soon as I did, so I assume the smell of food woke it up!

One weekend evening in May, after a day of glorious sunshine stormclouds rolled in and it went really, really dark. This seemed to confuse the hedgehog into thinking that dusk had fallen, and it came out for food. Seeing movement by the feeder, I ran for my camera and longest lens and hid at the end of the patio. I didn’t want to disturb it by getting too close, but managed to get a few shots as it emerged from the feeder. I will always treasure these, along with a spine I found in the water bowl one morning.

As the weeks passed, I began to think that maybe there were two hedgehogs visiting, rather than just one. Some convenient scratching of hedgehog nether-regions in front of the camera made me think there was at least a male and a female visiting. Then one evening a hedgehog was drinking from the water bowl when it visibly bristled – it was fascinating to see this reaction, and something I’d never seen before.

On watching the footage from the trail camera on the lawn, I realised that there was another hedgehog foraging on the lawn at the same time! It was a while before I caught them on camera at the same time but the reaction was not friendly, and somewhat akin to an episode of Robot Wars played with hedgehogs.

Hedgehogs are very solitary creatures, and apparently reactions like this are fairly common. I’ve seen hedgehog interactions a couple of times now on the cameras, and each time the aggressor is the smaller male hedgehog. He’s been christened Tiny Thuglife and I wonder if he’s a youngster that hasn’t quite worked out appropriate social interaction with other hedgehogs yet.

Last week there was an incident of hedgehog fisticuffs outside the feeder. For a while afterwards the bigger hog stayed balled, while the smaller one went to eat. Eventually it uncurled but remained wary as Tiny Thuglife came out of the feeder and ran into the house – I like to think this is some kind of progress?!

I am loving having the hedgehogs visit. It’s been a dream of mine ever since I realised we had hedgehogs in the area – I have fond memories of watching them feed on my gran’s patio when I was a child, and had hoped to do the same in my own home. I’m hoping the hedgehog house remains in use, and maybe is a hibernation spot this Winter and even a nursery next year… Their antics are great to watch, be that pulling a worm out of the lawn like spaghetti, or using their water bowl as a foot spa!

Help Your Hedgehogs!

There are some simple ways that you can encourage hedgehogs into your own garden, and make life easier for any visitors you do have –

  • Provide a hedgehog highway, a 13 x 13cm gap to provide a route under or through any fencing round the garden. Hedgehogs are capable of roaming a great distance every night in search of food, some people estimate that they can travel up to 3 miles nightly.  Opening up our back gardens to them not only makes it easier for them to do this but also helps keep them away from roads and cars!


  • Provide water. Hedgehogs drink a great deal and so water is essential, especially in hot weather.  A shallow bottomed plant pot saucer is ideal.


  • Provide food. Cat biscuits are an ideal option (Tesco kitten biscuits are a good choice), or a hedgehog specific food.  Please don’t feed mealworms – hedgehogs love these and will eat them to the exclusion of everything else if given a chance, and too many of them causes a imbalance of calcium and phosphorus in the bones, which ultimately can case Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) which is similar to rickets and fatal to hedgehogs.  It weakens the bones to the point the hedgehog is in severe pain and won’t be able to forage for food, meaning a slow, lingering death.


Some say that a few mealworms can be provided as a treat, but I avoid them altogether as if a hedgehog is feeding from a few gardens where a few mealworms are provided, it can still be eating enough to be harmful.  I still feed mealworms to the birds in the garden but only under a ground feeder cage which the hedgehog can’t get into, never in hanging feeders where there is the possibility of spillage.


The risk of MBD to hedgehogs has only recently been widely publicised, and there are a few manufacturers still putting mealworms in hedgehog food, so check the ingredients before you buy.


  • Pond safety – if you have a pond, make sure it’s always full and that there is access out such as ledges or a slope on each side should a hedgehog fall in. They are great swimmers but if they fall into a pond and can’t get out they can still tire and drown.  I used a length of coated chicken wire to provide an access route out of the long edge of our pond that didn’t have an easily available ledge.

A Hiatus

I can’t believe it’s been almost a year since my last blog post, and wow how the world has changed in that time!

Last year was a bit of a tough one – work & family demands both increased at the same time, leaving free time at a minimum for a while.  I was very glad to see the back of 2019 for a lot of reasons – I didn’t realise at the time quite what 2020 would have in store for us!

So I’m going to try my best to keep posting here – apart from anything else it’s lovely to have a record of what’s being going on in my life wildlife-wise!

I’ve also realised I had a few blog posts from last year drafted up and almost ready to go – so I’ll be publishing these in the next few days before jumping back in to 2020 🙂

Early Spring at NQ Growboxes

I think it’s safe to say that last year at NQ Growboxes was a tough one. The plants and wildlife were thriving, but against increasing opposition from the human species of Manchester. The boxes were installed in 2011 and so were showing their age. This seemed to prove irresistible to drunken people leaving the nearby bars and clubs, and it seemed that after every weekend the boxes were a little more destroyed. The boxes were literally being pulled apart. The manager of a nearby apartment block tried to patch them up as much as possible but it felt like a losing battle. It was so sad and dispiriting to see such a wonderful place in such a sad state.In early March though, the boxes were repaired and a lot of rotten wood replaced. And they looked smashing! The old wood was piled up at the edge of the site which allowed any inhabitants that had made their homes in the wood to escape.

Though I’ve made an effort to get to the boxes at least once a week over Winter, my beewatch began in earnest in March. It was still quite cold so not many insects around but my visits did not go unrewarded. There are plenty of birds around at this time of year, including a lovely Blackbird pair who nest somewhere nearby each year. As city dwellers they seem to be quite used to people, so will come quite close to you if you stay quiet and still (or if they are distracted by the tasty treats on offer in the boxes).

There was also a beautiful Dunnock who seemed on a personal mission to soundtrack my March visits with his Very Best Song.

Slowly, invertebrates started to arrive. I was pleased to see this beautiful gold Honeysuckle Sawfly return, I saw one for the first time here last year. Sawflies are a strange one, they are often described as Stingless Wasps but though they look a bit like wasps or flies, they are neither. Their name comes from the female’s ovipositer (egg-laying apparatus) which unfolds like a jacknife and is used to saw into a plant stem to create a space for her to lay her eggs.

The ladybirds started to emerge too, including this one with a really interesting pattern. Normally this would be a sign that the adult ladybird had freshly hatched, and it’s shell was hardening and pattern developing. But it seemed way too early in the year for this, so I’m not sure what had happened here!

Finally, my first bee arrived. A beautiful queen Bombus terrestris (Buff-Tailed Bumblebee). One of the first bee species to start nesting each year, I found her warming up on a leaf at the edge of the boxes.

Another queen arrived a couple of days later and I found her snoozing on the edge of one of the boxes. Her eyes were really beautiful, they seemed to be dark blue with black patches in them. I’m not sure if it was a mutation of some kind, there are some solitary bees that have patterned eyes like this but it’s the first time I’ve seen it in a bumblebee.

Quickly following the bumblebees, the first solitary bees of the year arrived! These were Andrena or Mining Bees, part of the UK’s biggest bee genus with 68 species found here. These arrive at the boxes each year and must nest somewhere nearby – although I keep my eye out every year I haven’t yet discovered where. They like to nest in light soil so I think they may nest at the edge of the carpark or on the canalside somewhere.The males emerge earlier than the females and first to arrive was this male Andrena bicolor (Gwynne’s Mining Bee), a seriously tiny bee covered in black hair.

There was also a male Andrena haemorrhoa (Orange Tailed Mining Bee) who sports an excellent golden moustache.

The males were quickly followed by the females who I usually found sunbathing on the rhubarb on chillier days.

I also found a female Smeathman’s Furrow Bee, Lasioglossum smeathmanellum. These tiny metallic bees are one of the longest flying bees at NQ Growboxes – they can be around from April right through to the end of the season. This might not be that surprising though as the growboxes is their ideal habitat – they love brownfield sites with plenty of wildflowers and composites. It’s rarer in the North of England than the South though so it’s another species we are lucky to have.

April ended with the emergence of the apple blossom which brought with it the Mason Bees! The first male Red Mason Bees (Osmia bicornis) are attracted to apple blossom like a magnet, normally a rear end sticking out of a bloom is the best sighting you can hope for!

Also spotted were the first Blue Mason bee females, which is unusual. The males emerge first and so it’s unusual to see females this early. Like most bees they are often to be found warming up on the side of the boxes and the seat between boxes 5 and 6 is a popular sunbathing spot for a variety of bees.

All in all, a great start to the NQ Growboxes year!


While the garden has always had more than it’s fair share of frogs in all sizes, from mini to maxi, there’s always been one thing lacking in the Spring – Frogspawn!

Each year I’ve hoped to see a mound of jelly-like globules in the water, and every year so far I’ve been disappointed. I’ve always assumed that our frogs disappeared off to the ponds they were born in to spawn there and then return.

So it was with great excitement in March that I came home from work one day and found a small lump of spawn in the water! There then began a nerve wracking few weeks where I had my fingers, toes and everything crossed that the weather wouldn’t turn again and kill the spawn.

I took a few photos as the spawn developed over the weeks, it was really fascinating to see the black blobs turn into something reminiscent of a tadpole inside the egg.

I also bought a cheap, second-hand waterproof point and click camera to get an idea of what was going on under the surface. This was incredible to see, and good timing as just a few short days after I took these shots the tadpoles hatched!

At time of writing (July) our tadpoles still haven’t turned into frogs. They have become enormous however, so I don’t think it’s far off. They did seem to take a long time to develop even at the egg stage, and I think the weather had a lot to do with this. We’ve had some quite dramatic temperature fluctuations here in Spring and early Summer – at one point we had temperatures between 4 degrees and the early 20’s within the same week! I think this may have affected their development. I’m not too worried though and am looking forward to seeing the young frogs climb out of the pond for the first time later in the year


Looking back, I can’t believe my last entry here was in February!  Since then, family health issues and general life stuff have kept me away from this blog.

Typically, there has been loads going on in the garden and my other patches and keeping an eye on everything has kept me going through the tougher times.  I’m going to try to catch up with everything over the next few weeks so expect some fairly random posting about things that happened back in Spring, even though we are now well into Summer!

I’m glad to be back.

Has Spring Sprung?

It’s been unseasonably warm for the past week or so – reaching 20 degrees Celsius and a record Winter temperature for the UK yesterday.

As a result, there have been reports from across the country that wildlife is starting to exhibit some distinctly Spring-like behaviour, with early species of solitary bee starting to emerge, birds nesting and frogspawn appearing in ponds and rivers. I’ve seen a little bit of this in the garden – I put some nesting wool out on one of the bird feeders and within ten minutes or so a Blue Tit had appeared out of the hedge to grab some.

Even the Woodpigeon was enjoying the warmth, basking on the fence for most of the afternoon on Sunday.

I also saw my first Bumblebees of the year this weekend flying around in the garden. While doing some painting in the garage I was really pleased to see a Queen Tree Bumblebee climb into the Bumblebee nest box I set up last year. I waited with baited breath – would she decide to use it? She emerged after a couple of minutes and appeared to start doing orientation flights around the garden – doing short, circular flights and mapping out in her mind all the local landmarks to ensure she could navigate back to the box. I hoped this meant she saw it as a serious possibility for a home, and she made several more trips in and out of it all afternoon so I’ve got my fingers firmly crossed that she is able to establish a nest here.

I’m quite concerned about this weather though – it feels like we are having more and more unusual weather conditions each year across the planet, and I feel like this is a worrying sign of what is happening to the climate. Locally, I’m also concerned that we’ll have another cold snap which will kill off all the early-emerging creatures.

I did spend the weekend taking advantage of the fine weather though, spending some time out in the hide and photographing the garden birds. My new photography feeding platform is under construction and I’ll write about it once finished, but for now the birds are enjoying the old one.

I’ve had one of the trail cams out for the past week or so and was treated to footage of our first fox visitor since last Summer! I hope he becomes a regular!

I also heard a male Tawny Owl calling at the front of the house last week! We saw one on a neighbours roof last year, but since then there have been no more sightings. I’m very glad they are still around.

An Evening Performance

I got home from work last night just as dusk was falling, and for the first time in ages the garden was full of birdsong.

For a while now the Robin has been holding the fort as a solo artist, tonight he was joined by the Blackbird, Sparrows and Blue Tits for the Dusk Chorus.

I know there’s still the chance of some cold weather before Spring really starts, but the birds certainly think that it’s on its way…

Garden Photo Studio

Now that I’ve got my chair hide, I thought I would have a go at creating a small set up for bird photography in the garden (partly inspired by my visit to Burtonwood Nature Park, where they have the photography set-up of my dreams)!

I wanted to bait an area to encourage birds to come down and feed at eye level when I am sitting in the hide. Our bird table is far too high for this purpose, even though I use the hide on a raised patio near to the house. So I bought a 3 section feeder pole, thinking that I could then add or remove sections as necessary to adjust the height.

I wanted to fix some kind of platform to the top of it, and the bottom half of a mealworm feeder fixed to the threaded adaptor which came with the pole looked like it might work well. I tried to disguise the edges a bit with some sticks and ivy, stocked it with some tasty treats and left it out in the garden for a few days for the birds to get used to this new food source!

I’ve now had a couple of sessions using the platform and so far it’s working well! I’ve been delighted that the Coal Tits were the first to try it out and have been the most regular visitors so far. I fell in love with these fiesty little birds when they started visiting the garden three or four years ago, often accompanied by the Blue Tits. Unfortunately they are very shy and incredibly fast – I’ve never had much luck photographing them around the feeders as they grab a morsel of food and are gone in an instant. They usually retreat deep into the hedging to eat their prize, or cache it – they are one of the few birds that caches food in multiple places to see them through the harsh days of Winter. Though it looks like I will have more luck with the hide and feeding platform set up – this is only a start but I’m already over the moon with these images!

The Blue Tits have been following the example of the Coal Tits and are using the platform too –

And there’s even been a few visits from our male Blackbird –

Surprisingly, the Robin has taken a few days to start using the platform – I would have been willing to bet that he’d be one of the first! He’s making up for lost time though and is now becoming a regular visitor.

I’m now thinking of ways that I can improve the look of the platform. This feeder base is quite deep, ideally I’d like one a little shallower. I’m already looking at options to see how I can put something together more suitable and easier to make more natural looking. Watch this space!

I’ve also done some work to the chair hide. I’ve started using a gimbal head and tripod to cut down on how much I need to move once I’m inside the hide, as well as saving the load on my arms. I’ve also started to drape a scrim net over the gap left open for my camera, to hide me even more. I think it’s worked, too – the birds seem much more confident in coming close and the Robin has even started landing on top of the hide on occasion!

I’m really happy with the way this experiment is turning out – I’m loving being able to get such close up photos of the feathered visitors to our garden!

Big Garden Birdwatch 2019

Every year in January I take part in the RSPB’s ‘Big Garden Birdwatch’, the world’s largest wildlife survey. Now in it’s 40th year, the Big Garden Birdwatch was originally meant to be a one-off event run by the RSPB to get children more engaged in wildlife watching during the Winter months, and so that they could work out what the ten most common garden birds were. Expecting only a few hundred forms to be returned, the RSPB were astonished to receive 34,000 back through the post and so the Big Garden Birdwatch has since been an annual event, with adults able to join in since 2001.

I’ve taken part each year since we moved here, and it’s been a great way to see how more and more visitors have arrived as the years have gone on and I’ve made the garden more wildlife friendly. The first year I took part we’d only been in the house for 3 months, I was in the midst of working full time and studying and so I’d done little but put up a feeder. I think only a couple of birds made an appearance that year, but it’s increased every year since and now most years I’m able to count at least our regular visitors. Of course our more special visitors such as Siskins and Long Tailed Tits always become shy during the hour I’m counting and never make an appearance!

It does make me think though about the garden I remember as a child, and how things have changed. Our garden used to be full of Sparrows and Starlings. I rarely see a Starling here – though last year the parent Starlings seemed to bring their babies to the garden when teaching them how to forage for food themselves! I figured it was probably a safer environment for learning than the supermarket car park in our local town centre where they seem to live now.

So what did I see?

We’re lucky though in that we have a large flock of House Sparrows in and around the garden. They have seen massive declines since the Big Garden Birdwatch started so I feel lucky to have them, and they are such little characters that they are always a treat to watch. A project for this year is to get some nestboxes up to encourage them to nest here too!

Both male and female Blackbirds put in an appearance. There is also a youngster that appears from time to time – there were two fledglings this year but sadly one was taken by a cat.

After disappearing in late Autumn the Dunnocks have returned with a vengeance, and spend their days in the hedging and patrolling the base of the feeders for fallen seeds. Also known as Hedge Sparrows from a distance they seem like a drab brown bird, but close up they have incredibly beautiful eyes and I find the mix of grey and brown colouring very striking.

No bird watch is complete without the Robin – they are in and around the garden a lot of the time, and have been spotted investigating a Robin nest box I put up last Autumn, so I am quietly hopeful that they may choose to nest here. Their song always cheers me in the dark Winter months, and it always gives me a lift seeing the flash of red alight on a perch in the garden.

Blue Tits visited frequently through the hour – including one particularly noisy individual who seemed to be on a one-bird mission to be a complete noise nuisance, only stopping calling to grab a mouthful of food.

Along with the Blue Tits came the Coal Tits. We had three in the garden at once, which is a record and I’m so pleased! I’ve only recently managed to get some decent photos of these tiny birds, more on this in a later blog post!

And just on cue as the hour was up came the Bullfinches. I love seeing these birds – they’ve been a regular visitor for the last couple of years and only seem to disappear during the early nesting period in the Spring and again for a few weeks during late Autumn, when food is easily available elsewhere. They are reasonably uncommon in gardens – I only saw my first one on a nature reserve in 2015 – so I’m very pleased to have them. We have two pairs visiting this Winter, I always hope that one day a pair will bring their fledglings along.

Project – Chair Hide

Just before Christmas – when I was convinced that my break would be filled with lots of cold, bright days ideal for photography – I bought myself a chair hide. I’ve wanted to try to be able to get nearer to our garden birds for a while now in order to get some close up shots, but no matter how still I sit they are very hesitant to come close.

The chair hide looks like this – it comprises a camping chair with a cover that you pull up and over yourself and various windows which can be unzipped to stick your camera lens through. After use it folds down and comes in a bag for storage, making it compact enough to store in the garage.

My dream one day would be to have a garden big enough to have a permanent hide set up, but until then this seemed like a good compromise.

As it turned out, the weather over the holidays was awful for photography. For most of the fortnight the UK was blanketed with a thick layer of cloud making the days very dull and the light levels too low to capture any good images. We had one bright day at the beginning of January so as soon as possible I headed out to the garden to try out the hide.

I set up the hide a couple of metres away from a feeder hook that the Robin uses to perch on. To try to see if I could encourage some other species to come and perch I used masking tape and electrical tape to fix a small box of suet pellets and mealworms to the end of the hook. Not very pretty, but this session was more about seeing if the hide worked.

And work it did! I’d sited the hide almost directly underneath one of our hanging feeders, and within minutes I heard the flapping of wings and realised that there was a bird using the feeder right above my head!

Before long the birds caught sight of the box of treats and I had quite a few visitors, both on the feeder hook and perching in the Cotoneaster bush behind.

Getting this close allowed me to notice that this Coal Tit has a deformed beak – the upper mandible is overgrown and curved over, and the lower one seems to be longer than normal too.

The beak should look more like the Blue Tit’s beak above. I posted this picture on Twitter and a follower let me know that the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) ask for records of birds sighted with this type of deformity as part of their Big Garden Beakwatch Project. They say that birds with this type of deformity are reasonably rare, with about 1 in 200 birds being affected, but they are keen to discover more about the causes.

I’ve since submitted my record and the photos and if you see a similar bird you can submit yours HERE

I was out in the garden for about an hour, and this was enough to realise that there is great potential for using this little hide.  I’m now working on creating a better feeding platform to use with it and am looking forward to being able to take some really close photos of our smaller garden birds.