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 Bumper Weekend for Wildlife!

The weather’s starting to turn colder and distinctly Autumnal now. We’ve got a crop of fungi flourishing on the lawn and raking and sweeping fallen leaves into piles as homes for hibernating wildlife is becoming a regular job.

With a weekend at home ahead of me, I decided to spend some time doing some wildlife focused jobs in the garden, and to put cameras out for as much of the weekend as possible to capture our garden visitors. For once my timing was spot on and I picked a great weekend to do this!

Bird Table Trail Camera

I recently bought some new trail cameras, as the original two became faulty and had to be returned. I chose the Browning Strike Force HD model from Wildview Cameras (https://www.wildviewcameras.co.uk). All of my recent Fieldmouse footage has been filmed using these, and I’m so pleased with the image quality. I’ve been eager to have an opportunity to try them out properly during the day, so with the addition of a +3 close up filter to allow focus at a distance of 33cm I set one up on the bird table and left it there for a few hours each morning.

Instead of video I tried out the photo mode – I set the camera to take 5 photos each time it sensed movement. I’m so pleased with the results, I can see I’ll be doing this a lot over the colder months.

Yesterday was a lovely bright day and the resulting image quality is just superb. Today conditions were a little more testing, being dull and quite dark for most of the day, but I’m still really pleased with the results.

Squirrel Feeder Pole

We’ve been plagued by the murderous cat again, and after one particularly horrible incident where he killed a baby squirrel, we were keen to put up a feeder that would allow squirrels to access it without crossing open ground. So I’ve put this one up by the hedge, which will allow them to get to it from hedging and trees rather than from the ground.

My Naturewatch Raspberry Pi Cam

Featured earlier this year on BBC Springwatch, My Naturewatch is software which allows you to build a basic wildlife camera using a Raspberry Pi. I’ve been keen to have a go, so ordered a kit containing all the necessary components from Pimoroni (available here).

The only other bits I had to add were a USB power bank and a plastic food box to form the outer casing. The kit was pretty easy to make and tool about an hour and a half – most of which was waiting for the software to download as our internet seemed to be on a go slow yesterday. But soon the kit was ready to go –

I actually ended up buying two kits, one contains a daylight camera and this one which contains a night vision one.

I put it inside the hedgehog feeder last night, as I hoped to get some closer up shots of our Fieldmouse. I need to do some work on positioning to find the best vantage point as there’s not much room inside the hedgehog feeder, but the results did not disappoint. I can see me having some fun with this little camera.

More about the My Naturewatch project and instructions for building the cameras can be found here – https://mynaturewatch.net.

Hedgehog Visitor

Of course the night that I fill the hedgehog feeder up with a camera box is the evening that the hedgehog returned! I saw one cross the road at the front of the house earlier this week so knew there was one around, but I couldn’t believe it when I checked the garden camera this morning and saw that one had been happily scurrying around the lawn for a good 3 hours last night.

As always, I have my fingers firmly crossed that this one sticks around! We think one hibernated here last Winter so it would be lovely if this one did likewise.

All in all, an incredible wildlife-filled weekend!

The Hedgehog Returns

I’d just nipped into the kitchen for a drink at dusk last night, when I noticed one of the cats was glued to the window. This isn’t that unusual, the night before in heavy rain I’d seen this particular cat trying to out-stare a frog on the patio outside the door. Seriously.

Half expecting to see the the frog returned to resume the stare-off, instead I saw a hedgehog scurry purposefully past the door and down the garden path! The hedgehog was back!

We’d had a hedgehog hibernate in the garden over winter, and stick around for a couple of nights before going off on it’s travels – naturally as soon as I’d stocked up on hedgehog food and invested in the trail cam. So I’m thrilled that it’s back.

I quickly went outside and jury-rigged a feeding station out of a paving slab and a couple of bricks to protect the food from the local cats, and set up the trail cam. 5 minutes later the sound of loud crunching was coming from that end of the garden, so I knew that my prickly friend had found the food at least. I could only hope that I’d positioned the trail cam correctly to pick up some footage – turns out that trying to position one in the dark is quite challenging, who’d have thought? 😉

When I downloaded the images this morning I was happy to see that I’d managed to capture some good footage, and that the hedgehog had stayed in the garden for a good few hours. The Hedgehog Cafe will be open for business again tonight, and I’m hoping that a regular supply of food will encourage it to stay around!

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!