Pond Life

I have a clear winner this week for my nature highlight after I spotted my first frog in the garden pond.

Here it is.

Already excited, I then saw, a couple of days later, a second, so there are at least two frogs.

When I created the pond I had high hopes of attracting frogs, but after a blank spring without any frogspawn, I had began to doubt. But, predictably, it’s just been a question of time, you can’t rush nature.

What I’ve also seen this week, whilst spending time watching the pond, are lots and lots of damselflies. These are quite small, quite slim flying insects that love being around and over water. They’re quite easy to distinguish from dragonflies, which are much bigger. Even I would say ‘wow factor’ huge.

The damselflies are much more delicate and although I saw some last year they’re far more abundant this year. The damselflies I’ve been watching this week have often been locked together as a couple, which means they’re mating. They fly around and then land, typically on the leaves of a pond plant, all the while connected to each other. The female, the bottom fly, will then lay her eggs just under the surface of the water.

I’m not at all a photographer but I tried to get a decent picture, below is the best I could manage.  

The Swifts are Back

The major event of Spring has finally arrived for me as yesterday the Swifts have returned here to Paris.

The exact date of my first sighting this year of a group above the house was the 7th May, at least a couple of weeks later than last year. I was beginning to get a bit twitching, for some reason I always have a doubt that they will actually come back and I’m always relieved when they do. For me it is a bit of a confirmation that all is right with the world, which sometimes can be difficult to imagine.

As ever my huge hope is that they’ll use the nest box, which has been up now for a couple of years without any interest so far.

To try and attract them towards the nest I have a recording of swift calls which I play on a small speaker out of the window next to the box. I think it’s best to play it every morning and evening, although I don’t usually manage to be so regular. I also always feel slightly guilty for my neighbours although they have never, yet, complained.

I will also say it has also never, yet, actually worked. So perhaps it is rather academic as an exercise.

I have had a Great Tit sleeping in the box every night, starting some time during the Winter. I was thinking that if a Swift did arrive to use the box it might provoke a little tussle between the two.

But I won’t get to see this as last night, for the first time in months, the Great Tit didn’t come back. It is just surely too much of a coincidence that the first night after the swifts arrive back in the area the Great Tit abandons the nest box. It must be linked.

The Great Tit must in some way know that it’s in a site ideal for another bird, in this case a Swift, who has that day arrived back in the neighbourhood, so it decides to avoid any possible confrontation by finding somewhere else to sleep. Certainly the Great Tit thinks that a swift might use the box, which is encouraging for me.

As a farewell to my now departed Great Tit Friend here he is again from earlier in the year arriving into the box for a nights sleep.

HEDGEHOG WEEK 2-8th MAY

I thought every week was hedgehog awareness week. But actually it appears to be next week!

Follow the links and take a look.

Wildonline.blog

Hedgehog Awareness Week runs from 2nd – 8th May this year and it aims to raise the profile of the Britain’s only spiny mammal. This year the Hedgehog preservation society is asking people create their very own hedgehog haven! Gardens are a stronghold for hedgehogs, and we can make their lives so much easier with very little effort! Tips will be given out on the charity’s social media accounts during the week using #hedgehogweek with daily competitions to win hedgehoggy prizes.

For more details click here

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All Quiet on the Hedgehog Front

It’s been very, very quiet this week in the garden, I’ve left out food in the feed station on most nights but on several there have been no hedgehog visitors at all.

This is really rare, to have no visits during an entire night, especially when there is food available, so why is this happening?

I now have a semi-regular fox visitor, but I don’t think the arrival of one is linked to the departure of the other. I’ve seen lots of videos from other peoples’ gardens to suggest that foxes and hedgehogs can lived together quite happily. A fox will not try and attack an adult hedgehog, they’re way to prickly for that. I think the only mammal that will predate hedgehogs and that can affect their numbers are badgers, and I haven’t, yet, ever seen a badger near here!

My unscientific guess for this change in activity is that it may be linked to the breeding cycle.

The peak of the hedgehog mating activity seems to be end March to the beginning of April, the time when the females will be getting pregnant. On my trail cameras I saw a lot of this activity during the peak period and I haven’t now seen anything for a couple of weeks.

The gestation period for a hedgehog is 4-6 weeks, so a female hedgehog which became pregnant at the end of March may well be giving birth around the end of April, so now. Obviously, the females are by consequence less active, spending nearly all their time in the nest.

Perhaps we are now in this period. The Females could be holed up in their maternal nests giving birth and the males, which tend to move over a much wider range, are just having a few days away from my area.

It’s a possible explanation. If the young hoglets are being born now they will start to be active in around 4 weeks, so I will need to keep my eyes peeled for the beginning of June as I might be able to see some family groups in the garden.

To provide some compensation for the lack of hedgehog activity, last night, suddenly, there was a little burst of mouse action.

It also popped into the Hedgehog feed station for a nibble on the biscuits, although they didn’t seem to be very much to its taste.

This little mouse was in the garden during a couple of hours, and with the number of cats typically passing through, its survival would seem to be a minor miracle.

I would advise it though not to try and repeat such a long visit every night, I don’t think its luck will hold out forever!

The Fox and the Egg

Following its’ first visit to my garden on Monday the fox has kept coming back. Not every night, but on several occasions, it came back, typical for an investigation of the Hedgehog Feed station. I guess it could smell the hedgehog food, which is dried cat biscuits, and wanted to get at it.

Obviously, I would love to keep this fox interested in my garden, so I decided on a couple of nights to leave out a little something for it. I was looking for something that would be quite specific to a fox, not too attractive for other animals, so I went with a fresh egg.

I put it in a little dish on top of the hedgehog house.

I know that foxes like eggs and apart from a Beech Marten, which are very infrequent garden visitors, I didn’t think anything else would be interested.

It only took two nights.

On the first night the egg wasn’t touched but on the second the fox came in for it.

So I think I’ll be doing this again, not every night, and maybe I’ll find a better location than the top of the hedgehog feed station.

But now that it has found the garden I want to keep this fox coming back.

My First Fox

Every morning, or nearly every morning, I dutifully check the overnight contents of the garden trail cameras, and generally it is an exercise in counting the number of hedgehogs. Which is nice but after a couple of years not dramatic. Then very occasionally, amongst all of the hours of hedgehog footage, something surprising, I dare to say more interesting, happens.

This happy moment arrived this morning as during the night I have filmed the visit of a fox, my first I believe, into the garden.  All can be seen below.

A fox visit is a definite wow moment for me, I’ve been filming in the garden for several years already and this is my first fox. However I know for many people in surburban or urban environments a fox in the garden or rummaging through the bins is a nightly nuisance.

I don’t know why I see them so rarely. I live in a very green suburban environment which really should be ideal for ‘urban’ foxes. If anything I’m a bit surprised it’s taken me such a long time to get one on film as they must be around.

But after years of filming, and hours or non-fox footage, I’ve finally got one. I hope that the next visitor doesn’t wait another 2 years to turn up, or perhaps I should say to come back.

Mating Season

It definitely seems that the hedgehog mating season has arrived for the local population.

My nightime trail cameras are no longer seeing hedgehogs pushing each other angrily, now I’m seeing lots of pairs with one, typically the larger, I assume the male, following directly behind the female for hours at a time.

Occasionally I see the odd attempting mating which always seems to fail. A great example below which certainly brought to my mind the old joke ‘How do Hedgehogs Mate’.

The answer. ‘Carefully’.

I’ve read that only very few hedgehog mating attempts are successful, maybe only 5%. Indeed the hours of following that the Male is subjected to may be a way for the female to test the strength and stamina of her potential mate.

So it would be an absolute miracle of trail camera footage if I was to actually capture a successful mating on camera. I already feel very lucky to have seen these attempted couplings.

My other recent highlight was a close encounter between one of my cats and a hedgehog. He, the cat, seems surprised but it’s all in a nights’ foraging for the hedgehog.

Empty Nest Boxes

We are now into April and I’m still looking at empty nest boxes. It looks like another barren year for me!

This is true for the two tit boxes as typically by now, for both Blue and Great Tits, nesting would be underway. As both of these species, in this area anyway, only tend to have one brood per year, it looks like the moment has passed.

It’s now the second year when I’ve had no active Tit nests, For the 4 or 5 years up to then I was always getting one. I really don’t know what has changed.

I have still got an occasional visitor checking out the box, the latest from this week, so perhaps all hope is not lost and I may get a late breeding pair.

I do though have hope for the Robin Nest Box. Robins have multiple broods per year, usually using different nest sites. My Box was used last year by a pair which started building their nest in June, so plenty of time.

And I also still have my Swift nest box. I think my chances of getting a nesting swift are quite remote, and they will anyway not return until late April or early May. But happily the nest box is still being used every night by a roosting Great Tit. (Who also shows no signs of building a nest).

Unlike my other boxes the image quality is a bit low but it is still nice to see it arrive every night for a nice, warm, safe sleep.

Hedgehog Update

It has very much felt like Spring here in Paris this week, lovely warm weather. The hedgehog house doesn’t yet have a permanent tenant but it is getting regular use as a stop over point for a quick nap. An example from this week is shown below.

I also captured on camera would could be an aborted, but attempted, mating.

The female, I assume that it is a female is much, much smaller than the male. Perhaps it wasn’t ready or mature enough to mate but it is an indication that the mating activity, at least in these parts, is well underway.