Problems for the Mice

Since the end of July we’ve started to let our two cats out into the garden, roaming freely day and night, and I’m afraid this has had a major, and rather detrimental impact on the mice. They have become by far the favourite prey of the cats who have caught and killed many.

The cats have also caused problems for the birds but I’ve made some changes, particularly to the positioning of the bird feeders, so there is some protection. But there is really little I can do for the mice.

I would estimate that on average the cats have been taking about 3 a week. Despite this I’ve continued to catch quite a few in the humane trap in the garden shed. So there are clearly a lot of mice around and at least some capable of evading the lurking cat menace.

However I don’t think I should do anything to encourage more mice into the garden so I decided to remove the mouse house.

When removing it I opened it up and had a bit of a nose inside. I didn’t find anything startling, a couple of nice spiders aside.

There were lots of little black empty seed cases which I guess the mice had been eating. The only ‘clue’ I found were the presence of sycamore seeds.

There are Sycamore trees in the gardens of a couple of my neighbours and they were obviously providing part of the mouse diet.

So I think in these conditions it is time to close out the mouse log and concentrate on some of the other animals and birds. To be honest I didn’t really manage to learn a lot with the limited means that I deployed. The mice are very small, secretive and highly mobile. Except on a couple of occasions they were only visible in the mouse house for a few minutes. The best recording I managed was when a mouse stayed pretty much the hole day on the 26th July.

Prior to the intervention of the cats I was considering putting in place a much more elaborate mouse house, perhaps with several interconnected chambers. This may have provided a more interesting environment for them, and one in which they would therefore have spent more time.

However with the cats in the ascendency I think I will leave the little fellas in peace and hope they find a nicer and safer environment somewhere else.

Update on the Hedgehogs

The hedgehog house occupant now appears to have left. He first stayed during the day of the 26th August and left on the 20th September so a stay of 26 days.

Interesting to note that I’ve now had three different hedgehogs occupy the house this year.

Hedgehog 1 – 4 days between the 22nd March and the 27th March

Hedgehog 2 – 34 days between the 2nd April and the 13th May

Hedgehog 3 – 26 days between the 26th August and the 20th September

All three have I think been Males which would seem to be more than a coincidence. Perhaps the house, it’s size and location is more suitable for Males than Females. I do think that the nesting chamber is too small for a female looking to have a litter, hence my planned winter project to make a slightly bigger house.

The 3rd hedgehog didn’t use as much bedding material inside the house so the camera was never entirely blocked, at times giving good views of the nesting resident.

It allowed me, at last, to get some simultaneous, multi camera hedgehog action from the house and the feed station.

The good news is that the presence of my cats in the garden since the summer hasn’t created any problems for the hedgehogs, the both seem to cohabite very well together. In particular the cats use the hedgehog house as a stepping stone to leave and return to the garden and I thought this might put the hedgehogs off, but it doesn’t seem to be the case. The clip below is a very typical example and a hedgehog was present in the house throughout.

So now we approach the countdown for the start of hibernation. The exact start date is obviously variable but last year the last hedgehog I saw during the night in the garden was the 15th November, so about 6 weeks from now.

During this time the hedgehogs will need to eat as much as possible and find their ideal site for the Winter, for those feeding hedgehogs now is an important time to keep it up.

My feed station is still in heavy use although interesting the other night, whilst I wasn’t recording, it was filled up with leaves. I don’t think it is a suitable location for a nest but obviously a Hedgehog thought to give it a go.

A New Tenant

There is a new tenant in the hedgehog house who arrived during the night of the 25-26th August. The nest building started during the night quite rapidly. On the evening of the 25th the box was largely empty but by the following morning the hedgehog had already built enough of a nest to stay during the day of the 26th. The first day time stay of the new occupant. First daytime stay since 14th May.

There isn’t much bedding material on the ground at the moment, especially around the hedgehog house so to give it a helping hand I gathered up some fallen, very dry, lime leaves from elsewhere and deposited them over and around the box.

The hedgehog has so far continued to stay every stay, further developing the nest. My internal camera has managed to show some nice images rather into the heart of the nest. This is one of the hog arriving back into the nest.

I love the way that after the hog inserts itself into the nest, the chamber is carefully closed off with some well placed leaves. Hedgehogs really are quite clever and intricate nest builders. This view is quite lucky but I don’t imagine then it is going to last. As more bedding material is added I’m sure that the camera will become blocked.

So who is the new tenant. It appears, again, to be another Male. He is distinctive particularly from the eyes which although still reflective are quite dull, especially the right eye. He also does seem around the face to be quite worn, not the springest of chickens. So an old, warn male, very apt for me.

He does appear to have some fight left in him. There was a little incident during the week where he gave very short shrift to a potential nest intruder.

I’m tracking and logging the movements and so far the new hedgehog does appear to be spending quite a lot of time inside the nest. Coming out during the night for quite short expeditions for the minimum time necessary for the essentials. Maybe this is normal when a hog has first arrived in a new nest. When he starts to think about moving on he will be out longer as he looks for a new site.

I would think that it’s far too early for hedgehogs to be picking our hibernation sites so I do assume that he will move on in some days or weeks. However hopefully not too soon.

Update on the Hedgehogs

The presence of my two cats, which now roam outdoors has had a negative impact on the birds and mice but the hedgehogs are not at all bothered. They are an object of fascination for the cats but nothing more.

And there is still a lot of activity in the garden. When I started capturing them on the trail cameras a couple of years ago it was really uncommon for me to see more than one hedgehog, but now it is typical for me to see 2 or 3 most nights. I took this video a few nights ago.

There was a peak of activity in Spring just after the end of hibernation and I thought that it may reduce as the year continued, but it seems not. It is worth saying that the weather this summer is much cooler and wetter than the norm, which is perhaps this is more conducive for the hedgehogs than heat wave conditions. Unfortunately I’ve only been making detailed records since September 2020, not even 12 months, so nowhere near enough data to have a view on such seasonal/annual variations. Pure conjecture on my part.

The numbers of hedgehogs in the garden is more likely due to the fact that over the last year I have been putting food out more regularly in a specialised hedgehog feeding station. I think the correlation between activity and presence of food is pretty direct, so if you want to see hedgehogs, the number one thing to do is leave out food.

Behaviour wise I’ve seen a couple of interesting things. Firstly some typical aggressive attitudes, which I think is more likely to occur between two males. Here it is a little comical as the aggressor misses the target, I guess it is dark.

I’ve also seen courtship behaviour where a Male circles the Female. I had a fantastic example of this last night which lasted in total for 2 hours. It must have been exhausting for both hogs, a short snippet is show below.

I’ve seen this before but never for so long on Camera. It shows that the Male was quite keen to mate and the Female was equally determined to resist. It’s possible that in the end there was a mating, discretely done off camera, but I’ve read that only around 7% of such courtships end with a mating. Obviously the norm is one of disappointment.

It is not impossible this late in the year for a female to become pregnant but the survival rate of late litters is extremely low. The hoglets would be coming out of the nest only some weeks before hibernation normally starts, also when the weather begins to get colder, and they would typically not be big or strong enough to survive.

I would recommend that these hedgehogs save their energy for next Spring.

Robin Nest 2021 – The Last Post

Although the six Robin chicks fledged the nest last Monday it was just the start of a very difficult time for them. Once out of the nest they can’t fly and are dependent on the adults for food.

In the case of my brood the problems started straight away as last Tuesday here was a day of non-stop heavy rain. So keeping warm, dry and fed was particularly challenging. The chicks spent the two days after fledging in the immediate vicinity of the nest box and I’m afraid to say that their presence was noticed by my cats, who suddenly became very interested in the area. At one point I intervened as the cat had one of the chicks in its’ mouth. It was still flapping around and moved it onto higher, and safer ground, but I rather fear it was damaged.

I tried spraying the ground with cat deterrent but this wasn’t very successful so I ended up keeping my cats indoors for a couple of days. I also did my best to avoid the area so as not to unduly stress the birds.

The chicks are really well camouflaged and they were still pretty silent during these first days so as not to attract attention to themselves. The adults though were very vocal. As soon as any threat was spotted they started to call very loudly, I don’t know if this was to alert the chicks or to attract attention of the threat away from the chicks. I guess a mixture of both, but this must be a very draining activity for the adults, who already have a lot on their plate to feed all the different chicks which are now in different locations.

During the rain of Tuesday, one day after fledging I found one of the chicks on the ground, trying to shelter from the rain by my bins.

This seemed to be quite a weak individual, maybe the one which had already been taken by the cat.

The sixth and last chick of the brood hatched one day later than the first five but fledged on the same day. I can therefore imagine that this last chick would have been smaller and weaker than the others and although it made it out of the nest it would surely have been the most vulnerable.

By the end of Tuesday, the day after fledging I had found a dead chick not far from where I photographer the sheltering chick. I don’t know if it was the same but I would guess so.

By the end of the day on Wednesday I stopped hearing and seeing the adults in the vicinity so I think they and the five remaining chicks had managed to move off, hopefully to a more secure environment. The chicks can typically fly, although I guess quite unsteadily, after two days but they will still be dependent on the adults for feeding for several weeks yet. They will still be very vulnerable.

Unfortunately life is tough and the mortality rate of young Robins is huge, only around 25% will live for more than one year. Those that survive the immediate threats, and obviously at least one of my brood immediately succumbed, will then still need to make it through the Winter.

Good luck to each of them.

The nest has remained untouched and empty since fledging. I think that it is now late in the year for another brood but I’ll leave it in place for a while before taking it down for a clean before the Winter. Removing the lice and bugs hiding in the nesting material should make the box a much more attractive nesting proposition, but I would want it back up and in position for the start of December.

Will the Robins use the nest box again? I hope so. I’ve read that only around 57% of robin eggs make it to fledged chicks and in my case this figure was 100%. Despite the cats it did proof a winning location for a nest, hopefully they remember this for next year.

Update on the Garden Mice

The last Mouse Log entry was over a month ago and since this time there has been quite a bit of activity going on in the garden, starting with my garden shed.

It was in the shed that I caught a rat in my newly installed, and very humane, trap back in May. Since then I’ve kept the trap open and over the last weeks I’ve been catching lots of little Wood Mice. Typically one every couple of nights.

Although the mouse keeps getting caught I’ve seen that maybe it is learning. Here it is not going in, deciding against taking the risk.

Also trying to get at the cheese without going inside.

First thing to say is that each time I release the trapped mouse at the end of my garden, somewhere near the mouse house I installed under a pile of garden debris, my habitat pile. I’ve really no way of knowing if it is the same mouse that keeps coming back to the shed, there is always a gap of a couple of days, or if it is a different member of a group.

I can say that I’ve never captured more than one mouse on camera at the same time, which does appear to be a clue.

But I have also started to see a mouse using more regularly the mouse house at the bottom of the garden? Near where I release the captives.  Very obligingly this time the mouse seems to be installing himself in the opposite corner to the camera, so I can see him!

I’ve not been watching very much whilst I was concentrating on the Robin nest so I’m not sure how often or for how long the mouse has been back using the house. What I can see is clear evidence of mouse poo, basically in the same corner of the box.

This would indicate that it is being used quite regularly.

Is it the same mouse that is also getting caught in the trap in the shed or are they different individuals? I don’t know.  I’ve never filmed or logged a mouse in the shed and the mouse house at the same time but as the visits to both are quite brief and irregular it is very difficult to say. I imagine in my garden there could or perhaps should be multiple mice, but without ringing them, as you do with birds, there is really no way I can tell. And rank amateur as I am, I’m not going to start ringing mice!

But the level of activity is encouraging, potentially showing a healthy population and this despite the fact that I’ve introduced two domestic cats into my garden, a huge predator threat. I’ve been letting my cats out for around a month and although unfortunately they have killed a couple of small birds, they have not to my knowledge taken any mice. Yet.

Robin Nest Day 35 – Leaving Day

Not for the first time with this nature blog I can say that ‘I got it wrong’. I was firmly expecting the Robin chicks to fledge tomorrow, which would have been 14 days after hatching.

However the happy news is that all six of the chicks successfully fledged from the nest today.

I missed the fledging of the first chick but it I think it left this morning sometime between 7-8.

However the second chick left at 09:12 and this time I got the video.

Each chick seemed to spend a little time on the nest ledge before finally deciding to take the plunge, it this case encouraged by the adult.

The chick departures were quite spaced out throughout the day and the next departure was at 12:11, this time seemingly encouraged by one of it’s siblings.

The chicks are launching themselves into the shrubs surrounding the nest box were they will try and remain hidden for the next days. They’ll still be dependent on the adults for food until they can start to fend for themselves.

The fourth chick left the nest at 17:28 and the fifth at 18:09 leaving just one remaining chick, the sixth and smallest. I was unsure if this last one would be big and strong enough to leave today but then at 20:27 this evening it took the plunge.

So all six have successfully left although the operation took most of the day, starting around 7 this morning and the last one leaving more than 12 hours later.

I’ll make one more blog post to wrap up this nest but for now I conclude with a picture of the empty nest at the end of the day today.

Robin Nest Day 34

Coming up to the last days for the chicks in the nest and today I saw the first signs that they’re starting to think about leaving.

The adult flies away after feeding and obviously one of the chicks has a flap and is already thinking about following it. Although right now it’s still too early.

I think that the majority of the chicks should be leaving the nest on Tuesday although it will be interesting to see what happens with the sixth one. It was born one day later than the others, I don’t know if this means that it will stay a day longer on the nest, creating feeding complications for the hard working parents. If if does leave with the others it will be a little weaker and more at risk.

The other news of the day is that my cats have started to pay a little more attention to the area around the nest. It’s interesting to see how low the chicks hunker down, they know there is danger around, but also how well their camouflage works.

I’m pretty sure that they can’t get access to the nest, I’ve also made it a little more difficult, but it will increase the risks for the chicks when they first fledge. They will be very unsteady in a new environment and really at maximum risk.

Unfortunately, domestic cats are the number one predator threat for all small songbirds.

However for now all is well in the nest as shown by the end of day photo.

Double Beech Marten

I’ve been having a bit of a lean period for Beech Marten activity in the garden this year. So far only 2 sightings and nothing at all during June, which, based on previous years, should be a good period.

I have been quite busy though and I must admit I have not very assiduous in the setting up of the camera and food.

But then a couple of nights ago I recorded this.

Wow oh Wow. Double Beech Marten. A Pair. This is a first for me.

They’ve had a good look around the hedgehog feed station and taken a drink from the water dish before seemingly getting started and jumping off. One also very kindly walked directly passed the camera and clearly shows a very distinct missing chunk of fur on its tale.

They both seem of a similar size which is interesting. Beech Martens are solitary except for family groups, typically Mothers with Kits, or mating pairs. A Kit from this year would I think look smaller than the adult and a Kit from last year would now be independent. Therefore I’m assuming from the sizes that this is a mating pair.

I’ve read that mating happens between June-August, so this would also fit. The gestation period for a female lasts up to 9 months, so if they are mating it is for kits that would be born next spring.

An absolutely fantastic sighting, the jam sandwiches are going back in the garden and I’ll see if I can lure them back.

Robin Nest Day 32 – (Friday 9th)

Something I haven’t mentioned before but which is striking is that the activity in the nest happens in absolute silence. For a long time I thought it was likely a problem with my recording equipment, but I’m now pretty sure that these chicks do not make a squeak!

Again this is quite a contrast to the Great Tit chicks that I filmed last year and which make a lot of noise, particularly as they beg for food from the adults.

As before this contrast and the silence of the Robin chicks, is I guess linked to their concealment strategy. They are doing everything to keep the nest hidden.

As the chicks are now getting bigger keeping it clean is becoming much more of a problem. Especially during the night it’s easy to see lots of insects moving around the nest. One of the principal attractions is the Poo, which during the night tends to accumulate.

This creates a challenge for the adults who do their best to keep it clean.

Final shot from the nest yesterday, showing six healthy looking chicks.