The Return of the Hedgehogs

At times it has felt like a long time, but this week it seems that hibernation is over and the Hedgehogs are back. And the first visitor seems to be quite a small one.

By it’s nature hibernation is a difficult period to record but this year I have made a particular effort and I do have some results to share.

As an exercise it rather tested my commitment to record keeping, for several months I’m mainly recording the absence of activity. However I missed only a couple of nights and the results of my semi scientific efforts are shown in the graph below.

The blue line in the graph shows the hedgehog activity in the garden, the number of visits recorded during each night. This gives the period of hibernation, shown with the big green line.

It shows that this year, for the hedgehogs visiting my garden, the hibernation started on 15th November and ended on 15th February, giving a rather pleasing duration of 3 months exactly. The period is largely driven by the weather so this rather precise timing must be a coincidence.

As discussed in one of the previous blogs hedgehogs are not completely dormant during hibernation, they remain occasionally active. In the graph there are a few blue peaks during the 3 months representing these short periods of activity. As one of the factors provoking this occasional activity is temperature I also recorded the lowest overnight temperature each night. This is the red line on the graph which is measured against the axes on the right-hand side.

6 nights of hedgehog activity where recorded during the hibernation period. On these nights the lowest nightime temperature was above 0oC, in fact no hedgehog activity was recorded when the temperature was below 0oC. My ground-breaking science seems to confirm that when it gets really cold, the hedgehogs, rather sensibly, don’t go out.

It is also worth remembering that it is only mid-February, we may still get more cold weather. If this is prolonged it may provoke the hedgehogs back into hibernation so I’ll keep taking the records for a little while yet.

However for the time being the hedgehogs are out and about and at this point they have 2 thoughts, food and mating. Mating I can’t help with but food I can cover and this week has seen the return of the hedgehog feed station to the garden. It is now camera equiped and the hedgehogs have been quick to find it.

I’m using special hedgehog food which is like dry biscuits or pellets. They’re very similar to dry cat food and apparently this works equally as well.

As I said in the last blog I’m now live streaming the several of the garden cameras. I have a feed for the daytime cameras and a feed for the nightime cameras.

For the next week at nights I will focus on the live stream of the Hedgehog feed station. So if you would like to see some real-time hedgehog action you can view them via the website link for the nightime camera on this page, or directly on the youtube stream here.

The hedgehogs tend to make their first visit to the feed station quite early in the evening, therefore to stand a good chance of seeing a visitor I would recommend watching between 8-9 in the evening, French time, 7-8 UK time.

Obviously no guarantees, but I think your chances are good.

Mouse in a House

To keep myself amused during these long Winter months, and to build my expectations for the fun that Spring will surely bring, I’ve been thinking about which other garden animals I might be able to get on film.

I came to the conclusion that as Wood Mice are one of my most regular visitors they were a top candidate for some additional study.

After a bit of thinking, and a lot of cups of tea I decided to make a little wooden box, a mouse house, which would offer a safe and warm space into which a mouse might like to retreat. Equipped with a small camera the final house is shown below, and all the details can be found here.

Once built the next question was where to place it. I was looking for a good spot where I could be confident of mouse activity. I went for the bottom of the habitat pile, which is a big pile of garden cuttings just piled up and left in the garden. It creates a great space for insects and of course mice. If you haven’t got one I would really recommend it for a corner of the garden, it’s free and fantastic for the wildlife.

And I know that mice are frequent users of the habitat pile because I’ve seen them often enough.

The mouse house was installed on the 20th January and at first I didn’t see any activity. I continued to see mice on camera in the garden but mainly in the Hedgehog house.

Then on the night of 7th February some luck. The first visit of a mouse. I had a mouse in the house! For a little bit.

It didn’t stay long. It seems that it was just checking out the mouse house in the same way as the hedgehog house. A quick look around on it’s nightly search for food.

Hopefully this safe and warm location, which has an entrance hole designed just for the mouse, which means to say to keep the other, bigger animals out, will interest them. They might use it as a place for storing food or nesting, for which I provided some shredded newspaper stuffing inside the box. L’equipa circa 2015.

The big bonus and attraction of the box is that it’s a safe space, certainly from the No1 garden mouse predator, the deadly domestic cat.

This video was taken on the same night as the mouse visit to the house. The neighbourhood cats, several of which are regular visitors to the garden, hunt for the mice by picking up their scent. Generally when I catch a mouse on camera the cats are all over the same place within a couple of days. The habitat pile itself is a good protection for the mice, but there is certainly no way into the box for the cats.

I have a mouse log on the website which I’ll be keeping updated with any and all activity so don’t hesitate to keep checking it out. If I hit the highs of actually having a mouse nest in the box I think it would certainly merit a Blog Post update, so I’ll let you know about this.

I have also revamped by website so that this spring I can stream several different cameras live to the website, all of which can be found here.

I plan, or perhaps I should say that technological limitations permitting, I hope, to be streaming the following cameras at the following links:

Birds Nest Cameras, live during the day. At the moment I have the cameras for the Great Tit and Robin Boxes and I should be adding the Swift nest box soon.

Hedgehog cameras, live during the night. This is presently just the Hedgehog Box camera but as soon as the hedgehogs come out of hibernation I’ll add the feeding station as well.

And finally I will stream the Mouse house camera, again I think only during the night, when they should be the most active.

These are the current plans. I’m hoping that there be lots of activity as spring progresses and that I’ll be able to share a lot of it with you via the site.

Of course for the key events I’ll also keep blogging. Thanks to you all.

Garden BirdWatch – My Count

As we are all well aware this is the Garden Bird watch weekend, I know many of the Blog followers are participating so I thought I would share with you all my results.

I did my one hour count this morning around 09:30. It wasn’t raining but it was pretty grey and overcast, dull weather indeed.

I didn’t record any startling activity, but all records are good records and I share mine with you below.

8 Species and 15 Birds in total.

I’m sure if your participating you’ll be uploading your results to the various sites but if you wish to send them to me as a message or comment please do. It could be interesting to see the results of the blog followers in the different locations. If I get enough info I’ll compile them into a post so we can see the results for the Chatou Nature Blog Followers Garden Bird Survey!

Don’t forget there’s still time to participate today if you’ve not already done it.

Parakeets

Perhaps the most exotic, but also one of the most frequent bird visitors I have in the garden are Ring Necked Parakeets. A large and very striking bright green bird which looks completely out of place in our often cold and damp environment. Yet they are resident to my garden and often descend in noisy, boisterous groups onto the bird feeders. A typical example is shown in the clip below.

When I have people visiting, remember that, they are often surprised and delighted to see them, then they always ask the same questions, where are they from and how did they get here?

Fairly obviously they are not from here, here being the north of Europe. They are native to Asia and Tropical Africa. The red areas on the map below.

The map also shows lots of much smaller green dots and these are the areas where we can now find them. Interestingly it includes both Paris, where I now live, and London, where I used to live. These birds have always been with me.

There are many stories about how tropical parakeets arrived here. A very nice one is that they were brought to London in 1951 for the filming of the movie ‘The African Queen’ with Humprey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn. It was filmed at Shepperton studios in the South West of London, which is the epi-centre of the parakeet population in London. The story goes that the birds were finally not used in the film and that rather than manage their proper return the film company simply let them go.

Another intriguing story involves Jimi Hendrix, the Summer of Love in 1968 and 2 parakeets called Adam and Eve. Look it up!

However these, and all the other slightly fantastic stories are, I’m afraid, just urban myths. The truth is that since the 19th Century parakeets have been imported to Europe as exotic pets, and gradually they have escaped. Sometimes individually but there have also been a some mass escape events, typically from airports. Two of these were from Orly airport in the South of Paris, one in the 1970’s and another in the 1990’s. It is probably not a coincidence that the largest population in France is based not far from this airport and in London it is next to Heathrow.

Once escaped they found the local climate and environment quite suitable and over time their numbers have increased.

An estimation in 2015 was that there were around 30,00 birds in the UK, mainly around London, and approximately 7,000 in the Paris region. There were also populations of around 10,000 each in Holland, Belgium and Germany and smaller numbers in several other European countries. And these populations continue to expand rapidly.

Invasive species often prosper as their natural predators are generally not introduced with them, which is of course very handy. There is then no natural check on the population growth. The Parakeets in Northern Europe are not predator free though and birds of prey will take them. The picture below, unfortunately not taken by myself, shows a Peregrine Falcon with a Parakeet in its talons.

It is interesting that at the same time as the population of Ring Necked Parakeets has increased so have the numbers of Peregrine Falcons in urban environments. I’m sure that this is not solely due to the parakeets, the falcons also feed heavily on pigeons, but it is perhaps a factor.

In my garden the parakeets are bordering on a pest. They are year-round residents and have a tendency to dominate the feeders, putting off the smaller birds. I haven’t found a particular solution to this. I’ve tried using squirrel proof feeders in the hope that they would be parakeet proof, but to no avail. What I have found is that the parakeets tend not to feed directly off a bird table and I’ve also installed a seed feeder low down which they don’t use. So at least I can be sure that the smaller birds are getting a fair share.

I’m not sure why they are so prevalent in my garden, I have friends living close by who only have a very occasional visit. I do know that parakeets like to nest in holes and hollows in mature trees, with sycamore being a particular favourite. Both of my neighbours have very large sycamores in their gardens so this might be a factor, together with my ever replenished bird feeders.

Even if they are a pest, they are a very colourful one, and certainly one that I’ll have to continue to live with as I don’t think they’ll be going anywhere else, anytime soon.

Please do continue to check out the website. Even during the relatively quiet Winter months I’m keeping it up to date with all the news, videos and photos I’m able to gather whilst waiting for the fun of Spring to start.

Thanks to you all for following the blog.

Garden Bird Watch Weekend

I’ve often mentioned, or perhaps gone on at great and boring length, about keeping records of the activity in the garden, and of course I do this for the birds. I’ve also tried to encourage all of my lovely blog followers to do the same.

Well great news is upon us. Next Weekend, not this weekend but Next Weekend, is the ‘Great Garden Bird Watch Weekend’ and we can all participate.

It is a campaign to ask everybody to record the birds visiting their garden for any one hour during the same weekend. Hundreds of thousands of people participate and upload their data so a comprehensive map of bird activity can be built up.

This very fabulous ‘citizen science’ project has been going for many years and it has been used to record evolutions in bird populations and activity which ultimately help to inform conservation efforts and decisions.

Also very wonderfully it is an internationally effort with very constructive cooperation between countries, something we could likely do with a little bit more of.  The campaign is run over the same weekend in both the UK and France, so we can all participate.

In France the campaign is organised by the LPO and all of the information can be found via the following link:

Les 30 & 31 janvier 2021 Comptage national des oiseaux des jardins – Actualités – LPO

And in the UK by the RSPB at the following link:

Big Garden Birdwatch | Join the fun – The RSPB

The websites explain how to participate, giving information on how to record the activity and upload the data. There are also lots of tips on which birds to look for and how to recognise them.

So it takes one hour, Next Weekend, to participate in the biggest and longest running citizen science project in Europe. You get to watch the birds whilst sitting inside drinking tea, or another hot beverage of your choice.

Come on, have a go.

The Depths of Winter

Pretty much bang on Mid winter here and although the hedgehogs are firmly asleep there is still activity to be found.

One of my favourite things about watching nature in the garden is seeing regularly visitors which I’ve always understood to be rare. Or I should say which are rare where I come from in the South of England. This includes Red Squirrels and Beech Martens but also a very small and rather striking bird called a Crested Tit.

I’d never seen one of these birds in my life until a few years ago. In the UK they pretty much only exist in pine forests in the North of Scotland, and people, of a particular persuasion, take nature tours with the expressed goal of seeing one.

And yet they are regular visitors to my garden, as seen in a rather fleeting video below.

We had our first day of snow this week and it was interesting that the Crested Tits suddenly became very prominent on the feeders throughout the day. Typically I see them a few times during the week but they were present throughout the day when it snowed. I don’t know if this feeding behaviour for is triggered by the snow but it seemed very coincidental.

The Great Tits have also been very active and vocal. They’re already marking and defending their territories and there has been plenty of activity around the nest box. They are keeping a close eye on the box and typically each day a Great Tit comes by and pops it’s head in to check it out.

Then joy or joys this week a one had a much closer look around.

I saw the bird as it left and it was definitely a female. For Great Tits only the female is responsible for nest building so I take it as a very good sign that this one spent some time in the box. Could be on course for another successful nesting season.

My final innovation of the week has been to extend my ‘guerilla’ nature activities, don’t tell the marie (the council). As I’ve not had any sign of a Red Squirrel using the feeder in the back garden I thought to install one where I actually regularly see them in front of my house.

Obviously these are not technically my trees in any way but as of yet no complaints have been received.

Cold Weather Arrives

Our first cold snap of the winter arrived a few days ago and looks set to continue for at least the next week. We should have regular overnight frosts and potentially some snow. Apart from the fact that I really like snow, I have been waiting for such a change in weather to see if it has any impact on the activity in the garden, particularly the birds.

I undertook an hourly garden bird survey on the 30th, just before the arrival of the cold weather, and already the recorded activity was much higher than anything previously noted. This was both in terms of number of different species seen during the hour and the number of birds.

The activity at the feeders was fierce during the hour, I guess that they knew cold weather was coming.

At this stage I haven’t particularly seen any different birds in the garden, nothing to add to the log of 27 garden bird species. However I’m hopeful as bad weather can bring some different birds into the garden.

A few I may be looking out for during a cold snap could be Hawfinch, Redwing, Redpoll and Siskins. My very good friend and very knowledge naturalist Roger Baugh is often telling me to keep an eye out for these during the cold weather. So I’ll be hoping for some luck.

It is also a good idea to keep on an eye on your nest boxes. In bad weather groups of small birds may decide to use them as an overnight roost to keep warm. I’ve seen this for example with wrens where big groups bundle together inside a box.

I have a nice new, warm and dry nest box to offer the birds in my garden. Following the problem of the damp in the Great Tit bird box I have now replaced it for a more watertight model.

In the end I went for a box of a different design as I had one which I’d purchased a couple of years ago already available. I think it came with my very first nest box camera kit, but I had never used it.

A few hours after installation it was interesting to see a Great Tit checking it out, you can see the beak in the video below.

I’m sure that the resident Great Tit pair are carefully watching the box and fully intend to use it for nesting. I hope that the change of design and the light does not put them off this year. I did tape over the side window as I thought it was providing a bit too much light and visibility. Not a very beautiful job, with masking tape, but it will do for now.

I’ve updated the web page with all the info on the new Great Tit box and you can find more details here.

I’ve also cleaned and equiped with a camera a Robin nest box. I’ll add some details onto the website for this box and also the Robin in general. I’m hopeful I’ve got a good location for the box which will temp my resident pair. If it does it will of course be available to follow on my site during the Spring.

An image below of the inside of this new box. The light quality is not fantastic but I think it will be good enough to follow any activity.

I have also been working to refurbish and equip the Swift nest box but I have a little more time as they will not be back until April. The Great Tits and Robins will be checking out their nest sites from January and depending on the weather nest building may start in February, especially for the Robins. All this is only a few weeks away, exciting times ahead.

A final note on the hedgehog activity. Following it’s first sighting I did spot it during a couple more nights before it safely tucked itself away before the cold weather. I’ve updated the Hedgehog log and you can read about it here.

Bird Records 2020 – The Final Scores!

If I have learnt one thing from starting this blog and website it is that the taking of systematic records is of absolute importance. This applies particularly for birds which are, along with insects, the most numerous and frequent visitors to the garden.

I have made some trials and lots of errors and I have for the time being resolved on two records that I maintain for the bird activity.

The first is a very simple record of the types of birds that I see in the garden each week. The period runs from Monday to Sunday and I simple record if the species of bird was seen in the garden during the week. I do not make a count of the number of birds seen.

This record has allowed me to understand how many different species visit the garden, which types of birds are the most frequent visitors and also how this varies throughout the year. I started making the record in January 2020 and the full results for 2020 give a good baseline against which future years can be measured.

I gave some preliminary results in a blog earlier this year but as we are now at the end of December the full results are in. Final Scores for 2020!

The final tally for the number of different bird species which visited the garden during 2020 is 27. The graph shows which were the least frequent visitors and those which were basically permanently present, my residents. I would suggest that anything above 80% is a resident species.

One small caveat on these results is that it is much easier to record the presence of birds which regularly use the bird feeders, they are much more visible. For example the Wren is probably more present than the 24% shown above. However it’s a very small bird which spends it’s time moving quickly through the undergrowth. Although it can be easy to hear it is difficult to spot and therefore perhaps under-represented in my records.

As my garden improves for nature, increasing the volume of insects and also the number of shrubs and trees bearing fruit and berries, I would hope to attract a few more species and to keep some of the more occasional visitors in the garden a little longer. This will be a trend to watch in 2021.

The weekly records also provide the graph below which shows the variation of bird species across the year.

First thing to note in the above graph are the gaps. These are weeks when I didn’t take any records. Obviously there will always be a few blank weeks when I’m not present but in total I missed 11 weeks in 2020, which I think is a few too many. I hope to improve this in 2021.

The maximum number of bird species seen in the garden in any single week during 2020 was 19, which was the week beginning the 14th December. The fewest species recorded was 9, the week beginning the 2nd November. The average across all weeks was about 14.

The general trend is that the best period for birds visiting the garden is November-March, Winter through to early Spring. The worst period during 2020 was summer, the months of July-September.

This is all quite typical and not an unsurprising finding. Birds need suburban gardens more in the winter, in the summer months, with an abundance of natural food sources, they will spend more time away.

I’m not sure that any improvements I make to the garden environment will change this overall trend. What I can potentially hope to see is a general increase in the number of visiting species.

The second type of record that I take is an hourly survey where I count the bird activity during a specific hour. During this period I record both the different species that visit and also the number of birds I see at any one time. Following my initial counting errors, see the blog ‘Update on the Garden Birds’, I have been making the survey on a more or less weekly basis since 11th November.

I upload the results to the LPO website where they compile an overall picture for France. The RSPB or BTO do a similar thing in the UK.

At this stage, I don’t have enough data to draw any conclusions. Typically during the hour of observation I see some or all of the resident birds, normally in quite small numbers. Perhaps the variety of species and the numbers will vary over time? I will keep going with the records in 2021 and we shall see.

So as we start 2021, and perhaps you are thinking of a resolution or two, why not consider making some records of the bird activity in your garden. They call it ‘Citizen Science’ and I can heartily recommend it.

Thanks again for following the blog and don’t forget to keep checking out the website. I update the various nature logs on a regular basis and in general keep the content evolving, not all of which is shared via the blog Posts.

It just leaves me to wish you all a Happy New Year and an excellent 2021. It can surely only be an improvement on 2020.

PS: I sent out a Blog Post earlier this week which was just a collection of nest box pictures. Apologies for this. It was not meant to be sent as a Blog Post, I was actually just trying to upload some pictures to the site for later use. I’ve learnt my lesson, I know how it works now, apologies for the SPAM!

The Hedgehog Awakes

A first hedgehog sighting this week, the first since the 15th November. Caught for the sake of posterity on the video below.

The hedgehogs have been hibernating since Mid-November although they do break hibernation periodically during winter. This week, just before Christmas we had a little 2 day warm patch with nightime temperatures up to 12-13oC. I thought it may be a trigger but no hedgehog activity was recorded.

Then on the night of 26th-27th December we had the arrival of Storm Bella over Paris. It was not a very severe winter storm but it did bring very high winds and lots of rain with a nightime temperature around 3oC. It was actually on this night that the video was taken.

It may be a coincidence but it seems that it was the storm rather than the temperature which triggered the hedgehog activity.

On the next night, last night, I had 2 further sightings, so it seems that this individual is still active.

We are forecast a generally cold spell, potentially with some snow, so I imagine this would rather encourage the hedgehog quickly back into hibernation.

However in case it remains active for a few more days I will now leave out some food for a couple of nights. A free and easy meal would provide a real boost to the hedgehog as it tries to maintain condition through winter.

Merry Christmas

The occasional mouse sighting aside it’s been a very quiet end to the year in the garden. The hedgehogs are hibernating, the beech marten is not visiting and not a nut has been touched in the squirrel feeder.

The birds have been pretty active and I’m hoping for a nice cold spell soon which would likely bring in more visitors. A word of advice, that your probably already well aware of, but if we get a cold spell do keep your bird feeders topped up and ensure some non frozen drinking water is available. You never know what will come looking for food!

I plan to share a couple of blog posts in the coming weeks with a recap of all the nature activity I’ve seen and recorded in 2020, some updated graphs coming your way! I’m also preparing myself for a great nature year in 2021, with a variety of nest boxes and feeders set up for Hedgehogs, squirrels, Great Tits, Robins, Swifts and Blackbirds.

For all the obvious reasons it’s been a difficult year but I’ve had a fantastic time writing this blog. I’ve learnt a tremendous amount and it has been wonderful to share it with you all. Thankyou all so much for your feedback and comments throughout the year which have only ever been kind and encouraging.

Again, thankyou for following the blog and I wish you and all your families and loved ones a safe, healthy and very Merry Christmas.