My Highlight from 2022

This year when I had no nesting birds or beech martens the clear highlight of my nature watching were the fox visits to the garden. This has been a first for me, I’d never previously seen or recorded a fox in the garden although we live in the type of suburban environment in which they shouldn’t be so rare.

The first fox recorded was on the 18th April and then the visits were pretty regular throughout the year until the last visit on the 24th October, since when nothing has been seen. A total of 131 visits for 2022.

Early on I started recording the time of each visit and from this simple data I’ve made the chart below.

The vast majority of the fox visits were in the early hours of the morning, the quietest period of the night. I only had a very few before midnight and I never actually saw the fox with my own eyes, only ever recorded on the garden trail cameras.

I also noted during the year how easily startled the fox was, particularly terrified of the cats, who actually seem quite unperturbed by the presence of the fox.

This all gives me the impression that the fox visitors I had were extremely timid. I know in London my Mum has regular fox visits to her garden and there the foxes seem much bolder. They are often seen lounging in her garden during daylight, sometimes in groups. They basically wave whilst see takes a picture on the iPhone. My experience has been very different with much more secretive and timid animals.

I know that there is a big difference in the behaviour of rural and urban foxes, with rural foxes being extremely wary, whilst urban foxes are much more at ease in proximity with human activity. It seems that the behaviour of the fox or foxes I’ve been watching has been much closer to the rural rather than the urban type. So maybe I’ve been watching summer visitors into my suburban environment and now they have returned back to ‘the wild woods’ for the winter. It will of course be interesting to see if the visits restart next year.

Another important question I never really managed to answer was whether I was watching one fox or several different foxes. I understand that the best way to identify foxes is by facial features but I honestly found this too hard. I tried studying the pictures, when I had good, close up facial shots but I could never really make out distinguishing features.

The only clear evidence that there was more than one fox was the fight I managed to capture between two individuals.

If I get another chance next year I would hope to see if I can improve my skills in fox ID and perhaps have a more definite answer to the number of different fox visitors.

But mainly I just hope that they come back as they have been a completely wonderful addition to the garden wildlife.

Summer for the Pond

My main hesitation before installation the pond was that I would just be creating a perfect habitat for mosquitoes, of which we already had plenty. We’re right now at peak ‘mozzie’ in the garden I can say that although there are still plenty, I’m not sure that there are more and the benefits of the pond are far outweighting the negatives.

To start with it has transformed a rather boring corner of the garden.

After one year I did finally get frogs into the pond and in general I had 4 or 5 residents.

But unfortunately, all of a sudden they largely disappeared. On checking the garden cameras the reason was quickly obvious, and I’m afraid that it was the cats, again.

The cats, which are still quite young, suddenly discovered that they not only had a taste for frogs, but also that they were easy to catch. Frogs can’t fly away.

Although they can hide underwater frogs also spend a lot of their time out of the pond and I think it is here in the pond surroundings that the cats have been finding them.

I’m afraid that it’s rather sad and I’m very disappointed that so many of the frogs have been taken, but there is still at least one and hopefully the cats will move their attentions elsewhere.

It’s also currently lily flowering time in the pond which brings a fantastic splash of colour to the garden, even if they only last for a couple of days before dying away.

The other flowering plant that I’ve had in the pond is the Coccinea Schizostylis but this flowers quite late in the autumn, even through to winter, something to look forward to.

Right now we’re in a period of very hot, dry weather which typically lasts weeks through the height of Summer. During these periods the water level drops and I’ve topped it up once before with tap water. This isn’t ideal as the nutrients in tap water favour the growth of blanket weed. This is a thickish weed that covers the surface of the pond and needs to be removed, which I do by hand, to stop it becoming a real nuisance.

Adding oxygen into the pond should in theory help the ‘good’ plants and pond wildlife. This can be done by adding naturally oxygenating submerged plants but I’ve also added a non natural solution which is a solar powered aerator.

It bubbles away, creating a kind of frog jacuzzi effect, which I hope they enjoy.

Juvenile Hedgehog

This year I didn’t see any family groups visiting the garden during the late spring or early summer and I guess it’s now largely past this point.

What I did see over the last week though was a noticeably smaller hedgehog, I guess it must be a young, newly independent individual on some of it’s first solo nightime forays.

Then one night it did turn up accompanied by a much larger hedgehog, I initially assumed that it was the mother.

But this wasn’t the case as shown below.

The larger hedgehog was a male that spend a large part of the night trying and failing to mate with this young juvenile.

Hedgehogs can mate starting from their first spring. This would be next spring for a hedgehog born this year, as it doesn’t really emerge and become independent until the summer.

So too early for the youngster in this video.

Name that Egg

I found a pretty well formed egg on the ground, so of course the question is ‘name that egg’.

It’s largely white and shiny, for scale I included the obligatory 1Euro coin in the photo, but the egg measures about 40mm in ‘height’.

Very interestingly it is splashed with yellow. But a give away is that the yellow is on both the outside and the inside.

So this is not a marking but it shows that the egg has been predated, that’s the egg yolk.

Without the yellow it is a perfectly white egg, around 40mm with a shiny coating. I also found it in my garden so it is from a bird typically found on my watchlist, no guesses for Avocets or Redshanks.

Well the answer, I believe, is that it’s a wood pigeon egg. A very, very common bird indeed.

Who predated it? I would guess either a magpie or a jay. Wood pigeon nests are very open affairs made from a loose gathering of sticks and twigs, normally quite high up in trees, so easily accessible for a predator.

But it’s was nice to find a little clue as to what is going on in the trees around me.

Fox Fight – Postscript

As a postscript to the fox fight, yesterday morning I found this in the middle of my lawn.

It’s quite a chunk from the tip of a fox tail.

Really unfortunately, but I’m afraid rather typically, I didn’t have any trail cameras out on the night in question, so no images.

It may have come off one of the foxes following the original fight or perhaps it’s evidence of a new fox fight.

Last night I had the cameras back in the garden and the only fox that visited didn’t appear to have any obvious damage to its’ tail.

If the remnant came from another individual it’s a sign that multiple foxes are still visiting the garden, even post fight.

Fighting Foxes

A second fox, yes a second fox, this week came into the garden for a brief visit and it resulted in a rather dramatic fight between the two.

Firstly my ‘regular’ fox arrived.

I’m still struggling with a reliable means of identification but it does seem to be the same individual, and it continues to visit most nights.

Then a little while later a second fox entered the garden. The video is just a couple of seconds, it seems quite hesitant and it definitely looks to be a smaller, darker individual.

Then, only some seconds later it bolts for the fence hole where it is intercepted by the other fox, and a fight takes place. (I very much like the arrival at the end of the spectating cat, two fighting foxes is clearly not enough to phase this cat!)

Finally later that night, after the fight, the first fox returned to the garden, seemingly unharmed in any way.

I find all of this interesting in several ways. Firstly that there is obviously more than one fox in the area. Are they part of the same group, perhaps the fighting indicates not, or is it a complete coincidence that these two cross paths? And is it a sign of a generally increasing local population? I will need to keep watching to have any idea.

However this year is the first that I’ve had any fox visitors and now there are two, I’m classifing it as an abundance of foxes.

Fox & The Feed Station

Fox highlight of the week was the night it made a rather concerted effort to get the food inside the hedgehog feed station.

It could obviously smell the cat biscuits inside and was hungry enough to try very hard to get at them.

There’s no real way that it could dig in, although it had a good try. The best way in would really be from the top, the lid is only held down by a bit of brick, and it nearly managed to dislodge it.

The fox spent quite a bit of time trying to get in, so I’ve speeded up the video.

Fox Update

The fox, and I’m still working on the assumption that it’s always the same fox, has become a regular visitor to the garden. It’s now appearing nearly every night, with or without the enticement of food.

It always enters the garden via the hole in the fence created for the hedgehogs and I have been keeping records of the time of night that it visits. I don’t know if this will lead to any sparkling insights but it seemed a good place to start. There are of course outliers but in general it comes in between the hours of 01:00-03:00 in the morning, really the darkest and quietest period of the night.

I still haven’t managed to ID it in any way, for example by face markings. There may be a patch of fur which is quite ‘obvious’ on it’s left hind leg but I rather hesitate to use this as an ID. I don’t know if it is something common or even normal for foxes, I have no frame of reference. So I’ll keep looking.

After it’s close run in with one of the cat the next creature the Fox has come across in the garden is a hedgehog, on film here.

I wouldn’t have anticipated anything dramatic, a shouldn’t fox would bother a hedgehog, but in this case the fox seems particularly wary. I’ve also seen it become very scared of the cats so I think in general it’s very nervous, possible a sign that it’s a young fox.

As I now clearly have a regular fox visit I’ve created a dedicated section on my website where I can gather the various videos and updates.

Don’t hesitate to check it out here.

Bird Number 30 – Redstart

It’s taken a long time but I’ve finally, today, recorded my 30th different bird species in the garden. The lucky bird number 30 was a Redstart and I was also very fortunate to record it drinking from the water dish.

I didn’t actually see the bird live, so I’ve only got the video as proof, but I’m pretty sure that it’s a Redstart.

This is a migratory bird, about the size of a Robin, that spends Summers in Northern Europe and winters in Africa. They are not uncommon in general, although they visit gardens pretty rarely.

I’m very glad that this one visited mine.

The Fox meets a Cat

The fox has become a regular garden visitor, maybe because I’ve been bribing it by leaving out eggs.

It’s fantastic, but I did have a slight worry, what would happen if it met up with one of my cats? I thought that this would probably by a problem for the cats, I didn’t want them to get scared or injured.

Well recently it happened, the fox met one of the cats during the night, and it turns out there was no need for my concerns.

It seems from this that the Fox was much more scared of the cat that the other way around. Despite it being much bigger and I imagine stronger.

Maybe the visiting fox is just a juvenile and therefore quite easily scared, or maybe it’s just the difference between domesticated and truly wild animals, which I guess are naturally much more cautious.

However I was quite surprised by the encounter and now I hope that it’s not the cats that scare the fox away.