Hedgehog Nest Update – 2nd May

The same hedgehog is still in the house, he’s now been there a month, and after several very clear pictures and videos, I have evidence, I’m 100% sure that it is definitely a ‘he’.

I’m now becoming quite familiar with his movements and activities, which are quite surprisingly regular.

A daily activity, perhaps the highest priority for the hedgehog, is nest maintenance.

Every day fresh mouthfuls of leaves are taken in to refresh the bedding, although as I’ve previously noted, nothing ever seems to come out. Somedays this is just a few mouthfuls but occasionally a good 10-15 minutes is spent on the job.

Then there is scratching, which the hedgehog does several times a day. He often spends quite a bit of time just outside the entrance of the house having a good scratch.

I assume this is essential for pest control. Hedgehogs are susceptible to ticks and fleas which can become quite a problem if left unchecked.

In general the hedgehog spends quite a bit of time just outside the entrance. Another typical behaviour is to sniff the air, and here is a pretty intense session, which ends, as most other activities do, with a bit of scratching.

And sometimes the hedgehog just comes out for some air, and maybe a think.

I really don’t know how long the hedgehog will stay. Is he now set for the summer or is he likely to move off at some point? I have seen that he tends to be outside scratching more often and I guess a typical problem might be that as the weather hots up the number of pests and insects might increase. If this happens it might provoke my resident to move on. I shall see but hopefully not.

Last word of the week is not Hedgehog related but goes to the swifts who have indeed returned with my first group being spotted high up above the house on the 28th April.

So summer is now semi-officially starting.

Look up for Swifts

One of my biggest enjoyments from nature is that there is always something to look forward to, the next season, the next event or just our next favourite moment of the year. Right now I’m pretty excited because one of my own personal favourite moments is about to happen any day now, the return of the swifts.

There are lots of reasons to love this bird and the story of its annual migration is certainly one of them. They are only with us in Northern Europe for around 3 months of the year, the rest of their time is spent in tropical Africa, so twice a year they make the journey, roughly 22,000 Km in total.

Looking on-line I found a map showing the real migration route of a radio tagged bird.

This is just one example from a specific bird, they don’t all follow this route but it is a good illustration. Generally the swifts arrive with us late April or early Map. In the mapped example the arrival date was 8th May and the departure date from Central Africa was 9th-14th April. So the journey of 11,000 Km was achieved in a little under a month.

And just like kids with their on-line Father Christmas tracker, it exists I promise, there are lots of sources to follow the progress of the swifts, building anticipation of their eventual arrival. This week I read a few reports of swifts sighted already in the UK but also of large flocks migrating across Northern Spain. So far this year I haven’t yet seen any in the skies of Chatou but I think it will only be a few days now.

For those particularly interested there is a really good website/app run by the RSPB called Swiftmapper. It is UK oriented, I couldn’t find a French equivalent, but it is a great resource where people can log the swift activity they see. Swift Mapper

The journey is an enormous effort for this very small bird and it migrates for the sole purpose of breeding in a food rich environment. These birds feed on flying insects, a swift is nearly always in the air, and at this time of the year, insects are emerging and taking flight across Europe, offering an ideal environment.

We see them a lot in Chatou which is very close to the river Seine, a great spot for flying insects. The swifts whirl and circle away overhead, sometimes quite high but often at roof-top level, feeding in large groups. Do keep looking up and listening, if you see a group of black, arrow like birds circling overhead and screeching, you are probably looking at and hearing swifts.

The other reason why we see them in Chatou, often at roof-top level, is because they frequently nest in the eaves of houses or buildings. So built-up areas near sources of flying insects are really good habitats for swifts.

But unfortunately my friends there is a problem. Modern buildings are too efficient and ‘neat’, they don’t leave any suitable spaces under the eaves for the swifts to nest. As more and more older buildings are removed this is creating a problem and the number one factor in the current decline of swift populations, and sadly they are declining, is an absence of suitable nesting sites.

Therefore as part of my nature project is was an absolute essential for me to install a swift nest box. It wasn’t used last year but I braved a very wobbly ladder and moved it a little higher as I think it offers a slightly improved position.

These are quite specialised boxes with specific entrance holes. They must be installed high up, at least 4-5m from the ground and offer a clear line of sight, or flight, into the entrance.

The other change I’ve made to my box over the Winter is to paint the inside black.

Apparently, swifts favour a dark nesting cavity and I’m hoping that this, together with the slight repositioning gives an improved chance of it being used this year.

I realise that it’s a complicated ask but if you have the time and resources I would recommend installing a swift box. Anything we can do to help these rather fantastic birds and to ensure that they keep visiting us every year is worth it.  

Hedgehog Nest Update – 19th April

Another great week. The hedgehog is still nesting in the hedgehog house, it’s still the same one, and I’m still able to watch the comings and goings from the trail camera.

The hedgehog, which has been in-situ since the start of April is now staying basically everyday. Unfortunately I can’t see into the nest but from external camera I’m able to record much of the activity.

I’ve seen that the nest requires very regular maintenance. On a daily basis fresh bedding material is being gathered and brought into the nest. A typical example is shown below.

Interestingly I never see anything come out, I guess the leaves are just getting more and more compacted inside.

There are still many other hedgehogs visiting the garden and this could present a problem for the house as a place to raise a litter. Hedgehogs really don’t like to be disturbed, they may abandon their young or even kill them if they are. But in my small and rather busy garden such a level of privacy is going to be difficult to achieve.

I captured this video from earlier in the week of an intruder inspecting the house.

During this ‘intrusion’ the resident hedgehog was present and I imagine that such a disturbance might be enough to spook a hedgehog with baby hoglets.

I’m still keeping the nest record of all the movements and the hedgehog is progressively leaving later in the evening and returning earlier in the morning, spending more time actually inside the nest. This may be perfectly normal, obviously daylight hours are increasing and I do leave out a really easily available food source in the garden, feeding is simple for this Hedgehog. But still I find this an interesting aspect and I’ll be keeping an eye on it.

The skin markings on the hedgehogs continue to vary but this week I read of a possible explanation. Apparently organic matter, for example cut grass, will appear as dark markings on a hedgehog skin when viewed on an infra-red, night-time, camera, whilst dry mud will appear as pale marks. This seems to me a very plausible and probable explanation of the often very sudden variations I’ve seen.

Hoping for another good hedgehog week ahead. I’ll keep the blog updated with any news and don’t forget to check out the live webcam, no guarantees but peak Hedgehog feed time is now around 21:30 French time.

Hedgehog Nest Update – 11th April

There is still a hedgehog in the house and I think, but I’m not 100% sure, that it is still the same one. And again I’m not sure but I do tend to think that it is a female.

I’ve been keeping a log of all the comings and goings in the hedgehog house, which is a little laborious but it’s all part of the record keeping mantra.

What the records show is that after a few days break at the start of the week the hedgehog has been spending every day in the house since Wednesday 7th. Assuming that it’s the same hedgehog, more on that below, it has been occupying the house since the 2nd April. The first tenant, which was a male, only stayed for 5 days between the first and last visit. This tenant is much more loyal to the house.

I’ve also seen the current occupant on the other garden cameras during the night, and on some nights it is barely leaving the garden. It has not been roaming far. On several nights, which have been admittedly very cold and sometimes wet, it has come back to the house frequently for a quick rest, spending quite a bit of time hunched down in the entrance chamber rather than the main part of the nest.

As mentioned before I believe it is the same hedgehog but I do have a doubt. This is because during the week its appearance has changed, with several black spots suddenly appearing on the skin. This happened very quickly, in the video below they are not present when the hedgehog left the house in the evening but they are when it came back in the early hours of the following morning.

It’s quite a dramatic change but as the facial markings are identical, the moustache, I think it’s the same hedgehog.

I’ve seen in the past that the skin markings on a hedgehog will vary quite often. This is why the recommended identification method is by facial rather than skin markings, the facial areas tend to be constant.

What I conclude is that a hedgehog which stays loyal to its nest and doesn’t roam far is more than likely a female.  Hence I’m staying with the guess that it’s the same hedgehog that moved into the house on the 2nd April and that it’s a young(ish) female.

Away from the nest I’m still often seeing two hedgehogs together in the garden but no longer three or four, but there is still lots of activity every night.

The graph shows the number of sightings during the night, which I don’t manage to record every night but enough to get some useful results. The Blue line is last year starting from around September and the red line is the start of this year. It’s clear that there has been much more activity in the first months of this year compared to the end of last year.

I don’t want to jump to any premature conclusions based on this information, it may be normal that the start of the year is busier than the end of the year. I need to have the data for the same periods across different years, more laborious record keeping is required, but I will hopefully have a better idea towards the end of the year.

But right now I’ll keep watching and filming the nest in the hedgehog house, I’d just be happy for now to see it stay in use.

The first Beech Marten sighting of 2021

It was horrible and wet but last night I have had my first ‘recorded’ Beech Marten sighting of 2021. I caught a brief glimpse of a Marten actually in the neighbours garden, so technically not in my garden but I’m counting it anyway.

Because it was in the neighbours garden and the weather was so bad there is not too much that can be seen on the video, but it’s definitely there.

It’s notable that the recording is just at the start of the night. At 20:50 it is only just dark, so I assume that the Marten must have stayed overnight relatively close by. As most of my footage is from either the beginning or end of the night it may indicate that there is a den in the vicinity which is occasionally used by a Marten. It is also worth noting that my first sighting of 2020 was at nearly the same time of year, last year it was the 25th April.

I will start putting out some food for the Marten to see if I can attract a few more visits. I tend to go with Jam sandwiches, peanut butter is also good, but none of it is any good if left out in the rain. So I’ll wait for a dry day before starting.

I’ve also had a very active hedgehog week, a post on the updated activity will follow later today. Once my Beech Marten excitement has subsided.

Hedgehog Nest Update – 4th April

A new hedgehog has moved into the house, and here he/she is.

I can’t be 100% sure, I’m afraid I didn’t have quite so much time this week to monitor the nest activity in complete detail, but I think that the last time the big adult male stayed in the house was last Saturday, 27th March.

In total it had stayed for around a week before moving on, remember they roam over quite a big area.

My main concern was that because the nest had already been used other hedgehogs would be put off. I saw lots and lots of hedgehogs poking their nose it but then running off.

Then yesterday morning the new hedgehog moved it. It stayed all day yesterday, and then came back again this morning after spending the night out and about.

When it came back this morning it spent some time bringing in lots of fresh leaf bedding material before again bedding down for the day. This time I had a camera on the entrance of the nest to capture the nest building activity. The whole process took 20 minutes, a bit too long to sit through, but a short 1 minute sequence is shown below.

You can see that the hedgehog gathered lots of leaf material in it’s mouth from the surroundings. These are leaves which I gather up and dump in the garden during the autumn. I do it because it’s good for the garden and a great resource for the hedgehogs, don’t tidy up those leaves, nature loves a mess.

This new hedgehog is a little smaller than the last one, maybe 1 year old, but it does handily have a very distinctive mark, a kind of moustache, on it’s nose, so fairly easy to identify. I’m not sure but I think it might be a female this time, which would be a nice change.

Will it stay and if so for how long? The last occupant stayed on alternate days for around a week before moving on. It will be interesting to compare with this hedgehog, especially if it is a female.

I’m still trying to keep the live cameras active and as ever they can be found here. With the change of the clocks the peak time in the hedgehog feed station is now around 21:00 French time, and I guess it will get gradually later as the we head towards June.

Name that Larva

A quiz themed round of the Blog today.

Spring is upon us, we’re having some fantastic weather here in France and I’ve been out in the garden preparing. One of my jobs has been to clear out the dead geraniums from the window boxes, killed off by the cold weather over the winter.

On clearing out the boxes I found several of these buried in the soil. Name that Larva! A picture is provided below including the obligatory 1Euro coin for scale.

Apart from correctly guessing it was a larva I was stuck. I thought beetle but no idea which.

So I took the option of phoning a friend, and for nature questions the friend is always Mr Baugh, a very knowledgeable man indeed.

And the answer, is that it is, very probably, the larva of the insect below.

The Rose Chafer. A very distinctive metallic green beetle. They are common and widespread in Europe and you may well have seen or heard one in your garden as they are quite noisy flying insects.

They feed on pollen and nectar so they love garden environments and as the name suggests they are particularly fond of eating roses. So during the Summer months, when they are out and about, it is a good place to start looking for them.

They lay their eggs in the soil, and apparently it is fairly common that they use window boxes for this. Once they emerge from the eggs the larvae can be active for several years before finally pupating into beetles. It seems amazing to me that a larva can last that long with all the predators that would surely like to eat it. So as not to give them any more problems than they already have I put the larvae back in the soil and wished them all luck.

So be careful if you are emptying out old garden tubs or planting boxes and if you do find any Rose Chafer Larvae be sure to put them back carefully.

It’s all nature and we need it all.

Hedgehog Nest Update – 27th March

Since the nest building was completed on Monday the hedgehog has been staying but not permanently. I’m trying to track the movements from the trail camera.

The Hedgehog has stayed in the house every other daytime following the nest completion. It has stayed on the 22nd, 24th and 26th. It must mean that this hedgehog has at least one other nest site that it is using on alternate days.

My absolute favourite footage from the last days is below.

This was the hedgehog leaving at around 19:00 in the evening so it was still daylight and therefore the video came out in colour. Obviously nearly all my footage of the hedgehogs is taken at night, using infra-red, so only in black and white. It’s really nice to get a colour video.

During the week I’ve seen lots of other hedgehogs in the house entrance. They often enter, some further than others, they sniff around and then they leave. There are lots of these events and generally they happen when the resident hedgehog is not in. But I did see an example of what happens when the occupant is present.

A pretty aggressive defence of the nest.

Typically the males are more aggressive that females and I have seen other clues to make me think that the individual using the house is a male.

I caught this video of the hedgehog house resident arriving at the water dish with two other hedgehogs present. It’s first thought was to give one of the others a bit of a biff.

The other noticeable point is that the resident hedgehog is quite big compared to the others. Therefore it’s probably a mature adult, maybe 2 years old.

Obviously the final tell tale sign for the sex of a hedgehog is to have a look for a penis, which is found half-way up the abdomen. I’m pretty sure that the video below is of ‘my’ hedgehog and a penis seems to be visible.

So I think that it’s a mature adult male that has built a nest in the hedgehog house. It’s a shame that it’s not a female as I think they tend to use the nest sites for longer, their territories are much smaller, and also there might be a possibility of the house being used as a site to raise a litter.

However I may have got the ‘sexing’ of ‘my’ hedgehog wrong, I am not a hedgehog sexing expert by any means, so I’ll keep watching, hoping for more action and clues.

Hedgehog Nest

I’ve been waiting patiently, and indeed I’m still waiting and hoping, for the Great Tits to start nesting and in the meantime a Hedgehog has built a nest in the Hedgehog House. To my great joy and general over-excitement, I have a Hedgehog nest.

A Hedgehog first moved in on the evening of the 18th March, it brought in lots of bedding material and completely buried itself.

I assumed the Hedgehog left the house the next evening, maybe it had, I’m still not sure, but in the early hours of the 22nd March there was a burst of activity. In the process of 13 minutes the Hedgehog completed the nest. It brought in more leaf bedding material, until the house box was completely full. Unfortunately I was only recording on one of the small side panels of the video feed but I do have the full nest building, 13 minutes of extreme hedgehog activity, recorded for posterity.

Taking a few photos during the process we can see the before, during and after. The shot taken during the activity gives a good view into the circular bedding chamber.

Since the 22nd the hedgehog has been occupying the house. Unfortunately the camera inside is now completely blocked and nothing can be seen. I have set up a trail camera at the entrance of the house and from this I’ve got some nice views of the occupant. A great one below of the Hedgehog coming up for some air and a general good sniff around.

The occupant has taken great care to build a very comprehensive nest which is completely different to those I saw last year. Then, whenever I had a hedgehog stay over, they just took a nap on a few leaves, a ‘Day Nest’. Use and move on.

Handily the current occupant has a couple of easy identifying features. Firstly on it’s rump there is a kind of inverted pale ‘V’ marking.

I also got a shot of it in the feed station and it has a white spot behind the left ear. I think, though I’m not sure, that this is a tick, so I don’t know if the marking will stay.

I’ve seen other hedgehogs enter the house, no pale inverted ‘V’ marking, and they don’t enter far before running off.

So what happens next? Firstly I need to hope that the hedgehog keeps using the house. They are quite fickle creatures and if disturbed it may give up on the nest and move on. I need to tread very carefully.

If it does keep using the nest over a period of weeks this will be a sign that it is a female and that it is being considered as a place to raise a litter. But assuming that the hedgehog is just recently pregnant it will not give birth for another 4-6 weeks, a long way to go.

There are a lot of ifs, buts and assumptions in all this. I actually don’t know if it really is a female and if it really is pregnant, it is quite early in the year for all this. Maybe it is normal to build such a comprehensive nest, it will be used for a week or so and the hedgehog will just move on. Maybe it is pregnant but for whatever reason it will move on anyway. At this stage I have more questions than answers, and in my state of excitement I may be making too many assumptions.

I will however try and get another video camera into the entrance of the nest so that I can add it to the live stream and watch some of the inside action, but this is a very tricky operation which will need some care.

Don’t forget to see the various hedgehogs every night in the feed station check out the webcam around 8pm in the evening French time.

And I will, or course, provide some further updates, especially if developments occur.

Bird Number 28 – ChiffChaff

A nice, happy thing happened today, I had a new bird visitor to the garden. Bird visitor number 28, a new addition to the list. A chiffChaff.

It’s admittedly not a very glamorous looking bird, nor is it very rare. There are lots of them around, particularly in park hedgerows in the Summer months, but it is certainly the first one I have spotted in my garden.

Today it was a single bird bouncing around the bushes, present for only 10 minutes of so but I got a nice look.

It is another one of those small boring birds with an interesting story. They are only around the size of a blue tit size but they migrate a long way. They generally come North for the Summer and migrate south and west for the Winter, down to the Mediterranean, which is a long trip for a small bird. A few do spend the Winter here, probably more now due to our warming weather, but you’ll still mainly see them in the Summer.

They are quite hard to spot but relatively easy to hear and they are named after their song, a two syllabule call, Chiff – Chaff. It’s that obvious.

So listen out for them, especially now, as they are already on their way back for the summer.