Tuesday, 31 January 2012

New Hedgehog Hibernation Survey starts 1st FEB 2012

F.A.O. Everyone who joined the RSPB last weekend with their Big Garden Birdwatch: I hope you enjoyed your bird count and now I’d like to invite you to wander along to Hedgehog Street. There’s a survey there that you might be interested in too - I hope so :-)

The People's Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) has been regularly catching my attention since I joined Twitter. Hedgehogs have been catching my attention since I began garden blogging.

It’s no surprise then that a campaign to safeguard the future of Britain’s endangered hedgehog through a new survey that is a joint campaign by the PTES and The British Hedgehog Preservation Society also caught my eye.

If you are a blogger and my Hedgehog picture below with info on the survey catches your eye then I’d like to invite you use it in a blog post. If you are unable to copy it just email me and I’ll send it to you :-)

In support of the Hedgehog Survey I am reaching out to everyone who puts up bird feeders in their gardens – hence the RSPB Birdwatch connection. If you have hanging bird feeders you most likely have some spill of food on the ground below.

Come night time, foraging Hedgehogs could be discovering this extra food bounty! You might even be able to catch a glimpse of one if you are lucky. Pre blog & bird feeders I had never seen or imagined Hedgehogs could visit my garden. I am thrilled that I have been able to see and record their visits.

With an IR camera in a Hedgehog House that my daughter made we have watched Hedgehogs take advantage of a warm dry place to rest during their night of foraging. This hedgehog is waking from a nap of just under an hour one evening back in September 2009.

This new survey is asking members of the public to record their sightings of hedgehogs as they start to emerge in spring after hibernation - as they awake from a much longer nap than the hedgehog above.

The survey is easy to do and starts tomorrow 1st February 2012 (running through till August) and can be completed online. As with the RSPB Birdwatch, survey stats we can supply the PTES and BHPS could make a huge difference to conservation of this rather special endangered animal.

The PTES kindly sent me a Press Release and have given me permission to quote from it so I can share it with you. It makes for some interesting reading. Perhaps you’ve heard enough and would like to take part? Ok… just email to tell them you are interested and they’ll take it from there.

Wait a minute before you go… you don’t have IR cams watching your garden or in hedgehog houses so how would you know hedgehogs have passed through your garden? Lol... keep an eye out for Hedgehog droppings…

So what do you think...

“Forty years on – is climate change affecting our native hedgehogs?”

“The People's Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) are appealing to people to take part in a new wildlife survey to help determine whether climate change is having an impact on when hedgehogs emerge from hibernation and how this might be affecting their survival.

“Last year, PTES and BHPS published The State of Britain’s Hedgehogs, an independent study which confirmed evidence from eight existing UK wildlife surveys that hedgehog populations have plummeted by at least a quarter over the last decade. The decline of the species is attributed to a number of environmental factors, but with more extreme weather fluctuations recorded in recent seasons, might climate change be another contributing issue?

“Research in the 1970s by Britain’s foremost expert on hedgehogs, Dr Pat Morris (formerly of Royal Holloway, University of London), revealed a direct link between hibernation and climate: hedgehogs came out of hibernation up to three weeks earlier in the South West of England compared to Scotland. Furthermore, in East Anglia, hedgehogs similarly spent longer in hibernation than in the London area or South West. This marked difference in hedgehog hibernation patterns across the UK shows a general trend of prolonged inactivity in proportion to the coldness and length of the winter.

“Dr Morris explains: “Age, sex and weather all appear to influence the timing of hedgehog hibernation. For example, young animals may remain fully active into December, no doubt seeking to develop sufficient fat reserves to ensure survival during subsequent hibernation. Also, adult females that have had late litters or may still be lactating will need to feed intensively before hibernating, causing them to be active for longer than adult males. However, mild weather can also delay hedgehogs entering into hibernation or elicit premature awakening,impacting on the creature’s fat reserves and breeding times and consequently affecting the long-term survival of the species.”

“Several organisations are independently monitoring native British wildlife populations, while others are studying changes in the timing of natural events, known as phenology, particularly with regard to plants and birds; however no single study is focusing on changes in seasonal mammal behaviour, let alone a specific species like threatened hedgehogs.

“PTES and BHPS hope that with the vast people power of citizen science, they can identify any changes in the timing of waking hedgehogs since the initial research 40 years ago. The information gathered will be used to help scientists understand the hedgehog’s life cycle better, including hibernation behaviour which is an energy saving strategy when food is scarce.

“The hibernation survey is part of the charities' joint campaign to safeguard the future of Britain’s endangered hedgehog. In the early part of the last century, hedgehogs were abundant throughout Britain, with an estimated population as high as perhaps 30 million in the 1950s. By 1995 it was estimated to be about 1.5 million (1.1 million in England, 0.31 million in Scotland and 0.145 million in Wales).

“To help these prickly but endearing creatures, the charities launched Hedgehog Street last summer, a hands-on project to encourage hedgehog conservation action at a local community or neighbourhood level.
Nearly 18,000 volunteer "Hedgehog Champions" up and down the country have registered to help to date and the campaign is ongoing, but we still need your help to make a difference. Furthermore, a programme of practical research projects, funded by PTES and BHPS over the next three years, also aims to further scientific understanding about the causes for the decline in hedgehog numbers and most importantly what can be done to reverse this threat to this iconic species.”

And finally… keep an eye out for hedgehog footprints in the snow. The ones above were seen in my garden back on 31st March 2010. Through my IR cams I roughly knew the routes they took at night but it was wonderful to see their wandering footprints during daylight as evidence. This morning I have emailed the PTES to support this survey. I do hope we see hedgehogs visit my garden in 2012 :-)

This post was written by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in January 2012. If you missed my last post with my RSPB Birdcount (including video of winners here) you can see it here.

Monday, 30 January 2012

The Siskins have it for 2012

… in my Perthshire garden that is. The time slot was on the early side yesterday at 8:15am-9:15am. Blackbirds, Blue tits, a Robin and a Dunnock appeared as expected. However, I did think it was a bit early for the Finches but for once the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch pulled out a surprise!

Quite unexpected during this early hour, Siskins, Goldfinches & Chaffinches jostled for position at four feeders with sunflower hearts. It was a tad tricky counting with the light still low. If a wren managed a visit round my small pond then I missed it completely – we’ve had a regular visitor there.

I’m delighted that our regular male Sparrowhawk was having a Sunday lie in during my count although I’m a little disappointed that the Male Brambling we’ve seen recently didn’t join our early mixed finch group. That would have been the icing on my birdcount.

This morning the Siskins were back at the feeders and as I wasn’t counting I got my video camera out to share a flavour of the activity at my feeders during my birdcount yesterday morning….

For those who can’t view my videos the stats for my 2012 count read as: 10x Siskins, 6x Chaffinches, 5x Goldfinches, 4x Blackbirds, 3x Blue tits, 2x Robins, 1x Great tit & 1x Dunnock. That was a species count of 8 which I think was pretty good for an early January morning.

The usual suspects that were missing from my count were the Coal tit, House Sparrow, Wren, Woodpigeon and recent invasions of Starlings. So that’s it for another year. Now, I need to submit my results.

March (mid-end) is usually the month the RSPB announce their results. I guess 600,000 birdcount submissions take a bit of time to collate and sort! I wonder if Siskins will make it into the Top Ten UK Birds for 2012 – could my garden feeders actually be trending for 2012. A fun thought :-)

This post was written by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in January 2012.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Dunnock – usual suspect #1

If a little brown bird is jerkily running along the ground, stopping at cracks in paving and disappearing down the earthy edges around your lawn before scuttling off under plants and out of sight then you could be looking at a Dunnock. This bird is one of my garden favs.

Watching the Dunnock you could easily see why for many years it was known as the hedge sparrow. However, the Dunnock is not related to the sparrow at all. The species name for the Dunnock is Prunella modularis. It comes from the family Prunellidae and the order Passiformes.

Wait a minute … don’t be put off thinking this is going to be a full-on bird profile. Considering how many websites have information on this 'not so dull’ little brown bird I have decided to add links at the end of this post to explain via videos and other reading.

Considering this post as a help to ID the Dunnock for people here in the UK (new to birds) and those taking part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch (this weekend) for the first time I thought some visual clues would be best. I know this would have helped me. Hopefully this format will work for visitors outside the UK too.

So… does a Dunnock visit your garden?. Here are some visual clues…

Looking at the colour of legs any bird has is a great clue to what it is and the shape of the beak tells you what kind of food it usually eats. In the case of the Dunnock, it needs a thin sharp beak to search for insects in hidden places.

Lol... the live mini mealworms (in what was thought to be a hidden spot) for a single Mum Blue tit using our nestbox a few years ago didn't last long when the Dunnock parents found them!

However, when it comes to winter months when every morsel of food foraged for goes to getting enough energy to survive a very cold night you will find birds eating a bigger variety of foods. You may also see the Dunnock take seeds from bird tables. In my garden they will visit bird tables throughout the year.

Videos are a great way to help ID a visiting garden bird. I have found them very helpful myself when I see a new visitor to my garden.

The Dunnock doesn’t often perch out in open for long except on high tree branches when singing. Although a very short video capture I was thrilled with the first video below.

Very short, close-up capture of Dunnock taken in garden, October 2011

Equally special was the video capture of a Dunnock juvenile being fed by a possible parent (see further reading) back in 2010. I had never seen this before.

The capture below was taken with a previous video camera so the quality is not as sharp but it is still okay quality and a nice one to see. It also shows the birds feeding along edges and jerkily hopping for cover.

Dunnock parent and juvenile being fed taken in garden, August 2010

In my garden, Dunnock juveniles are the first juveniles to be seen in my garden each year. With the video above being taken in August I could take a reasonably accurate guess that they have 3 broods a year here.

However things don't always go to plan for this little bird which measures just 14cm (5½in)in length. The Dunnock is also one of the host species for the Cuckoo (32-33cm/12-13in in length).

Back in December 2011 I posted a brilliant photo of a Dunnock parent standing on the back of the fledged Cuckoo. There is also a video showing how the newly hatched Cuckoo chick removes the host bird's eggs and chicks (this time the host is a Reed Warbler). Although fascinating the video is hard to watch too.

In summary when it comes to the breeding season this is not a dull little bird species at all. Females (after mated) often court other males to ensure an adequate supply of food for their chicks. More details can be found in the video links below together with lots more info and images - enjoy!

Video from BBC NATURE WILDLIFE Life of Birds: Dunnock females give up on monogamy to enlist more male support. View Devoted Dunnocks?

Video from BBC NATURE WILDLIFE Birds Britannia: Drab and sobre-looking, the dunnock indulges in just about every sexual strategy there is. View Scandalous birds.

RSPB Dunnock Profile including song and video.

BTO BirdFacts for Dunnock includes lots of stats, images, video and sound.

This post was written by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in January 2012.

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Sunday, 15 January 2012

Blooms & Bramblings...

But first…. drum roll please…
and a cake for Carol at May Dreams Gardens to celebrate 5 years of hosting Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day! Thank-you Carol :-)

I don’t imagine for one minute she expected this would still be running with the same enthusiasm from bloggers all around the world. Many from the early days are still sharing their blooms on the 15th of the month – congrats to them too. For newbies just pop over to Carol’s post for this month to read all about it – you might want to join in :-)

Hellebores are my contribution to GBBD tonight (Yay… my roof tiles didn’t fall on them!) Although the two flowers that have opened were weighted down with heavy frost when I went out in the dark tonight to take my photos.

The montage below shows the next hellebore buds ready to burst open. My ceramic bumblebee skelp with leafy bergenia nearby also caught my eye sparkling with frost. I'd love if a queen bee decided to nest in it during 2012.

The main pic in this montage is of a Pieris in a planter near my back door. It was moved there about 6 weeks ago and it has been holding on to the blossom plumes since then. More exposed to the elements, time will tell if it will be happy there. I hope so as I’ve planted over 300 crocus bulbs in this area.

Today’s frost is the coldest we have had in a long time and usually that brings in many birds to the feeders. Mm… they weren’t that busy today.

December 2010 with its prolonged snow and cold spell brought large numbers of birds to the garden feeders. It also saw the first appearance of the Brambling which was wonderful to see. The Bramblings (both males and females) had followed large groups of mixed finches. I hoped we might see it again but without snow I wasn’t looking for it just now.

Friday the 13th wasn’t unlucky in my garden then… to my great surprise a male Brambling visited again! This time on a sunny day. I’ve only noticed the one and no females yet but since then it has become a regular which has delighted me greatly.

Also delighting me have been the Robins visiting just now and a Wren which is becoming a regular at my small rockpool pond. The Wren is becoming quite comfortable with me going out and in my back door too which is brilliant.

Capturing photos and video in this area at this time of year is tricky with low light levels (bit grainy). However, back on Friday the 13th the male Brambling stayed quite a while over lunchtime allowing me time to get my video camera out…

Male Chaffinches were on the feeder behind the Brambling giving a good comparison between it and the Brambling. Other finches that are visiting my garden just now include Goldfinches, Siskins and Greenfinches.

We are also seeing plenty sightings of House sparrows, Blackbirds, Blue tits, Great tits, Coal tits, Dunnocks, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Starlings and Sparrowhawks. The feeders are fun to watch just now.

Now, although the Sparrowhawk visits suggest a healthy bird population I do hope it keeps away during my hour count for the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch at the end of the month. As well as my request for it not to attend this event I’d like to invite the Wren and Brambling to join my other usual suspects to be included in my count. Yes, I know, wishful thinking :-)

Mmm… the bird population of my garden (and many others too I’ve heard) seem to be wise to this count and make themselves very scarce… I wonder why that is. I’m thinking more feeders get filled and hung up at this time so the birds are either spoilt for choice or suspicious of the increase in food supplies and stay away. What do others think?

Finally, a very happy GBBD to Carol and all the bloggers joining her with posts sharing what’s blooming in the garden on the 15th of the month - albeit belated wishes here in the UK as I post past midnight. Yawn… time to select publish post I think :-)

This post was written by Shirley at shirls gardenwatch in January 2012.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Hellebores... don't look up!

Phew… luckily for the flowers of the hellebores in the photos below they don’t usually. They’d be a tad scared if they did though as above them there are some perilously perched roof tiles! Perhaps they will sense this and stay in bud for a little longer. It’s cold, wet and still windy out there today anyway.

Yes, our house is in the stats of those in Scotland/UK with roof damage after yesterday’s winds. However, our roof isn’t as bad as our neighbour further down the street so for that we are quite thankful. Although, we also have damage at a corner and if it doesn’t get repaired before more winds pick up we could be looking at some similar damage. As you might expect our local roof repairers are busy and looking at the worst cases first.

Many trees and fences have had and caused damage too. In last week’s wild winds, our fairly sheltered boundary fence got damaged with two posts breaking at ground level. We quickly got new posts, got the panels down and the old posts finally prized from the panels only to find massive concrete blocks below ground.

Hard as we tried we couldn't break up the concrete blocks. As our neighbour has dogs we had to return the fence panels (post-less) with emergency fixings to our shed and a wall trellis. Thankfully it survived the winds of yesterday.

Plan B is to add more new concrete to bring the concrete level up. We will work with what we have and drill down through it to secure metal braces for our posts. The new cement will need time to harden first so our emergency fixing will be there a bit longer.

Yesterday, we had a bit of an early wakening with the wind as its force through our letterbox managed to open our internal door setting off our burglar alarm just before 6:30am. The weather forecasts hadn’t given any indication that we were about to get such speeds and force of wind. We are all wondering why.

Anyway, it could have been so much worse so I’m not really complaining. Here in my garden I’ve an Arch leaning over but it wasn’t strong before and we were planning to replace it. I have had an imaginative idea for this so perhaps it’s time to give this a try :-)

Apart from leaves and rubbish in my little pond my recently moved pine tree is leaning again. The ground is pretty wet so I’ll need to find an imaginative way to support it. Actually, I could maybe risk some twine across to the tree beside it which has been there longer. That might work. Brr… but it’s cold out there... its getting windy again too :-(

Sending my thoughts and best wishes to everyone with damage to their properties and gardens just now. However, my thoughts also go to the men (possibly women too) that will be climbing ladders and working on our roofs just now. Stay safe everyone :-)

This post was written by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in January 2012.