Monday, 19 April 2010

My first hedgehog encounter

I was ecstatic on Thursday night when Joel picked me up at the station and produced two pictures of a little hedgehog in our garden.

I've never had a hedgehog in the garden or had the opportunity to feed one. I was really excited and hoped that he would still be there when we got home. We headed straight out into the garden and sure enough there he was curled up at the edge of the lawn, in amongst some weeds. I insisted we head out to the shop to buy some dog food to feed him. So, rather than eat our own dinner we wandered down to the shop - closed. We wandered further to the next shop [another 10 minutes walk away] and I deliberated over the different flavours of Cesar! We finally settled on Rabbit & Turkey and Turkey & Chicken - yum. We got home and whilst Joel prepared the human meal, I prepared the hedgehog meal. A saucer of dog food accompanied by a saucer of water. I sat it on the paving stone next to the little critter.

Over the next couple of days we noticed that he seemed to have been eating some of the food, but that he was still sleeping and hadn't really moved. We checked on him a few times and he still seemed to be alive but not very reactive to our prods.

On Saturday morning I decided that he was no longer responding to the occasional prod, but since I don't really know much about hedgehogs I thought I would leave it a day - stuck out some more food and changed the water. Sadly the next morning it was apparent that something else had been eating the food and that the little hedgehog had died.

Donning my gloves I carefully lifted the wee guy and discovered that he had a badly injured back leg, which had possibly led to his demise. I took him across the street to an area of scrub and laid him to rest deep within - to return to nature.

My first encounter with a garden hedgehog was pretty shortlived but I look forward to welcoming another hedgehog to the garden... after all, I still have a tin of Cesar in the cupboard...!

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

EuCAN Weekend, The Kingcombe Centre, Dorset – 9 – 11th April 2010

Nigel and Kathy from EuCAN [European Conservation Action Network] invited me back to Dorset to take part in the April preparation weekend for their 2010 trips. It was a wonderful experience to go back to where a lot of my new-found passions started.

The Kingcombe Centre is an outdoor recreational facility set in beautiful Dorset countryside – much of the surrounding land managed by the DWT [Dorset Wildlife Trust]. It is the sort of place I would have adored going to on a school expedition – but a slightly classier establishment!! It’s a place of wellies, waterproofs, bright sunshine, binoculars, education and fun. Not least a place of culinary delights – venison and rabbit on the menu and a selection of cakes that make you want to stuff yourself silly and to hang with the consequences.

On Saturday we spent the morning taking a walk around the immediate area with Neil Croton from DWT during which he told us about the management of the area and showed us the recent hedge laying that he had been doing. We saw a peacock butterfly [Inachis io] whilst we were walking and heard a variety of birds, which included one of the first willow warblers [Phylloscopus trochilus] of the season. The scenery was beautiful and the geology was greensand and chalk. There was quite a bit of mud which was satisfyingly squelchy. I learnt something new about gorse [Ulex europaeus]…. that it smells of coconut! Having grown up surrounded by gorse in my local parks I am astonished that I did not know this, or even notice this a long time ago. It really was a beautiful scent that reminded a lot of us of summer.

We headed back to the centre and since it was such a beautiful day we had tea and cake outside in the sunshine. Kingcombe is renowned for its fabulous food, particularly the baking.

We spent some time with Neil whilst he did some bird ringing. The birds caught in the mist nets were predominantly Great Tits [Parus major] and Blue Tits [Cyanistes caeruleus], but he did ring some Chaffinches [Fringilla coelebs], Goldfinches [Carduelis carduelis] and a Nuthatch [Sitta europaea]. It was very interesting to watch and although it is something I would like to get involved in ringing it can be quite difficult to find a trainer as it is a two-year commitment. We had lunch at the centre and then in the afternoon we split into two groups. Our group headed on to Lankham Bottom to conduct a butterfly transect. It took us about an hour and a half [although we did get slightly distracted looking for signs of Marsh Fritillaries [Euphydryas aurinia]]. We were lucky enough to spot a few Small Tortoiseshells [Aglais urticae] and a few Peacocks as well. In addition to that we were lucky enough to find some caterpillars of the Marsh Fritillary.

Saturday evening was spent eating a delicious dinner and enjoying a presentation from Hungarian, Gabor Sramko about the habitats of the Carpathian Basin, followed by a demonstration of, and participation in, some Hungarian folk dancing. It was very entertaining.

Following a good night’s sleep it was up to start a day of physical work at one of the Butterfly Conservation’s sites at Alners Gorse. We were clearing scrub and conifers to return the land to its original grassland state. We had 3 bonfires to burn the scrub and branches but stacked the logs into piles. The logs would be sold later. We cooked some potatoes in the fire for our lunch and at 1pm stopped to eat. We continued working in the afternoon until 3pm when we stopped work and went for a walk through the woodland. I found a broken egg, possibly belonging to a Blackbird [Turdus merula] on the ground. Then we headed back to the minibus and back to the centre. We had a final round of tea and cakes and said our goodbyes. Nigel then drove us to the station. It was a thoroughly enjoyable weekend which inspired me to learn more and to get back to Langdon for the next work party.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Trip to Rainham Marshes, Essex

So, Easter weekend and one of the things I really wanted to do was take a trip to Rainham Marshes. It's only about a half hour drive away and I'd heard so many positive things about it, so on Saturday Joel and I took a trip over there. The weather stayed dry but I was head-to-toe in waterproofs just in case!

Anyway, as soon as we passed through onto the walkway round the marshes there are some bird feeders and as we stopped to check out the birds [expecting Sparrows and Starlings] we were delighted to see about half a dozen Goldfinch. Now, goldfinch are quite common to gardens in Essex, but not to ours. So it was a real novelty to see these beautiful, colourful little birds. We carried on to the edge of the water and sat down to see what we could see just at the start. Within about 10 minutes we had identified numerous species and I was getting to grips with my new Bird Guide [Collins 2nd Ed.] which I was really keen to use out in the field, rather than just the back garden.

The first group of birds to be identified with the help of the bird book and my previous bird watching experience were; Tufted Duck; Mute Swan, Moorhen, [the ubiquitous] Coot, Wigeon, Mallard, Canada Geese, Greylag Geese and Lapwing. Further along the path we discovered a Little Egret or two and several Little Grebes. Despite having seen a Little Grebe before it took a long time for us to identify it. We entered into a hide and I saw it on a picture board. Although my memory failed me here, I was encouraged by just how many birds I could hazard an educated guess at, and at the very least go to the correct section in the field book.

It took us about another hour to get round the far side of the Marshes, and we spotted fewer birds there, although a man did tell us he had just seen a Kestrel and a Buzzard. On the way back to the information centre we saw a Cormorant, and heard a Reed Warbler, we saw Blackbirds, a Blue Tit and a Robin. And on the way past the bird feeders we saw a Greenfinch - another first. Whilst looking at the Greenfinch we were treated to a fabulous display by the Lapwing, calling and swooping all around. There was quite a large group of people with large telescopes and swish binoculars transfixed.

All in all, it was a really good afternoon and I was really pleased with the list of identified birds that we came away with.

The following day at the side of the A13 we saw a Kestrel hovering. Sadly we also saw a couple of dead badgers.

I'll definitely be back to Rainham though - handy to get to by car and by train and a nice size to get round in an afternoon with lots of different birds for the novice to practice identifying.