Hedgehogs, frogs and (non) barking dogs!

I think we’d all agree that, in weather terms, it’s been a bit of an odd year. This in turn has made a big impact on the flora and fauna in our gardens.

I’d just been listening to a friend bemoaning her lack of peas and broad beans this year – almost all eaten by Jays, something she had never witnessed before – and I suddenly thought (as you do!) – hedgehogs!

Hedgehogs have always been regular visitors in our garden – I’d spot them toddling across the lawn just at it turned dimpsy, as we say in Devon – or dusk to the rest of you.  But this year I haven’t seen any.

Predictably, Wellington, our slightly mad cocker spaniel, would always enjoy a good bark at any passing hedgehog, but not this year. And that seems very strange as we’ve had so many slugs and snails which hedgehogs adore.

And so, I started thinking about all the other things that have been strange in 2012…

I haven’t noticed many frogs or toads. These usually make their way into the garden via the stream. Despite the months of rain from April onwards, and the generous supply of slugs to feed on I haven’t seen a single one. Perhaps the hedgehogs and frogs have more food than they know what to do with closer to home, so haven’t needed to look further afield. Have others gardeners among you noticed this, or is it just me?

On the other hand, we seem to be inundated with woodpigeons, squirrels and magpies all of which are hugely destructive in different ways. Jays being members of the crow family, as are magpies, have been much more prevalent probably accounting for my friend’s vegetable losses.

If you feel like helping out some of our smaller garden inhabitants, you could try building piles of sticks and leaves at the back of borders for them to use for winter shelter. Nothing complex, just welcoming homes made from natural materials, something a hedgehog would find very cosy.

And, finally, as Halloween and Guy Fawkes’ Night loom, if you are having a bonfire do please restack the heap on the day of the bonfire on a fresh site to ensure no wildlife has crawled in and taken up residence.

 

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Don’t be too tidy… and help wildlife!

I really don’t want to admit it, but Autumn is here. It’s September and the days are getting noticeably shorter.

Even for those animals and creatures that don’t hibernate over the winter months autumn time is very much a time to stock up on supplies. You’ll see more birds gorging on autumn berries in the garden and fattening themselves up on whatever they can.

If I do any digging at the moment I find myself closely watched by a beady eyed but very tatty little bird… it’s a young robin. It still has the pretty gold speckling of youth and patchy bits of red breast just starting to show. It pounces on every worm and I watched it gobble up two enormous worms the other day. It had a third lined up, but kept pecking at it half-heartedly, I really think it was completely full, but couldn’t bear to leave it! He eventually gobbled that one down as well – a very full tummy!

They are such lovely little birds, but robins are renowned for their aggressive territorial nature. I hadn’t realised until I looked it up the other day that the juveniles don’t develop their red breast until they are mature because otherwise their parents would attack them and drive them away just as they do other robins!

If you want to encourage wildlife in your garden don’t be too tidy! Late butterflies will be tempted by fruit that’s fallen from trees in the garden and you may get more of an opportunity to see hedgehogs as they look for food to stock up on their reserves in preparation for hibernation.

There are still seeds to be found on the likes of sunflowers and thistles, so by allowing this kind of vegetation to die off it provides more food and shelter, for birds in particular as well as other wildlife.

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A swim on the wild side!

This week, our guest blogger is my very own youngest daughter – Emily! She has been home from university for a few weeks before going away for six months on a work placement. While here, she was able to spend some time with old school friends and head off to the beach… where she had an interesting encounter!

“The sun put in a rare appearance, so I decided to head down to Babbacombe beach and enjoy a dip in the sea with some friends. As always, the British sea proved to be a lot colder than we remembered, but we took the plunge and swam out towards the five-knot-buoy. 

Suddenly, we spotted a smooth, dark shape gliding just below the water surface. We turned and a head popped up, watching us with large, dark eyes. We were so excited, it’s so rare to see a seal in the wild, let alone swim with one!

The large grey seal known as “Sammy” is a regular visitor at Babbacombe, coming almost daily to coax the locals into giving him the fish they catch off the quayside. Now that’s what I call smart – let the humans do the hard work, so you don’t have to! Recently featured in the local paper, Sammy worried locals a few weeks ago when he swam up to the quay with a hook in his side, although he left before the RSPCA had arrived. We can only presume he was protected by his thick hide. 

After a while we got out of the water to fetch our cameras and ran to the quayside where the seal was cruising up and down waiting for fish. He seemed hugely tame and was content to come within an arm’s length of us, even gently taking a fish straight from a fisherman’s hand! It was just fascinating to watch such a large creature (it looked to be about one and a half metres long and at least half a metre wide) move so gracefully in the water!

It had to be the best trip to the beach ever, and we plan to head back tonight and see if he’s still there!”

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A wonderful walk right on my doorstep!

Morwenstow on the north coast.I know I do tend to go on about how lovely Devon is… but it just is! This week, I thought I’d ramble (excuse the pun!) on about the South West Coast Path.

Not only is Devon blessed with lovely rolling countryside and dramatic moorland, it also has two stunning coastlines to the north and south. The north is rugged and exposed, while the south is softer with more sheltered bays. Devon is the chunky ‘thigh’ of the south west ‘leg’ of England that delicately dips its toe out to the far south west and the Atlantic ocean.

The South West Coast Path National Trail goes right round this leg taking in Devon and Cornwall and more – starting in the north, at Minehead in Somerset and going on for 630 miles – to Poole in Dorset in the south

It is regarded as one of the top walks to be found anywhere in the world. The heritage, wildlife, geology and scenery along the way are stunning and every day spent walking it brings new experiences.

The lovely harbour town of Dartmouth in south Devon.You don’t have to be super fit, and you obviously don’t have to do all of it! Some areas, especially in Cornwall, are very steep and challenging (and very beautiful) but lots of other sections are gentle and make lovely seaside strolls.

Some people spend years walking small sections of it, ticking off the miles until they’ve done the whole thing. Others – heaven help them – tackle the whole thing in a couple of months, often for charity.

There’s a rather nifty scheme that lets you stay in B&Bs, while some obliging people will drive your bags on ahead of you so that, when you arrived footsore after a coastal canter, your bubble bath and slippers are ready and waiting for you.

There’s a very good website: www.southwestcoastpath.com which shows you everything you need from amazing photos that will inspire you, to walks that are interesting for children, or include pubs on the route (count me in!).

The coastal path in south Cornwall.

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Chickens and eggs!

As the weather was vaguely summery on Sunday, Richard, Welly and I decided to trot up onto Dartmoor to see my Hen Pal.

It turned into a beautiful sunny evening and we had a good nose around the veg patch, admired the living willow ‘fedge’ (a cross between and fence and a hedge!) and then went to say ‘hi’ to the chickens.

Welly finds anything even vaguely feathery very, very exciting and proceeded to do quite a bit of barking and rushing about. The hens, very wisely, ignored him, secure in the knowledge he was the other side of their fence.

The chicken I am holding (rather gingerly!) is, we think, a Barnevelder, affectionately known as ‘The Dinosaur Bird’, so named by a visiting godchild! She does have a rather fierce pre-historic look to her, but was very friendly and tolerated me holding her in a somewhat amateur way.

Chickens in the garden are very soothing. Their ‘pock pock’ sounds and bustling nature are somehow very relaxing. But, as my Hen Pal says, spend half an hour watching a flock of hens and you’ll understand all about the terms ‘henpecked’ and ‘pecking order’. They have a strict hierarchy and can be quite vicious to each other, especially to the poor little soul who’s bottom of the pecking order. Nature red in tooth and claw…

The star of the show really has to be the Cream Legbar who lays the beautiful blue eggs. She has a wonderful floppy comb and looks like someone on her way to Ascot with a ridiculous hat! She’s rather independent though so getting her to pose with me for a photo wasn’t an option sadly, but we’ve got one of her on her own anyway.

Opening the nest box is always very exciting and I wasn’t disappointed – four eggs for that day and there was even a blue one! They are, of course, the most delicious eggs and the yolks a beautiful deep yellow colour.

The drive up on to Dartmoor is always a lovely one and it was nice to get out and see it in the sunshine, we’ve had so little of that in June. Here’s hoping that July is rather better!

 

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