Ironing… perhaps not a way you would expect to watch for wildlife. For the last two evenings I have been almost glued to the computer screen after an unexpected turn of events. Sorry… no emails no browsing, no blogging. Any guesses on what has been going on? Mm… I am still at the speculation point with this myself. However, I can tell you the story so far…
Monday’s 7 deg C wasn’t that cold but the gusty wind made it feel freezing. Not a gardening day. However at 5pm, in the dark, it was finally time to lift my Cosmos plants and get them in my greenhouse for the winter – I hope I got them in time. Next, a quick fill up of the hedgehog dish and some fresh water. Leaves were spinning along the ground going in all directions towards my feeding station and I have wondered before now about turning it the other way around. Instead I thought of something else…
Recycling items in the garden in different seasons definitely saves on shed and garage storage – like obelisks being used as bird feeders. This year it is the hedgehogs that have been given the challenge! My daughter has two pet guinea pigs – can you see where this is going?
From October to April the guinea pigs come indoors as they won’t survive outside then. Many people may take their hutches into garages or sheds. We don’t, but instead have a different indoor hutch which we keep in our utility room where there is no heat. They do enjoy this spot by a window where they can still watch the birds – it’s not just cats that do this! This year the guinea pigs had a lift up the property ladder into a new two story wooden hutch. We still have the first, single story, plastic moulded one…
Who in their right minds would use a guinea pig/rabbit hutch as a wind break? Well, it made sense to me and that is all I intended using it for if the feeding station box fitted inside. It did – perfect! There was a metal divider between the sleeping side of the hutch and the feeding area. I guessed the hedgehog would be happier walking past a brick wall so I stacked up a couple bricks (idle in another part of the garden) in front of it. All I needed now was to entice the hedgehogs in.
A trail of sultanas or crushed peanuts usually does the trick but some hedgehogs will still go past that straight into the feeding station. This might be a tricky challenge. There is a small ledge the hedgehogs had to climb over to get in but I thought that would be fine. The floor surface was good enough for the pads of the guinea pig feet so no problem there either. What about the sleeping side? Rather than leave it bare I ‘borrowed’ some of the guinea pig’s hay which they love to eat. I threw a couple of handfuls in case a hedgehog might like a nap – just a short nap!! Can you see perhaps where this has gone now?
Approximately 15 minutes later I went outside again to show my husband my latest ‘attraction’ for the garden! Gosh… he spotted a hedgehog running off away under the Acer tree nearby. My biggest surprise was that it was out and about at just after 6pm – although it was dark. We quickly looked at the hutch and returned inside.
My original night camera was already positioned in this area so I quickly switched it on. Less than five mins later the hedgehog came back and ate the food outside the hutch. It considered going over the ledge inside but walked away. I quickly went back out and put a paving brick outside as a step and placed some sultanas on it. Back to the computer screen to see what would happen next. Oh yes… and tea went in the oven!
Back came the hedgehog! It took food from the step but walked away again but only for less than a minute this time – it was keen. This time it got on the step, then off, walked the other way then straight all the way in. Great, now there was a trail of food from there into the feeding station box. It finally made its way in and went straight to the water dish. It drank for a while, ate a little more and then went exploring…
It had a look at the hay area as I watched the clock on the camera. Almost a minute past and out it came again. It ate some more, drank some more and then… went back to the hay area again! Oh yes… I hear you all saying: ‘of course, now well fed and watered it needs a nap to sleep it all off’. I watched the clock as a few minutes past. Ten minutes past. Our meal was ready. We ate.
An hour past and it still didn’t come out. Ah… I was getting concerned now. Could it actually be suitable for hibernating in there? What are the chances of it being occupied in an hour? I have to stress here that there was only a little hay on the floor – surely it was still just sleeping? It would need to go and collect material if was to consider hibernating would it not? Do some decorating at the very least. I was worried now that I had inadvertently caused a problem.
Gingerly, armed with a large bowl of hay I opened up the door to this area. I have to stress here that if you think a hedgehog is hibernating you MUST NOT open the box and take a look or add any material. In this case the hedgehog had been asleep for at the very most one hour and it really only had to be sleeping and not hibernating.
The slowly opened door revealed the most surreal image for me. The hedgehog was lying at the front corner of this area on top of the hay just as our darker guinea pig has done so many times. The moment had to be quick though. I placed the hay in a large clump to the other side. The hedgehog would do its own thing with it I was pretty sure.
Some time later… another hedgehog appears near the entrance. What will happen now? Well, it began eating some food still left outside but then its nose went quickly in the air and I did wonder if it could smell the hedgehog inside as it ran away. Maybe something else scared it off. Now we know that there are at least two hedgehogs passing through our garden.
Time, like this story, went on. I decided to get my ironing out and continued to watch. Three hours after I opened the door to add more hay the hedgehog reappeared and with a stretch, a scratch and after a few more nibbles on the way past at just after 10pm out into the night it went. Phew… it was okay and now we officially had a hedgehog hutch into the bargain! However this really wasn’t my plan at all. Mm… I am not the night animal that the hedgehog is so I have no idea if it returned to this new fully furnished accommodation during the early hours of the next morning.
In the light of day I decided to reconsider the layout inside the feeding area of the hutch. Perhaps a new front to stop any unwelcome guests with an entrance hole could replace the feeding box and give more room for manoeuvring inside – clear Perspex would allow me to keep an eye on what was going on. Air would get in but there would still be protection from wind and rain too. That might work. But was there anyone sleeping inside? That I couldn’t tell.
Not quite recycling but more a case of ‘new use’ was my next plan. As regular visitors to my blog will know we have a Nestbox with a camera in my garden. We also have a Nestbox without a camera which has a rooster and this Nestbox is still seeing many visits during the day. I had a small camera sitting in its box unopened. We intended putting this camera into an extension for this second Nestbox. This was going to be my next project. Can you see where this is going?
Recycling the small clip-over hay feeder for the hutch I attached this small camera to it using cable ties to secure it. The connectors for picture and sound were then loosely placed inside it – no hay for this feeder now. I cut out an extra hole in front panel for the wire to come out and then it was a case of just opening the door once more to quickly hang it over the dividing wall. All I could see was hay and that is also all I can see through the camera at the moment too.
The hedgehog really needs to be out of the hutch before I can adjust the position and focus of the camera. When it goes out it is likely to be away for a few hours. Last night we never saw it leave so no changes have been made. We did see a hedgehog come in for food but I don’t think it was the one from the previous night as it didn’t know its way around. You can tell the ones that have visited before. I continued to use my original camera outside for comparison photos.
The clear front of the main feeding area looked like it could have condensation on the inside last night. I intended taking a photo of this but I wasn’t able to watch the screen as long last night. One time I looked the image was showing white (infra red cameras can do this) where the condensation was and we could only see in half this area. The next time I looked it was clear again. Now at a guess this could perhaps suggest heat inside. Maybe a hedgehog was sleeping inside and then went out. My inside camera, for the moment, cannot help there.
What I can see this morning is that only the food on the ground has been eaten. Perhaps I need to return the feeding area to the layout of the the first night with the new front. Hedgehogs don’t have good sight but do follow edges and some are perhaps too familiar with the feeding box.
The biggest priority and my original plan was to ensure that hedgehogs passing through my garden get extra food to help build them up for to survive winter hibernation. If a hedgehog also hibernates in the hutch then that is a bonus but I also have to think of others passing through too. Gosh… I had no idea what I was letting myself in for when I decided to encourage the birds and wildlife into my garden. I find myself drawn to learning more and in all honesty find it weird to think this has probably always been going on and we have been missing it.
Studying the images from still cameras and screen shots from video is a great way to compare not only birds like the blue tits but whether food has been taken or a nest has changed. When something new is going on in the garden this is how I approach it – comparing patterns in many cases.
The photo above is not the first from inside the hedgehog hutch but I am thrilled to be able to share it. Taken today this image shows the tiniest differences from the image I took last night. This now confirms something did move below this pile of hay between last night and today! I wonder what tonight will bring…
All photos above were taken in my garden between November 9th-12th 2008.