Hedgehogs, birds and a butterfly surprise

The hedgehogs and birds are entertaining, but butterflies have a dirty secret

When the drought finally broke here, I realised that the hedgehog food was getting waterlogged and needed to be under cover. A small ramshackle structure was made, with little doorways suitable for hedgehogs to go in and out and they took to it right away. They did make a mess in there, as they tend to wherever they are, but at least their food stayed dry. 

The female blackbird roosts in the hedgehog boxIt didn't take long for the birds to find this box and the blackbirds, especially the female, began spending large parts of their day in or around it. They had the food the hedgehogs hadn't eaten, shelter and a large tray of water just outside the door, so they made the most of it.

That the box was so near to the front door didn't seem to bother them at all and I was able to take a few photographs in her adopted roost. The weather is still fairly mild and the hedgehogs have yet to hibernate – indeed some are still working to put on the weight they need to see them through till spring – so we are following their lead and still putting food out.

I am no longer giving cat food, but crushed suet balls, as advised by someone I spoke to from the Wildlife Trusts, who told me that suet balls provide a good fatty boost for hogs needing to gain weight in autumn. Conveniently for the birds, hedgehogs don't seem to clear the dish and leave a lot of crumbs which the birds then finish up during the day. All that needs doing is to wash the dish and reload it. I'm pleased that the box is being used during daylight hours birds and it makes me smile to see them roosting in there, taking daytime naps. 

Life on the wing

The robin is also still with us and, after a late moult, is looking very fine in his smart new feathers. He doesn't visit every day, as he used to, but it's good to know he finds plenty to eat elsewhere.

Red admiral on BuddlejaIn the wider world, there are still a few butterflies about and the last of the wasps hum around fallen fruits. They seem lethargic and won't be with us for long. The woodland hornets seem to have taken shelter under logs and I'll miss the sound of their wings, surprisingly loud, as they quarter the woods.

This is a time when certain clients ask for a bit of a tidy up – the raking of leaves from lawns and whatnot – so it is also a time for rescuing the ladybirds who have taken shelter in the debris, so they don't get trapped or crushed. When I come across them, I always find them somewhere else to overwinter.

Coming back to butterflies. One surprised me the other day and in a rather disgusting manner (if you're eating, stop reading now). I was sitting in the sunshine in a wildish area of a large garden, enjoying my lunchtime sandwiches, when a Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) alighted in the long grass a couple of metres away, its proboscis uncurling and curling up again. How lovely, I thought, and wondered what it could have found. Late flowering daisies, perhaps? Some remaining dew drops? It was certainly working away at something...

Thankfully, by the time had I finished eating and got up to see what it had been doing it had flown away, otherwise I might have been sick there and then. Not a late daisy, nor a drop of dew, but fresh dog poo. Now that I know of this habit, delicious as it may be from their point of view, I can never see Red Admirals as I did previously, nor other butterflies for that matter. They are no longer innocent and beautiful sippers of nectar, they eat dung.

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