In a previous blogpost I extolled at great length the many ways in which a fascinating plant called the teasel was extremely beneficial to wildlife. In the summer therefore, our garden played host to a number of lovely butterflies:
The teasel also kept us human beings interested by drowning passing insects and slowly absorbing the chemicals from their bodies. Here is the teasel in flower:
I hope you have not forgotten though, how I made a solemn promise that, when the seeds had matured, the seed heads would play host to one of our most beautiful birds, the Goldfinch.
They should have been here in autumn, but now, at last, they have finally made their long awaited appearance. I, of course, missed them on their first visit, but my daughter and fellow blogger saw them and took a few photographs. Here are some of them.
Firstly, it may actually be a case of “Spot the bird”:
Not always an easy decision to make:
Yes, at last, a Goldfinch:
As far as I know, the males and females are the same:
Any of my readers in either the Americas or Australia will wonder what I am talking about when I get excited about the European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus)…
But that will be because, according to Wikipedia….
“A hedgehog is any of the spiny mammals of the subfamily Erinaceinae, found through parts of Europe, Asia, Africa and New Zealand (by introduction). There are no hedgehogs native to Australia, and no living species native to the Americas.”
Hedgehogs are lovely, sweet animals, which often turn up in the more countrified or overgrown gardens just as darkness is beginning to fall on a warm summer night, and the bats are coming out to hunt.
It is a well-loved species, which has, however, declined sharply in England over the last ten years, with an overall decrease of at least 25%. Hedgehogs are, in actual fact, disappearing in Britain at a quicker rate than tigers are in their own jungle habitat in southern Asia. The problems for hedgehogs are the usual ones. Gardens are nowadays generally tidier with lots of neat wooden decking, and hardly any patches of weeds and rough grass, full of slugs and juicy snails. More efficient fences have fewer holes in them to allow hedgehogs to range far and wide. The extensive use of insecticide means fewer insects, and a greater possibility of being poisoned. Road casualties are high because the animals’ first natural defence is to roll up into a spiny ball. Not too effective on a busy highway.
Recently though, in our wonderfully overgrown garden, we have been visited by two, possibly, three hedgehogs. We think that they are either a mother and two different children, or possibly, a father, a mother and one rather small and cute child. They snuffle about in the leaf litter, and yesterday morning, in the wee small hours, at about three o’clock, it was actually possible to hear their chewing and crunching from inside the house.
This is the mother, we think…
And these individuals are all youngsters, although only their mother could tell them apart, and they may very well be the one and the same little chap photographed on three separate occasions. Spot the catfood…
I think the reason for the arrival of these lovely, sweet little animals is the prolonged spell of great heat and severe dryness that we are currently experiencing here in England. The drought means fewer insects than normal, and the hedgehogs are forced to try their luck closer to man than they might otherwise venture. We have fed our visitors with, for example, wet and meaty cat food, and they certainly appreciate a bowl of water. Traditionally, you are supposed to feed them a bowl of milk with lumps of bread in it, but this is not really a very good idea for a lactose-intolerant insectivore, even one who is willing to consume dog food when times are bad.
In this video, the mother is looking out for suitable scraps from the bird table…
My daughter had to stop filming when the hedgehog was on her shoe!
Here is our video of a cute baby hedgehog eating catfood:
The babies are called “hoglets”, and Mummy and Daddy are a “boar” and a “sow”.
If you are successful in finding and feeding any hedgehogs, make sure that you send your data to the 2014 Hibernation Survey which lasts until August 31st of this year. The more scientific data we have about hedgehogs, the more can be done to increase their depleted numbers.
By far and away the best garden plant for attracting butterflies and bees is the buddleia, named by Linnaeus himself, after the Reverend Adam Buddle (1662–1715), a botanist and rector from Essex, England.
This nectar rich plant originally came from Asia, Africa and the Americas, and reached England only as late as 1730. Nowadays, it is ubiquitous, and can easily be seen on almost every piece of derelict land.
Buddleia must surely be the easiest plant in the world to grow cuttings from.
Once your buddleia bush is reasonably large, after a couple of years, you will need to prune it annually, right down to about a foot or so above the ground, before it starts to grow too tall. This is best done around May 1st, to avoid late frosts. Virtually every bit that you cut off could be planted for new plants, and your neighbours will probably enjoy your free gift. If you prune your bush back vigorously, you will always get a lot more flowers than foliage.
With a little bit of luck, you should get a peacock…
or a small tortoiseshell
With luck, a Red Admiral…
or even, for punctuation fans, a Comma…
You might get something really weird. I don’t know what this is, but it ought to be called the Jaws Butterfly…
This year, we had our first ever Hummingbird Hawk-moth, hovering like its namesake…
In your wildest dreams, a Monarch butterfly may cross the Atlantic from the USA and replenish its energy in your garden….