Since early December there have been up to eight blackbirds, male and female, on my back lawn. At first, I thought they were youngsters from Bella’s broods last year, but there were so many of the birds around that that I think they must be winter migrants looking for food.
The resident pair, Bella and Bertie, were constantly battling with the intruders. There were repeated confrontations, with more serious aggression than I usually witness. The intruders always retreated in haste, with a furious resident racing behind to make sure the retreat was not a feint. But when the snow fell, all the blackbirds fed amicably and used the water bowls together. The truce only lasted as long as the weather was bad.
Since early January Bella has been taking coir strands from the lining of my shed wall troughs. This is regularly stripped down by birds taking nesting material, and Bella is one of many birds I’ve seen who has been collecting building materials in the early weeks of January. The wood pigeons and collared doves have been particularly active, and rooks on the nearby common were rebuilding their nests before Christmas.
The frogs have also been active out of season, swirling around in my garden pond, or lurking on the edge of the water. Normally, they’d be tucked away in the mud and crevices at the bottom of the pond.
And in a nearby flowerbed, my snowdrops came were showing a white stripe as the buds parted for New Year’s Day. The primroses in the same bed were blooming in December, I’ve had roses flowering all through the autumn and now into the late winter.
My back garden was coated here and there with a crispy layer of snow, and the upper parts of shrubs and trees were iced white. Pottering around the pots on my terrace, trying to reach the water in the bowls, was a young hedgehog.
He feasted for some minutes on the mealworms I spread on the terrace, in the shelter of a table. And then he tried to drink again, but was too small to reach over the rim of the water bowls. I carefully reached out to the nearest one, tipping it so that some water emptied out and then holding it so that he could reach what remained. At first, he froze into stillness, but didn’t roll up, then quickly realised the water was on the ground, and then just as quickly realised he could reach the contents of the bowl. For a couple of minutes, I crouched there holding the bowl as he sipped delicately at the water. He must have been thirsty, because he drank a lot.
Then he trotted off down the garden, snacking here and there on more mealworms, before disappearing beside the bottom shed.
I suspect that he may sleep in a dry corner under the fir trees there.
The hedgehog was glimpsed early each morning, but it was late in the afternoon two days later that I saw him properly again.
Bryn, my young Border collie, stood pointing at the pond in my back garden. When I followed his gaze, I saw the young hedgehog on the edge of the water, tucked in beside the rocks of the waterfall. It looked as though he’d been there for some time, possibly having fallen in while trying to drink. He should have been able to scramble over the rocks to get out, but seemed to be lying very still, although I could see he was still breathing.
I sent Bryn indoors and left the hedgehog for some time, but he didn’t move. One of the large pond frogs edged round the water and settled beside him.
At last, I moved one of the boulders on the edge of the pond and scooped the hedgehog out. He curled into a neat ball at the first movement, making it easy to lift him. His velvety head and paws were tucked neatly under the prickles, and his breathing didn’t alter.
I left him for a while in the dry leaves under the table, next to a heap of mealworms, but an hour later he hadn’t moved and it was getting
much colder. I collected a heap of dried leaves, piling them into the corner of the steps by the French windows, increasing the size of the heap that collects there naturally. Half a large terracotta flower pot roofed the heap, and was thatched with a piece of old hessian. More leaves were piled around the pot after I tucked the hedgehog, named Harry, into the nest. It’s a warm sheltered spot, and I very much hope he’ll survive, but I fear tumbling in the pond may have been a sign of a worse problem.
The next day young Harry struggled dazedly to emerge from his nest, falling repeatedly onto his side and lying still. After watching him for a while I brought him in and warmed him up in my garden room. He became pretty active, but staggered in circles, ignoring food and drink, so I took him to the vet. He was diagnosed with a viral infection and dosed with antibiotics, although the prognosis is bad for a hedgehog in these cases. Harry put up a valiant fight, recovering enough to enjoy his food for twenty-four hours, but it was his last effort – by the next morning he was listless and distressed, and the vet had to put an end to his suffering.
The water of the Kennet and Avon canal moved silently on my left, the surface rippling gently. The river Kennet could be glimpsed through the trees on my right, speeding just as silently but much more quickly, the surface rippled with the greater power and intensity of the current.
I walked along the canal towpath in a world of pale green water edged with ranks of tall bleached reeds. The pale coffee-coloured fields stretched away towards the downs, while the soft sepia bulk of spindly willows and alders screened the river.
There seemed to be little bird life, but Bryn, my young Border collie, had his nose down along the tussocky edge of the canal, vigorously following an interesting scent. He was rewarded by the plopping of some small water creature, a vole or a rat, sinking into deeper cover, but the scent was stronger than that, possibly a fox who’d passed by in the early hours of the morning.
A couple of ducks swam out of cover, crossing the water to the far bank in a desultory drift. But the arrival of a cormorant, scooting along the water beside us was far more exciting for Bryn. The bird saw him watching, and scooted into take-off mode before it had even come to a halt, and was immediately in the air again.
Deer slipped out of a small copse on the far side of the canal, darting over an open field into a wider wood on the brow of ahill. And in the reeds beside the far bank, stood a faint grey shadow, barely distinguishable from the bleached stems around it. A young heron, small and still only a very pale grey, was standing motionless, presumably hoping for a meal of frogs.
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