October Nature Journal
Two species have drawn me in this October, both associated with autumn but in different ways. The first is the hedgehog, one of three British mammals (along with bats and dormice) that go into hibernation over the winter months and return again in spring. At this time of year they are busy filling up on the last scraps of food they can find before the temperature plummets and they retreat to their cosy places for winter.
We were driving back from the pub one night when we pulled into our road and saw two hedgehogs scurrying along the pavement. One was slightly smaller than the other but big enough, I thought, to survive the winter - perhaps just a teenager. We crept over to them in the dark and watched as they vanished behind the hedgerow and into the safety of a communal garden.
Autumn is an important time for hedgehogs, but also one of potential danger. Bonfire night is infamous for hedgehog casualties, and if you choose to have a bonfire this year then please try and move it before you light it to avoid burning sleeping hedgehogs alive. Hedgehogs are one of the most threatened species in the UK, with one study suggesting their numbers have halved since 2000. Their cause is serious, but not hopeless, and unlike many species their future may rest in the hands of the general public.
You can make your garden into a hedgehog haven by avoiding slug pellets and leaving a source of fresh water out over winter, so when they do occasionally emerge from hibernation they can rehydrate. If you have a pond, include a small ramp so that swimming hedgehogs can escape, and keep an eye out on the roads to avoid casualties. The best and easiest thing you can do is to cut a CD-sized hole in the bottom of your fence to allow hedgehogs to pass through. Hedgehogs travel for miles and miles each night, and one of the reasons for their decline is not being able to access gardens and extend their ‘hedgehog highway’. Try suggesting to your neighbours to cut a hole in their fence, too, and soon you may have a hedgehog haven in your own road!
The second species I’ve noticed has been the redwing, a species of thrush that joins thousands of birds migrating to Britain from Scandinavia, Finland, Iceland and Russia to spend the winter in a milder climate.
Redwings are beautiful birds - with a smear of rusty orange under each wing - but at this time of year it’s easier to hear them than see them. They are nocturnal migrators, which means they use the cover of darkness to travel across the country in search of food and shelter, avoiding daylight predators.
Step outside on an autumn night and listen out for the seep seep seep sound of redwings on their nocturnal migration. I’ve been spending most evenings outside in the last few weeks for two reasons. First, to let our new arrival Pablo out before bed, and second, to take part in the BTO Tawny Owl Calling Survey once a week.
Each night I stand beneath the stars and listen to the redwings soaring invisibly overhead, singing their seep seep seep songs to the darkness. The redwing illustration above is one of my seasonal greeting card designs, blank inside but perfect for festive cheer! You can buy them for £2.50 on my Etsy shop here.