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  • Cobwebs of autumn

    Miranda Hodgson on 29 Nov 2010 at 04:25 PM

    I reckon I’ve taken the last spider web pictures for this year; the current freeze will have seen the end of most spiders, except those who have, by mistake or design, come in to the house or found shelter elsewhere. Their offspring will survive in egg sacs until spring and can be found around window frames in sheds, in gaps in walls or tucked under piles of dry leaves.


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  • Have your hedgehogs gone into hibernation yet?

    Miranda Hodgson on 19 Nov 2010 at 04:02 PM

    There are fewer signs of hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) about now that the weather is cooling. But, you say, they are nocturnal, so how can you tell there are fewer about if you don’t often see or hear them anyway? Not many people are going to be sitting outside on a cold November night waiting for sight or sound of hedgehogs. There are a couple of easy ways you can find out, without needing to go out in the dark. If there are gaps under the garden fences, these serve as tunnels for hedgehogs, so they can travel from one garden to another.



    Once those gaps start to fill up with leaves and no longer appear trodden, then the hedgehogs have probably gone into hibernation. Next, look at the lawn and pathways in your garden – there will be the usual debris: fallen leaves, bits of bark thrown about by blackbirds, lumps of soil from who knows where, bird droppings and, finally hedgehog droppings. Hedgehog droppings are generally black, roundish and have obvious bits in them; these are mainly the wing cases and other body parts of beetles and other insects, which make up a large part of a hedgehog’s diet.

    There is a lady I know in this town who takes very great care of the hedgehogs in her garden. Every year, in late autumn, she looks out for young hedgehogs and, if she can, she catches and weighs them. If they weigh less than about 600g (approx 1lb 5oz), the hedgehog is underweight and is less likely to surivive until spring. In that case, she will put the hedgehog in a box lined with newspaper, with food and water provided, bring it indoors and call St Tiggywinkles, which is one of the UK’s largest wildlife hospitals. A short time afterwards, someone will come and collect the hedgehog and take it to be cared for until spring, when it will be released back into the wild. There are other wildlife organisations that provide the same service and ask no payment for it either

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  • Egg-like spheres on roots and signs of the sparrow hawk

    Miranda Hodgson on 11 Nov 2010 at 03:31 PM

    I was taking down the bean plants last week and stopped to admire some nodules on the roots. You could be forgiven for thinking that the plant had been infested with some horrible pest, but these are not pests and, indeed, they are highly desirable, for they are naturally forming nitrogen nodules. They are found on the roots of many plants of the pea family (including beans, peas, clover and alfalfa) as well as alder trees. It’s useful to know about them so that they aren’t confused with pest eggs and destroyed.



    Briefly, these amazing things are formed by a bacterium called Rhizobium; these invade the plant roots, causing them to form nodules. The rhizobium then take in nitrogen from the air in the soil and fix it into ammonium ions, which is passed on to the plant’s cells. In return, the rhizobium are supplied with carbohydrates. Nitrogen fixing means that less nitrogen fertiliser is needed, because the plant can do that for itself. Isn’t that amazing.

    When we arrive at the garden, I get out to open the gate and my partner drives the car through the field that leads to the garden gate. I like to walk across the field so I can look in the hedgerow and see if anything is happening. It wasn’t that day, but what was happening elsewhere in the field was a sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) making a meal of a pigeon. It flew off as soon as we approached, leaving the half-eaten pigeon behind, surrounded by the tell-tale scattering of feathers.

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