Thursday 4 July 2013

There are Fairies at the Bottom of our Garden

Well, not quite fairies,  more furries.    And maybe not so much furry as spiny.  Yes, the hedgehogs are with us for another year.  They have visited our patio, below the bird tables, for at least the last three years.  This year we have at least two, probably three different animals.  We leave out a few nuts, and occasionally scraps of meat on the patio, and invariably about dusk they come out to feed. 
A Hedgehog Emerges Late Evening
We think a couple of them live underneath next door's conservatory, and they emerge through the base of the separating privet hedge, and head straight for the nuts and water dish.  Recently they have become ever less cautious, and the first one now appears in fairly good daylight.    As long as we move slowly, and don't shine bright lights they tend to ignore us completely.   If we should disturb them, they retreat quite slowly into the hedgerow. I understand that their only natural enemy, the only one strong enough to unroll their protective ball, is the badger.  Unfortunately we don't have badgers at the bottom of our garden.  The occasional fox drifts through, but not a single striped face ever ventures near.
Another, on the Lawn
Last night there were two, one of which had rolled itself up into a ball.  The other was rolling it around like a football.  Very odd, some sort of mating/bonding ritual?   Unlikely to be mating as I feel they would have got over all that nonsense months ago.
The spines on a hedgehog, unlike porcupines and puffer fish, seem to stick out in all directions, the ultimate bad hair day. Individual spines seem almost to interweave between the other prickles.
We first knew about the hedgehogs some 15 years ago, when a young, dead one was found on the pathway.   I sadly consigned it to the compost heap and thought no more about it.  That week we had a visit from a couple of my Australian cousins.  Two girls, in their twenties shared our spare bedroom.  Mel wanted, more than anything, so see a hedgehog.   I have no idea why, coming from Australia, land of the echidna, that she would want to see our dumbed down UK version, the hedgehog.  I didn't show her the dead one, but she was soon to feel its presence.  
It appears that the poor thing had died from a surfeit of hedgehog fleas.  Most hedgehogs have fleas, but no more than would cause them minor discomfort.  This one must have had so many that they may have sucked out most of its blood.   A dead hedgehog, drained of blood it is no longer a suitable home for fleas, and so they left in droves.  We did not of course know all this at the time.   Fleas can remain dormant, waiting to pounce for years.  These did not wait years, but days at most, and jumped up onto any passing animal.   Mainly us.  As we walked along the paths, so the fleas must have been leaping onto our trousers.  By these means they quickly spread throughout both the house and garden.   Having established themselves in the house, the presence of huge reservoirs of Australian blood seemed to act like magnets for them.  Hedgehogs fleas seem to have wider tastes than just hedgehog blood. My wife and I had a couple of bites, and had begun to suspect the evil plot our dead hedgehog had hatched, but we could see many more bites on my cousins' legs.   We said nothing and hoped they had not noticed.   But how embarrassing, a flea ridden house when visitors arrive!
After Mel and Michelle had left we had to call in a specialist, who sprayed both house and garden with some sort of fluid, problem solved.   But we shall certainly be more careful of how we dispose of any dead animals in the future.
As I was writing this a young greenfinch flew into the lounge window.   At this time of year our lounge window is one hazard young inexperienced birds have to learn about.  We get several goldfinches, greenfinches and bullfinches most years.  Most fly off again, a few knock themselves out.  My wife picked up the greenfinch, cupped it in her hands for about twenty minutes and them placed it near the bird feeders, where, a few minutes later, it recovered well enough to fly off. 
A Young, Groggy, Greenfinch

You can see, in the photo, that its foot is still curled up.  The bird was not sufficiently awake yet to open its feet.  Many birds have tendons that make their feet curl up naturally, unless the bird intentionally opens out the claws.  It is a mechanism that allows them to perch whilst asleep, without falling off. So much for the dead parrot sketch: it is quite possible that a Norwegian Blue would have never fallen off its perch. Time for a  re-write, Mr Cleese.

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