Birch Polypore

This fabulous fungi growing on the fallen silver birch branch is a birch polypore, Piptoporus betulinus. It is a parasitic fungi that causes brown rot in birch trees, but continues to flourish after the poor tree has died.Photo of birch polypore

It is also known as the Razor Strop Fungus; barbers used to cut thin strips off this leathery fungus to make strops to sharpen their cut throat razors. It can also be used as tinder to start a fire with a spark, it will then smoulder and hold the flame. In the Scottish Highlands it was used to start the fires to celebrate the festival of Beltane (now May Day). Two pieces of this fungus were found on the body of Ötzi the Iceman, who died in the Alps 5,300 years ago. Poor Ötzi was found to be suffering from whipworm parasites, the birch polypore is now known to contain ketones, terpenes and aliphatic alcohols which can act as anti-inflammatories along with polyporenic acid which is apparently effective against intestinal worms. Clearly Ötzi had yet to complete his medicinal course before he met his end. Amongst its many other uses it also acts as food and home to many species of insect.Photo of birch polypore

Hedgehogs – Autumn Juveniles

During the autumn months hedgehogs are busy fattening up ready to hibernate through the winter, when their food supplies are scarce.Photo of hedgehog

Hibernation seems to be triggered by a period of continuous cold weather. The hedgehog will find a cosy place to curl up, such as under a wood pile (this is why it is imperative to check before lighting bonfires). They will make a nest of dry leaves to keep them insulated. During hibernation their body temperature drops to that of their surroundings, bodily functions and breathing slow right down so that they are in a state of torpor. They often wake up during the winter and come out looking for water and snacks, so it is important to keep providing supplies. They will use their fat reserves to increase their metabolic rate to wake up.Photo of hedgehog

To successfully hibernate and wake up again it is thought that hedgehogs need to weigh at least 650g. This is problematic for late litters, known as autumn juveniles. They just haven’t had the time to gain the weight. If there is a mild winter and people are providing a food source they may be okay. However, a cold snap could trigger hibernation and they may never wake from it. If you spot a small hedgehog, or if you see any sized hedgehog out during the day, you need to contact your local rescue. If possible grab a pair of gloves and a box and capture it. Your local hedgehog rescue will care for these little hedgehogs and get them up to weight. If the weather is mild enough they may be re-released, but they might have to be cared for through the winter.Photo of three big hoglets

Regular readers will be familiar with the hoglet triplets that have been delighting me throughout the summer.Photo of hedgehog being caught

I am pleased to say that these three are all weighing over 800g, more than enough fat to see them through!Photo of hedgehog being weighed

Having ascertained the hog is of the correct plumpness, they may be released to continue with their business.Photo of hedgehog

However, at the end of the summer two younger and smaller hoglets appeared.Photo of hedgehog

Having captured them and weighed them, it was clear that they were at risk.

They were placed in a plastic box lined with newspaper with a cosy fleece to snuggle in. Water and cat food with mealworms was provided for them.

As they are probably siblings they did not seem to mind each other’s company. They trashed their new home in minutes! The water bowl was jumped about in, food smeared everywhere, more poop than a small creature should produce was generated. The smaller one also worked out that by standing on top of the other (feet must be immune to prickles) it could push its nose through the bars of the lid and slide it over. A brick was hastily put on top of the lid. It was time to hand them over to the specialists. Sasha Norris runs the local wildlife rescue centre and she sent one of her dedicated expert hedgehog carers, Jacqui to come and fetch them. Jacqui has done a wonderful job looking after them, they have both gained around 200g in a week. I will keep you updated with their progress.

Please support your local wildlife rescue. These wonderful people devote so much time and energy to helping our little wild friends and rely upon charitable donations.

Horse-Chestnut Tree in October

The horse-chestnut tree in October is bursting with fruits, otherwise known as conkers.Photo of horse-chestnut tree

These are starting to split open.Photo of conkers ripening on tree

Now is the time to collect the fallen fruits to play the traditional children’s game of conkers.Photo of fallen conker

Here is the tree with the rising sun bursting through the canopy.Photo of horse-chestnut tree with sun flare

And here’s the same tree bathed in autumn sunshine.Photo of horse-chestnut tree in autumn

October by Torchlight

Wandering around the garden at night with a torch this month, I picked out these beauties. First off, my late flowering white foxglove.Photo of white foxglove

The Michaelmas daisies are still putting on a show.Photo of Michaelmas daisies

The apples look rosy day or night and smell divine.Photo of apples on tree

Damp lawns and woodpiles are good places to find fungi.

Of course the lawn is carpeted in a multitude of autumnal leaves.Photo of autumn leaves on grass


Hedgehog Feeding Station

Autumn is the time of year when hedgehogs in the UK are trying to fatten up ready to hibernate through the winter months. We can help them out by supplementing their diet with cat/dog food (not fish flavours), mealworms or food specially made for hedgehogs. Here is how you can feed hedgehogs in your garden, without feeding your neighbours’ cats, using a plastic storage box.Photo of plastic box

I will be using it without the lid and turned upside down. It will need an entrance approximately 5″ or 13cm in diameter. I used a compass cutter to score the plastic.Photo of compass cutter

You can then cut the plastic (a responsible adult will be required for this part) with a craft knife or scissors.

However, I found it much easier to use an electric multi-tool!Photo of electric multi-tool

You will then need to file and then sand those sharp jagged edges.

The inner edge of the hole should be smooth enough for you to be happy to run your own hand around it.Photo of hand through hole in box

To make sure that the hole is the right size, you should be able to just fit a CD/DVD into it.Photo of dvd in hole in box

Put it in your garden where you wish to feed the hedgehogs. Place a brick or two on top to weigh it down. Place the food in a shallow dish at the end farthest away from the entrance hole. The mossy welcome mat is optional. Leave the water dish outside of the feeding station, no animal should be denied a drink of water. Any uneaten food will need to be cleared away in the morning as flies will be able to get in at it.Photo of feeding station in garden

Wait a couple of hours and swell with pride and a sense of achievement when you find a satisfied visitor.Photo of hedgehog in feeding station

Another happy customer.Photo of hedgehog in feeding station

I think he is wondering if he will fit back out through the hole.Photo of hedgehog in feeding station

Of course he does!Photo of hedgehog in feeding station

I put together a short sequence of clips taken by a wildlife camera trap. It shows numerous hedgehogs visiting the feeding station, having a chat, a drink and a scratch. It also shows two of the neighbourhood cats failing to get into the box despite their best efforts. Even a squirrel comes to take a look.  It is less than two minutes long and can be viewed here.

Hedgehog Street have produced a helpful leaflet about helping hedgehogs in our gardens here.

End of September

My apologies for neglecting the blogging world lately. I have still been taking photographs, I’ve just not been able to devote the time to transferring them to computer and writing about them. I hope to catch up with you all soon. I shall quickly sum up the end of September.

The procumbent yellow-sorrel or creeping wood-sorrel, Oxalis corniculata, is flowering still. The leaves turn a brownish purple colour and are apparently edible and rich in Vitamin C; more details here.Photo of yellow sorrel

The Herb Robert is also going strong.Photo of Herb Robert

Cyclamen flowers are still popping up, joined by a variety of fungi.

The warm sunny weather at the end of September provided a bounty of shiny flies.Photo of fly on leaf

The red admiral butterflies are also topping up their tans.Photo of red admiral butterfly

While the rain showers during the night brought the frogs out. They are fattening up ready to hibernate.Photo of frog

The hedgehogs are also trying to gain weight for the lean winter months.Photo of hedgehog

This little one thinks he can hear something behind him.Photo of hedgehog

Hmmm, he’s sure there is something there rustling in the shadows.Photo of hedgehog

Yep! The mealworm feast is going to have to be shared, drat.Photo of hedgehogs


Full Hunter’s Moon

After the harvest moon in September, the full moon in October is known as the Hunter’s Moon. Our ancesters enjoyed some venison with their corn! In the northern hemisphere during the autumn equinox, the moon’s orbit means that it rises earlier than normal. This provides more light for those evening hunting trips. Photo of moon in clouds

As it rises low on the horizon, where the atmosphere is thicker and scatters more blue light, the moon can appear orange or reddish. The Hunter’s Moon tonight also happens to be another Supermoon, it appears to be larger as it is closer to us. So those of you who are lucky enough to have an uncluttered view and a cloudless sky should be able to see a great big orange moon rise.


Spot the wren! These small brown birds are very flighty. They feed on insects and are constantly flitting about to catch them, making them very difficult for me to photograph.Photo of wren

They often hunt for spiders in crevices and go burrowing under shrubs for insects hence their Latin name, Troglodytes troglodytes, meaning cave dweller, which is a bit fanciful in my opinion. They are one of the UK’s smallest birds, but they have a hearty voice to them which you can hear here, along with further information.Photo of wren

Scarlet Pimpernel

The scarlet pimpernel, Anagallis arvensis, is generally considered to be a weed. Confusingly they can also have blue flowers. It is toxic to many grazing animals, though they tend to avoid it due to its bitter taste. It has been used in folk medicine to treat wounds and as an expectorant.Photo of scarlet pimpernel flower

This simple little flower is perhaps more famous as the symbol of Sir Percy Blakeney. “The Scarlet Pimpernel” is the 1905 novel by Baroness Orczy detailing the exploits of the Scarlet Pimpernel (Blakeney), an English aristocrat who rescues French aristocrats from the cutting edge of French republicanism. Famous for his foppish refrains such as, “Odd’s fish, m’dear! The man can’t even tie his own cravat!”  You can read the book for free here.

Champagne Ivy Part Two

Here is part two, hot on the heels of Part One, let’s keep it linear eh? Along with the buzzing things enjoying the ivy there were also some red admiral butterflies.Photo of red admiral butterfly on ivy

Some of these butterflies have migrated from continental Europe and even North Africa. The eggs laid by these late arrivals produce butterflies that can be seen in our gardens through to November. The late flowering ivy is therefore an important food source for them.Photo of red admiral butterfly on ivy

The main larval food plants are nettles, so if you want lots of red admirals flitting around your garden, leave a little wild patch of nettles and something for the ivy to grow up. They have been known to hibernate during winter in the south of England, though the sensible ones will attempt to migrate back to sunnier climes.Photo of red admiral butterfly on ivy

There were five red admiral butterflies on the ivy at any given time, but they did not position themselves well for a group photo.

Stuck for something to do for three and a half minutes? You can watch my video of a red admiral feeding on the ivy here.