November started with a week of rain and mild temperatures. Very mild temperatures, to be honest and quite a lot of rain (although we and a lot of the country were still under a hosepipe ban for the month).
Pretty-well all the poplar leaves were down in the garden - and just like last November, a female sparrowhawk ambushed another collared dove in our garden, eating its breast muscles before I disturbed her (she flew off to eat in peace).
Great big clumps of honey fungus seemed to spring up all over the place in the warm, wet, first week of the month.
On the 6th of November I noticed something I must have missed earlier in the year (or year before - difficult to tell). What appeared to be a wren's nest in the bottom of a lamp post (behind a loose plate) in an industrial estate on my daily walk. It's amazing where some birds will nest eh?
Sad news became apparent on the 9th and 10th of the month (albeit, tempered eventually with a little bit of hope).
I (as you know) have been logging and videoing and building hedgehog tunnels all over the borders of our garden and blogging about our local hedgehogs for over ten years now.
We live at property I in the plan below. (I live at "I". Easy to remember then).
All the tunnels I've dug over the last ten years can be seen as blue circles in the image below.
I've spoken with four of our neighbours (neighbours D,E,F and J in the satellite image below) before mid-November this year, trying to help them learn about the marvellous (and now critically threatened) slug removers (hedgehogs) they have in their (and our) garden and when I open up a tiny wee hole under our fences, I'm doing it to allow these fantastic (and endangered now) animals to get around, feed and breed (and would they please consider keeping these hedgehog tunnels open instead of concreting them over all the time?!).
As I wrote in my October blog post, we've had hedgehogs visit our garden each night since the Spring like every year (in fact this year, for the first year ever, we had baby hedgehogs visit too - a HUGE success for us after ten years of "work"), but on October 16th these visits suddenly stopped.
We've had NO visits since that night... and it was only on November 9th that I realised that one of our neighbours (the "newest" neighbours on the "block" and also the most recent I'd spoke to regarding a tunnel that I'd dug between our and their property = that would be neighbours D in the image above and below) had erected a new fence to between themselves and their neighbours to their north (C). The pink fence in the image below and above.
A solid fence with concrete gravel boards sitting tight to a layer of concrete.
This (pink as opposed to yellow fence in the plan above and below) fence was put up on....
You guessed it.
With a horrible sense of dread, I realised that this simple action of putting a bordering fence in, with no thought at all to hedgehogs (even though I'd spoken to this neighbour not 6 months ago, regarding hedgehogs and even gave him a pen drive of videos of "our" (our and their) hedgehogs to show his children (all children are into hedgehogs, right?)) had at best trapped our hedgehogs in a small (but lovely) garden (C) to the north of his property for almost a month - and at worst KILLED THEM.
Luckily - and there is some good news here... it was beyond any reasonable doubt that the new fence had trapped "our" hedgehogs for 24 nights - so I went round to the house whose garden they were now trapped in. A lovely woman there helped me out, (C), and we have now dug a new tunnel under that new fence for the hedgehogs, which I have no doubt are sleeping under her parents' old shed in their rather lovely back garden.
I also dropped round some hedgehog food for C to put out for her animals - which I'm so pleased to say... was taken by the hedgehogs (C texted me to let me know)! They ARE still alive!
I also dropped round to our neighbours D (the neighbours between C and us) who erected that new concrete fence in the first place - they seemed OK in principle at least to keep the tunnels (plural) now that I'd dug under the fences (plural) now.
On the night of the 9th and 10th then, I desperately hoped the hedgehogs would find their way across their old stomping ground again - and as such I put up motion-activated infra-red cameras all over our garden.
Nothing. I'm afraid. No bananas.
But... as I wrote above ... C did text me to tell me that the hedgehogs had taken the food - so I hope, I really, really hope that now that I know they're OK... they do eventually find the newest tunnel that we've dug for them - and regain their old territory.
If they don't discover the new tunnel... like so many of our British hedgehogs, they will simply perish.
May take a month. Or three. Or even a year. But die they will.
And THAT is why, dear reader, whilst the population of UK hedgehogs in 1950 was estimated to be around 36 million... its now more like only 1 million.
Let that sink in.
Tellytubby gardens. Concrete gravel boarded fences. Fake grass.
It's SO sad.
As I type this part of the blog, it's the afternoon of the 10th November.
C has texted me to let me know that the hedgehogs have taken the food we left out for them.
The tunnel is still in place, I think.
We are INCREDIBLY lucky that the last 3 weeks have been warm and wet (meaning even in a small garden, especially if it's so lovely, like C's, the hedgehogs will have been able to find food and water).
We now just have to cross our fingers that the new tunnel doesn't collapse (and C and her neighbours maintain it) and the hedgehogs reclaim their old stomping ground soon. They have a lovely shed under which they can base themselves in C's garden - but they need FAR more space to roam around and feed in.
I popped round on the 12th, to ensure the new tunnel that C and I had dug was still OK (it was - thanks C!) and also managed to establish that C's Dad (the previous owner of the house) hac clearly noticed and catered for the hedgehogs that lived under one of his sheds, and even "installed" a hedgehog gate in the fence between C and B in the map above and below.
In summary - even though the hedgehogs had their southern and western territory (D,E, F, I and J) completely blocked off to them by the thoughtless (at best) actions of D, we (C and I) have re-established a route back for them into their southern and western hunting grounds (and with my tunnel under our side passage) a route back into the wider world, which I KNOW they have regularly used for 5 years or so now. The hedgehogs are OK, are feeding and would have had full run of lovely garden C with access to garden B (and even A possibly) in the map below. So that does offer us some hope for these wonderful animals.
I expect it'll be some time after hibernation (so think April or so) before the local hedgehogs find their way back into their "southern territories" (D,E,F,J and I) ... but with C feeding them and hibernation coming soon... I think... I hope they'll be OK, despite the thoughtless actions of D.
More soon, I'm sure.
Away from the hedgehogs, what else?
Ben and I were treated to another very much needed sight of one of our two secret site barn owls at about 7pm on the night of Saturday 12th November and then again on Sunday 13th. We've become accustomed to watching these spectacular owls each year, but generally only in the late autumn, all winter and sometimes early spring, as... well... it's just too light in the evenings and mornings at other times of the year, and Ben is in bed very often (and not owl watching!). The last time we saw one of our local owls was (I think) on the 6th March this year (at least I KNOW we saw one then as I recorded it) so we haven't seen Ben's favourite bird in 8 months now. Quite a stretch and always a great relief to see them again in the autumn - and know that they're still around - we're so lucky to have them, so so lucky!
An old back injury flared up again in the middle of November for me, incapacitating me somewhat (to the extent that I couldn't even get in a car for a week or so). (I slipped 2 lumbar discs about 6 years ago in case you're wondering, a result of having spent my youthful working years walking around with 90Kg sacks of flour over my shoulders - ruining my back over time, and I've never fully recovered).
I hear goosanders and goldeneye are beginning to return to our local gravel pits for the winter, but I haven't yet been to greet them.
We do have a few "winter returners" though.
For 5 of the last 6 years, we've had a coal tit use our camera box to roost in each winter, but last year nothing did and this year it looks like we might have a male house sparrow do so instead.
As well as the male house sparrow, we also have a pair of starlings now roosting under our north eaves each night - turning up and bedding down so-to-speak, at around 1530hrs each afternoon and leaving in the morning around 0800hrs. I (of course) have a camera in our eaves too. Of course I do.
The month continued to be very warm really, for November that is, right up until the last day or two - and even then, it hardly became cold, just average at around 7 or 8C.
In the final week of November not only did Ben and his schoolmates find a hornet in their class (Ben explained to everyone that there was no need to be scared (well done son!) but you know what we Brits are like don't you, children especially, so everyone ran around screaming in his class I hear), but also I found an ichneumon wasp on the inside of our kitchen window. So I took a photo or two with my phone.
This lovely wasp is Ophion luteus. An ichneumon which can be found flying around until the end of November, but not often that late. It lays its eggs inside the larval cocoons of noctuid moths - no... it's not a "nice thing" really - going around and endoparasitising the 'sleeping' larvae of overwintering moths, but there you go - it was nice to see, at least for me.
Finally, this month, we took a family walk around the southern part of Burnham beeches woods in Buckinghamshire. My back injury and the boys' weekend activities had kept us from visiting the woods a fortnight earlier, when we should have (mid November is the time to go to see beech trees at their most glorious in this part of England), but we did see some beautiful things on our walk through the dank drizzle. One or two beech trees which looked on fire (see the photo at the start of this blog post and at the end), some lovely turkey tail fungi (see below)... and most unexpectedly of all, a party of about 6-9 (difficult to count - they seemed to be everywhere!) FIRECRESTS!
Sure, goldcrests are EVERYWHERE in England. When you know what goldcrests sound like, you'll realise that they genuinely DO seem to be in every leylandii spruce or fir tree. Just this month in fact, we again have a male goldcrest singing his tiny heart out in our smaller leylandii trees beside the lavatory window (beauty and the beast and all that).
But firecrests? No. They're FAR harder to see and hear. In fact the last time I saw a party of firecrests (or ANY firecrest at all for that matter) was at the summit of Mount Ainos in August 2007. My girlfriend at the time (we married a year later) and I had just (inadvisably) driven an original fiat 500 up the 1:3 slope of Mount Ainos and completely fried its radiator and cooling system. We nursed it to a dusty car park near the summit, let it steam there like a geyser (no exaggeration!) as we sat under a pine thicket, NOT drinking from our water bottles (we'd need them to refill the radiator when we returned) and watching firecrests around us. (And an alpine swift overhead, as it happens).
Yes... I'd not seen firecrests for 15 years until Sunday November 27th 2022 in Burnham beeches. I made sure the Bucks Birds News website (and therefore county recorder) was informed...
Wonderful, tiny things which fly like hummingbirds around holly bushes and the like, picking off whatever flying insects are still around. For a few minutes we felt like we were in a Disney film or something - with these lovely wee birds hovering around our heads - completely unfazed by us.
A note here, to anyone hoping to or wishing to see a firecrest. The most obvious thing by far, when seeing a firecrest, is NOT the firey orange-yellow crest (like a goldcrest). They (like goldcrests again) only tend to raise and display their bright crests when breeding or shouting at each other etc. No... the white supercilium (stripe above the eye) is how I quickly ascertained these were firecrests we were watching and not goldcrests.
A brilliant treat though - completely unexpected and what a way to lighten up a really quite miserable day, where we felt like we were wandering around inside a cloud for most of our walk!
Also another lesson to us (should we need it - we probably don't) that you don't get to see firecrests, or anything else for that matter, if you just lie o your sofa, dribbling at the TV.
Get up and out.
Even in the miserable, cold, dark, wet winter.
You never know what you'll see.