Good News for Hedgehogs

1200px-European_hedgehog_(Erinaceus_europaeus)Photo Credit: Gaudete

Hedgehogs were a familiar sight as I was growing up in Southern Ireland. We used to put out food for them at dusk. Our house was close to woods and soon a hedgehog would venture out and tuck into the scraps of meat in a bowl under the window. Sometimes we would see them trundling down the road at night and, alas squashed hedgehogs by the side of the road were common. Rolling up into a ball is no defence against an oncoming car so, what evolved as an excellent defence against predators, is no match for traffic.

My abiding memories of hedgehogs were the ones that came indoors. We had a black labrador and one Autumn day, I found a hedgehog rolled up tightly in the middle of a pile of leaves in the dog’s bed. We rescued the hedgehog, but over the next few days, the same thing kept happening. I discovered our labrador knew where to find a hibernating hedgehog under leaves in the woods and then started rolling it back towards the house, gathering leaves along the way as they stuck to the spines. Eventually, this large pile of leaves plus hedgehog ended up in the dog’s bed. The leaves and the spines protected the hedgehog from our canine predator, but we made sure the hedgehogs were not disturbed again!

Alas, these fascinating, spiny creatures are in decline in parts of Europe, especially Britain. The loss of amount and quality of hedgehog habitat is a major reason. Hedgehogs thrive in areas rich in soil invertebrates and much arable land today is poor and fragmented, and this is thought to be one reason why hedgehog numbers have declined from over 30 million in the 1950’s to around one million in Britain today. In Ireland, they are still thriving in many places but are thought to be in decline overall.

I love waking up to good news, and this morning I saw that a village in Yorkshire, England, is taking steps to save hedgehogs. The village of Burton Fleming has declared itself to be a hedgehog-friendly place! Carefully placed gaps under fences, feeding stations and even little ladders from ponds have been set up to make this village and its gardens a welcoming place for over 50 hedgehogs. So far it has been a great success, and other villages in Britain are going to follow suit. It is heartening to see that people are taking action to save this charismatic little spiky animal!

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The Glories of Autumn in Ireland: Part 3

Several insects and other small invertebrates came indoors as the weather turned colder.  The cottage is in the middle of the woods and close to the lake and wildlife finds a way to come inside.  Below are pictures of some of those visitors – except for the Pale tussock moth caterpillar that I found just outside!



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Glories of Nature: Autumn in Ireland Part 2

The rich harvest of wild berries in the Irish hedgerows is a signature sign of Autumn.  Blackberries and rose hips from wild Dog Roses, Hawthorn hips and Blackthorn berries better known as Sloes.


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To see the glories of nature you have to look carefully. Autumn in Ireland part one.

As Spring approaches in 2017 I look back to October 2016 in Tipperary, Ireland on the shores of Lough Derg.  It was a typical ripe Autumn bursting with berries and dying leaves rich with color.   I found wildflowers before Winter and battered butterflies and dragonflies, as well  many small animals that decided my cottage was a good place to hang out in as the weather turned colder.  Here are some photographs of an Irish Autumn.




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An Unexpected Encounter With a Water Owl: Cuvier’s Beaked Whale

Several hundred years ago there was said to be a strange and fierce sea creature that attacked ships.  The Water-Owl or Ziphius had the body of a fish and a head of an owl with huge eyes and a beak-like a sword.  Today we think the animal behind these stories is Cuvier’s beaked whale or Goose-beaked whale.  This deep water whale It is the most widely distributed beaked whale species.

In early February I was on a sailing ship in the Caribbean passing through the channel between St Lucia and Martinique.  It is deep in that area –  several thousand feet and suitable for beaked whales. I was not thinking about whales at the time because I was busy photographing the brown boobies that were following the ship.  Suddenly a robust, chocolate brown animal appeared next to the ship below me. I took as many photographs as I could before it disappeared into the deep.  I was pretty certain I had seen a beaked whale but I had no idea what species.  It was not large – about 10 to 12 feet long but had the typical curved dorsal fin towards the back of the body and a strange elongated and slightly bulbous head.  When I returned one of our marine mammal scientists at the New England Aquarium identified it as a young Cuvier’s beaked whale.  I feel so lucky to have seen one of these elusive animals.

Cuvier’s beaked whales can dive deeper than any other marine mammal. A recent study shows that at least one individual went down as far as 9,816 feet!  Not much is known about these elusive and extreme divers, but there is concern that noise in the ocean from sonar and seismic testing may cause these whales to strand.  There is evidence to suggest that some of these stranded animals have surfaced too quickly and developed damage similar to that of the bends in humans.

Noise in the ocean is a serious threat to marine mammals and other marine life.  Commercial shipping noise, sonar testing  and seismic surveys can clearly have significant, long-lasting, and widespread impacts on marine mammal and fish populations. Normally, when we think about pollution in the seas we don’t think about noise. We think about plastics and chemicals and ghost fishing nets.  Noise in its various forms is just as big a problem for life in the ocean.  If we care about the future of strange and elusive mammals such as the ‘Water-owl’ we need to understand and mitigate noise impacts in the ocean far more than at present.



A large and rich brown shape appeared – Cuvier’s Beaked Whale surfaces beside the ship


Caracteristic dip behind the head and elongated head just visible


cookie cutter shark scars clearly visible


robust body


Small and curved dorsal fin

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Pacific Shore Birds on Rose Atoll

I find that shore birds on distant Pacific islands can be hard to approach.  They are often far out on sand spits or rocky outcrops, and fly off as soon as one approaches.  On Rose Atoll, the southern-most US national monument and part of American Samoa, most of the birds seem fairly relaxed when faced with the rare human intruder to their sanctuary.  I suspect the shorebirds are different because they are migrants and often wary of humans.  An exception are the wonderfully named bristle thighed curlews that breed in remote areas of Alaska and winter on remote Pacific islands.  I have been lucky enough to see these birds in the Line Islands as well. They are flightless for a period during winter molt, so I presume that is why they are usually on secluded islands. As I sat near the high tide line a curlew came out of the bushes and posed for me.  You can see the untidy feathers around the thighs – hence the name.  Later photos show distant pacific golden plover and ruddy turnstones.

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Anna’s Hummingbirds in La Jolla

During the winter in Southern California the hummingbirds are as busy as ever defending their territory and this male Anna’s Hummingbird was no exception.  He was so focused on defending his patch that he let me get very close.


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