About Me

Hello and welcome to my nature writing blog. My name is Jill Stanton-Huxton and I am a freelance writer with a passion for the natural world. I am a volunteer and member of the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds), World Wildlife Fund, British Hedgehog Preservation Society, UK Butterfly Conservation, Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hosptial and BBONT (UK Wildlife Trusts). Please feel free to comment on my posts and if you’ve enjoyed your visit please come again! You can also find me on my facebook page: Nature Notes of a Country Girl. Best wishes, Jill

Saturday, 22 September 2012

A hedgehog called Bill

One evening during the summer my neighbour knocked on the door to say he’d found a baby hedgehog on his front drive. As he knew we fed them in our garden he thought we’d know what to do about it!

When we went to investigate, we found the little fellow wandering around on the front lawn, disorientated and unsteady on his feet. We decided the best thing to do was ‘overnight’ him in the hedgehog house we have in our garden. In the morning we could call the local wildlife hospital for advice. So I carefully tucked him up in some fresh hay, put down some food and water and we kept our fingers crossed that he’d be okay until the next morning.

During the night I woke up remembering that I’d recently read an article in the local newspaper about a new Hedgehog Hospital (Brackley Hogwatch) which had just opened nearby.  Early the next morning I phoned their emergency helpline and within seconds, Andrew, (the hospital’s founder) answered. After a brief discussion  he said it sounded like the hedgehog was an orphan and probably only 3 or 4 weeks old - so the sooner he picked him up the better.

Sadly, when he arrived a short while later, the little hoglet was curled up in a tiny ball and appeared to be lifeless. Andrew explained that even though we’d done all the right things, babies can deteriorate very rapidly and the quicker he could get him on a heated pad and start syringe feeding him goats’ milk the better his chances of survival.

I told him we were going away on holiday the next morning but we would really love to know how he was getting on when we got back. He explained that they always like to return ‘patients’ to their original surroundings so he would be in touch again in a few weeks.

Sure enough a few days after arriving home we had a letter through the post saying ‘Bill’ (the name they’d given him!) had survived and was now 115g in weight and would soon be ready to "come home". Also included with the letter was a copy of his ‘hospital record’ charting his weekly progress and highlighting his excellent nesting skills and very healthy appetite!

So, the following evening we arranged for ‘Bill’ to be released back into our garden. Andrew explained that although he would remember his surroundings we may not see him again for a while as hedgehogs are nomadic and can travel up to 4 miles a night in search of food and a mate.  To make sure we’d recognise him when he did return he’d painted some white nail varnish onto some of his spikes.  

It’s been several weeks now since Bill’s release and as yet we’ve not seen him amongst the several other hedgehogs that visit us each evening. However, I’m confident that one day when we look out the window one very special little hedgehog will be their enjoying his evening meal...



Monday, 21 May 2012

Ladybird, ladybird fly away home...

I’ve been keeping a nature diary now for several years, and recently, I’ve also started recording seasonal events on the Woodland Trusts ‘nature calendar’ which helps to show the impact of climate change on our wildlife.

Interestingly, the first individual records that have been found in the UK date back to 1684. Robert Marsham was Britain's first phenologist - he recorded his 'Indications of Spring' for an impressive 62 years, beginning in 1736 and continuing until his death in 1798.

One of the events I’ve been recording on a regular basis over the years is my first sighting of ladybirds. I first noticed back in 2008 that some were hibernating in a small conifer in our front garden. On the first, warm, sunny days of the year I would see them sunning themselves, at first in small groups, and eventually over the years in much larger numbers.

I first noted in my diary in March 2009 that I’d seen a new type of ladybird ‘sunbathing’ with them- I hoped at the time that it wasn’t the harlequin ladybird which had reached theUK from North America in 2004. The harlequin has the potential to jeopardise the 46 species of our own native ladybirds.

On the 4 March 2011 I counted an amazing 100 ladybirds on the conifer warming themselves in the spring sunshine. Finally, on the 23 February this year, with the weather an un-seasonally balmy 18 degrees, I definitely (and sadly) spotted a harlequin ‘invader’ amongst them.

Apparently, seven out of eight of our native ladybird species have declined over the last five years following the arrival of these ‘invaders’ - the problem is they out-compete with other ladybirds for prey and habitat, and even eat their native cousins.

The UK-Ladybird Survey (which aims to facilitate the recording of all the UK’s ladybirds) is currently monitoring their spread across Britain and assessing its impact - so it's really important to record any sightings you have on their website.

I can’t help but think of the old nursery rhyme when I think of them: ‘Ladybird, ladybird fly away home’. Realistically I know it’s too late for that, lets just hope that through monitoring the situation something can eventually be done to help further the decline.




Wednesday, 29 February 2012

King of the Fishers

Apparently there are eighty seven different types of kingfisher in the world. They are present in every continent except Antarctica.  Practically all of them are bright and iridescent: colours range from blue, to purple, red, green, rose-pink, pistachio, orange and even black and white.   Not all of them, however, are the ‘fishing’ kingfishers we have in the UK quite a few are ground feeding birds. To quote the nature writer, Simon Barnes, “they seem to have been created when God was in one of his silly moods; a virtuoso bit of creation.” 

The first time I saw a kingfisher I was about seven years old and on a boat on the river with my father. It was a warm sunny afternoon and earlier in the day the family had enjoyed a picnic on the riverbank.

I say I ‘saw’ a kingfisher, but as with most sightings of this beautiful bird all I actually remember was seeing a glimpse, a streak of electric blue, turquoise and chestnut red as it flew past us up the river and into the distance. What I do remember though is the great excitement this brief glimpse caused with my father shouting ‘kingfisher’ and waving frantically up the river to the other members of the family who were sitting on the riverbank.

Up until recently (probably like most people) I could count the number of kingfisher sightings I’ve had over the years on the fingers of one hand. However, since I’ve started a regular walk along a stretch of a slow flowing river, often where they are found, I’ve been fortunate to have had several good sightings.

The most recent one happened several weeks ago, on a cold autumnal day. I was standing on a wooden bridge that crosses over the river, watching the steady flow of water and daydreaming when all of a sudden that familiar flash of colour shot past me, circled a large old oak tree and flew back down the river in the direction it had appeared. The whole event probably only lasted a few seconds, but it was my most memorable sighting to date.  
In the UK, kingfishers breed in their first year and have 2-3 broods in quick succession; the first clutch usually appears in late March or early April. Each tiny chick can eat 12-18 fish a day and when they leave the nest at 24-25 days the parents only continue to feed them for the next four days before driving them out of their territory and starting their next brood.  Sadly, half the fledglings don’t survive for more than a week or two and very few last more than one breeding season. If you put all these facts together, catching a glimpse of these pretty little birds really does become a very special treat indeed.