Watching wildlife can be easy. No crouching in a draughty hide for hours, no tramping over moorland in pouring rain, no driving for hours to stand with hundreds of other twitchers in a muddy field, no – it can be quite comfortable. These smug thoughts have been running through my mind a lot recently as I sit in an armchair in my garden room to begin one of my favourite activities – hog watching.
Dusk falls, a slice of the lawn is well lit by the backdoor security light, little heaps of enticing food are set ready and I have my binoculars and notebook to hand. I’ve been marking my visitors with dots of tipp-ex so I know who’s who. The first to arrive is Little, a this year’s youngster. He settles down to feed – he’s apparently determined to grow as big as possible before hibernation time. Next comes Scoot – Little’s mother. They will feed happily nose to nose – not a proximity hedgehogs normally tolerate. These two potter off and return two or three times during a watch. We may have a visit from Biffo – a sporadic visitor who charges any hog who hasn’t smelt his approach and bolted, head-butting and barging them till they know who’s boss. He doesn’t feed for long – much too busy barging. In all, this season I’ve already marked fourteen individuals and new ones keep appearing.
It’s not just hedgehogs. While watching and waiting I’ve three times seen a tawny owl. It flies over the garden and perches in the oak tree, slewing its head round and then staring fixedly down into the undergrowth, hoping for a mouse or vole. For the last four weeks I’ve had another visitor too. A fine dog fox, with long legs and a luxuriant white-tipped tail, has taken a fancy to the hog food. At first he was very relaxed, sitting down to eat and so near that I could look right into his barley-sugar eyes. Latterly he’s grown more wary and whisks across to the shelter of the bushes.
One evening I witnessed an interesting example of inter-species behaviour. A black cat was poised beside the flower border waiting for mice. The fox and a hedgehog fed peaceably about three feet apart. All was calm. Hog finished and ambled over to a heap near cat. Fox finished and crossed over too, passing just in front of cat. Cat charged, and fox, though much larger, fled. He circled round and started feeding a few inches from hog, now supervised by a disapproving cat. Seeing that hog had a tastier morsel, he leant across and stole it from between the startled animal’s paws. Hog froze, then trotted away into the shadows. Fox cleaned up and left. No damage done, and an interesting lesson for me into degrees of toleration.
Such encounters are, no doubt, part of the nightly experience of these nocturnal creatures. I feel delighted to catch a glimpse of this busy world beyond our drawn curtains.