Suddenly the garden is quiet. The great tits who successfully fledged in our nestbox skedaddled almost immediately, the blackbirds who raised at least three broods to enjoy apple picnics on the lawn each morning have ungratefully withdrawn and, of the siskins who squabbled and scrambled round the nyger feeder all summer, only one rather shabby individual remains. Of course, this happens every year as the moult hits our familiar garden favourites making them vulnerable to the patrolling sparrowhawk and as the small families of finches and tits begin join up in flocks to range more widely over gardens and countryside. If you’re lucky enough to be looking when such a flock arrives you may have five minutes entertainment, perhaps with the bonus of a contingent of pretty pink and black long-tailed tits, this year’s youngsters’ shorter tails and more blurred plumage distinguishing them from the adults, but too soon they all flit off to new feeding grounds.
However, there are compensations. Earlier this month I was watching from the window for my visiting hedgehogs, their supper provided in three small heaps where light from the security lamp illuminates the lawn, when suddenly a badger came loping over the grass, made straight for the food and proceeded to flop down on his haunches and carefully hoover up every last scrap before trotting off round the side of the house. He was so near that through my binoculars I could see his eager snout snuffing out the crumbs and his mobile lips teasing them out from the turf. He seemed quite at ease, so I guess this was not his first visit. I say’ “he”, as his broad head suggested a male and, from his small body and slim build, I think he was probably a youngster thrown out of his family set and so searching for his own patch. A couple of nights ago he – if it was the same animal – came again, now rather more wary and considerably chunkier, so it looks as though he may have found one.
In fact, many young animals are on the move at this time of year, offering us good chances of seeing them, so keep a look out for young foxes, badgers, stoats and others. I remember a friend telling me of one such encounter. He was driving slowly along a country road when a long brown snake undulated across the carriageway in front of him. It was only when the snake reached the grass verge and fragmented into a number of sleek brown shapes that he realized what he was seeing: a large family of weasels following their mother in a close head-to-tail formation on a thrilling exploration of the big world beyond the den!