During the winter months starlings perform what is called a murmuration. Thousand of birds gather over their roosting site just before dusk and swoop and swirl as one big mass performing amazing acrobatics and creating a beautiful spectacle well worth watching. Possible reasons for this extraordinary behaviour are that grouping together offers protection from predators such as buzzards and peregrine falcons, that it helps them keep warm and also allows them to exchange information about good feeding sites etc. As the weeks go by more and more birds flock together reaching numbers as high as 100,000 in some areas. Unfortunately starling numbers on the whole have been declining since the early 1980s across much of Northern Europe and the UK. This is probably due to the loss of permanent pasture, increased use of farm chemicals and a shortage of food and nesting sites. For this reason the starling is red listed as a bird of high conservation concern and is protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/bird-and-wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/s/starling/roosting.aspx).
I am lucky enough to live close to a great viewing spot for murmurations: Marazion Marsh. This reserve has been under the management of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) since the 1990s. It contains the largest reed bed in the whole of Cornwall and is home to more than 250 bird, 500 plant, 500 insect and 18 mammal species (https://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves-and-events/find-a-reserve/reserves-a-z/reserves-by-name/m/marazionmarsh/about.aspx).


Second visit

A week later I returned to the nature reserve to check on the cygnets. I was secretly hoping to find lots of new broods after the upsetting loss of the previous week. The evergrowing population of coots had taken over the lake. As I watched the funny little black chicks going about their business alongside the adults I spotted a lone baby dashing in and out of some nearby reeds. It caught my attention as it was rounder and fuzzier than the others and did not appear to have the characteristic red wispy feathers the coot chicks have on their head when newly hatched. Then I realised that what I had spotted was not a coot, but an unusually coloured Mallard duckling. It soon joined its mother and made its way to a log quite close to the bank giving me the opportunity to admire it properly in the late afternoon light.

Following the fate of this year’s hatchlings at the Swanpool Nature Reserve has been a turbulent affair.

In early May nine cygnets hatched and the first two broods of ducklings appeared. I have been following the misadventures of these adorable little creatures ever since.

One of the cygnets was lost pretty much overnight, and sadly the Mallard ducklings were decimated in just a few days. Both broods (one of 12 ducklings and one of 9) were left with only one duckling each.

A few days later I spotted a third brood of five ducklings. Two of these are still alive today and growing rapidly. In June Coot chicks also started to appear.

Overall the lake remained unusually empty for the time of year. Generally earlier-hatched ducklings have an increased survival rate (http://www.ducks.org/conservation/waterfowl-biology/duckling-survival), so the prospect of seeing a good number of ducklings reach adulthood and fledge remained bleak…

Here are some photos from a few years back when I spent a week following the work of Bill and Anne-Marie Long. The couple have their own functioning hedgehog hospital in an annex of their home in Mawnan Smith, Cornwall. Their dedication to these little mammals is astounding. The hedgehogs need help and care round the clock in order to be rehabilitated and ultimately released back into the wild.
I have since found out about and visited other hedgehog rescue centres around the country such as Prickly Ball Farm in Devon (http://www.devonwildlifecentre.co.uk/) and the Lincolnshire Hedgehog Hospital (http://www.hedgehogcare.org.uk/). All truly inspiring.

February is drawing to a close. Temperatures are still low. Hedgehogs are still in hibernation.
Hedgehogs usually hibernate between November and mid March. Only those hedgehogs that have built up enough fat reserves over the spring, summer and autumn months will be able to survive this process. Making hedgehogs’ homes in the garden (i.e. a pile of wood and dry leaves) and providing food is a great way to help them prepare for hibernation.Minced meat, tinned dog or cat food (not fish-based), crushed cat biscuits and chopped boiled eggs are all suitable food sources. Specialist hedgehog food is also available to buy from wild bird food suppliers. Hedgehogs should never be given milk as it can cause diarrhoea.
Sometimes, however, hedgehogs may need a bit more help.
As a general rule, juveniles found weighing between 300-500 grams during late autumn should be prevented from hibernating. The best course of action is to place the hedgehog in a large box with plenty of clean, fresh hay, crumpled newspapers or dry leaves. It can be housed in a garage or shed and should be fed two heaped tablespoons of food daily and provided with a shallow bowl of fresh water. It is important to handle the hedgehog as little as possible so that it does not become unnaturally tame and used to human contact. Once the hedgehog reaches a weight of between 550-680 grams, only if the weather is still relatively mild, it can be released back to the wild. Ideally it should be returned where it was found. If the weather is harsh, it is best to let the hedgehog hibernate in the garage or shed and then release it in the spring when other hedgehogs are seen coming out of hibernation.
Juveniles found weighing under 300g may be orphaned and not yet weaned. These hedgehogs require more specialist care and should be passed on to an experienced wildlife rehabilitator.

More information about who to contact, how to care for autumn juveniles and how to make your garden hedgehog friendly is available on the RSPCA website (http://www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/wildlife/inthewild/gardenhedgehogs) and at http://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/index.php .

I had my own rescue and release experience last year at my mum’s house when she found a hedgehog in our garden pond:


Cornish Seal Sanctuary

Not a good day for photography but a very interesting day at the Cornish Seal Sanctuary. This rescue and rehabilitation facility has been helping seals (and other animals) since 1958. The staff are particularly busy this time of the year as it is grey seal breeding season. Unfortunately it is not unlikely for some pups born on our beaches to be separated from their mother, injured, sick or orphaned. The Seal Sanctuary’s animal care team is on call 24/7 and thanks to a quick response, expert veterinary care, and a seal hospital on site they are able to save the lives of pups that would not survive if left in the wild.
The Sanctuary’s ultimate aim is to return all animals back to the wild. It is, however, also extremely committed to providing a good home for those less fortunate who are too sick or disabled to go back.

Memories of Spring…



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