Hedgehogs have been in the news recently, with conservationists asking gardeners to provide gaps in their fences to allow hedgehogs (left) to roam around looking for food. They eat lots of different invertebrates such as worms, slugs, and caterpillars, as well as berries, and will even take the chicks of ground-nesting birds if they find them. Although there are no walls or fences at Exbury that could exclude a hedgehog from the Gardens they are rarely, if ever, sighted there. As a woodland edge mammal, and with large areas mostly undisturbed, you would think the habitat was quite suitable for them, but they are not commonly seen. In fact, if anyone has seen one it would be interesting to hear about it. Being nocturnal, of course, makes it more difficult to ascertain if there is a population present, but they do leave signs of their presence in the form of droppings or "scat". I spotted a single dropping (right) on April 13 beside the stream near the bottom of Jubilee Hill, a neat little shiny black sausage about 3 cms long, quite strongly scented, deposited on a mossy mound, the first I have found in the Gardens. Hedgehogs can roam up to 2km a night in search of food so a single dropping does not indicate that one is resident. If you visit the Gardens keep an eye out, and if you spot a likely sign please report it to the office.
Another creature, whose presence can be detected by signs that it leaves behind in the form of regurgitated pellets, is the kestrel (left). Of course, kestrels are much easier to see in the daytime than hedgehogs, as they hunt over open fields or scrubby areas, and are easily identified by their habit of hovering motionlessly in the air as they look for prey (often voles), but they are not particularly common at Exbury. However, one individual obviously has an eye for a classyspot as it has made great use of an ornamental urn (right) on the front steps of Exbury House. A large pile of pellets (below) was found scattered around below the urn, a clear sign that it is a regular perch. Birds of prey, such as owls and hawks, regularly regurgitate the undigested part of their prey and you can usually identify the species from the appearance and contents the pellet. These pellets are small (about 3cms long) and contain beetle shells and bits of fur, but no bones. The birds' strong stomach acid dissolves any bones. Tawny owls produce much larger pellets which do contain bones, and can be found at the foot of their roost tree; little owls, now quite scarce, are small and also have traces of bones.