At night in the garden
Now I'm not advocating regularly walking around the countryside at night, but sometimes an evening or nighttime exploration of your local area can be quite an education. During summer evenings and at around dusk you might well see a significant amount of wildlife you were unaware of and would never see during daylight hours.
It may seem odd to suggest you try and "see" wildlife in the dark, but as you know if you give your eyes time to adjust to the lack of light, you will become aware of much more going on around you. In addition to what you can see, being out at night focuses your attention on what your other senses pick up. Owls calling to claim their territory, barking foxes and the smell of wildflowers trying to attract moths and other nocturnal insects.
It's during the hours of darkness that hedgehogs are out hunting worms and other insects. Sadly these animals are becoming rarer, but if you are lucky, you might see them scurrying around. Later in the year, they will go into hibernation, but until then they will be trying to fatten up. If you are lucky enough to have them in your garden, please consider offering them food. If you do make sure, it's specially formulated hedgehog food as it's all too easy to kill them with kindness. If you are fortunate, you might also see badgers. Controversial for some but none the less fascinating and secretive animals. With highly tuned hearing and sense of smell, you would have to be lucky to see them, but if you do, you won't forget it. Keep below the horizon and with the wind coming from the badgers in your direction and keep very quiet and you might just be lucky.
Some of us are lucky enough to have badgers visit our gardens, but they are not always the gardener's friend as they can cause considerable damage. They will also make short work of any hedgehogs too! Being protected can pose some problems if you are not keen on having these hairy bulldozers in your garden.
Before total darkness, you will hear a whole host of birds calling as they find their roosts for the night, but gradually, as the light fades, the birds fall silent. This is true in the countryside at least, but in urban areas, you will often hear birds calling even in the wee small hours. In the carpark of my local supermarket I've often heard birds singing at all times of the day and night, all due to the lights that never go off. This makes us feel more secure but can confuse wildlife and does nothing for light pollution. If you are lucky enough to be in an area with little or no artificial light, don't forget to look up.
On a clear night not only will you be treated to a view of the stars but, against a moonlit or starlit sky, you might be lucky enough to see bats feeding on the insects that fly at night. To us, they silently pass overhead, but to other bats (and to those with younger ears) their location clicks can be heard. If you are going to be in an area frequented by bats, it might be worth trying to get hold of a bat detector. These devices will allow you to hear the sounds of these elusive but fascinating creatures. If you are interested, most areas have bat groups that organise walks etc, so a quick search online should help you find them. However, please remember that bats are highly protected, so don't be tempted to try and capture one or disturb them in any way.
It's not only the smaller animals that are out at night or in the early morning. Deer too can be seen - if you are lucky! These beautiful creatures are very nervous of humans, so all you may notice is one vanishing into the distance. Having said that even it's a magical experience to see one of our most well-loved mammals. Approach in much the same way as with the badgers, and you could be treated to a memorable moment with one of our native species. Another native is the fox, as mentioned before. These opportunist feeders will be on the lookout for an easy meal, one reason so many have moved into towns and other urban areas. Although many have become tamer, they still retain a healthy distrust of humans but can sometimes be seen out during the hours of darkness.
So if you do find yourself out during the night, or late evening, take a look to see if you can spot members of the natural world that you may not otherwise see. Take care, if your visibility is limited, but above all, enjoy what darkness has to offer.
© Phil Pickin