European hedgehog

Critter spotting

First things first, they are back! Yes, the golden orioles have returned although, at time of writing, I have only seen one male golden oriole as this year they are later than usual. The European bee-eaters, on the other hand, arrived a few days earlier than their usual first week of April return.

I have written a few articles about both these species and, if you want to find out more, please either search the Portugal Resident website for the archives or visit my website.

I had a disaster a short while ago where my tripod sunk in the wet mud, fell over and damaged my main wildlife photography lens. The day I shipped it off to Barcelona for repair, I did manage to give it a great send off by capturing the image of a male European bee-eater that briefly stopped in the garden.

Now, on to my choice of animals to introduce to you this month … I have written articles on so many bird species in recent months that I wanted to bring you something different.

With a new photograph wildlife pond and hide currently being built, I hope to bring you some visiting mammals such as mongoose, javali and even the elusive gennet, all of which I am lucky to have living in my area. But for this month, two smaller mammals that are not often seen in the Algarve.

In Northern Europe, particularly the UK, the European hedgehog is usually seen as an unfortunate victim of road traffic. This is also the case here in Portugal and, although much less common, I put it down to there being less roads and traffic.

It is also spotted less frequently in gardens, again, probably due to the extra countryside area and abundance of food available. However, they are visible and even more so as the hibernation season seems to be much shorter, as I have seen hedgehogs in January!

Although mainly insect eaters, they seem to love millipedes, which are everywhere at this time of year, but they also eat vegetation as a supplement.

Due to the spines being very sharp, you would think that apart from the dangers of roads, the hedgehog would be safe from predators. However, the huge Eurasian eagle owl has them at the top of their menu, particularly due to the reduction in numbers of the rabbit population.

One word of caution: everyone loves to feed hedgehogs, which is not a problem, however, please do not feed them bread and/or milk as this can cause serious illness and even death due to bread being hard for them to digest and, in the case of milk, hedgehogs being lactose intolerant. They will, however, eat dried or wet cat and dog food which is readily available and easy to digest.

Word of warning: they are put off by strong smells, which is why we usually feed poultry-based foods and not fish.

Another not often seen mammal is the water vole, or rather the southwestern water vole, which is a different species to the European water vole found in other areas of Europe.

You may think that being a vole, it is a small rodent, however, the water vole is large and is often mistaken as a brown rat, but there are easily recognisable differences; the main being a rounded face, blunt nose and tiny ears, which are different to the pointed face, nose and large ears of a rat.

Being expert swimmers, they live close to water sources and in burrows made in nearby banks. Their main diet is vegetation around the water source, but they can occasionally eat aquatic creatures considered to increase their protein intake.

As you may imagine, a large rodent is often prey for many other mammals and birds of prey. Two interesting facts for you regarding water voles: first, did you know that “Ratty” in the popular children’s novel “Wind in The Willows” was actually a water vole? Secondly, and more oddly, tradition is that water vole used to be the main meat ingredient to the Spanish dish paella!

By Craig Rogers
|| features@algarveresident.com

Craig Rogers is a wildlife and nature photographer from Wales now living in the Algarve, offering photography workshops. For more information, photographs and his blog visit www.craigrogers.photography

Male European bee-eater
European hedgehog
Male golden oriole
Southwestern water vole feeding