Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Susie the Stoat

Half term has been and gone, and despite the up and down weather we were busy... very busy, including a record breaking day for a non bank holiday in terms of visitors through the door! Did everyone come after seeing our owner on a couple of recent TV cameos?, was it the gourmet triple cooked chips that had the people flocking to our doors?, or was it the 2 for 1 vouchers we had in a few local publications?.. We will never know, but what we do know is what ever the reason they came for... they stayed for the animals.

The stars of the show at the moment are no doubt our two young otter cubs, who now venture out with mum and dad for most of the talks, but another of our residents was causing quite a stir... Susie our stoat, currently in ermine. 

Along with the mountain hare and ptarmigan, stoats are one of three animals in Britain that can turn white in the winter. This happens during the winter, when there is more likely to be a snow covering, and the stoats coat changes to beautiful white for camouflage except for the tip of their tail which remains black.

This winter coat of a stoat is called "Ermine", and was often used to to adorn the ceremonial robes of nobility. Here's a fun fact for you... in 1937, 50,000 stoat pelts were imported in from Canada for the coronation of George the VI... hmm, actually that's not really a 'fun' fact is it...

Stoats moult twice a year, and in their second moult at the end of the year can moult in to ermine. Not all stoats do turn ermine though, and you tend to find it is mainly in the north of England and Scotland where they do... I guess this makes sense, as it is more likely in these areas that we get a snow covering in winter.

In the south they usually moult in to a brown coat. You even get some stoats that just moult a few white patches... or moult white with a few brown patches... again, it seems the higher up in England you go the more white patches as a general rule of thumb.

All this leads to the temperature, and/or photoperiod of the day, being a key factor in this moult. But genes must have something to do with it too... the stoat must be genetically prone to moult ermine, and I think this due to the stoats we have had at the Centre over the years.

Of all the stoats we have had here over the years, only two have ever turned ermine. Susie being the only one at the moment. But we do have others here, and despite being in the same temperatures and photoperiod as Susie, they moulted in to their usual brown coats.

But... Susie doesn't always go ermine in the winter. Last year was the first year she did, and had a few brown patches still down her back and over her face. This year she is nearly completely white as you can see from these pictures, but before that she has always moulted brown.

Either way, she is a beautiful stoat in her brown coat or her little white number, and a special stoat to me. She is still in ermine at the moment, but it will only be a few weeks until she starts to moult in to her summer coat and go back to brown.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Photo of the Month: January 2018

"Red Squirrel" by Barry Doolan

A bit later in the month than usual, but here is our first photo of the month for 2018! In the past the winter months seem to have been a bit slower than usual for sharing of photographs, but this year that all changed. Lot's of images popping up, maybe thanks to the new social media prescence the Centre has.

For January we have chosen this cheeky little portrait above of one of our red squirrels, taken by Barry Doolan. Barry's photo will be the first in our gallery for 2019, and be in with a chance of winning a photographic day here at the Centre if chosen at the end of the year out of the 12 monthly images by our professional photographer judge.

If you would like to see more of Barry's photos, click on the link in his name above, and look below for a a few more photos that caught our eyes over the last month.

"Female and Young Otters" by Robert North

"Scottish Wildcat" by Richard Knight

"Tip toe across the fence" by Brett Watson

"Red Fox" by Adrian Coleman

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Photo of the Year: 2017

"Red Squirrel" by Paul Stuart

Let us round up last year's photo "competition" by announcing the winner, this year chosen by professional wildlife photographer Bob Brind-Surch.

Bob has been a wildlife photographer for most of his life, and teaches others about both photography and the animals he photographs through his workshops under "Natures Photos." A great photographer, a brilliant teacher and just an all round nice bloke! He describes himself as "foremost a naturalist that photographs what he observes rather than a photographer that specialises in wildlife. This is very important to me"... and it shows during his workshops at the Centre, where Bob is just as passionate about the animals he is photographing as the photography itself, and seems to enjoy sharing this knowledge with his clients too.

So, what did Bob choose to win the photographic day here at the Centre?.. Well let me pass you over to him...

"Thanks so much for asking me to judge these photos, there are some great ones there. You have asked me for my favourite and that was very difficult as there are a number of excellent photos... but after much deliberation I have chosen the squirrel on the vertical branch by Paul Stuart."

"He (Paul) has framed this superbly with the vertical branch travelling bottom left to top right, whilst conventional composition rules say it ought to be the other diagonal this approach draws the viewer's attention up along the branch and to the squirrel and especially it's face and amazing ear tufts which are perfectly sharp, as are its whiskers. Try flipping the photo horizontally and you will see what I mean. The management of the focus either deliberately or in post-production is great blurring the trunk to the left and making the edge of the photo form a great boundary to hold the photo together, and the blurring of the tail with a shallow depth of field again draws your eye to the face and ear tufts - the key parts of the squirrel." - Bob Brind-Surch

Many congratulations to Paul. Your beautiful portrait of a red squirrel will not only grace the wall in our coffee shop gallery along with the other 11 photographs chosen last year, but also wins a photographic day here at the Centre. The office will no doubt be in touch soon with more details.

To see more of Paul's photographs, click on the link in his name above, to go to his flickr page.

Many thanks again to Bob Brind-Surch. If you want to see any of Bob's images, or learn about some of the workshops he provides, click on the link below to go to his Natures Photos website.

Natures Photos - Bob Brind-Surch