Monday, 30 April 2012

Babies Abound

We were wondering what young wildlife we would have this year at the Centre, what with our recent decisions to stop breeding fox cubs and to have a years hiatus from breeding wildcats, but it seems the BWC is still going to be a home to many cubs, kitts and kittens again in 2012.

Of course we have the usual mice, rats and voles. Muntjac deer are continuing to breed and we have high hopes for our new polecat pair as well as our existing pair and some new owl chicks are bound to follow before the Summer.

But for now, we have a young stoat with hopes for more to follow as seen above. Our red squirrels are so far breeding well, and the young kittens in the walkthrough enclosure are beginning to come out and explore. Our rabbits have had their first litter for this year, and of course Ellis is continuing to be the star attraction when he is here after the fox keeper talks.

Do come and see some of our youngsters this weekend... the stoats will be off display still for a few weeks, but all our other kits are out and about and our red squirrels in particular are a joy to watch as they are finding their feet in the walkthrough enclosure.

Friday, 27 April 2012

New Polecats

The polecat is one of the seven native weasels we have in Great Britain. During the first half of the 20th Century they reached record low numbers, but have been a success story during the second half spreading back from their stronghold in Wales eastwards and north through the country. Their success has been fuelled mainly by the recovery of rabbits after the effects of myxamatosis and the re-introductions of polecats in several areas.

We have bred polecats here at the Centre for many years now. All or individuals belong to the studbook and so we have helped, in many cases directly, with the re-introduction efforts.

Therefore we are pleased to say we have a new potential breeding pair that arrived at the BWC this week.

Joining "Storm & Velvet" we have a new 1 year old male called "Cassius" and a young female called "Mags". They are currently housed separately, but adjacent, in the two pens opposite our main polecat enclosure. Over the coming weeks they will hopefully get used to each other before we allow them together to potentially form a second breeding pair.

Once again, any young polecat kitts born here this year will potentially go for release to aid with their comeback in England.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Ellis settling in well


Apologies, I feel I have let you all down as I can not bring you new photos of Ellis in the photographic pen. But can you blame me?... When we were up there on Saturday it was a choice between Ellis and the adders dancing again! Come on?... And Sunday, well that was the first sightings of the female adders... I mean, it's a no-brainer right? OK, I admit Ellis is a cutie, but ADDERS!!!!

Nevertheless, check out this stunning photograph above taken by Wendy Salisbury. I think you will all agree that it seems Ellis is settling in well in his new role of "Most photographed fox cub ever" He was not phased at all by the people watching him and clicking cameras, and he will be out again this weekend on both Saturday and Sunday.

Follow the link above to see more of Wendy's photography.

Meanwhile, it seems we have another budding photographer in the midst. Check out this photo by keeper Rich (he's the chubby one if you are not sure.)


... Not bad huh? Rich is really beginning to get into the photography side of things, and keen to learn more, but he is a little shy. So any of you photographers our there please do make yourself known to him and help him out a little with his isos and apertures.

Who knows, maybe in another year or two I won't be the only award winning photographer the BWC has to offer ;-)

Come see Ellis this weekend if you haven't already, he is growing fast.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Adder Identification

The weekend saw the first signs of our female adders emerging from brumation, this of course stirred our males back into action and we saw a bit more "dancing" in between the wet periods of both Saturday and Sunday.

With the females now out, I can show you the difference between them and the males. There has been a lot of confusion in who is who this year, and I think it doesn't help that we have one male that looks very different to our other two, but hopefully this will clear things up a bit...

As you can see from the two photos above... we have two very different looking adders. Now this is only a generalised rule, but you need to look at the contrast in colours on the snake as well as the colour itself. You tend to find that the male adders have far more contrast between their zig-zag marking and their base colour than the females do.

Male adders are normally a silver/grey or sandy colour with vivid jet black markings. The females are more of a browny/copper colour with duller brown markings.

It doesn't help when our males are shedding, as they go very dull and almost female like in looks... Also one of our males is grey while the other two are sandy. But from the pictures above I think you can see a clear difference.

Having one of our females out spiced thing up once again, and two of our adders were competing to lay with her.

One gave up very quickly though, and un-surprisingly our larger male settled nicely with the female, and if you look closely enough you can even see he creates a heart shape over her body... ahh... or is that just me?

More news later in the week about Ellis, and exciting news on a research project we are collaborating on.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Ellis the Fox Cub

He has only been with us for just over a week, but already "Ellis" is somewhat of a super star! He has settled down very well in his new surroundings, and has proven to be very popular with visitors.

This week we have been getting him used to new situations... he had been spending a lot of time with the keepers, Katie is doing a fantastic job in rearing him and has been taking him for short walks on a lead and harness around the Centre and we have been slowly introducing him to cameras.

A few days ago we moved our polecat pair from their enclosure, and they are now housed opposite next to our other polecats. This leaves their pen free once again to be used as a photographic pen just as we did last year.

From this Saturday, after both of the fox keeper talks, we will be taking Ellis to the photographic pen for 10/15 minutes to allow him to stretch his legs in a controlled and safe environment, while allowing for you to see him closer up and get a few pictures. This will continue on every day we are open, as long as Katie is on duty, until he is too big for the pen and old enough to introduce to Biscuit. 

Why not come and see how Ellis is doing this weekend, I am sure he will be pleased to meet you.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Dance of the Adders - BWC 2012

Apologies for the post on the adders... I mentioned that for information on the "dance" to check back in the archives to last year and the year before. I have since been informed, by many, that I never went over it in previous years either. I remember doing a video post on in two years ago, but when I checked that the other day I can see that it is no longer embedded in the post...

Therefore for all of you that have asked about it, here is some information on the "Dance of the Adders" - Don't forget to check back on the blog tomorrow for an update on our fox cub, "Ellis"

The European Adder, or Common Viper, is one of Britain's 3 native snakes and our only venomous reptile. After hibernation they usually emerge late March, the males come out of brumation (a type of hibernation for cold-blooded animals) first with the females being spotted within the following 2 to 5 weeks.

After a couple of weeks of the males emerging, they shed their skin. Next on their mind is to mate. Once the females are "awake" they leave a scent from a gland at the base of their tail. The males will smell this, and follow it to find the female. They then writhe their body over the female, flicking their tongue in and out in a courtship before settling down to copulate.

If a second male comes across the female then the first will stop the courtship to defend his possible mate. What follows is a beautiful and elegant display which is known as the "Dance of the Adders"

The "Dance of the Adders" usually only involves two snakes, but can number many more. It is a test of strength and stamina with each male trying to force the other to the ground. They can raise the first half of their body up off the ground before trying to push the other male down to the ground.

The males will completely intertwine their bodies together while trying to force each other out, and often show very staggered and jerky movements. This ritual can last for several minutes, and often happens on many occasions over many days. During the "dance" they never try to bite each other, just keep competing with strength until one of them gives in and slinks off quickly into cover.

The "Dance of the Adders" is one of my top British Wildlife sights, and one that I never tire of seeing. I have said it many times to many people... but it really is a beautiful and hypnotic thing to see. If you missed it this year, then make sure you come to see it next year. Our males have danced now for the last 3 or 4 years so I am sure they will put on another good show in 2013.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Dance of the Adders - 2012

After a disappointing weekend of adder watching, todays weather brought the ideal conditions for them... and they treated us to a spectacular display of the "Dance of the Adders"

I won't waste time on describing the ritual/dance/behaviour, if you want to learn more check back in the archives of the blog to this time last year and the year before... you will see more photos and a good video clip. But before you do, check out the video above taken Monday morning of this years dance, and a few of the many photos I took below.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Are our Adders Dancing?

It seems like they may well be... I heard rumour last week that someone saw our adders dance, but thought it unlikely. It is a little early for our adders, plus I have not yet seen one of our female adders out yet. However, at the beginning of this week someone else mentioned to me that they have just seen our adders dancing, and then today I got a third person mention it to me as well as a confirmed sighting of one of our female adders out.

This is both good and bad news for me. It's great that they seem to be dancing, and I am posting this today as this weekend may be the last chance to try and see it for a while. However it is so frustrating for me not to have seen it myself. You may think being here all the time, how can I miss it? But the truth is... I am here all the time, working, and so have little time to spend watching the adders.

The "Dance of the Adders" for me is one of the best British Wildlife sights, I never tire of seeing it and some of my favourite photos are of this reptilian behaviour. I have yet to see it in the wild, something I hope to do one day, but have been lucky enough to see it close up here over the last three years.

The "Dance" is a mating ritual between rival males, competing over nearby females. They raise up to the front half of their bodies off the ground, weaving with each other in a jerky fashion, trying to force each other down to the ground.

It is essentially a display of strength between each other, but to the onlooker comes across as a beautiful, swaying dance which is both mesmerising and hypnotic in equal measures.

Hopefully I will be able to bring you photos of this years "dance" later next week, but until then why not come and see if you can see it for yourself. I will certainly be spending a little more time by their enclosure this weekend.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

"Ellis" the Fox Cub

Meet our newest arrival, "Ellis" (named after a certain Swedish physio...) Ellis is a fox cub which was rescued by Wildlife A&E. He has come to the BWC to find a new home, and will be an ideal friend for Biscuit when he is old enough to introduce to her.

Until then, Katie has taken on the task of looking after him and keeping him friendly. Ellis will be living with Katie until old enough to leave at the Centre on his own, and will be making appearances after the fox talk everyday Katie is working to get used to people. In a few weeks time we will once again ustilise the photographic enclosure to allow you all to get a few snaps of him growing up too.

Ellis is approximately 5 weeks old. When first born the cubs are blind and deaf, with their eyes and ears only opening up after a couple of weeks. They start off life black in colour until they reach about 4 or 5 weeks old, when their fur will slowly start to change while the cubs start to venture a little way out of the earth. Once opened, their eyes are blue but slowly change to a more amber colour within a few weeks. You can see form the first photo above that Ellis is beginning to develop both his amber eyes and red coat.

Come and meet Ellis when you can, he will be in everyday this week except Friday. Then from the following weekend, all going to plan, we will start to introduce him to the photographic pen for the weekends.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Jack and ...

The peregrine falcon, the fastest recorded animal in the world and one of the most adaptable birds to its habitat. Now often seen in towns, they have colonised many areas of high buildings, roosting on a ledge high above the ground and feeding off of the many pigeons that are around.

Over recent years you may have seen our tiercel, Jack, flying above the Centre on open days. He has proved to be a huge star, and very popular with visitors. Recently we have had to fly Jack in the mornings, but he is still doing well, and has a big job lined up for next year.

Meet our new peregrine below...

This is, well... she doesn't have a name yet. If you have any suggestions let me know, otherwise it looks like it may end up being Jack and "Jill".

She is a 13 year old female peregrine falcon, who has been trained as a hunting bird. Unfortunately during her last season she picked up an injury to one of her wings meaning she will never reach the same heights of her career again. Therefore she needed a good home to retire too, and I was more than happy to have her here.

Although she will probably never be able to fly again, she looks perfectly fine, and is very steady on the glove. She will make a great demo bird for meet and greets, and more excitingly will be perfect for breeding.

Come the Winter, the plan is to rest Jack and introduce him to the female in the hope that they may mate and produce some chicks next year.

Keep your eyes open over the Easter weekend for her first few walks out and about, and an eye on the sky as you may just see jack flying over the nature reserve.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Dormice release back to the wild

Dozy Dormouse

I have just got back today from the annual Common Dormouse Conservation Breeders Group meeting, this year held out Whipsnade Zoo.

Most of you are aware that a couple of years a go we joined this group to help with the nationwide conservation efforts with one of Britain's cutest animals! Over the past 2 years we have successfully bred many of these animals, all helping with the release program.

The meeting consisted of the usual catch up on the state of affairs, new veterinary screening, new husbandry techniques etc. As well as new possible release sites, plans for future breeding animals and success of previous releases.

A total of 23 pairs of dormice have been nominated for release this year, of which we have contributed 9 individuals. These animals now go for an extensive vet screening before being released later in the year. 

We still have our breeding pair on site, and a couple of youngsters not required for release this year and will be allocated a new breeding pair plus additional "education" dormice later next month. These education dormice in particular will be hugely beneficial in terms of allowing people to have a closer look at these rarely seen mammals, and for dormouse handling training which the Surrey Wildlife Trust is keen to use our facilities for.

More dormouse news, very exciting news, to follow at the end of next week!

Thanks to Ian Rentoul for his photograph above, have a look at a few of his other pictures by following the link above.