Thursday, 29 April 2010

Dormice are back!

Today I received two common dormice, or hazel dormice as they are often known, as part of a national zoo breeding programme for them. They were collected this morning form the LZS, London Zoo, and arrived here this afternoon.

The breeding programme is co-ordinated at Paignton Zoo down in the South-West. The pair we have are ones which were taken in from the wild for being to small to survive hibernation. The plan is to allow them to produce one litter, they plus the parents will then be re-released back into the wild after the Summer, and next year we will be allocated another pair in similar circumstances. All this means that no one dormouse is our of the wild for too long.

This is one of very few breeding programmes which we are still new to as opposed to a leading contributor and so is very exciting for us. Once we get established it is hoped we will be provided with non-breeding, non-release candidates for a permanent home which we can put on to full display for visitors.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010


Yesterday two young hares, or leverets as they are known, were brought into the Centre. They are extremely difficult to hand-rear but keeper Izzy has taken on the challenge.

She is currently keeping them at home and feeding them warm milk. Hopefully they will survive long enough to rehabilitate and possibly release back to the wild.

They were found abandoned, one with an oily substance in its coat. Hares usually scatter their young around a field as opposed to keeping them all in one place like rabbits. This is to minimise risk of loss to predators. If you ever see a wild leveret on its own, it is best to leave it be... quite often the mother will be around and waiting for you to leave so that she can return.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Badgers cubs

Another busy week ahead with photography groups and schools, today Laura and I decided to take a short break out with the Badger cubs on the reserve to give them a bit of exercise and enrichment.

They had great fun in amongst the bluebells...

Doing what badgers do best, digging!...

and just generally having a fun time.

The three cubs in our display sett are still going strong and we will probably be opening up the sett to visitors again fairly soon. In the meantime the two young orphaned cubs are still coming out for badger talks and the camera in reception is still set up on Humbug's cubs.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Goodbye "Auburn"

Earlier today I had to make the horrible decision to put one of our elderly Red Squirrels, Auburn, to sleep. She is pictured above on the right, with three of her kittens from 2008.

She was at the grand old age of 9 and had been slowly deteriorating for a few weeks... I was hoping to let her retire out in the main pen, her home, but unfortunately found her this morning on the floor of the enclosure unable to move her back legs. It was no longer fair on her to let her carry on so I took her to the vet this afternoon to let her pass away quickly and peacefully.

Auburn was my favourite squirrel at the Centre, and I had worked with her for 5 years. She was the first of many Red Squirrels I collected for the BWC. She arrived as a potential breeding female, and did not disappoint. Over her 5 years here she has produced many litters of kittens, including a litter she abandoned which I went on to hand rear, but the majority she looked after extremely well and now many of them are living in the Copse.

Auburn was always very active and climbed the enclosure wire often to greet people. During the talks she would climb all over me and also stared in many a tv programme. She will be sadly missed, but always remembered.

'Dance of the Adders'

Our adders started 'dancing' today.  They have been out of hibernation for a few weeks now, have had a couple of feeds, shed their skin and now look in pretty good shape.

We have had our adders 'dancing' for the last few years now, and it is always something spectacular to watch. I have only seen 2 dance in the past, but today a third one got in on the action.

The 'dance of the adders' is where the males writhe over each other in a ritual to show strength. They entwine their bodies with often the from half of their body off the ground. They then try and push each other down and away from them.

In this photo you can see that one of the males has been completely turned over! He soon slithered off after this and left the other 2 to it. The winner is usually the one who ends up claiming the female.

I will try and get some video off this event to post up later in the week. It is quite a spectacle to see!

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Long-eared Owls on Display

This morning we moved our pair of long-eared owls out into their new display aviary. They seemed to of settled down quite well already and will provide a rare glimpse of one of our least known British owls. Those hoping to see them will have to be patient however as they do like to hide away in the leylandi within their enclosure. But if you spend a little time to let your eyes accustom to their camouflage they will both soon emerge... even if it is just their striking eyes and ear tufts!

Also moved out onto display are our pair of breeding barn owls. She is currently sat on 5 eggs, and we hope some will hatch to allow us to rear 2 young chicks to join our bird of prey flying team this Summer.

Keep your eyes open for these new owls on your next visit.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Flo gives birth

Last night "Flo", our breeding vixen in the main fox enclosure, gave birth to her cubs. Despite spending a lot of her recent time in the barn she decided to have them in part of their outside earth. Time will tell whether they will be as crazy as their mum, or be much calmer and timid as fox cubs are supposed to be.

Meanwhile in our badger sett, "Humbug" is still nursing her cubs. I can now confirm she has had three this year. Above is a snap shot of them at about 2 and a half weeks.

You can still see our orphaned badger and fox cubs out and about after their respective keeper talks.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

European Eagle Owl

The European Eagle Owl is the largest owl in the world, and is found living in the UK. Until as recently as the late 19th Century they were considered native, until they became extinct from our isles mainly due to persecution by man.

Recently numbers have been returning, some believe as migrants from European countries, but more likely as accidental and/or deliberate releases from captivity. Until only a few years ago there were considered to only be a few breeding pairs, but after a population survey in the north of England where they rung several chicks, there are now believed to be quite a few more out there and the World Owl Trust is calling for them to be re-instated as a native species once again.

Weighing anything from 4Ilbs8oz up to around 8Ilbs and combined with a large wingspan of up to 6ft they are the dominant bird of prey in this country. They prey on most small mammals and have been known to take anything up to the size of a roe deer plus other raptors such as buzzards from their night roosts. More commonly though they will feed upon rabbit.

Here at the BWC we have three European eagle owls. Igor and Doina are in our display aviary, and Ethel who is part of our flying team. The owl display is a new venture for us and is so far proving extremely popular. At 4.00pm in the Dell we have our 'Owl Display' were Ethel takes part in flying around the dell, near and next to the onlookers.

It provides a great opportunity to see this amazing animal in flight, as well as a chance to get some photos and video footage at close quarters.

The video above was taken by regular visitor and photographer to the Centre, Andy Critchfield. It shows how awesome Ethel is in flight but also how elegant she is too. It is only when you see the full extent of her wingspan you appreciate how big an owl she really is!

Be sure to hang around for the owl display next time you are here!

Monday, 12 April 2010

Rabbit kittens

Earlier last week we had 4 young rabbits bought in to us from the RSPCA in Brighton. I am unaware of their full back story, but needless to say they will settle down well having been hand-reared and should make a good display warren.

All four are currently living together at keeper Izzy's house. Once a little bigger we will remove the three older rabbits from the display pen and introduce these four new kittens into their new home. All going well they will ensure our rabbit display is still a great place to see true wild rabbits.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Heron chicks on the reserve

Tricky to see unless you know where you are looking, but the above photo shows off a proud mother and father heron with there only few day old chicks... you can just make out one of the chicks in the middle of the nest next to the mothers beak.

Herons have once again produce many clutches of eggs this year and they are all beginning to hatch. Our herons have been daily visitors to the centre for many years, and decided to roost here a few years ago when our Nature Reserve was finally finished. Since then we have seen them successfully rear chicks for the last 3 years!

Not all the chicks are recent hatchies though, the above nest has about 3 young chicks of a few weeks old, if you look closely enough you can see 2 heads poking up. And below, mum coming in to check up on them...

Of course once she knows they are alright she offers up some food.

Also on the reserve, one of our resident ducks hatched out her first few ducklings this morning.

So be sure to have a wander around our Wetlands Boardwalk next time you are here to see what "wild" wildlife we have breeding on site.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Youngsters about

Both the fox cubs, above, and badger cubs, below, are doing extremely well. All have settled in and make regular appearances in our photographic pen after each of their relevant keeper talks. It is proving to be very popular with the public, as well as ourselves who get a chance to play with them for a few minutes.

We have also had our first litters of red squirrels for this year, countless mice and voles, foxes and wildcats are expecting in a few weeks, otters look hopeful for another litter this year as do all our deer and...... pine martens!

It may just me being ever hopeful, but Bonnie looks like she is getting bigger, and they usually give birth before the end of April. This would be a huge thing for us here as they are one of the only mammals we have not successfully bred here at the Centre.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Spring photographic competition launch

Check out the link above to find out details on how to enter our first BWC Wildlife Photography Competition.

This has been much requested, and will only be a success with you input and involvement, so please do enter and spread the word!

We are starting off very simple to see what interest is out there, and if it proves to be a success, will then look at ways we can improve it such as categories and themes etc.

As always, feedback always welcome in usual way.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Easter success

Just a quick thank you to everyone who visited us over this Easter weekend and made it fun place to be. Despite the weather over the Friday and Saturday, it was kind to us on Sunday with only a couple of spells of very light showers and a beautiful day yesterday, bank holiday Monday.

This weekend tends to be our busiest of the year, and the Monday usually the busiest day, and yesterday we had a new record for visitor numbers... the official count through of paying public through the door came to 678, and with non-paying toddlers and BWC guests we probably did around 750. Either way, the books will show a new record number of visitors at 678!

It was a fun day, with lots of very positive feedback from the public and in particular people who have not visited us for a year or so saying how much the Centre has changed and improved. As usual all the keeper talks were extremely popular, but the most talked about thing was the flying display of our peregrine falcon, Jack.

We advertised it at the talks for the first time, and at 2.15 the deer paddock platform was packed! Luckily Jack did not suffer from stage fright, and put on arguably his best flight to date in front of the packed crowd. Even swooped over the heads, and stopped for a brief hover over the platform during the display!

Just a reminder we are still open for another 2 full weeks until Sunday the 18th of April, when we will continue to be open for weekends, school and bank holidays until the end of October.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Buck, Stud Weasel!

Final of 3 updates today (check the other 2 below) and before a busy weekend for us...

"Buck" our male weasel has gone to Wildwood trust, Herne Bay, today as a stud weasel to mate with their 2 female weasels. He will then come back to us with one of the pregnant females to have the litter here.

As you know, we used to have a very successful group of weasels until a freak virus spread through and claimed all but one of them. We are hoping this pairing will help build our numbers back up to where they should be, and enable us to once again have them on display in our photographic pens where they where such a huge success only a couple of years ago.

I will keep you updated in his progress and return as and when we know.

Baby cubs

Today while the keepers were cleaning out the badgers they heard some noises coming from the end pod of their sett. After a closer listen they found that "Humbug" has once again had cubs here at the centre.

Following last years late litter of 2 females, "Bubble" & "Squeak", pictured above at 3 weeks, she has produced a litter of at least two this year. Could not see any of them but there were at least two sets of noises coming from the litter.

These 2 will be left to be reared by Humbug before removing from the group at the end of the year, they will then be paired up with our 2 female cubs we are rearing and released onto our wild sett as a tame group to use for badger watch evenings.

Fox cubs

I was planning on posting these updates over the next few days, but this weekend is normally our busiest time of the year, weather permitting. If all goes well I will have little time to post to this blog so this is a fairly long post to catch up on all the remaining news of the week.... and there's been a lot!

In addition to the 2 badger cubs we had bought in, two days ago we had a pair of fox cubs arrive on our doorstep. These are two young dog foxes, about 4 weeks old, and are currently being reared along side our badger cubs. They will be on view for the fox talks and for photographic days before being re-homed at the end of the Summer to other wildlife centres.

The two fox cubs and badger cubs are living together at the moment to give each other company and enjoy playing around with each other and the keepers. They will have to be separated when a few months older though as the badgers play may get a bit rough for the foxes to handle.

They are already a handful for us, but then maybe we should only play with one at a time rather than all four :)

Check out the next two posts for more updates...