Monday, 31 May 2010


A new schedule of 'Keepers Talks' are in place for the run up to the Summer holidays. You can see the full list of half hourly talks on the keeper talk page linked above, but the only change is the removal of the afternoon red squirrel talk which has been replaced with a polecat talk.

The Red Squirrel enclosure is continuing to be a huge success, but unfortunately with the leaves growing on the trees it is making it harder to see the squirrels in their new home. For those patient enough to spend some time in the enclosure, you will be blessed with un-rivalled views of squirrels in a natural habitat in captivity. Many photographers come and spend a whole day in there and walk away with fantastic photographs for their time. We will be releasing more squirrels into the enclosure next week which will hopefully settle down in time to add the afternoon talk back into the schedule for the Summer.

In the meantime, after a successful Winter members day talk, the Polecats have a chance to take their 10 minutes of fame everyday. 2.30pm we will be on hand feeding our collection of polecats and talking about them and their life in the wild. We also have kitts at the moment, so give it another 6 weeks or so and you will see the youngsters running out and about as well.

Just a reminder we are open every day this week due to the schools being on half-term. Hope to see many of you here.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Babies at the Centre

So it seems that Spring is finally here, and all the babies are starting to come out. We have been very successful this year, with most of our mammals producing young. Full updates on each of the animals will be posted over the coming days/weeks, but for now here is a summary...

Red Squirrel kittens are now out and about, and I have quite a few ready to make their graduation to our walk-through enclosure during the week after half-term. Some of the mothers are even pregnant with their second litter already!

Wildcat kittens are going from strength to strength. They have not been seen out yet, but on checking them a couple of days a go I can confrim that Iona has had one kitten, while Kendra gave birth to three. They are now almost 4 weeks old so I would expect them to start to emerge at the end of next week.

Yesterday our first red deer calf of the year was born, a little early this year, but seems to be looking good and healthy. Expect many more to be born over the following week.

Willow has indeed had just the one fawn, but she is a stunning youngster. Mum is doing very well and seems quite at ease to feed her while the public are about, much to the delight of our photographic groups this week.

Of course as well as these we have Flo's cubs, badger cubs, our weasel is expecting, possibly stoat youngsters to come, polecat kits, hedgehog hoglets, all the usual mice, rats and voles. In fact it seems we have it all except otters, which could still happen this year as they can breed all year round, and pine martens which it seems now I will have to wait at least one more year for.

As well as the mammals the owl chicks are doing extremely well, and Katie has been doing a fantastic job in rearing them. I hope to have them on the flying team by the Summer. A new kestrel chick will be arriving in a few weeks to add to the afternoon bird display. And for the scaley animals... I am confident that one of our female adders will have a litter of neonates at the end of the Summer.

Check back for updates on all these new arrivals over the coming weeks.

As well as our animals, we also have the usual "wild" wildlife breeding around the Centre. Foxes, waterfowl, birds, deer. But none as close as this nest of pied wagtails below...

If you look closely you may see 3 chicks in the nest, and if you look at the picture below zoomed out a bit you will notice they have decided to rear them on the top of an old gas cylinder. Surprisingly this bottle is right alongside an area with much hustle and bustle going on everyday, yet the parents seem very happy with the site and are becoming very friendly themselves.

If you like, I can keep you updated on their progress... Springwatch style : )

Oh, by the way... great names suggestions for the short-eared owl, but I have gone with "Fawkes" Name of the phoenix in Harry Potter, and a reference to the Latin name of the owl, flammeus, "in flame."

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Willow has a fawn

Willow, our roe doe gave birth last Friday to a fawn. Usually roe deer have twins, but we have only seen her with one over the weekend. This is not much of a worry as it is possible for them to have just the one, and maybe due to her being so young and it being her first litter, it may of affected litter size.

She is a very good mother, and tucks her baby away in the grass to hide it when she goes off to feed herself. I have been through the enclosure looking to see if she had twins, and didn't even see the one she has had!

She does however check on her several times a day, and is comfortable enough to feed her in front of the public and cameras... she even stole the limelight of keeper Izzy's otter talk Sunday afternoon by deciding to feed her then, and directly opposite the talk : )

Roe deer are quite different from other types of deer. They are a solitary breed, and rut at the end of the Summer, earlier than Reds and Fallow, but due to a delayed implantation still won't give birth till the following Spring. Casting their antlers before Winter, they have to grow their new set while there is not much food around.

You can see from the above pictures, when they are born they have a light dappling across their flanks. This is to help them camouflage away in the long grass.

If you ever do see a young abandoned roe fawn on your travels, please DO NOT disturb it or pick it up... It is probably fine, and its mother is just away feeding or watching you and waiting for you to go so she can return to it. If you do disturb it or touch it, the mother may well then abandon it as it will have a human scent on it which she does not recognise.

Thanks to Peter Hedger, regular photographer and friend to the Centre, for these photos. Check out his flickr stream for more images of our animals.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Short-Eared Owl

Introducing our new Short-Eared Owl, Asio flammeus. We have yet to name it so any suggestions welcome.

I have literally got back in from collecting our new owl, and really am so excited about this one that I had to post a blog post immediately to share it with you all... I'm even missing Dr Who for this so you better all appreciate it!

Short-eared owls are the last one we needed to complete our set of British owls. We now hold all 7 species found in the UK. Short-eared owls are the hardest to acquire... only 4 were captive bred in the whole of Europe last year, and we managed to track one down to a centre in Derbyshire, although she was hatched in Belgium.

She is probably too old to get to fly, only a year old, but you really need to imprint them from less than 3 weeks. But she seems quite happy on the glove, so you will see her out and about the Centre and on photographic days. Of course in-between all this she will be housed in her aviary next to the long-eared owls.

To me they are the most beautiful of all the British owls. I don't really know what it is about them, but I think they are truly stunning!

Short-eared owls differ from our other British owls by preferring  more open areas of habitat such as moorlands and marshes. They hunt predominately on small mammals such as voles by flying not often more than 10ft above the ground, occasionally hovering, but normally alternating between flapping and gliding.

They main sense is there hearing, as with most owls, and although very difficult to see they do actually have little ear-tufts... hence their name... but these are believed to have nothing to do with the hearing, instead being a way to communicate.

To look at they are the same size as a long-eared owl or a small tawny, but the colouration is more contrasty and they have the stunning yellow eyes of an owl happy to hunt while there is still a bit of light in the day.

She is gorgeous, and I look forward to introducing her to you around the Centre when you next visit on one of our open days.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

More of the cubs

First footage of Flo's cubs... watch the video above closely and you will see she has at least 5. Watch very closely though as you only see the nose of one of them peeking out of the earth near the end.

I had a great evening, going into the fox pen with the intention of getting a couple of photos and setting up my night camera to film the cubs... instead I ended up watching them in daylight for half an hour.

I gave Flo a couple of chicks, and straight away she went to the earth and started calling. Then one by one the cubs came out. I knew she had at least 4 from the night cameras footage last night, but when a fifth came out I was surprised. Switched my camera to video mode and fired away. Hope you enjoy it. The narration incidently was just to cover the awful plane noise halfway through in the background : )

After filming this I got a little bit of video of Flo with 3 of her cubs under the tree, then slipped in right next to the earth. Took a couple of photos which can be seen through out this post, then switched my camera off, put it to one side, and just enjoyed the moment.

All 5 came out, un-phased, and followed each other round, play fought, and keeping watching mum to make sure they were all right. A couple of them were even bold enough to come over and play almost on top of me and sniff me. They kept looking at mum to see if I was safe, but she was not worried about me being that close so neither were they.

Here's my favourite...

Keep your eyes peeled this weekend, hopefully they will make an appearance.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Finally, pictures of the cubs!

Photo taken by Senior Keeper, Louise Johnson

Today for the first time I saw Flo's cubs... I knew they were there, seen the photos, but not even seen them with my own eyes till later this afternoon. I didn't manage to get any photos at the time, but luckily keeper Louise was on hand and managed to get a few snaps including the one above.

At the end of the day, and with a bit more motivation, I went and sat in with Flo for half an hour to see if she would show me her cubs. Sure enough within minutes two faces started peaking out the earth and then hastily retreating. After time they got a little braver, came a little further out, but not too far away from the safety of home.

We know she has had at least 3, and between us we have photos of them all. Below are 2 different cubs, and if you look closely to these and the one Louise took you will see that that is a different cub again. All three cubs have made their d├ębut in front of the camera!

The cubs are now four and a half weeks old, around the age they would start to come out in the wild. They did take things very slowly though, only peeking from the den until they realised I wasn't a threat.

Working together they got a little braver...

Be sure to hang around after the fox keeper talks at the enclosure to see if they come out to play, they should hopefully start to get a little bolder over the next week.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Flo's cubs emerge

Yesterday saw the emergence of our fox cubs for the first time. Flo, our friendly vixen, gave birth just over 4 weeks ago and has been a fantastic mum since while still staying the same old crazy fox we all love.

Some regular photographers and members got some cracking photos of them here in the afternoon of Sunday, one even managed to get a photo of three cubs together on her mobile phone! But I am afraid I have let you down... despite being up at the crack of dawn today to try, I have still not even seen them. So you have to make do with a photo of the caring mum, Flo, above. And the doting father, Frodo, below.

Only three have been seen together by visitors, and keeper Laura heard three distinct callings from the earth when first born so that could be it. Only time will tell if any more appear.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Barn Owl chicks

We collected 2 barn owl chicks from Merrist Wood College this morning. As with our tawny owls, the intention is to rear them to fly as part of our flying team to take part in the owl displays we have in the afternoons.

Both these chicks are being reared by Katie, who also is looking after the tawny owls, and will live at the Centre when hard feathered.

They are both from the same litter, although one does look a lot bigger! Barn owls usually hatch one chick at a time, with the subsequent ones hatching a couple of days later... hence the size difference.

Barn owl chicks are possibly the least attractive of the owl world, but like the "ugly duckling" end up being one of Britain's most beautiful and iconic animals.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Wildcat kittens

Last week we had our first litter of Wildcats born here for 5 years. "Kendra" gave birth to a litter sired by "Lex" (pictured above), although we have not seen the kittens we have heard their noise from outside the den site. Hopeful for more, "Iona" (Kendra's sister), has not been seen out and about for a couple of days and so we are hopefull that she has given birth to her expected litter too.

Wildcats are our last remaining native cat species in the UK, and are on a rapid decline with only an estimated 400 pure individuals left in the UK, and all confined to the remoter parts of Scotland.

Looking very similar to domestic tabby cats, there are in fact many subtle differences. They are larger and bulkier than the average pet cat, have longer legs, a broader flatter face with smaller rounder ears, a distinct "M" marking on the forehead and a dorsal stripe which runs along the spine. However their most distinguishing feature is their slightly shorter, but much bushier tail with between 3 and 5 distinct black ring markings and a blunt end.

Of course as well as the physical differences, there are behavioural ones too... Wildcats are believed to be the only wild animal which can not be 'tamed' by man and weight for weight the Scottish wildcat is the most aggressive cat speices in the world!

When our kittens have matured and reached about 6 months old, we will release them back into the wild to help conservation efforts in Scotland.

Be sure to check back for updates on our kittens as and when they emerge from the den site.

We do not usually name any animals we intend to release, however the 1st male cat from Kendra will be called "Richy-junior" after one of our former keepers who had a very keen interest in this species.
Posted by Picasa

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Tawny Owls

The Centre recently acquired two young Tawny Owl chicks. These are two of four that were bred at Wildwood Trust in Kent. After spotting them on my recent trip to collect our weasel, I could not leave with out them.

They are only 2 days old at the time of the photo, and you can see how small they are in the photo below.

As you are aware, I am currently looking to expand our bird section and add more to the flying team. We currently have an excellent mini-display in the afternoons with Hedwig and Ethel, and most of you are aware that we should be collecting a Long-eared Owl chick soon to train to fly and will be rearing two of our Barn Owl chicks, but now we can rear and train 2 tawnys to join the team as well. Getting them this young will make them very steady so maybe we can give Milo a break from time to time on welcoming duty too :)

And like buses, a third owl was collected by the Centre on the same day...

In the afternoon I went out to collect a rescued owl which was found in a barn. They assumed it was a barn owl, not surprisingly, but in fact is also a tawny owl. This is what our little chicks will look like in a couple of weeks time.

At the moment the 2 little ones are being reared by keeper Katie with the intention of joining our flying team. The slightly older one is at home with keeper Izzy. Many people think owl chicks look ugly, and with many species I totally agree, but I actually kind of think tawnys are quite cute this young... for those still unsure, this is what they look like fully grown...


This is Toni our tawny. He is a star on the glove, but never trained to fly. We will retire him to the aviary with the other owls so our youngsters can have his quarters.

Look out for these owls in the flying displays over the Summer.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Pass the Buck

Buck, our male weasel, has returned from his breeding loan to Wildwood. I collected him yesterday along with a female weasel who is now hopefully pregnant. They will both be housed in the hedgerow enclosure, but kept separate until any signs of offspring are seen.

Weasels have a fairly short gestation period so it won't be long till we find out if the pairing was successful. If not we will try again, if however it was we will be looking to hand-rear a few of the youngsters to place in the outside weasel pens opposite the snakes. These will hopefully be out by the Summer and will once again provide great photo opportunities to the regular photographers.

Weasels often have two litters a year, so we may well be able to pair them up for another go before the Summer. So once again, baby weasels running around the hedgerow is a possibility.

Updates if/when a litter emerges will be posted.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010


To me, surprisingly, the Mole is one of our most popular exhibits... so it was a great shame when our last resident mole unfortunately passed away. She had done extremely well, being captive for nearly 2 years, and shows we have finally cracked the way to display these amazing creatures.

Well, many of you will be pleased to know we now have another mole on display. He has settled in extremely well and is now often seen making his runs through the enclosure, or out eating his food.

Moles are usually a subterranean mammal and usually only  evident by the large mole hills they leave behind, but the mole itself is usually only around 100grams. It has very small eyes which it hardly needs, but large shovel like front paws and claws which it uses to excavate its underground network.

Moles can travel these tunnel systems frontwards or backwards thanks to their fur which can lay in either direction, and the mole can even do a roly-poly in the tunnel to turn around if it needs too.

Moles are generally active for just a couple of hours, then rests for a few hours, then active again... and this happens all day and all night. They spend their time looking for their diet, of mainly earth worms, that have fallen into their home, while also expanding and cleaning their network and at the right time of year looking for a potential mate.

The mole is often seen as a pest for the destruction this little animal can bring to gardens, but they are also a very important animal which plays a large role in our native ecology.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Red Squirrels

Looks like this year will be another good year for our red squirrels. We currently have few litters that I know of, all mothers doing well, so hopefully the kittens will all survive.

Plans for our kittens this year are to replace "Auburn" with a youngster for the male, Lennon, to hopefully pair up with later this year or next. Add a few more squirrels to our walkthorugh red squirrel enclosure, including a few females, to bulk their numbers and maybe even get them breeding out there and to set up some breeding loan groups.

We already have close connections with many Red Squirrel groups, but want to take it one step further and set up a breeding group in the South. We will loan squirrels out to other centres for them to look after, under our instruction, but the squirrels and any offspring they produce will remain ours. This way we can spread them out to avoid any populations crashes we may have at the Centre, and it will make it easier to manage the numbers of squirrels we hope to breed here in the furture.
Posted by Picasa