Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Baby Barn Owls

It's that time of year again, and we have a new pair of barn owls sat on some chicks! Looking to strengthen our flying team, we have decided to take a couple of the chicks away to rear and train to join our already elite members.

The chicks are now roughly 2 weeks old, and are still just too ugly to photograph (OK, so I was just to lazy at the end of the day to get some pics), but above is what they will look like in a couple of weeks time. A little more appealing to the eye, but then it is only when they really get to this stage below when they start to take on the appearance of a barn owl.

We take them away at such a young age so that they will train to fly. Anything after 3 weeks, and it is very difficult to train them... they are then better left to be reared by mum and become good aviary birds.

Before three weeks however and they will become so imprinted on us that they will believe that they are a person, just one that likes to wear an owl suit... but hey, we all have our fetishes don't we Rich ;-)

The two chicks are being reared by Leonie and Tom, and may well start to make an appearance over the half-term week, so keep your eyes open.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Babies on View

This past week we introduced some of our orphans into their new homes. Above is Ellis. Katie has done a great job in rearing little Ellis, but of course he has grown quickly and now needs more space to run around in.

We introduced him to Biscuit, and as you can see they settled down with each other straight away.

Biscuit seems to love the new company, and I am sure Ellis is loving his new foxy friend too. Keep an eye open form him in our second fox pen across the pathway... he is most likely to be seen later in the day, or of course when Katie is in there say hello.

Also now in their new homes are Sybil the stoat, and Eva the weasel pictured above. They are both housed in their respective enclosures in the hedgerow. Since they have been hand-reared, they are perfect for showing the school children and college students... and allow us to educate them about these fantastic ferocious predators. I have said it many times, but they really are so much better at what they do than the larger exotic predators.

Both Rich and Iz will spend much time with them still to keep them friendly, carrying on the good work they have started, but don't worry all you photographers out there... As you may have noticed already, we do have stoats and weasels back in our photographic pens too.

Eva put on a particular good show all day yesterday, meeting and greeting the public, much to the delight of a very proud mother, Richard.

Hopefully next year we can pair her up with a male, and she can become a mother herself and we can re-establish ourselves as weasel breeders.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Grass Snakes Anyone?

Do we have any grass snakes on display? Yes... we do, we always have and I have many pictures proving this. Yet still I get asked almost daily if there are actually any in the enclosure.

The thing is with grass snakes, you have to be patient and spend a few moments looking. Even if they are out basking, they are so well camouflaged it can still be difficult to see them. And what with the Adders next door being so active recently, it just emphasises the lazy nature of the grass snake.

But, not want to be one that disappoints, I have acquired a couple of new grass snakes to add to the enclosure. Hopefully having  couple more in there will increase the odds of you being able to spot one.

The grass snake is Britain's largest reptile, though only found in England and a few in Wales. An aquatic species that is usually found near water, and is an excellent swimmer. The grass snake mainly preys on frogs, toads and newts but will also take small fish and the occasional small mammal.

It is going to be a lovely warm weekend this week, so come and check out our snake pits... I am sure they will be making the most of the warmer weather and be basking out for you all to see.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Otter move around

We have had a little shift around with our otters this week. It is getting to the age where our two cubs will start to think about breeding, and so of course we need to split them up. It is a shame to separate them as they really do enjoy playing and chasing each other through the water, but by doing so we may be able to have more otter cubs being born here over the next year or two.

So, Lilly has been moved from the main pond to the third pond with the observation holt. Grace has been moved from this pen to the main pond, and later this week we will take Tamar from the middle pond and introduce him to Grace to establish a new potential breeding pair.

Monday, 21 May 2012


Once again our wild colony of herons have had a successful year. We have several nests out on the nature reserve, most of which are holding young chicks, and they are at the stage where they are just thinking about stretching their wings and learning to fly.

We have had wild herons at the Centre almost right from the beginning. Even before we started work on the nature reserve a few would visit to see what scraps the otters left behind to feed on. But once the reserve was almost complete, they decided to roost here too and have stayed ever since.

We put out food for the herons (old scraps of fish which are not good enough to feed to our otters) most afternoons around 4:30pm. This is something w have done for many years now, and so they have become less wary and venturing down to the ground while people are around. If you are down on our wetland boardwalk at the end of one of our open days, then you may well get to see these prehistoric like birds close up and even tending their chicks.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Stoats and Weasels

To make way for our current small stars, Sybil (the stoat) and Eva (the weasel), we have moved our hedgerow stoats and our female hedgerow weasel out in to the small mustelid pens opposite our polecat pens. Here they will provide great photo opportunities for some of you budding photographers, while providing a safe place for our new arrivals to be used for educational work.

Sybil will appear in her new home in the hedgerow this weekend, while Eva will stay with Rich for a few more weeks until she is ready to move out into the big wide world.

Look out for Sybil and our other stoats and weasels this weekend.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Introducing Eva

After the recent arrival of Sybil, the stoat, this past week brought in a new orphaned mustelid that needed caring for. Meet "Eva" the weasel...

Eva was found in the middle of a road, still with her eyes closed and with no obvious signs of the mother or siblings being around. Being in such a precarious place, she was brought to us to take care of her. Look how tiny she is...

Weasels are the smallest of the mustelid family in Great Britain, and adult female weasel being able to squeeze through a wedding ring, but still have a viscous streak which allow them to hunt prey far bigger than they are. Even young rabbits aren't out of the question.

Rich is taking on the role of proud mother for little Eva, and once fully grown and weaned (Eva, not Rich), will be housed in our hedgerow enclosure next to our male weasel. This will allow our elderly female weasel to retire to one of the outside photographic pens for all of you budding photographers to enjoy.

You may be lucky enough to see Eva out and about on Sunday if you visit as I am sure Rich would like to show her off.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Dormice on Camera

Earlier this year we struck up a new partnership with the Surrey Dormouse Group. They have developed a nest box which can house a small camera, and are hoping to be able to record rare footage of dormice in their nest boxes... and in particular how they build and construct their nests.

They have recorded much footage in the wild, but have still yet to acquire the nest building strategies of our only native dormice species. Therefor they cam to us to try and capture it on film with captive dormice.

We have the nest box camera set up in with one of our female dormice at the moment, and have already captured some rarely seen images including some nest building. It is all proving to be very promising, and we are hoping that between us we can capture something quite special over the Summer weeks.

Of course, once we get things all sorted out and video clips have been sorted and organised, then over the Summer I will post some of the better behaviour we have seen.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Goodbye to Eric

It has been a sad week for us all at the Centre. This Wednesday the decision was made to put our Master Stag, "Eric", down.

Eric had a bad accident 5 years ago when he broke his leg... usually this would mean an instant decision to euthanise, but it healed quickly and he coped very well. However as the years went on, it was obvious that the extra age began to take it's toll. Last rut he struggled, and then really deteriorated over the cold Winter spell.

Coming into the Spring he was making no improvements, he was struggling to eat with little to no teeth left, was struggling to move around with his bad leg and stiffness and looked like he was generally losing condition all over. Eric was nearly 16 years old, a lot older than many stags reach in the wild.

It was decided at the beginning of the week, under our vet's recommendation, to put him down.

For those that know me well, you will know I have always had a soft spot for our deer, and for Eric in particular having worked with him for the past 8 years. He was a kind soul, and showed no aggression towards me or any of the keepers... even during the rut. Quite rare for a captive stag which hand fed.

I will miss Eric a lot, as I am sure many regular visitors will too, but it was his time and his leaving makes way for a new stag to take the helm of the herd.

Next week we will be welcoming a new red deer stag to our group, and we will be keeping one of Eric's sons to grow and mature. This will allow our deer to rut again in the Autumn, as well as inject a new bloodline into our herd.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Harvest Mouse Release

It's that time again when we start thinking about releasing some of our harvest mice back into the wild. We have successfully bred these tiny mammals for many years, and last year looked at the possibility of introducing them onto our nature reserve and even tried a few trial releases.

They seemed to go very well, and so this year we are going for a big release to see if we can establish a small population in the reed banks around our wetland boardwalk. Below you can see the type of habitat they will inhabit, with nice thick bramble hedgerows nearby for them to use in the Winter. Within the reeds we have created a couple of soft-release pens. These act as halfway homes for the mice to live in, and acclimatise to the outside conditions, before the door is left open and they are free to explore the nature reserve a their own pace.

The first batch went out yesterday, making the most of the dry spell we have this week, and we plan to continue with several releases over the rest of the year.

Keep your eyes open next time you are wandering around our boardwalk, if you are patient and lucky enough you may well see some of our mice enjoying the reeds.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Sybil the Stoat

A little over a week ago we had a young baby stoat brought in to the Centre. It was found lying next to it's dead mother, who had sadly been hit on the road. We therefore decided to take it in and rear it to give it a chance of a happy, healthy life.

Izzy took on the role of stoat mum, and has been doing a great job at rearing little "Sybil". Sybil has been growing quickly, and is becoming very friendly too... when she is old enough to fend for herself she will take up permanent residence in our Hedgerow stoat display, giving her a large enclosure both inside and out to explore and still allowing us to sit in with her and play.

Stoats are one of my favourite British mammals. They are a ferocious predator for their size and capable of taking on a fully grown rabbit. They are not wasteful either, once eating the rabbit they often use the fur as bedding before moving on.

They sometimes display a hypnotic dance in front of a rabbit before catching it, whether this really does help or is just a display is unsure, and in most cases its pure stamina, strength and cunning which allows the stoat to catch something nearly ten times it's own weight!

I will let you all know when Sybil is out on display, but until then you may be lucky enough to see her out and about around the Centre with Izzy.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

BWC Keepers

9th of May

Many people come up to me and say what a fantastic job I must have, and it is true... I do... I love my job, but it is much more than a job to me, it is a lifestyle! I live, sleep, breath British wildlife and the BWC and I hope my passion and obsession comes across through my work.

I have made a lot of changes in my four years of being head keeper, and I have many more ideas and plans to put into motion in the future... but everything I do, and the Centre does, couldn't be done with out the help of my excellent keeping team.

My keepers are brilliant, the best, a fantastic team that work so well together, are a pleasure for me to work with and always go far and beyond what is expected of them for the good of the Centre and British wildlife.

Next Wednesday

Izzy has been here the longest full time, and despite her occasional mood swings and temper tantrums she is a joy to have around. Lover of all wildlife, Hares are a distinct favourite followed by foxes. Izzy really is great at her job, and fantastic at what she does. I also have the pleasure of her being the best girlfriend in the world.

Wednesday the 9th

Richard has been here what seems like forever. A shy and retiring individual, I think working here is helping him to build his confidence and come out of himself a bit. Wildcats are a favourite, but it is the Pine Marten that is his true love. Richard is brilliant at his job, and inspiring to have around for both the public and the rest of the team.

May the 9th

Katie has worked here on and off since before I was here. She is amazing at working with all animals, but tends to prefer the more furry as opposed to feathery animals we have. However despite this she has remarkable skills in rearing and training the owls. She is stupendous at working here, always has a smile on her face and really brings great value to the team.

Wednesday the 9th, next Wednesday

Leonie has only been here for a year, but has already shown great skill and excelled herself in the work she does. Always thinking things through before taking on a task, the results really do speak for themselves. Difficult to pry her away from the Wildcats sometimes, but when you do she is very keen and eager to learn new things.

9th, 9TH, Next Wednesday the 9th of May

Tom is our new boy, having only been here since the end of last Summer. Another keeper who has picked things up extremely quickly. Although sometimes rushing through the day, he still manages to get everything done to a very high standard and his results speak for themselves. Not really a people person but his confidence is growing. He is also arguably the best brother in the world!

9th of May

So to my keepers... thank you for being so brilliant, you really do make my Britain Great! (too cheesy?)

Oh, by the way team... You might not of heard, but it is my birthday next week. It's on Wednesday the 9th of May! You don't have to go to any trouble over it, but just thought I would remind you. Being as amazing as you are I am sure you were already aware.


Thursday, 3 May 2012

The Tawny Owl

The tawny owl is Britain's largest breeding owl, discounting the European eagle owl, one of the most common resident owls and arguably the most famous due to folklore, myth and stories.

We have always had tawny owls on display, and after starting our flying team two years ago they quickly became a huge success and very popular with visitors. Following on from this we launched our "Owl Photo Days" which almost sell out before we announce them... despite having long-eared owls, short-eared owls and little owls on offer it still seems to be the tawny owls that steal the show.

Therefore many of you will be pleased to hear we have some new tawny owls hopefully arriving at the Centre later this year. We hope to add to our flying team with another pair, which we can also use for photo days to give Aluco the occasional break. And wouldn't it be nice to breed these owls here? Well hopefully we can establish a breeding pair too.

So why am I saying this now? Well... I have had to delay the news on our exciting new research project, due to bad weather, hopefully I can tell you about that next week. And while walking through our woodlands this week our lovely Liza in the office spotted a wild tawny owl chick.

Our ancient bluebell woodland, currently in all its glory, has been home to wild tawnies for as long as I have been here... but I have never before seen the chicks they have reared. On three consecutive days now, Liza has stumbled across one of the chicks while it was "branching out", this is the stage where they start to try and find their wings. Often falling to the ground and having to climb back up the tree again.

Today Liza took me with her to see if we could chance our luck again, and sure enough the chick was their again about 12 foot up a tree covered in climbers.

I love British wildlife, and am very lucky to see and work with many British animals everyday... but as I have said to many people many times, nothing beats seeing it for "real" in the wild! I get a real buzz from it, even still today and even having seen wild owl chicks several times before.

Our wild sighting is great news for our reserve... breeding top predators means a good ecosystem, good prey base and thriving habitat. Our conservation work is obviously paying off and hopefully this will continue with the extra 10 acre expansion we are currently doing.