Friday, 29 June 2012

Pine Martens Together

It is that time of year again when we have to think about putting our pine martens together in the hope that they may breed. Pine martens are the only mammal we haven't successfully bred yet, and are well known for being difficult to breed in captivity.

Having had Bonnie and Clyde together for the last three years with no kits, many of you know I was planning on putting our younger male, Hamish, with Bonnie this year. Well, unfortunately time has raced away and I have left it a little late to safely put those two together, so I have moved on to plan B...

Once again, Clyde will be in with Bonnie, a safe match I don't have to worry about, and Clyde gets his one last bite at the cherry so to speak. If once again Bonnie doesn't have young, then Hamish will be introduced next year to hopefully spice things up and successfully mate with her. In the mean time, also this Summer, we will attempt to introduce Hamish with Buttons. He has had the run over her enclosure for the past few months, and they have met several times through the wire, so hopefully they will settle together for the mating period and we will have two chance of young next year.

The breeding season for pine martens is during July/August, when the female will only come into season for a short period. Therefore we have to have the pair together for these two months to catch this window. Once mated, or the end of August, we will separate them to avoid the risk of fighting.

Fingers crossed the rough mating will not go too far, and they will settle for long enough to tolerate each other and mate. The fingers crossed once more until next year, as pine martens have delayed implantation and so we will not know whether the females have successfully mated until Spring next year when they will be due.

It is no secret that I have a soft spot for the pine marten, and so I am sure you appreciate this time of year is always both exciting yet nerve racking at the same time. I will probably be around the marten enclosures for most of the weekend to make sure things are OK, and then will have another long wait in the hope that we have baby pine martens next year.

I will update you on their progress over the Summer, and more pine marten news to follow soon regarding their wild status...

Monday, 25 June 2012

Polecat Babies

Don't they grow fast! It was only last week when our little polecat kitts where still eyes closed, covered in a lot of pale fur, and now they are up and about exploring the big wide world... well... kind of...

Yesterday proved to be a busy day for our polecat mother, Velvet. Her 7 kitts are now at that age where they are starting to venture out of their nest and have a look around. Well, I say have a look around... they are still quite wobbly and nervous... so it is more like, venture out of the nest box, have a quick peek and then scream their head off until mum comes to take them home again!

One or two of the braver ones stayed out for a little longer, and even ventured far enough to circle the nest box, but were soon wanting to go back to the safety of their siblings.

It is a lovely age to watch the youngsters, at 5 and a half weeks old their eyes have only just opened. Weaning before their eyes open, means the kits are healthy and strong and looking for a new adventure.

For Velvet this led to a busy day. By the time she had brought one of the kitts back to the nest, another had worked it's way out and she had to set off again. By the end of the day she was happy to just drag them back anyhow and way... even by just grabbing the ear, ouch!

But she is a very good mother, and has now had two successful litters here. Being a young mum, this bodes well for the future too. All our kitts are part of a national breeding program, and so many of the ones you will see playing over the next few weeks will be released back in to suitable environments in the country.

In other good polecat news, our new pairing Casius and Mags have also had a litter of kits. Less than a week old now, but judging by the squeaks coming from the box we are guessing around 3 babies. Not bad for a first litter. Being together only a couple of months, seems like this pair didn't take much time getting to know each other.

Saturday, 23 June 2012


There has been an update on our main British Wildlife Centre website. If you have not yet seen it, follow the link in the side bar on the right. It has just had an overall tidy and is hopefully now easier to navigate and find the information you want. Well done to Liza!

... and, I have had a lot of people show an interest in my photography recently, so for anyone who would like to see some of my photos you can look at my sister blog "Matt's Photos" by clicking on the hidden link in my photo to the right. You may also get to read a bit more news on the Centre and keepers there too!

So, not so this post is all dull and boring, here is a quick update on the most asked about animals currently...

Our barn owl chicks, "Big Pete" and "Kevin" (I know, I know, last time I get Leonie and Tom to name an animal.) are doing great. All joking aside, both keepers are doing a fantastic job in rearing their first owl, and will soon be making a start on their flying training. I got a bit of grief for labelling them as ugly in my first post on them, but look above... you have to admit they look a lot cuter now? And wait until they are fully grown... I will do a post on them growing up through the stages to prove my point!

Ellis has settled in very well, maybe a little too well. He has quickly become the dominant fox in his new pen, despite being half the size of Biscuit! After a nervous couple of weeks, he is now seen out regularly through out the day, and especially at feed times or when Katie is in view. We have started to use him for photography groups, along with our main foxes, and Ellis is already making a name for himself.

Most excitingly of all... Tamar and Gracie have settled down well together. It is often difficult to introduce new otters together, and Grace has a history of not accepting other male otters with her. So after the first few days of them squabbling with each other, we were a little nervous. However, on the 3rd day of them being together they were happily playing with each other and chasing each other through the water! Brilliant to see, and another of those sights I rarely tire of seeing.

This is great news as we can keep them together, and hopefully they will become a breeding pair. Fingers crossed, may even have otter cubs before the end of the year!

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Magnus, the Tawny Owl

Today we induct another member into our owl flying team. Meet "Magnus" the tawny owl!

Magnus is only 5 weeks old, and was hatched at the Suffolk Owl Sanctuary. He has been imprinted by the falconers there, and we collected him earlier today to continue the rearing and training process here at the Centre. Already he is starting to think about hopping and flying short distances, and is an excellent climber... we hope to have him flying within a few weeks to take part in our flying displays by the Summer holidays.

Richard has been tasked with the rearing of Magnus, and will take on most of the training duties too. Having done a great job on Eclipse, I am sure Magnus will follow suit and be a favourite of our displays.

Look out for Magnus this Saturday. I am sure Rich will be wanting to show him off, and we will debut him on our 4pm Owl Display with a walk around before the flying owls start.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Stoats and Weasels

Finally, stoats and weasels are back in our outside enclosures opposite our polecats and mink! As many of you are aware, we used to house several stoats and weasels at the centre and were very successful in breeding them. However, after a mysterious virus a few years ago, we were left with just one weasel and 2 stoats. Being the main breeders of them in the country, it has been a struggle to source new ones... but now, after a long wait, we seem to be back to where we were.

Our two youngsters, Sybil the Stoat and Eva the weasel are housed in our hedgerow pens where they can be used for education work with the schools. Eva in particular has been a huge star with visitors already, often being out for most of the day and coming over to say hello.

Our outside enclosures now house 3 stoats and 2 weasels... and offer great photographic opportunities for you budding photographers.

As well as these on display, we currently have an injured stoat in our care that was caught by a cat. It was found by someone in Southampton, and they contacted Andy Gray at Mustelid Rescue UK. Being all the way down in the South, he asked if we could help out with this rescue... and being a friend of the centre, of course we helped Andy out. Needing the attention this stoat does for her healing process, she is becoming very friendly and so I think will remain here at the Centre too.

Check out more of what Andy's rescue group is all about at Mustelid Rescue and why not have a look at his blog, which proves interesting reading about herp life and the odd bit of mustelid news.

OK, so be honest... who can tell which one is the stoat and which one is the weasel in the photos above? I'll give you a clue:

Weasels are weasely recognised where as stoats are stoatally different! ... oh dear. No seriously, a clue is that a stoat has a black tip to the tail. Oh wait, you can't see there tails...

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Polecat Babies

You may remember that I brought news of polecat babies being born here a month a go? Well they were born off display, but now the kits are old enough to be put back on display with mum with no risk of disturbing them.

Above is the proud mother, "Velvet." We moved the 7 kitts back into her main enclosure on display, next to our mink enclosure and then quickly introduced both her and the male "Storm." Going back to their main home, they were quick to recognise where they were and it was with in minutes that Velvet started to move her kits from the nest box to her underground den she is used to.

The kits are now 4 weeks old, but develop relatively slowly. After a short gestation of 6 weeks, the kits remain helpless until their eyes open up at 5 weeks old. At this age they are already weaned, with the mother taking solid food down to them before their eyes have opened.

Keep an eye open this weekend for our polecats. Storm and Velvet are very active, looking for extra food and keeping an eye out on who is about. You may even be lucky enough to glimpse the kits if Velvet decides to move them to a different den site.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Red Squirrels


Once again our squirrels have bred successfully this year. We now have several litters of kittens that will be ready to move on to there new homes in a couple of months time, and even a couple of mothers who are about to give birth to their second litters of 2012. 

Therefore we have had to move the 2 oldest litters of kittens into the holding pens in our walk-through enclosure. It is likely that these squirrels will not stay in there, but will be moved on loan to other wildlife centres in the south, but the holding pens will provide them with a good temporary home until that time arrives.

Once they have been moved on, these two spare pens will then be used as a halfway home to introduce a few more squirrels out in to the Copse. We have a couple of old breeding pairs which have not produced this year, possibly due to their age, and so I think it will be nice to allow them to retire out in our walk-through enclosure. This will then free up there breeding pens for two new and young pairs to be set up, ready for next year and hopefully some more kittens.

We currently have around a dozen squirrel in the walk-through enclosure, to which we think we can probably add another half dozen... this will leave them at a comfortable number while still giving space for if they breed in there next year.

Of the dozen or so already out there, about 8 of them are very friendly, and do not shy away from people when they are wandering through.

One of the most common things I am asked when doing the talk, is can I recognise each individual one?... And yes, I am sad to say that we can, and they even all have names. For those of you that have asked here are their names:


So that's 6 males and 2 females. One of the females, "Nutkin", is even rivalling our friendliest squirrel "Anthony" for most appearances and naughtiest behaviour... climbing into peoples bags, and always on the look out for a nut... and let me tell you, there are plenty of nuts about when we are open!

Some of the lesser seen ones are recognisable, but we will only name them as they become a more frequent visitor to the talks.

Keep your eyes open for Anthony and the gang next time you are here... best times to see them are around the talk at 10.30am and again nearer the end of the day.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Introducing Albus...

Say hello to our new red deer stag, "Albus"... or Albus Dumbledeer to give him his full name. (He's the one with the big red ear tag). Yes that's right, not content with just Dobby and Kreacher, I am trying to get as many Harry Potter related names around the Centre as I can.

It has been planned for a long time to introduce a new stag into our herd, the idea being that he can grow to lead the group and introduce some fresh genes into the mix when it comes to breeding. Afer Eric sadly passing away earlier this year, it made sense for it to be now. This gives Albus a chance to settle in well in advance of the rutting period.

Isn't he a handsome chap?.. Albus is only 2 years old, and has come from a local deer farm.

After unloading him this morning, he seems to have already settled in. When I nipped out this afternoon to get a couple of photos, he was mixing with the rest of the herd. The hinds seemed to love this new male presence about, and although the other males were pushing him about a bit, it was only the usual dominance which was not aggressive at all. Give him time, and he will soon become the Master Stag... a powerful position to have, especially at such a young age.

With great power comes great responsibility, but I am sure Albus will cope and excel that role.

Whilst on deer news, check out the photo above. We have had 2 red deer calves born here already! A little earlier than you would expect, but with the warm weather and a protective family I am sure they will grow and thrive.

Come and see Albus Dumbledeer this weekend.