Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Bee Swarm

A lot of you pointed out over the weekend that our bees were beginning to swarm. This is great news, and should be looked at as a good thing.

Very simply, within a hive of bees you have a queen (female), workers (female) and drones (males). As the weather warms up during the spring, the population of the hive increases too. There will only ever be one queen at most times. The workers are there to "do the work" by looking after her, feeding her and each other, tending to her brood, regulating the temperature and building and protecting the hive etc. The drones usually don't survive for the winter, having been pushed out at the end of the summer, and are produced later in the spring. They are there to mate with the queen.

Bees communicate with each other with "pheromones" passed between them all. The Queen pheromone is important in the whole organisation and efficiency of the hive. Sometimes when a hive is successful, and produces so many bees, the group best so populated that the queen pheromone doesn't get to all the workers and so they think there isn't a queen.

This encourages them to create a new one, by feeding the larvae "Royal Jelly". Once emerged the new queen will take her maiden flight and mate with several drones before returning to the hive. Then, surprisingly, it is the old queen that will leave the hive with her workers to find a new home and the new queen will take over the current hive.

So, the bee swarms you see are the queen surrounded by several workers looking for a place to go. The reason they rest so much is that the queen is not as strong a flyer as the workers, and so need the occasional break. While this happens the rest huddle in around her for protection while a few other workers go off to find a good spot to move on to.

Often they can move on within the same day, but sometimes it may take a couple of days. They may move far away, or just another short "hop" before finding somewhere more suitable.

I would imagine our swarm will be long gone by the weekend, but if not don't let them worry you. They are more concerned in protecting the queen and finding a new home... however, if they do feel threatened then of course they may become more active in protecting her. So best just to give them a bit of space and respect and enjoy seeing a swarm so close up.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Red Deer

I keep forgetting to say, but 3 weeks a go now our master stag Albus Dumbledeer cast his antlers. Every year in the spring the stags lose their antlers, and then start to re-grow a new set straight away. It only takes about 16 weeks to re-grow from nothing to a full crown, amazing when you think about it.

Anyway, this year I have decided to re-do a project I did with our old stag, Eric, a few years back... I will be taking a photograph of Albus every week during this phase just to show you how visible the difference in antler size is week on week. Once completed, likely the end of summer, I will put them in a post here and explain a bit more about the process.

As you can see from above, they don't always cast both antlers at the same time, and below at one week... there are already a couple of bumps on his head where they are beginning to reform.

I have included a couple of videos for you here too. The first one is of the deer feeding out in the paddock. A lot of people show interest in this when we go out to feed them, and a few have asked about it...

The second is a short clip I took only the other day of our wild jackdaw pulling the moulting hair off the back of our fallow deer buck. They have been doing this every morning for the last week or so with all our fallow deer, great fun to watch, I think I might have a photo somewhere too...

Here you go... Three going at it, with the puzzled look on the deers face. I love the jackdaw on the left, really putting his back in to it!

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Common Dormice

Our native dormouse is the "Common Dormouse". But it very poorly named...

It is not a mouse! The dormouse is in its only little group of animals named dormice, from the french word "dormir" - meaning to sleep. We have two species of dormice in Britain... the Common Dormouse, sometimes called the Hazel Dormouse, and the Edible Dormouse which has been introduced.

It is not a door!...

... have you stopped laughing yet?, I'll give you a bit more time to recover...

And it is sadly not common anymore, mainly due to habitat loss and habitat fragmentation.

There is a group called the Common Dormouse Captive Breeding Group (CDCBG), who manage and organise the breeding and reintroduction of common dormice back in to the wild. The BWC is part of this group, and we hold both breeding dormice to aid with the re-introduction efforts which take place every year, and educational dormice to house those which can't be returned to the wild.

These educational dormice can still have a vital role in their conservation through educating the public, which very rarely see this small, extremely nocturnal mammal which is asleep for half the year!


Last week we hosted the annual meeting for members of the CDCBG, where all matters dormice were discussed, including the successes of previous releases, plans for future re-introductions and husbandry matters. All dormice holders/breeders where here, as well as veterinarians from ZSL and representation from PTES who co-ordinate and organise the release of these animals back to the wild.

While here, dormice from all holders were collected to be taken to Paignton Zoo and London Zoo for quarantine before there release later this year.

It is only with direct conservation work like this, and co-operation from all sides, that we can begin to help dormice in the wild.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Um... more adders...

"Folie a Trois" by Derek Bennet

Okay, okay... I know I said the last post was the last one on the adder dance, maybe even promised, I can't remember, but when I saw this photo above which was kindly sent to me yesterday I just had to share it with you.

It is very rare that all three of our adders dance at the same time with each other. In all the years I have been here, I have only seen it once... about four years a go. I had heard that they may have done it again on Saturday just gone, but took the news with a pinch of salt. Until this photograph, taken by Derek Bennet, was kindly sent through to me at the Centre.

I am so disappointed to have missed it with my own eyes, but equally so pleased that at least some of our visitors managed to witness this event! And how great did Derek do to take this beautiful photo above? Thanks again for sending it in, it really is a pleasure to see.

"Matt and Dancing Adders" by Mark McElligott

While on the subject of sharing photos, here is one taken by Mark McElligott of me photographing the dance last Friday. As I have said before, I thoroughly enjoy spending time with the adders at this time of year, and have had some of my best experiences this year with one examining the inside of my macro lens, one climbing over the camera while I am trying to photograph them and other close encounters.

Mark was kind enough to take and share this photo with me... it is always lovely to have photographs of yourself with the animals, especially at times like this.

Okay, this really will be the last adder post for you on the dance as I imagine some of you are all addered out now. I just had to share the photo of the three of them dancing all at once though. Hope you enjoyed looking at it.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

More Adders

Yes I know, more adders, but you know it gets like this every time at this time of year... After thinking that they may have stopped dancing for this year, they surprised me by putting on another display today! I was completely oblivious, but thankfully one of our members, Karen Jones, kindly found me to let me know they were at it again.

I only saw it for a few minutes, but managed to get up close. You know I love adders, and when they had finished dancing I stayed in there for a bit to watch them and talk to the public about their behaviour. At one point I had an adder in the lens of my macro, and at another point one beginning to climb over the camera in my hand... what a great experience!

This gives me hope that they may dance again over the weekend. As I have said before, no guarantees of course, but I would imagine it will be the last weekend that they MAY dance... I can't see it lasting till next weekend, especially since the females have both mated now.

Back to non adder news next week... I have a few posts on the back burner due to the adders this week, so will roll them out as and when. Plus news on a new sister blog which may not interest all of you, but will certainly interest some.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Dancing Adders

Yes, yes, yes!.. Our adders have put on a good display both yesterday, and so far today. All three males have been involved with the dancing, although only two at one time. Unfortunately I have been unable to see any of it today, and have only been told by the keepers, but yesterday the above two dance for about twenty minutes in the morning before the silvery one slipped off and the other sandy one joined in.

After much rest, the two sandy ones had another go at the end of the day, but only for about ten minutes. Fingers crossed we may still get some dancing over the next few days... I have even been told that some people saw them mate again today. As I said in the last post, a very rare thing to see, so we really have been spoilt this year.

Anyway... here is a short video of them dancing yesterday. For more dancing and information on how, why etc they do it have a look at last years video at the bottom of this post. In-between the two videos are some pictures of them in action yesterday, more will eventually go up on a sister blog I am working on.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Adder Action

The weekend provided visitors with some great adder action, or at least some rare glimpses of behaviour not often seen.

Firstly, on Saturday, two of our adders were seen mating. This is rarely observed with snakes, and probably more so with adders... In the ten years I have been here I have never seen it before, so I was extremely grateful when member Peter Trimming came to find me and let me know it was happening.

You can see from the photo above how they actually couple while mating. They were not on view for long, before slipping off in to the grass, but to see some more and quite frankly, better photos of this follow the link on the right to go to our flickr page!

Then on Sunday we saw two of our adders dancing... For those of you that have followed the blog for at least a year or more, you will know how much I look forward to this every year. They were only at it for about a minute before giving up, but both were interested in our second female so hopefully the next few days will see some more dancing.

It can't be guaranteed of course, so don't visit just to try and see this beautiful ritual, but if you do want to try and see it this following week may be a good time to try.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Fox Cubs

No, we don't have fox cubs at the Centre... I just want to make that clear before people come just to see them and get disappointed, but we did welcome four young cubs for one morning last week for a new project the owner is working on.

A couple of days a go now, Wildlife A&E kindly brought in four of their orphaned cubs that they were rearing for us to film for an upcoming project (which you will hear more about later this year). As many of you know, we took the decision to stop breeding our foxes a few years a go, so it was lovely to see fox cubs at the centre once again, if just for a brief spell.

Have a look at this video to see them having a bit of fun in out inside area for the foxes in the barn...

Thanks once again to Louise and Wildlife A&E. To see all the good work they do follow the links below to their website and Facebook page.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Malta Massacre

Not a pleasant post, but if you get ten minutes over a tea break today please do read the home page on Chris Packham's website linked above and below.

For years hunters in  Malta have been illegally killing birds migrating over the island, many of them considered rare species, and little has been done to stop this appalling behaviour. Having spoken to many of our visitors over the past week, it is clear to me that not many people are even aware of this happening, so please do spread this message far and wide among those you know.

You may think why is this important for British wildlife?.. Many of these birds being shot are British species, and birds that visit our country. I'll be honest and say I don't know a huge amount about this myself, so please take a look at the email below that Chris sent to his mailing list and follow the link to his website to learn more.

Dear All,

Pasted below is a link to the home page of my website which currently displays information about an important project which I will be working on shortly . I'd like to ask you to forward this link by e-mail , Facebook and Twitter to as many people as possible , it really doesn't matter if they are 'into wildlife' or not , I'd like everyone to learn about this issue . Or if you have your own website then please copy the details onto it and encourage as many visits as you can.

'Malta – Massacre on Migration' will be my first 'as live' nightly YouTube diary from the frontline of this Mediterranean slaughter ground . Each evening at 9.00 PM UK time we will upload a short report of the days activities to increase awareness of the impact of the mass killing of birds and to ask viewers to help us end this vile travesty .
So please click on the link for more information and then please share it widely . We can make a difference - but only if we act .

Thank you
Best Wishes
Chris Packham

Thanks for looking.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Red Squirrel Kittens

It is that time of year again, and so far we have seen one litter of red squirrel kittens out in our breeding pens... and signs of another couple of litters out there too!

In our walkthrough enclosure there seems to be signs of nest building which could mean litter or two on the way. One female in there in particular is being quite a nuisance and has found a good source of nesting material in one of our double doors. Over the weekend she managed to slip past a few people to gather up some wood peelings from the timber frame. Luckily we were able to guide her back in safely, but keep your eyes open if you head in there and try not to let her through. Easier said than done I know.

We have also had news from some of our holders that hey have litters of kittens too. So it seems like this is going to be another good year for red squirrel breeding.

This year we are taken a slight step back from a big release. Tresco is still going very well, and we have more plans for the long term future, but we need to create more pairs to ensure that our squirrels do continue to breed in future years.

As well as this we have interest in a couple of more places to join our breeding group, one in particular is very exciting and you will here more about that over the summer. And we have been asked to help with 3 more potential release projects across the country. Still very early days on these, and will probably not see any direct action until next year at the earliest, but one may be ready for a small scale pilot release this autumn. Again more information on this as the time draws nearer.

Just to say again, the kittens we currently have are in our off-display breeding pens so can not be seen if you come to visit. I will let you know as soon as we have any out and about in our display walk-through enclosure.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Easter Opening

Just a reminder that we are now open everyday for the next two weeks for Easter half term, and the following Bank Holiday Easter Monday! Do come along and see us if you can, and in particular keep an eye out for our wild water voles, our grass snakes and water shrews which have been moved back on to display and our herons!

The water shrews continue to show themselves well, and seem to have spells of activity. Active for half your or so, then quiet, then active again and like this through out the day. The patient amongst you should get to see a good glimpse of these animals.

I know you all know about our herons already, but they are particularly active at the moment. Many have nests, and many of those nests have chicks in them. If you catch them while they are feeding, usually the end of the day, you may get to see the chicks poking their heads out of the nest.

Little tip for you... good place to view the herons is from the second car park!

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Water Shrews

We recently moved our two water shrews from off-display to on display in our Hedgerow section. Already they have been settling in well, and many visitors over the weekend managed to get a rare glimpse of these incredible little critters.

Water shrews are the largest of the shrew family in the UK, and unlike other shrews, can live together in small groups. They are very distinctive in their appearance, with an almost piebald appearance. The top half of their body is very dark, while their lower half is almost white... this continues along their tail, with the tufts of white fur on the underside helping to widen the tail and make it useful as a rudder.

The best bit though... They tend to have white tufts on their ears, and white eyebrows. Pretty cool!

As with many other shrews, they have red tipped teeth from the extra iron deposits which help harden the teeth for breaking in to their prey, and they have slightly venomous saliva, which when biting it's prey can help stun and soften it before the shrew starts to eat it. They tend to prey mainly on small invertebrates found near or even in the water, but we feed ours cat food, mealworms and other small invertebrates.

Later this month we hope to gain a few more water shrews from Wildwood in Kent. It would be nice to be able to start a little breeding project at the Centre with them, and to help others with their conservation efforts for these amazing little animals.