Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Merry Christmas!

It hardly seems right to use a snowy image with the weather being so mild for this time of year, but here's a quick post to wish you all a very Merry Christmas from all the keepers and animals at the Wildlife Centre.

Don't forget, we are open to the public from Sunday the 27th for the following week. So if you want to escape the family festivities, why not come and see us.

All the best for the season, and the blog will continue in the new year.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Winter Opening

"360 Deer Park " by John Jefferies

An unusual photo above!?... I'll get to that in a moment, but firstly let me remind you all that this year we are open to the public for the few days before Christmas as well as our usual days after Christmas.

So, next week we are open on the Momday, Tuesday and Wednesday before Christmas. We then close for Christmas eve, Christmas day and Boxing day, before again opening on the 27th and all through the following week. After which it will be back to weekends, bank holidays and school holidays as usual.

So if you fancy relaxing a bit before the hectic festivities, or spending a bout of time away from the family or walking off your dinner after it is all over... why not come and see us.

ANyway, back to the image at the top of the post, and this one here. This was taken by member John Jefferies... but to really appreciate it (yes, they are both the same photo!), you need to click on one of the images to take you to the original.

John first shared this with us on our Facebook group. From the image above I didn't know what to expect, but clicked on it out of curiosity, and it took me to the original where you can rotate and zoom in and out of this photo.

This is a single photo, taken on 360 degree camera, amazing! By using the arrows at the bottom you can get a full view of the deer park 360 degrees around, above and below. It really is something, so if you have the time take a quick look.

Thanks to John for allowing me to share this here, and you can see some of his other photos on his flickr stream linked here.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

November's Photo of the Month

"Red Squirrel" by Tim Dawes

A very busy few weeks recently as our last few groups have been visiting for the year, and then all hands on deck to get the larger jobs done in our relatively small downtime! A little more on this next time, but for now lets move on to Novembers photographs!

As you can imagine, a lot of photos of Frodo have been shared around the internet this past month. A few new, many old, and recognition by both amateur and professional photographers for the joy he brought. It may be a surprise then that I chose this photo above by Tim Dawes as one of my favorites for November.

I loved this photo from the first moment I saw it. Our squirrels are friendly enough to allow you to get really nice close ups, but rather than go for the usual zoom lens effect Tim has used a wider angle exaggerating the proportions of the squirrel slightly, but still showing the background. This effect almost looks like the squirrel is popping out of the photo, and look at the size of his feet! In the end, it is a photo that just makes me smile every time I look at it... Well done Tim.

To see more of Tim Dawes photos, have a look at his photostream on flickr linked in his name. As with all our photos of the month, Tim's photo will be on display next year in our coffee shop gallery and be in with a chance of winning a photo day here at the Centre.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Farewell to Frodo

Sadly, last Friday afternoon, Frodo passed away...

Frodo was not only an ambassador for foxes, but an ambassador for British wildlife. He will never know the number of people he helped inspire to care for our wildlife, but he will always be remembered. Frodo passed away comfortably, peacefully, and in his home at the grand old age of 13.

Arguably the most photographed fox in the world, his image will remain iconic for many years. He is well known for being the fox on the packaging of the Epsom ink cartridges, he appears in many books, on many cards and posters and even a quick search on the internet show countless photographs of him by both professionals and amateurs.

Frodo was one of the animals here when I first arrived nearly 12 years a go, and in that time we formed a strong bond, worked closely with each other and watched each other grow, mature and change the way we work and the Centre itself. I knew him most of his life, and he was without doubt the most laid back fox I have ever known. Always reliable, ever dependable, if none other came out for a talk or photographic session you could almost see the look of "it's alright, I'll do it" on his face.

He brought much joy to many peoples lives, and leaves a lasting influence and legacy behind him. He will be missed by many, keepers and public alike, but will always be remembered.

Goodbye fantastic Mr Fox,

Goodbye fantastic Mr Frodo,

Goodbye my friend...

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

October's Photo of the Month

"T+T = Togetherness" by Helen Haden

October looks like it was a good month for photographers! Lots of pictures have been shared in various places on the web, including our first glimpse of one of our new otter cubs. I could have quite easily chosen one of many number of cracking photos that I have seen, but I have gone with this photo above sent in via email taken by Helen Haden of keeper Tom, and Tyrion the little owl.

I think this photo speaks for itself... a beautiful capture of the connection between our keepers and the animals, and the close bond they form with each other. Little Tom giving Tyrion some words of encouragement before a flying display, lost in the moment, and the expression on the owls face is priceless. A great photo which Helen should be proud of.

Helen's photo will be on display in our coffee shop gallery throughout next year, and be in with a chance to win a photographic day here at the Centre if chosen out of the final 12 images by a professional photographer.

To see more of Helen Haden's photographs, follow the link in here name to visit her flickr page.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Otter Cub's 1st Outing!

Well, I promised you news as soon as we saw our otter cubs out... so here you are. This afternoon one of them was out on one of the islands!

What?.. you can't see him int he photo above?.. Well here you go...

OK, it was far away and through a lot of leaves... but he was there. I was down by the otters in the afternoon, and heard a racket coming from the main pond. A real high pitched squeal repeated. I knew it was one of the cubs, but kept quiet thinking he would just settle or mum would go get him. After 20 minutes though I thought it best I check, so went in to have a look. He was on one of the islands, and obviously didn't know what to do.

With me there though it wasn't long before Emmy came over and swore at me. I stepped out, and she went to the cub and spent a few minutes with him on the island. A few lucky people were around to see him, and helpfully pointed him out to me when back on the pathway.

After a while Emmy just pushed him in to the water, and then grabbed him by the scruff and took him back to the holt.

A little earlier than I expected to see one out, but then the mothers do move them around before they venture out on there own. This was a lucky sighting, so who nows when we will see them again. I still think a couple more weeks until regular sightings occur... but who knows. He may have got his taste for the wide open world now!

Friday, 30 October 2015

Polecat Release

Earlier this week our polecat kits were collected as part of national release programme. Other centres who breed polecats as part of this group met with us here at the Centre, and one of the group co-ordinators (Lily and Steve from Ferret Rescue Surrey) came to collect them all and prepare them for their release.

You may remember that Whitstable and Oriel had 5 kits this year. They turned out to be one female and 4 males, including one very VERY feisty one! At the end of the summer we took them off display to give mum a break, and allow Whitstable to return to his home.

While off display it allowed us to reduce the contact of people to an absolute minimum, allowing them to revert to being as wild as possible in a captive situation. By the time we had to catch them up for collection they were very weary of people and no longer coming out to see what was going on around them.

The last couple of months their food has been less prepared than our adult polecats food. What I mean by this, is rather than skin, gut and section a rabbit for example... we would feed them a dead rabbit whole so that they could learn what wild food is, and how to eat it.

Of course, a lot of the skills they will need to survive are based on instinct, and on what they have practiced through play. We will miss these little ones, but through releases such as these we have helped bring polecats back from the brink of extinction and improve their coverage over the UK.

Fingers crossed for another successful litter from Oriel next year!

Friday, 23 October 2015

Half Term Opening

Just a reminder that we are open every day of the week next week for half term. Monday the 26th - Friday the 30th of October. Of course, we are still open for the weekends too throughout the year.

The weather is getting colder, but the autumn is a great time to come and see out animals. Our red deer are coming to the end of their rutting season, but Albus is still putting on a good show. The past few days has seen our fallow buck begin to bark too... so if you do visit next week, make sure to spend some time with our deer. There will be some good behaviour on display down there from our two dominant males!

Next week is also the last week before we change to our winter schedule of times and talks, and so the last opportunity to see our hedgehog talk, badger talk and pine marten talk until the following year.

After next week our hedgehogs will go in to hibernation, and although badgers do not hibernate they do cut their activity down a lot... You will still be able to see them in their inside sett however.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Wildcat Testing

In a previous post I mentioned that we had our wildcat DNA results in, but one had to be re-tested due to a mix up. Well... a couple of weeks a go all of our cats were due their annual vaccination booster, so this provided the best opportunity to to give them all a full health check and carry out a few record taking tasks.

How do you catch a wildcat? With great difficulty!...

Actually, it's not too bad when you know what you are doing. Keeper Izzy has helped me on many occasions in the past, and with her help we soon had them netted. Our zoo vet, Alan Jones, was on stand by and so within seconds of them being netted we had them restrained and sedated.

After a quick check, record photographs where taken of their pelage (coat markings), as well as key measurements of their anatomy... tail length, hind foot etc. These where all sent off to the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland where they are building a database of these statistics, and DNA, of all captive wildcats to see the correlation between results and have a full understanding of the captive population.

Vaccination boosters where given to all, and the reaming cat had a blood sample taken to be sent of for testing. Once all done, the cats where given the reversal, and soon came round.

I mentioned previously that our cats are deemed pure enough for breeding purposes, and so we hope to be able to breed them again next year. The kittens are always very popular, and have such great characters. Not only will this be lovely to share with you all again, but it will be great to be able to directly help with the conservation efforts currently going on with Scottish wildcats.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Otter Cubs

Photo taken by Alan K Jones

It seems the word is out, rumours are spreading, and so I guess it is time to officially announce that we do have a couple of new young otter cubs here at the Centre!

Emmy, our female in the main pond, has given birth to two healthy young cubs. They are just over 4 weeks old, and last week had their health check to make sure they were all ok and sex them. At the same time our vet, Alan Jones, microchipped them.

So what do we have?.. One of each, a male and a female, and the first female that Emmy has given birth to!

Photo taken by Alan K Jones

This is exciting news of course, but please don't all come rushing to the Centre to see them. Emmy is being a good mum, and keeping them well hidden within her holt. I imagine they won't be venturing out for at least a few more weeks, usually around two months is when we start to see them exploring. Of course I will let you know when we do start seeing them out and about, and I would guess that would be sometime towards the end of November.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Red Deer Rut

You may have heard a little bit of lack lustre roaring at the weekend from our Master Stag, Albus Dumbledeer... well yesterday he was in full swing and on top form. I went out to keep an eye on them for a little while in the afternoon, and he put on a good display. Lots of roaring!..

More roaring!..

Chasing away the other stags...

Even more roaring!..

And even a little bit of mating.

This will continue for another week or so, and although I saw no clashing of antlers yesterday... I did hear some rutting the other morning, but it was too misty to see anything. Olivander may very well give it another go later in the season when Albus is beginning to fatigue.

If you want to try and see some posturing, chasing and roaring this weekend coming could be a good time to visit.

Friday, 9 October 2015

September's Photo of the Month

"Harvest Mouse Peeking Out" by Andrew Fletcher

I hadn't forgotten, don't worry, here is my photo of the month for September!

Last month saw a variety of images shared around the internet, no one particular animal seemed to stand out as a favourite, but we had the usual high standard of pictures to look through. Most of our visitors photographs seem to be shared on our Flickr group, but we saw a lot crop up on our twitter feed these past few weeks which was great to see!

September is the first month after the summer opening, meaning we saw a number of images shared not only taken from when we are open to the public but also from some of our dedicated photographic days. It is from one of these days that this lovely photo of a harvest mouse was taken by Andrew Fletcher.

I love animals, and when it comes to our own British mammals I am truly passionate! One of the things that amazes me the most is the adaptations they have, and this beautiful photo does a great job in showing our smallest mammal, the harvest mouse, in its element. The prehensile tail anchoring him in place, the opposable thumbs allowing him to grip on the stem and ear of corn, and the corn itself showing how small this mouse really is. To capture this is fantastic, add to that the great composition and detail in the mouses face makes this my photo of the month.

Well done Andrew. As with the other chosen photos of the months, Andrews picture will be on display in our coffee shop gallery over the course of next year, and he will be in with a chance to win a photographic day here at the Centre if chosen as the winner by our professional photographer later this year.

To see more of Andrew Fletcher's photographs, follow the link in his name to his flickr page.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

National Badger Day

Photo by Gary K Mann

Today is National Badger Day! And you know how I remember?.. As it is the same day as my Nan's birthday. So happy birthday Nyna, I'll give you a call later :-)

So badgers... what is there to talk about badgers at the moment? Hmm, not much... certainly nothing controversial and emotive any way so I will just leave you with a few badger facts below.

   - Badgers are a member of the weasel family, or "Mustelid" family. Closely related to weasels, stoats, mink, polecats, pine martens and otters, badgers are the largest mustelid in Britain

   - A male badger is called a boar, a female a sow and the young are called cubs

   - Badgers can mate at anytime of year, but have a delayed implantation meaning that there cubs are always born during the start of the new year and usually around February time

   - A group of badgers is called a "clan"

   - Living quite solitary in Europe, badgers are one of Britain's most social mammals

   - There are 8 species of badger in the world, only the European badger lives in Britain

   - Badgers have very strong, powerful, non-retractable claws

   - Badgers are the fastest digging mammal in the world for their size

   - It is thought that the word "badger" comes from the French, "Becheur" meaning "digger"

   - The Welsh for badger is "Moch daear", meaning "Earth pig"

   - A badger's home is called a "Sett"

   - Badgers are very clean animals, always clearing out their setts, and always defecating in special "latrines" dotted around their homes

   - Most of a badgers diet is made up of earth worms, of which they can consume around 200 of in a good night

   - Badgers are one of very few animals that can kill and eat a healthy hedgehog

Why not come and see our badgers this weekend. It will not be long now till they start slowing down for the winter, and although they don't hibernate, they will be a lot less active and less likely to be seen outside their sett during these colder months. Of course, you will still be able to see our badgers in their sett though through the winter.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Nature Reserve Update

Whilst updating you on the animals, I have had a few people ask me about our nature reserve... A lot of you have noticed far less trucks coming and going this year, and are keen to find out how it's doing? Well, it's doing fine!

Imagine the above photograph covered in wildflowers!

OK, it's not there yet, but the work is complete. The landscaping is done and the newer section of the reserve is 6 acres of, what we hope we can encourage, to be wildflower meadow. Currently the reserve is off bounds to the general public, but we hope in a few years tim dot be able to open it up for you to wander around during our open hours.

Our water vole population is booming down there, and many sightings of voles and signs have been seen this year by students studying them. Recently we have prepared their release pens for next season. We hope to really boost there numbers next year to not only make them even more visible, but to also encourage them to venture in to the new section of the reserve now it is compete. 

Our harvest mice, after a slow start, have had an exceptional year of breeding too. We have done several releases over the summer, and this week released possibly our last group for the year. We have ventured further away from the board walk this year, in the hope of establishing a new area of mice on the reserve. Given time the two areas will join up with suitable habitat encouraging them to spread even further.

We still have a few places we wish to release mice around the reserve, and then can begin to look further afield for future projects.

A little know secret is that our reserve is actually a relocation site for reptiles. In the past we have had slow worms, grass snakes and common lizards relocated here. The grass snakes are often seen about, more so than our actually display one in fact, but the slow worms and lizards are far more elusive.

We do have reptile sheets dotted around the reserve though, left to warm up in the sun and provide cover/shelter for our local reptiles. Next year I will make a point of sharing our finds with you occasionally. This is where you get the best chance to see our other reptiles. We have also re vamped our hiberneculums in preparation for them entering hibernation this year.

Our three highland steers have spent most of the summer out by our spinney, but will soon relocate to the reserve now that we are able to shut the gates again! This means they will provide you with lovely photo opportunities again (fingers crossed for snow!), as well as settle to the reserve to start their job of managing and grazing.

You remember our old gate we used for photography?... What am I saying, of course you do... it was a stunning gate. Unfortunately time has taken its toll though, and it has been through a bit of bad times. 

We have managed to salvage it though, and from one gate have made two props we can use for our owl photographic days. Talking of our owl photographic days, we have taken on board what some of you have mentioned, and we now have benches for you to rest and sit on at the locations around the reserve were we set up the shoots. 

And of course, the herons are still here, as bold as ever. I often get asked the best place to photograph these from? Well it depends on what you are after of course, but I would suggest forget the boardwalk and head to the second car park. The herons are used to people being there, and you are fairly close allowing good chances to take a nice pic!

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Red Squirrel Week

Photo by Gary K Mann

This week (Monday the 28th of September - Sunday the 4th of October) is Red Squirrel week. A week dedicated to raising the awareness of our native red squirrels in the UK. So what can you do to help?.. Well one of the things you could do is follow this link to the Wildlife Trusts page. Here they explain more about the week, a little about red squirrel conservation and links to things you can do to help.

So what better time than to bring a catch up, or round up, of our squirrel news for this year. Our breeding group has done very well again, and we have many kittens that have been bred this year. Most are now back at the Centre, waiting to be redistributed around the group. New pairings need to be made where older squirrels currently are, and new holders are joining the group too.

In terms of releases... so far nothing is confirmed for this year, but owner David Mills does have a couple of things in the pipeline. How soon these will come to effect depends on many things, but as always I will bring you news as soon as I am able.

With squirrels in the news, what other conservation stories have cropped up in to public eyes. Over the last few days there have been two other notable things which we are helping with, which has seen a bit of coverage in the national news. Firstly, Wildcats! And what better way to show you how wild a wildcat really is than with the photo above!

Changes within the management group of wildcats has taken place this year, and with renewed motivation it seems things may finally be getting a bit of a move on. Do you remember we had our cats tested for purity? Results are in, and all confirmed results are good with one that needs re-testing due to a mix up. 

Ah, thats a better "wild" wildcat!

So, good news, and with what seems like a bit more direction with efforts now, we will likely breed from one of our pair of cats next year once again. Short term, later this season we will re test our remaining cat for purity, and while giving them all their annual flu boosters take pelage photographs and measurements to send to the studbook holder to strengthen their records and understanding of purity in wildcats. All very exciting.!

And look at that... I have managed to slip a pine marten photo in to the last couple of posts now :-)

We have helped the Vincent Wildlife Trust in the past with pine marten scats, enclosure measurements etc all with their goal of relocating pine martens back in to Wales this Autumn. So why am I bringing this up again?..

Recently the first few pine marten have been moved to Wales! More will be trapped under licence, and relocated to Wales over the coming weeks. In total 20 individuals will be moved, with a further 20 to be relocated next year. They will be fitted with radio collars so that their progress can be monitored.

If this is successful, the long term plan is to look at relocating to areas of England.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Animal Catch-up

I know, I know... the blog has been a little slow on news lately, but our summer period has been very busy, and with schools and photography groups booked in form the very start of our closed period, we don't get much time to catch our breath.

The deer rut will soon be upon us, and there is a couple of other exciting animal news that I look forward to sharing soon, but for now I brief catch up on some of our new arrivals this year.

The polecat kittens have now been separated and moved off display. It won't be long until they are collected for a release programme. This has allowed us to move the male, Whitstable, back on display with Oriel. They have settled in together well again, and it is good to see him back in his home. Fingers crossed for more kitts next year.

Hugo the hedgehog has come on really well, and proved to be a star with the many visitors who have seen him. We have decided to keep hold of him here to help with our school groups and tours, and are even considering pairing him up with one of our females to breed some hogletts for release next year. We will of course keep you up to scratch on if and when this happens. 

Our adder babies are doing great. Last years are feeding well, and this years are often seen out and about too. Have a look in the photo above (click on it to make it bigger)... There are actually three youngsters in this picture! One from last year and two of this years. They, along with the others, will stay with us until big enough that we have to remove them from the enclosure. Some will then go to other centres, and hopefully we will be in a position to release some of the others back to the wild.

Remember the kingfisher who visited the otter ponds everyday for a couple of weeks in the Spring? Well... walking the dog around the reserve, I hear her most days and so know she is still around, but recently she has been spotted back at the Centre again! The last few days has seen her milling around the Wetland Boardwalk so keep your eyes and ears open if you venture down there anytime soon.

You didn't think I would do an animal update and not throw a photo of a pine marten in did you?.. Both our newbies are settling in well, Drogo above in particular is becoming a star. Often seen out, and active in the afternoons, he is a very curious and playful marten and I have spent many a fun evening spending time with him. Hopefully next year we will be able to pair him up and hope for kitts the following year.