Wednesday, 28 February 2018

February Update

I was only talking to one of our maintenance men the other day saying "In the 14 years I have been here, this is the first Winter that the otter ponds haven't fully frozen over!"... and then what happens, the Beast from the East arrives!

So the question on many peoples minds... Do we have snow here?.. Well, yes and no...

On a couple of mornings we have had a shallow covering, of which most has melted in the sun by midday. As I have often said in the past, we seem to be in a little dip here that avoids a lot of this weather, and only a few miles away there has been quite a bit of snow fall making it tricky for keepers to get in.

Yesterday saw a few heavy snow flurries during the day, and you can see Elwood not fazed at all by the snow... not so much can be said for the cubs, who really didn't like the ice on the ponds. But as you can see also from the picture of Elwood, not much snow stayed on the ground meaning very green enclosures still.

I mentioned the otter ponds icing over above, and as always the otters seem to love running on top and diving through from both above and below. It is still just as cold here, and we are forecast more heavy snow flurries tomorrow and Friday... so, if it lays, there could be some good snow around at the weekend for you to see, if you can get here of course.

Our otter cubs have been growing fast, and are not far of the size of mum already. Here they are at the beginning of the month helping each other in and out of the water.

You may remember that one of them was out of their holt early, and had to be rescued and taken back to his home. He is very friendly, well they both are, but this little one in particular seems to remember the helping hand he had when young and is not fazed at all.

They are learning quickly, and look up to Elwood who plays a large role in their upbringing... a very modern father otter. We have been really original with their names this year. Harry (otter) and Beatrix (otter).

And yes, I know I said we had hardly any snow, but I thought start with a snow pic end with a snow pic. This is one from seveal years a go of Toby our badger. Earlier this month he was filmed as part of a TV programme that will be aired later this Spring. Not much more can be said now, but we will let you know nearer the time when you can seem him be our next star of the small screen.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Susie the Stoat

Half term has been and gone, and despite the up and down weather we were busy... very busy, including a record breaking day for a non bank holiday in terms of visitors through the door! Did everyone come after seeing our owner on a couple of recent TV cameos?, was it the gourmet triple cooked chips that had the people flocking to our doors?, or was it the 2 for 1 vouchers we had in a few local publications?.. We will never know, but what we do know is what ever the reason they came for... they stayed for the animals.

The stars of the show at the moment are no doubt our two young otter cubs, who now venture out with mum and dad for most of the talks, but another of our residents was causing quite a stir... Susie our stoat, currently in ermine. 

Along with the mountain hare and ptarmigan, stoats are one of three animals in Britain that can turn white in the winter. This happens during the winter, when there is more likely to be a snow covering, and the stoats coat changes to beautiful white for camouflage except for the tip of their tail which remains black.

This winter coat of a stoat is called "Ermine", and was often used to to adorn the ceremonial robes of nobility. Here's a fun fact for you... in 1937, 50,000 stoat pelts were imported in from Canada for the coronation of George the VI... hmm, actually that's not really a 'fun' fact is it...

Stoats moult twice a year, and in their second moult at the end of the year can moult in to ermine. Not all stoats do turn ermine though, and you tend to find it is mainly in the north of England and Scotland where they do... I guess this makes sense, as it is more likely in these areas that we get a snow covering in winter.

In the south they usually moult in to a brown coat. You even get some stoats that just moult a few white patches... or moult white with a few brown patches... again, it seems the higher up in England you go the more white patches as a general rule of thumb.

All this leads to the temperature, and/or photoperiod of the day, being a key factor in this moult. But genes must have something to do with it too... the stoat must be genetically prone to moult ermine, and I think this due to the stoats we have had at the Centre over the years.

Of all the stoats we have had here over the years, only two have ever turned ermine. Susie being the only one at the moment. But we do have others here, and despite being in the same temperatures and photoperiod as Susie, they moulted in to their usual brown coats.

But... Susie doesn't always go ermine in the winter. Last year was the first year she did, and had a few brown patches still down her back and over her face. This year she is nearly completely white as you can see from these pictures, but before that she has always moulted brown.

Either way, she is a beautiful stoat in her brown coat or her little white number, and a special stoat to me. She is still in ermine at the moment, but it will only be a few weeks until she starts to moult in to her summer coat and go back to brown.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Photo of the Month: January 2018

"Red Squirrel" by Barry Doolan

A bit later in the month than usual, but here is our first photo of the month for 2018! In the past the winter months seem to have been a bit slower than usual for sharing of photographs, but this year that all changed. Lot's of images popping up, maybe thanks to the new social media prescence the Centre has.

For January we have chosen this cheeky little portrait above of one of our red squirrels, taken by Barry Doolan. Barry's photo will be the first in our gallery for 2019, and be in with a chance of winning a photographic day here at the Centre if chosen at the end of the year out of the 12 monthly images by our professional photographer judge.

If you would like to see more of Barry's photos, click on the link in his name above, and look below for a a few more photos that caught our eyes over the last month.

"Female and Young Otters" by Robert North

"Scottish Wildcat" by Richard Knight

"Tip toe across the fence" by Brett Watson

"Red Fox" by Adrian Coleman

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Photo of the Year: 2017

"Red Squirrel" by Paul Stuart

Let us round up last year's photo "competition" by announcing the winner, this year chosen by professional wildlife photographer Bob Brind-Surch.

Bob has been a wildlife photographer for most of his life, and teaches others about both photography and the animals he photographs through his workshops under "Natures Photos." A great photographer, a brilliant teacher and just an all round nice bloke! He describes himself as "foremost a naturalist that photographs what he observes rather than a photographer that specialises in wildlife. This is very important to me"... and it shows during his workshops at the Centre, where Bob is just as passionate about the animals he is photographing as the photography itself, and seems to enjoy sharing this knowledge with his clients too.

So, what did Bob choose to win the photographic day here at the Centre?.. Well let me pass you over to him...

"Thanks so much for asking me to judge these photos, there are some great ones there. You have asked me for my favourite and that was very difficult as there are a number of excellent photos... but after much deliberation I have chosen the squirrel on the vertical branch by Paul Stuart."

"He (Paul) has framed this superbly with the vertical branch travelling bottom left to top right, whilst conventional composition rules say it ought to be the other diagonal this approach draws the viewer's attention up along the branch and to the squirrel and especially it's face and amazing ear tufts which are perfectly sharp, as are its whiskers. Try flipping the photo horizontally and you will see what I mean. The management of the focus either deliberately or in post-production is great blurring the trunk to the left and making the edge of the photo form a great boundary to hold the photo together, and the blurring of the tail with a shallow depth of field again draws your eye to the face and ear tufts - the key parts of the squirrel." - Bob Brind-Surch

Many congratulations to Paul. Your beautiful portrait of a red squirrel will not only grace the wall in our coffee shop gallery along with the other 11 photographs chosen last year, but also wins a photographic day here at the Centre. The office will no doubt be in touch soon with more details.

To see more of Paul's photographs, click on the link in his name above, to go to his flickr page.

Many thanks again to Bob Brind-Surch. If you want to see any of Bob's images, or learn about some of the workshops he provides, click on the link below to go to his Natures Photos website.

Natures Photos - Bob Brind-Surch

Friday, 2 February 2018

Keeper Vacancy

With 2018 shaping up to be a big year for the Centre, we need to take on an extra keeper to join our team of happy humans. This is the last weekend (up till midnight on Monday the 5th of Feb) that we will be accepting applications.

So... can you train a fox to tie up shoe laces?..

Can you teach a deer how to graze efficiently?..

Can you perfect both the "smug" and "confused" look while flying owls?..

 Do you have a natural ability to create silhouettes?..

Could you work with this hard working man?.., eh hang on...

I mean this handsome man?..

Would you make a good fraggle?..

If you can answer yes to any of these, have a passion for British Wildlife and these scary people haven't put you off, then follow the link below to go to our website and see more information about the position and how to apply.

Blog Update

Hello everyone... yes, we are still here... it is just that the past month has seen a lot of work going on at the Centre behind the scenes, or at least not directly relating to the animals here. A bit of re-thinking from our office team on a few fronts, and a bit of re-structuring in our coffee shop as well... but for those of you that want to visit us, please don't forget we do still have some lovely animals here for you to see too!

So, lots to catch up on... keep an eye open for an exciting opportunity being posted here later today. Next week we will round up our Photo of the Year for 2017, before sharing our first Photo of the Month for 2018. I have some lovely photos of our two beautiful otter cubs I am itching to share with you, half term is only just over a week away and we have been involved with some exciting research work I will let you know about too... but first a quick update.

2018 is going to be a big year for the Centre, and the office staff have decided to grab the bull by the horns, or maybe that should be deer by the antlers... and really push the social media side of things. Some of you may have noticed this already, and our facebook group is now far more active and they have plans to extend this to both twitter and instagram.

Actually deer antlers fall off each year, maybe we should stick with bull by the horns...

With this push in mind, they want to post a lot of the little animal updates straight to social media. Just the little snippets like the odd photo, or quick update, nothing major. Most of you visit this blog via links on social media already, but for those of you who come directly here don't worry, you won't miss out on any of the big stories. Any real news on the animals at the Centre... new arrivals, exhibits, cubs growing up etc I will still post about here.

With these changes in mind, you may have noticed the blog looks a little different. Nothing major, just a couple of new images and a wider display to make things a bit easier on the eye, but also a few more links.

Up top there are now direct links to our social media sites, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube all run by our office team. Also a link to our flickr group where several of our visitors have and continue to share photographs they have taken here. On the right it is now a bit easier to find things in this blog. A search bar that covers every post ever made, the full archive of posts listed, a featured post and a list of a few popular posts from the past year.

I realise I said a quick update, it seems it is a long update, but let me bring you up to speed with the animals quickly before you leave. You can see further up that one of our stoats, Susie, moulted in to her ermine coat again this year. Looking as beautiful as ever. She is still ermine at the moment, and should be for a few more weeks.

The keepers have been busy using the slightly quieter time of year to get on top of some enclosure sorting, and preparing some animals to be moved. A new pine marten will be on display shortly, and our wildcat kittens from last year are getting ready to be collected to join the breeding program at other Centres across the country.

And finally, did you see our owner David Mills make the small cameo alongside Dame Judi Dench in her tree program before Christmas?... What am I saying, of course you did... we reminded you enough about it... Well, his new role as TV starlet continues this coming Sunday on Countryfile as he talks with Ellie about our foxes. Make sure to give it a watch to see David and some of our foxes on the small screen.