Sunday, 29 August 2021

August Update

 

The summer is nearly over, well, the summer holidays that is... and what a busy summer it has been. Even with a limit on numbers we have seen very busy days here with lots of visitors, many regulars, and lots of new faces too which had been great. 



Of course the baby animals have perhaps been the stars for mot people, but our other animals have been on great form too. I think they are keen of the attention again after the lockdown of earlier this year. Our red squirrels have been particularly good. 

We have about a dozen squirrels in the copse, and do the one squirrel talk on them at 10.30am shortly after we open. This is when they are most active, but a tip for you all... if you can't make it in time for the squirrel talk, then after a quiet spell during the middle of the day, they are usually a little more active again nearer the end after our owl display. 



As always, the keeper talks really are the best way to get close to and see our animals. With a talk every half hour, it means you are never too far away from the next one. 

One more full week of being open and then back to weekends only, with private groups, schools and photographers visiting during the week. 




This last month has seen some new baby arrivals. After our successful first litters of hoglets, both our pairs have now had a second litter each. Hopefully these will grow well and be able to be released before hibernation, but in case we need to keep them over winter we have already begun to adapt an area in our hedgerow to give us more space for more hogs... almost like a hoglet nursery!




After 16 weeks of growth, give or take, our red stags (and fallow buck today) have shed their velvet ready for rutting season. This is an older photo of one of our old stags, but give you an idea of the process. 


Saturday, 31 July 2021

July Update

 



The last month has seen us lead up to our summer opening, we have had the last few schools and photography groups for the season, and are now open every day for the summer holidays. You can now turn up on the day without pre booking, but the booking system is still in place... and it is a little cheaper to pre book your tickets so if you are thinking of visiting us, best to pre book online if you can.



Gerald, our grass snake, is always one of our more elusive animals. A lot of times I hear people saying they haven't seen him, and/or don't believe he is in there. Many frequent visiting members have even not seen him! 

We have always said he is more active around the summer, and almost on schedule the last couple of weeks we have seen him a little more often. 



Keep an eye open for him next time you are here. 




Our most popular babies this season have been our stoat babies, who have been on top form and playing. Here are two of them with mum, who we have now moved off display to give her some respite from the little ones antics. 






Of course our wildcats, trying not to be outshined, have been great and trying to one up the stoats with their playing and games. 










Two big releases this month too. Our second water vole release of the season, bringing the total up to around 100 voles released so far this year, and a joint project with some other Centres to release harvest mice. As well as our usual reserve releases we have supplied some mice for an external release. 

Tuesday, 29 June 2021

June Update

 


I mentioned some stoat babies at the end of last month. Here are the two that Keeper Izzy is currently hand rearing. Denzel and Ermine, brother and sister, both doing extremely well and currently living at home with Iz. 

These two were abandoned by their mother, Shakira, who had 8 in kits in her litter in total. She obviously felt this was too many for her, especially being a first time mum, but she is doing and amazing job with the remaining kits and they are now beginning to come out and play with each other providing much enjoyment for those lucky enough to see it.

A few other new arrivals this past month. One of our loaned long eared owls has come back to the roost, and will hopefully be joining our flying team in time for the summer. Some new bats for our nocturnal house too... 3 brown long eared bats and 4 pipistrelles to join up with the ones we already have. Fingers crossed for lifted restrictions in time to allow entry back in there to see them and our dormice. 

Monday, 31 May 2021

May Update


The weather is getting warmer, the Centre feels alive again with all the visitors and we have lots of new life! A good start to the year. We are open everyday this week due to half term, pre booked only still due to restrictions, but it hopefully won't be too long until we can lift this and take that next step back to a bit more normality.  

 


Our biggest draw at the moment is arguably our wildcat kittens. Two litters, a few weeks apart, which shows nicely how they grow and the different behaviours at different stages. Above are two of Agnes's kittens, and the top photo is Hilda with one of hers. 



Lot's of other new life too. Little owl chicks which have begun to come out of their next box, our badgers are doing well and have been named "Chess", "Checkers", "Dominoe", "Tux" and "Barcode". Really exciting is that we have a litter of stoat babies!.. Shakira gave birth about 5 weeks a go to a large litter of kits. It will be over the next week that they will likely start to emerge from their nest box, and start to try and find their feet. 




Our photographic days are always popular, but our owl photographic days in particular have been of high demand over the last week. Setting them up on our nature reserve give them a natural background.

 


Possibly the bluebells has been the big draw for them... we managed to put on a few of the days while our woodland was in full blue!




Every year we breed water voles for release, and this year they have got off to a flying start. We have several pairs off display that form the basis of our breeding programme, and include some of the less common black water voles. We then release the majority of these on to our nature reserve to booster the wild population we have established out there. Approximately 40 new voles have been released this year already, so keep your eyes... and ears open for that distinctive "plop" noise they make when disturbed and jumping in to the water. 





Thursday, 13 May 2021

Wildcat Kittens


Agnes and Atticus's kittens are now 5 weeks old... this is usually when we would expect to see them out and about a little for the first time, but unlike their shy mother the kittens decide to venture out a little early and we saw them at the end of last week for the first time. 



They don't go too far from their underground den at the back of the enclosure, but explore a little usually during the afternoon and evening. Some lucky visitors managed to see them on Saturday, but unfortunately they did not make an appearance until after closing on Sunday. 



These three single kitten photos are one of each of them. 



They all seem to be strong and healthy. We have a trail camera set up in the enclosure to see what they get up to at night, some clips have been shared on our social media, and its great to see both Atticus as well as Agnes helping with checking on them, playing with them and looking after them. 



Still very small and not very strong, but they try to run and jump around. 



Of course, like all little ones, it doesn't take much to wear them out leaving them to want a nap.




Even when they are not out, mum is usually keeping a close I on us when we are doing routine cleans and making sure we don't get too close to her babies. 




Where as dad is a little more chilled... but then he is a much shyer cat.




Friday, 30 April 2021

April Update

 


Earlier this month we welcomed people back to the Centre for the first time in over 4 months!.. With restrictions easing on the 12th, we were allowed to open to the public once again at weekends and school holidays, and run our pre booked photographic days and school trips. 

I must confess to being a little apprehensive in waiting to see people here again, I guess having got used to having the place to ourselves and a new routine, but within the first few minutes of opening the doors on the morning of the 12th everything just seemed to be right again!.. Staff and animals relaxed, public seemed happy to be able to get out, and what a joy it was to have the Centre feel alive again and have a real "buzz" about the place... something I have definitely missed!



As well as the public, we had some other new arrivals this past month. Once again our wildcats have bred, and hopefully kittens will start to show themselves in a few weeks time

Our badger cubs are doing great, and guess what?.. our other female had a litter of cubs too... so two litters of badger cubs. It's such a shame we have to have our sett closed off still due to covid restrictions, but once we are allowed we will open it up for you to meet them. 

We have the usual water voles and harvest mice litters, which will allow us to do some more releases with them later this year, and our dormice we checked on last month have now been relocated to London Zoo where they are in quarantine before this years release. Things really seem to be getting back on track this year!



Really exciting news is that our adder were seen "dancing" this week. We had a photographic day here on Tuesday, and they were lucky enough to see the first bit of dancing this Spring. Fingers crossed for a nice weekend and hopefully a bit more action will be seen. 



Our photo days have always been popular, but this season interest has been extremely high. I guess everyone is just looking to get out and about having been cooped up for so long! Our owl days in particular had been fully booked for a long time. Due to a school cancellation we were able to add an extra day, which nearly booked out overnight! A great time of year to to photograph them though, the bluebells are out in our woodland and the owls  always look great in them!

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

March Update

 


It's been a strange old month and we have kind of felt like we were in limbo... some good news that we can open from the 12th of April and so start edging back to normal, but still for this month working with less staff and no-one else around. 

We are nearly there though!.. In a week and a half we can open up again to the public, Monday the 12th of April and for the rest of that week, pre booked online. Then after that every weekend, bank holiday and school holiday as before, and for the time being still all has to be pre booked online. 

We can also start with our photographic days and tours too, and our diary is already filling up with hardly a free space before the Summer... I think people are eager to get out. 



So what is new? Well, some really exciting things but unfortunately things that won't be able to be seen, unless you are really lucky, for a few more weeks.

Last weekend we did our pre quarantine for release check on all of our dormice. We had an excellent breeding season last year with both of our pairs having two litters each. They hibernate on the ground, and have yet to wake up after winter, but need to head off to London Zoo soon for a quarantine period and health check before release out in to the wild. This meant gently finding and checking on them to make sure they are alright and ready to go, good news... they are all fit and healthy and will be on their way to the wild very soon. 

Our breeding dormice are on display, but being very nocturnal even when they are out of hibernation will rarely be seen. Usually you would be able to go in to our nocturnal house and see our dormice in there where we have reversed the day and night, but unfortunately we still have to keep that shut off until restrictions ease more the closer we get to summer. Above is a photo of one during the check the other weekend though.



Our other big news is that we have badger cubs! All doing well and being looked after brilliantly by mum, but again unfortunately our observation sett is being forced to close until restrictions ease. The cubs are nearly at that age when they will start to explore a bit more though and cause some grief for mum, so you never know, nearer the end of the day we may see a little one or two pop out to see what's happening outside.



But there are still all the usual suspects for you to see here, and more exciting news on the way I am sure. Our squirrels should be having kittens soon, our snakes are out and about in the warmer weather and will be dancing soon, red deer have lost their antlers and the fallow will follow shortly and our wildcats are pregnant. 

Hope to see some of you back here in April, and looking forward to another fun year in terms of animal news and stories. 





Sunday, 28 February 2021

February Update


We are still here, still in lockdown, but with a tentative date of when we will be able to open to the public once again. Last week the government announced their roadmap out of lockdown, and when certain restrictions will be lifted. All going to plan, and with no further setbacks, it seems that animal collections such as ourselves will be able to open our doors from the 12th of April!

Great news!.. Not as soon as we had hoped, and we will miss a large part of our Easter opening, but at least a date we can look forward to and plan for.

In the meantime life goes on here and the animals are still being looked after to all the high standards they are used too. The squirrels have been chasing each other around the copse, so I think kittens will not be too far off, the wild herons on the reserve will soon have their chicks and would you believe we have already seen our first adder out for the year.

Perhaps the biggest thing is the increase in "wild" wildlife activity. During the first lockdown last year we saw an increase in sightings of our wildlife around the Centre and on our reserve, mainly bird life. This lockdown has been no different, but I would say the biggest increase has been in the mammals!.. Maybe the colder weather has contributed to this too. Lot's of wild roe, foxes, stoats and weasels.

Here are a couple more photos from during the small amount of snow we had a few weeks a go. 




 











Saturday, 13 February 2021

BWC in the Snow

 

As with many areas of the country, we had some snow fall over the past week... but not as much as we were predicted and not as much as areas not too far from us. Still, when there is snow around it is always nice to get out with the camera. 

With lockdown still in full flow, and staffing reduced, it left little time to take pictures... but I did manage to find some time to take a few quick snaps.

Nearly a week since the first signs of snow, and already it has almost all gone. The bellow zero temperatures for the last few days though has frozen our otter ponds! The otters love this... running on the ice, crashing through it from above or below, and chasing each other with one swimming under while the other follows above!

























Sunday, 31 January 2021

January Update

 

And so it continues... Shortly after our decision at the end of last month to remain closed for January, the Government announced a third lockdown with a review to be taken mid February. It now sounds like restrictions may not be lifted until early March, and what that means for us and places like us we don't know, but as soon as we are allowed to and as soon as we feel it is safe to, we will open our doors once again!

In the mean time, life goes on here, animals still need to be fed and looked after. It is not as bad as the first lockdown when it was just myself and one other keeper each day. With the new furlough system it allows all keepers to work part time to still feel involved, and gives me an extra help to keep it all going in these dismal and dark winter days. 

So what's been happening over the last month? We are working with minimal staff just to keep the animal welfare to the high standard we expect. So all non essential jobs are on hold and of course we have no visitors, but there are still some things we have had to do to prepare for this coming year and a few extra seasonal jobs that crop up over winter. 

Our deer generally feed themselves naturally for most of the year. We do offer them food, but they prefer the natural grasses and leaves that their paddocks allow. However over the winter they almost exclusively rely on us for food. This means extra work in preparing and providing extra food every day, and more time needed to clean out their large shed and hard standing which they use more frequently during the winter. 



Braveheart, one of our breeding male wildcats, has been introduced to Hilda once again to hopefully mate over the coming weeks. Fingers crossed we will have more wildcat kittens later this year. In the meantime our kittens from last year are now all off display and while we wait to here from the studbook as to where they will go.



Otto, the otter, has also been moved off display. He is now approaching the age where there is a risk that he may mate with his sister if they continue to live together. Both of them have settled quickly and seem to be really enjoying their enclosures to themselves. 



Early each year we usually set up our displays of harvest mice and water voles with new little families from our breeding groups off display. You may remember we decided to try setting up our water voles a little earlier, putting a new group out at the end of last year. They are doing very well, and as with the first lockdown, no one here to see them unfortunately. This month we have prepared the harvest mice enclosures ready for new groups before we can hopefully open our doors once again. 



Some of you may have seen a slightly different nest box in with a couple of our pine martens over the end of last year... These were a new style we were trying out, and it seems are preferred by our pine martens. Therefore, with the little extra time we have had, we have been able to build and provide all of our pine martens with this newer style. 

So lots going on here still as you can see. All this and the extra winter jobs such as clearing the otter sleuces and more regular checks on nesting  boxes to make sure the animals have warm and dry beds. 

Hopefully next month's update we will be able to provide you with a bit more exciting news such as when we can welcome you back here again.