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.