Thursday, 20 August 2015

Red Deer in 'Tatters'

Our red deer stags have been growing their antlers since they cast earlier this year, and at the beginning of the week our master stag... Albus Dumbledeer, began to shed his velvet. This process is known as the stag being in 'tatters'.

The antlers are cast every year in the Spring, and take around 16 weeks to fully grow back. Each year the antlers usually grow back a little bigger, but following a similar 'pattern' to previous years. While growing they are covered in a soft furry skin called velvet, which supplies the antlers with the nutrients they need to grow. Then once fully grown, this is when they strip the velvet off to expose the bone of the antler.

Looking back at last years photos, and coincidently Albus started to shed his velvet on exactly the same date!

You can see here with Olivandeer that he is still in full velvet, although I expect him to shed his soon. He is still not quite as big as Albus so I doubt he will take over control of the herd this year, but I wouldn't be surprised if he decides to chance his luck later this year during the rut.

The rutting period for our red deer is usually early October. I will let you know here when it all begins to kick off.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Adder Babies

Baby adders... Yay!

Yesterday saw one of our female adders give birth to some little neonates, one of which is pictured above... Isn't he cute!?!

We knew she was pregnant, and due any day now, so when Little Tom and Meg saw her acting a little 'odd' in the morning they thought yesterday could be the day. Seeing a couple of little ones moments later confirmed it.

I went up to keep an eye on her, and took my camera, and was lucky enough to witness something I have never seen before!

Look at that... an adder giving birth. We have had babies here before, but never have I actually seen the birth. It was incredible to watch.

Unlike most snakes, adders give birth live... but it gets a little more complicated than that as they develop inside the mother in a kind of soft shelled membranous egg sac which usually erupts moments before birth, and is often expelled with the youngster.

You can see here one of the babies, seconds after birth, and covered in a 'gooey' like substance. This is that membraneous sac. Once born they babies are independent, and break free of this and are on their way.

If you click on the photo to make it larger, you may even see some red ants already on the sac and obtaining some nourishment from it... isn't nature amazing!

A female adders litter size can vary greatly depending on a lot of factors. Our female last year had five youngsters, and so far from yesterday we think we saw six different ones. They can have in to the low double figures though.

The mother will look very thin over the next few days, but if you do come to see them please don't be alarmed. This process takes a lot out of the females, and it will take a good year to regain full fitness to be able to produce again. In the wild they often go a few years before having another litter.

You can see how small they are, roughly 15cm in length, and less than an average pencil size in diameter. Shortly after birth they are moving around, removing the rest of the sac and shedding their skin.

Feisty from day one, they have to be to protect themselves in the wild. But soon settle to be as docile as the adults.

If you want to try and see our latest arrivals, early in the day is best when they are still basking and warming up.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

July's Photo of the Month

"Water Vole" by Steve Liptrot

Another month, another photo... an boy was I spoilt for choice for July's photo of the month!

The nicer wether has obviously brought a lot more of you photographers out to the Centre, and/or the abundance of new life with all our youngsters around at the moment. If you don't already, I encourage you all to have a look at one of our photo sharing sites (flickr being the most regularly used it seems) and you will get to see some great pics of our cubs, kits and fawns etc.

Of all these it was our new weasel, Neve, and our water voles that seemed to be most popular. Neve has really settled in well and has become a real star posing so beautifully in front of the camera. She has a real personality to her too which is great. But it was a photo of one of our young, but almost fully grown, water voles that caught my eye, taken by Steve Liptrot.

Steve has taken a stunning portrait of one of our most endearing mammals, captured beautifully in his habitat peeking out from the bank with the water as a backdrop. The almost pastel like shades of the grass and vivid colour of the voles fur complement each other perfectly, and the detail in eyes, fur and whiskers are amazing... talking of the whiskers... aren't they incredible! Well done Steve, a fantastic photo!

To see more of Steve's photos take a look at his flickrstream linked in his name above. It will be worth the look.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Polecat Kittens

Oriel has five strong and healthy kittens, and they are really beginning to come out and explore and play in their enclosure. Usually I would of expected them to have been seen earlier than this, but I think mum has just been a bit over protective in keeping them under ground... Now they are bigger, they are much more of a handful for her, and I guess she has just given up trying to keep them hidden away :-)

All good for us and them... we get to see them play and run around, and they get to learn to look after themselves and prepare for the big wide world. Later this year they will be released as part of the breeding program.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Baby Update

The summer holidays are upon us, and from tomorrow (Wednesday the 22nd of July) we will be open to the public every day until the Wednesday the 2nd of September. 

Our new arrivals this year could not of timed their development better, as they are all ready to be out in their new enclosures for you to meet. Our red squirrel kittens are all pretty much grown up now in their walkthrough enclosure, and it will be difficult to tell them apart from the adults. 

Most obvious at still being this years young are our deer. We have both red deer calves, and fallow deer fawns like the one above. They are at the age now where they have started to venture over for feeds and talks, so I am sure you will get to see them if you decide to visit over the coming weeks. 

Ygritte, one of our new weasels, is now old enough to be moved in to her new home. She has been introduced to the second half of our "hedgerow" weasel pen. Being as friendly as she is, she will be ideal for school children to see along with her neighbour weasel Dr Ray.

Over the summer we hope she will settle and get used to Dr Ray, so that next year we can pair them up for breeding.

Another new weasel, Neve, has been introduced to one of our outside photographic pens opposite the polecats and next to our older and more established weasel. She is a real character, so try to spend some time with her if you can.

Samwell, our stoat, was introduced to our "hedgerow" stoat enclosure at the end of last week. He has settled well, and today we opened up the main section for him to explore too. As with Ygritte, he is very friendly, and so will lbw ideal to show school groups who visit... and to show them the difference between stoats and weasels.

Oriel's polecat kitts are old enough now to be feeding for themselves, and venturing out to explore... although not as often as our previous litters. They are still quite shy, but if you spend a bit of time at their enclosure you will get a glimpse of them running over the mounds and through the tunnels.

The best time to get a sighting is in the afternoon. Once fed, you can often see them chasing mum while she tries to store the food away.

Tyrion, the little owl, is not so little anymore... he, or quite possibly a she, is a "big" little owl! Yesterday he had his boots put on for the first time, meaning he will be able to come out to meet and greet the public over the summer.

He will slowly be introduced to the display talks over the summer. His training is currently going really well, so hopefully by the end of the summer he will be a fully qualified member of the flying team!