Thursday 26 September 2013

British Owls

The British Wildlife Centre houses all seven species of British Owl.

Although some are more British than others, it was good to observe them at close quarters.

I managed to grab a few shots of four of the owls.

Tawny Owl

The Owls proved more difficult to photograph than most of the other animals at the centre.

Long-eared Owl
The owls were bought out into an area called "The Dell" for a display.
Five of the owls were used in the display when we were there. Of the seven owls the Little Owl and the Short-eared Owl were not flown.

Snowy Owl
A stunning bird, but difficult to get any natural looking shots given the surroundings.
There was a real shortage of natural looking perches, and half of the area would have a background of people in the shots.

Eagle Owl

I managed this shot while the bird was inside it's normal enclosure.
The rest of the Eagle Owl shots were taken during the display.

Eagle Owl

Eagle Owl

Wednesday 25 September 2013

Badgers atThe British Wildlife Centre

Having been interested in wildlife all my life, I find it incredible that I have never managed to see a Badger alive in the wild.
The closest I've got to seeing one is when  I have come across one laying motionless by the side of the road, sadly an all too frequent occurrence.

So when I approached the Badger enclosure it was no great surprise to find it devoid of Badgers.
But after wondering off to look at the snake pens, I gave a quick glance over the side of the Badger pen and was shocked to see a Badger wondering around it's enclosure.

Sadly with the current cull taking place in parts of the country, far fewer badgers will be alive in the wild.

A cull that is ill conceived and ill advised.
A cull that is widely condemned by leading scientists.
The Isle of man has no Badgers yet bovine TB has been present.

This cull makes no sense, has no credibility or scientific basis.
Yet it's still taking place.

And we call ourselves a nation of animal lovers!!

Tuesday 24 September 2013

Polecats and Scottish Wildcats at The British Wildlife Centre

The Polecat is a member of the Mustelid family which also includes the Stoat, Weasel, Badger and Otter among this group.

They feed on a range of prey including Rabbit, Water Voles, Snakes, Trout, Frogs and some ground nesting birds.

Superbly photogenic animals, I could have watched these all afternoon.
Another reason to make a return visit in the near future.

Don't be fooled by the cute face

Another animal in the photogenic category is the Scottish Wildcat.
The chances of actually seeing a truly wild Scottish Wildcat in the wild is very slim indeed. 
So to be able to watch and photograph some here is a chance not to be missed. I'm not sure exactly how many the British Wildlife Centre houses, but there were three enclosures dedicated to them and I managed a few shots of two of them.

Scottish Wildcat
Bearing a strong resemblance to the domestic cat, Scottish Wildcats can be told by a blunt-ended bushier tail marked with thick black rings. They are normally stripier than a domestic cat.

Their diet consists of Hares, Rabbits, Small Mammals and game birds.

Monday 23 September 2013

Otter's at The British Wildlife Centre.

Until two years ago I had never seen a wild Otter in Britain. 
It was not until I made a trip to Scotland and while tucking into a takeaway in a car park overlooking a bay, I saw my first wild Otters.

That was in 2012 and this year I was lucky enough to visit a site in England that held two Otters. This proved to be quite a close encounter, with the Otters showing no fear of any of the people standing along the river bank. They would come out of the water and sniff around peoples feet, before sliding back into the water and swimming off down stream.

The British Wildlife Centre had Otters. In fact they had three separate pens for them and an indoor holt.
The holt was housed in a small wooden structure, it had two holts and one of these had an Otter tucked down inside it.
If this wasn't good enough just outside were the open pens that housed Otters in each one.
The first pen contained an Otter that was quite confiding.

Having walked round once, we decided we would make a second trip round. Heading straight for the Otters enclosures.
Reaching the middle pen there were two Otters splashing about in the water.
The light wasn't good, but some photos had to be taken.

The start of the fight

Getting a little heated

A sneaky attack

Is this getting serious?

All seems calm again.

The next entry will feature two species I have never seen in the wild, and probably never will.

Red Squirrels at The British Wildlife Centre

I've had the pleasure of watching these little beauties in the wild in Scotland on a few occasions.
They are always entertaining and so they proved again yesterday!

Entering the walk-through Red Squirrel enclosure we didn't know what to expect.
The enclosure itself is a rough grass area with scattered trees and in the centre is a circular boardwalk. There are a few wire mesh enclosures within this complex, presumably so that the squirrels can be locked in when necessary.
This area also housed the Muntjac Deer, but to be honest it was the Red Squirrels that provided all the entertainment again.
The squirrels would suddenly appear from behind you and before you knew it they would run up your trouser leg ( the outside of your trouser I hasten to add ) and across your back or over your shoulder. At one point one perched itself on my camera lens.

A close encounter!

The only problem here was that the weather wasn't being kind, and the trees were blocking out most of the light from this area.
Once the squirrels appeared in the brighter spots you had to make the most of it.

About to pounce on Brian
You had to be on your guard because they would appear from different directions and before you knew it you had a squirrel attached to you.
Wearing a fleece was a good move as the claws had no impact on me, but one guy wearing only a thin T-shirt wasn't quite as fortunate. The claws can be quite sharp!

Planning it's next attack
One decided to sit and eat on a nearby log. This area was quite dark  but I managed the shot below.

Red Squirrel
The next post will feature another species I've seen on a couple of occasions in the wild.

Sunday 22 September 2013

The British Wildlife Centre, Adders, Stoats and Weasels.

Having dipped on the Brown Shrike we were at a loss for something to do.
Brian suggests we drop in at the British Wildlife Centre. It turns out to be worth every penny of the entrance fee and we spent a really enjoyable afternoon here.

The BWC is situated on Eastbourne road (A22) in Surrey, and this was my first ever visit to this site.
Quoting from the centre's visitor information leaflet it says this is "Home to the finest collection of native species in the country" It has over forty different species, many rarely seen in the wild.

A few of the species I have been lucky enough to encounter in the wild in recent years are featured below.

I have been lucky enough to see a few Adders in the wild in recent years, and the enclosures at this site are design with the species that they are going to house in mind.
Unfortunately the Grass Snake didn't want to show itself on this occasion, which was understandable given the overcast conditions. It was a bit of a surprise that the Adder was relaxing in the open.

The Weasel and Stoat's were housed next to each other, and their pens had wire mesh tunnels along the sides and tops of the pens allowing them to run along these tunnels and then enter the enclosures via holes cut into these enclosures. These two species proved very tricky to photograph.
The Weasel decided it was going to take a nap and this was my chance to grab a picture. The Stoat was even more of a challenge. In the middle of it's enclosure was a grass mound and within this mound were a series of holes. You just had to pick a hole and hope the Stoat would appear from this hole. Luckily I eventually picked the right hole and got the shot below.


The Fox is an ever more familiar sight in our cities, but it was still nice to watch them.


The British Wildlife Centre holds four species of Deer. Red, Fallow, Roe and Muntjac.
I managed to grab a shot of one of the Roe Deer. 

Roe Deer

In part two I'll feature a species I've had the pleasure of watching in the wild on a couple of occasions.

Brown Shrike, Hook-with Waresh, Hampshire.

Two choices this morning both involving Shrikes. Go with Brian and hope the Brown Shrike had stuck overnight. Or go with dad and head for Leiston in Suffolk and the Lesser Grey Shrike.
We had to try for the "Mega" so at 6am we set off for Hook-with-Warash LNR in Hampshire, arriving in good time shortly before 8am.
Plenty of birders were already on site, but straight away it didn't feel like I was going to be adding this bird to my life list.
It was good to meet a few familiar faces and have a chat while hoping the bird was going to show up. But shortly after midday when a couple entered the favoured area from the previous evening to pick blackberries we decided the bird had gone and with it so did we.

Stuck for sites close by and with nothing of interest coming up on the pager, we decide to head for Surrey and pay a visit to the British Wildlife Centre.
Having never been to this site before and not really knowing what to expect, I have to say it was worth every penny of the £10.50 entrance fee.

More details on this site to follow.

Saturday 14 September 2013

Semipalmated Sandpiper, No show at Dungeness

Late start this morning and with the weather forecasts checked before leaving we decided on a trip down to Kent.
With a sometimes showy Spotted Crake still being present yesterday, this was going to be our first stop before making our way down towards Dungeness.
This changed when I turned the pager on and the first report was of the Semipalmated still present on Arc pit seen from viewing screen at 7.15am.
Before reaching the car park the pager bleeps into action to announce that the bird had not been seen since. On arrival we headed round to the viewing screen to find a few locals present. Scoping the area in front of the hide quickly located a group of four Little Stints (1 adult + 3 Juvs). The locals were debating weather the earlier report was right or not. Shortly afterwards the pager announced that the earlier report was indeed erroneous.
Another scan produced another two Juvenile Little Stints on a smaller island, we watched them for a while until a Spitfire aircraft came flying low across the pools and put all the birds up.

Moving round to Hanson hide we again scoped the shingle islands and the immediate area in front of us.
The stints had re-located onto these islands and were giving closer views. There were plenty of other birds present with Ruff, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Ringed Plover, and single Dunlin and Sedge Warbler. A late Swift was found among the masses of  hirundines zipping across the water's surface.

A short seawatch at the boardwalk produced a couple of Bonxie's and two relatively close Arctic Skuas on the water.
At the "patch" at least four Black Terns were seen along with double figures of Arctic Skuas and another 2-3 Bonxies. Sandwich and Common Terns were a regular sight either flying across the patch or resting on the beach.
There was talk from a couple of birders present of two groups of Balearic Shearwaters earlier, and after scanning for another hour we were rewarded with four Balearic's going through. A good end to a relaxing and chilled days birding. 

Sunday 8 September 2013

Red-backed Shrike, Saves the day!

With no firm plans in place today, we decide to head for Landguard in Suffolk.
Arriving around 7.30 we split up to cover as much of the area as possible. I begin my search along the beach and surrounding bushes.
Plenty of Linnets, Dunnocks and Greenfinches were seen and at least four Wheatears were found either on the beach or perched on top of the bushes nearby.

I headed along the beach towards the boardwalk and Harwich Harbour, meeting up with Brian close to the boardwalk.
Shortly afterwards he picks out an Arctic Skua which I manage to connect with before it's lost to view. 
Not much else of note out at sea today, just the odd tern going through, but Brian had already had a smart looking Lesser Whitethroat in the shrub before I had joined him. 
The walk back towards the car park produced very little in the way of birds, with only three more Wheatears of any note.

A few species of Butterfly were seen, with Small Tortoiseshell, Small Blue, Large White and two very nice Clouded yellows.

Disappointed with the morning we head towards home stopping off at Layer Breton Causeway.
Here we found plenty of Lapwing, Ruff and Little Egrets with a single Green Sandpiper feeding along the margins of the reeds.
Scanning the skies above the distant trees produced two Common Buzzards and three Hobbies.

From here we decide to try our luck and see if we could connect with a recently reported Red-Backed Shrike.
Not expecting the shrike to be present and if it was still present expecting it to be reasonably distant, we walked the path until we could see a very small group of birders up ahead of us.
We then realised that the shrike was in fact perched up in the bushes closest to the path. Crippling views of a stunning bird.

It spent most of the time we were there perched in these bushes, occasionally leaving here and heading to bushes further into the nearby field or heading low into the ditch only to reappear back in the same bush.
Scanning the nearby pools produced several Snipe, Black-tailed Godwits, Avocets and Lapwings and a single Greenshank that could be heard often but proved much more difficult to pin down.
But the real interest here was that stunning Red-backed Shrike. 

An added bonus for me was I needed it for a year tick!