Friday, 11 July 2014

Common Dormouse

Common Dormouse, Muscardinus avellanarius

The Common Dormouse, also known as the Hazel Dormouse, is on of our most asked about animals in terms of photography. Unfortunately though we can not offer them as part of our itinerary on our photo days. Our breeding ones, in our outside enclosures, we leave well alone so as not to disturb them while they are hopefully breeding and rearing young... and so of course this means we don't wish to wake them during the day just to be photographed. This leaves our educational dormice, but they live in our nocturnal house. Although they are awake during the day, it is dark in their enclosure and we feel it is unfair on them to bring them out in to daylight for half hour or so and then put them back in the dark again.

All this means that I have rarely been able to photograph them myself, and usually when I do it is of one curled up in a ball while sleeping/hibernating if we are moving or checking up on them. A couple of weeks ago though, as we were changing the hazel in their enclosures, one of them was up and about and so I made the most of it and spent twenty minutes photographing her before putting her back in her pen with some nice new fresh hazel!


Considering time was limited, the area we did it was not ideal and the conditions and light were far from perfect, I am really pleased with the photos I managed to get.

This one above of her peeking through the leaves I possibly my favourite of the shoot.

The Set

You can see from this photo where we were. Literally in the double door bit of the breeding pens. Very tight, not much room, but we had to stay somewhere completely safe in case she decided to jump from the hazel.

She was good as gold though, and was happy to explore a bit and sit and pose. A nice steady hand from Lucy obviously helped.

Common Dormouse

The biggest obstacles, apart from it being so dark, was the backgrounds. It was very tricky to avoid showing the wire mesh.

Common Dormouse

Or the wooden support beams of the individual beams. Still, I think they are blurred enough to get away with... especially for use at work.

Stay True

Then when I did manage to avoid these, of course she sat behind a small sprig on the branch while looking straight at me. Beautiful pose... oh well.

Common Dormouse Portrait

I managed to get a few varied shots with the limited time.

The Feet of a Dormouse

This one was taken to show off her feet and does so well and the adaptations of their toes in particular.

Beautiful Whiskers

And this one is another of my favourites, showing off their whiskers which are truly incredible!

In the Light

Eventually the sun moved round in the sky enough to fall on half of the double door bit. I like this one above, but to be honest preferred the ones in the shadows. She was also getting a little tired and so it was time to put her back.

Me with Dorris - taken by Meg Buckland

She was very relaxed throughout though, and spent a bit of time on my back. Meg was on hand to take some snaps.

Disappearing Down the Pocket - taken by Meg Buckland

At one stage even decided to take a breather and hide out in my shirt pocket!

Hiding Out - taken by Meg Buckland

Seemed quite comfortable there, but Lucy had finished redecorating her home so it was time for her to go back.

Edible Dormouse, Glis glis

We do have another dormouse in this country, the Edible Dormouse or Glis as they are often known. Edible dormice have been introduced to the UK, and are now spreading and causing  a lot of trouble. They are so different to our British common dormice in both looks and behaviour.

Edible dormice can be quite aggressive, noisy and bite hard. They cause a lot of disturbance where you find them and are considered a pest. The common dormouse on the other hand is quiet, very rarely bites, docile in nature and no trouble at all.

Our British Dormouse, the Common (Hazel) Dormouse

In terms of looks, the edible dormouse is considerably bigger as you can see from the two photos above, and grey in colour. The common dormouse is much smaller and a glorious golden colour.

Incidentally, fuchsia background in this photo and the one on the BWC blog was simply done by hanging a towel of that colour up behind the dormouse while photographing them. The dormouse above only has half a tail, and is one of our educational dormice now found in our nocturnal house... These are old photos.

Pre Hibernation

And I love this photo, the angle makes it appear much bigger than he really is, but this is right before hibernation when he would have been at his heaviest and fattest... plus I believe she is in one of Katie's little hands :-)

Thanks for looking

Wednesday, 9 July 2014



In my last post on Cinnabar caterpillars, I mentioned I spent half an hour on the reserve with Bess and the caterpillars... I thought most of those who look at this blog knew who Bess was, but I had a few raised eyebrows. So for those who don't know, let me introduce to you my loyal companion and best friend "Bess".

Playing Frisbee

Bess is a border collie, or sheepdog as I prefer calling her as she is from true working stock lines. Her claim to fame is that her great grandfather "Wisp" won the International Sheepdog Trials back in 1992.

The photo above is one of my favourites of her, back when she was still young, and before I really took photos. When I first got her she didn't know how to play, and I had to teach her. It took a while, but eventually she got the hang of it, and frisbee used to be her favourite game... she is a little too old for that now though.

The photo was a fun one to get. I had to throw the frisbee, then quickly grab the camera, focus on her and hope for the best.


Beautiful isn't she? I call her a semi-rescue. She didn't come from a rescue centre, but she was unwanted. From the little I can tell from the paperwork that came with her, she was born in Scotland, passed on to a farm in Norfolk, passed round a few more until she ended up at the BWC owners son's farm.

He wanted to train her up to be a working dog, but just didn't have the time to do so and was happy to give her to a good home.


I went to see her one Saturday, not expecting too much as I had always had dogs (males) and that is what I was looking for. Also I had never taken on an older dog before, she was a year when I got her. When I turned up on the farm, Jules showed her to me and let her out of her shed, and she just ran off!..

... I thought, oh christ!, but then I just kneeled down watching her in the distance, and she turned round and ran the length of the field back, sat next to me and rested her head on my lap! Jules said he had never seen her do that with anyone... and maybe he just said that to make my mind up, but I do still believe him as she is still very nervous of new people to this day.

Either way, that was my mind made up, and I told him I would be back to pick her up tomorrow (on the Sunday).

Herding Sheep in the Summer Evening

I spent a lot of time with her in the early days training her, so much that she seemed a different dog when Jules came to see her just a month later. We were all very happy, so it was a good decision made.

I did train her with sheep a little, and she knows, or did know it's been a long time, her left and right and stand etc. The basics. But she is really just a companion, but with an active lifestyle. She is always out with me around work and has become the BWC dog in this sense, often following the other keepers too if she thinks they are doing something more interesting than me to watch.

On the Club Car

Most of the time she is with me though, and even travels on the vehicles. It took a while to train her that they were safe, but she got there in the end and soon jumps on for a journey.

On the club car she knows that she is not allowed off if in the deer paddock, but is allowed off around the Centre if we stop.

Riding on the Dumper Truck

She will even ride around on the large dumper truck with us, although at her age now she needs a helping hand getting up there.

Taking it Easy

If you are a visitor to the Centre, you may have met her already. If not, then you would not of been far away. While we are not open she is allowed around the Centre with us. But once we are open, or have a booked group in, she stays behind our yard fence with us where we prepare the food etc.

Shaking Off

When I first had her she was scared of water, petrified in fact, but now she loves it and always jumps in when we are on the reserve.

Bess in a Mess

And she is not afraid of getting dirty!

Bess in the Snow

Here are a couple of photos of her in the different seasons. The snow above and bluebells below.

Bess in the Bluebells

She is an old girl now, and you can see it in the way she moves, how she has slowed down, and the grey in her face. But she is still full of life and enjoys working closely with us all. She really is part of the BWC team!

The Keeping Team, 2014

Below is one of the first photos I took of her when I first got her. It was on an old Sony mobile phone, but still one of my favourites of her.

A Young Bess

Thanks for looking.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Cinnabar Caterpillars

Cinnabar Caterpillar, Tyria jacobaeae

I saw a photo of a group of Cinnabar caterpillars on our BWC Flickr group page, and it made me want to go and photograph them too. One thing I am guilty of here is getting so wrapped up in our animals I sometimes forget the "wild" wildlife around the centre, of which there is plenty.

In fairness to me, I don't really have the time to wait for the wild wildlife, but with these caterpillars being a guaranteed sighting I went down to our nature reserve yesterday evening with my camera.

Group of Caterpillars on Ragwort - by Sharon Bennet

This photo above is not mine, it was taken by Sharon Bennet known as Fruitbat111 on Flickr. When I saw it last week it really grabbed my eye. Not only is it a really good photo,  it shows off some of our other creatures around the Centre and shows other people to keep their eyes open when walking around our Wetland Boardwalk. It also shows a real mass of the caterpillars vying for the last bit of good food on this ragwort plant... Brilliant! Click on Sharon's name above to see more of her photos on Flickr.

Feeding on Ragwort

So with the inspiration of that photo in my mind, I spent half an hour with Bess and these caterpillars on the reserve last night. 

The very top photo is one of my favourites from the night, just a simple portrait, but it does what it is supposed to. I tried to vary up the shots as much as possible... I really try to work a set when I can, and even the same caterpillar on the same plant can lead to a variety of pictures.

Feeding on Ragwort

These caterpillars turn into the beautiful black moths with red dots and stripes on their wings; the Cinnabar Moth. A moth that is often seen out in the day. I will try and get a photo of one to show you.

Close-up of Caterpillar

These caterpillars are feeding themselves up before the winter, when they will cocoon themselves in the ground until the following spring. They then emerge as moths around May time, and will mate and lay eggs through the summer.

Feeding in the Sun

The moths lay their eggs on the underside of the leaves of ragwort, and when they hatch will eat the leaves and eventually move up and eat the flowers too. It is very common to see a plant covered in these caterpillars, and they will decimate it surprisingly quickly with enough of them on there at the same time.

Cinnabar Caterpillar

These caterpillars start of as a very pale yellow colour, and develop their black stripes as they grow. As with all caterpillars, they go through moults as they grow before going in to their cocoon.

Cinnabar Caterpillar

The ragwort leaves are poisonous to a lot of animals, but this caterpillar loves them!.. and even stores the poison in their bodies. Not only this, but they keep the poison stored even when they turn into a moth.

If any predators ignore the yellow and black warning of the caterpillar, or the red and black warning of the moth, they soon spit it out again due to the foul taste.

Sharing the Ragwort

They are great things to watch, and show even the worst seen plants are there for a purpose. I'll see if I can find more and at different stages to photograph over the next few weeks.

Thanks to Sharon for allowing me to share her photo and thanks for looking.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Polecat Kits of 2014

Polecat, Mustela putorius, Kit

Mags has had a litter of eight kits this year. She has got her work cut out, but is a great mum. This is her third litter, and she has really done well on learning from her previous two.

Mags is currently in the double polecat pen opposite our main polecat enclosure, along with her kits. The kits are at that age now where they are confident on their feet, and exploring their surroundings. Mum keeps trying to take them back to the nest, but soon gives up and leaves them to it knowing that they are safe.

Peeking from Den

It really is like a "Whack a Mole" fair ground game watching them... you never know which hole they are going to pop out of next, and similar to the stoats it is often best to just be patient and wait by one of them until inevitably one of them has a look out.

Polecat Kit

All these photographs are taken from outside the enclosure, and in the evening. Mags is very protective of her babies, as you can imagine, and if I tried to sneak in she would soon come over and ask me in her own way (biting!!!) to leave.

Mags and Three Kits

Cassisus, the father, is currently off-display. With our main pair, and pairs we have had in the past, we have always left the male in with the female and never had any trouble.

With Mags and Cassius, we always separate Cassisus out while Mags has young. He has never shown an interest or threat in the youngster, but Mags starts to bully him a little to keep him away. So to save him from all the nagging, we think it best to give him a bit of rest from her.

Polecat Kit

This years kits have already been a great attraction for many of our visitors. Being in our weasel pen, it means there is the lower viewing angle through the glass too which allows children to see them up close.

Polecat Kit

We will keep them here for the summer holidays, and then in the autumn they will join up with other polecats bred this year to be released in to the wild.

All Eight plus Mum

The other night I spent half an hour with them. At one point mum and all eight kits were out and together, I was cursing having my longer lens on so changed to a wide angle and tried to get all nine in one photo. Needless to say, they didn't all group up together again... but if you look very closely mum and all eight kits are int he photo above!

Proud Mum

Mags really is doing a great job, and you can see that the kits are about half her size already. It won't be long until they have outgrown her... she is quite small for a female herself.


The kits are playing around, good exercise for them, but also learning skills that they will need in the future when they are eventually out in the wild, and having to fend for themselves.

The kits are active on and off throughout the day, no best time to see them really, but I would suggest the afternoon if you are just wanting to come for half a day and particularly wanting to see the polecat kits.

Thanks for looking

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Dance of the Adders: 2014

"Dance of the Adders" - 2014

Today I am posting some dancing adder photos. The majority of these are from this year, with a few old favourites at the bottom.

If you are a follower of the BWC Blog, you will already know that the "Dance of the Adders" is one of my most anticipated animal behaviours to see every year. I just can't get enough of it, and always make sure I have some free time to spend with the adders during this time.

This year our adders put on a real good show. Not the best I have seen, but then I am just being picky... it certainly was still a spectacle to see and lasted for a while giving many visitors a chance to witness this beautiful behaviour.

Adder, Vipera berus

I will try not to bore you too much about adders and the "dance here. If you want to learn more about why they do it etc, then look through the archives on the BWC Blog to see past posts and video clips too.

Adder Dance Close-up

These close up photos really show them putting their all in to it, trying to force each other to the ground.

Rising Up

Perhaps at it's most spectacular is when they lift up to the first half of their body off the ground before trying to wrestle the each other back down.

Dancing through the Fisheye

I am lucky enough to have some photos I am very happy with from previous years. This allows me to experiment a bit more now with different angles and lenses etc. A lot of these photos from this year were taken with a macro lens, the first time I have really used it properly... and I quite like the results.

Of course, if I am experimenting, I had to bring out my ol' favourite... the fisheye lens. You can see above one of the better ones. Yep, I know... didn't really work did it... but you have to try these things. I will definitely give this lens another go next year though, as I think I know how to improve the photos with the angle of the lens.

Adder Dance

I love the shapes they create while dancing, so beautiful. When you see it in motion it is quite mesmerising and hypnotic. A lot of the time I just lay there and watch it, leaving the camera to one side.

Adder Dance, 2014

This is the type of shot I try to get each year for Liza in the main office. A straight forward side shot, low angle, of them rearing up. Once I have this I am happy to explore the other options.

Adder Dance

The adders have no fear of me being in there, they are quite used to it, and so happily continue to dance straight towards me when they need to. This is one of the better ones from this year of just this.


They really do twist and tangle themselves together to try and out wrestle each other.

Adder Dance

They never bite each other though, it is purely a test of strength and stamina to see who gets to mate with the female.

Adder Dance

Trying to Impress

You can see from these two, that on occasion they may even dance right on top of the female...

Not Impressed

... not that she looks too impressed!

Matt with Dancing Adders - by Mark McElligott

I always like souvenirs of myself with the animals. And I was lucky enough to have this photo sent to me taken by Mark McElligott.

You can see how close the adders came to me, great for the macro lens. Me being in there did not disturb them at all. They are so used to me being in there, and so wrapped up in what they are doing with each other, that they are almost oblivious.

Other are just curious. And on several occasions I had an adder crawling right by me, under me and even a couple of times in the macro lens and once over the camera!

It is a great experience being this close to an animal you love. Adders are fairly docile, not at all aggressive, and only really strike out in defense, say if you were to step on one for example. But then I think most wild animals would do that.

Still... I know and have worked with these adders for ten years. I probably wouldn't have got this close with wild ones, or ones I didn't know.

Adder Dance, 2013

These are a few of my older favourite ones. Above is a simple portrait of their dance from last year. 

Dance of the Adders

One of them coming towards me, and probably my favourite of this. I actually entered this one in to the BWPA this year, but unfortunately it wasn't short-listed.

Three Adders Dancing

The first year I ever saw them dance while I had a camera was incredible. Even more so was the fact that all three males got involved at once. This is the only record shot I got of it, but still a favourite because of how rare this is to see.

Folie a Trois - by Derek Bennet

But check out this one above taken by Derek Bennet. This really is a fantastic photo, I love it. Taken of our adders this year in a brief fleeting moment of all three males getting in on the action. Derek kindly sent this in to show me and allowed me to share it on the BWC Blog back in April.

Dance of the Adders

One of my earliest "adder dance" photos, and very much still one of my favourites. 


And then this one shows the event form a slightly different angle and setting. Quite different, but then I like it because of that.

Oh what the hell, forget what I said above... this is such an amazing thing to see I want those that haven't had the pleasure just to see what it is like in action. Below is a video clip from the dance a couple of years ago, with information on how/why they do it etc.

Thanks for looking.