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woensdag 27 januari 2016

Wildlife Watch: catching up with the Rangers

Whinfell Forest: spot a stoat

Cumbria had a hard time of it over Christmas, with high rainfall and floods forcing people out of their homes, blocking roads and shutting bridges. Mercifully, Whinfell Forest was largely unaffected, and our resident wildlife appear to have taken the deluge in their stride.

The uncharacteristically mild weather, however, has left some of our creatures rather confused. Our stoats – which are brown for three seasons of the year – appear to have turned white for winter as usual despite the lack of snow. It means they’re now easy to spot against the forest floor, so keep your eyes peeled if you’re joining us at Whinfell Forest soon.

Roe deer are still being spotted regularly around the forest – recently by the Three Oaks area and Sawmill Cottages. They seem friendly and not too bothered by guests watching them from afar.

We set up a camera near the Arrivals Lodge as we noticed a badger hole there had become active again. After a couple of days we caught a glimpse of a badger on film, so it’s great to know the sett is being used again. We’ll keep an eye on it through next season’s badger surveys and keep you updates.

Sherwood Forest: spring has sprung early

Record mild temperatures, a lot of rainfall and high winds were the order of the day at Sherwood Forest recently. Some of our flowers seem to have decided that must mean spring is here, with daffodil and snowdrop bulbs popping up early, and even some primroses trying to come through.

The Nature Centre offers one of the best views on the Village. We can be watching a flock of long-tailed tits enjoying the fat balls we leave out when a great-spotted woodpecker will arrive, followed by the Egyptian geese. It’s quite remarkable.

And while the smaller birds are enjoying our feeders, the sparrowhawk has been conducting some fly-bys, trying to catch its own lunch from the group…

We’ve been hearing a lot of tawny owls recently, which we’re very excited about as we didn’t have any chicks born in our nest boxes in 2015. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that we’ll find some eggs and have some baby owls this year!

Elveden Forest: tons of tufted ducks

We were lucky to escape the deluge that other parts of the country had this winter. The unseasonably warm weather has been the hot topic on the Village, with cherry blossom on the trees making it feel much more like spring. In fact, some trees are still carrying their leaves from last year (especially hazels). The technical term for this is marcescence, and it happens when the temperatures don’t drop low enough the prompt the trees to shed dead leaves.

The birds that usually visit us in winter – redwings, bramblings, fieldfares and redpolls – have hardly been seen due to the peculiarly warm weather. But it’s not all sad news; we counted up our wildfowl recently, and racked up a record-breaking count of 182 tufted ducks on 6th December. And the kingfisher stuck around for Christmas rather than leave us for warmer climes because the lakes didn’t freeze.

On the furry mammal side, stoats and muntjac deer were the most recorded visitors – as usual – and we’ve also had evidence of foxes scampering about near the front entrance.

Woburn Forest: bumble bees and lady birds

While we’ve been enjoying the above average temperatures recently, it’s been a confusing time for the plants and animals at Woburn Forest. A bat was seen flying around the Village at the beginning of December which is unusual because bats are one of the only mammals in the UK to truly hibernate, so it should have been tucked up and fast asleep all through December. The worry is that if they’re not hibernating, they need to keep feeding, and there may not be enough insects flying around at night for them, which could force them to hunt in daylight hours and make them vulnerable to birds of prey and other predators.

Bats aren’t the only ones confused by the warm weather – bumble bees have been spotted a few times in December and January; a peacock butterfly was seen by one of the grounds team and there has been an abundance of ladybirds around.

We’ve also recently been reinstating some ancient hedgerow on the Village – you can read the whole fascinating story.

Longleat Forest: catching creatures on candid camera

The year ended the same way it started – with above average temperatures. Some of our flowers, including lesser celandines and daffodils, have been poking their leaves above ground much earlier than usual.

After our first otter sightings in 2015, we set up more trail cameras which have been great at capturing some less-seen wildlife on the Village. In the past few months we’ve photographed deer with their fawns, badgers and cubs feeding and some foxes have become regular visitors too.

This month a sparrowhawk was spotted on a Woodland Awakening walk, making several attempts to snatch some breakfast from the bird hide. This magnificent bird of prey is specially adapted for hunting smaller birds in dense cover, so Longleat Forest is perfect for them.

On the subject of big birds, a cormorant was recently spotted struggling against the high winds on one of the lakes, looking rather ruffled.

Coming soon: babies!

Are you visiting Center Parcs this spring? Find out when the young of our resident wildlife are due to arrive so you know what to look out for.

Mallards – by April (likely earlier if the weather stays mild)
Great Crested Grebes – will have young on their back by mid-March
Rabbits – from April onwards
Muntjac deer – any time, they breed all year round
Blue tits and other small birds – mid- to late-May
Woodpeckers – mid- to late-May
Grey squirrels – mid-May

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