My adventures at HART Wildlife Hospital - by Cheryl Owen
September and October
Had a hectic couple of months outside of HART during September and October so my blog post is a bit late and disjointed this month – apologies for that!
My first visit in September involved a lot of glopping as for some reason we had loads of pigeons in, both inside the hospital and up in the aviaries; lots of youngsters and one particularly cute and tiny Collared Dove baby.
We also had a few baby squirrels in, one of which was named Pebbles (she did come in with her sibling Bam Bam! who sadly died). Pebbles is doing very well though, despite the fact that one of her eyes is slightly swollen and I did get the opportunity to feed her before I went home – always an enjoyable experience! I also managed to get a quick photo of the little stoat that I babysat the previous month.
On 7th September it was the HART Celebration in Four Marks, a fabulous evening with some interesting talks, a raffle, and items for sale, good food and drink, good company and raised a lot of money! There was a quiz during the evening and I teamed up with some of the other regular volunteers as ‘Team Hart Breakers’, as the majority of the questions were animal orientated I’m very pleased to say that we managed to win!
September also saw the arrival of the Albino Squirrel – Casper - what a beautiful animal he is too! Unfortunately the day I was in, he hadn’t been there for very long and was still quite frightened and probably in a bit of pain so wasn’t in the mood to have a proper photo taken! However when Kristy appeared on Autumnwatch Unsprung with him in October he was (thankfully!) a totally different squirrel!
In mid September I had a rescue of my own to do! I received a call from one of my customers saying they had an injured bird which had been found on the ground while their odd job man was strimming the grass – they said it was a bird of prey but they weren’t sure what – and Nigel, the man that found it thought he may have caught it with the strimmer and was very worried. I drove over there to pick it up and discovered it was in fact a female Kestrel. I took it straight up to HART where she was examined and given some pain relief. Luckily there were no obvious injuries on her apart from one of her eyes was completely swollen and closed. It later transpired that she had a tic on her head. I didn’t realise but tics can be deadly on birds of prey and also pigeons etc and it isn’t uncommon for the birds to be grounded because of them. As their heads and brains are very small, when the tic feeds it can cause a lot of damage and swelling. When I next saw her a few days later she was looking much better and a couple of weeks later I was able to pick her up and take her back to my customers to be released. As Nigel had been so worried that it was him that had caused her injury, I made sure he was there and let him open the carrier to release her. She flew off quite happily and I have since seen her on several occasions while I’ve been working there.
Some of the other animals/birds that we had in during September included a couple of Swifts and also a very cute baby bunny, there were also some mice and a pair of Dormice (who sadly I’ve never managed to get a photograph of!!)
We also had a Long Eared Bat; the first time I’d ever seen one of these close up was when Erika, the lady that did the Bat Talk a couple of months ago bought one in with her, this one I believe was found locally though – fabulous looking thing! We also now have been given/loaned a Batzebo by Erika! This is actually just a normal gazebo but enables the bats that we have that are big enough/well enough to be able to practice flying. This sounds great but trying to find them when you want to bring them back in is all but impossible – you would not believe how tiny a space they can fit themselves into!
On the 19th September I turned up and was really pleased to see that Clover was back with us! ... well, pleased in the sense that it was great to see her, although not so pleased because the reason she was here was because of an injury to her ear, thankfully not a serious one. As she was only going to be with us for a few days she was in a large carrier in the Treatment Room and I was asked if I could clean it out. Although she had been released for quite a while, she obviously still thinks of us as her family and is remarkably tame around us, so it was no problem to just let her out of the carrier and let her loose in the room while I was cleaning it. However she is a very inquisitive little thing and managed to get up to all sorts of trouble while she was out, gloves, boxes, tissue, water, – everything was fair game to her – so it took a little longer than I expected!
Some of the more practical things that I’ve done at HART over the last two months were to help set up one of the outside aviaries for some of the older squirrels, dig out more of the bank at the front and board round and grout the paving that I laid earlier in the year where the big aviary is. We have had a few problems with rats – unavoidable sadly, as there is always bird food etc around the place – but they have been burrowing underneath the paving and we were worried that they could eventually dislodge one of the slabs and be able to actually get inside. It’s all secure now though so we are able to use it for any animals that we need to put in there.
October saw the start of the major influx of hedgehogs – we have over 60 now and they are still coming. Already pretty much every square inch of the hospital is filled with them and they are all shapes and sizes so there is plenty of work to be done there with cleaning, health checking, feeding and administering medication for them – they are all very cute though and its great to know that the majority of them will survive the winter and be able to be released in the spring.
Finally in October there was the HART Halloween Fancy Dress Fundraiser at the King Charles pub in Kingsworthy; another fabulous night with fun and games and a fabulous curry – and a tarot card reading by the very lovely Psychic Sue! I was actually at HART that afternoon and we were trying to find a babysitter for the tiny baby male squirrel that we currently have in, unfortunately we were unsuccessful so had no option but to take him with us! He slept quite happily upstairs until he needed feeding and then before he went home he was introduced to Sue – I think both of them were very happy to meet each other!!
Monday 1st August - Got there at 12ish, most of the cleaning had been done as we had a lot of volunteers and work experience people in again. One had forgotten her lunch so I gave her a lift to the shops and was asking about the courses that she is doing. She is starting at University in September and is hoping to become a vet, and before starting the course the students are expected to do placements at various animal centres to gain some practical experience. It’s great that we are able to take people in for these placements, as even if the people doing veterinary courses want to work with domestic animals they will at some point in their career come across various kinds of wildlife and this gives them some idea of what to expect, and of course it also helps us as we get the extra pairs of hands when they are with us.
When I got back Kristy asked me to write up the Hedgehog Feeding Chart, this basically involves going through the record book and writing down who has what based on their weight etc. The bigger hogs have cat food and biscuits, the little ones have milk and the ones in between have a bit of both.
After doing that I walked into the staff room to find a little hedgehog having a feed and also the 4 tiny baby mice were being fed. These came in at the weekend (on the back of a bike apparently!) they were so small that no one expected them to survive but so far they are doing OK.
It was then medication time so I helped Kristy with that – it was mainly hedgehogs today and most of them needed injections – which sounds a lot easier than it is! Trying to keep them still and then finding a bit of skin in between all those spikes is quite difficult but Kristy managed it and we put them all back, slightly cross and sore but at least what they have been given should help them – shame you can’t explain that to them though!
My last job for the day was to dust the shelves and tidy up in reception, always important to keep that bit clean and tidy!
Saturday 6th August - Very excited about today as we have a lady coming in to give us a talk about Bats. With that in mind, I managed to get there at 7am as I knew we wanted to get as much done as we could before she turned up. When I walked into the staff room, the first thing I saw was Charlie the Chicken! Not exactly wildlife but he belongs to the Landlord and he was a bit poorly so we have been looking after him – he is doing much better now and can go home soon – he is very handsome!
Kristy and I then went straight into Recovery 2 so we could feed the pigeons. I think I got the better end of this deal as I got them out and glopped them and Kristy ran around cleaning and re-doing their cages for me to put them back again! We finally got everyone fed and I carried on cleaning out the rest of the baby birds. I did also have to do a bit of plumbing during this as the sink blocked up, but after dismantling the pipe work underneath, cleaning it out and putting it all back together again it seemed to do the trick!
I managed to get just about everything finished when it was time for the talk by Erika Dahlberg who is from the Winchester Bat Consultancy. It was an incredibly interesting and very informative talk covering the different species of bat in the UK, where they roost, and how to care for injured ones. I’ve always been fascinated by bats and I certainly learned a lot today – thank you Erika! We also got to meet one of her bats called Scruffy. He is a brown Long Eared Bat and is quite grumpy – but very cute!
I was going to go straight home after the talk but we had a phone call about an injured blackbird fledgling that needed picking up in Alresford, as that isn’t too far I drove down there first to collect it. On first look it didn’t seem too bad but when I got it back to the hospital and Charmian gave it a proper look over, it was discovered that its oil gland at the base of its tail had been damaged beyond repair. This would mean that it would never be able to preen itself properly and keep its feathers waterproofed so sadly it had to be put to sleep.
Monday 8th - I had another visit after work, and found that we had quite a few volunteers and work experience people in so most of the day to day stuff had been done. You can always find something to do there though and I did some cleaning and ‘fed’ and sorted the meal worms – not one of my favourite jobs if I’m honest! – but essential all the same as they need to be kept clean and happy so we can feed them to some of the birds as they are a more natural food source for them (and they love them!) There were various babies to be fed while I was there including hedgehogs, squirrels and mice and a beautiful Sparrow Hawk was admitted but sadly nothing could be done for it and it died shortly afterwards.
Saturday 13th – I received a phone call from Caragh asking if I would be able to baby sit a baby stoat/weasel that had just been brought in – how could I refuse?! When I got to the hospital to pick her up we discovered there had been a ‘break out’ in Recovery 2! The naughty baby magpie that we have had in since he was very tiny, had managed to knock the door off his carrier and was sitting on the sink looking very pleased with himself. It’s impossible to let yourself get attached to any of the animals, but just occasionally we get some right little characters in that you can’t help but love and this magpie is definitely one of those!!! It was easy enough to put him back where he should be and then I could go and have a look at ‘my’ little girl! She was very young and still had her eyes closed, and was very upset and obviously scared. I packed her into her carrier and took her home with me – much to the delight of my kids! We were trying her with milk feeds, but Caragh had said to me that stoats/weasels (we won’t know which until she is older!) wean very young and quite often will be fed meat before their eyes are open. She was clearly very upset and probably missing her Mum and was squeaking constantly, she wasn’t really interested in the milk feeds so I decided to defrost some minced beef for her – when it was ready I put a little bit in with her and she ate it straight away – and then promptly fell asleep! In fact I didn’t hear any more out of her until around 6 in the morning. I had to work Sunday morning so I was quite pleased about this, as with her squeaking constantly I thought I wasn’t going to get any sleep at all! I did give her a little top-up milk feed before setting off to HART with her but again she was more interested in the meat than the milk. She was delivered back safe and sound and as I had half hour to spare before I had to go to work I stayed and did a bit of cleaning.
Monday 15th – another afternoon visit so most of the cleaning etc had already been done. I went up onto the field and cleaned and put away some of the outside runs, then it was feeding time for the baby birds – although it often feels like it’s always feeding time for the baby birds!! I then helped Kristy clean the wounds on a new pigeon, helped feed some of the baby mammals, fed the baby birds – again! And then went home.
I’ll finish this month with a quick report on some of the animals. All 4 fox cubs have now been successfully released. They went to a couple who have acres and acres of land with a stable building and they were soft released from there – the place sounds idyllic and apparently even Clover has been spotted hunting for herself – she obviously just got far too comfortable with us at HART and needed a change of scene to allow her to become a ‘proper’ fox! The 10 Tawny Owls have been successfully released; although 4 of them did self release several weeks ago when they knocked the door off the hatch in their aviary one night. The Swan made a full recovery and was able to be picked up from the Sanctuary and taken back to her home where her mate was waiting for her – initially he went to defend his territory, then realised it was her and they touched beaks, intertwined necks and then swam off together! Bruce the goose and the coot were both released as were all the ducklings. Sadly some of the baby birds, the mice and a few other mammals didn’t make it but knowing that we have managed to help and successfully rehabilitate a lot of wildlife is really fantastic – and finally my favourite naughty little magpie has also now been released and I’m quite sure that he is happily causing mischief out in the wild somewhere as I type this!
Monday 25th July
Yet another quick visit today. Had a chat with Kristy and Charmian and they told me that the coot had been released – and also Bruce the Goose! I was quite fond of him having watched him grow from a cute little yellow gosling into a very handsome Greylag Goose – I’m going to miss him, but I’m really pleased that he is now back where he should be.
They had also released some of the blackbirds and pigeons and one of the volunteers was having problems with one of them as it kept landing on his head and his shoulder every time he went outside! Sadly I missed all that when I was at work so didn’t get any photos!!
I then went up and gave the fox cubs a quick clean out and replaced their towels – Clover is still sure we are her plaything!
As most of the work inside had been done – again we have a lot of work experience people with us – I spent a few hours outside weeding the beds and digging out a bit more of the bank ready to hopefully plant some more wildlife friendly shrubs in the autumn.
Saturday 23rd July
Arrived at 7am and the feeding started pretty much straight away! Lots of hungry mouths to feed in the baby bird department and apparently they were all starving! There were two new goldfinches which I couldn’t get to take anything much so kept an eye on them all day, thankfully they were starting to get the hang of it by the time I left. I put Bruce the Goose and the coot outside for the day and also our 4 new ducklings went out for the first time, I think they were all pleased to get some fresh air! I then helped Caragh clean out the foxes. I had to leave at 8.45 to go to work, but returned again at 12.00 so I could carry on (and had the very important job of getting some milk on my way back so we could all have a coffee!)
Most of the cleaning had been done when I arrived, other than some of the hedgehog boxes and a carrier so I went into the Utility Room and got on with that. Caragh then asked for the cupboards to be cleaned properly in the Recovery rooms and Isolation. We got all the towels etc out and while I cleaned, Caragh went through them all and got rid of all the ones with rips and snags in that could get caught up in little claws. We have bags and bags of new ones up in the loft thanks to many very kind and generous donations so its good to get rid of some of the old ones from time to time, and actually nothing is wasted as the old ones are sent to the charity shop who are able to raise money with them by selling them as rags.
It was then time for me to head home but on my way I said I’d stop in at the charity shop in Alton to drop the ‘rags’ off. It’s only the second time I’ve been in the shop and it’s really impressive; there are lots of really nice ornaments, clothes, books etc in there but the way it has been displayed just makes the place a really inviting and nice place to be. I have offered to volunteer there one Saturday and I will be reporting on that and have some photos, I’m really looking forward to it!
Monday 18th July
Very quick visit today after work – there were lots of other volunteers/work experience people in so I didn’t feel too badly about it – as soon as I walked through the door, Charmian and Kristy asked me if there was anything that needed doing up on the field as they had a party of 30 school kids arriving the next day to volunteer. I had a quick walk round and told them that some of the new hedging needed the weeds and grass removing from round the bottom of it and there were some other clearing up bits that could be done – I wasn’t sure how they would get on with that many kids around the place – but I’ve found out since that it actually went very well and we are all very grateful for the extra help!
When I went back into the hospital a House Martin had been bought in that was found in the road, it had a slight injury to the back of its head and was quite stressed but Charmian checked it over and managed to force feed it a wireworm and we put it in one of the incubators to recover.
I was then asked to feed the baby bat in the staff room so once I’d gathered the milk and other bits and pieces I was able to sit down and get him out. He was quite hungry and readily took the milk from the paintbrush. I wasn’t too sure how much he should be fed as he didn’t seem to be stopping, but when I turned him over you could quite clearly see the milk in his little tummy which was getting quite fat! I decided that was probably quite enough and put him back in the incubator. After cleaning all the equipment away I was then asked to glop a new pigeon in Isolation and also the baby Collared Dove and pigeon in one of the Recovery rooms, and that was about it before I had to go home again!
Saturday 16th July
We have two new fox cubs in at the moment, both victims of road accidents; one is recovering nicely and is in the bottom of the Isolation cubicles. The other one only came in that morning and is in severe shock – during the day Caragh was regularly feeding it small amounts of fluids and it did appear to be recovering, to the point of being able to stand up at the end of the day, but sadly it didn’t make it. The other one however is a female and as I say is recovering very nicely and Caragh asked me to clean her out. I went into Isolation to find a note on the door saying ‘Staff Only – I bite’ – to be fair I was warned about this and asked if I wanted to do it! Well I’m always up for a challenge so of course I agreed!
Caragh managed to get her inside her carrier and out of the enclosure and then left me to clean out. I can’t begin to describe the smell of ‘fox cub’ to you – but it’s very strong and very ‘unique’ I think the word is!! Anyway I scrubbed the enclosure out – got a clean carrier to put inside with some towels and then had to try and transfer her back into it. The enclosure has two doors so I was able to close one and put the old carrier with the fox inside into the other doorway – the hope was that I could lift one end of it and slide her out – however she was having none of it!! The only way was to unclip the top of the carrier and try that way – thankfully I was wearing gloves as she managed to get a nip in as I was undoing one of the back clips – at that point I decided to call for backup! I wanted to ‘scruff’ her (pick her up by her scruff as the mother fox would do), which I have done many times with Clover and Tallulah – but they don’t bite!!! Caragh talked me through how to do it safely which involved unclipping the top with one hand and holding a towel in the other hand then quickly sliding the top off and throwing the towel over the cub whilst making sure you know exactly where the back of her neck is then grabbing her through the towel and not letting go. You then have to lift her up and try and slide the bottom of the carrier out, make sure the door is clear, half shut it then let go and shut the door fully. There really isn’t a lot of room to manoeuvre in Isolation and Caragh quite accurately described it as a bit like playing Twister!! I’m pleased to say that no blood was shed, either human or fox, during the operation and it went quite smoothly.
I then got to clean out and weigh the Leveret, thankfully a much calmer situation! He is putting on weight nicely now and has started feeding himself – he loves dandelion leaves! Then it was a quick look at the baby birds again. One of the other volunteers was feeding the greenfinches and house martins. One of the greenfinches decided it was much easier to just sit on top of the cage and be fed that way; although once it was full it decided to go for a little fly round! It was easy to catch fortunately and I took the opportunity to take a quick picture while I had it in my hand!
It was then time to help Caragh clean out the fox cubs on the field – it had stopped raining by then! They had been cleaned thoroughly the previous day so it was just a quick clean up of the fox poop and changing their towels (Clover was her usual over friendly self!) we are hoping to put in the latest feisty female once she is fully recovered and maybe, just maybe she can show Clover what foxes are supposed to do! In fact she is now out with the other cubs and while Tallulah and Roger are learning the way of the fox, we have still got quite a bit of work to do with Clover!
I then helped Caragh do the medication and she showed me how to mix up an antiseptic solution to treat one of the hedgehogs with as it has a nasty wound on its back. After that it was a bit of cleaning, sweeping and mopping and then time to feed the kestrel and the owls, with camera in hand obviously! While we were on the field we also got the coot and Bruce the Goose back inside for the night.
Sunday 10th July
I was in Recovery 1 this morning with the little birds, so first job was to get the food organised. I had a young pigeon and young collared dove to glop; they are sharing a cage and seem to get on really well together. In fact we often have a lot of strange cage mates, particularly when they are very young and are in the incubators together but it doesn’t seem to bother any of them though, as long as they get fed they’re happy!
Next was brush feeding and wax worms for the rest of them which largely consist of blackbirds, finches, a couple of house martins, a swift, a skylark and a couple of really tiny birds which at the time we thought were warblers of some description, but I’m fairly sure after searching on the internet that they are in fact baby Goldcrests as they are very tiny and the markings on their wings seem to match.
Once everyone was fed it was time to start cleaning all the cages. By this time a few other volunteers had turned up and we had some spare cages ready and waiting so it was fairly quick and straightforward to get everyone sorted! Of course in between doing this you have to start the feeding round again as well to keep everyone happy and healthy.
While I was cleaning I managed to get some photos of the swift, which is a bird that you rarely get to see close up and also, even more exciting for me, was the skylark – a fairly boring looking bird – but its one that I hear regularly when I’m at work and as they fly quite high and rarely land its almost impossible to catch sight of them; to be able to have really close contact one was a real treat.
After the cleaning I walked into the staff room and was just in time to find Charmian feeding our new Leveret which is very cute – and again an animal that you rarely get to see close up as they are very secretive.
Well, what an interesting time I’ve had today!!! I turned up at the hospital just after 1pm and walked into the middle of a phone call regarding a swan that had apparently been stabbed with a metal spike – more on that later. While Kristy was trying to sort the phone calls out she asked me to look after and try to keep warm a tiny little pheasant chick, sadly he was gasping his last and bless him he died in my hands. Meanwhile another phone call came in from one of the long term volunteers who said he had just picked up some baby birds from the road, he wasn’t sure what they were but he was bringing them in. He turned up about 15 minutes later with 4 little chicks that we really couldn’t identify – he had seen them on the road while he was in the car and thought they were stones – then noticed one moved so he made the person driving stop the car so he could pick them up! It turns out that they are little Bullfinches – beautiful little birds and ones that we really don’t see very often any more so we’re quite excited about them. Bizarrely we had another nest of them bought in later in the afternoon; it’s been unusually windy here today and sadly it would seem that a few nests have literally been blown out of the trees. We also had a little Blue Tit in which now has a little pink mark on his head and a not very neat green mark on his tail. All the birds are marked differently with coloured tippex (correction fluid) so we can identify who is who. As we have around 20 blue tits in at the moment of various ages so it can get quite confusing!
Some of the new intakes this week include several baby pheasants, a gosling, another Tawny Owl, a swift (which is another bird that I’ve never seen close up as they are generally on the wing and don’t land very often), another baby magpie, two baby rooks, an adult jackdaw, a male fox cub and several other little birds – too many to mention - so there was plenty of feeding to be done for an hour or so before the swan saga started!
.. And so to the swan, as mentioned before, the report was that a swan had been stabbed, it was actually located very near Bob and June who are the founders of HART and for many years ran the operation from their house, about half hour drive from where the hospital is now situated. They went to have a look and said that we needed to bring the ambulance over so we could try to catch her and check the wound. I offered to go with Caragh and so after checking we had the necessary equipment and some medication to treat her with we set off. This pair of swans had been nesting here for a few years – apparently the male was seen this morning and the female had several eggs on the nest – after the report, the male was nowhere to be seen, and the eggs had vanished. By the time we turned up she had actually laid another egg, but still there was no sign of her mate. Swans can be very vicious and the males will generally defend the female and the nest quite strongly – they are big birds and you really don’t want to be on the receiving end of an attack! The female was on her nest when we arrived and allowed Bob, with the swan hook, to get quite close to her, though when he tried to catch her he just missed and she ended up in the water. It was a fairly narrow channel which is just over 2 foot deep.
Caragh and I had to put on our rather attractive waders and go in! The plan was to get her up to the very end so that Bob could hook her from the shore – I remember him saying ‘If she comes your way just try and grab for the neck’, she swam our way a couple of times with her wings flapping and head out, on the second or third time Caragh just missed her and she came my way – I just lunged at her and managed to grab her neck. As I stretched I was vaguely aware that the water was now over the top of my waders and I ended up pretty wet! It was worth it though, I managed to get my other hand round her wing and then had to have a shove and pull up the bank to get out without letting her go – what an adrenaline rush!!! When we looked at her injury it was clear that we were going to have to take her away from site. This isn’t what we wanted to do as swans mate for life and both parties can get very distressed if they are separated but sometimes you have no choice. Thankfully I had my camera with me and managed to take some close up shots of her injury and these will now be forwarded to the Police. Bob and June took her up to the Swan Sanctuary in Shepperton (near London) and I’m pleased to report that her wound appears to not be infected and hasn’t damaged any tendons or muscles and has now been treated. She will stay at the sanctuary until the wound has fully healed and then hopefully she can be collected and released back to her home.
Caragh and I eventually got back to the hospital just before 6.30pm and thankfully no more disasters happened while we were away! After a couple of hours more of feeding birds, cleaning cages and also cleaning out the new fox cub I finally managed to get home, shattered but happy!
I also had a second visit up to HART on Wednesday as Dave (My Hubby) wanted to run a Moth Trap up there (no he doesn’t kill them, he records and releases them the next day!) He has been trapping for around 10 years now and is involved with the Hampshire Moth Group – as no one else traps in the area of the hospital it is very interesting to see what actually turns up there. While he was setting up the trap I used the opportunity to go and help out for an hour or so feeding some of the birds and doing some cleaning!
When Dave had finished I couldn’t resist going to the back of the field and taking a few photos of the Tawny Owlets which are all together now in one of the aviaries. They are from 4 or possibly 5 different nests and are all slightly different ages but seem perfectly happy to be all together and to be honest the room that they were in at the Hospital smells a whole lot better now, and is much cleaner too!
... and the result of the Moth Trap? Dave caught a total of 82 Moths of around 18 different species;to name a few of the more ‘interesting’ ones he caught: a Peppered Moth, a White Ermine and a Privet Hawk Moth – one of the largest species that we get in the UK!
Monday 29th May
It was a Public Holiday today in the UK so I didn’t have to work and decided to spend the whole day at HART. I also figured that as it was a holiday there wouldn’t be many people helping so got there at 8am – another volunteer also turned up at the same time so for the first hour there was 4 of us. By 9am several other people had also thought the same thing and we actually had 9 of us on site for the morning – more than a normal day!
Anyway I said I’d do the cleaning so headed for the kitchen. First job is setting up the three tubs for cleaning the food bowls, sticks and other small items. First one has hot water and washing up liquid, second one has diluted Trigene (a special disinfectant) in it and third one has cold clean water. Everything that has been used, is rinsed in the sink first, then washed up thoroughly, then left to soak in Trigene for at least 20 minutes, then rinsed in the cold water, dried and put away. All the bedding, towels etc are soaked in a separate large bucket of Trigene – again for at least 20 minutes, then wrung out, put in the washer and spun, then washed properly, put in the Drier – unless the sun is out in which case its hung up outside – not the case today sadly! Then folded and put away. This process continues most of the day! On top of that, all the animals are cleaned and health checked daily, as they are put into new cages/carriers etc, the old ones are piled up outside the kitchen door – these have to be dismantled and scrubbed thoroughly and either sprayed with Trigene or with the steamer – which despite my best efforts just flatly refused to ‘steam’ today! Everything is then left to drain in the corridor – again for around 20 minutes – then dried thoroughly and re-assembled ready for the next day.
One cup of coffee and around 5 hours later, I was still in the kitchen and beginning to wonder how much more I could actually write about cleaning and make it interesting!! Although for anyone thinking about volunteering this gives you a very good insight into the real day to day work that is involved – and actually the cleaning is one of the most important and vital parts of looking after the animals.... and its fun – particularly when you’re chatting to everyone and having a laugh – and the time really does fly as you’re so busy (if only I could say the same about doing my own Housework!)
Finally the last cage was scrubbed, the last lot of laundry was put on and the last dish was dried up and put away and I had a chance to go round with my camera and take a few shots. Some of the volunteers went home and a new guy turned up for his induction and ended up staying to help for a few hours. One or two new birds turned up in the morning and we had received a phone call from the RSPCA to say they were bringing some animals in – but I didn’t know what.
Kristy then walked past me with a new Tawny Owlet in her arms – of course I had to follow her to the treatment room with my camera! It had been found near the road, the person that spotted it did move it to a safer spot and observed it on and off for some hours – but it looked too young to be actually out of the nest and it was decided it was better to bring it in. Poor little thing was obviously scared so Kristy checked it over and I made up a carrier for it. In the meantime a chick was chopped up (not a job I’ve had to do yet – although when I mentioned this to Charmian, judging by the gleam in her eye, I reckon it won’t be long before it happens!) Thankfully the owlet didn’t hesitate to eat this when it was offered so it was clearly quite hungry, it was then tucked up in the carrier and left to settle – little does it know it has 10 other friends up in the aviary to play with.
The RSPCA lady turned up shortly afterwards with one very cute and very abandoned little Duckling (another photo opportunity!) Kristy asked me to find the wireworms so we could see if it was hungry, when I found them I got one out (with tweezers! – I’m not quite there yet with picking them up with my fingers – I’m getting better at picking up the meal worms – but they still make my skin crawl just a little bit!) Anyway little duckling happily ate one worm but couldn’t be persuaded to eat any more so it was tucked up in its new little ‘nest’ and left to settle down.
The RSPCA also bought in a stoat – this is an animal that you don’t see close up very often – normally you are quite lucky to get a fleeting glimpse of one in the countryside – when they are fully fit, they are quite feisty and have a set of very sharp little teeth as they are strictly carnivorous. This one however, was far from fit and healthy – it has quite a bad injury to its tail and neck and the wounds were full of eggs and tiny maggots. First job was to remove these, which took ages as they really are very tiny, then the wound was flushed out and treated with an antiseptic mix which, as Charmian explained to me allows it to heal from the inside out which means that it is less likely to get any infection or other nasties trapped under the skin. The Stoat was then wrapped up with heat pads round it and left to recover. To be honest we were not at all optimistic about its chances as it was barely breathing, let alone moving while it was being cleaned up. Around an hour later I noticed that it had turned itself over in the carrier that it was in, so Charmian got it out and managed to get it to swallow some fluids (chopped up chick ‘juice’ – a stoat’s favourite apparently!) While this was an improvement, it was just a small one so all we can do now is keep our fingers crossed. Sadly I have since found out that the Stoat had to be euthanized the next day – and this is something that you have to be aware of if you volunteer at a place like this. Death of some of the animals is unfortunately a daily occurrence due to the nature of the place – it is a natural instinct of any wild animal to avoid humans so most of the ones that make it to us, are so severely injured that they are unable to run/fly away and often it is kinder to put them out of their pain – particularly when it would make it impossible to release them even if their injury was treated, but at the same time this is what makes it all the more rewarding, when you have an animal that you are able to treat and in time it is 100% healed and can go back to its natural environment.
Once the stoat was settled again a young Jackdaw was bought in – as I went to take it so it could be examined, a small black thing jumped off it and landed on my arm – there was a gasp from everyone in the room and they all backed away from me leaving me to wonder what on earth was happening!! ..... And so began my education into Flat Flies – nasty little critters that live off the blood of birds spreading all sorts of diseases – they don’t fly very well, and because they are flat they can stay close to the skin and run unnoticed under the feathers, more info here if you’re interested!! http://www.hiltonpond.org/thisweek051108.html As you can imagine they are the last thing we want in the hospital so the poor jackdaw was rushed outside and treated with parasite remover before being bought back in and looked after! Having never (knowingly) encountered these flat flies before I was amazed when another Jackdaw was bought in around half hour later and the same thing happened. They are very common apparently particularly in corvids and pigeons and as the weather warms up we can expect to see more of them (Yuk!)
After a quick coffee I decided to stay just a little bit longer and one of the other volunteers and I glopped the collared doves and pigeons – I finally headed for home around 6pm, once again very tired but very happy (and also very clean this week!)
My First weeks
It all sort of started with an apron! There I was chatting on a live web-cam Barn Owl site October/November last year and as there were no owls in the box at the time, conversation turned to making things – one of my online friends posted a picture of some amazing material that she had, with various animals on it – I commented that I loved it, and bless her she offered to make me an apron set from it . When I offered to pay, she flatly refused and suggested that I make a donation to my local wildlife hospital instead; what an amazing, and life changing suggestion that turned out to be!!
First problem, where was my local wildlife hospital? As far as I remembered it was miles away, but when I had a look online it turns out that they had recently relocated to an area that is roughly a 10 minute drive away and a few minutes from one of my customers. I had a look at their website and saw that they were asking for various items such as towels, bowls and shallow dishes and were also asking for volunteers! So armed with my bag of ‘goodies’, my donation and my camera, Dave (my husband) and I headed to the hospital. On our arrival we were greeted really warmly and I mentioned that I would like to help out, so there and then I was given a guided tour and also had my induction which included a few Health and Safety things, use of some of the chemicals used for cleaning, a chat about the drugs used there and basically what the routine is every day. I was told that I would never be asked to something I didn’t want to do – although I said I was quite happy to learn and do everything! – and it could include paperwork, cleaning (lots of cleaning!) feeding, helping to administer drugs to the animals, work on the field, picking up casualties, making coffee ..... absolutely anything at all to do with the daily running of the place
Two days later, I finished work at 1pm and headed off to HART, and when I got there the cleaning was well under way, so I rolled up my sleeves and got stuck in! Most of the casualties were hedgehogs then; in fact by Xmas we had over 80 – it was absolute chaos! In the morning each one is weighed and health checked, the plastic boxes are emptied and thoroughly cleaned out and disinfected, newspaper is then put in the bottom with a towel or fleece for the hog to hide under and each one is given fresh water and a handful of dried food and at lunchtime they are all given meat (which is generally meaty cat food). The biggest problem with hedgehogs (incidentally a group of which are known as a Prickle!) is that they have 2 litters a year, and if the weather turns cold early, as it did this winter, then the young are not heavy enough (600g) to be able to hibernate. HART have a few volunteers who foster some of the healthy but underweight hogs over the winter which helps to lighten the load, but a lot of the ones that we had in were also quite ill with various skin complaints and lung worm amongst other things.
One of the little hedgehogs we had in then was this little fellow named Archibald, who had lost most of his spines. In fact he never did get them back but I’m happy to report that the lady that fostered him over the winter has decided to keep him and he is quite happy to play in her garden when the weather is warm and gets tucked up in a nice cosy hutch at night!
Within a few weeks I had handled and helped with hedgehogs, ducklings, a couple of Tawny Owls, pigeons, some mice, a Buzzard, a Little Owl, a grebe and various other small birds, I’d washed hundreds of boxes and cages, done piles of washing and drying, hovered, mopped, scrubbed, prepared food and learned how to prepare slides and study hedgehog poop under a microscope to look for worms, and most importantly enjoyed every single second of it!! I knew I was part of the family when I made it onto the Tea and Coffee List in the staff room!
Just before Spring things really started to step up in readiness for all the fledglings and various other babies. At this point most of the hedgehogs had been released so we had one clear room ready for what I was told would be complete madness!! One of my first jobs then was to repaint the ‘Nursery’ and get all the bird cages, incubators and feeding implements clean and ready to go. We had a small sweepstake to guess when the first fox cub would come in, which turned out to be St. Patrick's day, which is why we called her Clover! It’s the first time I’d seen, let alone handled, a fox cub and was very surprised to find that they are very dark and look more like little puppies than foxes.
Clover was closely followed by another 3 fox cubs, some baby mice, baby bunnies, a bat (who I’m sure could eat several times its body weight given half a chance!), and the baby squirrels – oh the baby squirrels, what a complete joy they are to look after!
When they’re very tiny you have to ‘toilet’ them first (basically make them empty their bowels using cotton wool dipped in warm water), then feed them with syringes with tiny little teats on the end, and as they get bigger they get more and more adventurous and trying to keep them still is impossible as they just want to climb all over you and you end up with ‘squirrel rash’ where their little claws catch your arms! Real little characters and its been a great joy and privilege watching them growing up.
Some of my other duties there have been to dig out and plant the bank at the side of the hospital to make it look nice, and I spent a weekend there over Easter so I could pave an area for the new fox cub enclosure. Also I’ve been using the strimmer on the field, as I’m a gardener by trade, it seems sensible that I take over some of the groundwork. The hospital has just been given planning permission to develop the field that they have so they can put up various permanent buildings for mammals , new purpose built aviaries, a wildlife pond and eventually a Study Centre so that talks can be given on site to schools etc. There are some plans on the website which show what is going to be built, and I’m so pleased to be here at the beginning as its going to be very exciting watching it all evolve.
As of last week we have a room absolutely stuffed full of various baby birds of all varieties from tiny little Long Tailed Tits to Robins, Starlings, Blackbirds, pigeons, a Magpie and several ducklings. They all get fed in different ways: some are fed chopped up wire worms, some are fed meal worms (and the worms themselves have to be fed and cleaned out regularly!) a lot of the birds are brush fed with a special mix, and the baby pigeons (squabs) have to be glopped , which is a process where you have a syringe with a rubber hose on the end which has to be put down their throats straight into their crops.
I’m just about getting the hang of that now but I was all fingers and thumbs for a while trying to hold the bird, keep the beak open, feed the tube down and press the syringe! Caragh, Charmian and Kristy who are the permanent staff there make it look so easy! The carrion feeders like the magpies are fed a minced beef mix and then the owls (currently we have 10 Tawnys in) are fed mice and chicks. The process of feeding starts around 6am and finishes around 9pm, the tiniest birds are fed every hour on the hour, and by the time you’ve finished them all, its pretty much time to start again – no wonder the parent birds look so worn out at this time of year!
I’ve only been there for around 6 months but feel like I’ve been there for a lot longer, largely because of the people that run the place and the other volunteers, everyone has made me feel really welcome and part of the team. Sometimes there are sad moments when despite everyone’s best efforts an animal cannot be saved, sometimes its frustrating when an animal is bought in because of the action of either a well meaning person who thinks (wrongly) that an animal has been abandoned, or a nest has been disturbed, sometimes its hard work when you are endlessly cleaning, but 99% of the time its fun, educational, exciting and amazing to have proper hands on contact with animals and birds that you normally only get a fleeting glimpse of in the wild. If anyone is thinking of volunteering, then do it – you seriously won’t regret it! My hope is that I can do a weekly diary of my visits to HART. Normally I only have time to get there on a Monday afternoon after work but sometimes I manage to sneak there other days too. I popped in after work last Saturday for a couple of hours and ended up staying for nearly 8 hours but the time went in a flash; if my son hadn’t phoned me at nearly 8pm to say he was hungry I likely would have stayed longer too! My posts won’t be as long as this one (I hope!) but I’ve generally got my camera with me and will do my best to take plenty of ‘Awwww’ Pictures!