Hessilhead
Wildlife Rescue Trust
Caring for Scotland's injured and orphaned wildlife  

GAY'S DIARY, 2007

3rd December 2007

Seals

When we released the 2 common seals, Sammy and Chubby, we were left with a grey seal pup, Paddy. He learnt to feed himself quite soon, and enjoys playing in the swan hospital pool. We didn't expect an influx of other seals so quickly. First to come was another common seal, a small, poor looking seal, dry eyed, hump backed, and really not too well. However, he does have a good turn of speed, and can clench his teeth determinedly when he doesn't want to eat. Then came more grey seal pups. Yesterday 2 came from the east coast, one from Gullane and one from Dunbar. The Gullane seal is a big dark coloured bruiser, eating quite willingly. Baby Dunbar is a young pup, still with some white puppy fur, who needed fluids yesterday, but is now eating fillets of herring. Two more pups were delivered today. Dee came from Aberdeen, looks quite relaxed after his long journey, but has some infected wounds. Another young pup came from the Firth of Forth. He has chronic infections. So it looks like we are going to pretty busy for the next week or so.

2nd December 2007

Sparrowhawk

Sparrowhawks can be difficult patients, but we've worked out a good treatment regime, and rarely lose a sparrowhawk through stress. The secret is to keep the bird in an enclosed space where it feels safe. If you put a sparrowhawk in a cage, it will panic and damage feathers and face. One of our couriers, Kirsty, brought in a lovely female sparrowhawk while Andy and I were away a couple of weeks ago. Shelby diagnosed shoulder damage, kept the bird in a cardboard carrier, and hand fed it 2 or 3 times a day. We continued that treatment for a week; the bird was resting its injured shoulder, and keeping calm. After a few days it began to feed itself. That can be another problem with sparrowhawks. They usually need wild food, although we can usually persuade them to eat day old chicks eventually. When the wing improved and the bird became restless, she was moved to an indoor flight where she could get more exercise without putting too much strain on the wing. Next move was to a fully screened aviary, and soon the bird was flying perfectly. She wasn't too keen on being netted, ringed and boxed again, but it wouldn't take long for Kirsty to return the bird to where she was found. The bird had made a good recovery and was released in excellent feather condition. I guess she would continue life as before.

24th November 2007

Merlin

I asked Toni to collect a bird for us on Thursday. Toni worked at Hessilhead for 7 years, and although she now has a baby girl to look after, she still likes to keep in touch and bring casualties to the centre. She was very excited when she phoned later, to say that the bird was a merlin. Toni had noticed a mark and feathers on the window of the house where she had gone to collect the bird, and sure enough, the merlin was showing minor signs of collision. We treated the bird with an anti-inflammatory drug, kept it in a box for the night, and next day, when it was looking brighter, put it in a cage. It didn't take long for the merlin to eat. It ate a whole chick, beak, legs, everything. Then with a full crop, it had another sleep.

This morning we flew the bird in a large aviary. It was magic, so light and nimble and manouverable. It seemed to be floating rather than flying. Toni and Paul collected the bird later, and released it close to where it was found. They too were thrilled to see it fly. Hopefully it has learnt to avoid windows in future

20th November 2007

Seal release

It was a big day for Chubby and Sammy today. They had achieved their target weights of 35 kilos, and the forecast was calm weather for the next few days. It was time for them to go off and fend for themselves. Chubby has been with us since August, when we rescued him from Saltcoats beach, a skinny little seal suffering from lungworm and tapeworm. Sammy came 4 weeks later, transferred from Secret World Wildlife Rescue in Somerset. The team there had saved his life and taught him to eat fish for himself. Now he needed company and more space to swim. He flew into Glasgow airport and arrived at Hessilhead none the worse for his experience.

The seals were released at Portencross, and as so often happens we arrived at low tide, so the seal crates had to be carried to the mouth of the harbour. Chubby wasted no time in swimming away and exploring the sea, but Sammy wasn't so sure about this new world. He hung around the carrying box, and then stayed in shallow water for ages, returning to the box and watching us watching him. Chubby waited, looking back for Sammy, but he was impatient to get into deeper water. At last Sammy decided to go too, and we watched the seals swim to meet each other, diving and splashing and having fun. Hopefully they will son learn to catch fish for themselves.

1st July 2007

I got your number from a hedgehog.

It has been so busy for the last few weeks that we have hardly had time to keep up with the work. We have 40 fox cubs, 33 tawny owls, 5 badger cubs, 5 deer fawns, 200 ducklings and have reared hundreds of garden birds.

But today's good news couldn't go without a mention. The phone call started with the unlikely opening, 'I got your number from a hedgehog'. It was true. The caller had spotted one of the Uist hedgehogs, wearing its identification tag. Each tag carries our phone number, as well as an identification number for the hedgehog. The really good news is that this hedgehog has 4 well grown babies, and Mum and babies all look good. Transporting 241 hedgehogs from the mainland and relocating them on the mainland was time consuming and expensive. It was worth all the effort with news like that!

4th June 2007

Never a spare moment

Casualties are arriving fast. Most days bring more than 20 new patients, today nearly 40. Young crows, tits, wrens, and blackbirds are the most frequent arrivals, but over the last few days we have taken in 6 shell ducklings, 2 cygnets, a roe deer fawn and the first of the gull chicks. This evening a female hedgehog arrived with four 10 day old babies. That was in addition to the last 12 hedgehogs to be evicted from the Uists this summer; they went straight out to release sites. I am not too happy with the buzzard that came in on Saturday. Our first concern was his poor body condition. Now he is gaining a little weight, but his behaviour is odd. We suspect there may be some brain damage. The peregrine will move to an aviary tomorrow, and the little hand reared stoat should move outside too. A clutch of 12 ducklings was rescued from a deep sided treatment pool at a landfill site today, and tawny owl chick number 12 came in. So you see we don't have much spare time!

5th May 2007

Owls

There was good news for 2 adult tawny owls today. One of them has been in care for several weeks, and for a while was totally blind. Even so, after recovering from concussion, it learnt to feed itself in a cage. It was always easy to get hold of, as it didn't see a hand approach, but would jump when touched. We were beginning to lose hope that the owl would recovery, then during one of the regular testing sessions we found it could see with one eye. That encouraged us to move the owl outside, and it soon found the high perches, and located food left in different places. Today we tested it again, and are pretty sure that it now has good vision. It will return to its own territory. Another tawny owl, a small male, has made a fast recovery from a collision with a car. It will soon be back to help feed its family.

It is almost 2 weeks since we collected a barn owl from Barrhill, in South Ayrshire. The owl had been found in the forest by some marines on an exercise, and they had left the owl at the village shop. The owl was thin, and had a severe injury to the back of its head, and also a lot of inflammation in its throat. It was a tricky patient for the first few days. We gave it fluids first, and then fed it tiny pieces of meat every two hours throughout the day. Sometimes it swallowed the food more easily than other times. Sometimes it looked like it would die. now it is feeding well, and almost fit enough for release. The trouble is we don't know exactly where the owl was found. As it happened, more marines came into the shop while I was examining the owl. They knew the person who had found the owl, and promised they would phone me with details of where it was found. I explained it was really important to return the owl to its own territory, and was sure they would contact me. So far we have heard nothing, but I'm still hoping. The owl has made such good progress we would really like to take her home.

A young tawny owl was brought in today. It was found under a car at Wemyss Bay Railway Station, and although staff knew where the nest was, it was impossible to put the owl back. In any case the nest is inside the station, above the platform. Next time the chick came out the nest, it could land on the track. It isn't the best nest site to choose.

4th May 2007

Starlings

There has been an influx of starling chicks at Hessilhead. I think the total so far is 22. All have been removed from roof spaces by house owners who were having their roofs repaired, or just didn't like having the chicks there. You can probably imagine that rearing chicks from a few days old is a lot of work, and fairly costly. Feeding starts at 7am each morning, and finishes about 10.30 at night. The chicks are fed approximately every half hour. Of course there are lots of other youngsters to care for too. Once the chicks fledge (in 7 to 10 days) they will move to cages. First they will learn to perch, then to drink, and after a week or so to pick up food for themselves. When feeding confidently they will move to an aviary, and be released a couple of weeks after that. The aviary will be left open for two more weeks so the youngsters can come back for food. If the chicks had been left in their nests for their parents to rear, they would fledge in 7 to 10 days and have their parents to show them how to survive in the wild. The roofs could have been repaired then, and Hessilhead would be a much quieter place.

28th May 2007

Buzzard and Peregrine

Itís mostly juveniles that we admit at this time of year, but we've had a couple of surprises yesterday and today. A buzzard was brought in yesterday, found by a shooter while out shooting. The buzzard has an injured leg, and more injuries in its mouth and above its eye, but we expect it to make a full recovery. Today we admitted a female peregrine, a particularly bad tempered one. She has an injured wing, that is now strapped up, and we are hopeful of a full recovery for her too.

15th May 2007

Swift

There is always something to delight us at Hessilhead. Yesterday we had a call about an injured bird in West Lothian, which is quite a long way from here. The people who had the bird couldn't fetch it, but luckily two of our regular helpers who responded straight away, and the bird was here an hour and a half later.

At first glance the bird didn't look good. It was lying in the box, wings stretched and eyes closed. Not usually a god sign for a bird. But this was a swift, and swifts don't sit up straight. If they cannot grip onto a vertical surface, the spread eagle on the ground. We checked the wings, no problem, and checked the strange little legs, no problem there either. We gave the bird fluids by crop tube, made a different arrangement in its sleeping box, allowing it to adopt a more comfortable position, and left it for the night. This morning it was given more fluids, and was looking brighter. By late morning the weather was great, and we decided to try launching the swift. Several of us went up the field to watch, but when Andy held the bird on his outstretched hand nothing happened. There was not a breath of wind, and therefore it was difficult for the bird to get lift. The next tactic was to throw the bird. You have to be pretty sure that the bird is fit to try this one, and we always try it in a grass field, so in case of failure, the bird has a soft landing. Andy threw the swift and it just kept going, wings took over and within a few beats the bird was climbing and even dashing after insects.

We don't know why the bird was down on the ground, it had possible clipped wires. The trouble with swifts is that once on the ground they are stuck. They have very long wings and very short legs, and cannot run or flap enough for take off. So a swift on the ground needs a helping hand to get airborne. This was a short stay patient, and a delight to see it back its own element.

11th May 2007

Home from Uists

Andy and I have just returned from a trip to the Uists to collect more hedgehogs. There were only 16 to come back today, but the total for this year so far is 206. We took an extra day for the trip to enjoy the peace and quietness of South Uist, and to watch some healthy wildlife too. We spent all of Wednesday on a white sandy beach, watching Great Northern and Black throated divers, terns, waders, hen harrier and arctic skua. You can imagine that it was difficult returning home!

In the hospital there are lots of changes. The half naked starling chicks have fledged, some of the blackbirds are ready for the aviary, the pine marten has become more independent, there is a new badger cub, its fractured leg splinted, there are several more fox cubs, which makes me think this might be a record fox cub year, and lots of baby rabbits. One of the fox cubs required rescuing from a basement beneath a Glasgow tenement. We heard the rescue was in progress while we were away. We were confident that the rescue team, Shelby and Leianne would be successful, and we are pleased to see that the cub is doing well.

6th April 2007

Otter

We got an otter week ago tomorrow. She is probably between 6 and 8 months old, is very thin and was found in a sewer. She has been quite friendly all week, coming out when anyone went to her enclosure, approaching closely and sniffing feet. No-one has spoken to her or encouraged her to be like this. We assume it is because she has been so hungry for a long time. She seemed desperate for all the food she could get, even though she must have eaten all she needed. Today was different. The otter stayed in her sleeping box in all day, and eventually I was so puzzled that I lifted the roof and peeped inside. She looked up and backed into a corner, reluctant to be seen. She is reverting to natural behaviour, a sign that she is feeling satisfied now. Hopefully she will gain weight and be ready for release later in summer.

28th April 2007

I'm a carnivore!

Today we decided to try the baby stoat and pine marten with meat. The stoat was first, and did she get excited? She grabbed the chick liver between her front feet and started eating. But she is still young; her eyes aren't even open yet and her co-ordination really poor. So unable to remain in one position, and she spiralled and tumbled round her cage, never letting go of her meat and chomping all the time.She finished the meat but had got herself into a bit of a mess, blood stained legs and chest and tummy. She began cleaning herself, with almost as much enthusiasm as she had when eating, and after ten minutes she was spotless, satiated and sound asleep.

The pine marten was less enthusiastic, ate more slowly but still enjoyed the change of diet. From now on they will both be on 2 milk feeds a day, instead of four, with meaty meals in between.

Earlier today I was watching the badger cubs eating. There was nothing genteel about their manners. With gusto both cubs dived into the dish, elbows and rumps were used to try and keep the other cub away, and as some meat was scooped into mouths, more of it was pushed out of the dish and trampled. I've noticed before that badgers can't eat from a dish without getting half way through, then pushing their noses beneath the dish and flipping it over. I suppose its the technique they use for finding beetles under cow pats. For a while their feeding place looks really messy. but eventually all is hoovered up, and the cubs disappear beneath a pile of straw. Its always fascinating to see such youngsters instinctively using behaviour that will help them to survive in the wild.

27th April 2007

Growing Up

The hard work of the past few weeks is paying off now, with many of the hand reared youngsters living outside, some of them getting ready for release. There are 32 fox cubs at the centre now, all living in family sized groups and most of them thriving. We are concerned about the 3 latest arrivals, all road traffic accidents, and still showing signs of head trauma. 21 starling chicks moved to the aviary this weekend, and though there are still some in the hospital, its a lot quieter there now. the outside bunch are eating well, and getting plenty of exercise in one of our largest aviaries. 3 healthy greenfinches moved out today. The are the best greenfinches ever reared at Hessilhead, all thanks to Emma. The pine marten moved to a bigger space in one of the sheds. She looks quite grown up now, but is really still quite babyish. She was thriled with her new accommodation, and spend time exploring the logs and crevices we had provided. She tried bouding and leaping, but her co-ordination couldn't cope. When her front end leaped forward, her rear end stayed put. No doubt she'll get the hang of it soon. 5 young tawny owls have moved to an aviary, and ducklings are always on the move to new premises as they convert grassy pens to mud! The two original badger cubs were pleased when a little sow was introduced to them. They all stayed out all afternoon, playing gently.

26th April 2007

Spring babies and Uist hogs

There was plenty going on at Hessilhead. The first patient arived at 1am this morning, and the first phone call came at 6. Then Jo arrived to collect some Uist hedgehogs for relocation at Drumchapel. We met Jo a few weeks ago when she brought a family of fox cubs that had been rescued from a burning derelict building. One of the cubs was unconscious on arrival, but after a few hours in intensive care she was able to stand and eat a little. Next day she was back with her siblings. The hedgehogs will have been released now, and hopefully will be foraging for natural food. We have been a bit overrun with hedgehogs recently. Last week 100 came over from the Uists. they came in 2 batches, but most of the 1st batch were still in care when the 2nd lot arrived. Our hedgehog hospital has never been so busy. Gradually the hogs are attaining their release weight and moving out, but we heard today that another 34 have been caught on the islands. We can expect another consignment next week.

This afternoon it was time to worm the fox cubs. Some of them were easily caught and accepted their treatment without a struggle. Some hid, some squealed, and one of them managed to bite Leianne. We look forward to the repeat performance in two weeks!

There was an influx of blackbird chicks this evening. Two were cat victims, that were given antibiotics on arrival, and are now feeding well. Then came a family of 5 chciks, that were delivered to Knowetop, the community farm in Dumbarton, in a suitcase. They are chunky chicks, and it was difficult to see how they had all squeezed into the nest that came with them. Perhaps the nest fell from the bush under their weight.

20th April 2007

Happy Ending to a Tawny Owl Saga

The saga began several weeks ago when a lady arrived at the wildlife hospital with a tawny owl wrapped in a jacket. She said she had found the owl beneath vegetation while tidying her garden. The owl was a small male bird, and it had a fractured wing. I happened to comment that it was really unfortunate as the owl almost certainly had a mate incubating eggs. Without her mate she wouldn't be able to hatch them. The lady told us that her neighbour had an owl box in his garden, and she would ask if it was being used.

Later that day we had from the neighbour, telling us he had checked the nest box, and found an owl sitting on 4 eggs. She had flown from the box when he disturbed her, but returned later.

We decided to help, and sent a supply of day old chicks, which could be left out at night for te female owl. She didn't touch them. The next plan was to leave a ladder against the tree, giving access to the nest box, and f our chicks would be dropped in every 2nd day. These were eaten, though the owl did fly from the box as soon as anyone stepped on the ladder.

Meanwhile the owl had been seen by a vet, its wing was strapped and we hoped for a speedy recovery. The bandage was removed after 2 weeks, and the owl was flying after 3. Normally we would have given the owl more time in an aviary, but we decided to take our patient back to his mate. Two of the eggs had hatched by this time. Apparently the female owl greeted the male when he flew from the carrying box, or perhaps she was demanding to know where he had been!

All went well till last night, when an owl chick appeared at the patio door of the house. We went to investigate, and as it was a particularly stormy night, decided to bring the youngster back to the hospital for shelter and food. It fed well, seemed perfectly fit, and we returned it to the garden earlier this evening. As soon as we arrived we heard Mum and Dad hooting and kewicking, then had several glimpses of owls flying from tree to tree. The youngster became more inquisitive as time went on, and after about an hour our patience and its was rewarded. Mum flew down with a mouse, dropped it beside the owlet, and quickly departed. We left, satisfied that the owlet was in the best place, in the wild with its parents.

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