Explore Berkshire’s Beale Wildlife Park

May 7, 2013 by  
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Referred to locally as “The Peacock Farm”, Beale Wildlife Park and Gardens was founded in 1956 as a private park by Gilbert Beale – a collector and breeder of peacocks, many of which still roam freely in the park today. Located alongside the River Thames between the villages of Lower Basildon and Pangbourne in Berkshire, England, Beale Wildlife Park offers a spectacular venue for a day of family fun, with landscaped gardens and woodland, children’s play areas and an impressive collection of farm animals, small exotic animals and a variety of birds, including some that are threatened with extinction, such as the Bali Starling, Green Peafowl and Mountain Peacock Pheasant.

The Bali Starling, also known as Bali Mynah and Rothschild’s Mynah (Leucopsar rothschildi) is a medium sized bird, almost completely white in color apart from black tips on the wings and rail. It has blue skin around its eyes, with grey-colored legs and a yellow bill. There is very little difference between the male and female. As the name suggests, the Bali Starling is endemic to the Island of Bali in Indonesia. It is the official fauna symbol of Bali and is featured on Indonesia’s coinage.

Found in the tropical forests of Southeast Asia, the Green Peafowl (Pavo muticus) is a strikingly beautiful bird. In breeding season, the male develops its colorful upper tail which extends up to two meters when fanned out and is decorated with ocelli “eye spots”. Outside of breeding season, the male and female are similar in appearance, but nonetheless still eye-catching with their iridescent coloring. The Mountain Peacock-Pheasant (Polyplectron inopinatum) is a blackish-brown pheasant with long graduated tail feathers and small ocelli. Endemic to the Malay Peninsula’s mountain forests, the numbers of these attractive and elusive birds are dwindling primarily due to habitat loss.

In addition to viewing these interesting birds, visitors to Beale Park will enjoy the many themed aviaries scattered around the venue, including the Madagascan aviary and the owlery, as well as African, Australian and Asian aviaries.

The zoological collection at the park has a number of unusual inhabitants, including Tamarinds, Meerkats, Capybaras, Wallabies and Arapawa Goats. The Beale Railway takes visitors on a tour of the park, while the play area keeps the little ones busy and the on-site restaurant provides refreshments. Be sure to check out the new Pirate Island at the park. Certainly, an outing to Beale Park Wildlife Park and Gardens offers an educational and entertaining outing for the whole family.

Bee Hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae)

February 9, 2009 by  
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Known for being the smallest of all birds, the Bee Hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae) weighs only about 1.8 grams and is about 5 cm (2 inches) in length. The male of the species is smaller than the female and it is only found on Isle of Pines and in Cuba. Unfortunately this pretty little bird is classified as Threatened due to diminishing numbers in more recent years. The decrease in Bee Hummingbird populations have been brought about mainly by loss of habitat due to crop farming, timber felling and livestock farming. These forms of human encroachment have negatively impacted on the subtropical and tropical forests and swamplands that sustain the Bee Hummingbird, causing the bird to be confined to limited suitable habitats.

The male Bee Hummingbird has spectacular coloring. His entire head and throat are an iridescent red-pink and he has elongated lateral plumes. The top of his body is bluish in color while his underparts are a grayish white. These colors only become evident during breeding season and are shed shortly afterward. Non-breeding males have blue spots on their wingtips and black tail tips which helps to differentiate them from the females which have white spots on their tail feathers. The female is less spectacularly colored, having only a blue-green back and grayish underbelly and generally looking somewhat disheveled.

Despite its diminutive size, the Bee Hummingbird is an amazing creature. In flight it beats its wings as many as 80 times per a second. What’s more, when it is involved in a courtship display a male hummingbirds wings may beat as many as 200 times per a second! In order to pump blood around its tiny little body, the Bee Hummingbird’s heart rate is spectacularly fast. In fact, it is the second fastest of all animals. It has less feathers than all other birds, as well as the highest body temperature of all birds, eating up to half its body mass in one day. It also drinks plenty of water – consuming roughly eight times its body mass on a daily basis. The Bee Hummingbird eats mainly nectar and insects, nesting in woodlands, shrubbery and gardens.

Common Redpoll (Carduelis flammea)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Common Redpoll (Carduelis flammea) is a fairly small bird that is commonly found in open subarctic coniferous forest and scrub during the breeding season. In winter it favours open woodland, scrub, weedy fields and suburban areas. It generally avoids dense forests, and displays an irregular migratory pattern, migrating only every few years during the winter months when wild food may be scarce on their normal winter grounds. Though they generally spend most of the time in the upper half of North America and Canada, they have been known to fly as far away as Europe and Asia.

This little bird is between 12-14 cm in length and has a wingspan of 19-22 cm. They weigh only about 11-20 grams and have highly variable plumage characteristics. Generally speaking, the Common Redpoll is a small finch with a small, conical-shaped yellow bill. It has a black chin and lores, red forehead and pale brown body with streaks. The eye line is dark and the cheeks are a paler in colour than the rest of the head and nape. The wings and tail are dark in colour and there are two white wingbars on each wing. Flight and tail feathers are grey with buff-colored edges while the rump is pale and also streaked with grey. Males may have a pink to deep rose wash across their chest. Females do not have this pink colouration.

The Common Redpoll feeds on a variety of small seeds such as birch, willow, alder, grasses and weeds. They generally feed on small branches, using their feet to hold the food down while they pick it off with their beaks. They also have foodpouches which they can use to temporarily store seeds, allowing them to gorge themselves quickly before they fly away to a safer spot to enjoy their food at leisure. The Common Redpoll has also been known to frequent bird feeders. Their nests are made of fine twigs, rootlets and grasses which they weave together into a cup-like shape. They may use feathers or hair to line the nest which is usually found in a small tree or shrub. The female may lay between 4-6 spotted eggs out of which small, helpless and fairly featherless chicks hatch a few weeks later. Once they have lost their down feathers, the immature Common Redpoll resembles the adult bird.

Gray Hawk (Asturina nitida)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Gray Hawk (Asturina nitida) is a small raptor that is 15 inches in length and has a wingspan of 35 inches. It is predominantly gray in color, with its throat and belly being white with barred gray coloring. Its upper tail coverts are white and it has very pale colored plumage under its wings. The Gray Hawk is resident to the southwestern United States regions, Mexico, Arizona, Central Argentina and Brazil.

Gray Hawks prefer to live in forests and woodland areas. It is not unusual to see them in agricultural fields, savanna trees and in open patches between forests. They prey on small animals, birds and snakes, and stalk their prey from perches in the trees. Once a prey animal has been sighted, the Grey Hawk will swoop down from the tree and catch its meal. Hawks are also known to hunt for prey, while gliding low to the ground, and are very agile hunters. They can maneuver themselves through the trees very swiftly. Nests are built high up in the trees from sticks, and are lined with leaves. Both the male and female will participate in the construction of the nest; of which the male will build the foundation of the nest, and the female will construct the bowl. The female hawk will lay between one to three white eggs that can sometimes be marked with red and pale blue. Only the female Grey Hawk takes part in the incubation of the eggs; however, the male provides her with food for the first two weeks. The incubation period is approximately 33 days. After the two weeks, the female is able to participate in hunting. It has not been established exactly how long it takes the chicks to be able to hunt. The  chicks fledge the nest at approximately six weeks.

In Texas and Arizona, the Gray Hawk is considered a threatened species, even though is does not have an official conservation status. It is the low population numbers that have led these areas to implement conservation programs around the Gray Hawk, and to monitor breeding pairs. These projects can be very beneficial to the over sensitive Gray Hawks. They are known to be very skittish, and will sometimes abandon their nests as a result of an innocent domestic disturbance, such as a picnic that is held too close for comfort.

Mississippi Kite (Ictinia mississippiensis)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Mississippi Kite or as it is scientifically known, the Ictinia mississippiensis, is 12.5 inches long and has a wingspan of 36 inches, weighing between 7 and a half to 12 ounces. Both the male and female are similar in size. It is a medium-sized, long-winged hawk and is known for its graceful movements. The wings of the Mississippi kite are long and pointed and the tail is long and squared-off at the end. The beak is dark in color, short and hooked.

The adult kite has a pale grey head with a dark mask at the lores. The breast, under wing, belly and under tail coverts are also gray. The gray becomes darker on its back, primaries, upper wing coverts and upper tail coverts. Above the kite you can see its pale silvery grey secondaries and when it is flying you can notice its black flight feathers and black tail.

The juvenile Mississippi kite has a streaked, brownish head with a pale superciliary line. The young bird has a dark brown back and upper wing and a dark tail with distinct white bands going across it. The breast, under wing coverts and belly are streaked heavily with a rich brown colour. As the juvenile gets older its head and breast start looking grey like the adult bird with a few remnants of the brown colour. The under wing continues to be streaked heavily with brown and the dark tail and white bands remain.

Another species that is similar to the Mississippi kite is the Black-shouldered kite, which is also medium sized and shape but the breast and tail are whiter and not so grey in color. Kites have a similar body structure to the falcon but the head patterns differ a lot. From a distance the Northern Harrier can look similar and is differentiated only by its pale broad under wings and its white rump.

The Mississippi Kite can be found roosting and making nests in woodlands and in tree clusters. The kite prefers the edge of the woodland, grasslands, human-altered areas, savannas, farms and towns to hunt in. In summer you will find the Mississippi kite mainly in the Southern part of the United States and then in winter you will find it migrating as far south as northern Argentina.

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