If you’ve read any of my blogs before you may have realised that I love using lots of photos and videos. That’s because one of my favourite hobbies is wildlife photography and film making. I’m not usually the kind of person that gets bored easily, probably because I like to keep my self busy, very busy!

We have all been doing our best to do our bit to stay safe during the recent Coronavirus pandemic by staying indoors as much as possible. For some of us, our hobbies have been a salvation during these tough times, but for a lot of us also something that we miss dearly.

My hobbies

Most of my spare time is usually spent at Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory. I’m a Trustee for this local charity and have been volunteering here since 2013 training to be a bird ringer. I really enjoy monitoring wildlife and taking part in surveys for the observatory; collecting vital data for the BTO gives me a real sense of purpose and is my way of contributing to conservation. If you’d like to learn more about bird ringing and nest recording see my previous blogs here and here.

Tufted Ducks Displaying on Restharrow Scrape.

At the Bird Observatory we spent most of 2019 fundraising to purchase our nature reserve Restharrow Scrape and develop the site for wildlife (and for the local community as well). I’m incredibly proud that so far we’ve managed to raise over £270,000, in such a short time that’s a massive achievement for such a small charity. With the excavations and building works now complete, it is now one of my favourite places to visit and an excellent place to practice my filming skills. I feel really connected to nature here and am so disappointed that I can’t visit the Scrape at the moment whilst it is closed during this lockdown period.

Brown Angus butterfly feeding on buttercup.

Thankfully I can still photograph the birds and wildlife in my garden and on my daily exercise walks. I enjoy uploading the wildlife I’ve found and the animals I work with on my Instagram page HERE.

Recently I’ve also been taking part in bat surveys for Kent Bat Group. Additionally, I have an interest in Moth, Butterfly, Dragonfly and Bee recording. I’d like to spend more time developing my botanical knowledge though, I only ever remember the pretty flower names! Generally, I have an interest in all aspects of natural history and aspire to do anything I can to help our native wildlife. In 2020 I was supposed to be starting my Dormouse survey training with Kent Mammal Group where I could learn more about handling and monitoring our native small mammals, but this has been postponed due to the outbreak.

On a positive note it gives me a good excuse to save these topics for another blog in the future!

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Loki the Jaguar, Kingfisher for a fundraising art auction, and Timmy the Boobook Owl coloured pencil drawings.

Luckily I am easily amused and good at keeping myself occupied. I love to draw the animals I work with and the wildlife I have seen. I also enjoy reading post-apocalyptic and fantasy books and am usually listening to music any chance I get. A lot of my colleagues also share this passion for music and being outdoors. Quite a few of our members of staff are gamers! From Pokemon Go to Minecraft someone is usually spending their lunch on a quest of some kind. The latest thing that’s sweeping through the Keepers is a game called Animal Crossing which I hear is extremely addictive!! I thought it would be a nice idea to see what some of our Keepers enjoy doing outside of work.

Hobbies that are getting us through

As you can imagine, many of our Zookeepers also share their homes with animals. Cover Keeper Calvin says that looking after his animals is keeping him going through lockdown. He wanted to include his rescued Tegu, aptly named Apollo after the Greek god of Healing and Diseases, among many other titles! Before finding a forever home with Calvin, Apollo had injured his front legs and developed metabolic bone disease. Calvin loves this little rescued lizard to bits.

Calvin and his rescued Tegu lizard called Apollo. Hobbies of Wingham Wildlife Park, keepers.
Calvin and his rescued Tegu lizard, Apollo.

Since self-isolation began, Kat from the Mammal section has been trying to grow her own vegetables. It’s a hobby she tries to take up every year, but this year she’s really expanded her range of produce. She’s currently growing tomatoes, peppers, cabbages, cauliflowers, sugar-snap peas, lettuce, onions, potatoes, swede, carrots, beetroot, parsnips, radishes and french beans! She really likes doing this because of her love of being outside, and apparently there’s nothing like eating your own produce (and she says it’s much better for the environment than shop bought). Kat gives any surplus food to the animals at WWP; her beans and tomatoes have been a big hit in the past with Nando and Kathleen.

Another bonus for Kat is that her dog Rufus loves being outside with her and watching her work.

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Kat’s home grown produce and helper Rufus.

It’s safe to say we love that some of our keepers are excellent bakers and of course most of us are self-confessed vultures… baked goods don’t last long when Zookeepers are about. Here, Sarah from team Birds is baking some cupcakes, and of course rescue dogs Zero and Ted are on hand to oversee her hard work. These handsome boys love long walks along the beach. We’ll happily help any Keeper polish off their lockdown bakes! YUM!

Wingham Wildlife Park keepers hobbies during lockdown. Baking
Wingham Wildlife Park keepers hobbies during lockdown. Baking
Sarah baking cakes with her gorgeous dogs Ted and Zero

Reptile keeper Hannah has been spending her time during lockdown practicing her digital drawings whilst being harassed by her dog Maddy (who gets nonstop attention and too many treats). Remarkably, Hannah has also been focusing on getting through her British Sign Language course and decorating her house.

Wingham Wildlife Park keepers hobbies during lockdown. Creating digital art.
Hannah digitally drawing on her tablet with the beautiful Maddy.

Jess, one of our cover keepers likes to crochet in her spare time and loves this indoor activity. She started this hobby about a year and a half ago as a way of making cheap Christmas presents for friends and family whilst she was doing her internship at Paradise Wildlife Park. Jess specialises in making little animals and I absolutely love the little Red Panda design. Another very talented lady!

Wingham Wildlife Park keepers hobbies during lockdown. Crocheting.
Wingham Wildlife Park keepers hobbies during lockdown. Crocheting.
Wingham Wildlife Park keepers hobbies during lockdown. Crocheting.
Jess’ awesome crochet skills!

Georgia, head of section at Sandwich Wildlife Park said that aerial silks has become a passion of hers for many reasons. She’s always wanted to try it ever since watching performances her grandparents would take her to every summer growing up. She finally found a class near her with an amazing instructor and had to jump at the chance. It’s been nearly 2 years now and she’s so glad she started. When you’re in the air there’s nothing else you can possibly worry about or think about other than making sure you’re wraps are correct and feeling the rush of falling down the beautiful fabric. The peace and adrenaline you get at the same time makes it her favourite thing to do. It is incredibly challenging on your body and requires immense motivation and strength but Georgia says the rewards of personal achievement are worth it!

Wingham Wildlife Park keepers hobbies during lockdown. Aerial skills.
Luckily Georgia has had her own set of silks installed so she can still practice during lockdown.

Video: Georgia’s aerial skills!

Amazingly, Adam has been busy building his own computer. When I asked Adam what he enjoys about this complicated interest he said that it’s like Lego but more expensive and he likes that he can upgrade it as he goes. A handy skill to have I think!

Wingham Wildlife Park keepers hobbies during lockdown. Building own computer.
Wingham Wildlife Park keepers hobbies during lockdown. Building own computer.

Hobbies we are missing

A lot of us have been lucky in the fact that our hobbies can be done in the comfort of our own homes. However, some of our Keepers’ hobbies can’t be done at home.

I think every keeper across all of the sections has heard how much Matt is missing playing Cricket! Usually Matt plays Cricket for Folkestone Cricket Club every Saturday without fail when the season starts. He’s especially missing it now because when the days get longer and warmer it usually means one thing… CRICKET! He misses going for a beer and a curry with his pals after the games too. When I first asked him what he loved so much about his sport he said the cucumber sandwiches, so at least he can still eat those and have his Yorkshire tea at home. Matt, I’ll bring you in some cucumber sandwiches for lunch sometime soon for you to reminisce some more. Besides all is not lost as he still has his Giraffes, Robin and Ruedi to keep him occupied, so we don’t feel too sorry for him.

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Primate Keeper Shae plays football 11 a-side once week for Faversham Strikeforce Ladies team as goalkeeper, and also plays Futsal (indoor 5 a-side football) at Canterbury Christchurch sports hall. Regrettably, the Kent Division 2 East Women’s league has been cancelled due to COVID-19 and has been null and void. She’s looking forward to starting the season again and cannot wait to watch football on the TV again!

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Nadine is joint head of section on the Primate team, and I’m starting to think she might as well be a spider monkey! Aside from all things animal related of course, another, more recent way Nadine spends her time outside of work is indoor climbing! Climbing is a great way to stay active whilst having fun at the same time. She loves the mental challenge that comes with it – it’s a lot less about physical strength than you might think, and a lot more to do with developing techniques and solving the best way to tackle each route.

There’s such a sense of achievement from mastering a new route for the first time, especially when it’s taken you 50 attempts and multiple falls along the way to get there… (you have to expect a few bumps along the way if you’re going to take this one up – to give you a little laugh at a time everyone probably needs a bit of cheering up Nadine has shared one of her falls for your enjoyment in the video below!). Sadly of course, indoor climbing is not an option at the moment due to the current situation so we’ll all have to be a little creative and come up with other ways to keep busy and active at home. Personally she’s thinking of taking up living room yoga for a while… Stay safe and stay at home if you can.

Nadine showing off her indoor climbing skills.

Craig is also joint head of section on team Primates. Craig has spent a lot of his free time in the past taking part in Escape Room games. If you’ve not taken part before, these are games where you have to discover clues, solve puzzles, and accomplish tasks in a limited amount of time. The goal is usually to escape from the site of the game. There are various places to play these around the country and Craig enjoys them because they are a form of escapism, fun and they’re challenging. He says that the tasks really get the mind working and the theming is cool! Hopefully it won’t be too long before Craig can take on his next Escape Room.

A selection of Craig and his partner’s Escape Room triumphs.

Hobbies as part of our one daily exercise

Juliet from the Primate team enjoys solo beach cleans whilst out walking. The beach is Juliet’s favourite place and not many hobbies can be as environmentally beneficial as this. She has discovered lots of interesting things from her clean-ups and would love to turn some of the smooth glass fragments she has found into jewellery one day.

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Some of Juliet’s finds from her beach cleans whilst walking along the beach.

I think its safe to say that we’ve all been binge-watching a lot more TV series during these unprecedented times but most of us have still been coming to work as we provide essential and specialist care to our animals. I hope you enjoyed seeing what some of our team gets up to when they’re not hard at work here at the Park. We’d love to hear what activities you have all been up to and if you’ve not seen our video updates on social media, check out our Facebook videos for Wingham Wildlife Park and our sister site Sandwich Wildlife Park, you’ll love them!

About Becky - Head of Birds

Becky has been with the park since 2010, at which time all of the keepers had to work with all of the animals. Once we moved across to having different sections, Becky became head of the birds & mammals section, and has also progressed to assistant head keeper, covering Ruth's jobs when she is not on site. Becky has a real passion for birds, with a huge amount of dedication to the parks group of penguins, and spending much of her free time supporting wild bird conservation.