Boat of Garten Wildlife Group
Before we could decide what needed to be done we first had to find out what was there.
Funding was provided by SNH and the National Park to help us acquire necessary survey equipment, including trip traps, Longworth traps, microscopes and camera traps. Several members of the group had already undergone training for some types of survey work and more training could yet be arranged if members request it. The following paragraphs summarise some of the surveys.
Tawny Owl Survey
This a survey organised by the British Trust For Ornithology (BTO). One simply goes to the centre of a tetrad (a set of four one-kilometre squares) and listen for ten minutes within the two hour period after sunset and listen for tawny owls. The survey is done in the autumn when young owls are being driven away from their parents' territories so there is a lot of calling going on. This is what we found in our designated tetrads within the OS Square NJ02
Owl Pellet Survey
BoG-WiG began to acquire information about the small mammals that live in the area by collecting owl pellets and dissecting them to see which creatures the owls were finding to eat. This study would be supplemented by occasional trapping sessions for live shrews, mice and voles.
Encouragingly, the very first batch that we dissected produced the skull of a water shrew - the first ever confirmed record of this animal in this area. Here are the findings from the first few sessions.
Small Mammal Survey
We undertook a series of trapping sessions in which we attempted to discover which small mammals were present in the Boat of Garten area. This survey would complement work already done on owl pellet analysis and would form part of the on-going biodiversity audit of Boat of Garten. Licenses were obtained from SNH and training in the use of traps was provided for those taking part. Six trip traps were used in the first session after which we acquired four Longworth traps bringing the total to ten traps. The trapped animals would be identified, sexed and weighed before being released exactly where they were caught. A summary of results is shown below.
Water Shrew Survey
Water shrews were studied right across the UK and BoG-WiG did its bit by taking part in a national survey. In this survey plastic tubes containing food were placed in selected water courses very close to the water's edge and left there for two weeks. The tubes were then collected and any scats found in them were sent off to the Mammal Society for analysis. The results were:
Red Squirrel Surveys
Despite the best efforts of the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Highland Red Squirrel Group there are still many forests in the Highlands where the status of the red squirrel population is unknown.
Mel Tonkin, who at the time was the Scottish Red Squirrel Survey Coordinator before becoming the project officer of the Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels project, came up to Boat of Garten to train BoGWiG members in Cone Hunting.
On the Friday afternoon we took her into the local woods for a recce prior to the course she was to run for us next day. On the Saturday the training began in earnest. Mel demonstrated how to conduct a measured transect in which the eaten and uneaten cones were counted and how certain deductions could be made from the results.
Remote Camera Surveys
Photographic evidence is one of the most reliable ways of establishing what creatures are using a particular place, but sitting there with a camera waiting for something to pass by is very time consuming and quite wasteful of volunteer effort. However, the advent of cameras designed to be triggered by heat and movement has changed all that. BoGWiG began using a home made remote system some years ago with reasonably pleasing results, but we have since acquired several more professional systems.