Allan Bantick OBE welcomes you to the Cairngorm Wildlife Diary for 2014

Unless otherwise explained all the badger sightings mentioned here were made at the Strathspey Badger Hide. If you would like to go, click here for booking details. 

Locations of sensitive nests and dens are kept deliberately vague for obvious reasons. If you have a bone fide reason for more detail please let me know. 

The diary will be updated monthly, or more frequently if time allows.

For more immediate brief updates follow me on Twitter @AllanBoat. Enjoy the diary and please do get in touch if you have any comments.

Cairngorm Wildlife supports the Scottish Wildlife Trust.  Please watch the video opposite to see why ...............


An OBE Medal
I'm told I'll soon be getting an OBE medal similar to this one

Weds 31st Dec
Spent all day on phone calls and messaging of various sorts to do with my new honour.  The Press and Journal carried a half page article in which they focussed on my work with beavers, that being the most controversial topic available to them no doubt.  I don’t mind that in the least because it keeps beavers in the news.  Also in the news was another declaration by the Scottish Wildlife Trust calling for the return of the lynx – I am so proud of the new Chairman and senior staff.  So the year ended on a real high.  Neighbour Lou came round with a gift before she and hubby Colin went to the village Hogmanay ceilidh, which was lovely of her.  Bea and I stayed home this year, exhausted.  I was in bed by 10pm and slept for 9 hours straight.
 
Tues 30th Dec
Nice piece on radio Scotland declaring the Scottish Wildlife Trust strongly in favour of lynx reintroduction.  This statement by SWT had already surfaced through Cairngorm Nature media outlets.  Reinstalled the Bushnell camera at its site near the corner post sett and put some food down in case the mammals happened to be about.  The Acorn camera had not recorded anything apart from my arrival this morning so that probably indicates that all of the human activities over the past few days were by people visiting the area for Christmas.  Was interviewed on the phone by a lady from the Press and Journal about my impending OBE, which confirmed it’s actually going to happen – a major weight off my mind because although we had been informed 5 weeks ago that something might be in the offing it was not guaranteed so it has been a very tense period for us. I’ll sleep better tonight.  Bought more peanuts and filled up the feeders at the community hall and the squirrel car park where some idiot photographer, as well as sticking some branches through the cage feeder (which is OK by me), had placed a log on top of the squirrel lift-the-lid feeder so that it could not be opened.  I reckon he simply did not understand what it was for – the alternative does not bear thinking about.  The local paper got in touch about my OBE and I sent them a piece for next week’s edition – they will send a photographer on Friday.  At 1030pm we checked the government’s website and sure enough there it was so we could now relax and begin to enjoy the moment.
 
Mon 29th Dec
Checked the trail cams.  The Acorn cam had just the usual human activity on it but the Bushnell was clearly not working properly so I took it home to investigate.  I found one of the batteries had shaken loose, a thing I had long suspected might happen at some point because the lid did not fit on top of the batteries as snugly as it might so if the camera was tilting forward there was always a chance a battery could move.  I improvised a pad which should solve the problem.
 
Sun 28th Dec
Morning with ma-in-law then the trains home and collect the dogs from kennels.
 
Sat 27th Dec
Woke up to fresh snow which made the forest tracks lethal with snow on top of invisible ice. There was a red squirrel on the feeder behind the community hall, on which subject it’s great that we are seeing squirrels regularly despite the freezing weather and I think the cost of providing food to help them through difficult times is worth every penny if it secures a more robust breeding population.   Dogs to kennels and off on the train for the annual family dinner in Dundee.
 
Fri 26th Dec
Checked both cameras – the Bushnell had taken quite a lot of pics, mostly of nothing and a few of roe deer.  When I tried to format the new card it would not go into test mode so had to give up and switch it on and hope it’s a temporary glitch caused by the freezing (minus 4C) conditions.  The Acorn cam was working rather better but still only had runners, cyclists and dog walkers.  On the way home there was a red squirrel at the Angle feeder.
 
Thurs 25th Dec
Christmas Day.  Filled the feeders at the community hall, squirrel car park and at the Angle.  Santa was extremely kind – sketching materials, marzipan sweets and a quadcopter.  Looking forward to taking aerial photos and videos.  Spent the afternoon and evening sketching, assembling the copter and installing the copter’s app on my phone.
 
Weds 24th Dec
Checked both trail cams – the Bushnell at the corner post just had one pic of a roe deer and the Acorn at the snow patch just had runners, cyclists and dog walkers.  At the community hall feeders 2 crested tits were busy finishing off the peanuts – must fill them up again tomorrow.  Finished writing a piece for an article in Biosphere Magazine about rewilding.  We had 2 goldfinches in the garden in the afternoon.
 
Tues 23rd Dec
Bea and I and the dogs carried out a complete check of the 31 crested tit nest boxes around the woods in preparation for the 2015 season.  Most of them needed no attention or comment but No 2 had some fragments of nest material in it, Nos 4 and 8 need new hinges (No 8 will also need a new lid), No 15 had been interfered with (its wire fastening had been undone and refastened wrongly by someone), No 27 had been half excavated by the birds but no nest had been built (we topped up the filling) and No 28 had a complete nest in it which must have been built for a late brood after I had finished checking last season; we removed the nest and refilled the box with wood shavings.  In other news, we found some capercaillie droppings near box No 6.  The whole exercise took just over 2 hours. 
 
Mon 22nd Dec
Birthday, so no intentional wildlife effort at all.  However I found bird prey remains on a mound 50 metres before reaching the twin rocks on the path to Craigie Rock.  There were also what looked like fragments of pine marten droppings on the mound with the feathers but that could have been a marker from a previous occasion so I deduced the feathers were probably the result of an attack by a sparrowhawk or similar.  Long tailed tits on our garden feeders for the second time in a week.
 
Sun 21st Dec
Checked both trail cams: just deer at the corner post Bushnell and just 2 dogs walkers and 2 cyclists at the snow patch Acorn. 
 
Sat 20th Dec
Filled the bird feeders in the woods today.  Dreich weather so didn’t stay out long.  Did a bit of wood turning, in fact finished an egg cup.
 
Fri 19th Dec
Snowy morning but not too bad so I went to check the trail cameras anyway.  At the Acorn cam at the squirrel car park I found another SD card lying at the foot of the tree – I really did have a bad day dropping stuff on the 16th.  Anyway, having already established from footage on previous days that the woodpeckers and squirrels are happy with the new feeder in the cage I removed the camera – it’s a bit vulnerable to interference at that location.  Went to the Bushnell cam near the corner post sett and switched cards, then set up the Acorn cam at a new location on the so-called secret path where it passes through a clearing that often contains a decent snow drift that Bobby collie really likes to roll in.  I’ve often thought it would be worth seeing what uses that path apart from dog walkers and cyclists but had not previously found a discrete enough tree on which to mount the camera.  At home I checked the three cards – nothing very surprising but it was good to see the fox featured on the Bushnell cam at 5am and 8am on 10th December.  Still no sign of badgers or pine martens this month.  The big bonus today is confirming that the Acorn camera is working as it’s supposed to – finally.  Finished reading the paper “Scotland and the Carbon Bubble” issued recently by Scottish Environment Link.  Some scary scenarios described.
 
Thurs 18th Dec
Caught the early train home.  The mountains at Drummochter were particularly spooky in the mist so I grabbed a quick photo for Twitter, then, beside Dalwhinnie station, I spotted a kestrel patrolling the fields.
 
Weds 17th Dec
Checked the Acorn camera – it seems to be working properly at last having recorded the correct ratio of photos and videos.  The images confirmed that the usual birds are not in the least bit concerned that the feeder is now in the cage and the red squirrels and woodpeckers are managing to get through the two inch mesh with no trouble – something I was slightly concerned about, hence placing the camera there for a couple of days.  Took the train to Edinburgh for the annual Scottish Environment Link annual Christmas reception. 

Tues 16th Dec
Not a good start to the day – I checked the two trail cameras but mixed up the SD cards and ended up putting the card I had just taken out of the Acorn cam into the Bushnell cam and so lost all those images.  If that wasn’t bad enough I got home and found I was a card short so had to traipse all the way back to the Bushnell cam (25 minutes each way) where sure enough there was the missing card lying in the snow.   In the end the card turned out to be OK but it only had a few roe deer pictures on it.  Foxes, badgers and pine martens are still not out and about much.  In the afternoon I filled up the community hall feeders and when I got home there was a flock of long tailed tits all over the feeder in our garden.  Magic.

Acorn camera monitoring new feeder
Acorn camera monitoring the new feeder in a cage

Mon 15th Dec
Cold morning with a dusting of new snow.  Checked the single tunnel badger sett near box 17 – no signs of recent use which is hardly surprising as most badgers will be curled up in groups at main setts rather than sleeping singly in outliers.  Installed the feeder-in-a-cage at the squirrel car park.  There was a GS woodpecker on the nuts when I got there, leading me to wonder if I was doing the right thing in case the woodpeckers were too large to get through the mesh of the cage.  Anyway, I went ahead and unsurprisingly I was pestered by coal tits and cresties throughout the operation and they dived into the cage almost before I had stepped away.  In consideration of my concerns about woodpeckers I returned within the hour to install the newly reconfigured Acorn camera to monitor the new arrangement.
 
Sun 14th Dec
In the light of the attention that our local pine martens are receiving at the hands of people of ill will I had a look at the frequency with which my camera at the corner post in the woods captured pine martens and found the Bushnell was first placed there on 20th April this year since when it has been permanently monitoring that place and in the succeeding 7 months and 24 days there have only been 2 records of pine marten. This evidence does not support the claim by some organisations that there is an unreasonably large population of pine martens in Boat of Garten woods.  It is interesting that in the same period there were 2 images of capercaillie so it's not as if the pine marten pictures ere taken in at a place that does not have capercaille.

Fox in snow at night
Fox caught by the infra red camera at night

Sat 13th Dec
Freezing morning so the icy but breakable snow cover in the woods was energy sapping.  Checked feeders at the Angle and Squirrel Car Par expecting them to be low but they were not too bad.  Noticed that the red squirrel interpretation board is coming apart; it’s laminated layers or possibly the plywood or both are separating.  Tried to find the outlying badger sett near box 17 in the woods but failed; for the second time in a week I forgot to take the GPS so it serves me right.  The dogs didn’t care – they got extra time in the snow. 
 
Fri 12th Dec
Very snowy early morning walk but before it got too heavy I was able to identify prints of cat, deer, fox, squirrel and small mammals.  The cat prints were between the far end of the Personal Path and the start of the Secret Path which is just about far enough from the village to be a wild-living cat and just about close enough to be a moggie.  The Bushnell cam had recorded pics of roe deer 2 nights ago and a fox last night.  At home, the bird feeder was empty again.  When we passed the community hall the car park was full, no doubt with cars to do with the National Park who were holding a Board Meeting there today, including to sign off the capercaillie plan.  Watch this space.

Snowy Woods
Very Snowy Woods at Boat of Garten

Thurs 11th Dec
Out early with the dogs into a very snowy forest.  The dogs just loved it.   The feeders at the community hall were totally empty so I returned at midday to fill them up.  Before I could walk away a crested tit landed on the feeder less than a metre from me.  I drove on very snowy roads to the badger hide to remove the Acorn camera, which I found to be encased in frozen snow so there was not much prospect of decent pictures or videos.  Sure enough, when I got home and checked the card, there were a few pictures of badgers but no videos at all.  I did some experiments at home to see if I could persuade the camera to take videos but to no avail so, having consulted Ron Bury’s excellent website, I performed a hard reset which involved removing the SD card and all batteries for a full 24 hours, according to Ron.   If that doesn’t work I’ll have to settle for using it for photos only.  In the event I left it for just an hour and it then worked perfectly.  Let’s hope that’s that.  George Mutch, a gamekeeper from Aberdeenshire, has been found guilty of killing birds of prey – he will be sentenced next month.  RSPB footage was allowed in this case which is quite rare and I hope will lead to video evidence being allowed in other future such cases.  SGA have expelled the man but hinted that such crimes only happen because gamekeepers do not have a legal way of dealing with conflicts – meaning no doubt that they want licenses to kill birds of prey.

Weds 10th Dec
Switched cards in the Bushnell camera – the only wildlife captured in the last two days was a couple of roe deer.  Further to my thoughts yesterday about the capercaillie plan I decided to phone CNP HQ and was somewhat reassured by what they had to say, which included an assurance that the Boat of Garten Wildlife Group (BoGWiG) would be kept fully informed and consulted, especially on any proposed action in our vicinity.
 
Tues 9th Dec
No fieldwork today – lousy weather.  Learned that the CNPA board are meeting in Boat of Garten on Friday 12th Dec to sign off the capercaillie protection plan devised by Justin Prigmore and his team at the park HQ.  The Scotsman reports that GWCT and SGA are calling for pine martens to be captured and translocated to save the caper and I am concerned that if such talk goes on long enough it might eventually gain traction, regardless of how ridiculous it sounds.  Considered to what extent I should get involved and decided to stay out of it for the time being.

Blizzard at Boat of Garten
Winter has arrived at Boat of Garten

Mon 8th Dec
Checked the Bushnell cam at the Corner Post with wet snow still falling.  Nothing had passed the camera since setting it up yesterday.  It’s noticeable how much more quickly the bird food is being consumed in bird feeders that are not in a cage compared with the feeder that is in a cage.  Looks as if I should make more cages.  Checked the Acorn cam at the badger hide – more disappointments.  It was set to take a JPG followed by an AVI but except for the final trigger today in daylight it only took JPGs – it did not take any AVIs with infra red at all.  On the factual side – there were three badgers on JPGs between 1646 and 1707 two nights ago but none at all last night.  Admittedly there were no peanuts to tempt them last night.  Weather-wise, the B970 is lethal and the wooden gate and stile are just as bad which makes me reluctant to take anyone to the hide this week with a forecast of more wind, rain and snow.

Three badgers competing for peanuts
Three badgers competing for peanuts

Sun 7th Dec
Snow overnight so it was a beautiful scene on the early dog walk during which I filled up the feeder at the Angle and then checked the Bushnell camera at its permanent position near the Corner Post badger sett.  Several videos of roe deer but nothing else – the fox, badger, pine marten and capercaillie populations must be keeping a low profile in this wintry weather.  After lunch I filled the feeders at the squirrel car park and at the Community Hall where there were 2 crested tits.

Crestie on Community Hall feeder
A crested tit on the feeders at Boat Village Hall

Sat 6th Dec
Same story on the Acorn Camera at the Angle feeders – lots of birds but nothing taken at night.  Took the camera to the badger hide instead to more or less guarantee some night pictures to see how the camera is performing on infra red with the new better quality SDHC card.

Badger sett in evening sun
Strathspey Badger Hide sett in the evening sun

Fri 5th Dec
Drove to a meeting of Scottish Badgers Advisory Group in Perth.  The heating wasn’t working so we all froze.  Got quite a lot decided.  The trustees intend to look at the future strategy of the organisation.
 
Thurs 4th Dec
Checked the Acorn cam at the Angle.  Several videos of woodpeckers, jays and red squirrels but again nothing at night.  Intended to move it but ran out of time. 
 
Weds 3rd Dec
Checked the Acorn cam at the Angle; it had taken 2 photos and 2 videos which at least means it is working. As there were lots of birds flitting about at the time I guess it was not sensitive enough for the birds but it had recorded the squirrel, which is fine.  Unfortunately both triggers were in daylight so I’ll leave it one more night and if it still hasn’t been triggered in the dark I’ll move it somewhere it’s bound to detect something at night eg the badger hide or the main forest track.  I bought a sack of peanuts, went to the badger hide and filled up the nut bin and the bird feeder and on the way back filled the bird feeder at the community garden.   Policeman from Inverness called and said there had been a misunderstanding about the Daviot badgers because the forestry company had a license to hand fell the trees around the sett, which they had done with due care and attention so there was no problem.

Two woodpeckers at the Angle
Two woodpeckers at the Angle

Tues 2nd Dec
There has been a lot of action and reaction on Twitter and in the press the past few days about GWCT plans to remove some pine martens from Strathspey.  It will be interesting to see how this pans out and there might be a role for me to play at some point but now is not the time.  Frosty morning so it was with very cold fingers that I changed the feeder and camera arrangement at the Angle.  I checked the camera at lunchtime but still no pictures taken, nevertheless I’ll leave it overnight in case something big enough to set it off comes along in the dark.  If not I’ll have to think again.  IH from Scottish Badgers phoned to ask if I would help the Inverness police with deciding if a badger sett on forestry land near Daviot is active.   I agreed.
 
Mon 1st Dec
Checked the trail cameras.  Nothing on either of them. Moved the Acorn cam to the Angle where it can be properly tested but by lunch time it still had not taken any shots because it’s too far away to be triggered by the small birds. While checking this there were at least 5 coal tits and a crestie on the nuts.  Tomorrow I’ll re-jig the whole set up.
 
Fri 28th to Sun 30th Nov
No wildlife work to speak of.  Walks with the dogs, shopping and generally settling back into things at home.   Built a new web page about our Zambia trip and brought the overall web diary up to date.

Two roe deer taken with infra red camera
Roe deer with the Acorn cam in infra red mode

Thurs 27th Nov
Out with the dogs and checked the Bushnell camera and set up the Acorn beside it.  The Bushnell had more than forty videos, mostly of deer but also one of a fox and one of a badger.  Disappointingly all of the bird feeders were empty despite a local volunteer having offered to keep them filled up while I was away - obviously could not keep up with the demand.   Spent most of the morning following up on all sorts of admin jobs - phone calls, emails, that sort of thing.  I then went round and filled the feeders in our garden, at the community hall and the squirrel car park and by the time I got home there was already a crested tit on the feeder in our garden.  After lunch I took the dogs for their walk around the triangle and to fill up the feeders at the Angle. 
 
Tues 25th and Weds 26th Nov
Drove to Argyll to collect the dogs, stayed overnight and drove home.  On the way we passed a dead badger 3.6 miles north of the Kingussie turn off on the A9 at Coilintuies NH 8117 0371. 
 
Mon 24th Nov
At Heathrow the SAGA organised car was waiting but it had a flat tyre so we had to go to Kings Cross via a garage to get it fixed.  No problem – we had oodles of time.  Comfortable train journey to Aviemore and a taxi home for about 8pm. 
 
Sun 23rd Nov
Up at 6am and away in an air conditioned car for the 3 hour run to Lilongwe airport. We got to the airport earlier than expected which was just as well because our intended flight was severely delayed but our early arrival meant they could put us on an earlier flight to Nairobi which would guarantee we would catch our London flight.  If we had waited for the original flight we might not have made it to Nairobi in time.  We had several hours to kill in Nairobi before boarding our final flight but we didn't mind – it was good to be heading home.
 
Sat 22nd Nov
Up at 5am and off to play golf at 6am.  Really difficult rough surfaces and course grass with water everywhere but great fun and we would have played every day if it had been open.  I won, courtesy of finishing in a blaze of glory with two par threes.  After lunch we settled our bill with reception; 2 x nine holes of golf including caddy fees, plus golf balls, plus club hire and a 500mb wifi card which lasted the whole week came to just 10 sterling.  Amazing.   In the evening the party got under way despite a succession of power cuts.  Our dinner table was set up on the beach to keep us away from the revellers – it was really very romantic beside the water with candles on poles to give us some light and the manager came along and gave us a gift of a carved wooden box by way of apology for the upheaval and noise we supposed.  Despite this show of good will we were both conscious that we were the only white people on the premises and possibly for miles around, which was slightly scary.  The music was pretty good to begin with being a mixture of soul, night club and rhythm and blues but it all got a bit louder and rockier later on. 

Cottage
Our cottage at Makokola

Thurs 20th and Fri 21st Nov
Two days of same old same old, reading, sketching and going to the pool.  Earlier in the week we had been seeing quite a few monkeys and tree squirrels but since the rain nothing at all – weird.  We asked the manager about it and he could not explain.  The Acorn camera which I set up in the garden recorded nothing at all apart from the gardener. 
 
Weds 19th Nov
Up early – I simply could not sleep any more.  Our friends all leave today and we have five days of this to endure on our own – we felt quite abandoned.  Even the SAGA rep had gone, although frankly he wasn’t much use anyway.  After some sketching and a short walk the manager announced there would be a large party on Saturday so rather than us being disturbed by all the noise he suggested we move to the furthest cottage from the party area, which just happened to be the best cottage of all with a proper lounge and its own garden.  We readily agreed.   On this point, the staff here did their very best for us, especially the manager, it’s just so boring and run down and decidedly not for us.  We agreed when we get home to look at our next holiday for which had booked a similar extension and probably cancel the extra days if they look likely to be as boring as this.  We walked along the beach again and saw lots of cormorants, a few fish eagles and a pied kingfisher. There were also a lot of small birds swooping about which we could not decide if they were swifts or swallows.  The staff tried to help and the manager even brought us a wildly out of date bird book and we eventually made up our own minds they were swallows.  Other than that it was reading, sketching and trips to the bar and pool.

Golf course
The golf course was closed for repairs

Tues 18th Nov
Up at 5am and met the group for a guided bird walk on the golf course.  Good session with lots of water so there was lots of bird life plus a crocodile.  The golf course is 9 greens with 18 tees so whether you call it a nine hole or an eighteen hole course is a matter of opinion.  The holes are all narrow par threes and some of them have long carries over water – we looked forward to playing it on our final day when it was due to reopen after repairs.  On the way back to base we visited a plant nursery – it was remarkable how cheap everything was.  Back at our cottage, the toilet cistern now leaks and the hairdryer only works when it feels like it. 

Hassle from the locals
We got some grief from the locals

Bea and I explored the beach as far as the fences allowed and sure enough a couple of locals in canoes tried to chat us up or sell us something – it was hard to tell.  The highlight was a display by three fish eagles over the lake, ending in one of them posing in a tree for photos. 

Fish eagle
A fish eagle above the beach

The sky darkened as we walked and some showers began but we made it back to the cottage before the real deluge and the thunder began.  The forecast is more of the same for the next few days.  At this point I determined not to waste all the free time we will have over the next five days and concentrate on learning how to sketch – a process I had begun just before leaving the UK with the notion of doing some animations for YouTube and Vine.

Raking the beach
Raking the beach at Makokola

Mon 17th Nov
Up at 0530 and out for a stroll in cool morning breeze to watch the local guys raking the beach.  It struck me that the effort expended on manicuring the beach would have been far better employed upgrading the cottages.  Later in the day at the pool we watched a gang of workmen who were rebuilding a section of decking.  The methodology employed was for one man to be doing something while the others watched so that in the week we were there the job, which in Scotland would have taken no more than a day, was still not finished.  Later some of the group went on the island trip but there was only room for six people and we weren’t really bothered so we stayed at base and chatted with Ozzie the SAGA rep, made some plans and had a swim in the pool.
 
Sun 16th Nov
The 4 hour drive from Lilongwe to Makakola included passing through a number of police check points which was a bit scary and suggested – something.  Security was also tight at the filling station where we stopped to stretch our legs and for a comfort break, including rushing to lock the toilets the moment we had finished.  Along the way the number of religious buildings was quite noticeable and they were of a wide variety of Moslem and Christian denominations and subsets which struck me as having potential for trouble in these highly charged times.  As if to reinforce these thoughts, when we got to Makokola we were instructed not to venture beyond the perimeter fence which seemed a little odd because there was no danger from wild animals at this place – there aren’t any.  When I raised this with our guide he said that was so the local youths would not bother us – he claimed there is no crime here.  Yeah right.
 
We soon realised coming here was a mistake and to have paid for a three day extension beyond the basic two day stay made matters even worse.  Superficially the place is beautiful.  Spacious grounds with manicured lawns and gardens and pretty cottages set among baobab trees and they even rake the beach smooth on a more or less daily basis.  Trouble is, inside the cottages there is dodgy plumbing, loose wires hanging out of the walls, no air conditioning, no free laundry service, no free wifi and dodgy equipment of all kinds – eg our fridge only had three legs and none of the fridges had a door to its freezer compartment so that created problems for everybody. The rooms were dingy with very poor lighting and most of the cottages had nowhere you could reasonably sit in comfort indoors such as to read a book.  There were safes in some of the cottages but there was no way of locking them unless you had your own strong padlock – as it happened we did - otherwise you had to lodge your valuables with reception in a long-winded highly dubious process in which you saw your passports and cash disappear into a back room with no way of knowing it had actually been put into a proper safe.  The whole thing was poor, which contrasted very sharply with Mfuwe the previous week where everything was at the highest standard.  Sadly even our SAGA rep at Makokola was not as on the ball as we had come to expect on SAGA holidays over recent years.  Worst of all, there was hardly anything to do.  Three very expensive excursions were possible, 2 involving a 2 hours-each-way drive to see wildlife (most of which we had lived cheek by jowl with for the past week so what would be the point) plus a short boat trip to an island to snorkel and watch fish eagles, but there was nothing at all to do on the site other than swim in the pool.  Snorkelling was not available from the beach despite what the brochure suggested and the local golf course was closed for most of our stay.  The nett result of all this was one of the most boring and uncomfortable weeks of our lives.
 
On that first evening we met the rest of our group for dinner and the food was of a similar standard to everything else – poor quality.  In my case the veg was virtually raw, there was hardly any meat on the chicken leg and there was no meat at all on what might have been a chicken rib cage; it was hard to tell in the gloom.  The SAGA rep did not turn up.

7th to 15th November in Zambia - see separate diary here.

Thurs 6th Nov
Drove home in torrential rain as far as Fort William but lighter thereafter.
 
Weds 5th Nov
Roe deer on the path near the crossroads at which the dogs showed some interest but behaved impeccably.  Drove in good weather to Argyll to leave the dogs with Sandra and Ali at Strathlachlan for the next couple of weeks.
 
Tues 4th Nov
Mostly preparation for our holiday.  Saw a red squirrel at the Angle.
 
Mon 3rd Nov
Biffa Award board meeting at the Black Cultural Archive in Brixton, attended by the full board plus an observer from HT Treasury.  Excellent, positive meeting which was preceded by a guided tour round the BCA.  Dinner with brother John and Nephew Peter at St Pancras before catching the sleeper home.
 
Sat 1st and Sun 2nd Nov
Lazy weekend then on Sunday night took the train to Perth and a replacement bus to Dundee to pick up the re-routed sleeper to London.
 
Fri 31st Oct
Got the early train home and used the journey to finish working on the papers for Monday’s Biffa Award meeting in London. 
 
Thurs 30th Oct
Train to Edinburgh for the Woodland Trust Scottish Tree of the Year ceremony at the Scottish Parliament, Holyrood.  Used part of the ride to do some work on the papers for Monday’s Biffa Award meeting.  Dropped my bag at Simon Milne’s house in Edinburgh from where we took a taxi to the parliament.  The winning tree was the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s scots pine know as “Lady’s Tree” where our famous osprey has nested for more than 20 years.  The tree will go forward to compete in the European event.   I had a great evening chatting with the many, many friends who were present; SWT Staff, Woodland Trust staff, ScotLink people, government officials and so on.  Afterwards some of us went to Holyrood 9A for food and drink, over which we solved the world’s problems several times over.  Had rather too much to drink and it was past 1am when I got back to Simon Milne’s house where I was to spend the night. 
 
Weds 29th Oct
Filled the rest of the bird feeders around the woods.  Unsurprisingly the ones inside crow proof cages needed the least topping up.  Worked on refining the desktop on the old laptop ready for tonight’s badger watch – lately I’ve been filling the time waiting for badgers by showing pictures and videos of badgers and pine martens and the work of SWT.  It works really well.  This evening I took a family of 3 to the hide and the newly organised laptop only had to fill ten minutes before the first badger appeared.  In the end we saw at least 4 different badgers.
 
Tues 28th Oct
Really heavy rain overnight so deep puddles in the woods.  A red squirrel was out foraging at the Angle as we approached.   Noticed that the Angle feeders were empty – oops.  In the evening topped up the squirrel car park feeders – I’ll do all the others tomorrow.

Mon 27th Oct
Checked the Bushnell cam at the corner post. Roe deer, foxes and dog walkers but nothing special. 
 
Sat and Sun 25th and 26th Oct
Wild weather so not much wildlife work at all.  Watched three roe deer together in the woods so the increasing concentration as winter approaches is continuing.  It’s actually quite fun to see but not much good for the forest. Did some prep for Africa and tested some animation ideas.  Uploaded a fox video to Vine.
 
Fri 24th Oct
Took Martin Jones and wife Briany and their daughter to the hide – we saw four badgers.  When I got home there was a message from @rosskites on Twitter about a report on BBC News saying the police believed the kite and buzzard killings on the Black Isle in April and May were probably accidental.  That is of course possible but in my view unlikely, given the sheer scale of the crime.  The investigation continues, we’re told.
 
Thurs 23rd Oct
In the woods there was an adult roe deer near the village and when it took flight Bobby collie thought about giving chase but decided against it when I whistled.  A short distance further on a tiny deer ran across the track to follow the adult (its Mum?) and then ten minutes later two small deer ran back across the track in the opposite direction.  Perhaps the onset of wintry weather has brought the deer closer to the village.  At the community hall there was a red squirrel on the peanuts.
 
Weds 22nd
Our final round of jabs today including Yellow Fever, over which there had been some argument as to whether or not we would need them to get into and out of Kenya, Zambia or Malawi.  We eventually persuaded the medics to let us have the jabs rather than risk problems at an African border somewhere.  On the way to Inverness later we saw a great spotted woodpecker on the feeders at the squirrel car park – that set up has lost none of its allure evidently.  In the evening I attended Keith Duncan’s talk at the Grant Arms about raptors.  There was an audience of about 50 people – pretty good for a damp, cold October evening.  He was fairly positive about the wildlife crime aspect, claiming that most estates and gamekeepers who are members of Scottish Land and Estates (SLE) and Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) are well behaved these days and do some good conservation work.  Poisoning incidents in Scotland are steadily reducing, partially due to the Scottish Government’s PAW initiative, and the major poisoning event on farmland near Inverness earlier in the year should be regarded as a one-off incident unconnected with the usual grouse-moor type of crime.  On that topic, it was the non-SLE and non-SGA type of shooting estates that still persisted in killing raptors and there was implication that SNH knew who most of them were but were powerless to do much about it as things stood apart from using the new tool of withdrawing general licenses from such estates.  Keith claimed that the Black Isle kite population was OK despite the poisoning incident - I find that very hard to believe considering that even before the loss of these 16 birds the Black Isle kites have long been thought to be struggling to keep their numbers up compared with the thriving populations in England.
 
Tues 21st Oct
Foul weather all day with gales and cold rain.  Nevertheless a bold red squirrel crossed the path ahead of me and the dogs on its way to the peanut feeder at the Angle.   However it lost its nerve and headed back to the trees it had come from, much to the delight of the dogs who were captivated by the squirrel and much too engrossed to give chase.  I saw another squirrel later on at the squirrel car park feeders.  I led the publicly advertised badger watch in the evening – only one taker; an Australian gent.  We had 4 badgers at one point but they didn’t stay long – I reckon they went back to bed.
 
Mon 20th Oct
Arranged public badger watches for 3rd and 10th December – those dates will be publicised in the local What’s On.  Spoke to the BTO about Schedule One Nest Returns for this year – they’ll be in touch with all Schedule One license holders shortly with details about the new arrangements.

AB with Prince Charles
Farewell conversation with Scottish Wildlife Trust Patron Prince Charles on completion of my term as Chairman

Sun 19th Oct
Went to look for the injured badger near Pitlyoulish farm but there was no sign of it.  I then called in at the badger hide to return the torches and to take a photo of the new lighting setup.  Back at home I emailed the new photo to the other badger guides.

New lights at the badger hide

Sat 18th Oct
Saw a red squirrel and a crested tit on the feeders at the Angle.  I began making a rostrum camera for possible future animations for YouTube and Vine.  Phone call this evening about a badger wandering back and forth across the road at Pityoulish farm entrance – the caller thought it may have been hit by a car.  The caller went back that way after driving to Aviemore and the badger was still there walking about so I reckoned there was no point in over-reacting and taking it to a vet tonight, even assuming it would let you grab it.  I’ll drive over there tomorrow and check things out.
 
Fri 17th Oct
Did some prep for our Africa trip next month – more jabs and looking at maps
 
Thurs 16th Oct
Early morning walk saw 2 roe deer on the main track, one near the village and one near the main crossroads.  In the evening I installed a metal strip on the new post for the new upper sett lighting rig after discovering the led torches, both the old one and the new one that had arrived in the post earlier today, were magnetic.  Brilliantly easy to put out and retrieve.  Dashed back to the village to meet the evening’s badger watch group of 6 people.  Another great evening with 5 badgers on view within ten minutes of our arrival.  The new lights were an instant success and for the first time there was no need to search for badgers at the upper sett with the mag-light.
 
Weds 15th Oct
Took the dogs for a hill walk up Meall a Buchaille where we saw quite a lot of red grouse.   Started at the FCS Glenmore Car Park at 0940 and got to the summit at 1100 with 2 short stops on the way.  Got back down again to the car at 1210 so about 2.5 hours altogether.  It was good to see there were no signs telling you to keep dogs on a lead but there was one that asked you not to let your dog foul the footpath which is fair enough.  It will be interesting to know if they put up ‘dogs on leads’ signs in the summer months.  We saw nobody else on the way up so we were probably the first on the hill unless someone went over and down the other side ahead of us.  On the way down we met at least a dozen other people, most also had dogs with them.  Most of the dogs were not on leads and all were well behaved.  Ours were paragons of virtue – well almost.  Lunch part one was on the summit and part two was in the Hayfield car park.   Met a chap who told me about the capercaillie he had just seen up on the Cairngorm plateau - I don't think so but didn't have the heart to tell him.
 
Tues 14th Oct
No wildlife stuff at all. 
 
Mon 13th Oct
Did a bit of admin to clarify financial arrangements for the badger hide and the Community Company.  In the process I visited the former Chair of the local council and over coffee we got into a discussion on the indyref, Police Scotland, Scottish Politics, Wildlife Crime, National Park politics and planning issues.  Great fun.  I then carried on up the road to the badger hide to put last night’s better lighting arrangement on a more permanent footing ready for tonight’s group.  The evening began rainy and misty which was not ideal weather for wildlife watching but I took a young family to the hide anyhow as arranged and we had a good night.  Long story short we had six badgers in view at one point – that’s the most we’ve seen in one go for a very long time.
 
Sun 12th Oct
This morning’s dog walk produced a red squirrel at the Angle and a tree creeper at the crossroads. Good start to the day.  In the evening I went to the hide in darkness to see if the new lighting arrangement had improved matters.  It hadn’t – the new beam was too small to illuminate anything but a small area.  Since I was there anyway and to give the lighting matter some thought I sat outside the hide on a chair and a badger came out of the lower sett.  He seemed to be aware of me but warily ate some of the peanuts I had scattered with frequent glances in my direction.  I then moved the light all the way back to the gatepost near the hide which immediately sorted the problem so hopefully tomorrow I can go back in daylight with tools to make a more or less permanent arrangement.  Before leaving I check on my badger at the lower sett – he was still there so I said a polite goodnight and left him to it. 
 
Sat 11th Oct
Refilled the feeders at the squirrel car park – a crested tit came to ask what we were doing.  In the afternoon I went to the badger hide and fixed a sloping piece of wood on a tree at the upper sett on which to mount an extra light because the beam from the  floodlight on the hide roof doesn’t quite reach far enough.
 
Fri 10th Oct
Home on time, collected the newly serviced Doblo and took the dogs out to check the Bushnell camera.  Roe deer was the only wild species recorded again – we’ve not picked up a badger for quite some time.  Refilled the feeders at the Community Hall and at the Angle.  The food in the Hall feeder is lasting noticeably longer since I put it in a cage - Hmmmm.
 
Thurs 9th Oct
In London caught the Underground to Bank and the Docklands Light Railway to Greenwich for the annual Biffa Awards awards ceremony which this year was held at the Old Royal Navy College – a brilliant historic venue.  As always the staff had organised the thing superbly which resulted in a fabulous occasion for the shortlisted guests to enjoy.  I had no specific role other than to talk to as many people as possible, which I duly did and it was great fun. These people have all achieved minor miracles for their communities and it is a privilege to be in a position to help them.  Caught the sleeper home.
 
Weds 8th Oct
Prepared for the London trip tonight and tomorrow.  In the evening Bea went to the SWT North Scotland Group meeting in Inverness while I caught the sleeper to London
 
Tues 7th Oct
An SGA spokesman on Radio Scotland this morning portrayed gamekeepers as conservationists when objecting to the SNH new rule that corvid licenses can be withdrawn from estates who are suspected of wildlife crime.  I Tweeted about this unlikely claim, saying “discus” which got some good responses from the conservation lobby.  The SGA responded by sending me a link to their official statement on the subject which, while littered with illogic and dodgy grammar, did not actually make the conservationist claim.  Fair enough.  In the evening I took two holiday-making couples to the badger hide.  It was a very wet evening but the first badger appeared only ten minutes after we got into the hide.  Soon there were more and eventually we had 5 in view at the same time.  The guests left with some great memories – and very wet feet!
 
Mon 6th Oct
Today we learned that Liz Truss MP, the UK’s new Environment Minister, pledged to have the fox hunting ban overturned, dubbing the ban “a mistake”.  This constitutes a new assault on a native mammal, as if the badger cull wasn’t enough.  On the other side of the wildlife argument, Mark Avery is still calling for a total ban on driven grouse hunting in England, and SNH is going to withdraw general licenses (to kill crows and pigeons etc) from estates who are suspected of committing wildlife crimes such as poisoning raptors.  Scottish Gamekeepers have, predictably, objected to these measures but Paul Wheelhouse, Scottish Environment Minister, says such action is necessary to send a strong message that wildlife crime on estates will not be tolerated.  So battle is joined.   At the Lib Dem conference in Glasgow, Nick Clegg gave a speech wearing jeans and an open necked shirt. Further more, in Scotland, Patrick Harvey, head of the Scottish Green Party, was interviewed unshaven and wearing a sagging tee shirt.  It looks like dress codes in public life have gone for a ball of chalk.
 
Sun 5th Oct
Checked the Bushnell at the corner post – just a couple of roe deer clips and a dog.  On the way there we found some more pine marten poo on the secret track opposite nest box 4.

 Sat 4th Oct
Took a lady and 4 small girls to the badger hide for an hour at dusk.  Two badgers entertained us - an adult and a juvenile.   The little girls drew lots of delightful pictures of the badgers, the hide and the lady and me.
 
Thurs 2nd and Fri 3rd Oct
Two days of preparation for next month’s Africa trip, painting window frames, stripping out the bathroom ready for a re-paint and shopping for paint and cupboards.  No wildlife stuff at all.
 
Weds 1st Oct
Checked the Bushnell cam at the Corner Post – only a roe deer and a dog walker recorded.  In the evening gave a talk “Mammals and Birds of the Cairngorms” to the Tomintoul WRI.  Small enthusiastic audience – a most enjoyable evening.  On the way there we saw a buzzard scoop some road kill off the road, we saw a kestrel hovering over a field and we watched a stoat run across the road – not bad for a 30 minute drive.
 
Tues 30th Sep
Went to the hide to check all is well for tonight’s badger watch.   Looking good – the badgers have dug a latrine up against the front wall of the hide.  In the evening I took a very keen German couple to the hide and we had a marvellous evening.  Two badgers emerged less than 5 minutes after we got there and we had continuous activity for more than 2 hours.
 
Mon 29th Sep
Not in the best of health today - no wildlife stuff.
 
Sun 28th Sep
Saw 3 capercaillie this morning in our woods near Kinchurdy Pond.  Could be this year’s youngsters just hanging out.  Posted a picture on Twitter that I took a few years back.  Played golf (red squirrel at Abernethy GC car park)  then watched the end of the Ryder Cup.
 
Sat 27th Sep
Red squirrel again on the nuts.  Checked the Bushnell cam and it had recorded some nice roe deer clips.  Settled down to watch day 2 of the Ryder Cup.
 
Fri 26th Sep
Red squirrel at the Angle again – we are seeing rather more of them these days.  Devoted rather a lot of the day watch Ryder Cup golf on tv but I also managed to paint the kitchen window and respond to emails about the badger hide and SWT.  This included lots of pictures from our recent AGM which Jessica was kind enough to send a link to a download site – nearly 3 GB of pictures altogether.
 
Thurs 25th Sep
Feeling a bit lost after such a busy and engaged 6 years with the Scottish Wildlife Trust.  For example today was the RSWT Countries Committee meeting in Edinburgh and it’s really weird not going.  Anyhow, I played golf and was pleased to see a very large common frog by the pond at the 2nd hole and a stoat running around on the 7th fairway.  That cheered me up considerably.
 
Weds 24th Sep
Rehearsed a wildlife talk for next week, shortened it and brought it up to date.
 
Tues 23rd Sep
Good start to the day – we saw a crested tit on the nuts at the Angle and pine marten poo on Bobby’s short-cut before 8am. 
 
Mon 22nd Sep
Wrote my final farewell email to SWT Council, Conservation Committee, Staff and Groups and began a new chapter in my life.  The Acorn cam has recorded nothing again so I brought it home - the Bushnell had one clip of a badger and a few of roe deer.  Some lovely messages from SWT members, staff and trustees.  Had some crack on Twitter pointing out the Wildlife Trusts have more members than the top 6 political parties added together.  On that note I then joined the Scottish Green Party.
 
Sun 21st Sep
Breakfast with George McGavin and we then caught the train home, collected the dogs and relaxed.
 
Sat 20th Sep
A highly charged, emotional day involving the SWT AGM and Members Day in the Physicians Hall in Queen Street followed by a reception in the Howard Hotel in the evening.  The AGM was held in the morning and attracted an audience of 200 people which is quite extraordinary and it went without a hitch.  After lunch Jonny Hughes gave us an overview of the past 50 years and a look ahead at the next 50 years.  Next came our special guest, tv presenter Dr George McGavin who entertained us with an account of how he got to be where he is and some fascinating insights into what goes on behind the scenes in the making of his films in remote places.  George was then interviewed by tv newsman Stephen Jardine before the final session of the day which was a Q and A session with a panel of experts.  I then gave my final address as Chairman at which the audience took leave of their senses and to my embarrassment stood to applaud – what a heart warming end to my six year stint.  Our members are just brilliant.  The evening reception was also quite emotional as it was my very last duty and so in effect that was the point at which Robin Harper took the reins.  Bea and I went to bed exhausted.
 
Fri 19th Sep
Took the dogs to the kennels and then with Heather head off on the train to Edinburgh.  On booking in to the Howard Hotel we found a gorgeous bouquet of flowers for Heather; a present from the staff.  Brilliant of them.
 
Thurs 18th Sep
Checked the cameras – nothing of note.  Buzzard overhead at lunchtime while I was topping up all the bird feeders round the woods.   Voted for an independent Scotland and sat up as late as I could but once it looked like the No vote would win I went to bed.
 
Weds 17th Sep
Full scale run-through for Saturday - looking good.
 
Tues 16th Sep
Finalised details of my speeches on Saturday with SWT Senior Staff.  Started rehearsing 
 
Mon 15th Sep
Checked both cameras – nothing recorded by either of them for 2 days.  Spent much of the morning refining my Scottish Wildlife Trust AGM speech for Saturday.  Looking forward to meeting up with our members again but after 6 years as Chair I’m not looking forward to walking away at the end of the day.  There’ll be a gap in my life that will be hard to fill.  However, 6 years is the maximum and I’m sure Robin Harper, the new Chair, will be a worthy successor.  Went to the badger hide with Alison Greggans for an hour or so.  Very wet evening but we saw two badgers, starting at 1915 which is similar to my visit last Saturday.
 
Sun 14th Sep
Saw a dead fox on the B970 road near Rothiemoon while on my way to Nethy Bridge.    High above the golf course a buzzard glided in lazy circles against a deep blue sky – amazing weather for this late in September.

European Garden Spider
European Garden Spider

Sat 13th Sep
Started the day wildlife-watching from the bedroom window.  Blue tits and great tits checking out the nest boxes on the porch wall – crazy birds.  Loads of birds around the feeder in the garden and a red squirrel leaping through the trees on the edge of the woods opposite our house.  Checked the Bushnell cam and found a nice clip of a male capercaillie passing the camera a couple of days ago.  Set up the Acorn camera near “The Elbow” deep in the woods.  Back at home a magnificent spider had built a spectacular web outside our lounge window.  I posted a picture of it on Twitter asking for an ID and it turned out to be a European Garden Spider.  Fair enough.  Made some adjustments to help our new garden plants to climb up their frame.   Got a message asking to take some folks to the badger hide tonight which I was happy to do.  Not much action early on, then there was one badger briefly, then a wait and then suddenly within a few minutes there were 4 at the lower sett eating peanuts for an hour.  An excellent evening both for us and for the badgers.
 
Fri 12th Sep
Early train home and then got stuck into some gardening – planted some climbers under the new frame I had built using the trunks of the evergreens that had died a couple of years ago with cross bars made from some pine poles from the local woods.  Never done anything like that before so fingers crossed it’ll work.
 
Thurs 11th Sep
Pre-meet with Jonny Hughes and then the SWT Council meeting.  Quite a long session with some sensitive issues to discuss and decide about which is of course what Council is for.  It all went rather well and we then adjourned to Bond No 9 restaurant and bar for a farewell party.  It was actually 2 parties rolled into one: the Experts for Nature course has come to an end so I was pleased to present the certificates to the students and then the staff and Council said farewell to me because my six-year term in the Chair is about to end at the AGM next week.  It was an emotional affair for me with so many compliments and goodwill messages and a most wonderful gift from the staff – a photo album depicting highlights of my six years.  They included pictures I had seen before but also some that were new to me such as me deep in conversation with our patron Prince Charles, at Knapdale with Ray Mears, in Edinburgh with Alex Salmond, at a previous AGM with Simon King, posing with various government ministers and speech making in the Scottish Parliament and in the House of Lords.  Quite a collection and a brilliant souvenir of my time at the helm which I intend to get copied to share with my family.
 
Weds 10th Sep
Train to Edinburgh to be on hand early next day for a pre-meet with SWT CEO before my final Council meeting.
 
Tues 9th Sep
An Away Day for Bea and me to play in the final of the Save The Children golf champs at Glenbervie.  SWT Wallacebank Wood Reserve lies right in the middle of the Glenbervie course and one has to walk through it twice to get from a green to the next tee so I’m counting that as an official visit by the Chairman.
 
Mon 8th Sep
Checked the Bushnell camera but nothing captured at all.  Did some prep for the upcoming SWT Council meeting.
 
Sun 7th Sep
Foul day so not much wildlife stuff done.
 
Sat 6th Sep
Checked the Trail cams – nothing at all on the Acorn and the Bushnell has failed altogether – I hope it’s just that the heavy rain has triggered it too often and flattened the batteries.  Filled all the bird feeders – used the last of the peanuts so had to buy more at 48 for the sack.  Ouch!
 
Fri 5th Sep
A rainy day so spent it working on papers for next weeks SWT Council meeting. 
 
Thurs 4th Sep
Checked trail cam – no wildlife taken.
 
Weds 3rd Sep
Message from Simon Jones saying:
 
You may have already seen this, but if not here is an extract from last weeks’ Scottish Environment LINK Parliamentary Bulletin:
 
(vi) Motions
 
S4M-10858 Graeme Dey: New Chairman of the Scottish Wildlife Trust—That the Parliament notes that Allan Bantick, the current chairman of the Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT), will step down in September 2014; commends the work that he has done over his six year tenure; recognises that Allan has had a wide and varied career, including owning a record label and working as an RAF survival instructor; welcomes the former Green MSP, Robin Harper, to the role; recognises that Robin Harper sat on the rural affairs committee and made contributions to numerous pieces of environmental legislation, such as the Water Environment and Water Services (Scotland) Act 2003, the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 and the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009; looks forward to the SWT continuing to flourish under Robin’s chairmanship, and wishes both men every future success.
 
Best   Simon
 
Tues 2nd Sep
Red squirrel in the car park at Abernethy Golf Club and a buzzard overhead at the 3rd fairway.  Great wildlife – pity about the golf.  In the evening I took Alison Greggans and Heather and Stephen Goodall, potential future badger guides, to the badger hide for their first session.  We had a single badger just ten minutes after we got there and eventually 4 badgers in view at the same time. Various comings and goings in the meantime suggest we may have seen as many as 6 different badgers in the course of the evening.  Excellent.

 Mon 1st Sep
Went looking in the forest for the perfect piece of timber for a job in the garden and found instead a badger latrine.  It’s at NH 9369 1876; surprisingly close to the village, just 80 metres from the Community Hall.  Went back later and succeeded in my quest for a branch and on the way nearly walked through a large spiders web where a spider had caught a prey item and was carrying it along the top of the web to a branch where it was perfectly camouflaged.

Spider with prey
A Spider With A Doomed Insect


 Sun 31st Aug
Checked the trail cams; nothing on the Acorn and just a roe deer and some rabbits on the Bushnell.    Went to the hide on my own at 2000.  Strong cold wind so I did not sit outside for long.  I called out to the badgers to start getting them used to me and the old routine again, but I then half wished I hadn’t because they didn’t emerge for an hour so I wondered if I had spooked them altogether.  However, an adult and a juvenile came out at 2115 and were clearly uncomfortable in the strong winds so maybe I wasn’t the problem after all.  Maybe!  Anyhow I’ll persevere over the coming weeks
 
Sat 30th Aug
Got a name check on BBC Out of Doors to do with bats and bat detectors and the Strathspey Badger Hide.
 
Fri 29th Aug
Red squirrel on the nuts at the Angle.  For the second year running mining bees have taken up residence in the two right hand bunkers at the 2nd hole at Abernethy Golf Club.  In the evening I went to the badger hide on my own and sat in a chair outside from 2010 to 2110.  First badger at 2020 and then there were two on and off for more than half an hour.  Nice to be so close to them.  At least one of them knew I was there because I coughed and it ran down a tunnel but it was soon back out again.  I must do more of this. 
 
Thurs 28th Aug
Checked the trail cams – nice clips of a roe deer and a badger.  Wrote the Chairman’s report for my final SWT Council meeting in two weeks time.
 
Weds 27th Aug
No wildlife stuff.

Multiple trail cameras
Multiple Trail Cameras On A Tree

 
Tues 26th Aug
Set up the Acorn camera alongside the Bushnell near the corner post in such a way that together the two cameras would capture anything passing the junction of tracks in any direction.  At lunch time we refilled the feeders at the Angle and then in the evening I went to the Cairngorms regional Scottish Rural Parliament event at the Lecht.  Something like 50 people attended and we were told it was not just a ‘talking shop’.  Unfortunately that was a bit of a Pink Elephant because the next three hours went a long way towards illustrating that talking was about the only thing the so-called parliament would be allowed to do.  The Parliament would have no statutory powers and there would be no elected, or even nominated, representatives at the two-yearly national events for which delegates would be chosen by the Scottish Rural Parliament office from those people who registered their interest online.  A cynic might think this body had been created so that the government could claim to be listening to rural people without actually having to do anything about their wishes and concerns.  Time will tell.
 
Mon 25th Aug
Refilled the feeders at the Community Hall and squirrel car park. 
 
Sat 23rd and Sun 24th Aug
A weekend of golf and watching football on tv.  Tinkered with Vine videos. 
 
Fri 22nd Aug
Checked the Bushnell camera – one fleeting glimpse of what could have been a retreating badger or fox.  Rest of the day on domestic stuff – made a nice change.
 
Thurs 21st Aug
Spent most of the day on interviews with candidates for the post of SWT Director of Conservation.  These things are always difficult but there was a robust process in place so we were able to work through the tasks remarkably smoothly.  In the end we appointed Simon Jones who has been with the Trust for many years and in recent times has successfully led on some high profile projects, gaining widespread respect among people both from within and outside the Trust.  Caught the Chieftain train home.
 
Weds 20th Aug
Checked the Bushnell camera but there was only one wildlife video – a roe deer with a limp.  Found a badger footprint in mud on the Secret Path near crestie box No 3.  Afternoon train to Edinburgh and an evening one to one with Jonny Hughes.  Overnight at Ocean View Holiday Inn.
 
Tues 19th Aug
Early train to Edinburgh for SWT Conservation Committee.  Discussions included wild deer, integrated catchment management, national planning framework and marine protected areas.  Finalised plans for Thursday’s staff interviews before catching the train home.
 
Mon 18th Aug
Still showery but not as bad as yesterday.  Checked the Bushnell cam but no wildlife recorded at all for the last few days.  I reckon everything is staying in shelter during this bad weather.  Spent the morning doing SWT and Biffa Award admin, actioning stuff from last week and preparing for this week’s batch of meetings.
 
Sun 17th Aug
Won the Laing Trophy in heavy rain at Abernethy GC.  Very pleased.  Confusion due to bad weather and poor communications over whether or not my guests would turn up tonight for the badger watch.  They said they would phone but didn’t so I waited at the rendezvous in case they appeared but they didn’t.
 
Sat 16th Aug
Checked the Bushnell cam but only one video of a roe buck and a few of Donald and his dog McGee.  No badger action at all.  Filled the feeders at the Angle and the Squirrel Car Park.  It’s noticeable that the food is being eaten more quickly now that the weather has cooled down.  5pm went to the badger hide, set up the Acorn camera and left some peanuts and peanut butter for the badgers.  Tomorrow we have guests so I hope the weather behaves better than the forecast and that the cattle are at the other end of the estate.
 
Fri 15th Aug
Filled the feeders at the community hall.  Dogs and I saw 2 roe deer in different places in the woods at 0700 this morning.  Weather today looks dry but I gather we are in for wind and rain at the weekend.  Anne Elliott from SNH came to see me about the dangers inherent in the new riverside dog-walkers path.  We agreed on a possible solution and I later wrote to Anne to outline what she and I thought would solve the issue and I copied it to the Cairngorms NP, the local ranger and the Local Council.
 
Thurs 14th Aug
Checked the Bushnell cam – nothing worth keeping and no badgers at all which is surprising.  Thought I saw a crested tit on the nuts at the Angle but it may have been wishful thinking.  Phoned SNH about the fishermens and dog walkers path that the ranger and I walked last night.  She will come to see me tomorrow to swap ideas.  Went back to the badger hide, cleaned the windows and put out more peanuts and peanut butter for the badgers and pine martens.  Still need to replace some of the faded pictures and have noticed the putty on some of the windows is falling off – there’s always something needs doing.
 
Weds 13th Aug
Train all the way home because the line had been fixed although there were still speed restrictions. There was a letter from Anne Elliott at SNH about the dog biscuits I had found at the BBB badger setts a few weeks ago – her letter said the SNH labs had tested the biscuits for the most common poisons and they were found to be clean which is a relief. In the evening the dogs and I walked the new fisherman’s so-called  dog-friendly path along the River Spey with the local ranger – at least we did the bits that weren’t actually still in the river after the recent floods.  There’s a riverside cottage in the middle of the walk so you can walk the bit on either side of the cottage and back to your start point with no problem but if you wish to complete a loop and pass the cottage you have to go into a field with cattle in it which is mighty dangerous and against all advice as published in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.  It would be a simple matter to extend the new fence around the cottage with suitably placed gates and thus make it safe.  Even so, I doubt if many dog walkers would use it anyway and it certainly doesn’t qualify as dog walking mitigation for the proposed new houses in the pine forest at the other side of the village.  The whole thing is a blatant box ticking exercise to allow the highly inappropriate housing project to go ahead on the flimsiest of grounds.

 

Me and a badger at Kincardine
Here's looking at you Mr Badger

 

Tues 12th Aug
Bus to Perth (recent floods had closed the railway line at Kingussie) and train to Edinburgh, then a pre-meet over lunch with Robin Harper and Jonny Hughes to prepare for the afternoon meeting with Ian Jardine and Ian Ross, CEO and Chair of SNH.  Excellent meeting covering a range of subjects.  In the evening Jonny and I attended an inspiring event at an art gallery where Georgina McMasters paintings of an osprey, a wildcat and a red squirrel went on sale.  Most of the proceeds of those sales would go to the Scottish Wildlife Trust.  Brilliant evening and could raise quite a lot of money considering the paintings cost from roughly 1,000 for a framed copy and up to 8,000 for the biggest original.  Amazing.

2 roe deer at Kincardine
I managed to sneak up on these roe deer and fire off some pictures with the phone

Mon 11th   Aug
Weather gradually calmed down so eventually got out with the dogs.  Went to the hide and retrieved the camera – it had taken 45 pictures despite having quite spontaneously reverted to its default settings, not for the first time.  Swept out the hide while I was there – will try to get back and clean the windows before the visitors come on Sunday.  On the way in I found some fox poo along the track that leads to the fishing lodge and managed to sneak up on two roe deer close enough to get a couple of photos with my phone.   In the evening Bobby and I took the Acorn camera into the woods to complete taking photos for the comparative analysis.  On the way home Bobby found a hedgehog in the garden of our neighbours at No 27.  Not a bad day.
 
Sun 10th Aug
AGC Mens Open then filthy weather and storm force winds so no wildlife stuff at all.

Finished strimming
Very pleased to have finished strimming at the hide before the autumn badger watch season begins

 
Sat 9th Aug
Filled all the woodland bird feeders including the one at the community garden.  Still not seeing crested tits at the moment.  Went to the badger hide and finished strimming the grass, then took down the Acorn camera, downloaded the pictures onto the laptop (more than 200 of up to 3 different badgers!) and upgraded the Acorn firmware to the latest version.  Set up the camera again in the same place as before to get similar pictures to the previous batch for comparison between the two firmware versions.  Techie or what!
 
Fri 8th Aug
Train to Perth for a meeting of Scottish Badgers Advisory Group at Link Offices.  All good stuff – a dedicated group.  Home in time to play in the Family Scramble and barbecue at Abernethy Golf Club.
 
Thurs 7th Aug
Two squirrels chasing each other up and down the trees at the Angle this morning.  Bodes well for babies at some point.  Took the new cordless strimmer to the badger hide and got about half of the job done before it died – not too bad.  Set up the Acorn camera for the next step in the analysis of two different firmware versions.  Will finish the strimming and check the camera on Saturday and at the same time install the new firmware for the next stage.  Noticed that the bird feeders around the woods are getting low; must do something about that.
 
Weds 6th Aug
Wrote some letters and emails and did some prep for meetings next week, then the dogs and I set up the Acorn camera, minus the diffuser, in the same place as yesterday.
 
Tues 5th Aug
Went back to the Bushnell camera and fitted a new set of batteries.  No clips had been taken overnight.  Put a diffuser on the Acorn camera and set it up by the main track in the woods.  At 11pm Bobby dog and I walked past it a few times to get some infra red pictures – they were rubbish, probably caused by the diffuser but we’ll do it all again tomorrow night without the diffuser to check.
 
Mon 4th Aug
Checked the Bushnell – a few badger, roe deer and dog clips to add to the stock.  Went to strim the badger hide grass but could not get the stupid strimmer started again so went home and ordered a new one.  Took the Acorn camera home and phoned the expert Ron Bury (www.ronburyswildlife.com) to organise getting hold of the latest firmware version.  He emailed me the necessary files and we agreed that for comparison purposes I would take some stills with the old firmware still installed, then install the new firmware and take the same stills.  I’ll then send him copies.
 
Sun 3rd Aug
Finished painting the badger hide – it took nearly 3 hours.  Checked the Acorn cam and there was very little badger activity shown.  The night-time images were as poor as ever and when I got home I investigated other peoples’ experience with that camera via Amazon reviews and I am not alone in being unhappy with it.  However, Ron Bury has some updated firmware files which he reckons fixes the problems so I’ll get hold of a copy.
 
Sat 2nd Aug
Cycled to the golf club at Nethy to help strengthen thigh muscles to better support my dodgy left knee then acted as starter for the Ladies Open.  No wildlife work done at all.
 
Fri 1st Aug
The usual red squirrel was waiting for us at the Angle, then the rain started up and the dogs and I got very wet.   If this continues there’ll not be much painting at the hide again today.  Cycled to the Loch Vaa boathouse and for the 2nd time today got soaked in a heavy downpour.  On arrival at the loch I was so wet there was no point in standing on ceremony so I marched into the loch, shoes and all, followed by the dogs.  Great fun.  Cycled home in 22 minutes which was 6 minutes more than our usual route from the end of the loch.  The Badger Trust has earned the right to see Defra’s documents about the disastrous badger cull.  I just hope what they discover is worth all the trouble and plays a part in ruling out any future culling – fat chance but you never know. 
 
Thurs 31st July
Red squirrel at the Angle again.  Wet day so no painting done at the hide.  Learned that M&S have decided not to sell grouse because their suppliers cannot guarantee high enough environmental and biodiversity standards.  Good for them, say I.  Also heard a bit more about Hen Harrier Day on 10th August, organised by Birders Against Wildlife Crime and supported by TWT, RSPB and similar organisations, to raise awareness about persecution of hen harriers on grouse moors in particular.  I did a bit of tweeting on both these subjects.
 
Weds 30th July
Checked the Bushnell camera – clips of a male capercaillie, a badger scent marking its favourite bush and Donald’s dog piddling on the same bush.  A red squirrel ran across the path near the Angle behind Max, who ran back to me to see what I was laughing about.  When he got back to the point where the squirrel had crossed Max stopped short, sniffed the ground and immediately looked up into the trees.  He clearly knows not only what a squirrel smells like but also how it behaves.  I collected the empty feeder from the community hall and took it home to be built into a cage.  Spent the next hour weaving a net to complete the cage and then fixed it back at the community hall.  Hopefully the food will now only be available to the squirrels and birds. In the afternoon we played golf at Abernethy – there was fox poo beside the 2nd green and on the way home a stoat ran out onto the B970 road near the osprey centre turn off.   The stoat did an about-turn when it saw my car coming.

New bird feeder cage
A brand new cage for the feeder at the community hall to keep the corvids out

Tues 29th
Filled the feeders at the Angle and the squirrel car park.  The feeders behind the hall were empty despite having refilled it only a few days ago – a new cage is becoming urgent to keep the crows out.  George Montbiot is having a new rant about the dangers to the environment of Natural Capital thinking.  There wasn’t much new in his article and I gather there will be a robust response from the pro Nat Cap lobby, to which SWT will make a contribution.  Played golf in the morning and after lunch cycled with Bea and the dogs to Loch Vaa for a swim, then in the evening I painted the upper sett wall of the badger hide.  Set up the Acorn camera at the lower sett before coming home.  A tiring day.
 
Mon 28th July
Painted the roof of the badger hide.  Exhausting, having to tread so carefully and bend like a contortionist to get round the solar panels.  Will do the walls one at a time over the next week or so.  Started making a crow-proof cage for the feeders at the community hall.  Cycled to Loch Vaa with the dogs for a swim.  Max took his feet off the bottom for the first time.  We cycled back home in just 16 minutes.
 
Sun 27th July
Cycled to Loch Vaa with the dogs in the hope of finding on the way a new site for the Acorn camera but the tracks were so busy the opportunity to set up the camera without being watched did not arise.
 
Sat 26th July
Checked the Bushnell cam – just one video of a badger near its marking bush.   Saw a red squirrel up a tree near the Craigie Rock rabbit warren.  Mark and his pal Ed came to replace our gutters, soffits and facias.  This turned out not be as good an idea as it first looked.
 
Fri 25th July
Trains to Cupar and taxi to Ceres for a memorial service for former SWT Chairman Frank Spragge.  Good turn out including a fair SWT representation from Council, staff, volunteers and former Chairmen.  I gave a short speech summarising Frank’s marvellous contribution to SWT’s work spanning almost the whole of our 50 year history.  Discovered that the picture of me with Prince Charles and the toy red squirrel had gone world-wide – great publicity for SWT.
 
Thurs 24th July
Discovered that the crows were not deterred at all by my cantilever bird feeder so it will have to go inside a cage.  Brought the Acorn camera home for a re-think about where next to put it.  Updated my online wildlife diary.

 

Me, Prince Charles and a giant red squirrel
Me presenting HRH Prince Charles with a giant hand-made toy red squirrel for Prince George on his first birthday

Weds 23rd July
Relaxed a bit after yesterday’s high octane efforts, then built a cantilever bird feeder to go behind the community hall in the hope the jackdaws and crows would not be able to hang on.  Checked both trail cameras – nothing worth keeping. In the evening discovered that a picture of me and HRH had been in some of the newspapers and had been tweeted by Clarence House.  Very nice too. 

Cantilever bird feeder
The cantilever bird feeder

Tues 22nd July
Big day.  I drove in glorious sunshine to Glendelvine House near Dunkeld for the first phase of a visit by HRH Prince Charles, SWT’s Patron, to a reception celebrating our Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels project.  HRH was given a short walking tour of part of the estate and was then presented to me and other leaders of the main partners.  I then handed Prince Charles a present for Prince George whose first birthday today happened to be.  The present was a red squirrel soft toy  which had been made by one of our SWT staff members, Corrine, The media pack got lots of nice photos and video footage.  We all then drove to Murthly Castle to join our principal supporters who had had assembled for a sit-down lunch.  At this point the two events became one in the form of a drinks reception on the lawns outside the castle.  The guests were arranged in groups and I introduced Prince Charles to each group in turn.  HRH took great pains to speak individually to all of the guests, which I’m sure meant a great deal to them.  I closed the show with a short speech thanking Prince Charles for finding time in his busy schedule to visit us.  It had been a great day for the Scottish Wildlife Trust, the squirrel project and our partners and supporters. 
 
Mon 21st July
The dead common shrew was still untouched on the path – they must taste really bad for it not to have been eaten by something.  I moved the Acorn camera to the main crossroads in the woods – hope it’s subtly enough placed to avoid the attention of walkers and cyclists.  Received a final briefing re tomorrow’s VIP event celebrating the Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrel project.  Then got another final, final briefing as yet another detail got changed coz of protocol.  Mustn’t grumble – I expect it’ll be alright on the night.
 
Sun 20th July
Checked the Acorn cam again – nothing special so will consider where a better site might be.

Common Shrew
A Common Shrew

Sat 19th July
Went to the club early to practice chipping where I found a rabbit sleeping in the practice nets, a red squirrel on the practice putting green and fox poo beside the practice bunker.  Checked the Acorn cam in the woods – nothing worth keeping.  There was a dead common shrew on the path beside the community hall.  These hyper-active animals burn out after only 18 months or so and this time of year is fairly typically the end of the road for a lot of them.
 
Fri 18th July
Noticed early today that the feeder at the Angle was broken and empty so planned to come back later and fix it.  The Acorn cam had taken mostly walkers, dog walkers and cyclists again plus one video of a jay.  Jays are not very common here so that’s fine.  As promised I returned to the Angle feeder to repair it.  To get there I used the bike, as suggested yesterday by the Doctor to strengthen my thighs and help my dodgy knees.  Back at home a few people on Twitter were really knocking farmers, claiming they don’t care about their own livestock so why would we expect them to care about wildlife.  It’s rather unfair to tar all farmers with that particular brush although in my experience far too many fields are littered with hazardously discarded barbed wire, baler twine and plastic silage bags.  Some such couldn’t-care-less farmers are undoubtedly among those who falsely claim how much they care about their dear little lambs, scores of which, they say, are taken by sea eagles every year, a claim that has been emphatically debunked using rock solid evidence by RSPB and others more eloquently than I could manage here.   In the face of such nonsense, added to by the disgraceful eleventh hour withdrawal of support by NFU(S) for the brilliant new Scottish Translocation Code, it is unsurprising that many conservationists regard farmers as one of the main enemies of wildlife.  That’s understandable, but nevertheless we must all remember there are still some wildlife-friendly farmers out there and we must support them in whatever way we can.
 
Thurs 17th July
The next few days mostly concentrating on golf – my own plus The Open at Hoylake.  Nevertheless I checked the Bushnell cam and disappointingly found it had switched to taking photos, not videos, so the badger images were unusable.  At Abernethy GC there was fox poo again near the 5th green.
 
Weds 16th July
Checked the Acorn cam at the T-junction – it had recorded 32 clips of walkers, dog walkers, cyclists and runners but no wildlife as yet.  This morning yet more phone calls and emails about upcoming visits, receptions and presentations, some of them involving awkward diary changes.  Just when you think things are running smoothly……grrrr.
 
Tues 15th July
Early morning dog walk in the woods before a day of golf at Kinloss.  We met a baby bird which Max chased for a bit but left alone when he caught up with it, as he had been taught, and we then met a roe deer which neither dog showed any interest in chasing.  They really are growing up nicely.
 
Mon 14th July
Checked the Acorn cam in its new position at the discrete path T junction – one dog walker and nothing else.  Spent the morning catching up on SWT emails, mostly re upcoming public events.  There’s always so much going on, even during holiday periods – great stuff.  After lunch I checked the Bushnell cam at the corner post and found it had recorded Donald’s dog piddling on the badgers’’ favourite scenting bush again.  I’m really looking forward to making a YouTube video of that story – Bea has agreed to help with the script.
 
Sun 13th July
After golf, re-sited the Acorn camera at the T junction along the discrete path near where pine marten poo has been seen recently.
 
Sat 12th July
Red squirrel at the Angle feeders again.  We’ve been seeing them there fairly regularly lately which is reassuring – they have not been too much in evidence in recent months and whenever that happens you tell yourself not to worry because there are seasonal peaks and troughs but there’s always a nagging doubt that something’s wrong.  In the shed, made some changes to the bracket for the Acorn camera and thought about where it might go next.   Rainy weather and lack of moral fibre combined to stop me going out to put those ideas into practice.
 
Fri 11th July
At Abernethy GC there was fox poo between the 4th green and 2nd green.  Topped up the feeders at the Angle and at home.  Lots of small birds about – I’ve never seen so many wrens.  Brought the Acorn camera home – it’s getting nothing at its current location.
 
Thurs 10th July
Checked on the pile of brash by the personal path at NH 9341 1885 and there were at least 5 wrens flitting about - almost certainly there’s a nest in there.  Checked the Acorn camera - still nothing recorded despite it being on high sensitivity.  Filled the feeders at the squirrel car park and the community hall - the birds and squirrels are using more peanuts than recently.  I spent the afternoon on RSWT and Biffa Award paperwork and diary issues.  This was not made any easier by our Broadband dropping out again, it having been very fast earlier in the day but slowed steadily as the day progressed.
 
Weds 9th July
In the afternoon I spotted 2 wrens in and around a pile of brash in our woods near the lorry park.  Heard today about some research which concludes that neonicotinoids are partly responsible for the loss of farmland birds because the birds now have less insects with which to feed themselves and their chicks.  This was a fairly predictable outcome but it’s only now that we can show it actually happened.
 
Tues 8th July
At 0645 found pine marten poo on the discrete path at NH 9356 1821.  Later that morning I found fox poo beside the 8th green at Abernethy Golf Club.  I’m hot with the poo today.  In the evening the dogs and I checked the Acorn camera and it still had not recorded anything so I switched its sensor to high and will check it again tomorrow.  We went to BBB Main Sett to see if the dog biscuits were still there.  They were, although two of them looked as if a bird had been pecking them so either the badgers had not eaten them last night or someone has replaced them earlier today.  I’m going to go with the badgers hadn’t eaten them.  The only way to be sure is to go back before dawn.
 
Mon 7th July
Red squirrel again at the Angle at 0830.  We then met Alison Greggans on her patrol and had a brief chat - we’ll have a longer one this evening when we tour the local badger setts and other wildlife features. The dogs were on their very best behaviour this morning including ignoring two roe deer that crossed our path on two separate occasions.  It looks as if deer chasing is now history.  In the afternoon I cut the grass in our rear garden and in the process discovered two frogs at the edge of our pond - brilliant.   In the evening the dogs and I took our new forest ranger Alison for a tour of wildlife features in the woods.  We visited 2 crested tit nestboxes, 2 trail cameras, 5 badger setts and a fox den, plus I showed Alison the 1938 Opel Olympia car.  Loch Roid is a major black headed gull colony - I think it always was but it’s easy to forget these things.  We found a badger latrine beside the fence at a point where you would cross it on a direct line from the Roid sett to the BBB NE sett.  At the BBB Main sett we found dog biscuits in the same way I had found them at the BBB SW sett on Thursday.  I hope all is well but as a precaution I gave Alison the biscuits I had collected  last Thursday because she is meeting Anne Elliott from SNH tomorrow and Anne can decide whether or not to send the biscuits for testing.  At the BBB SW sett all of the biscuits were gone but my card which I had attached to a tree was still there; I removed it but I’m not sure why.  At home we found that the Bushnell camera had a few roe deer clips plus a badger and a pine marten.  The Acorn camera had recorded no wildlife at all.
 
Sun 6th July
Red squirrel at the Angle feeder at 0645.  At 0805 as I was driving to Nethy Bridge and passing Tom Dubh farm a buzzard soared out of the woods on the south side of the road and over the road, then did a wing-tip turn to dive down into the grass in the field.  Breakfast of mouse or vole or baby rabbit no doubt. I noticed the sparrows are still using the gallery on the porch - we may have had multiple families in there this year.  Shame I’ve not had the time to keep proper records the last six years.  That could change next year.
 
Sat 5th July
Exchanged Twitter messages with the Environment Minister about yesterday’s launch of the Translocations Code - very polite stuff but I guess he is as angry as I am about the farming union’s withdrawal of support.
 
Fri 4th July
Played in the AGC Seniors Open so no time for wildlife stuff till I got home.  Was able to finalise a few scheduling decisions  before the SWT staff stood down for the weekend.  The Code for Conservation Translocations was launched at the Game Fair today by the Environment Minister.  I’m still fizzing over the NFUS withdrawing their support. 

Thurs 3rd July
Longish early walk with the dogs to check some wildlife sites.  First was the camera near the corner post sett - it had taken a number of videos of roe deer and one each of red squirrel and badger.  We then set up the new Acorn camera actually at the corner post badger sett to start getting to grips with how to achieve better infra red images at night.   We then set off to check the badger sett at Loch Roid and the fox den and 3 badger setts in nearby wooded basins.   All the sites were active and it seems someone has taken an interest in the SW badger sett because there were dog biscuits lying outside the main tunnel.   Careful not to touch them,  I put a few of the  biscuits into a polythene bag just in case – paranoid or what!   We then went in search of the old German car Bea and I once found near one of the main paths and sure enough there it was at NH 9233 1803 which is not far from nest box No 10.   I took some photos and as far as I can tell from its shape and the name tag on the side it’s an Opel Olympia from around 1938 although the badge on the front doesn’t quite match any pictures that I could find online.

Opel Olympia
Some people will park anywhere

Weds 2nd July
Broadband still pretty rubbish but Paula from BT phoned and has been briefed.  She will get back to me later.  The NFUS story continues to run and I spoke to a number of key players about where we go from here, now that the farmers have withdrawn their support for the Tranlocation Code.  All the great work by SNH and the partners has been undermined by a handful of numpties.  Best I leave it at that for now - but obviously I'm fuming.  Alison Greggans, local woodland ranger, came to see us to discuss the community and the use of the woods.  Very useful conversation for her and for us and we arranged to meet again next Monday for me to show Alison the local badger setts and other sites of interest.

Tues 1st July
Filled the squirrel car park feeders.  The BT engineer called in the afternoon as arranged, checked our system and replaced a bit of wire.  It has made not the slightest difference.  Learned to day that the NFUS has withdrawn its support of the Scottish Translocation Code.  Disgraceful and typical of the NFUS uncooperative, self centred attitude to the outside world and disregard for the environment. NFUS like to think of themselves as the custodians of the countryside but in my experience very few farmers have much interest outside the immediate needs of their businesses.

Mon 30th June
Dead common shrew again - this time on the path beside the Community Hall this morning.  I noticed a marked drop in the food levels in the feeders over the past few days but there are a lot of small birds about at the moment including groups of fledgling sparrows so therein no doubt lies the reason.  Must get out there and top everything up.  Later I did just that at the Community Hall and the Angle and in the process bumped into the forest ranger Alison Gregans with her scheduled walking group.  Great chat with news of cresties and redstarts being seen. In the shed got on with modifying gadgets for the next camera trap session.  Heard on Twitter the bad news that the free living beavers in England are to be captured and put in a zoo and the good news that beavers have returned to the Danube Delta after an absence of 200 years.

Sun 29th June
Today was a golfing day - I won the Centenary Trophy at Abernethy, largely due to the rest of the field being still hungover from yesterday’s outing to Edinburgh.

Sat 28th June
A dead common shrew in the bonfire field and four roe deer in the next field at 6am and I was pleased that the dogs showed no interest in either.  It was a wet start to the day at Boat but we set off for Achiltibuie at 7am with hopes that a NE breeze would place the west coast in the rain shadow.  In the event there were showers on and off for most of the day.  There was a good turnout and the first walk was to the Youth Hostel and then on down to the beach.  Our guide Richard Williams showed us where the pipes for the proposed hydro scheme would leave and re-enter the burn, explaining how the design would avoid interference with salmon spawning.  Bobby and Max behaved very well with the crowd of people.  We did not stay for the afternoon walk but drove home, dropped off the dogs and went to Patric and Ann Bairds’ house at Evanton to have dinner with them and their house guests Robin and Jenny Harper.  A useful discussion took place over dinner.

Fri 27th June
0840 we found two pine marten droppings on the ‘glove path’ spaced about 100m apart. One was brown and one was black and they were not far from a known den site.  Pity I had no camera, gps or phone with me to record the find but planned to come back later.  Sadly ran out of time - hope they’re still there next week.  Worked on helping to edit an article for SWT magazine.

Thurs 26th June
Saw 3 different roe deer between 8am and 9am this morning in Boat Woods.  Time we got Mr Lynx back in business.

Weds 25th June
Checked the trail camera at the corner post after nearly a week of absence.   It had recorded video clips of roe deer, badger and pine marten.  That’s the first evidence of pine marten in the area for months, and the first ever at this long standing camera site, so clearly recent mischievous rumours of a population explosion are unfounded.

Tues 24th Jun
Train to Edinburgh for the Scottish Biodiversity Committee meeting at Holyrood MacDonalds.  The Minister was unavailable so Bob MacIntosh chaired the meeting.  Leaders of all the major environmental and land management bodies were present and plans for future strategic approaches were aired.

Mon 23rd June
Train to Dunkeld where SWT staff picked me up for a run-through of an upcoming reception for a VIP at a nearby estate.  More about this next month

Sun 22nd June
On the journey home we called in at our Loch Fleet reserve near Golspie.  Our luck was in because we found some rather special plants including a twinflower in bloom.

Twinflower
Twinflower at Loch Fleet




Sat 21st June
In the morning we drove {via the Houton ferry) to Hill of White Hamars, an SWT reserve on the south coast of South Walls, where we were met by Ian and Liz who are the local farmers that manage the grazing regime of SWT’s fields.   We enjoyed a walk along the cliffside paths and were lucky enough to find some specimens of the Scottish Primrose Primula Scotica in full bloom, which was brilliant.  

Primula Scotica
The Scottish Primrose

Not so good was the algal bloom seen by our expert trustees in the low lying boggy bits, no doubt a result of fertiliser run-off from the fields.  We did find some puffin holes which the farmer commented on in a vague sort of way.  Hmmm.  A few days later I learned there is a problem with too many stoats on the island but Ian did not seem to know about it because I asked him about badgers, foxes and stoats. All that aside, sea birds are doing well along those cliffs with hundreds of occupied fulmar nests on the stacs.  We also saw some grey seals among the seaweed strewn shallows so I expect there are otters there too.  

Lunch at the Stromabank Hotel was followed by a visit to another SWT reserve called Harray Road End.  It’s a stretch of low lying wet marsh full of amazing plants and some open water which sadly was also showing signs of algal bloom.  A clue to the cause of this lies in the bright green colour of surrounding fields - clearly there has been heavy-handed use of fertilisers.  On the plus side our intrepid bog trotting staff and trustees found tunnels belonging to the Orkney Vole which is unique to this group of islands.  In the evening a few of us went to a concert in Kirkwall where we were surprised at how few people were about considering it was at the height of their festival season.  After the concert we went to the Ring of Brodgar stone circle for the summer solstice.  

Scary SWT staff at the stone ring
Scary SWT staff at the Summer Solstice on Orkney

We got to the stones just before midnight but it was after midnight before some druid-like people turned up.  They laid some sheets down inside the circle but rather than stay to see what they were up to we made an orderly retreat to another stone circle further down the road where there were some spooky echoes.

Fri 20th June
We took the ferry from Scrabster to Stromness where we joined up with those who had driven privately the previous day or had flown in that morning.  We spent what was left of the morning and all afternoon on a lengthy Council meeting, followed by dinner.

Thurs 19th June
I was picked up on the A9 by the SWT staff minibus for the trip to Thurso for an overnight stop-over en route to Orkney tomorrow.  Some other trustees were also on the bus and others arrived later by train.

Weds 18th June
Met some nice people in the woods who come from Staffordshire - between us we solved the environmental troubles of the world.  Filled the feeders at all three woodland feeder sites prior to 4 days away on Orkney with Scottish Wildlife Trust Council. Spent yet more time on the phone, Twitter and email with BT over the Broadband issues.

Tues 17th June
Spent the morning working on Council papers and the afternoon and evening wrestling with BT about our dodgy Broadband.  

Mon 16th June
Checked the Bushnell camera - just one badger video.  On the way home bumped into the new forest ranger and had a chat about wildlife, building houses in the woods, our well behaved dogs and the badly behaved Cairngorms National Park.  Filled the feeders at the Community Hall.  Cut the grass really badly due to it being too wet.  Finally got the petrol strimmer started but it really is time to get a cordless one so I did some research online as best I could with our lousy Broadband.  Eventually phoned BT again and spent a couple of frustrating hours with a series of guys, all trying really hard to help but to no avail.  

Sun 15th June
Pretty much played golf and watched world cup football.

Sat 14th June
Red squirrel on nuts at the Angle.  Took dogs to Stan and Aileen for the day in Nethy and got the train to Edinburgh for my last Annual Chairman’s Reception.  It was held in the City Chambers and was an excellent afternoon.  Feedback from our guests was very encouraging.  

Fri 13th June
Checked the Bushnell - nothing worth keeping. Spoke to one of the local dog walkers - he told me he has a green woodpecker visiting his property at the moment.  Broadband was worse than ever so I phoned BT again.  

Thurs 12th June
Made a video of the grey squirrel trapping at Grasmere but could not upload it due to terrible Broadband speed.  Late evening I phoned BT and spent half an hour with their technician checking the line and the Broadband speed.  He seemed to think there was a problem and they would try to fix it and let me know.

Weds 11th JuneOut early to check the Bushnell camera.  Mostly just a few roe deer videos but there was also a fleeting glimpse of a high-speed fox whizzing past.  Later we checked box 27 and the blue tit chicks have fledged.  

 

Grey Squirrel trap
A squirrel trap.  This one had a grey in it which was humanely despatched


Tues 10th June
Irene and I spent the morning with three staff members from the North of England Red Squirrel Project.   The visit included going to a site where a grey squirrel trapping programme was under way.  All four traps we checked had caught a grey squirrel each of which was expertly and humanely despatched by the Ranger.  Hundreds of these non-native animals have been dealt with in this way by the project staff and as a result red squirrels are now being seen in parts of the region where they have not been seen for decades.   As an example we were taken to a nearby National Trust place called Allan Bank where a red squirrel was blithely foraging underneath a bird feeder.   Irene dropped me back at Windermere for the four-train epic journey back north.  Trains were delayed but fortunately with the the help of The Trainline I was able to plot my way home OK.


Mon 9th June
Caught a series of trains to Windermere in the Lake District where Irene Greenwood from the Biffa Award office met me and we drove to our Guest House in Grasmere.  Very pleasant evening spent first of all planning our visit next day to a red squirrel conservation project and then reminiscing about our shared experiences in long careers in the RAF.


Sun 8th June
Out early in glorious weather.  Filled the feeders at the Angle, which completes the job.  This time of year the red squirrels struggle a bit to find their natural food so the feeders help them out.  I heard yesterday that two of the three oyster catcher eggs in the nest where I set up the Acorn camera at the golf club have disappeared; no doubt due to crows or seagulls.  I visited the site today and it may not be that simple.  One of the videos shows an oystercatcher carrying one of the eggshells away so could be that two have hatched and the third was not fertile.  We'll never know.


Sat 7th June
Slept a straight 9 hours last night - it’s been a busy week.  Out twice with the dogs and filled up the squirrel car park feeders.  The dogs do not like the heat so they’ve been sulking in the shadows most of the day.  Started putting a movie together about the importance to one badger family of scent marking a particular bush by a track junction near their sett.  Officially closed the badger hide today until the end of July.

Jamie Grant
Journalist Jamie Grant who came to interview me


Fri 6th June
Train home and then spent the afternoon and early evening with Jamie Grant, a reporter from the Glen Lyon area, who had come to interview me for an article in the next issue of the Scottish Wildlife magazine.  After an hour or so of chatting we went into the woods where we checked two of the crested tit nest boxes, one of which had a nest in but no eggs or chicks.  We next visited the Bushnell camera near the Corner Post sett and on discovering no videos of badgers had been recorded we went to the sett itself to make sure it had not been abandoned.  It had not, judging by the well used tunnel entrances and the busy latrines. Next came box 27 to make sure all is well and sure enough the blue tit parents were in close attendance and told us off in no uncertain manner.  Pleased to say their chicks are growing fast.  Next we went to the badger hide to take stock.  There were lots of busy tunnels at both upper and lower setts.  The goldeneye boxes were still showing no sign of use but the tit box had seen more action than one would want.  The wire holding the lid shut had been bitten through and a flake of wood had been ripped of the front of the box at the edge of the entrance hole.  Probably the work of our resident pine marten so I will have to come up with a better way of securing the lid.  I made temporary repairs before leaving.  At home we had dinner with Jamie before he headed off for the long drive home.  Last job of the day was to refill the feeders at the Community Hall which I had noticed earlier were totally empty.


Thurs 5th June
Train to Edinburgh for the SCVO Annual Scottish Charity Awards ceremony.  Terrific evening with SWT staff and guests but we didn’t win either of the categories that we had been shortlisted for.  Never mind, there’s always next year.


Weds 4th June
I moved the Acorn camera at the golf club Monument to a new position and changed the card.  As you would expect the old card had more of the same sort of videos and photos as yesterday.  In the afternoon the dogs and I checked the Bushnell cam at the Corner Post and there was just a few roe deer clips but no badgers at all.  It seems it is not just the badgers at the hide that become inactive at this time of year - there’s a general summer lethargy.  I know how they feel - it’s too hot to dash around.

Wildflowers in our garden
We don't cut the grass at this time of year due to the wildflowers.  The rest of the year it's just laziness




Tues 3rd June
Checked the Acorn cam at the golf club - it had several videos and pictures of oyster catchers at the nest.  Our great tits have fledged so I opened up the shed gallery to see what’s what.  All 3 compartments contained complete nests but only the left one which the great tits had used produced young, or even eggs.  Did a good bit of Tweeting, mostly about wildllife crime.


Mon 2nd June
Great tits still feeding young in the sparrow gallery on the shed.  Saw a tree creeper a short distance into our woods on the way to checking the trail cams.  The Bushnell had some nice roe deer clips plus another clip of a badger marking its special bush plus another clip of a dog marking the same bush.  Great stuff.  The Acorn had nothing of great interest so I took it to the Abernethy Golf Club and set it up looking down on the oyster catcher eggs by the monument at the 8th hole.  Had a response from Stuart Housedon to say yes there are magpies in Strathspey and Rosshire but they are absent from the NW Highlands.  Also, they use the same text as in the RSPB Handbook of British Birds.   


Sun 1st June0630 great tits still bringing food to the brood in the shed gallery.  0700 saw a red squirrel and a magpie at the Angle feeders.   Pleased to see the squirrel but the magpie in those woods is a new on on me - a bit disturbing.  On the other hand I’ve been seeing them in other parts of this valley on and off since the seventies.  Interestingly the RSPB website says magpies are absent from the Highlands, so I mentioned the fact on Twitter and sent a Direct Twitter Message to Stuart Houseden, CEO of RSPB Scotland.

 


Blue tit chicks in box 27 in Boat of Garten woods

Sat 31st May
0915 the dogs and I checked all 31 crested tit boxes and filled the feeders at the squirrel car park and the Angle while we were at it. Disappointing result; just a half built blue tit nest in box 28 and a brood of blue tits in box 27. Add to that a complete blank in the goldeneye boxes and you have a bad year for the rarer birds. Not bad for the common birds though with great tits, sparrows and blue tits availing themselves of our boxes at home, in the woods and at the badger hide and blackbirds nesting in our specially planted conifer hedge.

Fri 30th May
Filled up the empty feeders behind the Community Hall then took the dogs on a long walk to include checking the two trail cameras. Neither camera had recorded any wildlife at all, just two dog walkers, one of which was me! In the evening I went to the hide on my own. First badger at 2130 at the upper sett, then another near the same place a few minutes later (possibly the same one) then a different badger at the lower sett at 2200.

Thurs 29th May
Discovered that the feeders at the Community Hall were empty. Shame on me. Golf in the morning, paperwork in the afternoon, out with the dogs in the evening: a laid back kind of day.

Weds 28th May
Sister in law Maeve drove me to Edinburgh for the first train north and I got home around midday. Checked both trail cameras but nothing much worth keeping on the cards. In the evening took a family of 5 to the badger hide. No badgers until 2220 and then only one but we had it on view for half an hour. Not the best of evenings but not the worst either.

Tues 27th May
0725 train to Edinburgh for SWT Conservation Committee. Long, long meeting covering red squirrels, deer, Europe, integrated catchment management planning, potential reserve acquisition, Natural Capital and raptor persecution. After the meeting Jonny Hughes, Maggie Keegan and I went to the parliament for the debate on Scottish Wildlife Trust’s 50th Anniversary where we were joined by Trustee Alastair Grier. There were a number of speeches, all singing SWT’s praises, beginning with John Wilson MSP who had called for the debate and ending with Paul Wheelhouse MSP, Minister for Environment. It was a brilliant event and we all felt highly honoured that the good work of the Trust was being recognised in this very public way. The transcript of exactly who said what can be found here: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/28862.aspx?r=9204&mode=pdf

Afterwards our small delegation met for a chat with John Wilson MSP and then Rob Gibson MSP, Chairman of the Rural Affairs and Climate Change Committee, invited us for a drink in the Members’ Bar where we were joined by Claudia Beamish MSP and Patrick Harvey MSP. A convivial evening was enjoyed by all. I then headed to Dalkeith to beg the use of a bed from family, the last train north having left Edinburgh long ago.

Mon 26th May
The sparrows have fledged from the sparrow gallery - at 0730 they were fluttering about all over the pavement outside the house but fortunately the parents soon got them up into the trees on the edge of the woods. The blackbirds fledged last week so that just leaves the great tits in the sparrow gallery on the shed; I reckon they’ll go any day now. Checked the old Bushnell near the corner post and it had taken some nice clips of a roe buck at night and one of a fox. I then installed the new Acorn cam at a promising animal track junction 100 metres further along the fence from the corner post.

Sun 25th May
No wildlife stuff at all. Played golf in the morning and watched golf on tv the rest of the day.

Sat 24th May
Checked the cameras near the Corner Post. On the walk in we heard a cuckoo. Not much action on the cameras so I removed the Acorn cam to use elsewhere. Tried to walk home via a different route but got lost and didn’t have the GPS or compass; rookie mistake. Classic outcome: I walked in a circle and eventually came across a familiar badger sett in “Bill’s Badgery Basin”. The dogs thought it was great fun. Finally got the strimmer working and cut the grass, to the annoyance of the local great tits whose chicks must be nearly ready to fledge. It didn’t take long.

Fri 23rd May
The morning UK news was all about UKIP’s performance in yesterday’s England Council elections, however, as someone on Twitter put it, they came 4th in a 3 horse race, so why all the fuss? The dogs and I checked the trail cams: the Bushnell had a nice clip of a badger scent marking again but the Acorn had not been triggered at all. To be honest I did wonder if I had selected an unpromising site for it. I shifted it a bit and if it still hasn’t triggered by tomorrow I’ll move it. The big news in Scotland is the publication of the Land Reform Group Final Report: “The Land of Scotland and the Common Good”. It has got the big estates a bit worried and may even impact on wildlife reserves. On the golf course, oyster catchers have laid three eggs on the gravel beside the Monument at the 8th hole. They’ve fledged young from that spot in a previous year so hopefully they can do it again. This evening over the Boat of Garten moor 2 buzzards were circling and calling, one of them clutching a small bird in its talons. Wonder what that was all about?

Thurs 22nd May
Started the day by voting in the Euro elections. Noticeable that the parties were making a big effort to get the voters out - I got called by the Tories, Lib Dems and SNP in the space of a few hours. Noticed this morning that the feeders at the Angle were empty so went back in the afternoon and filled them up and unfortunately disturbed a red squirrel in the process. I also topped up at the squirrel car park while I was at it.

 


Max and Bobby have found a badger latrine - so proud of themselves

Weds 21st May
0830 off with the dogs to the Corner Post. On the way we heard a cuckoo near the Personal Path and again very near the Corner Post. The Bushnell cam had one video of a badger scent marking and a couple of roe deer. I also set up the new Acorn camera at the Corner Post itself to see how it performed in an open environment because so far the infra red results up close have been poor. When we got home there was a pile of feathers in the back garden; it looks as if we’ve been visited by the local sparrow hawk. I just hope the victim was not one of our parent birds.

Tues 20th May
Took Bea to the station for her trip to Edinburgh where she would undergo mentor training for the Scottish Wildlife Trust volunteer scheme. She texted later to say it was a good session. In the evening I went to the badger hide to check the Acorn camera. Sadly the new bracket I bought recently fell apart when I removed it - serves me right for buying a cheapo, but back at home I was able to fix it with super-glue (I think). On the card were some nice video clips of great spotted woodpeckers eating the peanut butter I had lavished on the tree trunk. On the tree trunk beside the camera, the tit box now had an active nest in it and the occupants were not impressed by my activities. While at the hide I fitted a new lid to the peanut feeder - the old one made of stirling board had disintegrated.

Mon 19th May
Filled up the feeders at the Community Hall. Max found a baby wren but managed to resist the temptation to eat it. Went to the badger hide with the dogs. Checked the goldeneye boxes - no eggs in any of them. Set up the Acorn camera on the hollow tree with generous smears of peanut butter for the pine marten - I set the infra red on ‘low strength’ because my last attempt resulted in badgers being washed out by too much light. We’ll see. On the way out we disturbed a hen pheasant with lots of small chicks - again the dogs behaved very well. In the evening a buzzard hopped and glided in an irritated fashion from fence post to fence post along the north edge of the moor, staying a safe distance ahead of us. Eventually it had a great idea, and flew back over our heads to its original perch.

Sun 18th May
At 0700 there were 2 red squirrels chasing up a pine tree beside the main track just 200 metres from the Community Hall. Bodes well for babies in a few weeks. Checked Box 28 - there has been no further progress in nest building; just a whole load of nest material. Checked the Bushnell camera near the Corner Post sett - no action of interest. Removed the Acorn camera from box 27.

Sat 17th May
Set up the new Acorn cam at Box 27 to see which species had laid eggs in it but just as I was leaving 2 blue tits turned up and gave me a hard time, so that ship had sailed. Went to the Bushnell cam and there were more clips of deer and of badgers scent marking their favourite bush by the junction of paths.

Fri 16th May
Disappointing start to the day with a couple of spurious forms from the website. Time will tell if these people really have got round the new filter. Might try to include the validation field in the resulting email to see what they did. Our male blackbird is looking very ill and may not last much longer, but his good lady has fledged at least 2 youngsters and she was feeding them at our feeding station in the garden. Mid morning we were off to Chanonry Point to lecture students from Middlesex Uni about beavers, which means I cannot go to Knapdale for the end-of-beaver-trial ceilidh - pity. Steve Kett and his student group were as lively and interested as ever (we do this every year) and it was a really enjoyable session which while mostly concerned beavers also wandered into all sorts of other stuff such as politics, wolves and lynx. Great fun. When we got home the male blackbird was lying dead in the garden - very sad but he’d done well to help get his brood ready to fly.

Thurs 15th May
We caught the early train home and collected the dogs from kennels. I took the dogs for a walk in the woods and in the process checked box 27 to try to see which species of bird had been nest building in it. I failed to see the bird but was pleased to note a goodly number of eggs in the nest so I’ll try to set the new camera up on it today or tomorrow. In the afternoon I took part in a telecon of the Governance Review Group of The Wildlife Trusts. Worked on the form script to try to filter out spurious forms from Cairngorm wildlife website - think I’ve cracked it.

Weds 14th May
More interviews this morning before collecting Bea from the station and settling into the hotel. We then walked to the Scottish Parliament for the celebration of the successful conclusion of the 5 year practical phase of the Scottish Beaver Trial. An amazing event attended by all of the main players including people from Norway and Germany and three of the four Environment Ministers who had been in post since the start of the Trial: Michael Russell who signed the license, Roseanna Cunningham who helped release the first beavers and the current incumbent Paul Wheelhouse. There was a terrific buzz about the place and a strong sense of pride in a job well done. After the event many of us adjourned to The Holyrood 9A for food and drink and to continue the party. A brilliant evening.


Left to Right: Roseanna Cunningham (former Environment Minister), me, a giant beaver, Michael Russell (former Environment Minister), Simon Milne (former SWT CEO) and Paul Wheelhouse (current Environment Minister)

Tues 13th May
Train to Edinburgh for interviews for a new SWT staff post. These things are seldom easy and today was no exception.

Mon 12th May
Checked some of the bird feeders in the woods; only two of them needed topping up. I think there is a lot of natural food for them at the moment. In spite of that we continue to put live meal worms for our blackbird family, much to the delighted of the local sparrows who have themselves developed a taste for meal worms. I checked the Bushnell camera at the Corner Post again and found some nice clips of a roe buck. There was also a clip of a terrier piddling on the bush that the badgers had been using to scent mark but that evening a badger vigorously put things to rights by squatting and renewing its own scent. In the evening I took an old friend to the badger hide where we saw 2 badgers and a tawny owl. The owl was calling throughout the whole of our time there.

Sun 11th May
During the early morning dog walk I watched two male chaffinches fighting over a female. The female was clearly not impressed by either of the men because she turned her back flew off.

Sat 10th May
A fresh consignment of live meal worms arrived this morning, much to the relief of our lady blackbird who was having to make do with wet bread. Spent most of the morning on papers for next week’s Biffa Award meeting, which I cannot actually attend due its date having to be changed but for which I can provide some input via email, which is not ideal but better than nothing.

Fri 9th May
Early train from Edinburgh to Perth for a meeting of the Scottish Badgers Advisory Group. Usual excellent meeting reflecting a well run organisation. Shame about the continuing persecution of badgers but recent reports of other types of wildlife crime has raised public awareness and generated extra interest in badger work. Hopeful some benefits for badgers can be captured in all this. Back at home I checked the Bushnell camera at the corner post to find yet more clips of a badger scent-marking a particular bush. When time permits I will put the clips together into a short film. While checking the camera I heard a cuckoo - the first this year..

Thurs 8th May
This was Day One of the SWT Staff Conference, held in the Holiday Inn at Edinburgh Zoo. What a terrible hotel. Not very well appointed, crappy furniture, no free wifi and extortionate prices in the bar. Ladies and gentlemen, avoid this hotel like the plague. On the positive side, it was great to see our far flung members of staff assembled together for a couple of days.

Weds 7th May
Took the train to Edinburgh and on the way I read through the very long transcript of Tuesday’s wildlife crime debate in the Scottish Parliament. Most contributors were very supportive of the proposal for tougher laws and sentencing, the exception being the Scottish Tories who reckon existing laws are adequate. No surprise there then. In the evening I attended the Scottish Geoparks event in the Dynamic Earth building at Holyrood. Spoke to some very interesting people from the world of the geo-sciences and also had a brief chat with Keith Connal about the wildlife crime debate. Paul Wheelhouse was also there for a short time.

Tues 6th May
Good piece on BBC Radio Scotland on today’s debate in Scots Parliament on wildlife crime. This led to an interesting exchange of views on Twitter, although involving far less people than you would expect. Rather sad if not enough of us care enough to make enough of a fuss to force change. Collected the card from the Bushnell camera near the Corner Post badger sett - it had captured a few clips of badgers marking the path junction and several of roe deer, crows, a dog walker, pigeons and sheep. No pine martens, foxes or red squirrels, surprisingly.

Mon 5th May
Took some nice photos of the female blackbird collecting meal worms. Checked the remaining crestie boxes(Nos 8 to 20 incl) - sadly no nests at all. Turned down the chance to talk on BBC radio about raptor poisonings due to not being well enough informed on latest developments - best this is left to RSPB experts and we then endorse what they say (probably!). Got some nice videos this evening of blackbirds collecting mealworms.

Sun 4th May
Blue tits were busy early today at their compartment of the shed sparrow gallery and the female blackbird was very bold in collecting mealworms for her brood the instant Bea had finished filling the dish and turned away.

Sat 3rd May
Checked most of the crested tit nest boxes in the morning, avoiding the area where capercaillie are active at this time of day. Will check the rest later or on Monday. Nests were found in boxes 27 and 28 which oddly are the two boxes closest to the village. Box 28 is definitely blue tit but I do not yet know what is using 27. In the garden, Bea’s live-mealworm service has received a steady stream of customers from the local blackbird fraternity while the great tits and blue tits have fully resumed their nesting efforts in our nest boxes. In the evening, took an Australian couple to the badger hide where we had a badger at the upper sett quite quickly and then as the light faded a pine marten turned up. It wandered in and out of the hollow tree and then came close to the hide to devour peanuts - too close for the guests to focus their cameras. A brilliant evening.

Fri 2nd May
Meeting of the Scottish Species Reintroductions Forum today at Battleby, near Perth. Excellent atmosphere despite some very contentious issues on the agenda - this group has come a very long way since its creation several years ago when lost tempers and raised voices were the norm. Today’s meeting discussed codes of practice, guidelines and received updates on beavers and sea eagles. Plans were also outlined for more detailed analysis of some candidate species on a so-called aspirational list, such as the lynx which already has the public’s attention and which therefore warrants time being spent on better understanding what its return to the Scottish countryside would really mean.

Thurs 1st May
Curlews much in evidence again at the golf club this morning and fox poo beside the clubhouse (at least we think it was fox). More work on SWT admin and then filled in the Scottish Badgers time sheet for the past year. Fairly early night before tomorrow’s Reintroductions Forum - could be lively.

Weds 30th Apr
0500 up early and drove to Tulliallan for the Scottish Police Wildlife Crime Conference. Opening address by Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse MSP was appropriately heavy on disgust at the recent poisonings in Ross-shire of 16 red kites and 6 buzzards. Nice one Paul. In the course of the day I chatted with a good many movers and shakers in the Scottish environmental organisations including Scottish Govt, Scottish Gamekeepers Assn, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, RSPB, Scottish Natural Heritage and Scottish Badgers. Passed 4 dead badgers on the A9 on the way home.


Bobby has found a squirrel dinner table - note the chewed pine cones

Tues 29th Apr
Checked the Acorn camera at the badger hide. A few clips of badger and mouse, mostly in bad weather so not worth keeping. Worked on SWT admin and papers for meetings over the next week.

Mon 28th Apr
Feeling much better so checked the Bushnell camera. A bit disappointing; a couple of clips of a dog walker and one of a badger. On the way Bobby dog found a superb red squirrel dinner table, a mossy mound covered in chewed pine cones. Bumped into the estate forester Will Anderson and had a friendly blether. On the way home, a buzzard flew off low to the ground through the woods behind Fairy Hill. Checked the garden nest boxes and most of them have nests at various stages of construction. Spent part of the afternoon bird watching in the garden and it’s surprising how much is going on unnoticed when you are not paying close attention. Cut the grass in what we laughingly call the kitchen garden before retreating into the house to leave the breeding birds in peace. Bea drove to Battleby for a Wildcat Forum - she reports it was an interesting update of where we’re at.

Sat 26th and Sun 27th Apr
Two days spent mostly in bed due to having caught the dreaded flu. Most uncomfortable and best left at that.

Fri 25th Apr
0930 checked the Bushnell cam near the corner post badger sett. Three videos of roe deer and two of badgers; one of the badgers was scent marking the cross-roads of paths which is pleasing because I chose that site for the camera partly because it was a junction and therefore likely to have more animal traffic. It should have occurred to me that would also make it a prime site for scent marking. Later I went to the badger hide to check how a friend had fared on Monday. It was not easy to tell if he had been at all. I checked the goldeneye boxes, there were still no eggs, and then set up the new Acorn camera on the new small tunnel entrance right in front of the hide. Back at home I began making notes on the papers for next week’s meeting of the Scottish Species Reintroductions Forum.

Thurs 24th Apr
TWT Countries Committee held its quarterly meeting at the hotel. It was Jonny Hughes’ first CoCo but it would have been hard for the casual observer to tell because he slotted in seamlessly. On the train journey back to Edinburgh we worked through such outcomes as there were before moving on to domestic matters. Got home at 2300 hrs.

Weds 23rd Apr
0652 train from Edinburgh to Bangor via Crewe. Met up with the rest of TWT Countries Committee for lunch then on to two Welsh wildlife reserves on Anglesey. On the first at Cemlyn Bay we watched the activity on the largest sandwich tern colony on the UK west coast before moving on to the Cors Goch reserve with its bogs and meadows. Daughter Lesley joined us for a drink at our hotel near Llanrug before the usual business dinner.

Tues 22nd Apr
Train to Edinburgh then a meeting over dinner with SWT CEO to prepare for our trip to Wales over the next two days.

Mon 21st Apr
Went to Loch Vaa with the dogs this morning and on the way home topped up the remaining woodland bird feeders. Spent an hour or two wrestling with .asp validation code for a website to defeat the spammers who got round my cunning Javascript effort of a few days ago. Fingers crossed this second level of protection will suffice. If it does, that’s a useful new tool in the box. Packed for three days away, first to Edinburgh and then to Wales.

Sun 20th Apr
A pair of house sparrows nest building in the porch sparrow gallery this morning. Looking good for chicks from house sparrows, blackbirds, blue tits and great tits in the garden this year. Topped up some feeders in the woods prior to going away to Wales this week.

Sat 19th Apr
Blue tits and great tits still building nests in the shed sparrow gallery. Worked on papers for next week’s TWT Countries Committee meeting in Wales. Took a family of 3 generations to the badger hide - we saw 4 badgers, some mice and a roe deer.

Fri 18th Apr
Great tits still nest building in the shed sparrow gallery. Did a full check of the 31 crested tit nest boxes with disappointing results - there was a blue tit in box 28 and nothing else in the others. A woodpecker was hammering near box 17.


The Bushnell camera monitoring a prominet animal track

Thurs 17th Apr
Collected the Bushnell camera - nothing of interest on the card. Took Simon from a media company to the badger hide to show him round the nest boxes, the badger sett and to show him where dippers often nest on an island in the middle of the River Spey. The Press and Journal phoned to ask if there were any new developments on the raptor poisoning issue - I was unable to tell them anything because the police are still assembling their evidence and have not yet made a statement. One could speculate that the continued public interest in and outrage at this incident is putting pressure on the Scottish Government to increase their effort to fight wildlife crime but we won’t know about that for some time. As with the police, the government is not saying anything at the moment.

Weds 16th Apr
Much increased interest in the badger hide this past week so I bought another sack of peanuts - amazingly the price seems to have gone down again. Dealt with a dead badger on the B970 at Tomdhu NH 9782 2036; a non-lactating female weighing 8.5 kg. Took a bucket of peanuts to the badger hide and swept up the leaves and mouse droppings on the carpet. Checked the nest boxes; no eggs in any of the 3 goldeneye boxes but there was an almost complete nest in the tit box. Took 3 guests to the badger hide. Mice, a hen pheasant and 2 badgers seen.

Tues 15th Apr
Train home from Glasgow. Wrote up my notes for the past few days, otherwise no wildlife stuff.

Mon 14th Apr
Checked the Bushnell cam - still no woodpeckers or red squirrels - then packed for a trip to Clarkston for the SWT members centre AGM. Phoned Robin Harper for a catch up. Travelled to Glasgow, found the hotel and walked the streets to get orientated. Reflected that tonight's visit to Clarkston SWT Members Centre will probably be my last one before handing the Chair over to Robin Harper. Caught the train to Clarkston for the meeting which turned out to be a very enjoyable affair. I gave a short update on SWT in general and then Simon Jones gave an illustrated talk on where we have got to with the beaver reintroduction at Knapdale.

Sun 13th Apr
After checking the Bushnell camera and finding nothing on the card of interest the rest of the day was devoted to golf. I won the Nethybridge Hotel Trophy with a 66 despite three putting four greens and in the evening we watched the final round of the Masters until weariness took over and we prepared for bed before the leaders had even begun their last nine. Managed to deal with some outstanding SWT emails before actually hitting the sack.

Sat 12th Apr
Long day. Checked the Bushnell cam - no images at all, due no doubt to my having omitted to switch it on. Idiot! Went to Inverness and carried a banner and gave a speech at the RSPB demonstration following the killing by poison of 21 raptors - 15 red kites and 6 buzzards. An excellent event, although how much good it will do in the long run is debatable. In the evening I took 2 ladies to the badger hide. Lots of mouse activity at first then badgers began to turn up until eventually we had 4.

Fri 11th Apr
0730 checked the feeders at the Angle and Squirrel Car Park - they still had plenty of food. The birds and animals appear to be finding enough wild food without needing to resort to the feeders, which is a very good thing indeed. Beautiful morning by the way and not another soul in the woods so the dogs and I had the most peaceful. of walks. Worked on resolving diary clashes over the next few busy weeks. Read through a research paper by Isabel Isherwood on the behaviour of badgers in upland habitats in the west of Scotland; interesting enough to warrant closer examination. Did a telephone interview with the Press and Journal regarding tomorrow’s demonstration in Inverness over the recent deaths of 19 raptors at Conon Bridge.

Thurs 10th Apr
Checked the Bushnell camera first thing - no pictures yet. Refilled the community hall feeders. Accepted an invitation to carry a banner in the RSPB peaceful demonstration in Inverness on Saturday to raise public awareness of wildlife crime following the discovery this week of 19 dead raptors (14 red kites, 5 buzzards) near Conon Bridge. Sir John Lister Kaye is the main speaker and I will be asked to endorse his words and to declare unity with RSPB and others in the fight against wildlife crime. Checked the Bushnell again - several pictures caused by the wind but still no wildlife.

Weds 9th Apr
Drove to Inverness for a meeting with SNH Chair at Great Glen House - a very constructive meeting. On the way there I passed a dead badger on the A9 on the outskirts of Inverness at NH 7011 4292 and a dead hedgehog on the slip road to the A96 at NH 6874 4542. On the way home there was a kestrel hovering over the start of the dual carriageway near Tomatin at NH 7985 2985. In the afternoon I set up the Bushnell camera at a feeder in the hope of getting close-up footage of a woodpecker. To find the camera from the mini cross-roads walk 37 double paces down the glove path, turn right into the birch trees and go about 30 yards to find a birch tree with a distinct fork and branches piled against it to restrict the woodpeckers to the side of the feeder in front of the camera. Fingers crossed.

Tues 8th Apr
Long tailed tits at the 7th hole at Abernethy GC. Spent part of the afternoon preparing for tomorrow’s meeting with the Chair of SNH. Saddened at the news that the death toll of raptors in Ross-shire has risen to 18; 13 red kites and 5 buzzards. Those tested so far were poisoned so it’s fair to assume the rest were also poisoned

Mon 7th Apr
Collected the card from the Bushell camera - it contained 130 clips of mice at close quarters eating the food I had put out yesterday. The system works really well but the quality is still not great so I have ordered an HD Acorn camera which should improve matters. Checked the Bushnell again in the evening; no new videos so I repositioned it to get a different angle in tonight’s clips - last night the camera was too low down and the mice were partly obscured by grass so I screwed the device to a tree so that it looks down on the food.


The Bushnell camera 37cm from chocolate, peanuts and peanut butter

Sun 6th Apr
Came joint 1st in the opening medal at Abernethy Golf Club with 67. Set up the newly modified Bushnell camera on the ground in the woods baited with chocolate and peanut butter in the hope of filming small mammals. Watched Princess Anne on BBC saying she approved of gassing badgers - disappointing from someone for whom I have considerable respect. Having met and spoken to the Princess Royal at 3 events in recent years at which she gave unstinting support for a variety of wildlife conservation projects I can only imagine she is genuinely unaware both of the suffering that gassing causes and of how ineffective it is in controlling badger numbers. I say this merely in an effort to be fair and I of course remain steadfastly opposed to badger culling in any form. 

Sat 5th Apr
Spent much of the day watching football on TV but found the time to devise a rig for taking close up clips of small mammals at night.

Fri 4th Apr
Woodpecker hammering behind the Deshar Road houses near the path to M & Bs. A male and 2 female sparrows investigated the sparrow gallery at last; previously only a solitary female had shown any interest.

Thurs 3rd Apr
Woodpecker hammering behind the 6th green at Abernethy GC again. Owen Paterson announced in the House of Commons that the pilot badger cull will continue in Gloucestershire and Somerset but plans to roll the cull out to another 10 areas have been postponed. Democracy seems to be on hold at the moment as the government is ignoring both science and public opinion on this matter. Took the Bushnell camera home on discovering that the promising new tunnel by the caravan park was only being used by rabbits.

 
Blackbirds enjoying a bath.

Weds 2nd Apr
Checked the 31 crested tit nest boxes. No nesting activity but a few had signs of being used for roosting, especially box 12 which contained several black feathers, large enough to be blackbird. A buzzard flew off as we approach box 17 and the single badger tunnel near box 17 showed signs of current use. I then check the nest boxes at the badger hide - the 3 goldeneye boxes showed no signs of use but there was a small amount of nest material in the tit box. In the afternoon I collected loads of rubbish from the local sports pitch then checked the Bushnell cam at the caravan park. Only got some dogs, jackdaws and a cat.  No badger, fox or rabbits yet - I'll give it one more night.

Tues 1st Apr
At the golf club a buzzard flew over the 1st fairway and a woodpecker was hammering a tree behind the 6th green. In the evening I set up the Bushnell camera on a fence post at the caravan park trained on a large new hole - it could be badger, fox, or a rabbit with delusions of grandeur. As many as 16 dead raptors (buzzards and red kites) have been found in the Connon Bridge/Muir of Ord area; poisoning was found to be the cause in all of those tested so far so it’s fair to assume the rest were poisoned too.

Mon 31st Mar
After lunch I went to the badger hide and repaired the bird feeder. Whilst there I had a snoop around. All of the setts along the bank running south from the hide are abandoned. It’s the same story with the entire upper sett apart from the tunnel behind the huge spoil heap at the extreme east end where there is also a very fresh latrine. The lower sett is very active indeed and I am very surprised no badgers emerged from it during the last visit. On the way home a buzzard flew slowly across the road at Street of Kincardine. Then soon after I got home I discovered that Twitter was awash with the news that at 0649 this morning Lady, the Scottish Wildlife Trust 29 year old osprey, had returned to her nest at Loch of the Lowes. Her mate Laddie is also back and the two of them wasted no time in starting the egg-making process. I phoned Emma the ranger on her mobile for an update - apparently the media had been ringing the main phone off the hook all day. In the evening I took two people from Ayr to the badger hide. We had to wait more than an hour for the first badger but eventually we had 2 of them right in front of the hide for half an hour. There were a few bats flying around and we saw a couple of small mammals going in and out of one of the tunnels. We also heard a tawny owl. Got home quite late.

Sun 30th Mar
A pair of blackbirds took it in turns to collect wet, rotting leaves from a puddle in our garden and took them into one of our leylandii bushes - looks promising for babies soon. Took a booking for a badger watch tomorrow. It was the opening match at Abernethy Golf Club and there was quite a pile of fox poo beside the 6th tee. Good to know they’re still about despite the best efforts of the local exterminators.

Sat 29th Mar
Refilled the squirrel car park feeders where a red squirrel was already tucking in to what nuts were still there. Worked on the Bushnell camera close-up device and established for most purposes 35cm gave the sharpest focus. Will make different versions with different lengths over time. Set it up in a field to take pictures of the sunset every 5 minutes for two hours, then strung them together in Magix Movie film making programme for YouTube. It was more of an experiment than anything but it worked really well - pity the sunset wasn’t very spectacular this time.

Fri 28th May
Refilled the feeders at the community hall and at the Angle. Set up the Bushnell with its new close up lens 30cm from the bird bath in the garden. It was fingers crossed for our local male blackbird turning up for his morning dip but in fact the female beat him to it. Marvellous video clip, very encouraging.The male came later and I put the clips together and uploaded the result to YouTube. In the evening I took two ladies to the hide; we had one badger on and off for more than an hour and then 2 together at the top of the upper sett.  We also saw bats, some small mammals and we heard a tawny owl.

Thurs 27th May
Cold and sleety but curlews warbling and robins tweeting undaunted. Worked on using lenses from reading spectacles (99p in Pound Stretchers at Newark) to create a close-up focus system for the Bushnell camera. It worked brilliantly at about 30cm using a +3.5 lens. Got a helpful email from a follower called Lloyd about camera traps that tick all the boxes but cost less than Bushnells - his recommended model was the Acorn 6210MC with the 940NM covert led which is HD and costs about £156 from Amazon. Must count the pennies. Good news: David Cameron has backed down on his plans to water down the foxhunting law, apparently due to the Lib Dems refusing to support him. Without Lib Dem support parliament would probably not have passed the amendments and such a defeat would have been very embarrassing for the PM. Nice one, Mr Clegg.

Weds 26th Mar
Checked the Bushnell camera - there was a fox on Fairy Hill at 1925 last night and again at 0123 this morning. Now that the weather has warmed up again the birds have resumed their prospecting - blue tits investigating the starling box again.

Tues 25th Mar
My final meeting of TWT Council. Nothing out of the ordinary to report. Smooth train journeys home.

Mon 24th Mar
Trains to Newark. The Drumochter Hills looked wonderful in the sun and snow. Dinner at Compton House in Newark with the other members of TWT Council and a fairly early night - we must all be getting old.


A pine marten photographed last year at Rothiemurchus

Sun 23rd Mar
Checked the Bushnell cam again. Still no pine marten but a badger ran across the summit of Fairy Hill at 02:08 this morning. John Martin from Vincent Wildlife Trust came to visit bringing more news about how pine martens can impact on grey squirrel populations. Ongoing research in Galloway will, in time, shed more light on that relationship but early signs are encouraging. John and I and the dogs walked the Boat of Garten woods and found the remains of pine marten droppings but no new ones. Managed to remember to get a map reference for the mini crossroads where the Bushnell camera is located - NH 9379 1842. John also told me you can get a Bushnell camera to focus nearer than its standard 3 metres by fixing a x2 lens from a cheap pair of reading specs in front of the Bushnell lens. Can’t wait to try it. Packed for the 2 day trip to Newark as mentioned yesterday.

Sat 22nd Mar
Began preparation for next week’s TWT Council meeting. This will be my last one after more than 6 years; in future Robin Harper, Chairman Elect of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, will occupy Scotland’s place on the TWT Council. Still no pine martens on the Bushnell cam, just a few dogs and one roe deer.

Fri 21st Mar
Lots of phone calls and emails to tie up all the loose ends following meetings in Edinburgh earlier in the week. Checked the Bushnell cam and found a few clips of roe deers on the card. When I got home there were 2 crested tits in the garden.

Thurs 20th Mar
Got the early train home and picked the dogs up from the Glebe kennels. Still nothing but dog walkers on the Bushnell camera.

Weds 19th Mar
Still nothing on the Bushnell cam. Put the dogs in kennels and got the train to Edinburgh. SWT Senior Management Team meeting, then got a taxi to the Parliament for our 50th Anniversary celebratory reception. The order of play was a speech from me, a speech from Claudia Beamish MSP, Shadow Environment Minister for Environment and Climate Change, a short presentation by Jenny McAllister, a Watch leader from North Berwick, and the show was closed by Richard Lochhead MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Environment, after which there was much mingling and networking which led to a general adjournment to a local hostelry where SWT staff and guests continued where they had left off. The event was an amazing success and we received many messages of congratulations in the days that followed.

Tues 18th Mar
Up and out early with the dogs. Checked the Bushnell camera - only dog walkers again but the remarkable thing is there were only 2 in the last 24 hours - we’re not exactly over-run with them. Thoughts on the renewed fox hunting argument - it’s the cruelty that bugs me. Having recently read some studies on fox predation on lambs it’s pretty clear that the problem is very small indeed and suggestions that fox hunting with hounds somehow underpins the rural economy is not taken seriously by anybody any more so fox hunting cannot be justified on either of these grounds as a public service. That then isolates the matter of causing a wild animal to be torn to shreds for pleasure and teaching children that it’s OK to do so. In a civilised society, if horse riders want to ride horses across country as if they were chasing a quarry for pleasure, that’s sort-of OK, although even that involves putting a metal rod across a horse’s mouth and yanking on it to make the poor beast do as you wish and quite unnecessarily risking serious injury to the horse when vaulting gates, ditches and fences. Risking serious injury to the rider is of course the rider’s choice so fair enough, but the horse does not get a say in the matter and left to its own devices would head for its stable in most cases. I lived in a horse owning family for 17 years so trust me I have some personal experience of how clear most horses are on the matter of exerting themselves for the pleasure of their owners - they don’t buy it, especially if there’s a risk of hurting themselves! However, that’s a different matter. So, fox hunting? Not for me.

Mon 17th Mar
Out early and checked the trail cam. Only dog walkers recorded so far. Worked on SWT admin but then went into record producer mode and did some playing and editing of my own compositions in preparation for doing more wildlife video stuff in the coming months and next year.


Common Frog near Fairy Hill, Boat of Garten

Sun 16th Mar
Filled up the feeders at the squirrel car park and noticed that the pond where slavonian grebes used to nest is filling up again. In the woods I bumped into a couple photographing birds and squirrels at the Angle feeders. “Margaret the Novice” was chief operator and she has a lovely set of pictures on Flickr. She also supplies pictures for the Scottish Wildlife Trust - wonderful lady. On the main track below Fairy Hill I almost trod on a large common frog which I photographed and posted on Twitter. In the evening Bea and the dogs and I set up the Bushnell camera at the mini crossroads of paths on the shoulder of Fairy Hill where we know badgers and pine martens sometimes pass. To finish the day I practised my speech for next Wednesday and made a few adjustments.

Sat 15th Mar
Bea and I went to Pitlochry by train for the 50th Anniversary annual SWT Members Centres Day. Very good atmosphere and some useful outcomes for everybody. It was also great to catch up with some of the members that I have not seen for some time.

Fri 14th Mar
Wrote my short speech of introduction for tomorrow’s Members Centres day at Pitlochry and finalise my speech for the Scottish Parliament next Wednesday. Worked on creating legal recordings of music to back future YouTube videos of wildlife. According to Google and Wikipedia the rules say you are OK if you either wrote your own music and performed and recorded it yourself or you arranged, performed and recorded music written by someone who has been dead for at least 50 years, although opinions vary on this period so to be on the safe side the composer being dead for 70 or even 100 years makes you bomb proof.

Thurs 13th Mar
Checked the camera at the feeder and there had been a squirrel there either at dawn or dusk or both - the clips were in infra red mode so obviously it was fairly dark but could not tell the exact time without taking the card home (Note: it turned out to be dawn). A blue tit checked out our starling box - it’ll have competition from the sparrows who have been nest building in there as well as any starlings that turn up. I refilled the feeders behind the community hall and then received a visit from Claudia Gebhart and her team of SWT trainee ecological surveyors. We walked and talked in the woods and solved all of the worlds problems and managed to fit in a visit to crestie nest box 29 and check the camera at the Angle again where there had been at least one more squirrel at the feeders in the previous 2 hours. Later when I checked the card there had been 2 squirrels together (plus a wood pigeon and a gs woodpecker) so it looks as if I was worrying for no reason.about the lack of squirrels.

Weds 12th Mar
Haven’t been seeing many red squirrels lately so out of concern I put out the trail cam at the feeders at the Angle. In the evening Bea and I attended the North Scotland SWT MC meeting in Inverness at which we were treated to a talk about Fresh Water Pearl Mussels. Most interesting.

Tues 11th Mar
Began the task of planning the future with our new CEO and of broadcasting the news to Council, staff, members and external stakeholders. Played golf in the sunshine and was rewarded with a buzzard overhead and lapwings in the fields.

Mon 10th Mar
A long day of interviews in Edinburgh for the job of Scottish Wildlife CEO. The six-person panel decided unanimously to appoint Jonny Hughes, our current Director of Conservation. Caught the last train home, exhausted.

Sun 9th Mar
0730 the pair of sparrows were busy in and around the starling box again and a different female was investigating the sparrow gallery on the shed. In the woods, at the double bend on the secret path about 75m south of a point level with crested tit box 4 we found more very fresh pine marten dung - it must be territory marking season. Caught the 1406 train to Edinburgh and stayed overnight with Robin and Jenny Harper. Robin and I spent much of the evening discussing Scottish Wildlife Trust business and planning ourschedules for the next six months.

Sat 8th Mar
0900 found very, very fresh pine marten poo on the track 50m NW from Kinchurdy pond. Our garden bird feeders have gone down quite quickly this week so filled them up again this morning. Still not seeing crested tits in the garden any more - fingers crossed all is well with them.

Fri 7th Mar
The day started with strong winds and snow showers but quickly brightened up, For the second time this week the dogs ignored roe deer wandering across the path ahead of us. Brilliant. I think I may have found a suitably discrete fork in a tree for the Bushnell camera beside a small cross-roads of paths which I know to be used by badgers and pine martens as well as by people. No time for the next week or two to put that into practice but maybe I can get to it once the dust settles on the next batch of meetings. Began working on my speech for 19th Mar in the Parliament.

Thurs 6th Mar
GS woodpecker at the Angle this morning. A male and a female house sparrow began nest building in our starling box today - a bit weird but fair enough. Dry morning so Bea and I played golf and walked the dogs before the forecast wet weather kicked in. Later I did some more work on preparing for Monday’s series of interviews.

Weds 5th Mar
Found some more pine marten droppings, this time on a stone at NH 9384 1844 on “Mum’s Path” about 30 metres east of the wee cross-road on the shoulder of Fairy Hill. This is probably closer to the village than other examples I have found recently so they probably venture into the gardens of the houses only 200m away. Once again I found myself thinking the pine marten recovery may be all it will take to prevent the grey squirrels from ever getting established in the Highlands. Is it possible as they spread south they will achieve the downfall of grey squirrels everywhere, something which various very expensive schemes have so far failed to do? If so, will there be some other price to pay? There’s no such thing as a free lunch, we’re told.

Tues 4th Mar
Filled up the remaining bird feeders in the woods. Got a map ref for the fox poo found on the discrete path last week - NH 9345 1828. Haven’t seen a crestie for several days - let’s hope they’ve either just escaped my notice or are away establishing breeding territories. Booked lots of train tickets for the month of March. 1730 took two people to the badger hide, more in hope than in anger following the disappointment last time and the continuing cold weather. It wasn’t great; just 3 or 4 sightings of single badgers and none of them for very long. On examining the card from the Bushnell when I got home I found it had been a similar story for the past two nights; a few brief appearances only. I think it’s still too cold for the badgers to stay out for long.

Mon 3rd Mar
Bought a sack of peanuts and to my amazement the price was down from £48 to £45. Filled up the community hall feeders.

Sun 2nd Mar
Went looking for a reported dead badger on the B970 east of Pityoulish but it had vanished. Weird. Intended to set up the Bushnell on an animal path in the woods but decided it was too public so rigged it up at the badger hide where badgers are busily changing their bedding.

Sat 1st Mar
Roe deer only 200m along the main track this morning - dogs ignored it which is great; they really are growing up. Further along, not far from the cross-roads, Bobby collie went along an interesting animal track, one on which I think we might have filmed pine martens before. Max and I followed him and the dogs were clearly very interested in something. Might come back later today or tomorrow with the Bushnell. Further on we found fox poo on the discrete path where it crosses a ridge between the sock route T-junction and Bobby’s variant (don’t ask). Kenny Kortland, species manager for FCS spoke at length on Out of Doors on BBC Radio Scotland about pine martens. He told us pine martens and capercaillie are co-existing well in Glenmore Forest which is music to my ears but frankly no surprise because after all they have co-evolved. Co-evolution also explains why in Ireland the return of the pine marten has caused the collapse of the grey squirrel population to the benefit of red squirrels which pine martens tend not to catch, reds being lightweight, agile, difficult to catch and too small a meal to be worth all the effort. Pine martens may of course catch the occasional old, baby, inattentive or sleeping red squirrel but that’s natural succession for you and does not happen often enough to damage the population. Dealt with a dead badger near Lisis Kitchen on the A95 at NH 9197 1906, male, 9kg. Went there and back by bike - much easier than the car along that stretch of road with a good cycle path.


Took this pine marten shot a few years ago on the west coast.

Fri 28th Feb
Took dogs to Loch Vaa for a good long walk. No wildlife seen at all but met other dog walkers for a blether - better weather today seems to have put people in a chatty mood. Now that our new Chairman has been decided it’s OK to think about new members of SWT Council - had a few ideas. Speaking of ideas, I also began to plan my speech in Parliament next month - it’s about volunteering. Later discovered that the sheep had all gone from the bonfire field and the gate was unlocked so we were able to let the dogs run around in there for a change. Plenty of evidence of rabbits which bodes well for our local buzzards and foxes. Interesting news that another rogue capercaillie is strutting about in the valley, this time near a minor road just south of Nethy Bridge village to the delight of visiting photographers and to the despair of a few environmentalists - fascinating interplay between competing objectives.

Thurs 27th Feb
A day of tidying up loose ends after yesterday’s meetings and learning how to relax; I’ve no meetings at all for a clear 10 days. Sandra and Ali and the dogs went home to Argyll after Sandra’s morning photo session at Abernethy. Crested tit on the feeders again but slightly weird behaviour by other birds: sparrows nest-building in the starling box and blue tits in the sparrow gallery. Filled up the feeders at the Angle.

Weds 26th Feb
Big day for SWT, beginning with the election of the next chairman to take over from me in September.  Robin Harper was the successful candidate - he'll do a brilliant job. The quarterly Council meeting had to be crammed into the afternoon - it went very well indeed but too long for me to catch my favourite East Coast train and had to make do with the Scotrail early evening alternative. In my absence our house guests Sandra and Alison had some epic photography sessions involving white mountain hares and capercaillie.

Tues 25th Feb
Filled all the village bird feeders before catching the train to Edinburgh. Spent the afternoon at SWT Leith HQ with seniore staff getting the fine detail sorted out for next day’s crucial meetings.

Mon 24th Feb
Thought I heard a crested tit in the woods near the far end of the secret path - turned out to be a great tit. Considered arresting it for impersonating a schedule one bird without a schedule one license. Spent most of the day putting the finishing touches to preparations for upcoming meetings. Late afternoon Bea heard a buzzard overhead above the personal path.

Sun 23rd Feb
Bit of a spat on Twitter this morning about people killing foxes and stringing them up in public places - sick. We had a bit of that sort of thing going on up here a few years ago so I posted a couple of the pictures which were instantly retweeted along with requests from some tweeps to use them, which I of course agreed to; anything to help raise awareness about this sort of nonsense. I don’t like fox control at all but have to reluctantly accept that as things stand it is a legal activity if carried out within the rules. I do not accept that the antisocial public display of dead foxes is in any way necessary or acceptable; all it does is cause public revulsion and reveal the perpetrators in their true colours. On a brighter note, the crested tits put in an appearance in our garden in the afternoon. Guests Sandra and Ali got home after 2 days and nights photographing mountain hares on the Findhorn hills. They got pretty wet and wind-blown but also got some nice shots.

Sat 22nd Feb
Exchanged helpful tweets with Doug McAdam re lynx and the importance of engaging with land managers, including through the Scottish Species Reintroductions Forum. Major blitz of emails - they can so easily get out of control and something important can get missed but happily no major issues this time. To be clear, I’m not really complaining - I like being busy.


"Oh wait....... What?"

Fri 21st Feb
Sandra and Ali headed off for a few days to get photos of mountain hare and anything else that crosses their path, leaving their dogs with us so we now have a pack of four. Simon from Media Mara came to talk to us about filming opportunities for red squirrels and crested tits. We also chatted about all sorts of wildlife issues and politics including reintroductions.

Thurs 20th Feb
Still nothing of interest on the Bushnell camera so the dogs and I brought it home for a re-think. Sorted out the paperwork for the next stage in our SWT succession processes. Edited and uploaded a new video for YouTube about a badger foraging at Auchgourish. Welcomed our wildlife photo friends Sandra and Ali and their dogs for dinner and to stay the night.

Weds 19th Feb
Early train to Perth for a meeting to decide the shortlist for the SWT CEO job. It did not take very long to agree the best candidates so we used the time to discuss other matters including snares, volunteers, members centres and reserves. Got an email from Bea to say the crested tits on our garden feeders had been joined by a great spotted woodpecker - an almost unheard of event at our house. Bizarrely woodpeckers are much rarer in these parts than crested tits.

Tues 18th Feb
Lunchtime train to Edinburgh in pursuit of meetings that didn’t quite happen or happened somewhere else. Long story, never mind. Great view from the train of sheep grazing all over Newtonmore golf course - proper Highland golf as it used to be.

Mon 17th Feb
@katemacrae came round early and set up her close-up Bushnell system cloes to our bird feeders. I hope she gets some really good footage or photos because the cresties were dancing around in front of the camera on and off all morning. In the evening Steve and Jean Briggs came round - friends from our amazing trip to the frozen forests of Belarus something like ten years ago.

Sun 16th Feb
Still nothing on the Bushnell, but speaking of that the Bushnell expert and fellow Twitterer WildlifeKate (@katemacrae) and photographer Pete Walden called in for coffee and home baking and a wander round the woods this morning. A delightful couple of hours all about animals and birds and gear and websites and being passionate about what we do and how to communicate that to everybody especially children. Sorry to see them go but they’ll be back and very welcome too. Heard the hilarious news that Donald Trump’s plans for his golf course in Ireland have met a problem - a wind farm is to be built next door to the golf course which is exactly the reason he pulled out of Scotland. In the evening we went to see a brilliantly irreverent performance of The Bible at Eden Court by the The Reduced Shakespeare Company.

Sat 15th Feb
No action on the Bushnell cam the last two nights but we found footprints in the snow this morning of roe deer and a fox. Later I filled the feeders at the community hall where red squirrels and crested tits are still common visitors and when we got home there was our regular crestie in the garden. Learned today that Japan’s rate of loss of biodiversity is among the fastest in the world, which is hardly surprising if their treatment of dolphins is an example of their attitude towards wildlife. They have already loss their only species of otter and they are about to drive a bullet train system through an internationally designated wetland area. Shameful. By comparison Scotland’s land management, with all its faults, is a shining example of how to care for the environment.

Fri 14th Feb
Attended the Scottish Badgers Advisory Group meeting in Perth. This is not the place to report on all that was said but a couple of interesting facts emerged worth mentioning: a report from the National Wildlife Crime Unit says badgers remain a priority species for protection, which is terrific to know, and there were 830 badger road deaths reported in 2013 in Scotland, which sadly equates to roughly 2,500 in real life because we know that only about a quarter of badger road deaths are ever reported.

Thurs 13th Feb
The Bushnell showed a couple of blank videos no doubt caused by the windy night, although judging from the prints in the snow I reckon that cow is still in the woods somewhere. Did some reading for a meeting tomorrow and continued to set up the new computer. Looking good - really fast machine although some of my old programmes don’t work too well and in some cases need a work-around to even partially function. I fear more cost.


Dead wood - vital to the health of the forest. Quite spectacular too.

Weds 12th Feb
Checked the Bushnell - nothing recorded but saw fresh cow prints in the mud - we also found more pine marten poo on the main cross-track at NH 9260 1835. When I got home I phoned the farmer about the cow in the woods and from the lady’s reaction this has happened before. A bit later on, before settling down to today’s most urgent bits of paperwork, I spotted our regular crestie in the garden.

Tues 11th Feb
Crestie on the nuts at 0800 when we set off to check the Bushnell which had a clip of a cow the wrong side of the fence - must phone the farmer. There was another crestie in the garden when we got home. Collected a new Windows 8.1 computer, monitor and external hard drive from BazTec in Aviemore - pain in the neck getting it all installed, especially when the external hard drive turned out to be a dud. The shop gave me a new one and it now all works fine.

Mon 10th Feb
Checked the Bushnell first thing - nothing recorded at all but nearby we found a well used animal track under a fence not far from the Bushnel with a branch across it, the top of which had lost its bark from the animals brushing across it. We got home to find a crestie in the garden. Really fed up with my old XP computer so will have to upgrade. Bea already has a new Windows 8 computer and my laptop is Windows 7 but I have clung on too long to my faithful XP tower, partly because finding the time to transfer everything and install the programmes will be a bit of a challenge.

Sun 9th Feb
Checked the Bushnell camera: a lost lady orienteer yesterday and 2 stray dogs earlier this morning. I suppose that’s wildlife of a sort. I posted some comments on Twitter to the Environment Agency about the flooding in the south along the lines that environmental issues are best solved by natural means and the extremes of flood and drought are damped out by having forests and beavers in the headwaters. Copenhagen zoo today stun-gunned a young giraffe and cut it up in front of an audience that included children. This despite a petition and offers from other countries in Europe to adopt the giraffe. Turns out the zoo had sold TV rights to the spectacle and possibly sold tickets. Quite apart from the less than caring attitude of the zoo towards a perfectly healthy animal under their protection, what kind of parents take their young children to see such a grisly event? But wait, there’s more: apparently Longleat have killed some of their lions for reasons which were at first unclear but we are now told they were becoming dangerous. Could this be because they are lions?


Bobby and Max with the pine marten poo that they and Bea found earlier in the week.

Sat 8th Feb
Checked the squirrel car park feeder - still had lots of food so I only added a little. Checked the Bushnell camera but there was no action overnight. Wrote my Chairman’s Report for next SWT Council meeting.

Fri 7th Feb
Set out the Bushnell in its previous place along the new secret path at map ref NH 9246 1859. Tidied up the paperwork from the last few days away and spent the afternoon building a new crested tit nest box using some very hard old wood - it weighs a ton but will last for decades. Repaired the feeder at the Angle and filled it up.

Thurs 6th Feb
I spread my thoughts on translocating pine martens to a few thought leaders and we'll see how things develop.  I found the pine marten poo Bea told me about and took some photos: it was at NH 9250 1846. More land managers waded into the grey squirrel/pine marten story with arguments of their own but again I was able to counter by saying it’s hard to argue with what seems to be happening in Ireland. In the evening I took 2 people to the badger hide from 1830 to 2100 but no badgers were seen. I had left the Bushnell cam there while I was away this week and it showed plenty of action on 1st, 2nd and 3rd Feb but hardly any the next 2 nights - it’s simply too cold. Pity - but the couple very kindly insisted on making a donation.


Patric and Ann Baird with a polar bear at Edinburgh Waverley Station - that's climate change for you

Weds 5th Feb
Conducted, with others, an induction session at Leith for SWT new trustees Alastair Grier and David Lindgren. Excellent day. Caught the Chieftain train home well pleased with my 3 day excursion. More evidence emerged today about pine martens reducing grey squirrel populations to the benefit of reds which I Tweeted as potentially game-changing. Got some interesting reactions. When I got home Bea told me she had found some pine marten droppings on a stone 50 yards from the far end of the secret path, which is serious capercaillie country. I foresee awkward decisions ahead, especially once the SNH Wildlife Management proposals have been signed off. Perhaps translocating pine martens to grey squirrel strongholds is an option. It wouldn’t work for ever because there would come a point when there was nowhere left to put the extra pine martens.  On the other hand by leaving the pine martens here in Strathspey that might guarantee the grey s will never get established here and so protect our reds. My remarks about that on Twitter invoked yet more illogical reaction from certain quarters but they were easy to counter.

Tues 4th Feb
Long day. It began with a 6 hour SWT Conservation Committee meeting which the SWT staff and the Chair Jon Barnes managed masterfully and we ended the session well pleased with a solid day’s work. In the evening some SWT staff and I attended a ScotLink reception in the Scottish Parliament - the usual valuable networking type of affair. I escaped without joining fellow revellers at a pub this time, grabbed a meal and got to bed at a reasonable hour, exhausted.

Mon 3rd Feb
Train to Edinburgh, booked into Cowgate Holiday Inn then out to dinner with Jonny Hughes and Jo Pike, SWT senior managers for an informal look ahead.

Sun 2nd Feb
Crested tit in the garden first thing. A cold, blustery day with frequent showers in the morning but a brighter afternoon. Spent much of the day preparing for four meetings over the next three days in Edinburgh - all positive stuff. Reaction to yesterday’s radio talk about SWT and lynx reintroduction still coming in, most of it encouraging.

Sat 1st Feb
Minister for Environment Paul Wheelhouse was quizzed about lynx reintroduction by school children on “Out of Doors” on BBC Radio Scotland, poor man. He said Scottish Wildlife Trust were interested and he would wait to see what proposals we had. Nice one Minister.  Checked the Bushnell cam and it had recorded no videos so I brought it home. Topped up feeders, first at the community hall and later at the squirrel car park where I spotted a tree creeper near the feeder. Set the Bushnell cam up at the badger hide and left some food for the badgers and the birds. Lots of bedding in the lower sett tunnels and lots of poo in the latrines so all’s well with my furry friends. News that in Ireland the rise in pine marten numbers has reduced grey squirrel populations to the benefit of red squirrels. My tweeting on the subject invoked some spoiling remarks by the usual suspects pals but based on nothing very much including suggesting when the greys are all killed the pine martens will start on the reds. I countered by pointing out it is believed pine marten impact on red squirrels is slight due to the reds being hard to catch and too small to be worth all the effort.

Fri 31st Jan
Spent most of the day on SWT governance matters but I did see two cresties on the nuts behind the community hall.


A crested tit in our garden

Thurs 30th Jan
Took the Bushnell camera back into the woods and positioned it along the new secret path. Forgot the GPS so didn’t get a proper map ref but it’s 123 double paces (almost exactly 200 metres) along the path from where it leaves the old secret path. I set the cam to video rather than just photos. At 1530 2 crested tits arrived in the garden as Bea and I were about to take the dogs out again to revisit the Bushnell cam and get a map ref. It’s at NH 9246 1859.

Weds 29th Jan
Got home around 0800 and took the dogs with me to check the Bushnell camera that had been out there for several days at the BBB main badger sett. A few clips of roe deer, badgers and a fox but it is still hard to be certain if the badgers are actually using that sett or just passing through, although it is reassuring to know they are still around in that general area. Filled up a neighbour's bird feeders.

Tuesday 28th Jan
Up at 0400 for the 0635 flight from Edinburgh to Heathrow from where a succession of tubes and trains got me to High Wycombe in good time for the Biffa Award meeting. Excellent meeting as always to distribute funds to worthy causes. Trains back to London and the sleeper train home.

Mon 27th Jan
Bea drove home with the dogs while I had a meetings and lunch with SWT CEO. Afternoon and evening with senior staff plotting the next few weeks.

Sun 26th Jan
BBC got in touch asking to use an old clip of me with crested tits in tonight's programme. Still don't know if they actually did so. Worked some more on Biffa Award papers

Sat 25th Jan
Nasty weather in which to drive to Edinburgh for a family weekend - excellent Burns Night party.

Fri 24th Jan
Frosty start to the day. Set off with the dogs to start on the plan to fill all the public bird feeders. We began by topping up at the squirrel car park. Back at home carried on with the Biffa Award papers and then set off to do the community hall feeders.

Thurs 23rd Jan
Took the dogs to the BBB sett to check the camera. No badger activity last night but there was a roe deer at midnight. I reset the camera to take videos instead of still photos so that if a badger comes along we can tell more easily if it is using the sett or just passing by. When we got home at 1115 there was a crested tit in the garden - I managed to get within a metre of it and get a picture, which I tweeted. Spent much of the evening working on papers for next week’s Biffa Award meeting.

Weds 22nd Jan
The dogs and I checked the Bushnell cam and sure enough we got a few photos of a badger at 0130 this morning but it was not clear if it was just passing through or if it was using any of the tunnels. A video would have shown which so we’ll go back there tomorrow and switch the camera from stills to video. The villagers are getting into the habit of calling the ‘grebe car park’ the ‘squirrel car park’ these days - seems perfectly reasonable now that we never see the slavonian grebes there any more but see red squirrels all the time.

Tues 21st Jan
All day meeting in Edinburgh, then the train home.

Mon 20th Jan
Took the dogs to the BBB main sett and set up the Bushmell cam to take stills rather than videos. This may have been a mistake as we shall see. Back at home a few more negotiations by phone over tomorrow’s proceedings before catching the 1332 train to Edinburgh. Dinner and discussions with a colleague.

Sun 19th Jan
Started early by sorting the paperwork for Tuesday’s meeting.   Set off at 0830 with the dogs to set up the Bushnell cam at the BBB main sett but got halfway and realised I had left my rucksack at home. Bugger. Anyhow, I then discovered the machines that had been cutting swathes through the trees had encroached very close to the capercaillie lek and I deduced that this must be the scarifying exercise that is part of the capercaillie mitigation plan - still not convinced this isn't just a box-ticking exercise..... and don't get me started on the plan to erect hessian screens once the proposed houses are built and occupied.

Sat 18th Jan
Walked the new secret path to see how far it went and particularly if it went all the way to the Vaa main track. It did not - there’s a gap of 400 metres which can be avoided by nipping over the fence just past the corner post badger sett and then back again at Loch Roid. Intended to set up the Bushnell camera but by the time I had sorted out where the path went it was time to head home. The dogs enjoyed the long walk again but were a bit nervous in the areas they had not been before. Spent much fo the rest of the day on Twitter - got incensed at what the Japanese are doing to their dolphins and what some European countries are doing to their wolves.


Bedding at the entrance of the BBB NE badger sett

Fri 17th Jan
Another long walk with the dogs, this time to check some of the badger setts in the local woods. First encounter was with a male capercaillie which flew out of a tree that used to have a buzzard nest in it at NH 9210 1838. Soon after that we checked the old fox den at NH 9204 1842 and found it still unobstructed and probably in use by something. Nearby was the BBB NE outlier sett which had bedding at the entrance, as did the BBB SW outlier, so they are clearly being used, but the main BBB sett showed no signs of action. Next stop was the Loch Roid sett which may have been in recent use but the loch has risen very close to the entrances so the sett could be flooded further down, as has often happened before. I think the badgers quite like this sett in the summer because it gets a good flush through in winter which could reduce parasite numbers. The Deshar Corner post sett was hard to read; the entrances were mostly free of debris but there were no obvious signs of recent use. Finally, on the way home we used a track we had not found before and on it at NH 9237 1862 we came across very fresh fox poo.

Thurs 16th Jan
Long walk with the dogs to Loch Vaa this morning. We found capercaillie droppings on the Mercedes path at NH 9282 1944.

Weds 15th Jan
Tidied up paperwork from the past few days and prepared for next week. Filled the almost empty feeder at the community hall.

Tues 14th Jan
Meeting today at Birkhall with HRH Prince Charles. Topics covered included red squirrels, neonicitonoids, Natural Capital, beavers, agriculture, marine protected areas and forestry among others. HRH seems very pleased with SWT’s work - we are very grateful for his commitment to continuing his support. Wasted no time after the meeting in driving home ahead of threatened heavy snow and road closures. At home Bea and I checked the Bushnell camera - nothing of interested recorded yet.

Mon 13th Jan
Cresties on our feeders again this morning. After lunch drove to Ballater on slightly snowy roads and checked out the access route to Birkhall where Simon Milne and I will meet our Patron HRH Prince Charles tomorrow. Exchanged tweets with Simon Phelps over the vexed question of whether the auction of a license to shoot an old and possibly aggressive and disruptive black rhino can be justified on the grounds that the rhino's death will generate a large amount of money for conservation. Simon may write an article on the subject.

Sun 12th Jan
Set up the Bushmell cam not far from the house on an animal track between nest boxes 28 and 29. It can stay there until Wednesday. In the afternoon took a few pics through our lounge window of crested tits on feeders in the garden - not for the first time there were two together. Did some preparation for a meeting on Tuesday with SWT Patron Prince Charles.

Sat 11th Jan
A very good day today with much achieved and we even saw some wildlife. Out early with the dogs in the woods where I measured Box 26 for its new front after last year’s woodpecker attack. After that we filled up the feeders at the Angle. When we got home there was a crested tit in the garden, then after breakfast it was into the workshop where I made a new front for Box 26 before going out again with the dogs; this time we saw two crested tits and a red squirrel behind the community hall. After lunch Bea and I went to the badger hide where we topped up the wood shavings in the goldeneye nest boxes and checked the pine marten and tit boxes. Carried out some running repairs on the hatch in the wall of the hide, checked the lights and batteries and left some peanuts for the badgers and birds. Back at home we took the dogs out again and in the process fitted the new front to Box 26. Finally I removed the bird feeders from the back garden and arranged everything in a group in the front garden to try to concentrate bird activity in a single place for BBC Winter Watch. By now it was dark so I poured the wine to celebrate the completion of our preparations for the 2014 nest box and badger watching season. Fingers crossed for a good one.

Fri 10th Jan
Met a local friend in the woods - he had seen a gs woodpecker on the nuts at the Angle yesterday. Crested tit in the garden at 1045 but it and other birds were chased off by a jackdaw so I had better put that feeder back in its cage until the BBC come back to set up for Winter Watch. Afternoon, Bea and I and the dogs checked the rest of the 30 crested tit nest boxes. Mostly no attention needed but box 16 needed fresh wood shavings and repairs to the lid and box 26 had clearly been used by something because the wood shaving had been almost completely removed. However, disaster had almost certainly struck because the entrance had been vigorously assaulted and the hole enlarged by, I guess, a woodpecker. I’ll have to go back tomorrow and fit a new false front.


New and refurbished crested tit nest boxes in the workshop ready to go out in the woods - it's that time of year again

Fri 10th Jan
Met a friend in the woods - he had seen a gs woodpecker on the nuts at the Angle yesterday. Crested tit in the garden at 1045 but it and other birds were chased off by a jackdaw so I had better put that feeder back in its cage until the BBC come back to set up for Winter Watch. Afternoon: Bea and I and the dogs checked the rest of the 30 crested tit nest boxes. Mostly no attention needed but box 16 needed fresh wood shavings and repairs to the lid and box 26 had clearly been used by something because the wood shaving had been almost completely removed. However, disaster had almost certainly struck because the entrance had been vigorously assaulted and the hole enlarged by, I guess, a woodpecker. I’ll have to go back tomorrow and fit a new false front.

Thurs 9th Jan
Checked the grebe car park feeder - empty! Bad boy. Prepared 3 nest boxes - one new one and 2 that I brought home last year with crestie nests in them. They can go out later today. The BBC man arrived right on time and it looks good for them webcamming crested tits in our garden during Winter Watch. Great fun. Took the refurbished and new nest boxes into the woods - placed boxes 1 and 29 back in their original positions and put the new one near box one as an alternative and, being a master of original thought, I called it box 1a. Filled up the grebe car park feeders.

Weds 8th Jan
Heard from the BBC that they will send a man tomorrow to check the feasibility (lighting, power, satellite access and so on) of setting up a webcam on one of our garden bird feeders to show crested tits during Winter Watch.. Brilliant evening at the North Scotland SWT MC meeting in Inverness. News, talks, Bea’s Robin Quiz and lots of food.

Tues 7th Jan
Took the poop scoop and a bucket to the community football field and cleared up other peoples’ dog shit. Public spirited or what. Cresties did not visit us much today: 4 visits averaging 2 minutes each. We did however have a gs woodpecker for a couple of minutes around 11am.

Mon 6th Jan
Spent most of the day in the shed making stuff on the lathe. Meanwhile the Bushnell cam was recording 15 visits by cresties averaging 3 minutes per visit. Twice there were 2 cresties in view.

Sun 5th Jan
Visitng family went home. The Bushnell cam in the garden was busy again and cresties visited 18 times with an average stay of 2 minutes. Noticed the feeders at the community hall are getting low so must deal with that.

Sat 4th Jan
Set up Bushnell cam in the garden to check on frequency of crested tit visits for possible BBC TV visit. Long dog walk to the far end of the forest and back. Checked the grebe car park feeders and was delighted to see a gs woodpecker and a crested tit on the peanuts. By lunchtime the garden feeders had been visited by cresties 6 times and by the evening there had been 14 visits averaging 3 minutes each. Good old Bushnell.

Fri 3rd Jan
Walked the dogs with Lesley. Bird feeders all OK. Very windy. Set up Bea's quiz on the new laptop for SWT MC meeting next week and tested it with the old projector. All working well.

Thurs 2nd Jan
Crested tit on the feeder in the garden in the morning. Took a photo with the phone from a range of only about one metre and tweeted it. Went to see The Hobbitt with Lesley and Simon in 3D – rather violent and only part of the story so I guess the final part will be another new movie.

Weds 1st Jan 14
Due to being abstemious last night we got up in good shape. Lesley and boyfriend Simon arrived having driven through a snow storm at Drumochter Pass – we have no snow here.

I filled some feeders in the woods to ensure our local squirrels and birds would enjoy the start of a new year and then sat down to try to get my head round the conflicting challenges and promises of the year ahead.

Starting with the headline challenges, we have to replace SWT’s Chairman and CEO in the next few months while at the same time celebrating SWT’s 50th Anniversary. This will involve managing two significant recruitment processes and supporting the temporary CEO for a few months while finding time to attend all manner of celebratory events, some of which are likely to involve royalty and senior government figures. One thing’s for sure, my final nine months as SWT Chairman will be busy.

Among the promises are further opportunities to work for wildlife both actively on the ground and behind the scenes where government policies are formed. Working on our own reserves and with partners on Scotland-wide projects is almost bound to deliver the kind of positive results we expect because we are in control – mostly, whereas advocacy is much more of a mixed bag. SWT prides itself on having been fairly effective in influencing government policy for the benefit of wildlife but there are constant reminders that we do not get things all our own way, the most recent disappointment being the Scottish government’s decision to only modulate the single farm payment of the Common Agricultural Policy payments to the tune of a miserly 9% towards environmental schemes instead of the possible maximum of 15%, noting that Wales went for the full 15% and England went for 12% (NI went for just 7%). There’s not a lot we can do about it apart from recognising that farmers are much better than we are at lobbying for their interests and we must sharpen up our act.

Running in the background will be the uncertainty of how the independence referendum will go and what effect a Yes or a No vote might have on the future of Scotland’s wildlife, not least because any decoupling from Europe could free unscrupulous land managers from the constraints of a whole raft of wildlife legislation.