Landscapes in the Cairngorms

 

Allan Bantick OBE welcomes you to the Cairngorm Wildlife Diary for 2015

 

Introduction:

Many of the badger sightings mentioned here were 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 but 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..

Wooden Capercaillie
Wooden Capercaillie in Deshar Wood

Weds 30th and Thurs 31st Dec
Mostly looking after wounded wife and dog but found time to make sure all feeders were full and ordered and received two more sacks of peanuts.  Crested tits still much in evidence but oddly the hazelnuts at the Angle had not been touched.  We stayed up to see the new year in but did not linger for long after that.
 
Tues 29th Dec
Out with Bobby dog in the dark and we disturbed a dark cat-sized animal which ran off at speed.  Probably just a local moggy.  Heard on the news about the Scottish government’s plans to review the fox hunting law to see if it provides enough protection for foxes and other wildlife.  The current law is badly enforced, perhaps partially due to there being loopholes in the existing legislation which would make gaining a conviction unlikely in a court of law, which in turn makes it not worth the police’s while to pursue – or so they are claiming.  It is encouraging therefore that the issue is now in the spotlight and will hopefully get sorted out.  The ‘other wildlife’ mentioned include badgers whose setts are routinely blocked during preparations  for hunts to deny foxes a possible refuge.
 
Mon 28th Dec
Took wee dog Max to the vet as he was operating on just 3 legs having had a really bad fall on ice the previous day.  Nothing broken thankfully so it’s bed rest and pain killers for a few days.  Made a new feeder for the community hall to replace one that had been shredded by the squirrels and woodpeckers.
 
Sun 27th Dec
Intended to go to the hide with guests but unfortunately due to the very poor mobile phone signal round here the guests did not get my message about the time and place.
 
Tues 22nd to Sat 26th Dec
Festive stuff mainly.  Managed to keep the local feeders filled up and saw crested tits, gs woodpeckers and red squirrels fairly regularly in the process.  Got a letter from Scottish Government about a proposed meeting. 

Housing on floodplains
Words fail.

Mon 21st Dec
Took the dud badger hide battery to the local public waste facility.  Tried for the fourth time in a month to phone our new Wildlife Crime Liaison Officer.  Previous attempts via 101 failed to get a response to my request for the chap to contact me but in view of those failures the guy at the other end of the phone this time let me have the officer’s email address.  We’ll see if he gets back to me this time. (Update - he did at Christmas after a month of courses and leave). Took the decision to revamp and refocus Cairngorm Wildlife website, removing in the process some little-used and irrelevant pages.
 
Sun 20th Dec
GS woodpecker at the Angle and a crestie at the community hall.  Collected the dodgy battery from the hide – got the Jeep clarted in mud in the process.  Took the battery to the local garage for an opinion – they pronounced it dead.  The cells were all dry and the plates buckled - and here was me thinking it was sealed and didn’t need checking – oops.  I’d better check the other battery and top it up if necessary – or maybe that one really is sealed – we’ll see.
 
Sat 19th Dec
Housework, dog walking and watching tv.
 
Fri 18th Dec
Crested tit at the community hall once more.  From 4 to 5.15pm I sat in the badger hide in the hope of seeing my badgers but none appeared.  What did emerge was the fact that one of the batteries is dying – it is after all 10 years old.  The other one is 11 years old but still functions OK and I ran both lights off it for an hour.
 
Thurs 17th Dec
Attempted to get some smooth video footage while walking.  Sadly, everything I tried failed.  In the evening I suffered an uncomfortable exchange on Twitter with the Countryside Alliance over whether or not farmers make a significant contribute to rural community life everywhere – I replied with a single tweet that it was not the case where I live.  I was quite shocked at the aggressive nonsense that followed and I did not respond.
 
Weds 16th
Crested tits on the community hall peanuts again.
 
Tues 15th Dec
Minus 4C this morning.  A great spotted woodpecker was on our nuts at 0830 – this is becoming quite a regular event.  Phoned SWT Chairman about beavers.
 
Mon 14th Dec
Woke to a very snowy scene indeed – a level 4 inches of snow everywhere.  Hope we can get to Inverness tonight for the Stewart Francis show.  Filled the feeders at the community hall.  Snow started to shift so got to Inverness OK – great show.  Exchanged emails with Scottish Government.
 
Sun 13th Dec
Worked on GIFs for my website as a fall-back if I still cannot get the javascript slide show to work.  GIFs turn out to be quite a reasonable solution – certainly better than SWFs which at the time of writing don’t work on iPads and possibly not on iPhones either without some kind of work-around, whereas GIFs work on everything.
 
Sat 12th Dec
Spoke on the phone with other beaver supporters to share notes. 
 
Fri 11th Dec
Spoke again to Scottish Govt.
 
Thurs 10th Dec
Filled the Angle feeders with plenty of nuts.  Began a fresh engagement with Scottish Government about beavers.
 
Weds 9th Dec
Filled the feeders at the squirrel car park with hazel nuts, seeds and peanuts.  A crested tit supervised.  Attended the Scottish Wildlife Trust North Group meeting at Inverness.  The chairman updated us on things at HQ including a report on the highly successful second World Forum on Natural Capital, SWT’s brainchild of two years ago.
 
Tues 8th Dec
Discussed the effects of the new housing site on local wildlife with neighbours.  None of them are very happy. 
 
Mon 7th Dec
Crested tit at the community hall feeder at 1230.  Later, Bea attended a meeting in Aviemore to discuss plans for next year’s CNPA Nature Festival.  Meanwhile I went to an old crested tit nesting snag that is now too degraded for the birds to use and collected some of the dead wood to use in nest boxes. 
 
Fri 4th to Sun 6th Dec
Spent most of the time settling in to my new role of house-husband/carer/cook/bottle-washer.  Nonetheless there were a few wildlife sightings while out with the dogs with red squirrels and crested tits seen on all 3 days.
 
Thurs 3rd Dec
Steph and Vicky from the BBC Winterwatch team came to see me and I took them out to look at capercaillie and crested tit sites that might be suitable for the programme in January.
 
Weds 2nd Dec
Started the process of getting a stair-lift installed. Something is getting into our composter – will put a camera on it.
 
Tues 1st Dec
Refilled the feeder behind the hall.  Checked the seed feeder at the squirrel car park – it was nearly empty and there was a crested tit present but on the nuts, not on the seeds.  Took Bea to Raigmore – she has damaged her Achilles tendon to the extent that one third is broken.  She is now in plaster and will be on crutches for several weeks.
 
Mon 30th Nov
Longish walk in the snow with the dogs and found some nice footprints of deer and small mammals at various places.  I also found fox prints crossing the main track west to east at NH 9249 1751 which is about 50m north of the T junction at the end of the main track in Boat Woods.  I also confirmed the location of 2 old crested tit nest snags – the Springwatch snag at NH 9269 1763 and the much smaller one nearer to home at NH 9329 1834.  Maginon liked one of my posts on Twitter – I must send them some feedback – I’ll be as polite as propriety demands.
 
Sun 29th Nov
Checked the squirrel car park feeding station to see if the extent to which the seeds are being eaten – the feeder was still three-quarters full.  A number of different tits were in attendance but no cresties.  Went to the badger hide to check all is well for tonight’s visit and noted that some cattle have been using the field in the last few hours, which could be a nuisance later.  Otherwise all was well.  Then a blizzard happened so I was forced to cancel.  Fortunately the guests live locally so we can go again as soon as the weather warms up a bit.
 
Sat 28th Nov
A bit snowy today.  In the morning I saw a woodcock in the birch scrub on the east slope of Fairy Hill and later on there was a crested tit behind the community hall.
 
Fri 27th Nov
Rejigged the squirrel car park feeding station to incorporate a seed feeder.  While doing so I noticed the squirrels had torn the mesh of the peanut feeder so had to take it home for repairs. This meant I ran out of daylight for the next job which was to find some rotten pine wood to start stuffing the crested tit nest boxes.  If the weather’s not too bad I’ll do that tomorrow.

badger on fallen tree
Badger scraping up the last of the peanut butter from the bark

Thurs 26th Nov
Filled all the bird feeders around the wood.  There was a red squirrel at the community hall.  Bea and I attended a capercaillie meeting in the hall.  It was the ultimate irony that such a meeting should be held just 50 metres from a patch of good capercaillie habitat which is currently being trashed for a housing development.  The following is a fairly scatter-gun set of notes of some of the main points of the meeting.  There were 20+ attendees, some simply interested local residents, some with official CNP titles and some so-called experts from RSPB, James Hutton and so forth.  2015 was a poor summer, weather-wise, so brood counts were low everywhere, even in our Deshar Wood which tends to beat or equal the theoretical ideal of 0.6 chicks per hen.  This year we did only 0.3 per hen, with only one brood being found (there may of course have been broods that the dogs did not find).  The count of males at the lek this year was very good, there having been a minimum of 8 seen (representing about 3.4% of the UK population) compared with 7 last year and only 3 the previous year – overall we have the highest density of males in Scotland.  Strathspey as a whole has 90% of the UK capercaillie population.  I was surprised to learn that despite its high capercaillie value the Deshar lek is not a Specially Protected Area – I had previously believed it was.  Steve Goodall asked that since Deshar is a plantation, what will happen to the capercaillie when the wood is clear felled – a reasonable question I thought.  The RSPB capercaillie officer explained that clear felling need not be necessary if grazing (by deer I assume) is not too severe.  The alternative to clear felling is to fell in patches and so create a forest of mixed age which ecologically would be a very good thing indeed for biodiversity in general, not just for capercaillie.  On capercaillie problems the RSPB caper project officer explained that the weather is a crucial factor.  Cold wet weather at various times in the breeding season can cause real problems for hens and chicks for different reasons.  This was in response to comments on predation which led to on to discussion of problems in general so I put RSPB Guy on the spot by asking if his response to the dialogue amounted to saying that bad weather is a bigger problem for capercaillie than predation.  He very nearly felt obliged to said yes but managed, after some thought, to saying predation was a bigger factor when the weather is bad and when caper populations are low.  I took that to mean he does not subscribe to the negative hysteria about pine martens, at least not in public.  The exchange that followed made it pretty clear we only poorly understand the complexities in the predator/prey/weather/disturbance scenario regarding capercaillie and certainly did nothing to support those who preach the anti pine marten nonsense.  One lady asked if all the effort to save the capercaillie was worthwhile if it was likely the bird was heading for extinction in Scotland anyway.  Again, the answer she got was a bit of a fudge with lots of ifs, buts and maybes.  When the subject of mitigation was raised, the so-called dogs-off-leads walk along the river bank received some criticism as to its condition and to its far distance from the area it was supposed to relieve from off-lead dogs.  The same went for the screens of foliage along some of the tracks and it was generally agreed that an earlier proposal for hessian screens was a lot of nonsense and would result in us all being a laughing stock.  Justin, the CNPA rep, agreed and almost but not quite said it wouldn’t happen.   Bea asked who will replace the dead plants in the newly planted juniper and holly screen and was told that is unclear.  Same old story – you can get funding to do something but there is seldom any thought given to maintaining the thing. The topic of educating existing and future residents came up and there was general recognition how much of a problem that would be but some ideas were tabled, eg brochures for new residents and peer pressure.   Finally the RSPB Guy said dogs are not the main problem – people are the main problem.  Whether he meant all people, or just people who did not manage their dogs properly, was not clear.  Later a researcher from BBC Winterwatch phoned to speak about crested tits and capercaillie.  She knew about this morning’s meeting having read my diary and having seen my Tweet.  She and a producer will come to see me next week about how and if my crested tit project could be used in the show.
 
Weds 25th Nov
No wildlife stuff – busy with domestic tasks.
 
Tues 24th Nov
Attended a meeting of the Scottish Environment Link Wildlife Crime Task force at RSPB HQ in Edinburgh.  There’s much for us all to do but some encouraging signs that the issue has crept slightly further up the police and government agendas than I had previously believed.  Good, wide-ranging meeting and best left at that. 
 
Sun 22nd and Mon 23rd Nov
GS woodpecker on the nuts in our garden this morning – not a common sight. Drove to Argyll to collect the dogs who had been brilliantly looked after while we were away by our dear friends Sandra and Ali.
 
Tues 10th to Sat 21st Nov
Holiday in the Seychelles.  This was not really a wildlife trip but rather a short cruise in a beautiful place with such wildlife that crossed our path thrown in so I’ll not go into too much detail.  The first two days were spent recovering at the Crown Beach Hotel from a very tiring journey before we joined the ship MY Pegasus for a week toddling round the islands.  Our group comprised 11 people on the same package from SAGA plus a group of about another 20 people, mostly from America, who were led by a great expert on Seychelles wildlife Lyn Mair from South Africa.  We benefitted greatly by eavesdropping on some of Lyn’s input and by using her as an in exhaustible source of information. The islands visited were, in order, Mahe, Sainte Anne, Curieuse, Cousin, Aride, Praslin, La Digue, Felicite, Moyenne and back to Mahe for the flight home.  As to the wildlife, there are many birds and much sea life in the Seychelles but very few mammals.   The species we saw included fruit bat (flying fox), 2 types of fody, terns (including the fairy tern), magpie robin, Seychelles warbler, frigate bird, hawksbill turtle, giant tortoise (Bea tried to feed a leaf to one and got bitten!) dolphins and several fish species while snorkelling.  Highlights included watching a female hawksbill turtle finish burying her eggs and then stagger down the beach to the water, watching dolphins ride the wake of the ship, being immersed in a shoal of fish while snorkelling and surviving various spectacular beach landings and launchings using the ship’s Zodiac.  Lowlight was Bea tearing a calf muscle as we demonstrated to a local Creole dance troupe how to dance the Gay Gordons to their Creole music.

 
Mon 9th and Tues 10th Nov
Drove to Argyll to drop the dogs at friends Sandra and Ali and drove home again.
 
Sun 8th Nov
Filled all the village feeders prior to our departure.  There was a red squirrel at the Angle feeder and 2 crested tits behind the community hall.  Magic.
 
Sat 7th
Started packing for our holiday.

Fri 6th Nov
GS woodpecker at the Angle this morning plus lots of small birds, more than usual.  At the community hall car park I bumped into Simon Jones, former project manager of the beaver trial and former SWT Director of Conservation.  He’s now working for the Lomond and Trossacks National Park who are having a meeting today at Boat with their counterparts in the Cairngorms National Park.  I had a brief moan to him and Grant Moir (CEO of the Cairngorms) about our poor devastated woodland.  Spoke to some grumpy forest workers on the building site who told me, a bit grudgingly, that the next step is for a digger to come in and remove the tree stumps, then a fence would be built – they thought it would be along the back edge of the site.
 
Thurs 5th Nov
Attended the memorial service for a golfing friend.  Very well attended and among those present were people from BSCG with whom I had a chat about the housing development at Boat and the insensitive way the Park and the Developers have handled the affair.
 
Weds 4th Nov
Put Bea on the train for Edinburgh and then on the way home filled the squirrel car park feeders.  I phoned the appropriate planning officer at the Cairngorms National Park HQ about the tree issues on the Boat of Garten building site.  He claims it was always the plan to clear the trees and replant later with native species in the areas marked on the plan as woodland.  I pointed out this was not made clear to the residents, some of whom are up in arms at losing so much of their forest, although it has to be admitted that in most cases they had not objected to the development, which they now of course regret.  I went on to add that the narrow line of trees remaining beside the Craigie Avenue car park is dangerous in that the spindly trees are highly likely to be blown down on top of the cars in a winter gale.  The planner undertook to speak to the developers about that in the next few days.  On the matter of only Colin Ormston’s letter of objection being listed on Highland Council’s website, the planner assured me that earlier letters were still taken into account as promised.  I finished by making it clear how unhappy I was about the whole rotten business and suggested it was his job to ensure that the developers are held to account, for example regarding replanting trees in the areas indicated on the map for woodland which they have clear felled in the recent operation to the dismay of local residents.  He agreed it was his job, at which I indicated that I and the other local residents will be watching.  In the afternoon I took the dogs on a drizzly walk to Auchgourish where we found fresh fox dung in the centre of the track at NH 9481 1702 which is about 40 metres north of the timber stack with the perfect den site underneath.  In the evening I took 2 ladies to the hide – we had three badgers for half an hour.  The new floodlight did not last long – the battery had not fully charged up in today’s dull conditions after a 2 hour session last night so we’ll have to watch that.  However, the back-up led torches provided perfectly adequate cover.
 
Tues 3rd Nov
Took a group of 3 old wifies and an old mannie frae Nethy Brig to the badger hide.  We saw at least three badgers plus 2 roe deer and we heard a tawny owl.  Nice.
 
Mon 2nd Nov
Day at the hospital for chest exam – all clear.
 
Sun 1st Nov
Filled the feeder behind the community hall.  It is noticeable that the hall feeder and the feeder in our garden are needing to be topped up much less than usual since work began felling the forest.  Not surprising really. 
 
Sat 31st Oct
Filled the squirrel car park feeders – they were empty again.  In the evening I took a couple to the hide while Bea baby-sat their spaniels.  We had 3 badgers and an owl.  Not entirely sure which type of owl but probably a tawny.  Checked the Maginon camera to find it had performed rather better than the previous day.  It had recorded a number of badgers, a woodpecker and a red squirrel and was still working when we arrived.  The red squirrel is the first recorded at the hide in its entire 19 year history.
 
Fri 30th Oct
Checked the Maginon camera at the hide – it had taken some fairly nice badger videos but stopped working mid evening.  Can’t be relied on.

Three badgers at the peanut butter tree
A frame from a video at the peanut butter tree

Thurs 29th Oct
Set up the Maginon camera in the hope of catching last night’s pine marten on video.  I made sure there was plenty of peanut butter on the tree the pine marten concentrated on last night, and I then aimed the camera at it.  We’ll see how that pans out.  Learned today that my Biffa Award meeting next week is postponed and the alternative dates are all while I will be away abroad.  So that’s probably that because I am now at the end of my three-year term on the Board.
 
Weds 28th Oct
Train home to find yet more devastation in our woods; trees felled far beyond the bounds marked on the latest map of the planned housing development.  The spindly line of trees that remain near the existing houses is now so exposed to a westerly gale of any force that residents’ cars are threatened.  I hope someone from the planning department takes the matter as explained in my recent email seriously enough to pay a visit and take appropriate action.  In the evening I took a family of four to the hide and we had the most amazing experience with more than an hour of badger activity and a fifteen minute display by a pine marten right in front of the hide.  The best evening for years.

Suffragette Oak
The Suffragette Oak - winning tree

Tues 27th Oct
Morning train to Edinburgh for the Woodland Trust Scottish Tree Of The Year awards reception at the Scottish Parliament.  Terrific event where it was good to meet up with old colleagues and friends from Scottish Government, NGOs and government agencies.  The winning tree was the Suffragette Oak from Glasgow.

Woodland Trust Reception at Holyrood
Woodland Trust Reception at Scottish Parliament

Mon 26th Oct
Filled up the Angle feeders.  Wandered around the perimeter of the new housing site, noting that even more trees had been felled.  Got a reply from SNH to my email yesterday.  They said this was a matter for the national park planners and offered to forward my email to the right quarter, which I agreed to.  Another development on that subject; the trees closest to the village had been reduced to such an extent that the local residents most affected, our friends Lou and Colin, had to ask the machine driver to remove the remaining trees because otherwise their house was likely to be hit by one of them when the next gale blew them over due to the protection of the main body of the forest having been removed.  Just a mess.  Possibly in response to the loss of so many pine trees, two tree creepers appeared in one of the trees between our house and the lorry park – pretty much unheard of previously.  In the evening I took Ben and Jim, tv director and camera man, to the badger hide. Gordon Buchanan is to host a five part series of wild programmes which will be screened next year on BBC.  In each episode Gordon will take a celebrity to a wild location for a chat and hopefully to experience some wildlife – our badger hide is a candidate for one of the locations.  While we were at the hide a badger entertained us till it was time to leave.

Badger close to the hide
A badger came to see what I was doing

Sun 25th Oct
The final competitive golf day of the season so not much wildlife stuff done apart from an email to SNH explaining how the neighbours and I thought the tree fellers had greatly over stepped what they were entitled to do in removing trees from the new housing site.

Hundreds of felled trees
Hundreds of felled trees

Sat 24th Oct
Heavy rain overnight made the morning walk a very damp one with deep puddles everywhere.  I chatted with one of our neighbours about all the felled trees for the new houses. I don’t know his name but we know him by his dog so to us he’s forever “Fergus’s Dad”.  Anyhow, he, without any prompting from me, said he thought they had felled more trees than was on the plan, which I had already concluded, so a phone call to SNH might be called for.  After visiting the Angle feeder where a red squirrel was tucking in to the peanuts, I filled the feeders at the squirrel car park and was greeted there by two crested tits.  I left 30 hazelnuts in the squirrel feeder and it will be interesting to see how soon the squirrels find them and how long they last.  We bought 1kg of hazelnuts online last week and it cost £14 including postage which is quite expensive so we’ll have to eke them out a few at a time.

The yellow tape makes the building site reseble a crime scene
An environmental crime scene

Fri 23rd Oct
Good start to the day with 3 crested tits on the feeder behind the community hall.  At home I made a GIF from last night’s badger video and sent a copy of it to the company who will be filming at the hide shortly by way of reassuring them we really do have fairly bomb proof badger sightings there.  I also Tweeted the GIF.   Mounted the new floodlight permanently onto its board, took it to the hide and screwed it in place to illuminate the upper sett.  I had intended to check it tonight after dark but a forgotten promise to take the wife to the theatre in Inverness intervened.
 
Thurs 22nd Oct
More trees came down today.  Neighbour Colin got hold of a link to the planning application and the maps so I did a bit of checking that the developers are not pinching more forest than they should.  As far as I could tell they are only going as far west as they’re supposed to but it’s as yet unclear how deep into the woods they are going.  I rigged up the new floodlight onto a temporary board and took it to the hide to see how suitable it was.  It worked very well and after 1.5 hours the battery still had plenty of charge left in it so I took the light back home to make more permanent arrangements.  Before leaving the hide I had 3 badgers in view and I managed to get a half decent video of one of them on my phone.

A mouse and a bun
A stale bun put out for the birds has been found by Mr Mouse

Weds 21st Oct
Had a go at extracting a frame from a video as described by Tristan Pearce on Monday.  The results weren’t very good from videos taken by the old non-HD Bushnell trail cam but after experimenting I was able to Tweet a very nice shot of a red squirrel taken from a video shot by the HD Acorn, even though I had to convert it from an AVI to an mpg as a first step before Magix Movie Maker would play ball.  Better still I used NCH Video Pad Editor to extract a picture direct from the AVI and the quality was terrific.  Later I went to Auchgourish to check the Maginon camera and it had just taken a few JPGs and no videos at all – very disappointing.  The batteries were dying too after hardly any use so all in all the Maginon was a waste of money.   Many more trees have been felled next to us for the new houses.  I took some more photos and Tweeted one to let the world know what a bunch of numpties are running this apology for a national park.  There was a generous burst of retweets and favourites.  Arranged to meet reps from a tv company next Monday who intend basing one episode of their upcoming series at the badger hide.
 
Tues 20th Oct
Got wind that vandals had wrecked the catches on the shutters at the Milton Loch bird hide.  Spent part of the afternoon making repairs using bolts rather than screws in the hope of defeating the lame-brained idiots next time.  Hoped to go to the badger hide but rained off.
 
Mon 19th Oct
There were more than 50 retweets of my tweet yesterday showing a picture of trees containing squirrel drays having been felled to make way for house building in our so-called National Park.  Nice to know there is so much support out there.  Found pine marten droppings at NH 9398 1847 on the M and B path.  Based on recent sightings, the martens are foraging closer than usual to the village.  Spent the evening in the badger hide with Tristan Pearce, son of badger legend George Pearce who I had the privilege of meeting a few years ago.  A most enjoyable session watching 4 badgers while chewing the fat over all sorts of conservation issues and conservation technology such as cameras and other electronic devices.  I learned a few things tonight – nice one.
 
Sun 18th Oct
Spent most of the day wrestling with Javascript.  Filled the feeders at the Angle.

Squirrel trees felled
Trees containing red squirrel drays felled

Sat 17th Oct
Took photos of the felled trees with drays in them and used them to have a swipe at the Cairngorms National Park on Twitter.  Got more than 20 retweets before bed time – people are outraged that squirrel drays are being destroyed to make way for houses in a National Park.  In the afternoon the dogs and went to Auchgourish where I set up the Maginon camera near where I had it once before and got pine marten, fox and badger footage.  In the evening I took a lady and 4 small girls aged 7, 8, 9, and 10 to the badger hide.  Amazingly we had 2 badgers for a few minutes before they headed off to find somewhere less noisy.

Red squirrel on fallen trunk
Red squirrel on a fallen trunk

Fri 16th Oct
Filled the squirrel car park feeders.  On the way there we passed a number of felled trees in the area where the new houses are to be built.  All of the trees had rings painted round them indicating they’d had signs of use by squirrels – some of them had drays in them. Those particular trees were felled, I gather, to deter squirrels from returning to the area while the building work is carried out.  I am still really angry about the whole rotten business in which the Cairngorms National Park think it’s OK to build houses in a capercaillie woodland, claiming their lame so-called mitigation measures will compensate for the added disturbance that will inevitably be caused by the occupants of the new houses. They’ve put up a few small signs, employed a ranger with no powers, planted some bushes and created an off-lead dog-walking route a mile from the site along a rough stretch of river bank.  Pathetic.
 
Thurs 15th Oct
At 0815 we found a single capercaillie dropping at NH 9340 1846 on Bobby’s shortcut path.  Earlier we had seen two roe deer.  In the evening I took a large party of 4 adults and 4 children to the hide – probably a mistake.  In 2 hours we only caught a brief glimpse of a badger which is in stark contrast to the very good sessions we’ve had lately.  I expect having the hatch and fanlights open to deal with the condensation, plus the young children finding it difficult to remain still and quiet, meant sound and smells leaking out of the hide and deterring the badgers.  We’ll see if things are better on Saturday when I have a more normal sized party in the hide.
 
Weds 14th Oct
Found a pine marten dropping at NH 9383 1889 on the path right behind the houses near the NE corner of the football pitch.  Yellow tape has now appeared at the edge of the site for new houses, blocking off access to one of the paths.  It looks as if felling will commence soon.  Tried to phone the BTO about crested tits but they were busy.  In the evening we went to Eden Court to see a presentation by Scotland’s first ever nature photographer Laurie Campbell, organised by the Scottish Wildlife Trust North Group.  Stunning pictures.
 
Tues 13th Oct
At 0815 the dogs and I watched a large capercaillie collecting grit off the main track at NH 9308 1821 which is where we twice saw capercaillie footprints in the snow in winter.  This was our 4th male caper sighting in recent weeks in that general area so probably the same bird.  Spoke to two guys in the new housing area beside the community hall, one in a high viz jacket, the other in a suit.  The trees with painted rings round them “might have squirrels in them” according to the suit.  He also told me the yellow “X” on the personal path is the boundary.  When I pointed out the blue wooden post that used to mark the boundary was not so far along the path and suggested someone was pinching an extra bit he said they were not but in any case there was plenty of ground they could use between here and Loch Vaa.  Stupid man.  Soon after that there were two crested tits behind the hall; one on the feeder and one alarm calling in a tree.  Back in the office I compiled the BTO IPMR forms for the two goldeneye duck nests this year and sent off the report to BTO HQ.  Pity there were no crested tits to report on this season.  In the evening I took a family of four to the hide.  Another lovely evening with a minimum of 4 different badgers on view.  The highlight was a pair of badgers mating; looking good for cubs next year.
 
Mon 12th Oct
Checked the badger tunnel near the Springwatch snag – no signs of activity at all.  Also checked the Maginon camera – still not doing much of a job having taken only one video of a squirrel and a few photos of nothing at all over the past several days.  My route in was deliberately planned so that the dogs and I would trigger the camera but it didn’t.  The batteries are showing as low so that might be the problem or part of it so I’ll put new ones in and keep trying.
 
Sun 11th Oct
Refilled the Angle feeders.  In conversation with others it seems the birds in the area are particularly hungry at the moment.  Found a scattering of small feathers in our garden – it looks as if a sparrowhawk has paid a visit.
 
Sat 10th Oct
The feeder at the Angle was nearly empty when we passed at about 4pm -  a crested tit was availing itself of what was left of the nuts
 
Fri 9th Oct
Local ranger and my wife Bea wrote the script for a presentation at an upcoming event on Biological Recording.  I took a group of 4 ladies from the staff of the RZSS Highland Wildlife Park to the hide.  We had 3 badgers in view for ages including two very close to the hide.
 
Thurs 8th Oct
Checked the Maginon camera – it had recorded red squirrels and roe deer over the past week but not strictly the way it was set up.  Each trigger was supposed to produce one photo and one 20 sec video but most of the photos did not have an associated video.  Not impressed.  Furthermore the quality of the night time images is very poor.  I asked a chap on Twitter who had posted some nice shots what camera he uses and he said it is the ProStalk PC5000 Nature Camera. I looked it up online and it costs about £180 - note to self: Christmas is not far away.  In the evening Bea and I attended a get-to-know-you meeting in Nethy Bridge with some of the Board of the Cairngorms National Park and  a few staff members.  It was pleasant enough but didn’t really go anywhere and there was a feeling that this was more a box ticking exercise than anything useful.  Spent a couple of hours before midnight driving the Carrbridge Moor/Lochindorb/Dava area in the hope of seeing Northern Lights.  There were a few brief streaks but nothing spectacular.  On the Dava Moor people were out lamping, I guess for foxes, which spoiled an otherwise pleasant evening good and proper.
 
Weds 7th Oct
Still rather wet so I worked on my website.  BTO emailed asking for my nest records for the season so I’d better work on that in the next few days.  Boring!
 
Tues 6th Oct
A very wet day during which I required three changes of clothing.  In the evening I took a couple to the badger hide.  We had 4 badgers on view and one of them climbed just off the ground to get the peanut butter I had spread on the trunk.  To avoid accidents, I make a point of not coercing the badgers more than a few inches off the ground.
 
Mon 5th Oct
Filled the feeder at the community hall and was scolded by a crested tit which was wonderful considering how few we have been seeing this year.  On the way home I came across fresh pine marten droppings on the discrete path at NH 9354 1824 which is about 10 metres north of the junction with the sock route beside a sawn-up tree on the crest of a ridge. Spent much of the morning updating Bea’s computer to Windows 10 plus making arrangements for upcoming badger watches. I then went to the badger hide to discover that there were still cows in the field which is going to make it a pain getting to and from the hide this week.  At the sett, the badgers have been busy again clearing out their tunnels at both the upper and lower setts.  Before leaving I filled the bird feeder and scattered some peanuts for the badgers.
 
Fri 2nd to Sun 4th Oct
Not much wildlife work due to recovering from a tiring trip away and some golf commitments.  However, on Sunday the dogs and I were treated to the sight of a large male capercaillie flying out of the top of a tall pine beside Kinchurdy pond.
 
Thurs 1st Oct
Up at 4am and caught a series of trains to Coventry where Biffa Award held its annual awards event in the Transport Museum.  As always there was fierce competition for the prizes between a wide variety of worthwhile projects.  Dashed away at the end of the event to catch a series of trains home.
 
Weds 30th Sep
Train to Newcastle to attend the launch of the new Planetarium at the Centre for Life on behalf of Biffa Award.  A superb event and we were treated to a wonderful performance at this brilliant facility.  Biffa Award had previously funded the Experimental Zone at the Centre a couple of years ago and it was good to hear that the facility was very popular and well used.  Overnight at the Station Hotel.
 
Tues 29th Sep
Checked the new camera – it only had one picture and one video of a roe deer.   The night time pictures are better than my previous cameras but still not great. Scattered some peanuts in front of it in the hope of more animals next time.  In the evening took 4 people to the badger hide; the cows were in the field so we had to go in the long way.  However, it was another good evening with 4 badgers.  Prepared for 2 days away in Newcastle and Coventry for Biffa Award, starting tomorrow.
 
Sat 26th to Mon 28th Sep
Away for the weekend to the Scottish Humanist Conference in Edinburgh.
 
Fri 25th Sep
Set up the new Maginon camera facing north-ish along a harvester track at NH 9317 1836, opposite the granny pine near box 017.  Filled the squirrel car park feeders and discovered that the new rig I set up yesterday is sagging a bit.  May have to use stronger brackets.
 
Thurs 24th Sep
Pleasant surprise when out with the dogs – a crested tit appeared on the feeder behind the community hall; the first one I’ve seen in many a month.  Later I completely rejigged the feeder structure at the squirrel car park.

Indifferent picture of a crestie
An indifferent picture of a crested tit

Weds 23rd Sep
Dismantled the feeder gibbet at the Community Hall and rigged up a different arrangement a bit less like a 17th century gallows.  Took a family of four to the badger hide in the evening.  Cattle, disturbed by a dog walker, caused a bit of a rumpus to begin with but quite soon we had 4 badgers to enjoy.  A tawny owl turned up and watched the badgers too for a while from its perch on a branch above the sett.  On leaving the hide we had to creep round the edge of the field to the nearest gate to ensure we did not set the cattle off again.  Strangely, when I got home and put the wheelie bin out, there was another tawny owl in a birch tree at the edge of the field opposite our house.

Tues 22nd Sep
The new camera works well.   The quality is better than the old camera but there are still a few issues with lines of graininess at night.  A wet day so spent a lot of time on the website.  The ever-changing html rules make it difficult to decide how much effort to devote to making the site compliant and whether or not to sign up for more training somewhere.  Brought the tit box home from the Abernethy Golf Club for cleaning.  It had a dud egg in it which is OK considering the pair raised two broods this year.

Golf Club nest box
Nest box from Abernethy Golf Club with a dud egg

Mon 21st Sep
Checked the new Maginon camera.  At first I thought it wasn’t working but it turned out to be OK – a case of operator malfunction (me!).  Surprisingly it had not detected any wildlife in 24 hours but it had got me arriving to check it so it’s working.  Later on I installed it at the badger hide to test its infra red capabilities – we’ll see tomorrow.  By the way, the dog food I put out for the badgers a few days ago has still not been eaten so that’s a non-starter. Got on with sorting out the code on Cairngorm Wildlife website – some pages have still got problems left over from my Dreamweaver days.  It’ll take quite a while to work through the whole site.
 
Sat 19th and Sun 20th Sep
Mostly a golfing weekend but the new Maginon camera arrived on Sat so on Sunday I replaced the Bushnell with it.  Hope it works as well as reports say.  The question is, what to do with the Bushnell – it works OK for a while then the screen packs up, possibly due to the wet and/or cold, which is not much use in Scotland.
 
Fri 18th Sep
Checked the Bushnell cam and unfortunately it is playing up again.  It seems unable to cope with damp weather.  My boots also no longer keep the water out so they’ve got to go too.  Went to the badger hide to check all is well after our hurried exit last night.  Repaired the gate.  Checked to see if the badgers had eaten the dry dog food I put out last night for them as an experiment – they had not! In the evening I took a family of three to the hide – we had 5 badgers in view at one point; a lovely evening.
 
Thurs 17th Sep
Took a couple to the badger hide.  We saw 3 badgers, 2 roe deer in the field and an otter in the river.  The evening was curtailed a little due to us seeing lots of stationary lights, including police car lights, on the road so we had to go to see if my parked car was involved.  Thankfully it was not – a car had hit a deer and rolled over and by the time we got there it had all been sorted out and nobody had been hurt – apart I guess from the deer.

Pine Marten poo on the glove path
Pine Marten poo on the "glove path"

Weds 16th Sep
Found pine marten poo on the glove path at NH 9339 1838 - the first I’ve seen for some months.  Could be the same animal I caught on video recently near the Angle feeders which are not far away.  Filled all the woodland feeders – birds and squirrels still eating me out of house and home, but that’s OK. 
 
Sun 13th to Tues 15th Sep
Checked the Bushnell camera daily but only got poor videos of roe deer. Sorted the schedule for autumn badger watching and began plotting for next year.  Made some nest boxes which are to be used as prizes at the golf club.  Buzzards much in evidence around Nethy Bridge this week for some reason.

Bracken at the Aviemore sett
Bracken where we tried to find a badger sett - mission impossible

Sat 12th Sep
The pictures on the Acorn cam this morning were no better than last time – infra-red too grainy to identify anything.  Bea and I went to look for a new badger sett near Aviemore at the request of Roger Cottis, I think to do with the dualling of the A9.  The sett is allegedly at NH 8905 1343 which is just west of the A9 more or less level with the northern half of Aviemore.  It was a hopeless task because the whole of the slope is covered in thick ferns and other vegetation so unless the sett is huge and had recently been cleared out we had very little chance of finding it.  Nevertheless we searched for an hour investigating every human and animal track and much of the ground in between but failed to find a sett or even any signs of badgers such as footprints, hairs or latrines.  On steep ground 200 metres above the target location we found an old hide among rocks that could have housed a den but again no signs of use were found.  The plan is to return to the site in winter when the vegetation has died back.
 
Fri 11th Sep
Sandra and Ali and the dogs left.  Ordered the Maginon WK3 HD camera.   In the evening I took a couple to the badger hide and we had another great evening with at least 3 badgers close to the hide.
 
Thurs 10th Sep
Out with the 4 dogs and Sandra and Ali early to check the Acorn camera – nothing on it at all.  Hmm – I smell trouble with it again.  Later we all went to the feeders at the Angle and rejigged them to be more secure and better looking.  A big fuss on Twitter and in the media about Chris Packham’s recent criticisms of the RSPB and Wildlife Trusts.  Those awful people at the Countryside Alliance true to form waded in and made as much trouble as they could, most of it unbelievably hypocritical, to which George Monbiot responded with a brilliantly well researched article that well and truly blew the lid off the whole rotten land-ownership, farming subsidy and shooting business. Took Sandra and Ali to the badger hide where we had a super evening with a minimum of 4 badgers on view.
 
Weds 9th Sep
Checked the Acorn camera.  Not much to report except that the night-time infra-red video was so grainy as to be impossible to tell what had triggered it.  The day-time videos were fine but that’s not much use on its own.  Phoned Hugh Dignon and it seems no beaver decision is going to happen any time soon – the Minister has other, more pressing issues, on her mind. She is nevertheless still gathering input from stakeholders and has met the Ramsays recently.  I registered to attend the Humanist conference on 29th Sep as a helper.    Sandra and Ali and dogs arrived for a couple of days – lovely to see them.  
 
Tues 8th Sep
Drove to Glenbervie (for golf) and was amazed at the amount of road kill everywhere.  I suppose one could deduce that suggests large, healthy populations of wild animals and birds and take that as a positive.  I’ll do that.
 
Mon 7th Sep
Checked the Acorn camera – no wildlife, just several lost orienteers.  Checked the Bushnell cam in our garden and it seems to be working OK both day and night after resetting it.  Tried phoning Hugh Dignon at SG but he was in meetings all day – am advised to try again Weds morning.
 
Sun 6th Sep
Filled the feeders at the community hall and at the squirrel car park – both were empty (shame on me).  Went to the badger hide to read the log book to see how the young couple fared who stayed in the hide for the night last Tuesday.  They had a great time and saw lots of badgers on and off through the evening and into the small hours, after which I guess they went to sleep.  The most they saw simultaneously was 4, which is about average for recent visits.  Of particular note, one of the tunnels in front of the hide has been extensively cleared out, leaving a large spoil heap.  I left them some peanuts when I left.

Bushnell camera on Fairy Hill
The old Bushnell camera among the Fairy Hill birches

Sat 5th Sep
Filled the Angle feeders and checked the Bushnell cam.  Sadly the Bushnell is acting up again – I tried new batteries but the screen still didn’t work properly.  I’m coming to the conclusion it doesn’t like cold weather but I’ll bring it in and warm it up and we’ll find out.  If that’s the case it’s not much good this far north with winter not far away.  In the afternoon Bea and I put out the last three nest boxes in the woods making twenty in all ready for next year.  While we were out we disturbed a large male capercaillie just west of the Angle, near the new box 18; probably the same bird the dogs and I saw not far from there recently.  In the evening we took down the Bushnell camera and replaced it with the Acorn.  If it turns out the Bushnell now only works in warm weather it will have to be retired and a new one acquired.
 
Fri 4th Sep
Set out two more nest boxes this afternoon in improving weather and hope to complete the job tomorrow.
 
Thurs 3rd Sep
Weather still cold and dreich.  Bushnell cam had a couple more roe deer videos, from one of which I made a GIF and posted it on Twitter where it was very well received.  Intended to put out some more nest boxes but the weather was too awful.  3 buzzards wheeling over Tom Dubh farm this morning.
 
Weds 2nd Sep
Cold morning with a northerly breeze requiring the big winter jacket for the first time since Spring.  Checked the Bushnell cam in its new birch-wood location – a couple of nice videos of roe deer.  Made another nest box with a new locking system involving a swivelling lid and a 4 inch nail – hi-tech or what!  Investigated where in Scotland the pine martens are being captured for the reintroduction project down south and was told they are being trapped along and to the north of the Great Glen.  I was afraid our Strathspey pine martens might be targeted, given the perception by RSPB and others that they are a threat to capercaillie, so I’m quite pleased, although I wonder how the local wildlife enthusiasts along the Great Glen feel about it.  Heard that each culled badger down south cost more than £7,000 – bonkers.  Set out 3 more nest boxes around the burnt forest in Craigie woods – job nearly done.
 
Tues 1st Sep
Rather wet start to the day and the forecast for the rest of the week is no better.  This has been one of the wettest summers on records.  No golf so carried on and finished refurbishing the remaining useable nest boxes from the last project.  Now I need to make some new ones to complete the new layout for next year.  Took a young couple to the badger hide and left them there for the night – I look forward to hearing how they got on.
 
Mon 31st Aug
Went to the likely track I’d found yesterday and set up the Bushnell camera beside it at map ref NH 9367 1838 which is among the birches about 250m SW from the summit of Fairy Hill.  Tweeted a question asking whether the risks of submitting records to NBN outweigh the benefits.  Got some reaction quite quickly, asking what I perceived the risks to be, so I explained.   After lunch I put out two more nest boxes along the caper track and in the evening refurbished 4 more.
 
Sat 29th and Sun 30th Aug
A golfing weekend, mostly, except that while out with the dogs on Sunday I found a likely animal track for the Bushnell camera.
 
Fri 28th Aug
0730 checked the Bushnell cam to find that some helpful individual had carefully tied a plastic bag over it to stop it working.  I would have liked to remove the camera there and then but did not have the key or tools of any kind – will go back and do it later and hope whoever is responsible does not return in the meantime equipped to take more drastic action.  Went back and removed the camera which thankfully was still there and intact.  The footage revealed the identity of the perpetrator, a miserable old sod who when you meet him the woods only grudgingly returns your cheery greeting.  Not worth losing sleep over.  Lesson: be much more careful about where to site the cameras and always attach a note saying it’s to do with wildlife monitoring in case someone thinks the cameras are monitoring people’s use of paths, as happened a year or so ago and to which some people took great exception, regarding it as an intrusion into their private lives.

Thurs 27th Aug
Refilled the Angle feeder, then went in search of a walkable harvester track which is not easily seen from public paths along which to site the next batch of nest boxes.  Got quite wet in the process due to rain from above and soaking vegetable from beneath.  Sometimes wellies are not quite long enough in deep wet undergrowth.  In the afternoon the dogs and I put out another two nest boxes, making ten in all so far.
 
Weds 26th Aug
Cool morning with the smell of rain in the air.  Noted that the Angle feeder is getting low – two gs woodpeckers were making the most of the peanuts that were left.   Checked the Bushnell camera – still only dog walkers and cyclists, some of them looking decidedly lost.  Met a chap near Craigie Rock who told me he had a close encounter with a pine marten there yesterday morning about 0830.  He showed me a fairly blurred phone picture of the animal which by that time had run up a tree growing out of the flat ledge several feet below the clifftop which brought it to about his eye height.  The rain started so I spent the morning in the office and worked on the public badger watch schedule for the coming months.  I refilled the feeders at the community hall and the squirrel car park where there was a red squirrel and a gs woodpecker.  Sadly some visitors had dumped their rubbish all over the car park, as had last night’s footballers on the village playing field.  Very sad that people think it’s OK to just drop your trash where you are.  I’m also appalled by the waste apparent in the still half-full bottles and packets that are thrown away.   Went to Craigie Rock to see if it was worth setting up a camera for the pine marten but none of the crevices were wide enough to admit even a mouse and there were no droppings or others signs that pine martens were somehow resident there.
 

Woodland rubbish
I wish people would take their trash away with them

Tues 25th Aug
Put out four more nest boxes – it’s getting more of a fag now that I’m getting deeper into the forest.   Forgot to mention, the mining bees are back in the two bunkers to the right of the second green at Abernethy Golf Club.  We get them most years now at this time.  Also at Abernethy, the clubhouse nest box has seen some blue tit action this year.  Must remember to clean it out this winter – it got forgotten last year.
 
Mon 24th Aug
Put out two more nest boxes and got drenched in the process in a sudden downpour.  The coach screw fixing idea is working really well so I ordered more when I got home.  The sun is now shining from a clear blue sky – grr.  Later in the morning I checked the Bushnell camera – 14 videos, one of a fleeing roe buck and the rest of dogs walkers, revealing that an unexpectedly high percentage of them use ‘Bobby’s Other Shortcut’ which I had previously thought was hardly ever used by anybody other than me and our dogs.  On the way to the camera, just north of the lower end of the sock route at NH 9345 1828, we were buzzed by a very large, low flying, male capercaillie. A bit scary.
 
Sun 23rd Aug
Intended to put some more boxes out but ran out of time what with playing golf and watching football on tv.  Disgraceful really.
 
Sat 22nd Aug
Put out the first two boxes of the new project - they are both beside the loop path.  The plan is for the boxes to be 100m apart using big and small boxes alternately.  The small boxes will be filled with rotten wood for small birds, eg the cresties, to burrow into.  Checked the Bushnell cam but it’s not working properly again.  It had managed to capture photos of a roe buck, cyclists and dog walkers but it was supposed to take videos, not photos. 
 
Fri 21st Aug
Walked part of the proposed layout for next year’s nest box project and made a firm decision about the first section.  Hope to start putting the boxes out tomorrow, so with that in mind I worked on a few more boxes in the shed.  I’ll probably have to make some new ones to replace those I scrapped.  Next year’s project will be smaller than the previous one but the boxes will more tightly spaced so I’ll need almost as many.
 
Thurs 20th Aug
Spent part of the afternoon in the workshop refurbishing nest boxes ready for next year.  I hope to start putting them back out in the woods in the next week or two so the birds get used to them well before next breeding season.  In the evening I set up the Bushnell camera near the badger latrine in our woods at the junction of the Sock Route and Bobby’s Other Shortcut.

Fallen tree across the path
We've had a lot of fallen trees this windy summer

Weds 19th Aug
Refilled all woodland feeders again – the birds and squirrels are going through large amounts of peanuts at the moment.  Installed Windows 10 on my main PC.  In theory my laptop will soon do the same which would be a very good thing indeed because at the moment it is running Windows 7 and struggling to cope with quite ordinary things despite having been to the shop for servicing quite recently.
 
Tues 18th Aug
Early morning walk got us 2 red squirrels near the Angle.  Went via the Secret Path and collected two more nest boxes (2 and 3) which just leaves two more to collect.  Bumped into the ranger again – she had heard 4 crested tits in different places in the wood that day so obviously my somewhat dulled hearing is a problem because despite my very regular walks in the wood I have heard no cresties for months.  Worked on nest boxes in the workshop.
 
Mon 17th Aug
Picked up two more nest boxes (4 and 5).  En route to doing so I came across a dead rabbit on the secret path at map ref NH 9259 1857 with some granules scattered nearby that were probably from a fragmented piece of granite, and yet I could not see any more of that sort of thing in the vicinity.  Worked on refurbishing nest boxes then in the afternoon went to bring home the Acorn camera.  On the way I met the local ranger and we talked about squirrels, pine martens, badgers and otters.  The camera had taken pictures and videos of the usual birds and animals plus a pine marten at 0126 this morning.
 
Sun 16th Aug
Cold morning.  Filled up the neglected feeders around the wood.   Gave further thought to simple ways to lock nest box lids that Bea and I had discussed yesterday – I think we’ve come up with something strong enough that will be easy to make and easy to manage, basically involving drilling a long diagonal hole through the lid and the side panel and inserting a long nail.
 
Sat 15th Aug
Very early morning walk today in wet weather.  Saw some roe deer (dogs behaved well) but otherwise no wildlife seen.  Picked up two more nest boxes (6 and 7) leaving just six more out there. Took the dogs to friends for the day and Bea and I caught the train to Edinburgh for the annual Scottish Wildlife Trust Chairman’s Reception; my first as a guest, having been the host the previous six years.  A super event, well attended and a welcome chance to catch up with old friends and colleagues and to receive a briefing on the state of the Trust. 
 
Fri 14th Aug
Early morning I retrieved two more boxes (22 and 23) from the woods, leaving just ten more to collect.  Checked the Acorn camera, reset its clock and replaced the peanut butter.  The card had lots of pics and videos of the usual suspects plus a huge dog.   Still no crested tits and no pine martens at that site.  On the way home I retrieved two more crestie nest boxes (29 and 30) – only 8 more to get.  Compiled a list of the final locations of the crestie boxes at the end of the current phase – not really sure why.   Noticed the feeders are all getting a bit low so must buy more peanuts. 
 
Thurs 13th Aug
The Acorn cam at the fallen tree had some lovely colour red squirrel videos and pictures during daylight but the infra-red badger images after dark were disappointing.  Interesting that the non-HD Bushnell performs better in infra-red than the HD Acorn.  At midday I took a bucket and cleared up the rubbish on the football pitch from football matches and sundry picnics – society has a real problem in that so many people think it’s OK to just drop their rubbish anywhere.  I find it astonishing that not only do they throw away empty bottles, boxes and packets but also almost full drinks and food containers – such waste.   On the way home I refilled the feeders behind the community hall.  In the afternoon Bea and I brought in another 7 crested tit boxes (15 to 21).  Towards the end of the session I found a fox footprint in a mossy puddle at NH 926175 just after collecting box 18 and soon afterwards Bea and the dogs saw a fox run across the track at NH925174 which is just south of the T junction of tracks near The Yard.  It’s possible my clumsy progress through the undergrowth disturbed it in the first place and I inadvertently drove it towards where Bea and the dogs were waiting.

Woodpecker on the fallen tree
Woodpecker at the fallen tree feeding site

Weds 12th Aug
The Bushnell had lots of pictures of squirrels during the day and a badger during the night.  The badger came twice; firstly for 20 minutes just after midnight and again briefly at 3.30am.   I removed the Bushnell and replaced it with the Acorn HD cam now that we’ve got badgers coming to a very nice setting at the fallen tree. In the afternoon I removed 7 crestie boxes (8 to 14 inclusive) from the woods and we’ll probably bring some more home tomorrow.  I put 5 of the 7 boxes straight in the wheelie bin when I got home.
 
Tues 11th Aug
Checked the Bushnell camera and was delighted it had taken some nice pics of a badger on the fallen tree.  In the evening I took 2 ladies to the hide where we had almost instant badger action; two badgers within five minutes and within ten minutes there were four of them plus a mouse – a delightful evening.
 
Mon 10th Aug
Unfortunately the badger did not come to the fallen tree last night but at least the focus and infra red light on the Bushnell is working better.  I intended to check again later in the day but torrential rain put a stop to that.
 
Sun 9th Aug
Checked the Bushnell at the fallen tree feeder and sure enough the feeder was empty and bent again so the badger must have been back.  Unfortunately there were no pictures, not even bad ones, because the camera was switched to Standby instead of properly switched on.  Idiot!   There was fresh dung in the latrine at the mini-crossroads this morning so the local badgers are pretty active in the woods at the moment.  Removed the feeder at the fallen tree and dug a hole in the top of the trunk two metres from the camera.   Filled the hole with peanut butter and peanuts in the hope of getting some decent pictures of the badger.
 
Sat 8th Aug
Checked the Bushnell cam at the fallen tree feeder NH 9325 1849 to find it had 1300 pictures on the card, mostly the usual species plus a badger emptying, then wrecking, the feeder over a period of twenty minutes starting at 00:03 on 6th Aug.  Unfortunately the pictures were spoiled by being out of focus and being washed out by the very bright infra-red light.  I was already aware of the focus problem so had come prepared with a close-up lens which I fitted in the hope of improving matters but when I checked again later in the day the focus was just as bad due to the close-up lens being too strong.  I taped over part of the infra-red light to reduce its brightness but that won’t help the focus so the whole thing is still a work in progress.  On the way home I confirmed the map ref of the fox poo found on the personal path a few days ago and it checks out at NH 9333 1885.   Met a lady last night who told me of her amazement at seeing a fox briefly in her garden one evening.  She rightly believed them to be very scarce here and she felt privileged to have seen one – lovely reaction.
 
Fri 7th Aug
A quiet day doing admin and making arrangements for the next few Biffa Award events in Newcastle and Coventry.

Heron in Regents Park
A heron in Regents Park

Thurs 6th Aug
Tube strike so I walked from Euston to Marylebone, a total of 36 minutes of which the walk from the train carriage to Euston station entrance took all of 6 minutes.  Pleasant walk and I’ll probably make a habit of it rather than use the tube in future if the weather is OK.  Got back to London at 3pm and spent the next 5 hours wandering the streets and parks.  The number of birds in Regents Park is amazing – mostly ducks, geese, swans and pigeons by the thousand but I also found a lone heron in a quiet corner.   After all that I was so tired I went to bed as soon as the train allowed the passengers on board and was asleep before the train began moving.
 
Tues 4th and Weds 5th Aug
Filled all the bird and squirrel feeders.  Twice checked the Bushnell camera and both times there were more than a thousand pictures of nothing terribly interesting.  The pics were all out of focus and at night the IR light was so bright it washed the subject out – the set-up needs work you could say!  Found fox dung 50m from the west end of the personal path at roughly NH 933 189.  On Weds evening caught the sleeper to London for Thursday’s Biffa Award Board meeting.
 
Mon 3rd Aug
Worked on papers for a Biffa Award Board meeting later in the week.  Checked the newly placed Bushnell camera – more than a thousand images since yesterday so it was time consuming to work through them again.   Discovered the London tube strike is happening on the day of my Biffa Award meeting at High Wycombe so I think I’ll be doing a good bit of walking between Euston and Marylebone.  Thankfully the forecast is good.  In theory buses and taxis are an option but they are expected to be mobbed so walking is probably the best option.  In theory the trains from Marylebone to High Wycombe will be unaffected but the Chiltern Railways website is hedging its bets slightly.

 

Jay and woodpecker squabbling
Now now you two, no squabbling.  There's plenty for everybody

Sun 2nd Aug
Two roe deer, mother and fawn, at the first green at Abernethy Golf Club at 0900.  After golf (came 2nd in the Medal) went to the badger hide to check all is well for this evening’s visit - all was in order and as a bonus there were three buzzards soaring overhead and calling.  Swapped the Bushnell camera for the Acorn camera at the fallen tree feeder and brought the Acorn home.  It had nearly 2000 pics and vids on the card, mostly of the usual jay, red squirrel, mice and common small birds but there was also a cracker of a picture of a jay and a gs woodpecker arguing over possession of the feeder.  I tweeted the picture and was reward with more than a score of retweets.  In the evening I took 2 people to the hide where we had a superb evening – a badger came out in less than ten minutes and we then had well over an hour of continuous badger activity involving at least 4 different badgers and possibly as many as six or seven. 
 
Fri 31st July and Sat 1st Aug
Worked through the videos on the Acorn SD card – what a fag.  Must come up with a simpler way of doing this.  Cameras set up on a peanut feeder get so many triggers they are hard to manage, although on the plus side it’s nice to see so many red squirrels and mice in the wood.  
 
Weds 29th and Thurs 30th July
Filled the community hall feeders.  Checked the Angle camera but it was the same story as last time: jays, red squirrels and common small birds.  Got into a bit of a tangle with GWCT on Twitter over their so-called “essential management of wildlife for conservation purposes”, meaning killing and snaring species that interfere with their hunting plans.  Two new threats have emerged – some people on the coasts are calling for a cull of seagulls and some anglers want otters controlled because they occasionally take a prize fish.  Such nonsense.   The US dentist who killed the famous lion Cecil in Africa has achieved worldwide infamy for his dastardly act.  On the plus side the incident has raised the profile of the whole subject of ethics and hunting in general which is a very good thing indeed.

red squirrel falling off a feeder
Don't laugh

Sun 26th to Tues 28th July
Still not feeling great but managed a few bits and pieces.   The Acorn cam recorded over 300 stills and videos of jays, small birds (no cresties) and at least one male and one female red squirrel.  I tried to upload a picture to Twitter but their upload system is not working.  Had better luck with a video on Facebook. I cleaned out the feeder at the squirrel car park and refilled it and then found fox dung halfway along the Angle track at NH 9330 1877.  Devoted some time to researching the logistics of attending various AGMs and conferences this autumn, some of which are being held in really awkward places to get to by public transport from here.  It’s a pity but I’ll have to give most of them a miss.   A gs woodpecker turned up in our garden for the first time in more than a year. 
 

Nest box with nest material overflowing
Box No 1 with nest material overflowing

Sat 25th July
Took photos of Box No 1 with its weird construction and hair draping out of the entrance and a single egg just inside the entrance suspended among the strands of hair.   While taking the photos a bird came to scold us but by the time I could reach for my binoculars it had gone.  Later we reinstalled the Acorn camera near the feeder on the fallen tree near the Angle.
 
Fri 24th July
At 0800 I noticed that the feeder at the Angle is now in urgent need of repair.  Saw tree creepers along the ‘loop’ path.  Went to the badger hide, topped up the peanut bin and strimmed the grass ready for badger watches in the coming week.  On the way home I bought a new sack of peanuts.  In the afternoon I went back to the Angle feeder, repaired it and refilled it with peanuts.  Got drenched in heavy rain on the way home.

Repaired feeders at the Angle
Newly repaired feeders

Thurs 23rd July
Joined in the Twitter outrage at the UK government suspending the EU ban on some pesticides.   “We must follow the science” was apparently David Cameron’s quote, which is not surprising because he said something similar about culling badgers and in both cases Defra is doing exactly the reverse.  There is even a suspicion that some of the government’s own advisers have been muzzled on the pesticides issue.  
 
Weds 22nd July
Crested tit nest box check.  The nest in Box No 1 had been modified again by whatever warblers had been using it and they even got as far as laying an egg.  No other boxes showed a change of status, however when we checked Box 17 on the old Springwatch snag, Bea spotted a buzzard nest in a tree nearby at NH 9267 1761.  On closer inspection we found some prey remains on the ground under the nest.  On the way home we collected boxes 24 to 28 inclusive as the first step in withdrawing the crested tit project in its present form.  The older, rotten boxes will be disposed of and the serviceable ones will be refurbished and used in another project.

Buzzard nest  Prey remains
Buzzard nest with prey remains underneath

Tues 21st July
RSPB quoted on radio this morning complaining about muirburn carried out by Scottish Land and Estates shooting estate members who burn the old heather in strips to improve grouse numbers but in so doing cause massive habitat damage.  Well done RSPB on this one.  At Abernethy Golf Club the two young oyster catchers at the fifth hole are testing their wings; one just helicoptering and the other almost flying properly.  Another few days and they’ll be gone.  In the afternoon I checked the badger latrine I found yesterday and the map ref I had worked out as NH938186 checked out OK with the GPS.  Near the latrine I disturbed a family of newly fledged wrens – I guess their nest was inside one of the many piles of brash in the area. 
 
Mon 20th July
Stopped and spoke at length with the ranger in the woods this morning about capercaillie, goldeneye ducks, pine martens, roe deer, badgers and everything nature.  On the way home I found another badger latrine, this time beside a path only 170 metres from the village football field, roughly NH938186.  Will get a better map ref another time.  Submitted my goldeneye box results to the local recorder – quite what I’ll do about the BTO and next year’s schedule one license is another matter.
 
Sun 19th July
Checked the corner post badger sett and found it to be partially in use; most of the tunnel entrances were choked with debris but two were clear enough to suggest regular traffic.
 
Sat 18th July
At 0630 there was a red squirrel in our garden – the first for a very long time.  The fact that the feeder at the community hall is empty may be the cause.  Saw another red squirrel at the Angle feeder – the squirrels really are flourishing at the moment.
 
Fri 17th July
Meeting in Edinburgh with two trustees and the Chief Officer of ScotLink. 
 
Tues 14th to Thurs 16th July
Prepared for a ScotLink meeting on Friday but otherwise kept quiet to try to recover from this chest infection.
 
Mon 13th July
The old badger latrine by the mini crossroads of paths on Fairy Hill has been recreated.   In the evening I took two young ladies to the badger hide where we had 2 hours of badger activity involving at least 4 different badgers.  The ladies were very proud of themselves for staying quiet for such a long time and declared their families would never believe it so this is to bear witness that the ladies were impeccably behaved all evening.  While in the hide I learned via Twitter that the SNP MPs at Westminster will all vote against changes to the Hunting Act after this week’s debate.  Furthermore, Scotland will review its own Hunting Act to ensure it is strong enough.   All round a brilliant evening.

NOTE: A few days later the SNP and Labour MPs announced they would oppose weakening the fox hunting act so the government cancelled the debate and the vote because it was clear they would lose.    How wonderful

Me with a fox cub
Me with a fox cub some years ago

Sun 12th July
Attended a Humanism Social at Fortrose.  Nice people.
 
Sat 11th
Filled up some of the feeders in the woods, noting that the one at the Angle needs repair. 
 
Tues 7th to Fri 10th July
Refitting the office and still recovering from being ill so progress was slow and irritating so not much wildlife stuff to report.  However, lots of red squirrels about, buzzards zooming around over Tom Dubh farm and the two oyster catcher chicks still thriving at Abernethy Golf Club.   Quite concerned that the fox hunting act may be about to be weakened with hardly any debate in the HoP and that could lead to an eventual repeal, which is what the landed gentry are determined to achieve in the long run.  Conservationists and some politicians are working hard to oppose not just the proposal itself but the way in which the government are trying to sneek it through under the radar.

Mon 6th July
Getting back to normal now after all the excitement last week.  Lately we’ve been seeing red squirrels regularly at the feeders around the pine woods but today was a little different in that for the first time that I can remember we saw one in the birch woods at NH 9379 1842 which is near the summit ridge of Fairy Hill just below the mini crossroads. 


 Wearing the medal just after meeting the Queen
A proud day for me and the family

Sun 5th July
Bea and I had a rare 9 holes golf together in the morning, then after lunch we checked the vole camera beside the burn at Milton Loch.  What an idiot – I’d forgotten to switch it on!   Put out all the left-over bread for the birds now that the visitors have gone.  The gluten-free bread that I had bought by mistake was ignored by the birds and was still there when we went to bed.
 
Sat 4th July
Chilled out mostly watching tennis on tv.  In the afternoon I spent some energy cycling to Loch Vaa with the dogs in lovely weather.
 
Fri 3rd July
Played in the Abernethy Golf Club Seniors Open and won the scratch prize with a rather poor 81.  What on earth was everybody else doing!   More lovely messages on Facebook and Twitter.
 
Thurs 2nd July
A day to calm down after all the excitement.  Later my daughter put some pictures on Facebook which sparked lots of messages from all over the place.
 
Weds 1st July
Brother in law Pat drove me, Heather, her sister Maeve and my daughter Lesley to Holyrood Palace in plenty of time for my OBE investiture.  We were soon split up; recipients were sent one way and guests a different way so that we could each get an appropriate briefing.  At 11am the ceremony began with first the knights and dames, then the OBEs, then the MBEs and finally some special awards for police and fire service.  I managed to follow the briefing instructions without a hitch and stopped and started and bowed in the right places and didn’t trip over anything, so that was fine.  Her Majesty the Queen officiated and she fitted my medal to the hook that had been pre-fixed to my lapel after which we had a brief chat about SWT, red squirrels, grey squirrels and pine martens before I was dismissed with the customary handshake.  It would be good to have a proper chat with her about pine martens and squirrels but no matter – she was very cheerful and welcoming.   After the ceremony I took my harem to Hemma for lunch before heading back to Dalkeith briefly prior to heading home via Dundee to show mother-in-law the medal.

My Harem at Holyrood
Daughter Lesley, wife Heather, me and sister-in-law Maeve after the OBE investiture

Tues 30th June
Drove to Dalkeith and took the family for pub grub before grabbing an early night in readiness for tomorrow’s big day.
 
Mon 29th June
Filled up all of the village feeders including the one at Milton Loch.  While at Milton Loch we checked the Acorn camera but it had only taken a few birds and rabbits so we moved it to a more promising spot beside the flowing burn where Bea had found some evidence of voles grazing.

Acorn cam at Milton Loch burn
The Acorn cam at the Milton Loch burn

Sun 28th June
I took the dogs to Loch Vaa while the kids went to Aviemore. No real wildlife work but in recent days noted the latest batch of sparrows have fledged from the porch gallery, hundreds of starlings are collecting on the fences around the bonfire field every evening, half a dozen siskins are being seen in our garden and I spotted a blackcap on a garden fence near the start of the curling pond track.  At 8pm I took daughter Lesley and her boyfriend Simon to the badger hide.  A badger came out after only 15 minutes and remained pottering around and eating peanuts for more than half an hour.  We took some nice photos and videos.
 
Fri 26th and Sat 27th June
Mostly spent entertaining house guests.
 
Thurs 25th June
Note about birds in our garden:  2 families of great tit, one of blue tit at least one of blackbird and at least 2 of house sparrow so far plus another house sparrow who is loudly advertising his claim to the open-fronted nest box which has never yet been used.  Red squirrel near the curling pond this morning.
 
Mon 22nd, Tues 23rd and Weds 24th June
Heard that the oyk chicks at Abernethy are still OK.  Laid up with a chest infection so no field work at all for a few days.
 
Sun 21st June
When Bea got home from the Golf Club she brought the good news that the 2 remaining oyster catcher eggs by the monument had hatched safely.
 
Sat 20th June
Topped up some more woodland feeders, then met Andy Simpkin, former RSPB Osprey Warden, who is up here on holiday with colleagues from Cambridge Uni.  Took him to the badger hide to update him on current guiding procedures so that he can take his colleagues to watch badgers during the week.  In the afternoon I installed the Acorn cam beside a pool at Milton Loch where we had found some water vole droppings 2 weeks ago.  Fingers crossed for my first ever water vole pictures.
 
Fri 19th June
Bought peanuts and topped up the squirrel carpark feeders.
 
Thurs 18th June
Repaired the feeder at the Angle then refilled both it and the one at the community hall.  Wrote to Scottish Badgers to warn them against being too keen to get involved with the “Understanding Predation” project.  I smell a very large rat and fear that shooting interests could end up using data provided by conservationists to justify applying for licenses to cull predators.  

Badger near the goldeneye box
A badger foraging near the goldeneye box containing a sitting female

Weds 17th June
Carried out some housework at the badger hide - strimmed the grass, swept the floor and left peanuts for the badgers and birds

Tues 16th June
Completed the nest check by visiting boxes 1 to 7 and 22 to 30, having checked the other 13 yesterday.    Box 1 had a nest in it almost identical to the one built by warblers in box 2 a few weeks ago.  The front of box 4 had been ripped open, the chicks had gone and the nest was lying on the ground.  I feel quite responsible for this because box 4 is one of the plywood nest boxes that BBC Springwatch supplied for the show a few years back and then left with me. I really should have dumped them and only used my own robust boxes. On thinking back I remember the BBC ignored my advice on what material to use when constructing these boxes for Springwatch so it’s at least partly my fault for hanging on to them.  Lesson learned.  

Box 4 damaged by predator
Box No 4 damaged by a predator - I guess pine marten

As if to prove the point, a few minutes later I discovered box 7 now had a blue tit sitting on eggs or brooding young and the entrance to that box had also been attacked but the wood was so thick the predator gave up. The family of blue tits in box 28 has fledged although one of the chicks didn’t make it and its wee body is still in the box.

Box 7 damaged
Box No 7 also damaged by a predator but strong enough to survive

Mon 15th June
Checked boxes 9 to 21 inclusive.  The only action noted was that the blue tit family in box 16 have gone.  This means the redstarts seen yesterday are not using boxes 19 or 20, which I was hoping they might be, so their nest must be a wild one nearby.  Sure enough there are some old trees in the area in which they might find a hole.  Found a common toad happily sunning itself on the caper track.  In the afternoon film maker Iain Mitchell came to see me for a chat about otters, ospreys, goldeneye and badgers.  We went to the hide and checked the goldeneye box to find the chicks had gone.  The box contained broken egg shells mixed in with the down and wood shavings which is consistent with a normal fledging.  Sadly neither of the trail cameras recorded the event which is something of a mystery but not to worry, the main thing is the chicks got away safely.  Iain said he had been filming a goldeneye family on the river at that spot yesterday so they could well have been ours.  We then went looking for otter holts.  The undergrowth was so thick we were unable to find the holts near the cattle grid but we then drove back to Street of Kincardine and walked down to the river where were able to find the old holt near the burn at NH 9428 1765. Not for the first time there was a badger latrine right beside it.
 
Sun 14th June
Longish walk with the dogs today.  We saw a red squirrel at the feeder at the Angle and another ran across the track near the main cross roads.  Later, near the main track about 300 metres south west of the cross roads, a pair of redstarts took exception to our presence and alarm called at us, so there must be a nest nearby.  Crested tit boxes 19 and 20 are close by so it might be worth checking them without the dogs.  Spent a couple of hours filling in iRecord records up to and including 1st June.
 
Sat 13th June
The Scottish Wild Land Group magazine arrived and I read most of it this time.  There was a very good article by Prof Anthony Trewavas called The Myth Of Renewables which was well worth reading and which challenges some of our assumptions to the point where one wonders if the whole renewables scene is worth the effort.  Another one about a proposed new National Park in the Hebrides listed points in favour and point against creating such a park.  It was OK but I thought there were items on their lists of pros and cons involving planning controls that were on the wrong list.  I emailed and told them so
 
Fri 12th June
On the radio this morning we heard the marvellous news that 5 pairs of hen harriers are flourishing on land owned by the military in Scotland’s central belt.  We played golf again and discovered to our pleasure that the oyster catchers still had 2 eggs in their nest beside the monument.  The adult curlews were active over nearby fields so we guessed they are keeping a sharp eye on their newly hatched chicks.  In the afternoon our young environmentalist friend Megan Rowlands came to see us.  Such energy and enthusiasm deserves to succeed.   At 2030 I went to check the goldeneye boxes at the hide:  the one on the tree and the one on the pole in the hollow were both empty but the other one with cameras trained on it appear to still have eggs in judging from the lack of action on the cameras.  Sadly the Bushnell is acting up a bit and has become difficult to get into set-up mode.  I’ll persevere without disturbing the nest for another couple of weeks unless I find a spare afternoon to hide somewhere and watch for the female to come and go.

broken oyster catcher egg
Broken oyster catcher egg with semi-grown chick inside

Thurs 11th June
Woodpecker drumming in woods just south of the main crossroads in Craigie Woods.  A kestrel flew over the 4th hole at Abernethy GC this morning.  Then we discovered a broken oyster catcher egg on the 8th fairway which led to us fearing the gulls had found the nest beside the monument.
 
Weds 10th June
A friend from Nethy phoned to say he had 2 adult and 2 young pine martens in his garden.  The martens had been chased up a pine tree by crows which were now mobbing them.  He offered for me to go and see but it wasn’t possible.
 
Tues 9th June
During the early morning dog walk I noticed the feeders at the Angle were getting low so that’s a job for tomorrow.   On the way home we watched a buzzard glide low through the trees and across the main path at the foot of Fairy Hill.  At the golf club we were told the curlew had actually hatched three chicks and taken them away to safety. 

newly hatched curlew chick
Newly hatched curlew chick

Mon 8th June
Early morning dog walk included checking box 2 to see if the warblers had built a new nest but sadly not.  Got a bit involved in the ongoing discussion on why yet another hen harrier has gone missing in England and in the process heard for the first time about YFTB which stands for You Forgot The Birds, an organisation determined to discredit the RSPB and which is probably backed by the shooting industry.  In the afternoon Bea played golf at Abernethy and during her round she took a brilliant photo of a newly hatched curlew chick.  In the evening I went to the hide to check the goldeneye boxes.  The box on the tree and the box on the pole in the hollow were both still empty.   The active box on the pole on the ridge appears to still have eggs or very young chicks in it because neither of the cameras has taken shots of the chicks.  The Acorn had a super close-up of a badger investigating the camera.  As I left the ridge a movement below caught my eye and there was a female badger and cub.  I froze and they elected to ignore me and went about their business with their dignity mostly intact, while I sneaked a few pictures with my phone for Twitter later.

female badger and cub
Shaky shot of a female badger and her cub

Sat 6th and Sun 7th June
Not much wildlife work to speak of but I did manage to refill the feeders behind the community hall.  I also got involved in a bit of controversy about the RSPB who some years ago were gifted a piece of land by a widow on the understanding it would not be built upon, but they are now considering selling it to a developer.  Hmmm.   On Sunday evening I came across fox dung in the NW corner of the bonfire field.  
 
Fri 5th June
Our shed gallery great tits have fledged and gone but there is another great tit nesting effort going on in the starling box only ten metres away on the wall of the same shed.    In the afternoon I checked the goldeneye box at the badger hide. The duck is still sitting on her eggs – can’t be much longer now before they hatch.  In the woods, I checked box 24 in the hope that it now had a nest because last time we checked it the box had been more than half excavated. Alas, still no nest.
 
Thurs 4th June
Great tits, blue tits and blackbirds still definitely collecting our meal worms and flying off to feed young – chaffinches also taking their share but not clear if they are carrying them away to nests or eating them themselves.  Long phone call with the BTO about nest record reporting and the Schedule One scheme.  Best not to say any more than that in public.
 
Weds 3rd June
Tried to look at the BTO's IPMR Recorder software to check on a couple of things but it won’t work on my new machine – something to do with the version of Access that created the database and possibly also a Registry issue.   That piece of software has been clumsy and laborious since its first version so I'm not very impressed.  Spent a couple of hours sifting through my 2015 diary to identify sightings that are suitable for iRecord, a public data recording system, because even thought it has flaws the simple format makes public access straightforward.  Judging which sightings to record is a bit hit and miss, eg I see red squirrels in the same place almost every day and there would be no point in cluttering up the database and wasting my time with daily records of the same thing.
 
Tues 2nd June
Filled up the meal worm tray in the garden and later on I filled up the feeders at the squirrel car park.  Phoned SNH to talk about the lady's pine marten, my goldeneye eggs and the bat boxes at Milton Loch.  On pine martens, if they are in a person’s roof space above their living quarters there are a number of things that might done under license but since this one is in the garage, not the house, the options are limited.  We discussed fitting a nest box just inside the access point so that the pine marten does not have access to any other part of the building.  There is plenty of advice on such matters on the SNH website and a phone number on which the public can discuss potential licensing issues with an expert – it’s 01463 725365.   On goldeneye, I updated SNH on the latest at the hide.  On bats it seems that even having put the bat boxes up in a temporary way it would need someone with a license to inspect them and declare them empty before I could meddle with them again to do a more permanent job.  I later asked a local environmentalist if he has a license but he does not.  Later I went to the badger hide in the hope of finding that the goldeneye chicks had hatched and gone so that I could use the cameras at the lady's house for her pine marten but the eggs have not yet hatched.  In the evening I checked on the meal worm situation again and noticed that at least two male blackbirds are taking them away as well as our great tit, blue tit and sparrows – all feeding families.   Phoned the pine marten lady to pass on what SNH had to say about her options and I promised I would place one or both of my cameras at her place once they are free of their current goldeneye obligations.  She said the main likely access point into her garage would not be easy to fit with a nest box because it opens onto the old watermill mechanism.  It is also likely that there may be other easy access points under the eaves.  I hope she can get to like her new lodgers in time.

2 red squirrels
Two red squirrels at the Angle feeders

Mon 1st June
Two red squirrels at the Angle feeders, which I noticed were suddenly really low so in the afternoon I revisited and topped them up.  Heard from a local lady that she has a pine marten in her garage and does not know what to do about it.  I called in to see her at but there was no sign of the pine marten – no doubt I was too late and it had gone out hunting.
 
Sun 31st May
Should have golfed but wimped out – been overdoing it a bit lately.  Red squirrel seen at the Angle feeder again and another behind the community hall – they’re doing really well at the moment.

 

 

Blackbird with meal worms
Blackbird with as many meal worms as it can carry

Sat 30th May
Not much wildlife work done today other than to keep the live meal worms topped up and photograph some of the action for Twitter.  On a general point, the players in a recent football match on the village pitch left a load of rubbish behind.  Most people of my generation had had such behaviour beaten out of us by the time we were six but nowadays too few people have any respect for the environment or show proper consideration for other users of public places.  Anyhow, I collected the trash in a bucket and sent a photo to the community council because the council has had a similar issue in the past and the photo might help support whatever action they might decide on. 

Footballers' trash
Some of the trash collected after a local football match

Fri 29th May
Yesterday a parcel of live meal-worms arrived so Bea put some out straight away.  By bed time the birds had not yet found them but by this morning the blackbirds and sparrows were getting stuck in.  The great tits however did not use them, either because they had not yet found them or because they considered them unsuitable for their chicks.  In the afternoon Hebe from the national save-our-wildcats project came to see us and it looks as if we will be able to help the project by managing some camera traps for them.  In conversation it transpired that the Ardnamurchan break-away group still insists on doing its own thing, based on their own rather optimistic estimate of the purity of their local wildcats.  Most experts recognise that the more realistic criteria on which the national wildcat project is based has the best chance of securing the future of Scotland’s wildcat population and that having local splinter groups going off in a different direction is, to say the least, unhelpful.   There are already issues in places where the Ardnamurchan ‘border’ meets the rest of Scotland, for example a given cat that uses both sides of the ‘border’ might be treated differently when trapped depending on who caught it.  This makes no sense at all.
 
Thurs 28th May
A strenuous day during which I walked more than ten miles in the course of twice playing golf and three times taking the dogs out.  For the third day in a row I saw red squirrel on the feeders at the Angle, today being exceptional in that I passed that spot twice and there was a squirrel there both times.  Squirrels seem to be especially abundant at the moment and that must say something good about the environment.  Some would say Craigie Wood doesn’t look all that great for anything and yet several very special species occur here.  If asked to describe the wood I would say it occupies the space between Boat of Garten and Loch Vaa 3 kilometres to the south west. The area near the village is called Fairy Hill which is clad with a birch forest but if one was to go west or southwest from there one would quickly enter the pine wood plantation.  Yes it’s a plantation so make no mistake it is a crop, mostly of scots pine, and parts of it are too regimentally laid out to be pleasing on the eye, but that does not appear to deter wildlife because badgers, red squirrels, crested tits, pine martens, capercaillie and a host of other species make their livings in and under the trees.  Getting back to today, Bea was a at wildcat conservation meeting all day so it was up to me to amuse the two dogs, which I did right royally by walking them to Loch Vaa for a picnic, an exercise that occupied more than 2.5 hours and exhausted all three of us. 
 
Weds 27th May
At 8 am there were three red squirrels in the tree with the feeders at the Angle on it.  The squirrels seemed unaware of me and the dogs so I reckon their minds were on more important matters – like sex.

Badger near the corner post sett
A badger near the corner-post sett

Tues 26th May
Brought in the Bushnell camera from the corner post area.  It had quite a nice badger picture on it from the small hours of this morning.  At the golf club there were three oyster catcher eggs on the gravel on the east side of the monument and four curlew eggs in the rough between the 8th and 9th fairways roughly level with the monument.  Sparrows were still using the box near the clubhouse.

Goldeneye eggs in down and wood shavings
Goldeneye eggs, mostly buried in down and wood shavings

In the afternoon I checked goldeneye boxes at the badger hide.  The one on a pole in the hollow is still empty and the one on the tree has lost its single egg.   However, the one on a pole on the ridge contained several warm eggs buried in wood shavings and down so I set up both trail cameras nearby in the hope of capturing the moment when the chicks tumble out of the box. 

Trail cams at the goldeneye box
Two trail cameras set up on the goldeneye box

Meanwhile overhead a buzzard was being mobbed by two rooks.  Back at home we’ve got great tits in the shed gallery, sparrows in the porch gallery and tits of some sort as yet unidentified in the starling box – it’s all happening.  In the evening I was supposed to take a photographer to the badger hide but he cancelled.  Pity – I was looking forward to a photo session.

beaver at Knapdale
European Beaver

Mon 25th May
Checked the Acorn cam at Box 2 – no action, it has been abandoned, so I brought the camera home.  The local ranger called round to talk about the Garden Blitz last weekend and other local matters.  We planned some small mammal surveys soon using Longworth traps and cameras – stay tuned.  Emailed Simon Jones SWT to say how pleased I was to hear that the Environment Minister Aileen McLeod had visited the Knapdale beaver trial.  The decision on the future of beavers in Scotland is due to be made later this year and I am hopeful that more licensed beaver releases will be agreed to, subject to there being a suitable suite of management measures in place to deal with any issues.
 
Sun 24th May
A buzzard had been killed on the road outside our house by the time we got up this morning.  It looked as if it had been eating a dead collared that had been hit by a car earlier.
 
Sat 23rd May
Updated my online diary – it’s been more than a month since the last update which is not good.  Busy – that’s my excuse.  Checked the Bushnell cam at the corner post – nearly a thousand images including a few roe deer and badgers and one of a running pine marten in the small hours of this morning. 

Acorn cam at box 2
No action in the past 24 hours so the box is probably abandoned

Fri 22nd May
Bea and I collected 60 planks of wood from the local sawmill who had donated the wood for us to use for building nest boxes around the village.  Very generous of them.  In the afternoon I checked the Acorn cam at box 2 – it had not taken any pictures at all, suggesting the box has been abandoned.  However I’ll leave the camera there for a few more days just in case.
 
Thurs 21st May
1400 I set up the Acorn camera at box 2 to try to see what built that complicated nest, assuming it is still being used.  Later I finished entering BioBlitz records into iRecord after which Geoff Johnson circulated a provisional analysis that concluded we had entered 320 records into iRecord of 197 species.  Later I began to explore the system to see under what circumstances records could be edited if a mistake came to light.  Scarily that actually happened later in the evening and it transpires you can only edit a record when logged in with the same ID that was used when the record was created.  Fair enough.  Fortunately I was able to do that for the record in question.  Hopefully it should not be necessary too often.  Bea and I, having initially had reservation about the usefulness Boat of Garten Wildlife Group pages, have now concluded that access to an exclusive set of records for the Boat of Garten area without having to set up all sorts of filters could be really useful to the community.  The trick will be to communicate that to the people who would most benefit.

Weds 20th May
I put more record entries into iRecord then had a walk round the crested tit nests with Bea and the dogs.  Box 2 is still a mystery, box 4 has blue tits on eggs, box 8 is about one third excavated but no nest, box 16 has blue tits on eggs, box 24 is more than half excavated but no nest, box 28 has blue tits on eggs and box 29 has been slightly damaged by woodpeckers but there’s no nest.  We found what might have been pine marten footprints in a patch of mud on the Opel track near box 11.  In the afternoon Bea and shared the task of refilling all the village and woodland feeders.  Intended badger watch this evening was cancelled by the client.  Sat up late to finish putting the plant records from the BioBlitz into iRecord, which more or less just leaves the moths and bats to do.

Woodpecker damage to Box 29
Woodpecker damage

Tues 19th May
Kestrel seen at the south junction to Dulnain Bridge on the A 95 on the way home from Rothes.  Carried on with entering records into iRecord from the BioBlitz.
 
Mon 18th May
Continued to add records to iRecord from Saturday’s BioBlitz.  Went to the badger hide to check the goldeneye boxes – the box on the tree now has only one egg in it, the nearby box on a pole has a duck sitting on eggs (she flew out in a panic as I approached) and the other box on a pole is still empty.  Heard a cuckoo on the other side of the river.  Called in at the Sloan’s house at Nethy to see if the goldeneye that has been using their owl box had laid eggs – it had not.  On the way home I checked the mammal tunnels at Milton Loch but there were no footprints recorded at all, which I find very surprising.  Our garden nest boxes are active again after the bad weather; the shed gallery great tits are feeding young, the porch gallery sparrows are probably doing the same, the blue tits across the road have been around the box so hopefully they have not abandoned their 7 eggs, which I thought they might have at one point, and there are tits of some kind using the sparrow box but I have not been able to see them clearly enough to tell which kind.
 
Sun 17th May
No wildlife work at all today. 

Jackdaw at the mammal tunnel
A jackdaw had found the mammal tunnel but sadly no mammals yet

Sat 16th May
BioBlitz Day.  A long day and a long story but the bottom line is it all went very well indeed.  More than 100 people, including more than 50 children, turned up and thoroughly enjoyed wandering around Milton Loch discovering things and writing down their finds, assisted by our team of 15 experts.  Nick Baker, Naturalist and TV Presenter, was there to give that celebrity touch (I’ve worked with him twice before) and BBC Landward captured it all for their programme on 29th May.  Activities included mammal footprint traps, pond dipping, bug hunting, plant ID, bird ID and looking at results of bat and moth surveys from the previous evening.

Crowd at the BioBlitz
Nick Baker and the enthusiastic crowd at the BoGWiG BioBlitz

 After the Blitz we all went to the village hall for soup and bacon rolls and to start recording the data on iRecord using computers that Geoff Johnson and I had set up in advance.  One of the computers was connected to a projector so that everyone could see their work actually being recorded while they had their lunch.   The event was incorporated into the Cairngorms Nature Festival so we received considerable support from them in the build-up, for which we were very grateful.  This included hiring Nick Baker whom they whisked away in the afternoon to visit a different project.   However, Nick was back at the Boat in the evening to give a talk about the weirdest of weird creatures.  After all that Bea and I collapsed into bed exhausted and relieved it was all over but delighted how well it had gone.  Bea in particular had put in an enormous amount of work over several weeks to pulling it all together so I was very pleased for her.

Beaver lexture at Chanonry Point
Giving a beaver lecture at Chanonry Point

Fri 15th May
Went to Chanonry Point to give my annual beaver lecture to students from Middlesex University.  This year we covered the wider issues of rewilding and reintroductions using beaver and lynx as examples and covering some political aspects and relationships between conservationists and land managers.  In the afternoon I checked nest boxes 2 and 4.  Box 2 now has a nest like I’ve never seen before – it is a ball of nest material with a tunnel leading into it.  I could not have seen inside the nest without breaking it so the species is still a mystery although probably one of the warblers.  Box 4 has a blue tit sitting on the eggs, so not coal tits after all as I had first thought due to having watched coal tits excavating wood shavings from the box.  In the evening we checked the mammal tunnels and camera – just jackdaws recorded on both.  The fish trap had a tiny snail and some kind of creepy crawly in them.  Later I went back to Milton Loch where Hayley, Alison and Colin were fixing up newt traps, my fish traps and insect pitfalls.  All is now ready for the BioBlitz tomorrow involving more than a hundred adults and children plus Nick Baker and BBC Landward.

Mystery nest in Box 2
Mystery nest in Box 2


 
Thurs 14th May
The new badger latrine in the woods had been added to overnight.  Nearby we saw two roe deer – I don’t think that’s significant   :)  In the afternoon Bea and I checked the mammal tunnel and camera at Milton Loch – nothing recorded on either.  There was nothing in the fish traps either so we took them home for modification.    In the evening Kate Johnson joined us to put out the remaining two mammal tunnels and to sink the modified fish traps in the burn. Bea spent the evening preparing the notebooks and doing final emails for the BioBlitz.  Nearly there and it’s beginning to look as if we won’t have a lot of wildlife to show for it – hope I’m wrong.
 
Weds 13th May
With the dogs I revisited yesterday’s newly found badger latrine to get a decent map reference (NH 9365 1832) and some photos.  We checked the mammal tunnels and the Acorn camera at Milton Loch but there were no footprints and no pictures taken.  Spent much of the rest of the day fine-tuning arrangements for the BioBlitz including testing how long it takes to walk from the Community Hall to Milton Loch and back.
 
Tues 12th May
The dogs and I found a new badger latrine at the junction where Bobby’s ‘other short cut’ leaves the sock path – NH 9365 1832.  After lunch Bea and I went to Milton Loch to carry out some of the outstanding jobs.  We checked the fish traps and, as before, there was nothing in them.  Next came either repairing or removing the damaged nest box in front of the bird hide but as I approached two birds flew out of it so that was the end of that idea – we can replace the box after the breeding season using the wood that has been promised by the local saw mill.  We then felled part of a birch tree that was beginning to obstruct the path.  Next came the bat boxes which entailed putting up a set of three around a single tree trunk - one of the boxes had been sitting in my shed for two years and the other two had previously been on trees in the area but the cable ties had snapped as the trees grew.  We also repaired another nearby bat box that needed attention.  The final job was to decide where we would site the mammal tunnels for the weekend.  Having chosen a good spot we thought it a good idea to have a dummy run with one tunnel that night so we mixed some ink and phoned Kate and Andy, who are going to manage the tunnels, to ask them to come with us.  All went well and I set up the Acorn camera to get some visual evidence of anything that happened to check against any footprints that the tunnels acquire. 

Mammal footprint tunnel and cam
BioBlitz Mammal Footprint Tunnel and Cam

Mon 11th May
Checked the fish traps at Milton Loch but they were empty so I threw them into deeper water.  Made three mammal footprint traps ready for the BioBlitz at the weekend and did various other bits and pieces towards the event.  In the afternoon I went to the badger hide to try to see what’s what after last night’s disappointment.  All of the peanuts and most of the peanut butter was gone so I expect that means the badgers are still around.  Whilst there I checked the goldeneye boxes and there is good news; the box on the tree and the box on the pole nearby each contain 3 goldeneye eggs.  The other box on a pole in the hollow is still empty.  In the evening I took last night’s 2 couples to the hide again.  Ralph and Perdita from Germany, regulars at the hide, had booked 2 nights anyway and the other couple were happy to give it a second try.  To begin with the only action was individual badgers running up or down or across the upper sett, similar to last night, but eventually one badger settled down to eating peanuts and was gradually joined by others until there were four.  In the end it was a super night and the guests got some great photos.  When I got home I heard the sad news that the egg at the monument on the golf course has gone – no doubt crows or rooks are to blame.

Blue tit on eggs at box 4
Box 4 turned out to have blue tits in residence, not coal tits

Sun 10th May
First thing in the morning I picked up the fish traps – nothing in them.  On the way to the Golf Club I passed a dead hedgehog in the middle of Nethy Bridge NH 9996 2050.  At the golf club a found that sparrows were nesting in the nest box near the first tee. Found fox poo on the second medal tee NJ 0044 2143.  I photographed the egg on the gravel beside the monument.  We still cannot decided which bird it belongs to because both oyks and curlews are circling and calling.  Took Steve Goodall to see box No 2 because he thought he could identify the warblers I had seen working at it.  Sadly it looks as if they have given up because although there is a small amount of nest material there is no actual nest.  We continued on to box No 4 and found it contains 7 eggs.   In the evening I put the fish traps back in Milton Loch, this time near the bird hide.  Got stuck for a while in the deep mud.  I then took 2 couples to the badger hide where we had a disappointing evening in which we only had a couple of brief glimpses of a badger running across the top of the upper sett.   We did see a couple of small mammals and possibly a frog and were treated to the sight of a couple of roe bucks running in the field.  Perhaps worth noting, the bolt on the door was not as I had left it last week so somebody has been in the hide – I hope they have not scared the badgers.
 
Sat 9th May
Checked box No 4 to find a nest containing at least four eggs – couldn’t be certain of the exact number because the nest was partly covered by a feather and I did not dare to move it.  Bea and I and a few others then went to Milton Loch to do some tidying up before next week’s BioBlitz.  Old tree guards were removed, old nest boxes taken down, floating planks taken out of the loch and the remains of a dam disposed of.  We also laid plans to build and erect a few more nest boxes before next week.  Whilst there, I put out a couple of home-made fish traps; one in the loch and one in the stream.
 
Fri 8th May
Attended the Scottish Badgers Advisory group meeting in Perth.  Discussed funding, crime, training for badger workers, Conference 2015, website, and the A9 dualling among other things.  Excellent meeting – lots going on.

Badger at the corner post
Badger on the Corner Post Bushnell

Thurs 7th May
Checked the Bushnell camera and there were some nice badger pictures on the card again; also a pine marten.  At the golf club an egg has been laid on the gravel around the monument.  We are not yet certain if it’s oyster catchers or curlews responsible because both have been seen near the nest.  At home, the great tits and sparrows have resumed their activities in the nest-box galleries.  We received a few more bookings for the BioBlitz but so far there are not as many as we were expecting despite plenty of advertising on social media and the CNPA website.

Pine marten on the Corner Post camera
Pine Marten on the Corner Post Bushnell

Weds 6th May
Filled the Angle feeders, which completes the set around the woods, then made a couple of fish traps ready for our BioBlitz, speaking of which we had a well attended planning meeting in the evening at the community hall.  I think we now have most things covered although the Boat of Garten page on iRecord is still not working properly.  If it’s still not working on the big day we can just use iRecord’s main system or the Cairngorms page.
 
Tues 5th May
Filled up the nuts at the community hall and bought a new sack – still £48 in our Post Office but the shop in Grantown has come down to £40; pity the cost of petrol to Grantown and back would wipe out the difference, unless I was going to Grantown anyway, which I’m not.  Spoke to the Director of BBC Landward to coordinate her plans and ours for Nick Baker at the BoGWiG BioBlitz.  I think we have a plan that lets her do her filming without stopping Nick from interacting with our guests and their children.  In the afternoon I filled the squirrel car park feeders where I bumped into a local wildlife guide and his 2 clients.  We talked about crested tits, goldeneye ducks, slavonian grebes and pine martens.  He thinks female pine martens are more careful with food than are males, but has no scientific evidence of that.  I suggested that, if true, it could be that the females are carrying food back to the young in the den which I don’t think the males do (must check).  I then went to the badger hide to top up the peanuts ready for tonight’s badger watch and to check the goldeneye boxes.  The two boxes on poles are still empty but the box up the tree which had four broken eggs in it now has no broken eggs and one intact egg.  Weird.  On the way home I called in at the sewage works to check their goldeneye boxes but they have been taken down because Scottish Power objected to them being mounted on their lamp-posts in case they need to work on the lamps and the presence of a protected bird might prevent them from doing so. In the evening I took two people from the Highland Wildlife Park to the hide.  We had an hour and a half of badger activity involving at least two different badgers; it was hard to tell for certain exactly how many due to all the comings and goings and they all look more or less the same.
 
Mon 4th May
Welcomed home by woodpeckers drumming and a red squirrel on the nuts near the Angle in our woods.  Beginning to put some flesh on the bones of our Bio Blitz with Nick Baker and BBC Landward on 15th May – still some details to sort out but we are mostly there.
 
Weds 29th Apr to Sun 3rd May
A somewhat lost period involving preparation for and travel to Argyll for Sandra’s and Alison’s wedding at Strathlachlan.  We did no environmental stuff at all that weekend although it was lovely to see the guests’ delighted reaction to a red squirrel running across the castle lawn after the ceremony.  Most, being from down south, had never seen a live red squirrel before. 
 
Tues 28th Apr
Biffa Award meeting at High Wycombe.  It was Linda Butler’s last meeting and Tony Whitbread’s, Linda’s replacement, first.   Train back to London and dinner at La Regina, then the sleeper home.
 
Mon 27th Apr
Did a bit of thinking about upcoming events then in the evening caught the sleeper to London.
 
Sat 25th and Sun 26th Apr
Bad weather – wind, then rain, then snow.  No wildlife work at all other than preparing for next week’s Biffa Award meeting at High Wycombe.  I was supposed to conduct some BBC people round my crested tit and goldeneye nest boxes but it was cancelled due to the lack of activity in those boxes.
 
Fri 24th Apr
On the early morning walk we saw 2 red squirrels on the nuts at the Angle, heard a woodpecker drumming on Fairy Hill and found prey remains of probably a collared dove in the woods near the football pitch.  Jonny and I later went looking for the old narrow-headed ants nest along the Sustrans cycle path but could not find it.  The trees along that stretch have grown so much in the last ten years that they have probably shaded the ants out of existence.  Jonny had a quick look in the nearby farmer’s field and declared the habitat ideal in the corner of the field so Bea and I might one day go along and have a proper search when time permits.
 
Thurs 23rd Apr
Cairngorms Nature Seminar in Boat hall.  More than a hundred delegates attended an interesting and successful event but the intended discussions did not really get going because the day was so full of presentations that there wasn’t much time for questions and debates.  Lunchtime and coffee breaks however provided good networking opportunities.  After the event Jonny Hughes, who had given the keynote address, and I joined some of the CNP staff and others for a drink at the Boat Hotel and later on Jonny came with me for an evening walk to look at some nest boxes and check the Bushnell camera; he then stayed overnight.  Jonny thought the mystery birds in box No 2 were almost certainly wood warblers.
 
Weds 22nd Apr
Checked the Bushnell camera.  It has been out for 7 nights and has recorded badgers on 6 of them.  Really must check that nearby sett but time – oh dear time – where does it go?  Refilled the community hall feeders.  Rescued a red admiral butterfly that had become tangled in a wood-shaving attached to a cobweb in my shed.  Added “wildlife hero” to CV.  Attended the SWT North Scotland Group AGM where new SWT Chairman Robin Harper was the guest speaker.  Reasonable turn-out and a pleasant evening.
 
Tues 21st Apr
Checked the Acorn cam at box 2 but nothing was recorded so I deduced it was too far away for a small bird to trigger it, which meant I should probably sit there with binoculars.  After lunch I did just that and eventually a small bird came along with nest material.  I took some photos which were not really good enough for a positive ID but the bird is probably one of those difficult to identify woodland warblers.  I decided to leave it at that until the birds have settled on eggs or have chicks because disturbing them while nest building could scare them off altogether.  Six tufted ducks on bonfire field pond this evening.  Later I went to the badger hide to check the goldeneye boxes.  The two on poles were still empty and the one on the tree still only had four eggs and they had been broken open and the contents eaten, or so it looked on the endoscope.  Not good.  I then sat for an hour outside the badger hide reading my Kindle and at 2030 a badger came out for a short time to say hallo.
 
Mon 20th Apr
Bea and I attended a biological recording training session at the CNPA offices in Grantown.  New gateways and new recording forms, methods and websites were explained and there was considerable discussion over some of their features.  Duplication of effort and verification of records were particular causes for concern, leading to doubts over whether the effort of filling in record forms by busy people was a worthwhile use of their time.  We’ll see.
 
Sun 19th Apr
No wildlife stuff
 
Sat 18th Apr
Filled up the Angle feeders and then removed the Acorn camera from the nearby fallen tree so that I can set it up later to see which birds are using nest box number 2.  Fingers crossed for crested tit.  The card on the Acorn had lots of lovely videos and pics of red squirrel, jay and gs woodpecker but nothing novel enough to keep.   At dusk I set up the Acorn cam 2 metres from box 2 in the hope of learning which species is using it.  I’ll check tomorrow evening.

Bobby and Max Guarding the feeder and camera

Fri 17th Apr
Bea picked me up off the sleeper, then it was breakfast and take the dogs with me to check the Acorn camera.  GS woodpeckers and jays were the main performers but at last we had a couple of red squirrels on the feeder, although neither worked out how to lift the lid.  In the afternoon we did a thorough nest check the outcome of which was blue tits in box 28, coal tits in box 4 and a nest in box 2 reminiscent of crested tits but we’ll have to wait until I’ve set up a camera to be certain.  Box 13 had fallen off its tree (the string had rotted through) but I was able to re-fix it with wire.   The lid of box 16 also needed some new wire.  Later I went to the badger hide to check the nest boxes there.  The nest in the tit box must be last year’s as it has not changed for several weeks.  Goldeneye ducks have laid 4 eggs in the box still attached to a tree but none in either of the much safer boxes on poles – stupid birds.  I daresay the eggs will not last long once the pine marten finds them.  I did see a few goldeneye ducks on the river so there’s time yet for them to come to their senses.  Talked to the badgers down their tunnels and scattered some peanuts for them before heading home.
 
Thurs 16th Apr
Terrific event at Ollerton, marking the end of the Woodland Trust project called Trees Enriching Communities.  Five of us attended for Biffa Award.  The Chairman of the Woodland Trust, Nicola, told us all in her address that 5,000 communities had taken part in the scheme so the money provided by Biffa Award had been spread far and wide.  Enjoyed a very interesting conversation with Nicola over a barbeque lunch before we all went our separate ways. I caught a train to London in time for dinner and to catch the sleeper home.
 
Weds 15th Apr
Blackbirds and great tits feverishly gathering nest material in the garden – looks good for babies in due course.  Caught the 0830 Chieftain to Newark via York for a Biffa Award/Woodland Trust celebration tomorrow called “Trees Enriching Communities” which we helped to fund.
 
Tues 14th Apr
SWT were on the radio and in the papers today leading the call by 10 environmental bodies for a three year moratorium on the groundless culling of hares on grouse moors.  Well done, say I.  A few years back the MacAuley Institute claimed their research showed no difference in the incidence of louping ill virus in grouse, which is what this is supposed to be all about, on estates that culled hares compared with estates that did not.  I checked the Bushnell cam at the corner post – a few pics on the card of deer and badger.   Drafted a quote for a press release ahead of the Cairngorms Nature Festival at which BoGWiG will be running a Bio Blitz with Nick Baker present.  It'll be good to work with Nick again.  Checked the Acorn camera – a gs woodpecker and 2 jays have now found the feeder on the fallen tree.
 
Mon 13th Apr
Checked the Acorn cam in its new position – no images taken at all.  Busy nest building going on the shed gallery, left end, by great tits.  Wrote an article about beavers for the local newsletter.  I was quoted in the Press and Journal about there being too many deer in the Highlands in contradiction of gamekeepers who are complaining about out of season efforts to reduce deer numbers.  My comments will be popular with conservationists but as usual I will be at odds with gamekeepers and estate owners.
 
Sun 12th Apr
It snowed overnight such that the golf today was cancelled.  Checked the Acorn camera in its new position near the Angle but no wildlife has yet found the new feeder.  The Press and Journal phoned to ask my opinion on the SGA view that there is too much of a call to reduce red deer numbers in Scotland.  I spoke to the reporter for some time, mostly making the point that environmentalists agree there are too many deer and they are trashing the environment, especially by suppressing forest regeneration.  I said deer are an important element in a balanced ecosystem but we are well past the tipping point beyond which they are a problem.  I added that the reintroduction of a large predator such as the lynx would alter the behaviour of deer in ways that would benefit the environment because deer could no longer afford to linger in the juiciest parts of the countryside because the predators would quickly learn that those places were the best hunting grounds.  The deer would then learn that those places were the most dangerous.  This effect is known as the disturbance factor or fear factor and it would help reduce deer damage to the environment.
 
Sat 11th Apr
Two red squirrels at the Angle feeders so I set up the Acorn camera and a feeder on a fallen pine tree about 50 metres into the woods from the Angle.  Worked on embedding a video player into my websites – got it to work on Cairngorm Wildlife but not on the golf club site.  Will have to phone the isp on Monday.
 
Fri 10th Apr
Went to Elgin to negotiate for a new car.  During the course of the day we came across 3 dead badgers, one at Drum of Carron near Glenfarclas Distillery on the A95 at NJ 2191 3918, another just north of Craigellachie on the A941 at NJ 2877 4566 and the lactating female I had already heard about at Monduie, Nethy Bridge on the B970 at NH 9917 2068.  Reported them to Scottish Badgers.  Checked the Acorn cam – just woodpeckers and jays again so I brought the camera home and will put it somewhere else tomorrow.
 
Thurs 9th Apr
No wildlife stuff at all.  Played golf, then watched the Masters.
 
Weds 8th Apr
Three roe deer near the end of the loop. Checked the Acorn cam – the woodpecker seems to be dominating that feeder now because there are very few shot of other birds.  A few mice were recorded at night.  Maybe the time has come to move that set-up elsewhere.
 
Tues 7th Apr
Red squirrel on the nuts at the Angle first thing, which reminded me to check the community hall feeders later, which I duly did and topped them up.  Good piece on Mark Avery’s blog this morning about the red-squirrel/grey-squirrel/pine-marten/pheasant–go-round.   The issues are now getting plenty of publicity which I guess is not too comfortable for the anti-predator lobby.  Woodpecker drumming near the 4th tee at Abernethy this morning.  In the evening I took a three-generation family to the badger hide for a superb evening – we had at least three different badgers, two of them came very close to the hide.
 
Mon 6th Apr
Glorious weather. Checked the Bushnell cam and had several badger and roe deer pictures.  Lately there has been a lot more badger activity at that spot than over the winter so clearly all is well with the nearby setts.  Will check the nearest one at some point this week because the last time I checked it was not being used at all.  Checked the Acorn cam in the afternoon – got some really nice pics and vids of gs woodpecker. Speaking of cameras, now that the Bushnell is showing signs of its age I looked into reasonable replacements.  Wildlife Kate recommends the Bushnell Natureview 439 or 440 with 25cm and 46cm close-up lenses and Andy Ford from the Park had done some research and had come up with the same cameras, so I’ll probably go for one of those when the old Bushnell finally dies; it's screen is already becoming hard to read.  Took some more bookings for the badger hide this week – it’s going well.
 
Sun 5th Apr
Checked the Acorn cam in the evening – a few nice sharp shots of woodpeckers and small birds.
 
Sat 4th Apr
0800 checked the Acorn camera and the new set-up shows promise considering the lens was quite wet from overnight drizzle.  Small birds and mice only though.  Found more fresh pine marten poo, this time just off the south edge of the secret path almost level with Box 02 which is at NH 93090 18900.  Called on 2 of our BoGWiG  members and chatted about Cairngorms National Park, the Cairngorms Nature Project and BoGWiG.  Went to the hide where I installed the last of the four new torches and filled up the peanut bins.  Outside the hide I filled the bird feeder and checked the five bird boxes, none of which are showing signs of use apart from the tit box which already had a nest in and it looks the same as last time I visited.  I remembered to take some wire with me this time and fixed the lid of the tit at long last.  On the way out I picked up some goose droppings for Bea’s “Who Shat That?” quiz.

 


Fri 3rd Apr
Checked the newly positioned Acorn cam with its different lens.  As we left the site a male capercaillie flew off near the end of the so-called loop at NH93106 18708.  At home I checked the Acorn’s card to find that the daytime pictures and videos were very good indeed but the night time images were still poor.  In the afternoon Bea and I and the dogs did a full crested tit nest box check.  No clear activity yet although the wood shavings in box 24 did seem to be lower than expected.  Box 12 had a decomposing great tit lying on the ground underneath it. At 6pm I went back to the Acorn cam and removed the improvised diffuser and taped over about half of the IR leds to see if that improved the night images.  I swapped cards again and at home found a really nice wee video of a crested tit had been recorded earlier in the day – I uploaded it unedited straight onto Facebook and Twitter (via YouTube) to some mild acclaim – rather less than it deserved I thought.
 
Thurs 2nd Apr
4 roe deer near the end of the loop.  Removed the Acorn cam to bring it home for experiments with different lenses and on the way home swopped the cards in the Bushnell.  Found a couple of crested tit shots on the Acorn card and there were three badger pics on the Bushnell.  Spent a couple of hours in the shed and came up with a way of getting the Acorn to focus at between 700 and 1000mm by using a lens from an old pair of specs.  Might manage to get some decent woodpecker and squirrel shots at last, assuming it works OK actually out in the field.  Stay tuned.
 
Weds 1st Apr
Usual suspects on the Acorn card: small common birds, a gs woodpecker, a jay and lots of mice.  While I was out I refilled the loop feeder and the feeders at the squirrel car park where I heard a crested tit.  Still a very snowy morning with a mix of sun and snow showers.  Very cold.  Gave the two microscopes a bit of a birthday in case they would be useful for the bio-blitz next month.  They’re both working well and our new wee led torches fit the slots for lights neatly enough to do the needful.
 
Tues 31st Mar
More snow and wind.  On the Acorn cam we had several shots of a gs woodpecker, all sharp but only its head.  Must work on finding a range of different close-up lenses. The entrance to the pine marten den near the mini cross roads on Fairy Hill, which yesterday and previously had been choked with debris, had been cleared out so maybe our mustelid friend is back in residence.

Mon 30th Mar
The pictures on the Acorn were much better aligned today but only great tits, coal tits, chaffinches and mice were recorded.  Bad weather with more snow so not much action otherwise.

Sun 29th Mar
Still rough but went out for the early dog walk anyway to sort out the cameras; changed the clocks on both to BST, removed the timer from the Acorn and lined the Acorn up better than it was yesterday.  At home, the Acorn’s card at last had a crested tit on it but because the camera had not been quite lined up properly only the top half of the bird was displayed.  Hopefully things will be better in future.

Great tit at the loop feeder
A great tit at the loop feeder

Sat 28th Mar
BBC Radio Scotland had a great piece on Out Of Doors this morning about the lynx.  Alan Watson-Featherston of Trees For Life explained very clearly what the effect of lynx would be on Scotland’s forests by introducing a disturbance factor, which at the moment is missing.  Deer could no longer afford to dwell at the richest browsing grounds because with a large predator around those places would become the most dangerous. Took the dogs out for the first time for 3 days.  Checked both trail cams and replaced all 20 of the batteries.  The feeder at the Acorn cam was bent but there was no picture or video because I’ve got the camera timed to switch off between 7pm and 7am.  The first picture of the day on 26th Mar showed the bent feeder so it was definitely something nocturnal that bent it and probably a local badger.  The Bushnell had roe deer, cattle, some badgers and a fox.  Plenty of nesting activity in the garden today.  Sparrows nest building in the porch gallery and blue tits and great tits competing for the shed gallery so that’s the prompt to schedule a crested tit nest box check – will try for next Friday.
 
Fri 27th Mar
Staff from the National Park spent the morning with us to discuss plans for our bio-blitz on 16th May.  Likely to include pond dipping, a bug hunt, bird watching, plant surveying and how to record it all followed by a talk in the hall in the evening.  Heard of a badger RTA at Tulloch NH983165 – knocked down by a very tired wildlife warden.  Earlier in the week I was told of a dead lactating female badger near Nethy but was unable to check because I’ve been down with the flu and then I forgot all about it.  It's gone now.
 
Thurs 26th Mar
Not the best of weather so found indoor jobs to do including ordering another led torch and more rechargeable batteries for the hide following the great success of the new lighting arrangement.   Got a message from iRecord to say my record of a wood-mouse in our woods is outside the known range of that animal – what a load of nonsense.  I double checked the map ref I gave them in case I had blundered (not at all out of the question!) but it’s perfectly correct.  What’s going on?  I noticed in the afternoon that great tits were going in and out of the shed sparrow gallery.

Pine marten droppings
Pine marten droppings near a trail camera in Craigie Wood

Weds 25th Mar
Checked the Acorn cam – same old story with hundreds of pictures of common small birds but still no red squirrel or crested tit.  The local ranger and friends went to the badger hide and watched 2 badgers – both males apparently.  I signed up for the mammal recorder system - not sure why because there already too many such systems on the go.  There should be only one system, as most people agree, but because nobody is willing to give up either their records or their control or both it's hard to see anything changing.
 
Tues 24th Mar
Attended the launch of the Experiment Zone in ‘Science At Life’ in the Centre for Life.  Biffa Award had provided the money for the zone so we were there as funders.  Great event. Lots of children there who were unleashed on the facilities as soon as the formalities were complete.  Inspiring stuff.  Caught the Highland Chieftain train home.
 
Mon 23rd Mar
Train to Newcastle to visit the Centre for Life on behalf of Biffa Award.  In the evening our small contingent was treated to dinner with the Trustees and Staff of the facility during which we were briefed on the work of the Centre.
 
Sun 22nd Mar
Filled the Angle feeders.  Checked the Acorn cam and among 858 images there are still no red squirrels or crested tits.  Hard to explain, especially as I saw a crested tit on the feeder at the Angle which is only a few hundred yards from the camera.  Packed a bag for tomorrow’s trip to Newcastle to visit the ScienceAtLife part of the Centre for Life on behalf of Biffa Award.

New lights at the hide
New lights at the badger hide

Sat 21st Mar
Filled the squirrel car park feeders.  In the evening went to the badger hide and rigged up the new led torches on a more permanent basis inside the hide along the window ledge to illuminate the upper sett more evenly and more brightly.  It worked really well.  Before starting work I scattered a few peanuts, more out of habit than anything, but it backfired because when I was ready to leave I couldn’t because there were badgers scoffing peanuts outside.  At one point there were six – the most we’ve seen in one go for years.  Terrific evening.
 
Fri 20th Mar
Walked to Loch Vaa with the dogs and on the way home we heard a crested tit calling near nest box number 14. Checked the Acorn camera and it was the same old story – lots of pics of the usual birds but not squirrels or cresties.  The Bushnell at the corner post had taken lots of pictures of badgers so the subsidiary sett nearby must be occupied again.  There was also a blurry picture of a pine marten which explains the very fresh pine marten dung on the path only 150m from the camera at NH 9254 1860. In the evening I took a couple to the badger hide – we saw 3 badgers.  The new torches for the hide arrived earlier and were a great success, illuminating the upper sett even better than the failed floodlight used to. It’s an ill wind!

Capercaillie droppings
Capercaillie droppings in Craigie Wood

Thurs 19th Mar
Red squirrel at the Angle feeder at 0745.  The Acorn camera had nearly 600 images on it, all of small common birds and jays; still no cresties, woodpeckers or red squirrels. Found capercaillie droppings half way along the caper track, quite near the lek.  Perhaps they’re gathering for the annual orgy; maybe already started.
 
Weds 18th Mar
Learned that our neighbour Lou’s tiny daughter has a Frog Blog on Facebook, based on some frog spawn and a pond.  Great parents or what!  Filled the feeders at the community hall.  Heard a woodpecker hammering behind the Deshar Road houses.  Spent most of the day building a tit nest box.  Its first duty will be to serve as a suggestion box at the local eco-friendly Abernethy golf club and the person who comes up with the best idea will get the box.  This meant the usual rough and ready approach to building a nest box was not appropriate so I had to sand all the parts and actually measure the spacing between screw holes so it looked presentable.

Posh Nest Box
A posh-looking nest box

Tues 17th Mar
Played golf for the first time this year and was rewarded with a woodpecker hammering away near the 6th green.  Checked the Acorn camera – 300 pics and vids of common small birds but no crestie and no squirrel – even the jay stayed away this time.  Ordered new magnetic lights for the badger hide and dug out some nicads and a charger.

Badger near the hide
A badger very close to the hide

Mon 16th Mar
Spent the afternoon and evening with Katherine Bell from the Black Isle who is training to be a badger worker.  The afternoon was spent surveying badger setts and we found examples of all of the usual categories of sett; main, annex, outlier and subsidiary.  At Mullingarroch we had a main and an annex.  At Milton Lochan the sett I had always known as a main sett turned out to be the annex of a much bigger sett along a badger track that Katherine insisted we explore.  Milton main sett was fairly active, as was its annex which we took some time to find but in the process we came across a single outlier.  Finally we checked the Loch Pityoulish North Sett which was unused and we decided was a subsidiary sett, it being too far from the nearest main sett to be an annex and having too many tunnels to be an outlier.  A super afternoon.  In the evening we went to the badger hide and had a brilliant time.  The first badger emerged within 5 minutes of our arrival and within 10 minutes we had 3 badgers.  Some of the badgers came really close to the hide so we both got some super pictures.  Earlier in the day I had phoned the supplier of the led light that failed on Sunday and established that type of light cannot be repaired.  With that in mind, and wishing to test the effectiveness of using a number of small lights with rechargeable batteries spread across the slope, I took my two small led lamps from home to attach to trees to supplement the two larger ones already there.  It worked fairly well but the two small lamps were not really up to the job so I will need to buy a few more powerful ones to make my idea work properly. 
 
Sun 15th Mar
Checked the Acorn camera – once again lots of images of tits and a jay but still no red squirrels or crested tits.  Printed some maps ready for tomorrow’s badger survey.  Bea and I visited the badger hide to assess the failed floodlight.  We removed it and took it home but I could not even take it apart because the screw heads were so soft they just crumbled when I tried to get them out.  May try a drill and if that fails I’ll simply replace it.  While there we checked some nest boxes – the kestrel box and the 3 goldeneye boxes are unused so far and it’s hard to say if the nest in the tit box is new or last year’s; time will tell.
 
Sat 14th Mar
Checked the Mullingarroch badger sett because I was concerned that the present extraordinarily high water table may have inundated the tunnels.  Thankfully all was well but I only stayed long enough to make fairly sure the sett was occupied because I will be doing a proper survey of the sett on Monday with trainee badger worker Katherine Bell. 

Fri 13th Mar
Checked the Acorn camera – a few pics and videos of coal tits and lots of a jay.  Refilled the feeder at the squirrel car park.  Bought a sack of peanuts from Ark Supplies in Grantown – a lot cheaper than in our village – and then filled the feeders at the Angle.  On the way to the feeder we saw a red squirrel, then as I approached the feeder a crested tit flew off and then a short distance down the car park track we saw a male and female roe deer walking away side by side.  Nice.  Took 4 young people to the hide – we saw 3 badgers.  Unfortunately Friday the 13th kicked in - one of the floodlights packed up.  Happily the pair of magnetic torches we’ve been using lately as a supplementary light source did a passable job of filling in.
 
Thurs 12th Mar
Up early again to take the dogs out before I had to go to Inverness – we heard a woodpecker drumming behind the Kinchurdy Road houses.  At Inverness I attended the N Division Scottish Police Wildlife Crime Conference on behalf of Scottish Badgers.   About 40 people attended the morning session but only about half of them stayed for the afternoon – pity. Caught up with old colleagues from SNH, Cairngorms, the police and SLE.  Quite an interesting day covering police structures, wildlife crime officer coverage, SNH crime prevention activity, advances in forensic science with DNA and fingerprinting, the National Wildlife Crime Unit, the Divisional Intelligence Unit and the plight of the fresh water pearl mussel.   The NFUS rep started the day on an uncomfortable note with a rant about police behaviour during the red kite and buzzard poisoning events last year and he was supported by the SLE rep.  The police admitted they could have handled the matter better.  I found myself sympathising with the police – I couldn’t explain why.  One piece of good news – under a forthcoming restructure N Division will be appointing more Wildlife Crime Officers.  In response to a complaint recently I asked if, when dialling 101 to report a crime incident, one was entitled to insist on an incident number and the answer was an emphatic yes.  I explained a badger worker had been refused an incident number recently so the police said they would check that all telephone operators were aware of the public’s right to a number.  Over lunch some of us discussed the activities of Paul O’Donoghue and his two ill-judged projects; all were agreed his efforts are undermining mainstream plans to help wildcats and reintroduce lynx. Sad to hear today of the death of Sir Terry Pratchett; he’ll be sorely missed.

The mouse that had been caught in the feeder
The mouse that had got caught in the squirrel feeder. Happily it survived and I was able to release it unharmed

Weds 11th Mar
During the morning walk we found more trees down in the woods after several days of gales.  The feeder at the loop contained a very fed up mouse which I photographed and then released. We had noticed from the camera a few days ago that the wind occasionally blew the lid open so that’s how the mouse will have got in.  On the plus side, it won’t have gone hungry with all those peanuts.   In the evening we went to Inverness to the SWT North Group meeting where Derek McGinn, a former Chairman of the group, gave us an entertaining account of his wildlife experiences, wildlife photography and wildlife sound recording.
 
Tues 10th Mar
Bea went to Stirling for a course on Protected Vulnerable Groups and Disclosure. She did this on behalf of the Community Company so that in future they get things right.  I was out quite a lot with the dogs and then met the local ranger for a drink and chat about running the badger hide and about her work with young people. There may be ways in which I can help. Later she phoned to say she had three people at the badger hide that night and they had seen five badgers – same as the last time I was there.  Two of her party want to go again later in the week with friends so I said I would take them on Friday.
 
Mon 9th Mar
Started the day by filling the feeders behind the community hall.  On the way home we came across a dead red squirrel near the Craigie Avenue corner of the football field.  Had a phone call from a chap at Inshriach to report an injured badger.  It turns out the badger is coping OK with its injured leg and returns to the chap’s home every evening to steal his cat’s food.  I said it was best to let the badger recover in its own way because capturing it and taking it out of its territory to a vet unnecessarily would be highly stressful and possibly do more harm than good considering how well the badger is functioning. 
 
Sun 8th Mar
The Acorn had taken another 500+ pictures and videos of mice so I changed the set up so that it only triggers between 7am and 7pm.  In the afternoon we saw a red squirrel behind the community hall again – second time in a few days which is reassuring because they have not been much in evidence lately.
 
Sat 7th Mar
Nearly 600 images on the Acorn cam, all but two of mice, so clearly the set up isn’t working.  On checking the instruction booklet I found the camera has a timer in which you can set periods of time when it is on or off so I would try that next day. 
 
Fri 6th Mar
Saw a red squirrel at the community hall and then checked the Acorn camera which had taken 150 pics and videos overnight, mostly of mice and mostly in focus but all badly composed.  When shooting that close I’ll have to take greater care which way the camera is pointing.  Resolved some diary and booked rail tickets for the next three trips – Newcastle, Newark and High Wycombe.  Took the Win 7 laptop to the local computer shop who fixed it – at a price.  Fair enough.  At dusk I went back to the Acorn cam, adjusted its aim and dropped the infra-red light level to ‘low’ because some of last night’s pictures were a bit over-exposed.

A mouse bravely feeding in a gale
A mouse bravely feeding in the gale

Thurs 5th Mar
Wrestled with a failing laptop.  No wildlife work done except to check the Acorn camera which had taken lots of pictures and a few videos – the videos were all truncated so we had a battery problem I suspected.  Later we went back and changed the batteries.  Friends Sandra and Ali from Argyll arrived in the evening to collect their dogs Sam and Meggan who had been staying with us for a couple of weeks.  Sandra and Ali had taken some brilliant photos of mountain hare in the last few days along the Findhorn valley
 
Weds 4th Mar
A much nicer day.  There was a great spotted woodpecker on the feeder at The Angle.  The Acorn camera had taken lots of pictures, all in focus so that is something to celebrate.  Bill and Nancy Cuthbert called in and it was great to catch up with them after being out of touch for a couple of years.  In the evening I took five people to the badger hide and we had five badgers in view at one point.  Discovered there is a mistake in the What’s On publication about the badger watches - it omits to say that advance booking is essential so we had a couple of people turn up unexpectedly.  Good job it wasn’t more or I would have had to turn them away.
 
Tues 3rd Mar
Bad weather so the Acorn didn’t trigger at all.  Spent most of the day indoors doing all sorts of odd jobs.
 
Mon 2nd Mar
Checked the Acorn camera again to see if removing the close-up lens helped the focus. Sadly it didn’t, in fact it made things worse.  Next step is to put the close up lens back on and move the camera closer to the feeder; if I remember correctly it worked best with the Bushnell camera at 35cm. Filled the feeder behind the community hall.  Went back to the Acorn and did what I suggested above – we’ll see tomorrow if it worked.  If it doesn’t, I’m out of ideas except to ditch the Acorn and buy something else.
 
Sun 1st Mar
Checked the Bushnell cam at the corner post (42 pics of roe deer), then later checked the Acorn cam at the loop feeder (10 pics and 10 videos of a mouse). Removed the close-up lens from the Acorn, hoping that will improve the focus.  Worked on the Highland Badger Network website to try to resolve the scripting problem with the forms but with no success.  The work-around using a different server to hold the script still works OK but it would be far better if I could find a way to make it work on its own server.

Sat 28th Feb
Took 3 of the dogs to Loch Vaa to find the situation exactly as described by a friend a few days ago; the loch is so high the path round it is under water in some places.  Nobody I have spoken to has ever seen the local lochs as high as this.  Checked the Acorn cam at the loop feeder; the diffuser has been highly effective in spreading the infra-red light more evenly but the focus is still a problem.  Beautiful swan on the new pond in the bonfire field.  There’s no sign yet of the local water levels dropping.
 
Fri 27th Feb
Away down the A9 early for a meeting of Scottish Badgers in Perth.  The main topics of the day included the recent ScotLink report on wildlife crime and the future strategy of Scottish Badgers.  Back at home I wrestled with the script on the Highland Badgers website, not for the first time.  Managed to set up a work-around similar to the solution to a previous similar issue 2 years ago involving placing the script on a different server from the main site.  Far from ideal and possibly contravening all sorts of codes of best practice but it works.
 
Thurs 26th Feb
Took the Acorn camera back to the squirrel feeder at the loop, having fitted a close up lens to help with the focus and a light diffuser to try to better balance the infra red light at night.  Spent part of the evening preparing for tomorrow’s meeting of Scottish Badgers Advisory Group.

Acorn cam at a feeder
The Acorn camera at a squirrel feeder

Weds 25th Feb
Collected the Acorn camera and stripped out the card and the batteries for a hard reboot in the hope of fixing the problems which I think are weather related - I should probably stop using this device in winter. Took Lesley and Simon to the squirrel car park and we saw a crested tit and a tree creeper. The pond in the grebe field is by far the biggest we have ever seen it so maybe the grebes will come back again this year. In the evening I reset the Acorn camera and might put it out again in the next day or two if the weather improves.
 
Tues 24th Feb
Checked the Acorn camera.  There were a few pics and videos of a mouse on the card but the camera had stopped working 36 hours ago.  It seems it does not like wet or cold weather much.  I’ll bring it home at some point to dry out and for a hard reboot.  Sandra and Ali brought the dogs to us mid morning for their 10 day holiday while the girls go and get photos of wildlife. 
 
Mon 23rd Feb
Awoke to heavy snow as forecast.  Noticed the feeder at the Angle was totally empty so that’s a job for later.  Daughter Lesley and big Simon drove up from Wales today and made it through the snowy Drumochter pass OK.
 
Sun 22nd Feb
Checked both cameras.  The Bushnell had only taken a dog walker and the Acorn had captured several pics and AVIs of a mouse; all at night (infra red) and all very grainy and out of focus.  Not a good purchase.  Moved the bird feeder in our garden to a new position to let the grass under it recover. In the afternoon I went back to the Acorn cam, switched the infra-red to low power and added a close-up lens in the hope of better focus tonight.  We’ll see but I don’t hold out much hope.  Made a GIF of a fox at Auchgourish for Twitter. Spent time in the evening juggling dates for visits to the badger hide.  Also finished a watercolour of Milton Loch but it didn’t end up as nice as I had hoped. Will keep trying.

Fox at Auchgourish
One of our beautiful foxes at Auchgourish

Sat 21st Feb
Spent most of the day preparing for visitors.  In the evening we found fox dung on the bonfire field about 100m along the main track, then in the north corner of the field a buzzard was casting its hungry eye over the rabbits in the next field.
 
Fri 20th Feb
ScotLink have released a report criticising Scottish Government’s performance on fighting wildlife crime.  SG has responded quite negatively, refuting most of the claims, which is disappointing.  The gamekeepers have predictably responded in similar fashion. The presenter on BBC Radio Scotland, who lately has been behaving as if he is Jeremy Paxman, gave Duncan Orr-Ewing from RSPB a hard time, including on the subject of investigative powers so he might have been mixing them up with SSPCA.  Duncan wilted a bit under the onslaught.  Checked both trail cams – the Acorn seems to be misbehaving again and the Bushnell captured a couple of badgers and some rams in the next field.  Must go back and change the set up for the Acorn to see if that improves matters.  Bea and I went to the site where the new Boat of Garten water treatment works is being built for a photo call to record the company handing over a large cheque to RSPB to help with their forest expansion scheme at Abernethy.  We then took some photos around the village for our page in the National Park new biological recording system.  Bea took me to see a den/burrow she had found when out with the CNPA JMA group on Tuesday – it’s at NH 9363 1848 beside what we call the glove path.  Rabbits appear to be using it at the moment but the entrance is large enough that a badger could have started it.
 
Thurs 19th Feb
Caught the early train home, then in the evening I took Phil Smith, who was staying at the Grant Arms Hotel as part of their BWWC arrangements, to see badgers.  It was bitterly cold and for a time it looked as if the badgers had decided to stay snuggled up in their cosy beds but eventually the peanuts proved too much of a temptation and a badger came out to eat.  We may also have seen a second one but we could not be certain.
 
Weds 18th Feb
Caught the train to Edinburgh for the annual ScotLink reception in the Scottish Parliament.  I spent the evening networking and generally catching up with my many friends around the environment movement; personalities from SWT, John Muir Trust, Friends of the Earth, ScotLink itself, Scottish Government, the new Environment Minister, RSPB, Cairngorms National Park, BASC and others.  Stayed overnight at Dalkeith.
 
Tues 17th Feb
Checked the Acorn camera and the wind does not seem to have affected it at all – it had only taken 3 pictures.  At 10am I went to the hall to meet the CNPA JMA group of Lynne, Sam, Jeanette and Alice plus Justin from the CNPA Caper Framework Project and Catriona from the James Hutton Institute.  The plan was for the group to ‘Discover’ capercaillie.  First thing was a crested tit behind the hall, then there were some squirrel drays in trees nearby and then we got into the serious business of discussing capercaillie issues.  Briefly, fences are still the big issue, Boat woods are surprisingly productive of caper chicks, some new habitat is being created in the park, some proposed mitigation measures have been dumped because they are so unpopular (eg path closures) and others will only go ahead in extremis (eg hessian screens beside paths).  In the afternoon Bea took the four girls to ‘Discover’ red squirrels and then I took them to the badger hide to ‘Discover’ badgers and other mammals.  Learned today that my OBE investiture will be at Holyrood on 1st July.  In the evening did the badger hide stats for the year. Very similar to last year with an average of 2.76 badgers per visit.
 
Mon 16th Feb
Checked the Bushnell camera – it had been triggered 7 times by roe deer.  Met a pal in the woods and mentioned the camera had been tampered with a few days ago – he was as surprised as I was, not being aware of anyone else using that part of the wood.  Went to the badger hide to check if the goldeneye boxes had survived and to hammer some stakes around the foot of the highest one if they had.  All was found to be well but even so I hammered those stakes in round the base of the pole which was most exposed up on the ridge.  I checked the tit box and to my surprise it contained a complete nest and lining.  I do not remember it having raised young last year and surely it’s too early to be for this year so it’s a bit of a mystery.  At home Bea and I set up the mesh squirrel feeder near the end of the dog-walkers’ loop where we had set up a feeder a few years ago – map ref NH 9310 1876 – and set up the Acorn camera facing it in the hope of getting a decent video of a squirrel lifting the lid from which I could make a gif for Twitter and my website.  With hindsight we should probably have used sturdier trees because it was a bit windy and the thin trees were swaying.  We’ll know tomorrow how big a mistake that was.  Heard on the radio that Highland Council is criticising Scottish Government for their proposals to water down the agreed protection areas for Scottish Seas, including allowing some of the most damaging fishing practices, such as scallop dredging, to continue in most Marine Protected areas.  Well done Highland Council.

Lifting a goldeneye box into place
Lifting a goldeneye box into its socket

Sun 15th Feb
Steve Goodall, James Dunbar and I spent a couple of hours digging holes and putting up the two goldeneye nest boxes on poles.   It was very windy and the ground was very soft so we a bit concerned how well they would survive the night.  All the soil we had extracted to sink the holes was used to pack round the poles but we could have done with more, which tells you how loosely packed the soil was originally.  I will return tomorrow with some wooden stakes to drive in round the foot of the poles, assuming they are still standing!

Sat 14th Feb
Our goldeneye boxes on poles were mentioned on BBC Out of Doors this morning.  They got it slightly wrong but were good enough to make a correction when I got back in touch.  Two deer ran across the track just in front of us this morning and the dogs did not react at all – brilliant!  Checked the Bushnell camera and somewhere between 1528 on 11th Feb and 0859 this morning someone had opened the camera and switched it off.  Looks as if I’ll have to move it.  Heard a crested tit near the camera but did not see it.  At midday Bea and I took the second goldeneye box to the badger hide field and carried both to a point close to where they will be erected tomorrow.  We heard a male tawny owl calling which is a bit weird for that time of day although I gather it’s not entirely unheard of for males to do this.

Goldeneye boxes on poles ready to go up
Goldeneye boxes on poles ready to go up

Fri 13th Feb
Red squirrels on both the Angle and community hall feeders.  One was dark with a dark tail and the other much paler with a blond tail.  Finished bolting the goldeneye boxes onto their poles, then in the evening Bea and I took one of them up to the badger hide field.
 
Thurs 12th Feb
Filled the feeders at the squirrel car park.   Went to the badger hide to work on the goldeneye boxes.  We checked the one on the tree at the top of the hill and found it to be in great shape so no remedial action necessary. We brought the other two home to clean up and fit onto their plastic poles ready to go back out, hopefully at the weekend.  Before leaving we filled up the bird feeder and left some peanuts for the badgers to find tonight.  We were delighted to read in the log book that last night’s group saw four badgers during an hour and a half of action.  Started fixing the goldeneye boxes onto their plastic poles.

Cleaning out a goldeneye box
Cleaning out a goldeneye duck nest box

Weds 11th Feb
Steve and Jean Briggs and their 2 dogs came to see us - we went for a walk in the woods then for lunch at the café.  While we were out we filled the community hall and Angle feeders and picked up the card from the Bushnell – it had recorded a badger at 1900 last night and some rams at various times yesterday in the adjoining field.  In the evening Alison Greggans took two couples to the badger hide while Bea and I attended the SWT North of Scotland group meeting in Inverness where Jenny Bryce of SNH gave us a talk on progress with the Scottish Wildcat Project.   Lots of searching questions from a very interested and fairly well informed audience.  It’s sad that the wildcat conservation people on Ardnamurchan still insist on doing their own independent thing which undermines the main project.
 
Tues 10th Feb
Alison Greggans came to see us to fine tune plans for Bio Blitz events in the Spring.  I checked our stock of brackets for mounting boxes on poles – they’re already still fixed to the poles since last time so that’s OK.  Noticed that some of the woodland bird feeders are getting low.  Also noticed that great tits and sparrows are now competing for the starling box – what’s going on? 


Red Squirrel Footprints

Mon 9th Feb
Went to the badger hide to retrieve the Acorn camera.  No badgers for 3 days then a few clips of badgers last night, the earliest being at 2025.  Checked for and found badger latrines at the lower sett.  Still a lot of snow in the field showing some nice footprints of geese, badger, roe deer and fox.  Called on a local expert to discuss methods of erecting goldeneye boxes on poles.  We agreed that sockets were probably the most flexible option so I now have to find some suitable piping and a double handle shovel to dig the holes.  In the end I decided to buy a double handled shovel for BoGWiG and if other want to use it they can make a donation.  The sparrows are still working hard in and out of the starling box so I took the hint and cleaned out the sparrow gallery on the shed.  The one on the porch requires a ladder and I am a bit wary of that.  In the evening Bea and I rethought the best meeting times for groups visiting the badger hide and I printed a new timetable for badger guides.
 
Sun 8th Feb
Overnight more than 50 people had retweeted my message about Luxembourg banning fox hunting.  Good one.  There was a red squirrel at the Angle this morning.  At noon I visited Kincardine Estate as arranged to discuss mounting goldeneye boxes on top of poles at the badger hide this year to keep the predators out.  We walked the site and agreed two places where poles could go without unduly spoiling the aesthetics of the area.  I agreed to look into ways of making it possible to remove the poles at the end of each breeding season.  I’ll give it some thought.  Some good reaction to this when I mentioned it on Twitter.  Received some bookings for the badger hide now that the weather is on the mend.
 
Sat 7th Feb
True to my plan I replaced the second BBC Winterwatch Unsprung nest box back on the tree where it came from and then headed for the Bushnell camera - it had taken snowy pictures of red squirrel and roe deer.  Right beside the camera tree I found a mound covered with chewed pine cones; a squirrel’s dinner table.  It’s amazing I did not notice it previously.  In the evening I Tweeted that Luxembourg had banned fox hunting and the response was excellent.

Squirrel feeding mound
A squirrel's favourite feeding mound

Fri 6th Feb
At the Angle at 0900 there was a gs woodpecker and a red squirrel.  Later I created a spreadsheet for the coming season’s nest records.  Would not normally bother but the BTO now insists all nest boxes targeted at Schedule One birds must be reported on whether they’re use or not so a spreadsheet might slightly help with the drudgery of filling out all those digital cards.  In the afternoon I put one of the nest boxes that starred on Winterwatch Unsprung back where it came from – I’ll replace the other one tomorrow.

The Unsprung Nestbox
Star of BBC Winterwatch - the whimsical nestbox

Thurs 5th Feb
Checked the Bushnell cam at the corner post.  No activity for the last few days. Drove to the badger hide to check on things.  Found lots of roe footprints everywhere but no badger prints until I got to the sett where there were lots of prints between tunnels but no sign of them venturing further afield.  I left the badgers some peanuts under the board, filled the bird feeder and set up the Acorn camera in the hope of getting a clue as to what time the badgers are emerging.  Before leaving I checked that the lights were working.  Received a very nice letter of congratulations from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.  A starling turned up in the garden at lunch time which could herald trouble with the sparrows who have shown a lot of interest in the starling box this winter.

Badger track between tunnels
Walking the badger track between tunnels

Weds 4th Feb
A neighbour saw 5 roe deer in the woods near the village and red squirrel on the nuts at the Angle this morning.  I wrote to Dominic Dyer at the Badger Trust congratulating them on their persistence in keeping the conversation about the badger cull on the boil despite all the discouraging decisions by ministers to keep the awful business going.  I was asked today if I would represent Scottish Badgers at the Highland Wildlife Crime conference in Inverness next month – I of course agreed to.
 
Tues 3rd Feb
Woke to a minor blizzard.  Out with the dogs we found more capercaillie footprints at NH9309 1821 just a few metres from where I found them on 29th Jan. 
 
Mon 2nd Feb
Still feeling rough.  Took Bea to the station for her periodic few days in Edinburgh, then took the dogs out in the woods.  Snowy woods actually make you feel better as long you take it easy.  Heard back from the estate about goldeneye boxes - we are to meet to discuss ideas on Sunday.  Sounds promising.  Went for a walk with Steve from the League Against Cruel Sports and the Wirral Barn Owl Trust who got in touch a few days ago asking where I had seen capercaillie footprints in the snow.  We chewed the fat over a wide range of wildlife issues, both good and bad, and discussed how to deal with situations of potential conflict, eg meetings between conservationists and land managers such as farmers, game keepers and estate managers.  We both felt it was vital to keep lines of communication open – I cited the beneficial effect the beaver trial has had on such relationships in Scotland – keep talking, keep listening, work something out.
 
Sun 1st Feb
The cold I picked up in London last week went into overdrive last night so I spent most of the day trying to stay warm.  Managed a couple of walks with the dogs but spent most of the day working on wildlife admin.  I made contact with the estate where our goldeneye boxes are sited and asked permission for the boxes to come off the tree trunks and go on top of plastic poles to keep predators out.  Today marked the day when Twitter began to allow Animated Gifs so I worked on ways of making suitable wee videos and converting them.  After a number of false starts I got there eventually.
 
Sat 31st Jan
Still too cold to set up the Acorn again.  Bumped into a neighbour and chatted about wildlife far and near.  He is going to do a Garden Birdwatch for a school this week and when I mention BoGWiG’s plans he offered to get involved so I signed him up.  He is a widely experienced professional ecologist so will be a great asset to the group.  We spotted a herd of 4 roe deer in the woods this afternoon.

Small mammal prints
Prints of a small mammal

Fri 30th Jan
Intended yet again to put the Acorn camera back out but yet again the weather was too bad.  Interesting article in the Guardian by George Montbiot about the negative effects on grey squirrels when pine martens return, suggesting that if pine martens had not been eliminated the greys would not have been so successful.  He added that in parts of Ireland where the pine martens had chased the greys away the red squirrel was already returning.  He drew a parallel with the success of the American mink in parts of Europe where the otter has died out.  I flagged this up on Twitter, remarking that it shows how ecosystems can recover if the proper parts are put in place.

Bobby and Max in the snowy forest
A magical scene in the snowy forest.  Anything seems possible and the dogs Bobby and Max sense it

Thurs 29th Jan
Longish walk with the dogs.  Headed first to the squirrel car park and topped up the nuts there.  From there we tramped in virgin snow to the Bushnell cam at the Corner post and changed the card.  On the way home via the x-roads we came across fresh capercaillie footprints in the snow about 100m down the main track from the x-roads at map ref NH 9311 1825.  When I got home and told Heather, she remarked that she was told yesterday there have been several capercaillie sightings close to the village in recent days.  I next topped up the feeders at the Angle and then, at the community hall, I removed the squirrel feeder and took it home for cleaning.  At home, the card from the Bushnell had 90 pictures on it recording badger, fox and roe deer. Later we went out again and refilled the feeders in the garden and at the community hall – that’s all of them full before the next bout of snow arrives.  I Tweeted a picture of the capercaillie footprint taken this morning and got heaps of retweets and favs – quite surprised and pleased at the level of interest.

Caper footprints in snow
Capercaillie footprints

Weds 28th Jan
Arrived home to a fresh dump of snow.  Spent the day catching up on emails.  Heard that Defra is to allow the beavers in the River Otter in Devon to stay provided they are disease-free.  That’s a bit of a miracle considering how much Defra seem to enjoy killing mammals for no good reason, eg the badger cull.
 
Tues 27th Jan
Attended the Biffa Award meeting at High Wycombe, then had dinner with brother John and his wife Carole before catching the sleeper home.  While I was away Heather entertained the group who are administering the next round of Leader Funding, based at the Cairngorms NP HQ in Grantown.  They are working towards their John Muir Awards and Heather and will help them.
 
Mon 26th Jan
Phoned SWT on behalf of a local forester to get their take on regeneration of natural forests in Scotland.  They’ll send me a copy of their policy on the subject.  Megan Rowland (@meej_the_kraken) came for tea and biccies this morning.  Great youthful enthusiasm for wildlife.  My plans to put the Acorn camera back out in the woods were scuppered by the arrival of a loose dog who insisted on playing with my two before we got to the intended site.  Had to abandon and get the interloper back to the village and its owner.    Caught the sleeper to London for tomorrow’s Biffa Award meeting at High Wycombe.
 
Sun 25th Jan
Lay low in another day of poor weather. Saw a crested tit behind the community hall.
 
Sat 24th Jan
Checked the Bushnell camera to find it is working OK again but not much to show for it.  Snowed quite heavily again but the forecast is for warmer weather for a few days.  Finished working on the papers for Tuesday’s Biffa Award meeting.  Got involved around the fringes of an argument on Twitter over raptor persecution in the East of Scotland and found myself coming to the defence of those calling for debate rather than shouting.  This meant siding with SLE – how weird is that!  I made the point that the Scottish Species Reintroduction Forum is a good example of what can be achieved if people get round a table and hammer it all out.

 Mar Lodge as a BBC Studio
Mar Lodge in use as the BBC Winterwatch Studio

Fri 23rd Jan
It rained this morning so the snow is shifting.  The Bushnell camera had only taken one set of 3 pictures and that was of me arriving so I switched the sensor back from low to normal in the hope these warmer temperatures will have fixed the thing.  Spent time on the papers for next week’s Biffa Award meeting, including phoning HQ for clarification on a number of points.  Did some plotting about using the Phantom for taking aerial photos of the village, the woods and Milton Loch for various projects.  We could of course use Google Earth but there can be copyright issues so if we take our own shots that gets round it.
 
Thurs 22nd Jan
Bitterly cold day and the Bushnell had taken 1500 pictures in 24 hours so I reduced its sensitivity in the hope that would fix it but maybe the permanent sub-zero temperatures are messing with its head.  The Acorn has not taken a single wildlife shot in its present location so I removed it and will think about a new location – it could possibly replace the Bushnell at the corner post while I fix it or heat it up or whatever.  Bea and I worked on ideas for BoGWig this summer, working in collaboration with the National Park.  Heard from the BTO that in future years to get my Schedule One license I must submit records for all nest boxes regardless of whether they had been used or not.  Seems a bit over the top but Bea suggested that making a spreadsheet would help.   Flew the Phantom over the moor and took some pictures – I need lots of practice for steadier results.   In the evening we attended a meeting in the Community Hall to discuss a new management plan for Milton Loch.  Quite a good attendance and a measure of commitment.
 
Weds 21st Jan
Lazy day.  Checked the cameras to find the Bushnell had taken 1600 pictures, mostly of nothing – something not quite right again.  Took the Phantom for a test flight on the snowy football field – nice quality video.  Got a message from the National Park to say how pleased they were that I had portrayed them in a good light on live prime-time tv on Monday.
 
Tues 20th Jan
Thankfully the Lecht snow gates had been opened so I was able to get home by the short route, albeit slowly due to quite snowy roads.  At home I spent much of the day fielding feedback from last night’s show and responding to it.
 
Mon 19th Jan
Got the news that the Glenshea snow gates were open but the Lecht gates were still closed so at 1030 I set off for the long journey to Mar Lodge via Pitlochry.  It took 3.5 hours.  On arrival I was made to feel very welcome indeed by all of the BBC staff with whom I came into contact.  It was great to meet up with old TV acquaintances Nick Baker, Gary Moore, Stewart Taylor and Michaela Strachan.  After helping track down suitable images for use on the show there was time to relax before going to make-up and then to the rehearsal, after which some adjustments were made to the original plan. After dinner Nick and I were introduced to the audience of local people and then it was show time for Winterwatch Unsprung live.  It was a nerve wracking experience but I felt it went well and the very positive feedback afterwards seemed to confirm that – I also acquired more than 30 new followers on Twitter within an hour of the end of the show.  I then drove the 23 miles to Ballater to my hotel.

Blizzard at Boat of Garten
The latest blizzard

Sun 18th Jan
Ensured all the feeders were filled up before I go away to Mar Lodge, assuming the weather permits.  Bea helpfully altered her plans for the coming week which made a decision to attempt the journey despite bad weather much easier because it meant there was no danger the dogs would be left alone for several hours.  All the same it was a nerve wracking day.  With our special wildlife about to be featured on Winterwatch it was lovely to see crested tits twice today, once at the squirrel car park and once in our garden.  On the same subject, I bumped into Nora Carlson on her way back from the Angle feeders where she had failed to find crested tits with which to carry out her experiments using the mechanical bird of prey.  On the other hand she had been able to complete tests at both the squirrel car park and at the community hall.
 
Sat 17th Jan
SWT’s Simon Jones was on BBC Scotland Out of Doors radio programme this morning talking about lynx.  He did a really good job and said nothing that I am likely to inadvertently contradict on TV on Monday if the subject crops up.  Put the Bushnell camera back at the corner post and checked the Acorn camera.  The Acorn still only had runners and dog walkers on it so obviously not a good spot for wildlife. 
 
Fri 16th Jan
Filled some feeders.  Thought through logistics of next week’s visit to Mar Lodge and the BBC Winterwatch set and considered what I might say and what I should avoid saying.  I was to have received advance notice of the questions Nick Baker would ask me but so far nothing.
 
Thurs 15th Jan
Snow now very wet and shifting fast.  Bea and I went to the site office at the new sewage works by the river where Sam the site manager gave us a briefing on how it will all work when it’s finished.  We then went out on site where we talked about environmental stuff such as how much cleaner the outfall into the river will be compared with how it is now and we discussed nest boxes, badgers, otters, beavers, goldeneye ducks and pine martens.  We also got very cold and very wet in the driving wet snow.  In the afternoon I brought in 2 crested tit nest boxes from the woods and began to dry them out for next week’s BBC Winterwatch Unsprung, assuming the weather lets me get there. 

Noras Model Buzzsard
Nora's Model Buzzard

Weds 14th Jan
Almost a foot of snow everywhere this morning so quite difficult to get about.   Nora Carlson, researcher from St Andrews University came to see us to help her with her project studying small bird/predator interaction.  We went to the feeders behind the community hall where she set up her gear which included a model buzzard (it actually moves to make it more life-like) and sound equipment. Nora is especially interested in crested tit behaviour and sure enough a crestie came along so Nora had a very useful session.  She will be visiting other local feeder sites both here at Boat and elsewhere in the valley.  Started Tweeting about my upcoming appearance on Winterwatch Unsprung next week.  I only hope the roads are open, speaking of which tonight’s SWT NoS meeting in Inverness is postponed due to the bad weather.
 
Tues 13th Jan
More snow overnight so a long walk with the dogs on virgin snow.  Footprints of deer but not much else had been about.  No birds at all on the feeders that we passed.
 
Mon 12th Jan
8cm of snow vanished overnight in the warm gales but the snow was back by evening.  BBC Winterwatch rang again and it looks as if I’ll be in the Unspring show on 19th Jan.  Not yet clear why but we’ll know more tomorrow.
 
Sun 11th Jan
Lots of snow so no real wildlife work.
 
Sat 10th Jan
Filled the last of the feeders (squirrel car park) so they are now all full for this snowy weather.  Retrieved the Bushnell camera to try to fix it.  I was concerned it had begun to damage SD cards but thankfully that is probably not the case.  Removed all the batteries and the SD card and hope that sorts it out, as it did with the Acorn when that went wrong.  Checked the Acorn cam while I was out but it just had dog walkers and cyclists on it.  The snowy weather continued all day but it wasn’t really lying until evening.  After being dried out and warmed up the Bushnell cam now seems to be working, albeit reluctantly.
 
Fri 9th Jan
Wild night with storms across Scotland.  Trees were down across 5 paths that the dogs and I walked today but fortunately we had no trouble getting past them.  At the Angle we refilled the feeders and found some squirrel shit on top of the lift-the-lid feeder – a first for me.  We checked the cameras – the Acorn at the snow patch only had runners and dog walkers and the Bushnell seems to have packed up again.  At home I noted that the sparrows are still going in and out of the starling box, as they have done for a few weeks now.  Winterwatch emailed to ask about me possibly appearing on Unsprung in 2 weeks time.  Actually they’d got the wrong guy for the topic they had in mind but they might use me anyway apparently.

Wheres Faldo
How we laughed...

Thurs 8th Jan
Sleety morning and cold bright afternoon.  Nice article about my OBE in the Strathy.  Some new parts for the Quadcopter arrived so got those fitted and charged up the new battery.  Had a thought that the Quadcopter might be useful for checking eggs in osprey nests – must chat with Roy Dennis about that.  Filled the garden feeders. 
 
Weds 7th Jan
A very wet day so spent all of it re-working Cairngorm Wildlife website.  That included making all pages, including the sub-site BoGWiG the, the same width, inserting the Google Analytics code into all pages and correcting some inaccuracies in the older pages.  The diaries for example go back 14 years when our mobile phone numbers and email addresses were a little different.
 
Sat 3rd to Tues 6th Jan
Going to wrap these four days into one parcel.  The only direct wildlife action has been to check cameras and feeders in the woods.  Special species seen live include roe deer, red squirrel, long tailed tit and crested tit plus the usual flocks of small common birds.  On the camera at the corner post a badger (3rd) and a fox (4th) plus cyclists, runners and dog walkers on the Acorn at the snow patch.   Mostly the time has been spent enjoying the scores of messages from well-wishers and responding to some of them and simply getting used to having been honoured.  Interestingly I became embroiled in two arguments on Twitter; the proposed grey squirrel cull in England and the beaver situation in general.  On grey squirrels, in the process of helping someone distinguish between the crazy native badger cull and eliminating non-native grey squirrels to benefit reds I’ve attracted criticism from some of my followers who simply cannot stomach killing any animals for any purpose.  I sympathise with that view up to a point but sometimes hard decisions must be made for the general good.  On beavers, in response to someone who thought rivers had enough problems already without adding to them by bringing in beavers I Tweeted, “Say it loud and clear, beavers are part of the solution in rivers, not an added problem” and it has been retweeted 50 times with no adverse comments that I can remember.  Beavers seem to have most people’s support.

OBE Medal
One day soon I'll get one of these

Fri 2nd Jan
Visited by the press photographer for an article in next week’s Strathy.
 
Thurs 1st Jan
Spent all day on more phone calls and messages and rehashing my profile on various websites.