Allan Bantick OBE welcomes you to the Cairngorm Wildlife Diary for 2016

Most of the badger sightings mentioned here were made at the Strathspey Badger Hide. If you would like to go, click here for booking details.

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

The diary will be updated as often as time allows, usually daily.

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

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

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Fri 1st Jan
Out with collie dog Bobby, wee Max being still laid up. GS woodpecker and crested tit at the Angle. Checked the empty crestie boxes 3 and 4 to find both had been used as roosts

Sat 2nd Jan
Local ranger Alison Greggans and I went to the badger hide to make sure all was in order and to check the nest boxes. We took woodshavings with us to top up the goldeneye boxes but that proved to be unnecessary as there was still plenty in all three; I just loosened it up a bit to let air circulate. We filled the bird feeder and left peanuts under the heavy board for the badgers to find later. We'll meet again next week to service the crested tit boxes in Boat Woods.

Sun 3rd Jan
Spent most of the day sheltering from the drizzle.

Mon 4th Jan
Laundry. Finished a letter about beavers to the Environment Minister and posted it.

Tues 5th Jan
In the morning Alison Greggans and I worked on the crested tit box layout in Boat Woods. The odd numbered boxes were small ones and the even numbers were medium or large boxes and the idea was to fill the small boxes with woody material of some kind for birds to burrow into and leave the medium and large boxes empty. To vary things further we put well-rotted and dried, crumbled dead wood in boxes 1, 3 and 5 and fine wood shavings in boxes 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 17, and 19. The job took about two hours during which we saw crested tits, crossbills, coal tits and blue tits. The new battery for the badger hide arrived today so Alison and I lugged it across the field and installed it so she will have two batteries to work with when she takes guests to the hide tomorrow. Whilst at the hide we checked the other battery and found the cells were all dry so the next job is to fill them up with water in the hope of extending the battery's life a bit more; it's already 11 years old.

Weds 6th Jan
Alison Greggans took some people to the badger hide but no badgers appeared. It's not too surprising at this time of year.

Thurs 7th Jan 
Quiet day of mostly paperwork such as planning work on the badger hide.
Fri 8th Jan
Went to the hide to top up the old battery with water. Whilst there I put out the Acorn camera to see if the badgers are active or not considering the blank night Alison had on Tuesday. A gs woodpecker was hammering on the bird feeder while I worked.  Two roe deer in Boat Woods early on - Bobby dog ignored them. Speaking of dogs, I took wee Max to the vet again and the decision is to have him xrayed next week because he's really not any better.
Sat 9th Jan
Took Bea to Culbokie for a meeting of the Scottish Wildlife Trust North Group Committee.  I then took the chance to explore the Black Isle and picnic with the dogs while the meeting was on.
Sun 10th Jan
GS woodpecker at the Angle.

Mon 11th Jan
Checked the Acorn camera at the hide to find it had only taken one video.  Not a very good camera.  The sole video was of a Jack Russell dog running across the sett at 1012 on 9th Jan which is a bit worrying, given the dodgy relationships between badgers and dogs.  That spurred me to try to get in touch with Maginon who have had my other camera since the middle of December and I've heard not a word from them.  Anyhow, in view of the last two badger watches having drawn a blank and the forecast for the next few nights being sub-zero I cancelled the planned badger watch for this Wednesday.   We should maybe not schedule public watches in Dec, Jan and Feb in future years.
Tues 12th Jan
Sent all documents relating to my missing Maginon camera which I sent for repair on 15th Dec and about which I have heard nothing since.  Apparently it's likely to be in a warehouse in Walsall, in a repair factory in Germany or lost.  Charming.  Took wee Max to the vets for an investigatory operation to assess what's wrong with his leg or hip.  He wasn't allowed breakfast, a state of affairs about which he had much to say.  The xray revealed a fractured pelvis but an operation is not required, just a month of bed rest.
Weds 13th to Fri 15th Jan
No wildlife work at all.  Domestic duties and looking after my wounded wife and dog took up much of the time.  Maginon have been in touch - a new camera is on its way to me.
Sat 16th Jan
Took Bobby to Auchgourish for a change - we found fox footprints in the snow.  Checked the Acorn camera at the badger hide.  The cold weather had killed the batteries so no badger footage. 
Sun 17th Jan
Crested tit in our garden this morning.  Took the Acorn camera back to the badger hide with recharged batteries and fitted a shelf above it to help shield it from the descending frost.  We'll see if that helps.  The promised new Maginon camera has not yet arrived.
Mon 18th Jan

An occupied badger sett
The heat from sleeping badgers has melted the snow around the tunnel entrance

Tues 19th Jan
Wrote to Scottish Govt about beavers again.   Took Bobby to Auchgourish and we walked round the SE section, calling in at the badger sett at the far end.   The whole area used to be dense pine forest but has been clear felled so I found it difficult to picture where the sett was but Bobby found it with his expert nose.  The temperature was still below freezing but the frost and snow round some of the tunnel entrances had thawed due to warm air coming up from below so the sett was clearly occupied by sleeping badgers.  On the way back along the track we soon found some fox poo.  On the way home we called at the badger hide to see if the Acorn camera had taken any footage but the only videos taken were of me setting things up.  When I got the camera home and warmed it up it worked perfectly, which was irritating - what's the point of a camera in Scotland that doesn’t like cold weather.
Weds 20th Jan
A great day; Heather's plaster cast came off for the last time so hopefully that's her Achilles tendon healed.  At dusk Bobby and I went for a walk over Fairy Hill and we found fox poo at NH 9373 1839 which is on the 'glove path' about 50m SW from the mini cross roads on the south shoulder of the hill.
Thurs 21st Jan
Filled up all the feeder sites with fresh peanuts and hazelnuts.  The hazelnuts at the Angle that the squirrels have left uneaten for several weeks I scattered in the woods in the hope that something will eat them.   The replacement Maginon camera arrived today, clearly from a German source judging from the instruction books printed in Germanic and East European languages only.  Fortunately, I know how the machine works and the on-screen menus have an English language option.  I'll put it out somewhere tomorrow.  Got a letter from the Scottish Government today in response to my recent approaches about beaver reintroduction - the dialogue continues.

Fri 22nd Jan
Reconfigured the feeders at the village hall to include a lift-the-lid hazelnut device.  Later Bobby and I set up the new Maginon camera at the Auchgourish SE badger sett in windy weather.  We'll see!

Sat 23rd Jan
Checked the hazel nut feeders to find no evidence that the red squirrels are using them.  Maybe the nuts are past their sell-by dates.  Removed the Maginon camera from Auchgourish - it took 9 short videos of nothing very much yesterday and then died.  I think it's a battery issue.  I replaced it with the Acorn camera, which itself has problems, ie the screen doesn't work anymore.  Spent part of the evening programming 19 Auchgourish badger setts into the GPS with a view to checking some of them next day.

Maginon trail cam at Auchgourish
The Maginon at Auchgourish

Sun 24th Jan
Ordered components to build external power supplies for the trail cameras.  Went to Aughgourish to try to find one of the old setts but failed to find it.  The area has been clear-felled since I was last there some years ago and the badgers may have moved out but I'll try some of the other setts in the coming weeks.

Mon 25th Jan
Went back to Auchgourish in bad weather and removed the Acorn camera, which had died just like the Maginon before it.  I reckon our Scottish weather is too cold for these machines, particularly regarding battery life.  I'll have to build a beefy external power supply for them.  Went looking for a couple of badger setts but the going was really rough and Bobby collie and I eventually gave up when the rain got really heavy - we both got soaked.  This used to be a heavily wooded area with 19 recorded badger setts but it is now so exposed with piles of brash everywhere making it inhospitable for most wildlife and making walking borderline dangerous.  I reckon most of the badgers have gone - so far I've found only one of the five setts I've looked for.  A hot shower when I got home and changed into the kilt for tonight's Burns Supper at the village hall.

Auchgourish clear felled
The bare, inhospitable landscape at Auchgourish which used to be a lovely forest

Tues 26th Jan
Ordered components for a couple of 6 volt power supplies which will allow the use of 5 x 1.2v rechargeable AA batteries instead of 4 standard 1.5 batteries.  The camera manufacturers often recommend rechargeables but only provide slots for sets of 4 batteries which is OK for standard 1.5 volt Duracells whereas 4 rechargeables only give you 4 x 1.2v = 5 volts which, since the cameras are designed to run on 6 volts, is barely enough to switch the camera on, let alone power it for several days or even weeks.  The weather was still really bad so I spent much of the day in the shed building nest boxes mainly for Milton Loch to replace the old rotten ones.  Spoke with a BBC Winterwatch researcher about grouse, habitat changes, floods and beavers.

Nest Box Builiding
Filthy weather outside - perfect for nest box building in the shed

Weds 27th Jan
Entertained a group from the fledgling wildlife group at Glenlivet.  BoGWig (Boat of Garten Wildlife Group) is now well established so the Cairngorms National Park suggested we helped the new group.  We took them to the badger hide, then to Milton Loch and finally to the village hall for coffee and a discussion.  We told them which of our projects had gone well and which had not, how we organised ourselves, funding and so forth - a thoroughly enjoyable and I hope useful session.  We pledged to keep in touch.

Thurs 28th Jan
The components for the new power supplies had all arrived so I built the first of the 5-battery units.  I'll get the Maginon out somewhere later today or tomorrow to see how it functions.  If it works well I'll make a second unit and wire them in parallel for longer life.

Builidng a new Maginon power supply
Making a new power supply for the Maginon

Fri 29th Jan
This was supposed to be the day I put up the new nest box at Milton Loch but the storm arrived and made it unwise to be up a ladder against a swaying tree.  Instead, I did some research on batteries and power supplies suitable for trail cameras and came across Martin Harper of Wildlife and Countryside services who works in association with another trail cam expert of my acquaintance - Ron Bury.  What did I learn?  Never use Duracell batteries in trail cams because they have too high an internal resistance; best to use Uniross alkaline batteries and if you use rechargeables make sure they are 2.4aH or higher.  What have I been using?  Duracells and 2Ah rechargeables.  Rubbish!

Sat 30th Jan
Heavy snow so another day indoors watching football and shopping for new batteries in the light of yesterday's research.  Lets hope it bears fruit.

Bobby in the snowy woods
Bobby in the snowy woods

Sun 31st Jan
Long walk in the snow with collie Bobby to Loch Vaa.  On the way we followed the footprints of a fox from the T junction at the end of the main track all the way to Loch Vaa where it vered to the west side of the loch, which didn't suit us so we gave up.  There was a small group of tufted ducks on the loch which is no longer frozen.  We got home to hear the terrible news that Terry Wogan died this morning of cancer.   We contributed to the tributes on Twitter and Facebook and by email to the BBC.  Heather and I met through the Terry Wogan show back in 1999 and we met Terry a few times so it's a really sad day for us.

Fox prints in snow
Fox prints in snow near Loch Vaa


Mon 1st and Tues 2nd Feb
Spent most of the time sheltering from storm Henry and trying to recover from a heavy cold.  During the storm trees came down taking out fences behind Craigie avenue and beside the play park - all thanks to the protective forest having been clear felled for the upcoming housing development.  All of this was predicted by the local residents - National Park please note.

Storm felled trees
One of several fences wrecked by storm Henry

Weds 3rd Feb
The dogs and I checked the three feeding stations around the woods.  Plenty of peanuts at all of them but we still have the weird situation in which the hazelnuts at the squirrel car park are being eaten but the hazelnuts at the Angle and at the Community Hall are not.  All of the hazelnuts are from the same batch and all are in lift-the-lid feeders of similar design and red squirrels are regularly seen at all three locations.  This has been going on for several months now.  Weird.  Nice view of a crested tit at the squirrel car park.  I went to the badger hide and set up the Maginon camera with its 13 rechargable batteries (5 in an external pack and two setts of 4 inside it). I left some peanuts while I was there. Later I had a message from the trail camera expert at Wildlife and Countryside changing his advice about which batteries to use - he now says Ron Bury advises using Vapex rechargeables in preference to any non-rechargeable types so that's what we should all do.  Not very helpful since I took his advice of a few days ago and ordered 24 Uniross alkaline batteries.  In the evening a video was circulating from 38 Degrees showing beavers being shot (in Tayside I think) and urging everyone to sign their petition to make shooting beavers illegal in Scotland.  I shared it on Twitter.  If this gets enough publicity it might just stir the Scottish Government to action in defining the legal status of beavers once and for all.

Thurs 4th Feb
Heard on the radio this morning Rob Gibson MSP, leader of the RACCE committee, explaining why they have rejected Scottish Land and Estates argument to retain shooting estates exemption from paying business rates.  His explanation included refuting the argument that shooting plays a major role in sustaining local economies - something I have doubted for years.  Nice to have politicians who will stand up to the landed gentry when occasion demands.

Fri 5th Feb
Another lousy day of weather.  Two new batches of batteries arrived today - I am now awash with them and confused as to which types are best for trail cams.  Will have to conduct my own research - unless somebody out there has got a better idea?  Heard today that the 38 degrees petition to give all beavers legal protection very quickly acquired 30,000 signatures.  Amazing.

Sat 6th Feb
Finished typing up the statistics for the badger hide in 2015.  Here is the summary for the past 16 years.

Badger Hide Stats 2000 to 2015

Checked the Maginon camera at the badger hide - very poor results: 5 videos, all corrupt.  Will try adjusting the interval between triggers in case the thing is still trying to save the last video when the next trigger happens.  Set up the Acorn camera with its new its full set of new batteries in place of the Maginon.  Walked with Bobby collie at Auchgourish and got thoroughly lost, which was better news than you might imagine because in the process of getting unlost I stumbled across a previously unrecorded badger sett.

Sun 7th Feb
Checked the Acorn camera at the badger sett and sure enough it had recorded some videos but the screen doesn't work properly anymore so I was unable to make the adjustments I wished to.  I set up the newly configured Maginon in its place and took the Acorn home for a rethink.  Walked again at Auchgourish with Bobby and managed not to get lost this time.  We went looking for a badger sett near the main track and miraculously found it - a single tunnel that at the last visit was being used by a fox.  Nothing appears to be using it at the moment.  At home I managed to get the Acorn screen to work and made adjustments to its interval.  In future I'll just need to switch it on and at each visit replace its card with a pre-formatted blank card; a bit of a pain but do-able.  Put the finishing touches to the first draft of a piece about watching wildlife for the Scotsman Magazine to be used in an article about the Cairgorms.

Bobby guarding fox poo at Auchgourish
Collie Bobby has just found some very fresh fox poo

Mon 8th Feb
Checked the Maginon camera at the Badger Hide - rubbish.  Fresh card, fresh batteries but only two videos taken, one of my hand while setting it up and one saying "File Error", similar to last time.  I know the badgers were there last night because I had put peanuts under a board for them right in front of the camera and the board had been flipped over and the peanuts were gone.  Not sure what to do now.  The fact that the Maginon was working OK in the house on Saturday evening but not outside at the hide suggests it doesn't like cold weather, which means it's useless in Scotland.    Went to Auchgourish with Bobby and bumped into a local resident who told me a male capercaillie was visiting her garden for a while, ignoring her and the dogs.  This fits with my experience and that of others, who in the last year have been seeing capers closer to the village than the experts would expect.   They say "research has shown capers avoid tracks and other places frequented by people".  Well, research has also shown that the half-life of truth is seven years; that is, half of what we believe to be true now will in seven years turn out to be false.  With that in mind I believe the actual experience and opinions of local people should not lightly be ignored.   Some locals are now saying this shows that capers are becoming more used to having people around than previously, an opinion which has not found favour with at least one expert of my acquaintance.  We'll see what seven years reveals.    And don't get me started on the beaver genetics argument.    Getting back to more profane matters, collie Bobby was delighted to find very fresh fox poo at a track junction.

Tues 9th Feb
Checked the Acorn camera at the hide to find it had taken videos of a group of 3 badgers between 6pm and 6.30pm and again between 5am and 5.15am.  Strangely the buttons on the camera were performing the wrong functions so it was only a matter of luck that I eventually managed to see what was on the card.  I then went to Auchgourish in search of a badger sett that I had failed to find a week ago, this time with more success.  It was a single tunnel sett, much overgrown with grass and definitely not in use at the moment. 

Weds 10th Feb
Finished putting deer antlers at the three woodland feeding stations for the red squirrels to nibble on for calcium.  At the squirrel car park the peanuts were going mouldy in the feeder, not for the first time.  It seems its part wood and part mesh design is no good for that site so an all mesh feeder is required.  Collected Simon Jones from the station and in the evening we all went to the SWT North Scotland meeting where Simon gave a terrific talk about beavers to an enthusiastic audience.

Thurs 11th Feb
After taking Simon to the station Bobby and I went for decent walk in the snowy forest.  Highlight: we found fox footprints in the snow at a junction on the 'secret path' at NH 9262 1860.  I love to know that foxes are still here despite the best efforts of gamekeepers.  Steve and Jean Briggs came to visit with their dogs.  Steve and I went for a walk in the woods in the late afternoon and were not very pleased to be passed at the Angle by two men on a quad bike travelling quite fast south down the main track - motorised vehicles are not allowed in the woods.

Fri 12th Feb
Devised a better way of locking the lids of nest boxes using bent fencing wire rather than 4 inch nails that get stuck in the slot too readily.

Fox and Pine Marten prints in snow
Fox and pine marten prints side by side in snow

Sat 13th Feb
Checked the Acorn camera at the hide to find it has worked perfectly this time, although the screen is still not happy if you try to view it on site and the quality of the night-time videos is awful.  That's manageable.  At Auchgourish, Bobby and I came across pine marten footprints and fox footprints side by side in the snow - wonderful.  We then went in search of another badger sett and found it.  At home I set up the Maginon in the same way as the Acorn, allowing a longish interval between triggers to let the device save each image fully before the next trigger.

Sun 14th Feb
Long walk with Bobby during which we found part of the lower leg of a deer, including the hoof, at the main cross roads in Boat woods.  I should have taken a photo but didn't.  Checked the Maginon to find it had worked perfectly.  Set it up again, this time with an external power supply and later in the day I checked it and again it worked well, including some very nice night time IR clips.   The conclusion, if you are going to use trail cams for video keep them short (eg 10 secs) and, even more importantly, allow plenty of time between triggers (eg 12 secs). 

Mon 15th Feb
Set up the Maginon camera at the junction of the Secret Path and Donald's track in the hope of getting the fox that crossed at that point a week ago.  Met a chap on the caper track who had seen a caper the previous day near the south end of the Opal track.  At the cross roads the deer leg was still there so I got some photos.

Deer leg at the crossroads in Deshar Wood
Lower leg of a deer in Deshar Wood

Tues 16th Feb
Found badger footprints in the snow and followed them from the end of Bobby's shortcut along the Glove Path almost to the village until they ran out among the trees where there was not enough snow for prints.  I reckon the badger was heading for someone's garden on Deshar Road; it's happened before.  Got a message from the Community Council that someone has complained about cameras in the wood, afraid they are monitoring dog walkers again.  My cams all have cards with my contact details on and explaining they are for wildlife monitoring so probably not one of mine unless the complainant didn't see the card - and in any case, until yesterday I've had no cams in that wood since someone interfered with one last August.  

Wildlife Cam on a fox track
The Maginon cam monitoring a mammal track.

Weds 17th Feb
Checked the Maginon to find it was up to its old tricks; one bad video and a file error, that's all it wrote.  I reset it with a different card and hoped for the best.  The dogs and I then found badger tracks at the elbow and followed them in both directions.  The badger had come from the area we know as Bill's Badgery Basin away to the west, then walked south east along the caper track for about 70 metres before striking south off the path to follow a harvester track.  I'm fairly sure it was not the same animal as yesterday because the prints were noticeably smaller.  Later on Bobby and I went to check the Maginon again to find the same problem as earlier so to test if even the 15 second interval I had set between triggers was still not enough for videos to save themselves properly I set it to take just photos. Later on it occured to me to check see what default interval had been set by the factory.

Thurs 18th Feb
To my delight the Maginon had taken a few sets of photos without a problem so, acting on last night's inspiration, I reset the device to its factory settings and lo and behold the interval between triggers was one whole minute.  I therefore reset it to take one photo followed by one 10 second video as previously but left the interval at the default one minute.  Sadly it didn't work - at my next check I found it had done its old trick of taking a couple of pictures and then registering a file error and dying, so I might have to accept the Maginon can only be relied upon to take photos, not videos.  I set up the Acorn camera in its place.  Learned today that Wiltshire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire, Devon, Cornwall and Cheshire have expressed an interest in getting licenses to cull badgers which added to Gloucestershire, Somerset and Dorset makes nine counties in all that have got it in for badgers.  Disgusting.  So much for England's reputation of being an animal loving country.

Fri 19th Feb
Took the Maginon to the Elbow and set it to taking three photos, no videos.  On the way home I checked the Acorn to find it is working well - I'll leave both cameras undisturbed now over the weekend and on Monday see how they've performed.

Sat 20th Feb
Spent most of the day working on the golf club website; the annual update and health check, aided and abetted by my wife, the club captain and secretary.

Sun 21st Feb
A filthy morning of driven sleet but undaunted Bobby collie and I visited the Milton Loch Bird Hide to measure up and plan for the afternoon work session.  After lunch it was back to the hide where Bea and I installed a new whiteboard for visitors to record their sightings and a new nestbox on a tree nearby to replace the broken one which I had intended to replace last year but before I could do so a family of blue tits took it over and raised at least one family in it.  They'll have better accommodation this year.

New nest box at Milton Loch Bird Hide
The new nest box near Milton Loch hide

Mon 22nd Feb
Checked both cameras - both had worked quite well within their limitations; the Maginon is only reliable for two photos per trigger and the Acorn's screen is fractious.  The Maginon had recorded two people on scrambles motor bikes at the Elbow at about 5pm on Sat 20th.  I informed the ranger, the chair of the Community Council and the estate of this incident and of the quad bike affair on the 11th Feb.  The estate asked me to inform the police.  Later Bobby and I went to Auchgourish and found two more of the old badger setts; No 17 and either 8 or 9 - hard to tell in the chaotic brash - none of them active.  I've seen enough there now to deduce that almost all of the old setts are abandoned due to being exposed to bad weather by the clear felling of the whole area.  One of the old setts is still active, being sheltered by a steep slope to the north, and another active sett is new to me and is among the remaining trees so that could be a fresh one.

Tues 23rd Feb
As requested by Seafield Estate, I emailed Aviemore police with details of the two recent sightings of men riding quadbikes and motorcycles in our woods.  Close friends Ali and Sandra arrived with their dogs for us to look after for ten days or so while they climb snowy hills and photograph wildlife.  Went for a walk with the girls and all four dogs and filled the local feeders at the same time, prior to my trip away tomorrow for a couple of days.

Weds 24th Feb
Train to Edinburgh, a day of exhibitions, art Galleries and shopping then off to the Scottish Parliament for the ScotLink Species Champions reception, hosted by Rob Gibson MSP and attended by delegates from all the major environmental NGOs, Scottish Government and MSPs including Minister for the Envrionment Dr Aileen McLeod MSP.  I spent the whole evening on some very useful networking; I reckon I knew at least 25 percent of the people there and it was great to be able to catch up with everybody.  Details of exactly who I spoke to and about what would take up far too much of this diary and would fatally tax my memory.  Suffice it to say I came away well pleased.  Spent the night with family at Dalkeith.

Thurs 25th Feb
Train home and then prepared for a badger meeting next day.  Early night.

Fri 26th Feb
Meeting of the Scottish Badgers Advisory Group in the ScotLink offices in Perth.  This was Ian Hutchinson's last meeting before he retires so we gave him presents and ate cake and drank fizzy fruit juice to say farewell.  The meeting was very well attended and the organisation is clearly in good health, good heart and very well managed, which from all accounts is more than can be said for the equivalent body down south.  In the evening I posted on the Aviemore and Strathspey Community Issues Facebook page a picture of the man on a scrambles motorbike in the woods on 20th Feb, along with a request that anyone who knew the man should tell the police.  There ensued an amazing exchange between more than 20 people on opposite sides of the argument about motor vehicles being banned from wild places to protect wildlife.  It all went on until midnight.

Sat 27th Feb
The arguments on Facebook went on for another two hours this morning - extraordinary.  It was all a bit silly but on the plus side would almost certainly have resulted in the motorcyclists getting to know that their actions had been noted and that it is illegal to drive through those woods.  I checked both cameras but no wildlife had been recorded.  The Maginon had taken photos of cyclists and walkers and the Acorn had failed again.  In the evening I got involved in a Twitter debate about whether releasing wolves in the fenced Alladale estate counts as rewilding.  I deemed it was not although the exercise might teach us something.  There was general agreement on that.

Sun 28th Feb
Checked the Acorn camera again and it had worked properly this time, recording both my leaving yesterday and my arrival today.  Pity there was no wildlife in between.  Our robin has taken a real like to the piece of Blue Stilton cheese we hung in the garden - very posh tastes for a street bird.

Mon 29th Feb
Robin's at the cheese again.  Would make a nice video but the trail cams are both in the woods.  Went to Milton Loch to rig up a vandal-proof (yes, not easy) dry writer on a steel cable for the whiteboard.  While I was there I found pine marten poo on the wooden ramp leading to the door of the hide.  It's possible the animal is nesting in the locked storage area next to the main room.   In the shed I made a new all-mesh nut feeder and took it to the squirrel car park to replace the wooden one in which the food tends to get mouldy.  I also removed the lift-the-lid hazelnut feeder which has also outlived its usefulness; I'll make a new one in the next couple of days.

Pine Marten poo at Milton Loch Hide
Pine Marten Poo At Milton Loch Hide


Tues 1st Mar
Local Ranger Alison and I went to look for the alleged badger sett near the A9 level with Aviemore but after an hour and a half we gave up.  It was either a dodgy map ref, or someone mistook a rabbit warren for a badger sett, or it is long abandoned and has collapsed.  In the evening I took two ladies from the Lazy Duck Hostel, Hut and Campsite to the badger hide but unfortunately no badgers came out, probably due to the biting wind.  One of the lights on the roof failed and it turned out that the oldest battery had now died, as did its partner a few weeks ago.  They both lasted more than a decade so I'm not complaining.

Weds 2nd Mar
Checked both cameras in Deshar Wood - the Maginon took 26 photos and the Acorn 19 photos and 19 videos, mostly of walkers, cyclists and dogs. The only wildlife recorded was a roe doe and a roe buck.  Ordered a new battery for the badger hide.  Worked in the shed on a couple of jobs for Ali the local ranger; fixed the lid of her map distribution box and made some birch ID discs for her students.

Thurs 3rd Mar
At 9am I found fresh badger prints along the caper track in what remained of yesterday afternoon's snow.  Spent the morning in the shed making more discs and making two new hazelnut lift-the-lid feeders for our local red squirrels.  Came up with an idea to improve the infra red performance of my trail cams - mount two side by side or one above the other so that they both benefit from each other's IR light, assuming one can roughly synchronise the triggers, target areas and exposure periods.  Worth trying.  In the afternoon Bea and I and the dogs installed the new hazelnut feeders, one at the community hall and one at the squirrel car park.

Fri 4th Mar
Researched problems with SD cards and decided to deep-format the cards I use in the trail cams in case the cause of my issues was too much residual clutter of old images left behind after previous superficial format attempts, resulting in the cards being unable to write videos quickly enough and therefore crashing.  We'll see.

Sat 5th Mar
Checked the trail cams and installed the newly deep-formatted cards in both - we'll find out tomorrow if that improved matters.  There was a really nice photo on the Maginon of me chatting to a lady I met that morning near where the camera was sited.  Quite atmospheric in the snowy woods.

Sun 6th Mar
Roe deer and red squirrels seen this morning on the way to checking the cameras.  Deep formatting the cards hadn't made much difference so I reduced the video size from 1080 (full HD) to 720 (HD) on both the Maginon and Acorn cameras and already there are signs things have improved.  Again, we'll see.  A point worth noting, the cards don't work in the trail cameras after deep formatting but they do work in the Canon camera so the process is to first reformat them in the Canon camera, after which they'll work in the trail cams and can be formatted again for those devices.  In the afternoon Bea and I installed the new battery at the badger hide which means both floodlights now have new batteries.

Mon 7th Mar
Carried out more extensive testing of the Maginon and Acorn cameras, building on yesterday's work, establishing that you can do almost anything you like with both cameras provided the video setting is not 1080P.  For example, setting up for one photo plus one 720P video with an interval of 5 seconds works without fail on both cameras using a 30mbs SD Card.  Better still, the new 95mbs SD card arrived and I found you can use that at 1080P video with no problems, so it seems that slow SD cards have been my problem all along.  Incidentally, I established that the Acorn IR light is No-Glow but the Maginon IR glows red quite brightly which is something to consider when choosing which camera to use for which jobs.  Changing subject, I was very pleased to see that SWT and RZSS have issued a joint statement on beavers calling on the Scottish Government to come forward with a positive decision without further delay.

Tues 8th Mar
Made a new nest box for Milton Loch.  Worked on some video techniques involving green screens and cartoons - great fun.

Building a nest box in a hurry
Building a nest box really fast

Weds 9th Mar
Set up two trail cams at Auchgourish, one at a path junction where I had previously found fox poo and one at a newly discovered badger sett to confirm signs that the badgers are actually in residence.  Bea and I met with the local Ranger at our house to discuss lots of stuff - there's plenty going on to keep us all busy.   Things are very positive just now, due in no small measure to having such an enthusiastic and engaging Ranger.

Thurs 10th Mar
Checked the Maginon camera at sett AU20 to try a different bracket arrangement - it was no improvement.  The good news was the camera is now working perfectly and there were 28 pics and 28 vids on the card showing the sett is active.  Only one badger per image but they could have been different animals.  The time spread was from 7pm last night to 7am today.


In the afternoon Bea and I went to the badger hide to carry in most of the necessary materials for Sunday's work party.  We checked the sett and were pleased to see so much activity with latrines, freshly dug tunnel entrances and busy footpaths.  Whilst there I painted the roof struts and discovered the paint we had bought was the most hideous colour so I stopped painting and later on went back to the shop, bought two tins of a darker colour and obtained a refund for the unopened tin of hideous colour (we'd bought two) -  thank you very much Spey Valley Hire.

Fri 11th Mar
Very wet morning so had a gadget-making session in the shed - it did not go well so it's back to the drawing board.  Took the dogs for a long walk to Loch Vaa but did not see any wildlife worth mentioning.

Pine Marten Poo At Auchgourish
A Large Quantity Of Pine Marten Poo

Sat 12th Mar
Went to Auchgourish with the dogs and struck gold.  On the way in I found a large quantity of pine marten poo on the main track exactly level with where a small animal track branched off, telling me there is probably a den nearby.  To put it mildly, I see an opportunity for a trail cam there.  Speaking of trail cams, we then checked the Acorn cam at a track junction further on but it had recorded no wildlife so I reset it and moved on - I'll bring the other trail cam for the pine marten poo site.  To finish off we went to the AU SE badger sett where we first found a busy latrine and then some tunnels.  The busiest tunnel was deep underneath the roots of a large bush which will be providing excellent shelter from the gales that sweep that slope now that the surrounding forest has been clear-felled.  Most of the other badger setts in this area which lost their protective trees have now been abandoned.  Phoned a lady at Culloden who is concerned that badgers coming into her garden might cause problems for her cat.  I think I was able to reassure her that the badgers would have no interest in her cat and that the cat would have more sense than to hassle a badger.  On the other hand they might all become firm friends - it's happened before.   Filled all the local woodland bird and squirrel feeder.

Sun 13th Mar
Mostly a golf day but first I went to Auchgourish, checked the Acorn cam (no wildlife recorded) and set up the Maginon cam at the pine marten poo site I found yesterday.  Woodpeckers drumming in what remains of the woodland.  The Sunday Herald carried a piece slamming the large-scale culling of mountain hares in the Cairngorms National Park to which I tweeted to anyone who would listen to ignore any spin that came back from Scottish Land and Estates (SLE) and the other usual suspects saying the cull was about tick control - I asserted it was not.  I based this assertion on the MacAuley Institute study that concluded tick infestation of grouse was no different on estates that culled hares compared with those that did not.  There followed a Twitter exchange between me and Doug MacAdam which could have got out of hand but ended with my joke that went, "As conservation bodies, SLE and GWCT aren't exactly setting the heather on fire.   Oh wait..."  Doug took that rather well and as usual we had managed to disagree without quite falling out.

Mon 14th Mar
Started the day at Auchgourish checking the cameras.  The Maginon had recorded no wildlife but the Acorn had a very nice video of a roe buck.  The dogs and I then explored some paths we had not walked before and with the Auchgourish woodpecker drumming away I ventured off the path to check a nearby badger sett, AU 13, where there were still two tunnels but neither was in use.  Bea and I then grabbed the ladder and put up a new nest box at Milton Loch and the refurbished one at Abernethy Golf Club - and that completes the season's nest box circuit apart from some minor adjustments in Boat Woods which I hope to accomplish tomorrow.

Tues 15th Mar
Bea and I walked the crested tit nest box circuit to improve the lid-fixing devices - it took 1 hour 50 mins.  There had been no nest-building attempts so far but several of the boxes contained droppings so they are clearly being used as roosts by some birds. 

Weds 16th Mar
Checked the trail cams at Auchgorish.  The Maginon had recorded some very nice footage of badgers scent marking the place where pine marten droppings had marked the same place.  It also showed a man and a woman investigating the camera so it's time to move it.  Nothing of note on the Acorn.  In the evening we went to the SWT North of Scotland Group monthly meeting in Inverness where Kenny Taylor gave a talk on the voyage by wooden boat from Oban to Eigg commemorating the work of Hugh Miller - something like that.

Thurs 17th Mar
During the morning walk the dogs and I saw two roe deer, found pine marten poo on the caper track (which Bobby ate, disgusting dog), heard a woodpecker drumming just south of the cross roads and heard a crested tit near the Angle feeders.  Nice start to the day. Later Bea and I checked the cameras at Auchgourish.  The Maginon had a nice badger video on it and the Acorn had recorded a roe buck.  We moved the Maginon to a more secluded spot on the same animal track but at a place less likely to be seen by other woodland users.  Both cameras are still working well although the Acorn night-time videos are very poor indeed.  I think the problem lies in weak infra red illumination so I'll soon action an idea I had a few weeks ago to put the cameras side by side and set them both to video so that each benefits from the other's infra red light.  Stay tuned.

Fri 18th Mar
Long morning walk to Loch Vaa where we saw a little grebe and a pair of goldeneye ducks, plus a woodpecker drumming in the woods.  On the way home Bobby led us along a very distinct animal track where we found a lot of deer hare and large piles of droppings but no bones - weird.  We also saw a male capercaillie high in a tree.

Sat 19th Mar
Excellent morning walk at Auchgourish.  At the gate we put up a woodcock and then went in search of 4 badger setts, 2 of which we found (AU20 and AU03) and 2 of which no longer exist (AU01 and AU02).  The two live setts both had several well used holes and busy latrines so I am happy that these active setts taken together with the equally active SE sett indicate the badgers in the area have fully adjusted to their forest being almost completely clear-felled a few years ago.  On the way out we found old fox poo at a track junction.

Sun 20th Mar
Called in at the badger hide to top up the food containers and to admire the results of the work done by last week's working party.  The place looks great and the badgers don't seem to have objected to the disturbance because they have since re-excavated one of the tunnels right in front of the hide.  It'll be interesting to hear how tonight's badger watch goes because it features some of the youngsters in the working party. In the afternoon I refilled the woodland feeders and on the way round chatted with two bird-watching couples up here on holiday.  Lovely people.

Mon 21st Mar
Message this morning to say last night's badger watch with junior rangers was a success - at one point they had 3 badgers in view.  This morning I walked round the Auchgourish circuit and on the way found yet more fox poo.  Before leaving I removed both cameras to carry out some experiments to see if placing two cameras together would result in better videos by sharing each others infra red lighting.  If better videos do result it might be worth investing in some infra red booster lights.  First result when aligning the two cameras revealed how much better the cheap Maginon performs in daylight than the more expensive Acorn - and we already know how much better the Maginon performs at night.   Incidentally, this morning the Acorn camera had nothing of note on its card from the last 3 nights but the Maginon had recorded three rather nice badger videos.  In the afternoon I found pine marten poo on the discrete path before heading to the badger hide to install the double camera for tonight's infra red experiment.  Spoke to a lady from Buckie whose garden is suddenly being visited by a badger that is freaking out her cat.  I was able to reassure on a number of points and she seemed quite happy.  That's the second such call in the last week or so from that area, possibly because there are some major housing developments going up in the district and the badgers are losing some of their foraging so are exploring new possibilities.

Tues 22nd Mar
Divided the remaining hazelnuts between the three feeding stations and removed from the squirrel car park station the feeder that was put there a few weeks ago, presumably by a visitor, the food in which was now rotten.  Spoke at length with a lovely bird watching couple from the south coast.  Collected the trail cams from the badger hide and the results confirmed that the Acorn videos at night were better when boosted by the Maginon's infra red light triggering at the same time. Unfortunately that didn't help the inherent grainy and out-of-focus problems of the Acorn so I'll just use it for daylight stuff, possibly close up videos using extra lenses.  I then went to Milton Loch hide and removed some branches from trees near the hide that would interfer with our plans for the new Bushnell camera when it arrives - we hope to catch the local pine marten on video.

Weds 23rd Mar
Took delivery of the new Bushnell Aggressor trail camera, spent some time getting to know it and then set it up at the badger hide to test its mettle.  I also set up the disappointing Acorn camera at our bird bath with an extra lens taped in place as the start of a process to see if I can persuade it to take in-focus close-up shots which would be a decent use for it rather than throw it away.

Thurs 24th Mar
Deeply disappointed to hear this morning that the decision on the future of beavers in Scotland has been delayed yet again - the new forecast being "later in the year".  Utter nonsense - this helps nobody; farmers, conservationists or beavers.  All conservationists agree with worried land managers that a certain amount of beaver management will be necessary so for heavens sake let's sort it out. A piece of good news - I saw a large male capercaillie in the woods this morning.  Frankly I'd rather have beavers.  Checked the new Bushnell Aggressor Low-Glow camera - a bit disappointed.  You cannot check images on site without a separate card viewer, it killed two full sets of new batteries in the space of 2 hours last night and the infra red illumination is erratic; bright at first, then less bright and flickering.  The mega-cheap Maginon is more user-friendly once you get used to it.  Hopefully I'll find a way to master the Bushnell, but I was expecting better. On the plus side there was lots of badger activity and at 9.30pm a pine marten turned up.  Sadly, by then the batteries were too low for video so it just captured an over-exposed still image.   In the evening I found pine marten poo on the Sock Route about 100m south of the mini crossroads on the shoulder of Fairy Hill.

Fri 25th Mar
Bea helped out at a work party to install a duck-feeding platform ay Milton Loch.  Later she joined me to set up the new Busnell trail cam up a tree at the Milton Loch bird hide to try to video the local pine marten that has been leaving scats at the hide.  In the evening I took a party of 4 keen photographers to the badger hide.  It was a cold and windy evening so not the best conditions but we eventually saw 5 badgers and the party all got some decent pictures.  Back at the village I showed them some likely spots for crested tits and red squirrels.

Sat 26th Mar

Sun 27th Mar
Made another batch of wood cookies for our manic local Ranger then went round the woodland feeders to top them up.  Noticed that one of the feeders was in need of attention thanks to the over-enthusiastic efforts of our local red squirrels.  I also noticed that wood ants are getting busy - that's the first time this year for me.  A less welcome sight was of fresh vehicle tracks in muddy patches along the tracks.  I hope that doesn't mean the quad-bikers are up to their old tricks.

Mon 28th Mar
Took Bobby collie to Auchgourish (poor wee Max was struggling with his sore hip today).  Found that the pile of pine marten poo where we recently set up a camera for a few days has grown.  Seems as if we should have left the camera there a little longer.  Never mind.  Further into the estate I set up the Maginon camera between a badger sett and a junction recently marked by a fox.  Fingers crossed.  On the way out I saw a vehicle possibly belonging to a gamekeeper and shortly afterwards I heard what might have been a gunshot. No comment. Bea and I checked the new Bushnell camera at Milton Loch hide but there was nothing of note on the card. In the afternoon I took both dogs for a short walk in the woods to repair yesterday's broken feeder.  Read an online BBC article about successful lynx reintroductions in Europe.  Whilst being interesting and encouraging, the article included a worrying quote from a contributor concerning a possible UK lynx reintroduction project which I took steps to check on.  I of course fully support lynx reintroduction but it has to be done properly by suitably qualified people and organisations with the support of the government and land managers.

Acorn Camera In Boat Woods
The camera and feeder to check for crested tits

Tues 29th Mar
Received some feedback on last night's lynx-related enquiry.  It appears I am not the only one with concerns about that quote - the matter is being pursued.  Made a new mount for the Acorn camera to fix it to a fallen tree trunk that I've used before near the Angle to check for crested tits; I haven't seen our cresties for a while so I wanted to make sure they are still around.  In the afternoon Bea and I set it all up 60cm from a feeder which is the distance that the Acorn focusses best via a particular spectacle lens.  As usual it took several attempts to get the screen to work so I could access the menu to change the settings; the Acorn really is a crummy piece of kit.  This time it's set to take 3 photos when triggered and then sleep for 15 seconds. No videos needed for this project so sticking with photos makes better use of the batteries and SD card.

Weds 30th Mar
Nice start to the day: starlings investigating our starling nestbox attached to the shed.   Inside the shed I made some more wood cookies but it's a noisy job so to avoid frightening the starlings away I'd better de-camp to the front garden for the next batch.  In the afternoon we checked the Maginon camera at Auchgourish to find it had recorded a roe buck, a badger and a fox.  Back at home I received a phone call from yet another lady worried about badgers coming into her garden -  the third this month.  Today's caller was from Inverness in or very near to a large new housing estate - surprise, surprise.  I gave the lady what comfort I could, some basic advice and an explanation of why this had probably come about; she went away not exactly happy but at least reassured she had found someone who was prepared to talk to her.

Fox at Auchgourish
One of the Auchgourish foxes

Thurs 31st Mar
Heard a woodpecker drumming near the burnt forest.  At the badger hide I put food out for the badgers, filled the bird feeder and checked the three goldeneye boxes.  Probing with the endoscope I established that the two boxes on poles were empty.  However, as I approached the one on the tree trunk I could see the back of a bird moving about in it and I could hear it scuffling.  I decided against probing with the endoscope both so as not to disturb it and also to avoid being attacked if it was a tawny owl - they can be rather aggressive.  I'll think about setting up a camera although there really isn't an ideal tree nearby.  Back at Boat, the Acorn had taken 1500 pictures of mostly jays but also gs woodpecker, red squirrel, badger, coal tit and chaffinch.  A woodpecker was drumming again, this time nearer the Angle.  In the evening a neighbour called round to kindly donate a load of bird food that he for some reason had in his shed. I didn't ask.

Jay in Boat Woods
A Jay In Boat Woods


Fri 1st Apr
Checked the Acorn cam and refixed the feeder more securely.  500 pictures again but no crested tits yet.  Checked the Bushnell at Milton Loch hide - nothing recorded at all going in or out of the gap above the store door so I changed the angle to check for the pine marten sneaking underneath the floor space.  Fixed up new bird identification posters inside the hide, then checked reports of a possible badger sett just outside the boundary fence - it's a rabbit warren.  Took the Hawtin family to the badger hide and at one point we had 5 badgers on view - super evening.  The Hawtins had last visited us 12 years ago so it was great to catch up.

Sat 2nd Apr
Removed the Maginon camera from Auchgourish.  The card had lots of videos and pics of badger, fox and roe deer including a delightful video of a badger and a fox foraging together and trying (and failing) to ignore each other.  (See the GIF on @AllanBoat on Twitter). Set up the Maginon at the goldeneye box on the tree at the badger hide to see which bird is using it and while I was there I checked the boxes on poles; still no eggs.  I then checked the card from the Acorn cam on the fallen tree; 1880 pictures showing all the usual species but still no cresties.  Interesting that the Hawtin family had seen cresties at the squirrel car park feeders yesterday or the day before so we know they are around but they simply have not yet found the new feeder by the Acorn cam.  I'll persevere until next week when we will be doing the rounds of the nest boxes.

Sun 3rd Apr
Mostly a golf day but I did manage to top up the woodland bird feeders and to twice check the card in the trail camera at the fallen-tree feeder.   1500 pics again of the usual common species but still no crested tits. Forgot to check if the squirrels have been chewing the deer antler at the squirrel car park (they have been doing so with a vengeance at the other two feeding stations but not the squirrel car park) - I'll build it into a walk tomorrow. 

Mon 4th April
Checked the squirrel car park to find the deer antler has gone.  The wire securing it to a tree was lying on the ground and had either been cut or wrenched off.  The knot, which would have been easy to untie, was intact so I can't imagine a human had done this.  A mystery.  The Acorn camera had taken another 300 pictures - still no cresties.  Updated the identification posters at Milton Loch and checked the Bushnell camera; the only wildlife recorded was a rabbit.   Checked the Maginon camera at the badger hide to find that it's goldeneye ducks that are using the box on the tree.  Completed an article about trail cameras for the next edition of Bog Standard.

Tues 5th Apr
A very wet night leading to a very wet Acorn cam.  Nevertheless it worked well and had nearly 600 pics on the card, none of which were crested tit.  Later I removed the peanut feeder in front of that camera and replaced it with a piece of deer antler and then took another piece of antler to the squirrel car park feeders to replace the piece of antler that has gone missing.  In the evening I took three people to the badger hide where soon after we got there a pine marten arrived to scoff peanuts at the foot of the slope below the upper sett.  Soon after that a dog walker and his dog went along the riverside path at which the pine marten ran up the hill to the tree which houses the pine marten nest box, climbed the tree, sat on a branch beside the box, then went to the top of the tree, then down again to the box and finally down to the ground where we lost sight of it.  Amazing, and brilliant for the guests.  The badgers were a bit slow to come out but eventually we had three in view which nicely capped a superb evening.

Weds 6th Apr
Checked the 20 crested tit nest boxes but none of them are showing any signs of breeding attempts.  Checked the Acorn camera at the new piece of deer antler and squirrels are already chewing it.  Cleaned some nest boxes at home - probably a bit late for best effect but better late than never.  Took a family to the badger hide and we had 3 badgers for a short time

Red Squirrel Chewing An Antler
A Red Squirrel Chewing An Antler For Calcium

Thurs 7th April
Brought in the Acorn Camera and the antler from the fallen tree near the Angle.  A couple more nice videos of a red squirrel chewing the antler.

Fri 8th April
Checked the Bushnell at Milton Loch hide but there was no wildlife recorded so we moved it to scan a different area between the front of the hide and the edge of the loch.  We then set up the Maginon to watch the pine marten nest box on the hill at the badger hide to see if the pine marten I saw in that tree two days ago is actually using the box.

Sat 9th and Sun 10th Apr
Domestic weekend - no wildlife

Mon 11th Apr
Checked the Bushnell camera at the Milton Loch Hide and the Maginon at the Badger Hide, both of which had been targetting pine marten.  Sadly, both drew a blank.  Put fresh cards in both cameras and hope for the best next time.  Great tits nest building in the sparrow gallery on our shed.

Tues 12th Apr
Took 4 delightful young naturalists from Singapore to the badger hide.  We checked the Maginon trail camera to see if the pine marten was using the nest box but the camera had only recorded bats.  Badgers were slow to emerge this evening but they did eventually put in an appearance.  We speculated that gunshots heard earlier in the evening may have discouraged them from leaving the safety of their dens.

Weds 13th Apr
Train to Edinburgh for the Scottish Environment Link Hustings at Edinburgh University.  The five main parties provided senior representatives who all made rather similar points and promises.  The hustings Moderator/Chair viewed this as an encouraging sign that all parties knew what action the environment requires whereas I took the more cynical view that all parties knew what a room full of environmentalists wanted to hear and provided it.  Overnight at Dalkeith.

Thurs 14th Apr
Train home to be greeted with various messages requesting action.  Those to do with badger watching were easily dealt with - the forecast is snow so we're not going.  A lady from Street of Kincardine begged me to go and see what was making squealing noises in her outhouse.  It turned out to be baby pine martens calling for food.  While I was investigating, mummy pine marten turned up and promptly moved her babies to a place free from interference by doting conservationists.

Fri 15th Apr
The day began with snow showers, as forecast, so I toured the woodland feeding stations and topped up the food as required.  Met a bird delighted watcher who had just seen a capercaillie male at the cross-roads in the middle of the forest.   Checked two trail cameras: the Bushnell at the Milton Loch hide had recorded a hedgehog which was only the second such record there but the Maginon at the badger hide had seen no action at all.  Spent a couple of hours in the workshop building a noticeboard for the Milton Loch dragonfly platform.

Sat 16th Apr
Did some more work on the noticeboard and took it to the Milton Loch site to mark up the holes for drilling.  Bea and I then met Ali, Kate and Helen at the other side of the loch where more work was going on and yet more being planned.  It's great to see this lovely place finally getting some TLC.

Sun 17th Apr
Bea walked the dogs and found pine marten poo on the track near Kinchurdy pond at map ref NH 9316 1805.  In the afternoon I checked the Maginon cam at the badger hide but there was no action on it.   Later I went back to the hide to put my new Nikon camera through its low-light paces.  Very pleasing results; nice high-res badger images.

Mon 18th Apr
Made some refinements to the new dragonfly interpretation board for Milton Loch; it's almost ready to go up.  Set up the Acorn camera in a clearing in Boat Woods where there is more tasty vegetation than under the canopy.

Tues 19th Apr
Finished the interpretation board for Milton Loch and installed it.  Set up the Bushnell camera at Milton Loch to watch for otters which means all three trail cams are now deployed; one for otters, one for pine marten and one to see what's using a particular clearing.  Spent a little time in Milton Loch hide at dusk but things were very quiet.

Weds 20th Apr
Dead badger beside the B970 at the entrance to the Kincardine Estate at map ref NH 9457 1758 - it was too much of a mess to weigh or sex. Flew the Phantom quadcopter to try to fathom where the water comes from for Milton Loch.  Not a great success - will maybe try again tomorrow and if that fails it'll be back to Google Earth.  Checked a couple of setts at Auchgourish - all's well.

Thurs 21st Apr
Did a quick check of the Acorn cam - it had been triggered once at night but could not see by what on the small screen.  I'll see properly on the computer next time I bring the card home.

Fri 22nd Apr
Was sent a message by police asking me to assist them regarding a disturbed badger sett but before I could respond they had found another expert.  That's fine and I have asked to be kept informed so stay tuned.   Bea met two birdwatchers at the crossroads in the woods and there were two crested tits nearby, which is great news because we have not been seeing many lately and also because there are nest boxes near that spot.  Later I signed up to be a polling agent in the local villages and to attend the count for the Scottish Green Party on polling day for the Scottish Elections.  That's a first for me.

Sat 23rd Apr
Met a group of birdwatchers from the Birmingham area at the cross roads.  They were very happy because they had just seen two male capercaillies.  I picked up the Acorn camera from its clearing - it had recorded no wildlife.  It'll go out again later to monitor some bat boxes.  Attended the Milton Loch element of the annual village clean up.  Filled the squirrel feeder and agreed with others to put out bird feeders, as we used to do till it became too onerous to maintain.  This time BoGWiG will provide the food and local members will top up the feeders as required.  Checked the Bushnell camera and it had taken some superb pics and videos of herons.  Set up the Acorn cam at a set of three bat boxes.  Picked up a fallen starling box for repair and found another starling box wired too tightly to a tree - I'll come back with a ladder and re-fix it with a coach bolt.  Others did litter picking, brash collecting and so on, achieving an excellent result.  We finished by attending the formal opening of the new dragonfly watching/duck feeding platform, complete with cutting the ribbon for the local press photographer.  In the afternoon I brought the Maginon cam home from the badger hide - no wildlife recorded at all.  I'll think about how it might be installed at one of the local otter holts.

Heron Preening At Milton Loch
A Heron Preening At Milton Loch


Sun 24th Apr
Out early with the dogs and again met with bird watchers on their way home, presumably having been out very early indeed in the hope of spotting capercaillie.  Good for the area as a tourist destination but not necessarily good for capers.  I watched a red squirrel chewing the deer antler at the Angle.  Back at home I watched Mrs Blackbird collecting wet vegetation from our pond and carrying it to the tree where she had a nest last year.  Looking good. 

 Mon 25th Apr
Seeing red squirrels at the Angle feeders almost every day now.  Had another go with the quadcopter to get a decent over-view of the local moor but still didn't get it quite right - will keep trying.

Tues 26th Apr
Foul day with heavy snow showers on a bitter north wind.  Made sure all the woodland feeders were well topped up.  Worked in the shed on bird feeders.  Took 3 people to the badger hide.  No badgers for nearly 2 hours and then suddenly there were four.  While we were waiting a goldeneye duck flew into the nest box on a plastic pole that we could just see from the hide.

Weds 27th Apr
Met an RSPB staff member in the woods.  We had a brief conversation about dogs.  Went to Milton Loch and sorted out two of the starling boxes; removed the wire that was biting into a tree and refixed that box with a coach bolt and then in the same manner resited the box I repaired in the shed a few days ago.  Afternoon walk along the river with the dogs - lots of common birds including my first swallow of the year.

Thurs 28th Apr
Stayed mostly out of our woods to avoid a repeat of yesterday's annoying meeting with RSPB.  Went to Docharn woods later for a steep, tiring walk up Docharn Craig.  Came across scats from pine marten and fox and bumped into an old friend.

Fri 29th Apr
Awoke to yet more snow - it's nearly May for Pete's sake! Bea and I went to Milton Loch to fix up the new bird feeders and check the Bushnell camera.  On reflexion I could have done a better job so will go back and have another think.  Similar story with an old squirrel feeder that had been originally fixed up with wire that was now buried so deep in the tree I could not get it all out.  I refixed the feeder with coach bolts but even that will have to be redone as I discovered the lid had become too heavy and will have to be replaced.  Slightly better fortune with the Bushnell camera which had captured heron, mallard, tufted duck and moorhen although none of the pics or videos were good enough to be worth keeping.  Later we walked along the Spey and found an otter spraint on a small mound on the bank between Boat Bridge and Allie's Corner.

Sat 30th Apr
Rebuilt and resited squirrel feeders and bird feeders at Milton Loch.  It took most of the day and I'm still not 100 per cent happy but it's better than nothing while I rethink things.


Sun 1st May
No wildlife work at all - played golf, watched a lot of football and generally relaxed to recharge after a tiring few days.

Mon 2nd May
There was talk of pine marten and grey squirrels on radio this morning which sparked a bit of an exchange on social media.  Good stuff.  The woodland ranger and I checked the 20 crested tit boxes in Boat woods and were delighted to find 3 with signs of activity.  Box 2 had a complete nest in it, box 3 had a nearly complete nest in it with a crested tit in attendance and a blue tit was prospecting at box 6.  On the way round we gave the topic of dogs and capercaillie a good airing, concluding there is no simple answer.  I believe imposing a blanket "dogs-on-leads" policy is unhelpful and unfair on most dog owners, leading to deep resentment and an unwillingness to cooperate, whereas providing information about local wildlife issues and explaining how the public can help by acting responsibly at certain times of year, as is done at Rothiemurchus Estate, is much more likely to succeed than trying to impose unenforceable, draconian, one-size-fits-all rules.  At Abernethy Golf Club I discovered that the oystercatchers had laid their first egg of the season on the gravel beside the monument as in previous years.  In the evening I took the dogs to Auchgourish where we saw two black grouse flying.

Tues 3rd May
Checked some of the nest boxes at the badger hide.  The tit box, the goldeneye box on the tree and the goldeneye box on a pole in the hollow were empty but the box on a pole on the hill had at least 8 eggs and a duck sitting.   While I was there I topped up the peanut bin and the bird feeder and made a temporary cover for the floodlight for the upper sett.  Took a delightfully enthusiastic couple from Australia to the badger hide where we had two badgers close to the hide.

Weds 4th May
Set up the Maginon camera at box No 2 to find out what bird is building a nest in it.  In the afternoon I checked sett 02 at Auchgourish - all OK.  As we left I heard a cuckoo and on looking up I saw a pair gliding over just above the tree tops.   Nice one.  In the evening Alison Greggans' group at the badger hide had just one badger for 20 minutes.

Thurs 5th May
Acted as a Polling Agent and a Count Agent for the Scottish Greens in today's Scottish Parliament elections.  On the wildlife front I managed to fill the feeders at the Community Hall and at the Squirrel Car Park.  Sadly the oystercatcher egg by the monument at the Abernethy Golf Club has gone, presumably grabbed by a predator.  Spent the night at the Election Count at Dingwall. Very tiring but exciting and it felt right to be involved.

Fri 6th May
Got home from the Count at 6am, grabbed a couple of hours sleep and then checked the Maginon camera at box No 3 in the woods.  Blue tits seem to be in charge but a great tit also squeezed in with some nest material and a woodpecker did some hammering around the entrance hole so it's all a bit confused.  Afternoon in bed, then out with a couple to the badger hide.  Vickie had been before but Matt had not and he brought his large pro video camera with him.  Excellent evening with an hour of badger activity at close quarters so Matt got some nice footage.  On the down side, the floodlight at the lower sett finally gave up the ghost so I hope the new one I've ordered gets here soon.

Sat 7th May
Checked the Maginon cam again.  More videos and pics of woodpecker hammering at the entrance to the nest box - to no avail really because there are no eggs or chicks in it yet.  Long chat at the Angle with two groups of bird watchers - all after cresties and capers and all disappointed so far.  Checked the bat box camera at Milton Loch and established the boxes are not being used so it was safe to take them down, clean them and refix them, which I did with coach bolts rather than with their original wire straps that can eventually strangle the tree.  Checked the Bushnell cam at the Milton Loch narrows and we had pics and videos of an otter, roe buck, herons, rabbits and various ducks.

Sun 8th May
A golfing day

Mon 9th May
Walked the 8.8km riverside circuit with the dogs.  Actual walking time was 1 hour 20 mins but we stopped to install an extra feeder at the Angle and to blether with other people at various places so it took an hour longer than that.  Found fox poo along the river bank path.  In the evening I took a photographer from Tomintoul to the hide.  A super evening with 4 badgers in front of us in broad daylight.

Tue 10th May
A day of beauitful sunshine wasted getting the Jeep serviced.  It took six hours.

Weds 11th May
Went to the hide early morning to drill holes and measure up for the new floodlight, not knowing when it would arrive; it's already 2 days late.   Took dogs along the river bank at Kincardine and had a look at the big otter holt at the north end.  Looks in use so I might put a trail cam on it.  The missing floodlight arrived so I mounted it on a board ready to go to the hide but ran out of time to actually install it - we can cope without it for a few days.   In the evening I took a group of five people to the hide.  We had a brilliant session with 4 badgers and a pine marten.  Got home quite late.

Thurs 12th May
Another good day so a long walk along the riverbank.  Saw the usual ducks and other birds plus I spoke to a couple of chaps who had just watched a stoat swim across the river.  Helped Bea with preparations for our Digital Treasure Hunt on Saturday.  In the evening I took a lady to the badger hide where we had 4 badgers - another very late night.

Fri 13th May
Early dog walk round the loop and checked box 2 on the way - it had a complete nest and one egg in it.  Time will tell which species won the contest, blue tit or great tit.  On the way home from golf at Grantown I saw a dead badger beside the A95 near the Heather Centre turn-off.  In the evening Bea and I did a dummy run ahead of tomorrow's Digital Treasure Hunt and managed to find all but two of the target species in just under an hour.  OK, we know our way around these woods and have a good idea how to find things but all the same the actual contestants should be able to find most things in the allotted three hours.

Sat 14th May
Up early and out with the dogs then, got set up for the Digital Treasure Hunt which went very well.  Pity there weren't more participants but there were other events on today, including an RSPB family event at exactly the same time as ours, which was unfortunate to say the least.  In the afternoon I attended the John Finnie MSP drop-in party at his house in Inverness for the Scottish Green Party members who helped get him re-elected to the Scottish Parliament.   Spoke at length to lots of fellow activists.

Sun 15th May
A golf day

Mon 16th May
Began by doing some prep for next week's Link Wildlife Crime Task Force meeting.  Set up the Acorn camera at the north otter holt on Kincardine Estate, then checked the Knock badger sett where we found a huge latrine area.  Rather oddly we then found lots of abandoned tunnels which didn't make sense until further along the slope we found just as many occupied tunnels, including some underneath a huge fallen dead tree.  On the way home we swapped cards in the Bushnell camera at Milton Loch narrows and found the card had 136 images on it, half pictures and half videos.  Unfortunately none of the images were of particular interest.

Knock badger sett and fallen tree
Badger sett under a fallen tree at Kincardine

Tues 17th May
Golf at Rothes where I found a badger sett near the 8th tee and a badger latrine in a ditch nearby.  In the evening I attended an SNH reception in Boat Hall where I spoke with lots of different people about red squirrels, capercaillie, beavers, politics, housing estates and the Cairngorms Nature Festival.

Weds 18th May
Refilled some woodland feeders and sat near box 2 for a while in the hope of glimpsing its occupants.  No luck so maybe a trail cam tomorrow.

Thurs 19th May
Didn't have time to put a trail cam at box 2 but managed to check the Acorn camera at the otter holt on Kincardine Estate - no action recorded.

Fri 20th May
Bea and I installed the new floodlight at the badger hide in time for tomorrow's badger watch and then checked the goldeneye nest boxes.    Nothing in the one in the tree or the one in the hollow but there is still a duck on eggs in the box on a pole on the hill.   Found a wonderful Y-shaped birch tree that had half fallen in such a way that the Y had settled perfectly against the trunk of its neighbour and was therefore prevented from falling all the way to the ground.  Quite how long the neighbour will survive with all that weight against it only time will tell.

Sat 21st May
In the morning Ali Greggans and I did a crested tit nest box check with some great results.  8 of the 20 boxes (40%) were in use.  One contained 5 tiny bald chicks and an egg (later confirmed as crested tits), 5 contained great tits on eggs, one contained a complete nest with a cup and one contained lots of nest material but no cup yet.  Later Bea took me onto the bonfire field on our moor (NH 936 191) to show me the carcasses of a swan and a very small deer.  Impossible to say how they died but we speculated about foxes and natural causes.  In the evening I took the Spencer family to the hide and we had a super evening with 4 badgers and a brown hare near the hide.  On the drive home a pine marten crossed the road in front of us and then shortly afterwards we came across a lactating badger lying on the road, presumably having been hit by a car.  Hopefully an auntie badger will take over care of the young and in any case by this time of year the cubs may already be weaned or partially so.  Very sad all the same.  I lifted it off the road into some bushes.

Lactating female badger on B970
Lactating Female Badger on the B970

Sun 22nd May
Went back to where I had hidden the badger last night to make sure it was out of sight.  It wasn't so I moved it and in doing so found the hole under the fence where it had accessed the road.  Clearly this is a well used route so I'll come back another day, perhaps tomorrow, and see if there's a sett nearby and if there are cubs wandering about.

Mon 23rd May
Set up the Maginon camera at the gap under the fence at Auchgourish a few metres from where Saturday's badger RTA occurred to gauge to what extent it is being used by other animals and to see if cubs turn up to look for their Mum.  Did some preparation for tomorrow's wildlife crime meeting in Edinburgh.   Bea and I attended the Scottish Wildcat Action meeting in the Boat Hall.  Well attended and a most interesting update but the discussion on future actions that followed was spoiled by a guy from Planet Stupid who didn't understand the role that cats, true wild, hybrid or feral, play in the Scottish ecosystem; he wanted mass culling of ferals.  It was explained to him that would created a vacuum for fertile feral cats from elsewhere to move in - much better to trap, neuter, vaccinate and return the local feral cats to where they came from to skew the genetics in that area in favour of wildcats.

Tues 24th May
Great tits have been carrying food to the box on the shed for a few days now so clearly we have babies.  The starling box has a good lot of nest material in it but no eggs so far.  Caught the train to Edinburgh for the ScotLink Wildlife Crime Task Force meeting.  Bumped into John Finnie MSP at Waverley - he was also on his way to a meeting.  Subjects covered at my meeting included the new political landscape, raptors, snares, beavers and hunting with dogs.   

Weds 25th May
Took a chap to the badger hide - we had 2 badgers at least and the guy got some brilliant photos.  We watched four goldeneye ducks fly from the river to the area where their nest boxes are sited.  Looks as if incubating the eggs is, not for the first time, a team effort.

Otter leaving the north Kincardine holt

Thurs 26th May
Checked the Acorn camera at the north Kincardine holt; Bingo, a few pics and videos of an otter coming and going over the past few days.  Nice to know it's in use and also the images might be useful evidence if ever the presence of otters in that part of the Spey is called into question.   I know of at least two other holts along the Kincardine shore from a survey carried out under the previous ownership of the estate.  We did it with a mixture of canoeing, wading and swimming.

Fri 27th May
Filled the woodland bird feeders.  Found a big fat toad in our wee garden pond.   Finished making a new net for fat balls and put it out.  Removed the card from the Maginon cam at Auchgourish - it had taken 92 images, mostly of nothing but wind-blown trees but including 2 videos of pumped up roe bucks running and chasing before the camera died of exhaustion.  All that action probably killed the batteries which I confess were far from new when I put the thing out.

Sat 28th May
Got my head round some numbers this morning and according to BTO figures my goldeneye chicks will hatch and leave the nest around 2nd or 3rd June and crested tit chicks will fledge between 7th and 11th June.  Exciting time.  Removed the Maginon camera from Auchgourish, having established that orphaned badger cubs have not come looking for their dead mother, and set it up at the goldeneye duck box in the hope of recording the moment the chicks fall out of the box.  I tried to check with the endoscope that the eggs were still there but couldn't see them so in case the chicks had already hatched and gone I had to get the ladder from the badger hide and actually reach into the box.  Sure enough, the eggs were still there (at least eight of them) but were buried under a mixture of down and woodshavings exactly like we have seen in previous years.

Maginon camera at the goldeneye box
Maginon camera at the goldeneye box

Sun 29th May
A golf day.

Mon 30th May
Removed the Bushnell camera from Milton Loch - the card had a few mallard shots on it but nothing special.  That camera will go to the crested tit nest box later.  I wrote to the National Park with a suggestion to research and publicise off-lead dog friendly walking routes to offset the highly unpopular dogs-only-on-leads policy which is now so widespread.  If such off-lead routes were made available it would stop some of the ill feeling at source and restore a bit of balance.  In the afternoon I checked the camera at the Kincardine otter holt - the card had no otters this time but did have a black spaniel investigating the holt.  I learned later that environmental surveyors were seen on the estate last week so a new planning application to build accommodation can be expected.  In the evening I checked the Maginon camera at the goldeneye box and disappointingly found it had recorded no action at all at the box.  While I was there I popped down to the hide and watched a badger for a little while and to my horror I saw the grass had grown so much in the last few days that the badger was hard to see.  I'll have to get back here tomorrow with the strimmer.

Tues 31st May
On the way to play golf I passed a dead hedgehog on the road just south of Carrbridge. Very sad.  Later I went to the badger hide and strimmed the grass so that tomorrow's guests can actually see the badgers.  Before leaving I left lots of peanuts scattered about by way of apology for all the noise.


Weds 1st June
This is day one of "30 Days Wild"; a project organised nationwide by the Wildlife Trusts.  It was a very busy wild day for me, starting with refilling the feeders at the Community Hall and at the Angle.  I then had a protracted conversation with a local enthusiast that ranged between trail cameras, nest boxes of several kinds, several species of bird, forestry, wildcats, badgers and pine martens.  Later I checked the camera at the crested tit box but it had hardly triggered at all so next time I'll set it to a higher sensitivity.  The chicks are still in the box, well feathered and hunkered down, trying to be invisible in case I was a predator.  In the evening I took three people to the badger hide - a pretty full day for day one of the project.  The badger watch went well eventually, but we were interrupted by people walking noisily along the river bank, then the same people lost their dog and a woman was screaming and shouting to try to find it.  We found it for her and went back in the hide and soon afterwards the badgers emerged one at a time until there were four.  One of the badgers came right up close to the hide so the guests were delighted.  I also sketched a Cairngorm Landscape

Thurs 2nd June
Bea and I took a lady and her two young daughters to the badger hide.  First badgers did not appear until 2150 which is about par for the course at this time of year.  I also checked the Maginon camera at the goldeneye box but it had not recorded any activity so I guess it's too far away and not sensitive enough.  I sketched a badger.

Fri 3rd June
Did a full check of the 20 crested tit boxes with good results.  All the active nests from last time have progressed nicely - Box 2: great tit chicks, Box 3: at least 5 crested tit chicks with both parents in the area, Box 4: great tit sitting, Box 6: at least 5 blue tit chicks with one parent in the area, Box 10: still only nest material, no nest, Box 12: blue tit on eggs, Box 14: great tit on eggs and Box 20: 4 chicks, species unknown.  At the crestie box (No 3) the Bushnell had still not recorded anything other than deer so I cranked up the sensitivity in the hope that would now pick up the tiny birds.

Sat 4th June
Checked the Bushnell camera at Box 3 again but even with its higher sensitivity it only recorded deer.  However, as a pure fluke, while a deer was walking past at 0442 this morning a crestie came out of the box with a refuse sac in its beak and flew off.  Brilliant.  Whilst in that area I sat near Box 20 in the hope of seeing which species owns the four eggs in it and by another stroke of good fortune a great tit brought food to the box and left with a sac.  Great start to the day.  In the afternoon Bea and I and the dogs walked down to the Spey and onto an island where we attempted to identify the trees.  We also looked for otter signs but were unable to find any.  Received an invitation to speak at a Hen Harrier Day organised by Birders Against Wildlife Crime in August and was pleased to accept.

Sun 5th June
Played golf at Abernethy and at the second hole observed both parent curlews doing their best to look after two lively chicks.  There had been four eggs so there may have been more chicks hiding in the bush.  In the afternoon I checked the Acorn camera at the North Kincardine otter holt.  It had recorded some nice otter footage on 31st May and 1st June but only birds, a rat and a badger since.  Some of the otter footage looked as if the animals had been using the upper tier of the holt but the camera is currently pointing at the lower entrance so I've got to find a way of covering both entrances.

Mon 6th June
Not the best start to the day - noticed the feeders at the Angle were empty so nipped home, grabbed the bike and sorted it.  The Angle feeder gets more business than all the other put together, probably because it is deep in the woods and therefore the least disturbed by us humans, so I get caught out sometimes.  Our great tits are taking full advantage of Bea's regular offerings of live meal worms, ferrying them to the nest box for what seems like hours on end; they must have the fattest chicks ever.  Bea and I carried out the final nest check at the badger hide goldeneye box to find 2 dud eggs and therefore at least 6 chicks must have hatched and gone.  Result!  Boxes on top of poles do seem to be the complete answer to the pine marten problem.  We put the eggs under a board along with the usual peanuts for the badgers to find later.  In the evening I went back to the hide to see what the badgers would make of the goldeneye eggs, although I suspected they might not deal with the board until well after I would want to stay so I set up the Maginon trail cam to record the event.  First badger came out at 2130, soon followed by a second one, but they did not stay long so I went home and left the Maginon to do its job.

Tues 7th June
Filled some more feeders.  Found that the squirrel feeder at the community hall had mouldy peanuts in it - that's because it was intended for hazelnuts and therefore did not incorporate as much mesh in its structure as my usual design.  I'll modify it at some point.  Found pine marten poo on the loop path at roughly NH 932 189 which is near crestie box No 1.   Took an Australian lady to the badger hide - a very nice evening with 4 badgers on view.  Whilst there I removed the Maginon camera - it had recorded 100 videos of badgers and mice, including footage of a badger dealing with dud goldeneye duck eggs.

Weds 8th June
The fence round the new housing development is now complete and a large digger has arrived and started work.  No sign of the shed box great tits to day so I'm assuming they've fledged.  Young blackbirds are being fed in the garden so the hedge nestful have fledged too.  Collected the squirrel feeder from the community hall and took it home for modification.  Went through the 100 videos from the badger hide which comprised more than 50 of badgers eating peanuts and dealing with the eggs, several of mice finishing up the left-overs and 3 of a pine marten arriving too late for the spoils but scent-marking the place anyway on principle.

Pine marten scent marking egg shells at the hide
Pine marten scent-marking egg shells at the badger hide

Thurs 9th June
Checked the crested tit nest box to find it full of large chicks; they'll go any day now.  Found very fresh pine marten poo on the track near Craigie Rock so I daresay it's been visiting the local gardens.  In the afternoon I watched a female goldeneye duck with five ducklings on the River Spey not far from the badger hide.  Could they possibly be the ones that fledged from our box recently?  Hope so.  In the shed I modified the squirrel feeder by adding a mesh floor so that the food will dry out more quickly after wet weather and be less likely to go mouldy.

Fri 10th June
Today's plans got slightly amended by events.  Nevertheless I returned the modified squirrel feeder to its rightful place at the community hall and then removed a similar device from the squirrel car park and took it home to be likewise modified.  Later Bea and I and the dogs went pond dipping in Kinchurdy Pond where we found all sorts aquatic life including two newts.  An afternoon of golf was followed by a session in the shed to manufacture a special clamp for the Maginon camera to be fixed above an otter holt tomorrow - unforeseen events permitting.

Sat 11th June
Checked the crestie box and the chicks are still there.  Will check again on Monday.  Checked the corner-post badger sett.  Lots of cattle trampling around the tunnels.  2 tunnels in occasional use with bedding in one tunnel and a latrine nearby.  Not a main sett but an annexe or outlier for either the BBB or Loch Roid setts.   Rebuilt the squirrel feeder from the squirrel car park, adding more mesh to avoid the food going mouldy - we'll put it back at the feeding station tomorrow.  Checked the cam at Kincardine otter holt - 47 images, mostly of birds plus one badger.  No otters this time.  Walked around The Knock with Bea and the dogs and tried to identify the trees - we're not very good at that.

Sun 12th June
Started the day by reinstalling the squirrel feeder at the the squirrel car park and topping up all the feeders there.  On the way there I composed a Limerick for #30DaysWild:

A pony who lived in Geneva, considered himself a beaver
His Mum said "Of course, you're really a horse", but he simply didn't believe her.

Mon 13th June
Checked Box 3 and was delighted to find that the 6 crested tit chicks have fledged.  Result!  A camper-van was parked in the woods overnight last night so I informed the estate, suggesting they locked the gate that has been open for the past several weeks for the developer's machines.  Received pictures of some nasty looking traps on a pole across a burn on a nearby estate and asked a different estate for their opinion as to whether they are legal or not.   Excellent meeting with CNPA about dog walking issues in the bird breeding season, attempting to bring some balance to the matter.  The Park liked my ideas and would begin to test some of them in the months ahead.  Very pleasing outcome.

Tues 14th June
An attempt to remove the front of nest box No 3 to remove its nest for research purposes failed because the screws simply would not budge.  The box will have to be brought home for major surgery but I did not have the tools with me to unbolt it from the tree. 

Weds 15th June
The weather was absolutely awful so it was a good opportunity to get my badger and wildlife crime paperwork better organised in the office.

Thurs 16th June
Went on a boat at Inverness with the Scottish Wildlife Trust North Group in the hope of watching dolphins.  No such luck but we did see some harbour seals, guillemots, swans and a fisherman catching a big fish.

Fri 17th June
Removed the damaged feeder from the community hall feeding station and took it home for repair.  Reinstalled it later.  Took photos of the building works near our house and Tweeted one of them saying, "Part of the capercaillie wood at Boat of Garten now a building site - probably not what you'd expect in a National Park".  By next morning it had received more than 40 Retweets - I'm probably not very popular with CNPA at the moment.

Boat of Garten Building Site
Part of the Boat of Garten capercaillie wood is now a building site

Sat 18th June
Today's crestie nest box check brought mixed results with plenty of healthy nestlings but also a few dead ones.  Last week's bad weather will not have helped matters.  Here's the details: Box 2: at least 4 very large great tit chicks, Box 3: empty now that the crestie chicks have fledged, Box 4: 2 great tit chicks, Box 6: 1 blue tit chick plus a heap of dead ones, Box 10: lots of nest material but no nest, Box 12: at least 4 blue tit chicks, Box 14: great tit still sitting and Box 20: 2 live great tit chicks plus what looks like some dead ones.  In the afternoon I checked the Acorn camera at the Kincardine north otter holt - it had recorded otters visiting on the 12th, 14th and 15th June.  On Twitter, my comments on the local building site continue to attract comment.  People cannot understand any more than I can how this nonsense can be justified.

Sun 19th June
Mostly a golfing day but in the afternoon I checked badger setts AU20 and AU03 at Auchgourish.  Both were occupied and in good shape.  Had an exchange on Twitter about environmental protection and the EU Referendum, saying the best protection we can hope for is by staying in the EU.  Other environmentalists agreed although one chap said the matter would not be decided on the environment issue.  He's probably right.

Mon 20th June
Attended the first session at the Spey River Catchment Conference at Boat of Garten.  A bit political and please boys and girls spare us the PowerPoints with screens full of text which are basically your lecture notes. Cheesh!  Later went to Milton Loch to check all is well and to photograph insects; a new challenge for me which I really enjoyed.  Back at home I rebuilt an old squirrel feeder; it'll go back out in the woods tomorrow.

A bee on some foxgloves
A Bee on Foxgloves

Tues 21st June
Reinstalled the rebuilt squirrel feeder at the Community Hall, then went to the badger hide to check all is well.  Plenty of badger activity but the hide door lock needs attention.  Before leaving I put some peanuts under a board for the badgers to find later.  In the evening I replaced the peanut feeder at the squirrel car park with a bigger one - it was running out too often.

Weds 22nd June
Bea and I fed the ducks at Milton Loch; no, not with bread but with left-over salad stuff.  We then walked part of the Spey river bank looking for the ideal rock beside which to set up a trail cam for otters.  Nothing really ideal so we'll try a different stretch next time.  Met up with the previous owner of the local estate - he asked for a copy of one of the otter pictures taken at a local holt recently - no problem.

Otter leaving Kincardine Holt
An otter leaving Kincardine North holt

Thurs 23rd June
Set up the Maginon camera at a line of rocks in the Spey at the north end of Kincardine Estate in the hope of getting some otter images.  While I was there I changed cards in the Acorn cam at the otter holt; it had recorded a short, fast clip of an otter leaving the holt at midnight on Monday.

Maginon camera at Kincardine

The Maginon set for capturing otter images

Fri 24th June
Took my wife and dogs paddling in the Spey near Boat of Garten, worked on notes for my talk at the the Hen Harrier Day on Cairngorm and built the frame for a new squirrel feeder made with lots of wire mesh to prevent food going mouldy.

Sat 25th June
Continued with the squirrel feeder but domestic DIY intervened.  Took Bea and the dogs to check one of our favourite osprey nests.  We didn't stray too close but it seemed to us that it is not in use this year.  While up there we saw two groups of curlews, some golden plovers, some lapwings and a buzzard.  Later I resited the Maginon camera on a tripod to keep it above the rising River Spey and then put new batteries in the Acorn camera at the otter holt a couple of hundred metres south along the bank.

Sun 26th June
A day largely dominated by domestic duties but I did manage to swimming at Loch Vaa with the dogs.  Actually, the dogs went swimming while I acted as paddling lifeguard.  Hope to get some proper wild stuff done tomorrow.

Mon 27th June
Finished building the new squirrel feeder.  Quite technical and time consuming but probably worth the effort.  Checked both cameras - the Maginon at the otter rocks had videos of heron, mallard, sandpiper and mallard but the Acorn at the holt had packed up altogether due to dead batteries - it really does not like rechargeables.

Tues 28th June
Glasgow Uni has asked for the successful crested tit nest and the contents of the successful goldeneye nest box for their research so I made start on that by bringing the crested tit nest box home and careful dismantled it so I could remove the nest intact.  I'll deal with the goldeneye nest another time.  Did some research into wildlife partnership projects ahead of my upcoming talk at the Hen Harrier Day event on Cairngorm in August.  It's difficult to assess some of these projects because judging whether a given project is a success or failure often depends on your point of view.

Weds 29th June
Lots of domestic stuff today but managed to get down to the river with the dogs for a while.  Also made a start on the paperwork to go to Glasgow with the crested tit nest.

Thurs 30th June
The final day of #30DaysWild so I helped Bea with the final survey of our front garden which we had not mown for the whole 30 days to see what would appear through such benign neglect.  Later I took a sack of peanuts to replenish the supply at Milton Loch.  The jackdaws there have not only been agile enough to empty the normal peanut feeder but also found out how to lift the lid of the squirrel feeder.  I'll have to buy or build a cage. 


Fri 1st July
Went to the badger hide and modified the door lock.  Bea and I then took the ladder to the goldeneye box on its pole and removed most of the woodshavings, downy feathers and fragments of egg shell from the box.  Later the contents of the box plus the crested tit nest collected earlier in the week were parcelled up and posted to Glasgow University for the national nest reference collection.  Checked the Maginon camera beside the Spey and it had taken 52 videos.  Unfortunately most of them were triggered by the setting sun glinting off the surface of the water but there was also a nice video of 4 oystercatchers have an argument.

Sat 2nd and Sun 3rd July
Quite a lot of golf and domestic stuff got in the way but over the weekend I made good progress with the feeder cage for Milton Loch, took a fairly ordinary time-lapse set of images of  clouds passing my bedroom window from which I made a nice GIF and set up the Bushnell camera at the squirrel feeder behind the community hall to make sure it is actually squirrels that are using it and not the jackdaws, as has happened at Milton Loch.

Mon 4th July
Checked the Bushnell camera and it told us all we needed to know.  Yes the red squirrels are using the squirrel feeder and the jackdaws are trying to use it but failing, which is fine and dandy.  The rooks however have cracked the code and are opening the feeder with ease and nicking all the peanuts so I've ordered a cage for it.  Speaking of cages, I spent most of the afternoon and evening trying to complete the large cage for the Milton Loch feeders.

Rook opening the lid of the squirrel feeder
A rook opening the squirrel feeder

Tues 5th July
Intended to carry on working on the new feeder cage today but got a request to take some friends and their grandchildren to the badger hide later so in the afternoon I had to go up and strim the grass otherwise we would not see the badgers.  All went well in the evening and we had two badgers out within five minutes of arriving at the hide.

Weds 6th July
Finished building the new feeder cage but am having second thoughts about its suitability for Milton Loch.   Two custom made cages arrived in the post today so I might use one or both of those instead.   Got a message from ScotLink today about the Lynx Trust UK who have made an approach to Link about their plans for reitroducing lynx.   Thankfully Link has no plans to get involved but to be on the safe side I shared my experiences of the Lynx Trust UK with ScotLink's CEO and provided a hyperlink to Andy Wightman's article which describes their dubious activities.

Thurs 7th July
Checked the Maginon camera down on the Spey rocks - it had taken 67 videos of swimmers and canoes and anglers plus herons. mallards and wagtails.  Worked on a revised cage design for squirrel feeders to keep the rooks out.

Fri 8th July
Bea and I dismantled the feeder array at Milton Loch and brought it home; it will be replaced with a cage containing a squirrel feeder and a normal mesh bird feeder.  Spent an hour or so building the new cage.

Sat 9th July
Recorded BBC Out Of Doors to listen to later because it was to feature Scottish Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham and the Scottish Wildlife Trust so I hoped to hear something about beavers and lynx.  Took Bobby collie into the capercaillie area of the woods (on his lead) and we found pine marten poo in two different places; one just north of the main crossroads and one on the secret path just north of the elbow junction.  Listened to BBC Out Of Doors when I got home from golf; there was no mention of lynx but Roseanna Cunningham said there will be a decision on beavers this year some time.

Sun 10th July
Found yet more pine marten poo this morning, this time near the summit of Craigie Rock.  Later Bobby collie and I checked the Maginon camera at the Street of Kincardine rocks in the River Spey and changed its batteries.  We've been hoping for otter videos but no luck so far, however this time we got heron, mallards and a pine marten.  The rocks extend half way across the river and we know these animals swim quite well (a stoat was seen to swim across the Spey near here just a few weeks ago) so it looks from the clip that the marten is using the rocks to get half way across which greatly shortens the distance it has to swim to get to the other side.  After checking the camera Bobby and I wandered around the paths on the Knock and to my astonishment Bobby came face to face with his first badger.  It was a small, wet, bedraggled thing so I think probably one of this year's cubs out early looking for food - the time was just 4.45pm.  Bobby thought it was a small dog and wanted to play but the badger ignored him and trotted off.  A little further on there was pine marten poo on the track - it's almost hardly worth mentioning any more.

Pine marten on rocks in the River Spey
Pine marten on rocks in the River Spey

Mon 11th July
Bea and I installed the new cage with all the feeders inside it at Milton Loch.  I may modify the locking arrangement but otherwise I think it's OK.    Later I rejigged the cage at the squirrel car park so that both feeders are now inside it.  That just leaves two more feeding arrays to fix and hopefully that'll prevent the rooks stealing the food once and for all.  

Tues 12th July
Tonight's proposed badger watch has been cancelled and I confess to being slightly relieved - there's so much to do at this time of year.  In the afternoon I made some wooden latches for the new feeder cages to replace the rather unsightly twisted wire arrangement.  In the evening I did what I thought would be the final crested tit nest check but it turns out there'll be at least one more.  The eight active boxes were in the following states.  Box 02: all great tit chicks fledged and gone. Box 03: now in my shed, its nest having gone to Glasgow University.   Box 04: damaged by woodpecker and the chicks gone, either fledged or more likely having been eaten.  Box 06: empty; even the dead chicks found last time were gone.   Box 10: a new nest with at least three bald newly hatched chicks and 3 eggs.  A parent bird flew off when I arrived but I was not quick enough to see which species; I'll have to come back another day.  Box 12: Empty nest with some woodpecker damage; the chicks have gone, either fledged or eaten.  Box 14: empty nest apart from one unhatched egg.  Box 20: empty nest; even the dead chicks found last time were gone.    Future action includes removing the empty nests, refilling the small boxes with dead pine wood and possibly fitting all boxes with 1.25 inch metal entrance holes to keep the woodpeckers out.

Weds 13th and Thurs 14 July
Mostly golf and domestic stuff but managed to top up some feeders and on Thurs took a chap to the badger hide where we saw 2 badgers.

Fri 15th July
Spent much of the day on squirrel and bird feeders, refurbishing old ones and making new ones, the object being for all feeders to be inside cages to prevent corvids from stealing the peanuts and fat balls.  A couple more sessions and that should be it till the winter.

Sat 16th July
Did more work on the feeders including putting the finishing touches to the Milton Loch array and preparing the Angle cage which I hope will go out tomorrow.  Removed the Maginon camera from the rocks in the Spey at Street of Kincardine because I needed the tripod for something else.  It had recorded another video of the pine marten on the rocks in the river, this time in daylight.  It had also recorded anglers interfering with the camera so it's probably just as well I removed it.  It can go back there outside the fishing season.

Sun 17th July
Bobby and I visited Box 10 and sat nearby for 20 minutes in the hope of seeing which bird has chicks in it.  No luck so I would have to come back later with a trail camera.  In the afternoon Bea and I and the dogs took the new feeder cage to The Angle and set it up there.  That completes the set of four new feeder arrays: Milton Loch, The Angle, Community Hall and Squirrel car park.  In the evening I went back to Box 10 and set up the Acorn camera a metre from it so we should get some answers.  I'll check it on Wednesday.

Mon 18th July
Injured my back playing golf so no field work for a couple of days.

Weds 20th July
Checked the Acorn camera but it had recorded nothing so am still none the wiser about which species is using box 10.

Thurs 21st July
That's torn it - I tried playing golf again and made my back much worse.  Out of action now for quite some time I should think; can hardly walk.  In the days that followed no fieldwork was possible but I was able to prepare for upcoming events and keep in touch with the government and others over burning issues of the day including beavers and lynx.

Fri 29th July
After yesterday's visit to the doctor where it was established no permanent damage had been done to my back and with much less pain going on I ventured out into the woods today for the first time in a week.  Found pine marten poo near the far end of the Secret Path and then sat for a while with binoculars near Box 10 and established it's great tits that have chicks in it.   Later the dogs and I went to Auchgourish and found fox poo where a side track leads to two abandoned chalets and pine marten poo near two fallen trees near the start of the walk.

Sat 30th and Sun 31st July
Checked all the woodland feeders - they're all fine and definitely not being depleted as quickly now that they are all in crow-proof cages.  Set up the Acorn camera on a busy badger path near sett AU 20 at Auchgourish.  I had intended to put it near the abandoned chalets but couldn't find anywhere discrete enough.


Mon 1st Aug
Checked the Acorn camera at sett AU 20 to find the settings were all wrong; either it's gone all bolshie and reset itself or I had a brain freeze when I set it up.  The dogs and I then went across the moor to the Otter Loch where the lilies were in full bloom.  We found an old goldeneye nest box in a tree beside the loch but I was unable to get to it without wellies so I don't know if it's still usable.  That's a job for another day.

Tues 2nd Aug
Checked the Acorn camera to find that this time it's working well but no wildlife recorded.  On the way home we called at the badger hide and strimmed the grass ready for later.  In the evening I took a family of 3 to the hide and we had at least 3, probably 4, different badger on view at close quarters.

Weds 3rd Aug to Sat 6th Aug
Still struggling with a sore back but managed to keep the feeders topped up and consoled myself with watching lots of Olympics on TV.

Sun 7th Aug
Was supposed to give a talk at the Hen Harrier Highlands day on Cairngorm but it was cancelled due to wild weather - I mean really wild!  Andrea Goddard the organiser asked that I commit what I was going to say to paper for distribution so that the day was not a total loss.  I promised to do so.

Mon 8th Aug
My back is improved somewhat so I checked the two cameras at Auchgourish; they had taken some reasonable videos of roe deer, plus one of a badger.   Set up the Bushnell camera beside our shed to try for mice.

Tues 9th Aug
The Bushnell got some videos of mice, slugs, beetles and a robin.   The mice seemed to prefer the peanuts to the biscuits but the slugs were not so fussy.

 A mouse beside our shed
A mouse beside our shed last night

Worked on the Hen Harrier document for Andrea Goddard - nearly finished.   The jackdaws have found a way to circumvent my cunning defence of the feeders behind the community hall and are scoffing the peanuts so it was back to the drawing board.  Made some adjustments and only time will tell if they make enough of a difference.   In the evening I took a family of 4 to the badger hide - we had 3 badgers.

Weds 10th Aug
Day off.

Thurs 11th Aug
Refined the Bushnell set up with a close up lens for use once the rain stops.  Finished the Hen Harrier document.  Took 5 people to the badger hide - we had 4 badgers.

Fri 12th to Mon 15th Aug
I completed and distributed my piece about hen harriers this morning, which is quite appropriate on this the inglorious twelfth.  Here it is.  For a pdf click here.  Managed the three trail cams at Auchgourish and in the garden, achieving pictures of red and roe deer, mice, a badger, robins and chaffinches.  Since putting the feeders in cages there has been a marked reduction in the rate at which peanuts are being taken; clearly the rooks and jackdaws were a bigger factor than I had realised.  On the down side, some peanuts have gone mouldy in the squirrel feeders so even drilling holes in the wooden sides is not enough to ensure a good enough air flow.  I'll revisit the idea of an all-mesh structure with a lid.  Found pine marten poo on the small footpath between the football pitch and the back of the Deshar Road houses and also on the discrete path near the sock path T-Junction.  Clearly pine martens are about but not in enough numbers to feature much on the trail cameras.  Attempted to photograph the moon from near Lochindorb but the midges chased me away after only a few minutes.  The resulting pictures were not very good but I'll work on it.  On the way home there was a hedgehog toddling across the road just south of Landmark at Carrbridge

Tues 16th to Thurs 18th Aug
Managed to play golf and win so my back is now OK I hope.   Walked to Loch Vaa and found pine marten poo on a couple of the tracks.  Had another go at photographing the moon with slightly better results than the last attempt.  Built and installed a new all-mesh feeder and almost at once found mouldy food in another feeder so I'll have to set up a production line of mesh feeders.  Checked the cameras at Auchgourish; the Maginon had taken nothing at all and the Acorn had recorded a deer, a badger and a pine marten.  Did some reading ahead of tomorrow's badger meeting in Perth.

Fri 19th Aug
Drove to Perth for a Scottish Badgers meeting.  Lots of hugely interesting and progressive stuff on the table - came home pleased to be back involved with them; I am to be nominated at the upcoming AGM to return to the board of trustees.

Sat 20th Aug
I took part in a survey of wood ants in the south east quadrant of Deshar Wood.  Bea and I have surveyed for ants before but we were only recording nest sites.   This time I hoped to get a bit more comfortable with deciding exactly which species I've found but there simply wasn't time and we just recorded the locations of ant nests of all species.  Eight of us worked the morning session and six in the afternoon.  I don't know how many nests we found and recorded altogether but I found six and, if that was typical, you do the maths.  At lunchtime at a demolished cairn on top of a small hill we swapped wildlife stories.  Some of the company saw a large brown bird flying through the trees and declared it was either a goshawk or a female capercaillie.  What?  Speaking of capercaillie, we found a couple of moulted male tail feathers so that was a nice prize for two of us.

Sun 21st Aug
Checked the two cameras at Auchgourish, one of which had a nice video of a badger feverishly marking the track near the sett.  I uploaded a copy to YouTube which you can see here.  Someone had erected a palette at the gate suggesting they don't want people to go in there, although there was no sign to actually say so.   To avoid hassle I decided to remove the cameras for the time being while the situation clarifies but I couldn't do so today as I did not have the padlock keys with me.

Mon 22nd Aug
Went to Auchgourish early and removed the trail cameras.  Built a new squirrel feeder and removed the mouldy one from behind the community hall.

Tues 23rd Aug
Fitted the new all-mesh feeder behind the community hall; one more to make and then all the feeding stations will have all-mesh feeders and be better equipped to cope with the damp of winter.   Got a call from an Australian family wanting to go the hide this evening, their last evening in the area, so I took them.  I was pleased I did because we had a great evening with close-up views of 4 badgers and a pine marten.  The guests were just thrilled.

Weds 24th Aug to Sat 27th Aug
Made more new feeders to complete the job of replacing everything in the woods before winter.  All three stations now each have a cage containing a new mesh bird feeder and a new mesh squirrel feeder.  There's just Milton Loch to double check.  More ant surveys are now planned for the next few weeks and I'll muck in at some of them.  The last one was a bit too much for my old joints; five hours of trudging through rough woodland undergrowth took two days to recover from.  Started experimenting with time-lapse photography with mixed results.   Tested out some different film editing software and to my surprise found the easiest way to string stills together as a movie is to use Windows Movie Maker as a first step.  Other, more complicated, systems are a bit awkward to manipulate still images with but can be used later to create different versions (eg GIFs) of movies made with the simple Windows tool.  On Friday evening we spotted a dead badger at Drumuillie on the A95 at NH 9497 2026.  On Saturday I took a couple to the hide where, before reaching the hide, one of the guests spotted an otter in the Spey, foraging near the far bank.  We watched the otter for five minutes till it swam off downstream, then, as well as scattering peanuts and dribbling honey on tree trunks in the usual way, I screwed two screws into a tree trunk and balanced an egg on them in case Tuesday's pine marten should return.  Once in the hide we soon had badgers on view.  The most we saw at one time was four so it was a lovely evening, despite no pine marten appearing this time.

Sun 28th Aug and Monday 29th Aug
A quiet day on Sunday then on Monday Bea and I went looking for narrow headed ants in the field along the western edge of Deshar Wood.  No luck, but back at home we looked into what constitutes ideal habitat for these rare ants and have come up with some ideas about other sites to search.  We must also re-check the site of a nest that used to be in use along the Sustrans cycle track, although the last time we checked it was inactive, due we think to being shaded out by the pine trees that are much taller and thicker than when the nest was last seen active.  In the evening I checked the badger hide to see if the pine marten had found the egg I balanced on screws on Saturday - it had not.  Nothing daunted I set up the Bushnell camera there in the hope of catching the moment when the pine marten eventually finds the egg.  I stayed for a while to watch a couple of badgers and take more photos.  Back at home I read through the agenda for tomorrow's Link Wildlife Group meeting at Stirling and looked into a few relevant issues online.

Tues 30th Aug
Awoke to a report by Craig Anderson on BBC Radio Scotland about a gamekeeper who is claiming that the eagles and the hen harrier that have gone missing recently have been killed by bird activists to make the estates look bad.  These people must be desperate to come up with such nonsense.   Attended a meeting of the ScotLink Wildlife Group in Stirling.  Main items included Species Champions, The State of Nature report and National Ecological Networks.    More meetings are planned quite soon.

Weds 31st Aug
Checked the badger sett AU SE.  Fresh dung in the latrines and fresh excavations so all is well.


Thurs 1st Sept
Dead hedgehog on the road just inside the southern edge of Nethy Bridge.  Checked the database for the map reference of the narrow-headed ant nest that used to exist beside the Sustrans Cycle Path at Boat and programmed it in to the GPS rerady to go looking for it again.  Tried to catch up on overdue paperwork and emails from recent meetings - it took ages and I still hadn't finished before bed time.

Fri 2nd Sept
Began by checking the egg and the camera at the badger hide: the egg was still there and the camera just had a few badger videos on it so the pine marten has not been to call in the last few days.  Checked several feeders around the woods and was pleased to see there is no mould in evidence at any of them so I hope that means the new all-mesh designs are doing their job.  Did yet more badger admin then in the evening I took a lady and her teenage son to the hide where we saw 3 badgers; it was just a short visit because the guests had a long drive home next day. 

Sat and Sun 3rd and 4th Sept
A weekend of domestic duties and golf

Mon 5th Sept
Walked with the dogs from Milton to the march stone on the summit of what I know as Sluggan Hill -  2 hours, 5.5km, 270m height gain.  Found ancient fox and pine marten poo along the way but nothing fresh.  Took a party of four to the hide; two of the guest were from Winsconsin which is known as the Badger State which was lovely.  We had four badger in view at one point so the guests were thrilled.  The egg was still balanced on its pair of screws on the tree trunk so the pine martens haven't yet found it.   Videos on the Bushnell showed badgers licking honey off that tree and climbing up to sniff at the egg but they didn't take it.  I thought the egg would be going off by now so I put it on the ground and balanced a fresh egg on the screws.  When badgers came out they had a sniff at the egg on the ground but did not appear to know what to do with it - maybe it smells a bit offish.

Badger Sniffing An Egg
One of the badgers checking out an egg

Tues 6th to Fri 9th Sept
With a trip abroad looming and lots of prep to do I was mostly concerned with catching up with paper while trying to stay ahead of the demands of the customers at all the bird feeders.   I was pleased to receive and accept an invitation to speak at the 2nd All-Ireland Pine Marten Symposium next month.  My topic will be Living In A Changing Countryside, dealing with the return of some species that are not always convenient to have around the place.   At Auchgourish I found some very fresh pine marten poo so the trail camera may well go back out there.  I went to check sett AU 03 and found it to be little used at the moment, although there was dung in a latrine that could only have been a week old.  On the plus side I found a single tunnel outlier that I had not found before and which was clearly in current use; I named it AU Sett 21.  Worked on the text for my talk in Ireland and began creating a PowerPoint presentation including writing off for permission to use images belonging to other people and organisations.

Sat 10th to Mon 12th Sept
Mostly domestic but while out with the dogs had a long chat with an angler and his gilly on the Spey.  Quite encouraging as both seemed to appreciate the value of a healthy environment.  We even managed to talk about beavers without them freeking out.  I managed to write my talk for Ireland and create a suitable PowerPoint, including writing for permission to use some images that don't belong to me, all of which were approved without delay.

Tues 13th to Sat 17th Sept
Several days of tick-over, keeping the bird feeders topped up and preparing for various upcoming events.  At Auchgourish we found a dead common shrew on the path at NH 9505 1586, badger latrines are still being topped up and fox and pine marten poo abounds.  The eggs at the badger hide have still not attracted pine martens - must be the wrong sort of eggs or something - but the camera did record roe deer, badgers of course and a brown hare.   On Friday a visit to the hide was enjoyed by a couple from New Zealand; we had five badgers on view at one point.  Next week I am to receive a visit from our local police wildlife crime officer so some preparation is required to gain the most from it because although we do not have immediate issues hereabouts we need to have a clear system in place to be able to react prompty the next time there's an incident.  The National Park has been in touch to say that Scottish Environment Link has started a new initiative called Link Local which is a kind of address book and possibly an effort to try to coordinate efforts by local wildlife groups.  I quite like that so I signed BoGWiG up and we'll see where it goes. 

Sun 18th Sept
Took part in phase two of the Deshar Wood wood and survey.  We found 48 nests and had close encounters with roe deer, crested tit, bullfinch and a capercaillie.  We also found a badger latrine right in the middle of the pine forest where there are no setts at all and nothing that could represent a territorial boundary; slightly odd.

Me and a huge wood ant nest
Me with one of the many wood ant nests that we found

Mon 19th and Tues 20th Sept
Not much happened on Monday but had a super visit to the badger hide on Tuesday.  The Bushnell camera had recorded a pine marten taking one of the 4 eggs I had fixed to trees (2 of the other 3 were also missing) so we were hopeful the same pine marten would come back for more.  Not only did this not happen but a badger climbed the tree and stole the remaining egg before the pine marten had a chance at it.

A pine marten taking the egg
Pine marten taking the egg.  Note the badger in the background watching how it's done

Weds 21st Sept
In the morning I held a very useful meeting at our house with Dan Sutherland, our local Police Wildlife Crime Liason Officer.  It wouldn't be appropriate to go into detail here but I'm now up to date on structure and procedures and so feel better able to act effectively when incidents occur in future.  In the evening Bea and Alison Greggans and I attended the Charlie Philips presentation in Eden Court about dolphins.

Thurs 22nd and Fri 23rd Sept
No wildife work but was busy preparing for the weekend and next week.

Sat 24th Sept
I was triple booked on Saturday, it being the silly season for AGMs and conferences.  I decided reluctantly to pass on the Humanist Society of Scotland Conference and the Scottish Badgers Conference in favour of attending the Scottish Wildlife Trust AGM and Members Day at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.  It was a marvellous occasion, beautifully organised by our brilliant staff and with plenty of excellent presentations and two lively Question and Answer sessions.  The Trust is in good heart, has passed the 40,000 members target and is pressing ahead with a bold agenda.  I really enjoyed the chance to catch up with old friends and was particularly pleased that some of the conversations had quite useful outcomes.  Sunday was a day of rest.

Mon 26th Sept
Fresh fox poo on the main track at Auchgourish at NH 9480 1695.  Took three people to the hide in the evening where we had four badgers and a frog.  I retrieved the Bushnell camera from its tree; the card had 60 videos, mostly of badgers plus one of a pine marten at 2020 on 22nd Sept.  One of the videos showed a badger climbing the tree and dislodging the egg that I had placed there for the pine martens, another showed a badger climbing the tree and falling off.  Fortunately it had not climbed very high but I might have to re-think the plan.  One of the people I follow on Twitter uses a lift-the-lid squirrel feeder in which to place his pine marten eggs so I might try that.

Tues 27th to Fri 30th Sept
Preparation and travel for our Danube holiday.  Daughter Lesley and her boyfriend Simon arrived to house-sit and dog-sit while we are away.  I'm really grateful to both of them.


Sat 1st to Mon 10th Oct
Holiday cruising up and down the River Danube.  Lots of birds and trees seen but this was just a relaxing holiday with no great wildlife aspirations.  The most notable wild thing we came across was the Croatian unit of currency which is the Kuna.  Kuna translates into English as Marten, which is a most timely discovery as I was about to go to Ireland to speak at their Pine Marten Symposium.  Evidently the marten was on the seal of the Croatian parliament in the 18th and 19th centuries and is still depicted on some Croatian coins.   Martens are popular in Croatia due to their reputation of helping to deal with any over-population of nuisance rodents such as rats.  I shall open my talk in Ireland with that marvellous piece of information.

Tues 11th and Weds 12th Oct
Two days of frantically catching up on ten days of emails and refilling bird feeders - the usual stuff.  At Auchgourish foxes and pine martens have been busily leaving their marks along the tracks.

Thurs 13th to Sun16th Oct
Travelled to South Armagh in Ireland for the 2nd All Ireland Pine Marten Symposium.  I was privileged to be asked to give the opening address which I thoroughly enjoyed doing and which seemed to go down well.  More than 90 people from Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland attended the event and on the first day there were talks by 13 expert speakers on various aspects of what the return of pine martens means for Ireland; all this was followed by a dinner and social evening.  On the second day there was a briefing on technical aspects of pine marten nest boxes followed by a field trip to see these boxes in action.  I did not go on the field trip as I had a plane to catch.  As for what was learned; there's too much to go into detail. I really enjoyed spending part of the social evening chatting with Emma Sheehy who led the research in Ireland and who is carrying out further work in Scotland.  What seems clear is that the pine marten poses no threat whatsoever to red squirrels, neither does it threaten babies or sheep (there have been some crazy rumours circulated by the anti brigade).   The hoped for proof of impact by pine martens on grey squirrels could not be confirmed although there is plenty of evidence suggesting that might happen.  Sadly the evidence is all circumstantial at the moment but there is so much of it that it seems quite compelling, but we'll have to wait and see.   It may be that pine martens cause grey squirrel populations to collapse once the density of pine martens reachs a certain level - but even that cannot yet be proved.  Fingers crossed for the future.

Mon 17th Oct
Spent much of the day tidying up after the Ireland trip but found time to start preparing for a talk next month about "People and Wildlife in the Cairngorms".  Out with the dogs at Auchgourish we found on a stone the most neat and tidy set of pine marten scats I have ever seen.  Amazing

Tues 18th Oct
Was contacted by Scottish Badgers to the effect that a badger sett has been damaged behind Tesco's in Inverness.   Emily Platt will try to set up a meeting at the site between me and the Wildlife Crime Officer tomorrow.  Walked the Kincardine riverside path in the afternoon and found a pine marten scat on the path about 100m downstream from a point level with the badger hide.  Speaking of the hide, in the evening I took a family of five to the hide and we saw at least four badgers.  No pine marten though.

Weds 19th Oct
Attended a badger sett near Tescos in Inverness with the police WCLO to check on possible disturbance by contractors.  Thankfully there was no harm done and the work has been stopped while a plan is devised.  Good result.   Continued working on my next public talk.

Thurs 20th Oct
Various walks with the dogs and it was really noticeable how many pine martens had been eating rowan berries - they simply cannot digest the skins so their scats are very obvious, giving I expect a false impression of the number of pine martens in the area.

Fri 21st Oct
Took a friend and her grandchildren to the badger hide and we had three badgers close to the hide to everyone's delight.  I put an egg out for the pine marten but it didn't turn up.   During the drive home we disturbed a tawny owl on a roadside fence post at Street of Kincardine.

Sat 22nd Oct
Our local ranger organised the third in her series of ant surveys this morning.  I ducked out claiming sore joints but evidently she had plenty of other volunteers.  I met them at the start and it was good to meet Andrea Goddard for the first time, she being the lady who organised the Cairngorm Hen Harrier Day event that had to be cancelled due to the weather.  I told her if she was organising another one we could hold it in the Boat Hall and the local wildlife group would pay for it.   In the evening Bea and i attended a talk in Boat Hall by Doug Smith from Yellowstone National Park.  Doug was hired by the US Government to reintroduce wolves to the Park all those years ago and is still in charge of the scheme.  It was very interesting but I don't think we learned much that we did not know already.  It was a shame Doug thought England had reintroduced beavers but Scotland had not; I put him straight after the talk.  I also told him about the Scottish Reintroductions Forum which has been hailed as such a remarkable achievement by IUCN.  In the end though his thoughts on how to handle opponents to reintroductions pretty much matched my own: get talking to them early and behind closed doors rather than slogging it out in public if at all possible. 

Sun 23rd Oct
Digested an article in the Strathy (6th Oct 16) written by Fergus Ewing, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy, about decision making in the Cairngorms NP.  He thinks environment has too high a priority and that businesses are not getting a fair crack of the whip.  In the process he revealed how poorly he understands the decision making process in the Park.  He thinks the Sandford Principle, in which the Park's first aim (Natural and Cultural Heritage) gets priority, is applied in every case when in fact it's only applied that way where there is irreconcilable conflict. Quite disgraceful for someone in his position.  I gather the article has not gone down well in high places.

Mon 24th Oct
Pine marten scats still much in evidence.  Saw a kestrel at the big bend in the Spey at NH 9370 1758.

Tues 25th Oct
Took a family of 6 to the badger hide.  Super evening in which we had 4 badgers close to the hide.

Weds 26th Oct
SSE wish to remove some huge electricity towers from within Garten Woods but there are access limitations caused by a number of factors including the presence of badger setts in that part of the wood.  RSPB warden Jason and I walked the area and confirmed the exact location of the active setts so that Jason can plan a route for the big machines to get in and out without disturbing the badgers.  Time well spent and a good outcome.

Thurs 27th Oct
Spent the day in Edinburgh.  Got the train down in the morning and attended a ScotLink meeting at SWT HQ at Leith to do with Natural Ecological Networks (NEN).  The Chair will circulate a draft of where we're at for comment.   In the evening, as a member of the Cairngorms NP team, I attended a reception at Scottish Parliament celebrating 20 years of Biodiversity Partnerships.   There were a number of speeches including a lively one by Roseanna Cunningham, Cab Sec for Environment.  There ensued the usual very useful networking session and I got a lift home in the Cairngorms NP car.

Fri 28th to Mon 31st Oct
Caught up on domestic stuff over the weekend then on Monday settled down to completing BTO nest records for the 2016 season and sending off my application for next year's Schedule One license.  Put the finishing touches to my talk for next weekend.   Planned out my travel and accommodation requirements for November which is pretty full of meetings.


Tues 1st Nov
Buzzard eating worms on the 6th fairway at Abernethy GC this morning - or at least that's what it looked like.   Spoke at length with a former colleague about golf clubs and the environment and how clubs can be encouraged to enhance the wildlife on their courses.   In the evening attended a meeting about a proposed all-abilities path in our woods and a loosely associated art project, both aimed at connecting people with nature.   Still finding lots of fox and pine marten scats when out with the dogs.  Interesting that the dogs ignore pine marten poo but are sometimes interested enough in fox poo to piddle on it.

Weds 2nd and Thurs 3rd Nov
In the Auchgourish area an impressive number of lodge pole pine trees have been felled, I guess with a view to replacing them with native species at some future point.  On Thursday morning we disturbed a large male capercaillie in Boat woods in a small clearing that we used to know as collie Bobby's favourite snow patch because it was always the last to melt in Spring and he used to delight in rolling in it.

Large Male Capercaillie

Fri 4th to Tues 8th Nov
Fox and pine marten continue to amaze me with their territorial marking all across the area. Gave a talk to the Cairngorms Campaign AGM in Kingussie on Saturday.  The session was supposed to last 20 minutes but with a lively discussion actually went on for 90.   A dead badger at Gartenbeg was reported to me by two people - it was on the A95 at NH 9591 2089.  On Tuesday the ScotLink Species Champions initiative was relaunched in the Scottish Parliament.  It was led by Graeme Dey MSP and closed by Roseanna Cunningham MSP with a total of 18 MSPs speaking.  I was impressed that some of them spoke quite boldly about the nasty stuff that goes on in the countryside.  Well done all concerned.

Weds 9th Nov
With Bea, attended the Scottish Wildcat Action Forum day at Strathdon organised by the Cairngorms National Park.  Terrific work being done by all concerned. Presentations on lynx captive breeding in Spain, SWA priorities, forest management for wildcats, small mammal camera trapping, wildcat genetics and conservation breeding, a year in the life of a project officer and a look ahead.  As well as being informative and inspirational the day was a superb networking opportunity from which some interesting ideas developed, more of which in this diary in the days ahead.  Back at home, spoke on the phone with SWT about another possible future project and prepared for two days away in Edinburgh and Perth.

Thurs 10th Nov
Chieftain train to Edinburgh for the Species Champions event at Holyrood, representing Scottish Badgers.  Lots of people attended including quite a few of the MSP Champions.  I spoke to some of the MSPs, not least Andy Whiteman, Alison Johnson, Colin Smith and Graeme Dey.  Another very useful networking event.  Took the Chieftain back to Perth and stayed the night in the Station Hotel.

Fri 11th Nov
All day meeting of Scottish Badgers; Advisory Group in the morning and Trustees in the afternoon.  The organisation has come a long way since my first involvement in the nineties; much better organised under more professional governance arrangements.  Chieftain train home in the evening.

Sat 12th Nov
Bea and I attend the AGM of the Highland Biological Recording Group in the Boatof Garten community hall.  At home I took stock of the events of the week, and committed my thoughts to paper - most of which would be out of place here.  Some email frustrations with one organisation but that's kinda par for the course.

Sun 13th Nov
Resolved the email issue after a fashion then took the rest of the day off.

Mon 14th Nov
Walked the crested tit nest box circuit (20 boxes) to establish what work needs to be done for the 2017 season.  Roughly speaking, 4 need new fronts (pesky woodpeckers) and 8 need to be re-stuffed with rotten wood.  On the way round I removed the old nests from 7 boxes.   At box 9 there was half a dead rabbit at the foot of the tree (weird), at box 12 a bird alarm called from very close by and there was fresh nest material in the box (a bit early!) and near box 10 a large male capercaillie flew out of a tree.   Back at home I made four new box fronts to go out soon and hung a hessian sack full of wet rotten wood in our heater cupboard for drying.  That'll do for today.

Tues 15th Nov
Collected more rotten wood from the forest and started shredding it for the nest boxes.  In the evening Bea and I attended the SWT North of Scotland Group meeting where we were treated to a talk on Rewilding Dundreggan by Doug Gilbert from Trees For Life who is the operations manager at Dundreggan Estate.

Weds 16th Nov
Still trying to resolve more email issues with one of the bodies with whom I deal.  I think someone's been too clever in setting up the forwarding system.  Reorganised the bird feeders in the garden.  Ordered more peanuts.   Bea and I attended the Highland Red Squirrel AGM at Dingwall despite a snowy forecast; it felt quite brave of us but in the event there wasn't any.  Good meeting with a decent attendance for such a small group and we managed to resolve a few things for another year

Shredding wood for nest boxes
Shredding wood for nest boxes

Thurs 17th Nov
Wrote up lots of wildlife stuff from meetings past and prepared for next week's crop.   Resolved to try to get my head round Facebook which is increasingly being used by small wildlife groups as an alternative to a website or as an extra arm of one.  Out and about with the dogs on a frosty landscape.  Got buzzed by a woodcock at Auchgourish, not for the first time lately, and also continued to find undigested rowan berries in pine marten scats.  Set up my badger colleagues as contacts and groups in my Hotmail account due to continuing problems with Yahoo failing to communicate reliably with them.  If Hotmail turns out to be more trustworthy I will consider migrating there from Yahoo altogether.

Fri 18th Nov
Finally got round to rejigging the squirrel car park feeding station and setting up the Bushnell camera there to see if the squirrels are active at the moment.  We may be collecting some for a translocation project in the near future.   It's amazing how much of the deer antler the squirrels have gnawed away.  Joined the Red Squirrels Of The Highlands Facebook Group and posted some stuff there.

Sat 19th Nov
Very cold morning at Kincardine where the dogs and I walked a new route and found more pine marten scats containing ill-digested rowan berries.  Office admin took up the rest of the morning, eg scheduled in another Link meeting date and finalised and distributed the badger watch guide roster for the next six months.  Later I checked the Bushnell camera at the squirrel car park feeder and established that the red squirrels are frequenting the site - this to confirm the feasibility of trapping squirrels here for a new translocation project.  A crersted tit took exception to my being there.  Packed bags for tomorrow's nest box session.

Sun 20th Nov
A busy day.  Filled the woodland feeders, then Bea and I repaired the fronts of four crested tit boxes that had been damaged by woodpeckers in the summer.  The circuit of 20 boxes is now almost ready for next year.  At home, while I was in nestbox mode, I cleaned out the nest boxes in our garden.  Later the dogs and I removed the Bushnell trail cam from the squirrel car park; the footage showed at least two different red squirrels, a woodpecker, a crested tit, a blue tit and two coal tits.  Finally I packed for two days away, firstly at the Link Congress in Glasgow then a briefing for Scottish Badgers Staff, Advisers and Trustees at the "Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture" (SASA) facility on how it supports the authorities in investigating wildlife crime.

Nest Box With New Front
Nest Box With A New Front. 
Note that this is its second such treatment

Mon 21st Nov
The first of two very interesting days away.  Got the train to Glasgow and walked to Jury's Inn for the ScotLink AGM and Congress.  There were no particular issues at the AGM so we could concentrate on the Congress, the first part of which had to do with the effects of Brexit and how we could keep the environment on the agenda throughout the process.  I'll not go into the details here other than to say there is so much uncertainty that no obvious direction of travel was revealed.  There are many threats and a few opportunities so we have to stay alert and impress on any decision makers we come across the importance of taking the environment into account at every stage.   One of the opportunities will be the removal of CAP and deciding what might replace it.  Environmentalists agree that any financial help for farmers must be in return for environmental benefit on their farms.  Later in the day we split into workshops to talk about particular aspects of Link's work and there was a thoroughly useful and enjoyable networking dinner in the evening.

Tues 22nd Nov
This was a day for talking strategy and about 20 of the delegates stayed for the first session.  Eddie Palmer and I had to leave at lunchtime and drive to Edinburgh for a briefing organised by the staff of Scottish Badgers at SASA on the use of forensics in investigating wildlife crime.  The session was very well attended and was informative although for those of us who have been involved with badgers for any length of time there were no real surprises.  Eddie dropped me off at Perth station and I got the train home in the evening.

Weds 23rd Nov
A freezing start to the day with dangerous ice on local roads.  Wee dog Max found a badger latrine under a tree on the river bank at Kincardine and there were many geese in the fields and ducks on the river.  Back at home Heather reported that there was a flock of fieldfares on the rowan tree in our garden yesterday.  Read through my many notes from the past two days to try to make sense of some of it - not easy.  In the afternoon the dogs and I found a badger tunnel we had failed to find last time we looked for it (AU03).  We only got it this time because the bracken has collapsed and the badgers had cleaned the tunnel out, making a fairly obvious spoil heap.  Later I reorganised the feeders behind the community hall - long overdue.  In doing so I received helpful vocal advice from 2 crested tits and a tree creeper.

Thurs 24th Nov
This was a red letter day for conservation in Scotland; Roseanna Cunningham announced to the world that beavers were now a native species once more after a 400 year absence.  I cannot begin to say how I feel about this.   I have been involved in attempts to bring this about since the year 2000, including Chairing the trial reintroduction of beavers that began in 2008.  I guess there's no more to be said - as Professor Simon Milne remarked in a suitable brief email to me later that day, "We did it".  Nuff said.  What next?   The beavers in Tayside can now be properly managed for their own benefit and the benefit of farmers for whom beaver-related flooding has been an issue and the small population of beavers in Argyle can now be reinforced with a fresh input of young animals.   In the evening Bea and I went to the Grant Arms Hotel in Grantown on Spey to say Hi to Nick Baker and to hear Derek Gow (who had quarantined our beavers down in Devon in 2008) talk about the history of wolves in Britain.  It was a slightly strange and tense evening for some reason when it ought to have been one of abandoned celebration.  People are odd.

Cab Sec Roseanna and me and a beaver
Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham and me and a beaver in 2009

Fri 25th Nov
 I headed for Edinburgh to join with Ellie Stirling and Eddie Palmer, Secretary and Chairman respectively of Scottish Badgers, to meet with Dr Paul Monaghan MP from Caithness.  Paul had recently led a debate in the House of Parliament on the ludicrous badger cull and wished to discuss the whole business in a Scottish context and get our views.  We all took something from the meeting; Paul gained an insight into the priorities and issues concerning badgers in Scotland and we learned something more about the political process at Westminster and how attitudes and ambitions down there could have unexpected consequences for Scotland, for example that some politicians would like to see a time where cattle from England could be moved to Scotland with the attendant risk of bringing bovine TB with them.  We must all fight to prevent such a disaster.

Sat 26th to Weds 30th Nov
Preparation for various meetings, topping up feeders and planning the next step in nest box preparation occupied some of the weekend.  On Monday I went to Stirling for a meeting of the ScotLink wildlife group at which I managed to avoid getting another job while contributing to affairs to some extent.  On Tuesday I spent some time collecting photographs and providing a quote for an upcoming article in the Strathy about beavers.   Also on Tuesday Ian Thomson, investigations officer of RSPB Scotland, gave evidence to the Justice Committee at Holyrood on the, in our opinion, unsatisfactory performance of the Crown Office in dealing with wildlife crime.  He then reported on the experience at our Wildlife Crime Task Force meeting on Wednesday in Edinburgh.    The whole thing is available to view on the Scottish Parliament website.


Thurs 1st to Sun 4th Dec
Set up the Bushnell at the badger hide to see if the badgers would eat the almonds that came as a substitute with a recent Tesco order.  The footage made it very clear indeed that badgers like almonds.  Refilled the feeders around the woods and noted that crested tits are much in evidence.  Made final plans to fill the crested tit boxes with the dead wood that I have been drying for the past few weeks.  Hope to get it done on Monday as the present spell of dry weather is forecast to come to an end on Tuesday.  Downloaded the official Scottish Government beaver announcement for future reference; I hope the legislation is enacted (if that's the right word) without too much delay.   Wrestled with various bits of video software but most of them don't work too well on my laptop; it's too slow.  Have concluded that a combination of Windows Movie Maker, VLC and a free GIF maker fit my social media needs well enough.  Any serious stuff can be done on the main computer which can just about handle Magix Movie.

Mon 5th Dec
Minus 8 and fingers were sticking to metal tools so postponed nest box work till it warms up later in the week.  Spent much of the day working on travel plans for our whale watching trip in April - not an easy task but we made progress.  Got some really cheap first class train tickets to London.

Tues 6th Dec
Bea and I and the dogs started to refill some of the crested tit nest boxes with rotten wood.  There were seven left to do but we only had enough material to fill four so I've got to go gathering and drying rotten wood again.  Later I retrieved the Bushnell camera from the badger hide; it had more than forty videos of badgers eating nuts and grooming.

Weds 7th Dec
It was twenty degrees warmer this morning (plus 12 degs) than yesterday morning (minus 8 degs).  Crazy weather.  I removed all the hazel nuts and almonds from the squirrel feeders because the squirrels simply are not eating them - we had the same mysterious issue last winter.  I replaced the hazel nuts and almonds with peanuts in the old fashioned way.

Thurs 8th to Sat 10th Dec
Friday was mostly Christmas stuff. On Saturday Bea and I went to the badger hide to check the goldeneye boxes; all three were fine but we topped up the wood shavings in two of them.  We then checked the pine marten nest box.  The lid has rotted away at one end so needs replacing but otherwise the box is as strong as ever.  To our surprise, inside the box there was the skeleton of a hare.  At first we thought it was rabbit but the legs seemed too long so we then suspected hare.  Sure enough, when we got home and checked the diagrams it was definitely hare.  I posted a picture on Twitter and there was a lot of reaction.  Some thought the hare might have been scavenged rather than the pine marten having killed it, which is perfectly possible.  Someone else wondered if a different predator had caught the hare and stashed the carcase in the box but I ruled that out on the grounds that the box is quite high in the tree and the entrance is quite small and I could not think of a predator other than a pine marten that is strong enough and agile enough to achieve such a thing.  I even found myself wondering if a pine marten was strong enough to catch a live hare but the Vincent Wildlife Trust told me that martens in the USA catch snowshoe hares so I daresay they are.  We'll never know for certain what happened.

Skeleton Of A Hare
Skeleton Of A Hare Found In A Pine Marten Nest Box

Sun 11th and Mon 12th Dec
On Sunday a group of eight of us helped Alison the Ranger with the next phase of the wood ant survey in Boat Woods.  It's a big undertaking so we're doing it in bits and pieces; the next session is in January.  On Monday Bea and I joined two young guys, Will and Chris, at Achantoul, Aviemore for a day of training by Hebe Carus for the Trap, Neuter, Vaccinate and Release (TNVR) scheme for feral cats to help halt the hybridisation of Scottish Wildcats.  We're proud to be helping build a future in Scotland for wildcats.  Later I topped up some woodland feeders; the birds and squirrels are suddenly emptying them much faster than a month ago.

Wildcat Hissing
A Hissing Wildcat    (taken more than a decade ago at Kingussie)

Tues 13th to Fri 16th Dec
Not much happened on Tues but on Weds I headed to Edinburgh for the annual Scottish Environment Link Christmas get-together.  As usual it was one of the best networking opportunities of the year, attended by most of the good and the great of the Scottish environmental world plus a fair smattering of MSPs past and present. I got home on Thursday in time to take a family of three to the badger hide but despite waiting for 3 hours no badgers turned up.  On Friday I had a meeting with SNH in Aviemore concerning the Scottish Wildcat Action project.

Sat 17th and Sun 18th Dec
Some interesting dog walks that included sightings of heron, capercaillie and several pine marten scats in the Loch Vaa area of Boat woods.  Heather and I having completed some wildcat survey training, I set up the Bushnell camera and a chicken wing at Auchgourish as a kind of practice session before we are called upon to do the thing for real in the New Year.

Mon 19th to Sat 31st Dec
Mostly family festive stuff but I managed to keep the feeders topped up and monitor the Bushnell camera at Auchgourish which so far has only captured a fox.  During this period, while out with the dogs, I saw at various times most of the tit family including some cresties, a capercaillie, a tree creeper and a red squirrel.   Also, Bea and I went to the badger hide and measured the pine marten nest box for a new lid.  Looking to the future, I caught up with most of the wildcat documents that the Scottish Wildcat Action staff had supplied in readiness for my becoming more involved in the project next year.   Looking back, I will always remember 2016 as the year when beavers were finally promised official naturalisation after an absence of 400 years.  My personal involvement in helping bring this about is something of which I shall always be very proud.

Click Here To Go To The 2017 Diary