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Allan Bantick OBE welcomes you to the Cairngorm Wildlife Diary for 2017

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.     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.

Badger Wildcat Pine Marten
Red Squirrel Crested Tit Goldeneye

January

Sun 1st to Tues 3rd Jan
Checked the camera at Auchgourish and was rewarded with some videos of a fox stealing the chicken wing.

Fox stealing the bait intended for wildcats
A Fox Was First To Find The Chicken Wings

Managed to keep up with the demands of hungry birds and squirrels at the feeding stations around the woods.  Laid plans for more cat cameras in our woods as part of the Scottish Wildcat Action project.  On Tuesday 3rd we set up camera SWA 004 at the woodland edge, baited with chicken wings.

Cat Camera On The Edge Of  Boat Woods
Camera Trap For Wildcats With Chicken Wings For Bait

Weds 4th to Fri 6th Jan
Finished the lid for the pine marten box apart from painting the edges.  Cancelled the public badger watch due to the very cold weather and therefore the unlikelihood of badgers coming out.  The local ranger went there anyway with a friend and sure enough despite them staying in the hide for something like three hours no badgers were seen.  On Thurs 5th I checked the cam SWA 004 to see if anything had tackled the bait but it was intact.  Later that day Bea and I set up camera SWA 023 on the edge of woodland south of Loch Vaa, then checked two of the local badger setts, one of which showed signs of being used fairly recently but we couldn't find the other one.  I vaguely remembered a similar issue the last time we were there some years ago.  On Fri we met with a volunteer to explain BogWig's activities; he doesn't live locally but visits regularly and is keen to get involved.  Painted the pine marten box lid.  Photographed cresties and tree creepers at the Angle feeder.


Camera South of Loch Vaa

Sat 7th and Sun 8th Jan
On Saturday we changed the card in the Auchgourish camera and replaced the bait.  No wildlife on the the card, just a man and a dog.  On Sunday I did the same for the SWA camera 004 by Donald's track; somehow the camera had taken lots of shots of deer and jays and a pine marten but missed the actually taking of the bait.  Later Bea and I went to the badger hide and fitted the new lid to the pine marten nest box.  Due to the slightly precarious business of climbing a ladder and balancing in amongst the branches of the tree I made a rope harness and fixed up a rope system to catch me if it all went pear-shaped.  Fortunately it all went smoothly and the splendid new lid should keep the rain out of the box for the foreseeable future.

Fixing a new lid to the pine marten nest box
Fixing A New Lid To The Pine Marten Nest Box

Mon 9th to Weds 11th Jan
Mon: was hoping to get some decent crestie pictures but the weather and the dogs intervened.  Dealt with lots of badger emails to do with scheduling clashes in the summer.  Tues: watched the whole three hours of the Scottish Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform committee meeting at Holyrood which included evidence given by Police Scotland, the Crown Prosecution Service, Bat Conservation, Scottish Gamekeepers Association (Andy Smith), RSPB (Ian Thomson) and Scottish Badgers (Eddie Palmer).  MSP Graeme Dey chaired the meeting and there were contributions from MSPs David Stewart, Kate Forbes, Mark Ruskell, Claudia Beamish and others.  Very impressed with Graeme, Mark and Claudia but not so much with Kate Forbes who is notoriously pro business and anti wildlife, judging from a recent article in the press in which she complained that planning applications were obstructed and delayed due to too much emphasis being placed on protecting wildlife and the environment.  She applied this thinking as much to National Parks as to anywhere else.  Weds: the weather turned increasingly wintry, as forecast, so our plans to check wildcat camera 023 were put in doubt.  However, we manned-up and went through the snow to the camera to find that the bait was untouched and there were no photos of any wildlife on the camera, but plenty of us setting up the camera and a few of us arriving to check it so the camera is clearly working OK..

Eddie Palmer at Holyrood
Eddie Palmer giving evidence for Scottish Badgers at the Scottish Parliament

Thurs 12th Jan
Some snow fell overnight and there was more arriving as I went out with the dogs to top up some of the woodland feeders and also to check camera 004 and replace the bait.  The bait was almost chewed down to the bone and on checking the card we found the culprits were almost certainly red squirrels; one of the photos showed two together on the tree trunk near the bait but none of the photos showed them actually eating the meat so there must be an interval between photos.  This problem is one of the reasons I prefer with my own cameras to use video rather than photos.  I'll ask Hebe if there is a reason SWA doesn't do the same.  I may also commit one of our own cameras to sit beside the official one so that we can compare.  When topping up the feeders at the Angle and at the Community Hall it was noticeable how much more activity was going on compared with other recent days before the snow arrived.  To my delight there were crested tits at both sites.

Fri 13th to Tues 17th Jan
A period of snow for a few days until the thaw set in on Sunday so it was mostly a matter of keeping feeders topped up interspersed with the occasional photo session for crested tits.  On Sunday we checked the Auchgourish camera where disappointingly the bait was untouched and there was no wildlife on the card, just two people and a dog passing by.   On Monday I set the Maginon camera to take videos and mounted it underneath the SWA cam 004 on the same tree beside Donald's track to try to find out what is taking the bait because the SWA camera is missing it.  It will also provide information on the comparitive benefits of taking photos versus taking video as a basis for discussion in future.  My own work has deduced that video is more useful because you get all the action and if you require a still photo it is easy to extract one from the video with modern software.  The quality of such photos is usually good enough for species identification and is sometimes better because a moving subject will almost always produce a blurred still image, especially at night, whereas in a video there is usually a brief moment when the animal stops or changes direction and a decent frame can be extracted.

Crested tit in January
A Crested Tit In Woods At Boat of Garten In January 2017

Weds 18th and Thurs 19th Jan
Two days of meetings at RZSS in Edinburgh concerning the Scottish Wildcat Action project.  The first day was all about communication of various kinds including brain storming about how partner organisations could best contribute to the project and how we might best conduct a campaign for responsible cat ownership such as to persuade cat owners to make their cats "SuperCats" by having them vaccinated, neutered and microchipped.  The second day was about genetics; very technical and well outside my area of expertise but it was useful to get an insight into which of our scientific partners are doing which aspects of the work and to meet the personalities I did not already know.   Over the two days there were a few opportunities for networking plus the chance to get to know the project staff rather better during the working sessions and over dinner on Weds evening.

Fri 20th Jan
Slept a full 9 hours last night, having been exhausted by two days of strenuously exercising my poor old brain.  No real wildlife work done today due to the need to clean the car, clear it out and negotiate with the insurers because I got a message last night to say my new car, a "Fiat Doblo Trekking", had arrived and can be collected at 4pm today.

Sat 21st and Sun 22nd Jan
Checked both Scottish Wildcat Action cameras over the weekend.  On Saturday we visited SWA cam 004 (set on photos) which had the Maginon underneath it (set on videos) so we were able to compare the performances.  The bait was fully stripped to the bone, probably by jays but neither camera captured the stripping, although between they got sheep, red squirrel, a jay and some roe deer..  As to other aspects of performance, the SWA camera missed some of the action that the Maginon picked up so the SWA trigger mechanism is not as sensitive as the Maginon.  However, the SWA cam is picking up some of the sheep, deer and the jay so I'm fairly sure a cat would trigger it.  On Sunday it was the turn of camera 023 which had the same issue as last time: the bait was untouched.  However, the camera did pick up a passing badger and some sheep.

Checking SWA camera 023
Checking SWA camera 023 with the dogs

Mon 23rd to Thurs 26th Jan
Spent most of the time recovering from a frozen shoulder, popping tablets and rubbing in Voltarol.  Managed to keep abreast of topping up feeders and juggling the meetings diary for February which is getting a bit out of control.  Had a couple of photo sessions trying to get better pictures of red squirrels but achieved nothing more than frozen feet.  On Weds 25th Bea and I checked the Auchgourish camera to find the bait totally demolished.  The culprit was a badger which had climbed the tree and set to work, as evidenced by 30 videos spread over two evenings.  Speaking of badgers, that same evening I went to the hide to make sure all was well.  The tunnels were freshly dug out and bedding was visible in two tunnel entrances so clearly the badgers are there and active but sadly they did not come out for the peanuts during the hour I was there despite my coaxing.  On Thurs 26th I went back to Auchgourish and removed the camera because cats, which we are looking for, are unlikely to find the bait if the moment we put it there the local badgers are going to pinch it, now that they have twigged where to look.  I'll put it somewhere else shortly.

Fri 27th to Sun 29th Jan
Mostly relaxed to try and fix my injured shoulder - decent progress I'm pleased to say. On Sun 29th Bea and I went to the Maginon Camera (videos) and SWA camera No 004 (still photos) beside Donald's track.  Disappointingly the bait was still intact so we had to be content with photos and videos of just sheep, roe deer and red squirrels.

Mon 30th and Tues 31st Jan
Spent two days trying to fight off Bea's cold and failing. 

February

Weds 1st and Thurs 2nd Feb
On Weds had a morning meeting with Hebe Carus at our house to plan the forthcoming Sharing Good Practice wildcat event.  After lunch the dogs and I checked out the AU SE badger sett to find all was well with plenty of signs of activity.  On Thurs I drove to Battleby for the wildcat Steering Group meeting.  Had a near miss on the A9 with an idiot taking unwarranted overaking risk - the new Dash Cam recorded it all but I doubt if there's any point in sending it to the police.  In future I'll stick with the train - lesson learned.

Fri 3rd to Sun 5th Feb
Spent Friday laid low with this rotten cold.  On Saturday I set up the Acorn camera near the tree containing the pine marten nest box to monitor any pine marten activity around it.  While I was there I had a snoop around the badger hide sett; all was well with lots of freshly excavated tunnels. demolished cow pats and heaps of bedding.  The weather however was very cold indeed with a bitter wind so when tonight's clients phoned to say they too were a little concerned about the conditions I postponed their planned badger watch till the weather improves.  I think it's time to rethink our schedule of advertised watches and limit them to two season: March to May and July to November.  Just before dark I refilled some of the woodland bird feeders.  On Sunday I finished filling the feeders then Bea and I checked camera 023 near Loch Vaa.  On the way in we saw a woodcock near the badger sett and on the way home Max found fox dung near The Yard.  There were 90 pics of badgers and roe deer on the camera but still no cats.   Now that badgers have found the chicken wing bait at that site there's no point in continuing there so we removed the camera and will put it somewhere else.   Parcelled up the hare skeleton we'd found last month in the pine marten box ready to post to the Museum tomorrow; they're doing some hybridisation research and want as many hare carcasses as possible.

Mon 6th to Thurs 9th Feb
Bea and I recced a possible new site for a wildcat camera on Kinchurdy farm near the steam railway line.  Looks OK so we'll get it installed in the next day or two.  On the way out we met with some friends and the chat was all about the arrival in the area of ravens and a few other exotics.  It reminded me that a few days ago I thought I was seeing ravens at Auchgourish but thought I must have been mistaken; apparently not then.   Exchanged a number of emails over the thorny question of how best to support the Badger Trust's objections to the expansion of the badger cull down south.  We'll discuss it at the Scottish Badgers Trustee meeting on Friday I expect. Tuesday was foul; snow, sleet and rain on and off so no practical work achieved.  I did however get through a good deal of planning and preparation in the office for a busy period over the next few weeks with several trips to Perth and Edinburgh for events great and small.  I also looked into buying Memory Map for our computers but the demo version refused to work on any of them and their support team were not much help so a rethink is required.  Evidently Windows 10 is not strictly compatible with the software.   Spoke on the phone with the the tennant farmer at Kinchurdy to let him know we'll be putting out a wildcat camera in one of his fields - the estate had told him we would be coming and that they supported our wildcat work and he was cool with that.  I promised to let him know if we captured anything interesting on the cameras.  On Weds Bea and I set up the camera on Kinchurdy Farm and while we were there visited badger sett KF2 which was clearly in current use with lots of digging and busy latrines.  Later we arranged to help check a cat trap next week with others in rotation.  On Thursday Bea and I met Andrea Goddard and Brad Chappell to plan the Hen Harrier Day event at Boat of Garten Community Hall on Sun 6th August, hosted by Boat of Garten Community Company Wildlife Group in support of Get Mad For Wildlife and Birders Against Wildlife Crime.  Some first-rate speakers have already signed up and more are being approached.  Later we checked the Maginon and SWA cameras at Donald's Track; only cattle and roe deer recorded this time. 

AB at Kinchurdy Farm
Setting up the trail cam at Kinchurdy Farm

Fri 10th Feb
Train to Perth for the quarterly meetings of Scottish Badgers Advisory Group (morning) and Trustees (afternoon).    The work is going really well on all fronts.  Proud to be part of it.

Sat 11th and Sun 12th Feb
On Saturday we drove the Jeep up a snowy track to locate a trap that we will have to check on Monday.  We found it no problem.  On the way we met the local keeper and had a useful chat.  He is going to show me some badger setts that I might not already know about.  On Sunday I checked out a Topo map app on my phone and found it very useful.  Unlike Google Maps and similar apps it shows countour lines and heights as well as the usual roads so it will be quite useful if I happen to be caught without my GPS and need an accurate location for something out there in the wilds.   The down side is it's a bit heavy on the battery.  Later I went to the badger hide where there was lots of badger activity; fresh digging, bedding and busy latrines.  While I was there I took away the Acorn camera and replaced it with the much better Bushell to continue monitoring the tree in which we have the pine marten nest box.  Over the past 11 days the Acorn had only recorded brown hares but we'll persevere for a few more weeks to see if the pine martens will be tempted to breed there this season.

Monitoring the pine marten nest box tree
Monitoring the pine marten nest box

Mon 13th Feb
Checked the Glencarnie trap - no cat but the food seemed to be gone.  It was actually quite hard to tell in the cramped conditions, even with a torch, so we will bring the endoscope in future.  We put more food in to be on the safe side and prodded it into place with a stick.  Spent much of the morning working on my notes for next week's wildcat Sharing Good Practice event and later started the rounds of the woodland bird feeders again.  In the evening I took a couple to the badger hide, not expecting to see much and sure enough it was an hour and twenty minutes before a badger strolled into view.  We hung on for another hour during which badgers came and went; the most we saw at once was two but there's every chance we had seen as many as four different animals.  Nice evening. 

Tues 14th and Weds 15th Feb
On Tues we checked the cat trap - no cat in the trap or on the camera but some of the food had gone.  The rest of the day was domestic stuff; dogs annual vet check and guests for dinner.  On Weds it was the same story at the cat trap, then Hebe from Scottish Wildcat Action came for a meeting to finalise plans for the Sharing Good Practice wildcat conference on 24th Feb.   In the evening I attended the Scottish Wildlife Trust North Area meeting where RSPB's Stuart Benn gave an excellent talk on golden eagles to an audience of about 30.

Thurs 16th Feb
Checked the cat trap one more time and again it was the same story - no cat and no cat images on the camera.  Yesterday Hebe and I had discussed the possibility that there may hardly be any feral cats in this area which led me to reflect on my camera trapping over the past 15 years.  At various times I've had between zero (holidays) and five (two borrowed) cameras on the go which you could argue meant an average of at least one, possible two, cameras on the go full time for fifteen years.  One camera for fifteen years gives 131,400 camera trap hours, two cameras would give 262,800 hours so it's reasonable to say I've run something like a quarter of a million camera trap hours over the fifteen years, all of it in suitable wildcat habitat.  In all those hours we only recorded one cat and that was a black furry moggie, probably from the local farm, so I guess we're pretty short of wild-living cats here.  In the evening I took John and Shirley Martin briefly to the badger hide to check the Bushnell pine marten cam and to see badgers if they happened to be in the mood.  No luck with the cam but at 6pm a badger came out to entertain us on and off for 30 minutes.

Fri 17th and Sat 18th Feb
On Friday Bea and I checked the trap and camera north of the A95 but there was no cat action to report and then later on we checked camera 023 which again showed no action; the bait had not been touched.  On Saturday we moved the bird feeder array at the Angle to a new location that would better fit in with plans for an all-abilities footpath so that people in wheelchairs for example could watch the birds and squirrels more easily.   I should add that in the past week I've twice heard woodpeckers drumming in Boat woods.

Sun 19th to Tues 21st Feb
Sunday was a day of rest then Mon and Tues were mostly preparing for going away for 3 days of meetings.  That included finishing my script for Friday then editing in the changes that cropped up after I thought I'd finished (grrr) and filling all the local bird feeders.  The highlight was Monday evening's badger watch during which we not only had 2 badgers but also watched a pine marten eating peanuts for ten minutes in the full glare of the floodlights.  Brilliant.  On Tuesday morning during the dog walk I checked three of the crestie boxes for signs of prospecting; one had been used for a roost but the others showed no signs.

Weds 22nd to Fri 24th Feb
Train to Edinburgh on Weds in time for a lunch-time meeting in the Parliament; part of the ScotLink Environment week programme.  The event was to do with engaging young people with the environment and was attended by lots of Link people but only a few MSPs.  In the evening I attended the annual Link Holyrood Reception in the Garden Lobby; one of the best networking events of the year.  I probably knew about half of those attending so there wasn't time to talk to as many people as I would have liked to.   On Thurs there was a breakfast meeting in the Members Restaurant in the parliament but the weather was awful so quite a lot of the expected guests did not turn up - more food for those who did.  I took a mid-morning train to Perth and walked to the Royal George Hotel and went to bed for a while to recover from two quite hard days; lots of standing around and lots of walking in bad weather.  I was joined in the evening by SNH Staff who had travelled down from Inverness in readiness for next day's Wildcat meeting.  On Friday I Chaired the Wildcat Sharing Good Practice event at Battleby; my first public event since being appointed Chair of the Steering Group.  The event was very well attended, oversubscribed in fact, and I think we all considered it a success.

Sat 25th to Tues 28th Feb
Saturday was spent preparing for the big day on Sunday; Mum-in Laws' 100th Birthday party in Dundee, however during the morning dog walk we saw two buzzards fly low above the trees between the Angle and the Crossroads .  Heather and I travelled down on Saturday evening so as to be in pole position to help run the party, which was a great success.  There was snow overnight and on Monday morning the woods looked lovely.  Undeterred by the cold weather a woodpecker started drumming near the burnt forest which contains several tall dead trees in which woodpeckers have drilled nest holes in the past.  Got a call asking us to take a hybrid wildcat to the vet for neutering which we did.  Got a bit of attitude from the vet about stuff over which we had not control but it all got sorted in the end.  On Tues I headed off to Edinburgh for a couple of meetings, beginning with the Link Wildlife Crime Task Force meeting at RSPB HQ.  Raptor persecution and badger related crime were the main focus as usual but bats, wildcats and beavers also got a mention; it isn't appropriate to go into detail here.

March

Weds 1st Mar
On behalf of the Boat of Garten Community Company Wildlife Group I attended the Scottish Policy Conference entitled "Next Steps For Environmental Policy" at the Edinburgh Radisson Blu Hotel.  There were more than 100 delegates and 13 speakers spread over two main sessions.  The first session was Chaired by Alexander Burnett MSP, a member of the Environment, Climate-Change and Land Reform (ECCLR) committee and the second session was chaired by Graeme Dey MSP, Chair of the ECCLR committee.   Between the sessions we were treated to a very positive address by Roseanna Cunningham MSP, Cabinet Secretary for ECCLR.   Outcomes from the conference from the point of view of Boat of Garten included the good news that environment seems to be very much higher up everyone's agenda than it has been in recent years.  Monetising the environment, whilst understandably being treated with suspicion by purists, is increasingly being seen as a way of valuing the natural world in a way that is easy to understand by non-specialists.  This is particularly helpful to decision makers and their economists whose backing is essential if the environment is to be protected.  In this sense the term Natural Capital was much bandied about although I am not convinced it meant the same thing to everybody and neither did the expression, "We must learn to internalise externalities".   Filtering out all the jargon, there was clear recognition that communities in much of the Highlands benefit hugely in economic terms from eco-tourism and it was noted that the central activity of wildlife-watching is growing quickly and has increased by 25% in just a few years.   It follows that any threat to wild habitats in the Boat of Garten area must be vigorously repelled.

Thurs 2nd to Fri 3rd Mar
What a day on Thursday - spent almost all of it writing up meetings over the past week while outside the weather was lovely.  Did manage a brief outing with the dogs and topped up some feeders on the way.   Good to see that our newly positioned feeder at The Angle has now been found by crested tits and red squirrels; it took them much longer than I expected.  Friday was more to my liking in which we checked some cameras out there in the countryside and brought some of them home at the end of their designated sessions.  The camera on Kinchurdy farm had recorded just sheep and badgers but the ones on Donald's track in Boat woods had captured cattle, roe deer, red squirrel, badger, a jay and one of my dogs.   While were out there we heard woodpeckers drumming and we met some birders who exulted over the goldeneye ducks they had just seen on the river.  In the office I managed to confirm some upcoming wildcat project meetings; I am happy to say that the mission to save our native cat now occupies a fair slice of my time.

Sat 4th and Sun 5th Mar
Saturday was a day of rest.  On Sunday I joined in with the Ranger's penultimate wood ant survey.  I only managed the morning session due to these aging old knees and hips - that's rough old country out there off piste in the woods.  Later I refilled the community hall feeders and noticed the squirrel feeder lid is delaminating so will have to make a new one.  In the evening there were badger watches and wildcat meetings to organise for the next week or two.

Mon 6th to Fri 10th Mar
On Monday I fought a losing battle with Vodafone - switching numbers shouldn't be this difficult.  Brought the broken squirrel feeder home for repair.  Took a supply of peanuts to the badger hide for Wednesday's badger watch and scattered a few around the sett for tonight's badgers.  Checked the Bushnell camera at the pine marten nest box tree but in the past week at had only captured badgers and a brown hare.  Got ready for tomorrow's trip to Edinburgh.  Tues 7th Mar took the Chieftain to Edinburgh in time for lunch at Ocean Terminal before a meeting with the Scottish Wildcat Action comms officer at Scottish Wildlife Trust HQ at Leith.   Quite a long session with plenty for me to absorb as I ease into the job of Steering Group Chair.  Later I took the bus over to Holyrood for the evening's reception "50 for the Future", celebrating an SWT initiative and setting out SWT's vision for the next five years, much of it based around the idea of effective stewardship of the environment.  As always it was great to catch up with friends and former colleagues and a brilliant networking opportunity both in the parliament and later at Holyrood 9A, one of our favourite Edinburgh pubs.  On Weds I headed home on the early train and spent the rest of the day reading and writing up the past few days.  Thursday morning I checked the Maginon camera at Donald's track but it had only recorded a jay, some sheep and some roe deer. The rest of the morning was spent on more paper work and phone calls, then after lunch I decided to move the Maginon camera deeper into the woods now that the cat surveying has finished for this winter.

Sat 11th and Sun 12th Mar
I attended the Scottish Green Party Spring Conference at Maryhill in Glasgow; a long day starting at 4.30am and not finishing till I got home at 11pm.  This was my first ever political conference and I was frankly disappointed because the programme included virtually nothing about the environment.   Climate change and renewable energy did get passing mentions within a list at one point but I cannot recall anything else.  At lunch time around the food tables there was a bit of talk about environmental issues but that was probably my fault!  Next day Claudia Beamish was quoted as saying that as things stand Scottish Labour is greener than the Greens - from what I saw in Glasgow she might be right.  Such a pity.  Sunday was a day off from all this - spent much of it watching football on tv.

Mon 13th and Tues 14th Mar
On Monday morning I went to RZSS Highland Wildlife Park to get a briefing on their part in the Scottish Wildcat Action project - mostly to do with captive breeding.  Fascinating.  Later I took a couple from Sheffield to watch badgers - a superb evening with at least three different badgers in view on and off.  I checked the Maginon camera while I was there; just badgers, a roe back and a brown hare recorded.  On Tuesday I did some SWA admin and filled woodland feeders.

Weds 15th to Tues 21st Mar
This period has been a bit of a blurr of paperwork and planning mixed in with a few practical bits.  On Weds the North Scotland Member Group was treated to an excellent presentation about wildcats from Roo Campbell, project leader of Scottish Wildcat Action.  At various times I checked cameras and refilled bird feeders as necessary.  The cameras revealed badger, hare, jay, roe deer and red squirrel but no pine marten or wildcat.  As for actual sightings there were multiple views while out with the dogs of crested tits, gs woodpeckers and buzzards plus the usual small birds.  Encouragingly these birds were sometimes seen in pairs which bodes well for the breeding season.  Speaking of breeding, ospreys are now arriving back in small numbers.

Weds 22nd Mar
Took a chap to the badger hide where we had a super eveing with three badgers at least on view, coming and going, mutual grooming and chasing back and forth.

Thurs 23rd Mar
Assisted Roger Cottis to run a badger training day for Police Wildlife Crime Officers.   In the morning Roger ran a classroom session to cover the basic theory and then after lunch we drove to a well established ancient badger sett in steep woodland to try to find some of the features we had discussed earlier.  A very well worthwhile day.

Badger Training Day For Police
Some of the police officers undergoing practical badger training

Fri 24th to Sun 26th Mar
On Friday I travelled to Edinburgh to be briefed by the Edinburgh University Royal Dick School of Veterinary Studies on their role in Scottish Wildcat Action Project.  Saturday was a mix of domestic and admin duties, though I did manage to set up a camera to see if hedgehogs are using our garden.  Checked the camera on Sunday morning but no hedgehogs were recorded so I moved it to the edge of a nearby field where sheep had been recorded from the garden the previous night.  In the evening I took 4 people to the hide where I checked the Maginon camera for pine martens; no luck I'm afraid but in the course of the evening we had 3 badgers on view for 2 hours and on the way home we spotted a tawny owl on a fence post beside the road.  The owl glided effortlessly away as our car approached.  Got home and checked the field camera for sheep but no luck so I reset it for a night time session.

Sunset at the badger hide
Sunset at the badger hide

Mon 27th Mar
This morning I picked up this very timely Press Release, issued yesterday:

MEDIA RELEASE - SCOTTISH GREEN MSPs  -  WILDLIFE CRIME:
MARK RUSKELL HITS OUT AT SCOT GOV DELAY ON POWERS


Mark Ruskell MSP, Environment spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, today (26 March) hit out at the Scottish Government for failing to extend the powers of animal charity the SSPCA so they can tackle wildlife crime.

It comes as Holyrood's Environment Committee, of which Mr Ruskell is a member, warns of alarming distrust between groups that tackle wildlife crimes. The Committee has written to the Environment Secretary, urging greater cooperation and improved reporting.

Mark Ruskell, Environment spokesperson for the Scottish Greens and MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, said:

"Killing of wildlife such as rare birds of prey is an utter disgrace and it is clear that the Police are leaving gaps in their investigatory and reporting work, which is increasing frustration amongst wildlife charities. It's time for the SSPCA's well established investigatory role to be extended to wildlife crime to bolster Police efforts. 

"The SSPCA have a respected statutory role in relation to animal welfare cases already. I see no reason why this should not be extended to wildlife crime. We were promised a decision by the Scottish Government six years ago on the SSPCA's powers but it has yet to materialise."

Ends

Later Roy Dennis arrived and we set up two traps at the squirrel car park in the hope of catching red squirrels for a translocation project.  We wired the traps open and put food in them to let the squirrel s get used to going into the traps before Wednesday when we will set the triggers. I also set up the Acorn camera to monitor activity.

Tues 28th Mar
At 0800 I checked the Acorn camera and already a red squirrel had been investigating the traps.  Later I had a wildcat meeting with the SWA project manager to get further briefed on our work.   In the evening I heard the news along with everyone else that the Scottish Parliament had voted in favour of applying for indyref2 and that Westminster's reaction was to rule out any such thing until Brexit was over and done with, which could be some years down the line.  Trouble ahead.  Related; Michael Gove said yesterday that the UK govt should repeal the habitats directive as soon as possible after Brexit, which is all the more reason for Scottish Independance so that what's left of our natural environment can retain some degree of legal protectioon.

Weds 29 to Fri 31st Mar
On Weds evening we set the triggers on the red squirrel traps but when we checked them next day we hadn't caught anything.  The camera had shown plenty of squirrel activity but none of them ventured into the traps.  Frankly it was all done in far too much of a rush; we should have set pre-baited traps several days earlier to have stood much chance of succeeding.  On Friday I went to Edinburgh for a meeting with the National Museum of Scotland to be briefed on their role in the Scottish Wildcat Action Project and to discuss the future.

April

Sat 1st Apr to Mon 3rd April
On Saturday I took Martin Jones to the badger hide to brief him on procedure; he's a potential future badger guide.  Whilst there we checked the pine marten camera (only a badger recorded) and checked all three goldeneye boxes and the tit box (no nesting attempts yet).  Later I took a family of 6 to the hide and we had at least three different badgers in view.  On Sunday I took a family of four to the hide.  There were very young children in the group so we did not stay long but long enough for everyone to have seen two badgers at close quarters.  On Monday Bea and I did the season's first crested tit nest box check; there had been no nesting attempts so far but we did get alarmed called at near some of the sites.  Good news though; when we got home I discovered frog spawn in ourt tiny garden pond.  Yay for the frogs.

Crested tit  Frog Spawn
Crested tit taken last year and frog spawn taken today

Tues 4th and Weds 5th April
Tuesday was very windy indeed but I managed to get out and check the Maginon camera in Boat Woods; nothing much recorded.  Male house sparrow investigating the starling box in the garden. On Wednesday morning I filled all the forest and garden feeders absolutely brim full and in the evening I took two ladies to the badger hide where, after depositing the ladies into the hide, I climbed the hill to check the Bushnell camera; only badgers recorded.  I had only been back in the hide ten minutes when the first badger appeared.   Soon there were three and with all the comings and goings that ensued there could easily have been up to 6 differenet badgers although never more than 3 at any one time.   After a while there was a lull and suddenly we had a beautiful pine marten.  It calmly ate peanuts just 30 metres from the hide for ten minutes before running past the hide and down towards the river. The ladies were just thrilled and gave a donation to match, bless 'em.

Thurs 6th to Sun 23rd April
Holiday in the Azores.  It took two long days to get there and another two to get home afterwards but it was well worth the effort.  The trip was a SAGA tour around four of the nine islands that make up the Azores, starting with the main island Sao Miguel for a few days then a flight to Faial, then a ferry to Pico and back, then a flight to Tercier and finally back to Sao Miguel.  The trip included four whale watching sessions by boat; two from Sao Miguel and one each from Faial and Terciera.  We were incredibly lucky and saw seven different marine mammal species: fin whale, sperm whale, humpback whale, orca (including a calf with its mother), bottle nose dolphin, Risso's dolphin and common dolphin.  Here are some of the best pictures:

orca calf and mother
Orca Calf And Mother
Rissos dolphin
Risso's Dolphin
Humpback whale tail
The Tail Of A Humpback Whale
common dolphins
Common Dolphins

Mon 24th and Tues 25th April
The predictable business of dealing with two weeks of emails, post, laundry and a degree of exhaustion.  Did manage to get round the bird feeders in the woods and to my surprise they all still had plenty of food in.  I hope that means there's plenty of of food in the forest and not that the birds simply aren't there.    Certainly the weather is unexpectedly wintry with snow both yesterday and today so you would expect the birds to be hungry - time will tell.

Weds 26th to Sun 30th April
Weds was another catch-up day but on Thurs we managed to get back to some local wildlife stuff.  In the afternoon I found some capercaillie poo on the discrete path roughly opposite The Angle and in the evening we attended the Scottish Wildlife Trust North Area meeting which incorporated an excellent talk about the Living Seas project up in the north west, following by the AGM.  Most of Friday was taken up by a meeting at SNH to discuss the wildcat project, specifically to prepare for the next Steering Group meeting, and thereafter to get all that written up in my notes.  On Saturday Bea and I carried out a crested tit nest box check during which we found box 2 had lots of nest material but no nest yet, box 5 had some signs of excavation, box 12 had a small amount of nest material and box 16 had a complete nest but no eggs yet.  As we approached box 16 a bird flew out of it but we were not quick enough to see which species it was.  We'll check again in about three weeks time.  In the evening I took a chap and his two children to the badger hide where we had at least 3 different badgers.  Interestingly, a badger ran up the upper sett as we approached the hide so we might need to review our arrival time schedules.  Whilst there we checked the card in the Bushnell camera to find it had recorded, pheasant, badger, roe deer (both sexes), brown hare and pine marten.   One of the pine marten videos showed it climbing the tree that has the pine marten nest box in it, which is pleasing because after reurbishing the box we wanted to see if the pine martens would find it, hence choosing that position for the camera.  Bingo!  On Sunday I checked an osprey nest near Carrbridge to find at least one osprey in attendance and the nest looking viable.  It's possible I was seeing the male in flight while the female was lying low out of sight, but that's just conjecture.

Osprey arriving at its nest
Osprey arriving at its nest

On the way out I found a trap so I took some photos of it and sent them to an expert.  Turns out the trap was a Fenn trap Mark IV and is perfectly legal as long as it's set correctly.  In this case the trap was not set at all so I suppose that's OK.  I hate these devices anyway, legal or not.

May

Mon 1st to Thurs 4th May
On Monday a raven turned up at the squirrel car park and shouted its head off in the top of a nearby tree; slightly unusual I think for this area.  Spent about 3 hours preparing for next week's wildcat meeting and there's still more to do.  Great project but immense and complicated; serves me right for volunteering.  On Tuesday I checked the nest boxes at the badger hide: no activity at all at the goldeneye box on a tree, the goldeneye box on a pole in a hollow, the kestrel box or the tit box.  However, there was at least one egg and some fresh downy feathers in the goldeneye box on a pole on top of the hill.  Spent much of Wednesday on preparation for wildcat and badger meetings interspersed with walking the dogs in glorious sunny weather.  On Thursday I helped to judge a schools nature art competition at Cairngorms National Park HQ.  My fellow judges were artist Ann Vastano and educator Elspeth Grant.  There was a huge entry so it took nearly three hours to pick a short list from which Nick Baker, tv presenter, will select the winners in each category at Blair Castle on 13th May.  The shortlist can be seen here.

Fri 5th to Sun 7th May
Friday saw me on a train to Perth for dinner with some of the trustees of Scottish Badgers; an overture to Saturday's strategy meeting which took all day.  Sunday was a day to reflect.  I've got embroiled in so many things now: currently badgers, wildcats, wildlife crime, golf course environment issues and wildlife art so the weeks ahead are stuffed with meetings and events, and that fills my time with interesting and challenging stuff.  All good.  I guess.

Mon 8th to Fri 12th May
Worked through yet more papers on Monday morning for meetings later in the week.  In the afternoon I checked some of the badger setts in Boat woods: BBB SW looks well used, BBB Main is partly in use but some of the tunnels have not been used for a while and BBB NE looks quiet.   No signs of disturbance.   As usual there is clear evidence of badgers but not in great numbers.   As I discovered once before the map refs in my GPS for the setts were not that great but it doesn't matter much because the setts are easy to find.  One day I'll edit the GPS.  More wildcat papers arrived in the evening which I managed to work through before bed time.  Thursday's wildcat meeting is going to be a marathon.  On Tuesday I played golf in the morning, a rare occurrence so far this year, and in the afternoon met with Eileen Stuart from SNH, my predecessor as Chair of the SWA Steering Group.  It was a most useful and informative session.  In the evening I took the writer Emilly Dodds and her parents to the badger hide where we were treated to an amazing display.  We had, in no particular order, a roe deer, woodmice, bats, a badger, a pine marten and a fox chasing a brown hare.  Quite extraordinary.  On Wednesday morning I got chatting in the Post Office to some visiting badger enthusiasts from the Essex Badger Group and ended up inviting them to join my small group at the badger hide that evening.   We had less excitement at the hide than the previous evening, which is hardly surprising, but we had 3 badgers at close quarters for more than an hour and we shared some lively debates on hot wildlife topics.  Got to bed rather later than was ideal with an early start next morning to get to Perth for that important wildcat meeting.   So Thursday saw me on a train to Perth to Chair the Scottish Wildcat Action Project meeting at SNH Battleby.   Excellent attendance and plenty of no-nonsense discussion on crucial issues resulting in a clear path forward.   It's a privilege to be involved.   Friday saw me tidying up the paperwork from the SWA meeting before taking a couple from Georgia USA to the hide where we saw the pine marten again.  While I was there I used my mobile phone and an improvised selfie-stick to check one of the goldeneye boxes on poles in which there was a single egg last time I checked; it now has at least six eggs.

Sat 13th and Sun 14th May
In the morning I joined tv presenter Nick Baker (the bug-boy himself) and a host of children and their families at Blair Castle for the final stages of judging the schools art competition.   It was really good to talk through issues of the day with Nick before he began his performance.  Very inspiring stuff with many tales of wildlife encounters involving sleeping rough and connecting with wildlife.  The kids just loved it, especially the bits involving bottoms and poo.  On Sunday I was visited by one of the National Park staff to do with an adminstrative matter but we spent a little time usefully chatting through some park stuff.  In the evening I took myself to the hide where I checked all the goldeneye boxes and the kestrel box with the selfie stick.  No activity at most of them but the box that had at least six eggs on Friday now had at least eight.   Four badger turned up while I was there and then at 2150 the pine marten arrived for his peanut feast; he's now been seen during three out of the four visits to the hide this week.  Looking good.

Mon 15th to Fri 19th May
Monday was a day without wildlife work but on Tuesday I took a couple to the badger hide where within 5 minutes a pine marten appeared at the upper sett.  After a few minutes a badger appeared at the entrance to a tunnel near the pine marten, but on seeing the pine marten the badger ducked back down again.  The pine marten then went to the tunnel and looked down it before returning to its peanut feast.  Soon after, the badger appeared again and on seeing the pine marten was still there it fled north along the hillside.  A few minutes later another badger, or the same one, came down the hill from the east side, saw the pine marten and ran quickly away south.  I know this is a small sample but it does suggest the badger sees the pine marten as a threat.  Maybe that will change if a real fight ensues and the badger's superior size and weight turns the tables. 


The Dust Flies When Pine Marten Meets Badger

Wednesday was mostly car servicing and golf with wildcat planning finding a slot in the afternoon.  The plan for Thursday was to go to the hide on my own in the hope of filming pine marten privately but I mentioned this to a lady I met by the river and later on her husband phoned me to ask if they could come with me.  I was pleased to agree and we had a lovely evening, beginning with a pine marten almost straight away, then some badgers and a tawny owl and finally a badger cub; the first cub we've seen this year.  Friday was a busy day.  Bea and I started with a check of all the crested tit nest boxes.  Box 2: great tit on eggs. Box 5: filling has settled. Box 11: a tiny byke, similar to a wasp byke, suspended under the lid (I Tweeted a photo to Jonny Huhges for an ID). Box 12: small amount of nest material, same as last time. Box 14: blue tit on 7 eggs. Box 16: 7 eggs, species unknown. Box 17: a byke similar to Box 11. Box 18: lots of nest material but no nest.  We saw a rat near Box 10 and heard cuckoos everywhere.  Later I checked the badger sett near the Springwatch snag but it clearly hasn't been used for years.  Similarly I checked under the nearby buzzard nest but found no prey remains so that probably wasn't used this year.  I then went to the badger hide and pruned the tree that had been triggering the Bushnell camera.  I then changed the card in the Bushnell before setting up the Maginon camera pointed at the tunnel at the lower sett where we saw a cub last night.  I also scattered peanuts near that tunnel to try to get badger/pine marten interaction as we had seen, but failed to capture, twice this week.  As an afterthought I had a look at the tit box right beside the badger hide to find a great tit sitting tight on eggs. When I got home there were copious emails about badgers, pine martens, wildcats and the possibility of meeting a chap who creates virtual reality films about wildlife.  Then, on checking the card I had taken out of the Bushnell camera, I found a nice clip of a pine marten near the Vincent Wildlife Trust designed pine marten nest box.  If that pine marten has set up its base in the box, that would explain why we are seeing pine martens at the nearby badger hide like never before.  Quite a day, and I haven't yet had time to look properly through all the photos and videos taken at the hide this week.

Sat 20th and Sun 21st May
Soaking wet day on Saturday so no wildlife stuff.  On Sunday I went to the hide to check the Bushnell and Maginon cameras and to wait a while to see if the pine marten would turn up again.  At 2040 a large male badger arrived, then at 2100 there was a loud thump on the wall of the hide and I could see a fat brown tail brushing against the window; the pine marten had lifted the lid off the bird feeder screwed to the wall and was helping himself to peanuts.  I didn't have the heart to chase him off.  Looks as if I'll have to make a proper feeder for him and place it on a tree where we can see it easily from the hide.  At home I checked the cards from the camera.  Good news - we have 4 badger cubs, all looking healthy.  Well done mummy badger.

New feeder at the badger hide
The New Feeder At The Badger Hide

Mon 22nd to Fri 26th May
Dealt with an awkward meeting situation before heading to the workshop to build a new lift-the-lid feeder for the pine marten at the badger hide.  The birds will have to share it for the time being until I figure out what to do next.  The birds will be able to reach the peanuts through the mesh of the new feeder but I reckon the pine marten will empty it pdq which will leave the birds with nothing.  Anyhow, I rigged it up on a tree near the hide in the afternoon and put the Maginon camera on the next tree pointing at it to determine how long it will take the pine marten to find it.  Place your bets!  On Tues it was the LINK Wildlife Crime Task Force meeting at RSPB HQ at the Gyle, Edinburgh.  Just before the meeting the Parliament's ECCLR committee discussed the possibility of a licensing scheme for shooting estates to try to address the problem of raptor persecution.  They decided by a vote of 6 to 4 in favour of asking Cab Sec Roseanna Cunningham to mount an enquiry into what such a licensing scheme would involve and I guess its feasibility and legality.  Understandably our meeting was dominated by this news.  Predictably, later in the day, shooting interests (SLE, BASC, SGA, the Moorland Group and others) issued a joint statement criticising the decision.  No surprises there then.  Unfortunately this will worsen the already uncomfortable relationship between land interests and conservationists and will help none of them.  It feels as if war has been declared and battle lines drawn and this could adversely affect some of the partnership working with which I am currently involved.  We have a fast moving, fast changing situation on our hands and it's hard to predict where it will lead.  I exchanged emails with SNH on the subject to no real effect other than to agree our shared concerns.  On Wednesday evening I took a couple to the badger hide where we had another amazing evening with 4 different badgers and eventually a pine marten.  Trail camera footage showed the marten had found the new feeder on the first night and after only two days is already quite expert at propping the lid open while it gets stuck into the peanuts.  I hope it never develops a nut allergy.  Anyhow, the guests were delighted.  Thursday was a travelling day; bus (yes bus) to Edinburgh then overnight with family at Dalkeith.  Friday was a meeting at Royal Burgess Golf Club between their greens expert, Golf Environment Group and representatives from the Scottish Wildlife Trust.  The idea was to see how SWT could engage with the golfing world to improve the environment for wildlife on golf courses in Scotland, in partnership with GEO and RBGC.  We agreed on a plan and I managed not to acquire yet another committee role but agreed to be SWT's Golf Ambassador in the North.

Sat 27th and Sun 28th May
Went to the badger hide to measure up for repairs to the drop-down hatch and while I was there changed the SD cards in the Bushnell and Maginon cameras.   I stayed for a while to watch for badgers which was a bad mistake because the rain then began and was soon coming sown in torrents so I was stuck.  I hadn't even brought a waterproof jacket with me.  Despite the rain, 4 badgers came out for peanuts and then the pine marten turned up.  The rain showed no signs of letting up so eventually I had to brave it and got soaked on the way back to the car.  At home I checked the SD card and to my astonishment there was a clip of a tawny owl attacking a pine marten!  I made an animated GIF of the final attack and posted it on Twitter where over the next 24 hours it received multiple likes and retweets.

Tawny Owl Attacking A Pine Marten
The attack by a tawny owl on a pine marten right in front of the badger hide

Mon 29th to Weds 31st May
Today was the big day to migrate the Badger Hide website from the Highland Badger Network website to BoGWig's website, which is a more appropriate place for it anyway.   The Highland Badger Network website has served its purpose and will now close when its current package expires in October.  The job took all morning and half drove me nuts but I got there in the end.  The Scottish Badgers website now fulfils the reporting and information function centrally which makes better sense than local provision.    After lunch I played a therapeutic round of golf to clear my fuddled brain, then in the evening I reviewed what I had done on the websites and did some tweaking.   No doubt more tweaks will be necessary before it fully beds in.   Speaking of beds, Goodnight!  Tues and Weds were mostly to do with editing and reviewing governance documents and preparing for upcoming meetings but I did manage to get to the hide on both days to check and reconfigure cameras in view of the exciting tawny owl and pine marten interactions of the past week.  In particular I swapped the cameras over so that the best quality Bushnell was aimed at the pine marten feeder which is the centre of the most spectacular action.  To add a little extra spice I placed a chicken wing in the peanut feeder as a special treat for the pine marten.  On a different topic, I met a visiting bird watcher in Boat Woods on Weds who told me he had just seen two or three crested tits near the crossroads which was good news as I have seen none at all recently.

June

Thurs 1st and Fri 2nd June
This is the start of the Wildlife Trusts 30 Days Wild.  On Thurs I went back to the hide to check the camera and the feeder.  To my surprise the chicken wing was still in the feeder, but when I got home and checked the footage it was easy to see why.  At 1am this morning the pine marten made three attempt to open the feeder but each time the tawny owl chased it away.  Bea and I can only deduce that there are tawny chicks nearby that the adult owl is protecting from the pine marten.   I'll try to find time in the next day or two to search for the chicks; I don't think they'll be in the nearby goldeneye box because I looked in that only a week ago so the chicks, if they exist, will be in a tree.  Stay tuned.  On Friday I spent a couple of hours with a land manager at Tummel Bridge to discuss wildcat matters.  A very worthwhile trip indeed.  Later I strimmed the grass at the badger hide, then checked the pine marten feeder again and the chicken wing was still there.  There was also no pine marten footage on the Bushnell camera so the tawny has either killed the pine marten or given it such a fright it's staying away.  I looked in all the goldeneye nest boxes to see if the tawny had chicks in any of them but two boxes were still empty and the other one had a great pile of goldeneye eggs in it.  I then searched the branches in some of the trees looking for owl chicks but no luck.

Sat 3rd and Sun 4th June
This was largely a gardening and golfing weekend.  However, the gardening largely concerned taling the difficult decision to cut the lawns which we had allowed to become wildflower meadows.  I cut some of the garden with just a strimmer and the rest with the mower lifted to its highest setting so there are still plenty of flowers and I'm sure there will be more.  Our pond is becoming rather too choked with various plants but we decided that was a job for the autumn, partly because the resident frog is very happy with the status quo and there may well be baby frogs in there too.   At the badger hide, on Saturday I removed the chicken wing from the pine marten feeder and placed the wing in the grass near a badger tunnel (by Sunday afternoon it had gone so I assume the badgers or the fox had found it) and added an egg and some jam sandwiches to the peanuts in the feeder.  The nearby camera showed no pine marten action on either Friday or Saturday night so we really have lost our new friend for the time being.

Mon 5th to Fri 9th June
On Monday I went to the hide to check the cameras again but still no sign of the pine marten.  The cattle were at the far end of the estate so I was hopeful they would stay there for the evening badger watch which they kindly did.  The heavens opened while we were in the hide but we nevertheless had at least 3 soggy badgers to enjoy before we scuttled back across the field in the deluge.   Tues was another very wet day and our Tri-Club golf match at Carrbridge was cancelled, thank goodness.  A day of paperwork and refilling bird feeders ensued.  Weds was quite exciting; we had evidence that the pine marten had returned at the badger hide and I got a message from a lady who had seen a panther.  Starting with the pine marten, I went to the hide to check cameras and found that the egg and some of the jam sandwiches were missing from the feeder but sadly the Bushnell camera had miss the event so I reset it in the hope of better luck next day.  A lady from near Glasgow got in touch about seeing a black panther twice this week, once near Nethy and once near Boat.  I asked her for more precise details which she provided next day (Thurs) in the form of Google Earth maps from which I worked out the following:

Sighting No 1 Sat 3rd June 2017.  Between the River Nethy and Station Road at map ref NH9974 2122

Sighting No 2 Weds 7th June 2017Near the River Spey between the Railway and the river approx. 1 km north of Boat of Garten at map ref NH 9517 1971

I informed SNH and the Cairngorms National Park by email.   On Thursday afternoon I managed to do some preparation for next day's Scottish Badgers Trustees Meeting and then in the evening I took a couple to the badger hide. It was not the best of nights with heavy rain, no badgers for the first hour, then only one, then nothing for an hour and finally a mother and a cub for half an hour.  The occasion was not helped by having to heave the old lady over the 5 bar gate in both directions; I really must do something about that, although quite what I don't know.  I'll maybe discuss with the farmer.  Friday was an all-day Scottish Badgers meeting in Perth; Advisory Group in the morning and Trustees in the afternoon.  We are re-writing our strategy and structure with all the soul-searching that you'd expect.  Thankfully we're almost there.  I have taken on responsibility as Trustee for Advocacy and Engagement and now have to write up an action plan to deliver that part of our strategy.  Also that day there was a wildcat meeting at the Scottish Government with representatives of our Scottish Wildcat Action project and representatives from animal welfare groups.  I gather it went very well.

Pine marten with egg
Pine marten taking the egg from its feeder at the badger hide

Saturday 10th and Sunday 11th June
Saturday was full of wildlife action.  I began by building a new board under which to hide peanuts at the badger hide (the old one was rotten) and then took it to the hide.  On the way there I repaired part of a fence at the Kincardine Estate entrance that has been bugging me for a while, concerned that we might get the blame for breaking it.  (We didn't).  At the hide the cattle were no longer in the main field which made things easier.  I put out some peanuts for the badgers, checked the tit box (a heap of well developed great tit chicks) and swapped cards in the camera.  I forgot to take the endoscope with me so could not check the goldeneye box this time.  The egg I had put in the pine marten feeder was gone so I replaced it and looked forward to getting the card home and seeing if the camera had recorded the event.  It had; the pine marten was there twice on Friday morning. After lunch Bea and I did the 3-weekly crested tit nest check and sadly found no evidence of crestie action in any of the 20 boxes.  There was however action of different kinds at ten of the boxes. Box 2 had great tit chicks, box 8 a tree wasp byke, box 10 had nest material, box 11 had its front destroyed by a woodpecker and its tree wasp byke removed (I guess for the woodpecker to eat the contents), box 12 had a great tit sitting tight, box 13 had the remains of a tree wasp byke, box 14 had a heap of tiny blue tit chicks, box 16 had a heap of well developed blue tit chicks, box 17 had been wrecked by woodpeckers and the wasp byke emptied and box 18 had a coal tit sitting tight.  Back at home, all the local small birds have locked on to our recent delivery of meal worms and there is feverish action in the garden while in the woods the peanut feeders are suddenly being emptied much more quickly than even a week ago.  In the evening I built a spreadsheet for the crestie boxes; not really sure why.  Sunday was mostly dog walking and getting soaked on the golf course.  I did manage to refill a couple of empty bird feeders in the woods though.

Mon 12th to Fri 16th June
Spent Monday morning on checking Minutes of an SWA meeting and writing speaking notes for an upcoming hen harrier event.  In the afternoon I went to the badger hide to deliver more peanuts for the coming week's several badger watches, to check the cameras and to check the goldeneye box.  The goldeneye box had at least a dozen eggs in it, some of which are half buried in the down and woodshaving so it is hard to be certain whether they are to be incubated or if they are simply a dump of surplus eggs.  Time will tell.  At home I checked the camera cards and it was good to see that the pine marten has been back a few times in the last two days, mostly in daylight (to avoid the tawny?) but also once very nervously in the dark.  On Monday evening I took a family to the hide, hoping it would not be as late or as wet as last week's visits and hoping the pine marten would turn up.  Tuesday's badger watch was cancelled which was a bit of a relief because it meant I could start on a small mountain of paperwork.  Spent Weds morning continuing with the paperwork then went into the woods to fix a new locking arrangement on some of the nest boxes before preparing for the evening's badger watch.  At the hide I checked the cameras and we had five excellent videos of pine marten plus a couple of clips of two GS woodpeckers - a male and a female.  It didn't take long for a badger to appear and then we had a pine marten.  Later we had a female badger looking after two of the four cubs; hopefully the other two are in the care of another female.  Before leaving I checked the great tit box to find the chicks have fledged.  Altogether a great evening.  On Thursday I had a meeting with Cairngorms National Park staff about their role in the Scottish Wildcat Action project and on Friday our new badger hide guide took a group to the hide where they had a super evening. No pine marten but plenty of badgers and birds.

Sat 17th and Sun 18th June
On Saturday I helped set up and man the BoGWiG stand at the Cairngorms National Park Volunteering event in the Boat of Garten Hall.  Later I checked the camera at the hide and once again there was pine marten action.  Before leaving I left an egg for the pine marten and peanuts for the badgers.  Sunday was a day of golf, then resting the poor aching knees and back!

Mon 19th to Fri 23rd June
The week has been something of a blur so this is just a summary plus a few highlights.  All the woodland feeders ran out of peanuts so that was a shock, but easily rectified.  So far this year the feeders have not been overly used but suddenly the birds have gone crazy.  I've done lots of office work from strategy to scripts to accounts to records to video editing on everythings from wildcats to pine martens.  We had three visits to the badger hide, the first of which revealed via the trail camera that we have 3 pine marten kits in residence locally.   We also saw no less than 8 badgers; 4 adults and 4 cubs. The Bushnell pine marten footage was amazing so I posted a couple on Twitter and also put several of the clips together in a longer video for YouTube.  You can see it here:

It was great to see that all three pine marten kits and all four badger cubs have survived and are looking good.  This warm, wet weather is perfect for both species with lots of food available to help them grow quickly.

Sat 24th and Sun 25th June
Another visit to the bagder hide on Saturday and it was another cracking evening: 7 badgers and a pine marten.  On Sunday I checked all three trail cameras but there was nothing much to report.  The Acorn had more than a thousand wind-triggered videos, the Maginon had recorded nothing at all and the the Bushnell had a few pine marten videos.  Time to re-think the set-up.

Mon 26th to Fri 30th June
Enjoyed an evening in the Nethybridge Hotel with senior staff from the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the new RSPB Scotland Director.  Lots of stories were told on all sides and pledges were made for collaborative working in future.  Checked all three cameras at the hide.  To my surprise the Acorn pointing up the trunk of the nestbox tree, which I thought least likely to produce anything interesting, revealed beyond all doubt that pine martens were using the box.  There were three videos of the kits actually going into the box.   The Maginon, which was aimed at the foot of the nestbox tree, also showed pine martens climbing the tree.  On Wednesday I took the owner of Cairngorms Music to the hide and we were treated immediately to two badger cubs and an adult.  Soon we had five badgers in view.  Thursday was a washout with heavy rain all day so I spent yet another day in the office.  On Friday evening I took myself to the badger hide, swapped cards in the cameras and set up the Acorn in front of the hide aimed at the lower sett where I sat for an hour in the hope of close encounters with the badger cubs.  Unfortunately the only close encounter I got was with midges.  An adult badger did potter around the tunnel entrances on and off but was not keen to approach me, even for an offering of peanuts.  I guess worms have been readily available to the badgers this week due to the wet weather so they're not at all hungry.

July

Sat 1st July and Sun 2nd July
On Saturday I attended a meeting of the Scottish Wildlife Trust North Group at Aigas Field Centre where Sir John Lister-Kaye gave us a thorough briefing on Aigas and its work followed by a talk on wildcats, focussing on the wildcat captive breeding programme at Aigas.  After the talk the rest of the group went on a guided tour of the estate while Sir John and I had a private wildcat meeting.  On Sunday morning I was astonised to find the Angle feeder in Boat woods was totally empty so in the afternoon I refilled it and checked some of the other feeders which thankfully were OK.  In the evening I went to the badger hide to try to sit out with the badger cubs again, this time with more success.  The cubs ignored me but the adults were more cautious.

Me with the badger cubs
Sitting out with the badger cubs - a wonderful experience

Mon 3rd to Fri 7th July
On Monday I stitched together some of the pine marten kit action at the foot of the nestbox tree and published it on YouTube.  Here it is:

Tuesday saw discussion by email of fresh ideas for the Scottish wildcat and then in the evening I went to the badger hide again on my own.  Straight away three pine martens ran along the riverside track and dived into the long grass by the river causing consternation among the ducks.  No harm was done and the pine martens headed off upstream.  I then sat outside the hide for more than an hour and enjoyed the company of 4 badgers; 2 adults and 2 cubs.  The adults remained a bit stand-offish but the cubs were too busy eating peanuts to be too concerned about me.  Took some photos and Tweeted one of them while sitting on the ground just two metres from the badgers.  Great fun.  Weds was super-busy.  It began with a three hour wildcat meeting at my house, I then went to the badger hide where I checked the goldeneye box on a pole to find it was still full of eggs but no sign of incubation yet; the box may just be a dump for surplus eggs - it happens.  I then strimmed the grass around the hide to ensure this week's groups can see the badgers properly.  Back at home I grabbed the dogs and we did a full crested tit nest box check.  Sadly, no cresties have bred this year in the boxes but we've had some success with great tits, blue tits and coal tits.  I staggered home exhausted, fed the dogs and fell asleep in the chair.  Thursday was pretty full too.  After golf Bea and the dogs and I attend the relaunch of the capercaillie statue project in Deshar Woods and on the way home we replaced the broken feeder at the Angle and retrieved what was left of the nest box that was still attached to its tree after most of it had fallen apart.  In the evening I took a chap who I had not seen since 2004 and his good lady to the badger hide.  We had badgers almost straight away and at about 2115 a pine marten arrived at the peanut feeder behind the hide.  After ten minutes another pine marten arrived and the first one left in a marked manner.  Soon badgers came out and were foraging on the ground near the pine marten feeder, blissfully unaware of the pine marten.  Eventually the pine marten made its presence known and the badgers fled.  I find that really odd, that badgers seem scared of pine martens, but we've seen that reaction three times now.  Anyhow, a great evening was had by all and my guests left with some superb photos. 

Friends in the badger hide
Neighbours Colin, Lily and Lou in the hide

On Friday I went back to the hide, this time with my neighbours and their young daughter.  It was another superb evening with badgers emerging almost as soon as we got there; eventually there were 5.  We didn't stay long enough for the pine martens to appear but I played some of the recent pine marten videos on the laptop so my guests got the general idea.

Sat 8th and Sun 9th July
Saturday was mostly golf but I managed to begin drafting a wildcat document before heading for the course.  Sunday was more productive with a workshop session to finish building the new hedgehog nest box and to repair the broken crestie nest box.

Hedgehog nest box
The new hedgehog nest box ready to go under the hedge

Mon 10th to Fri 14th July
Took a supply of peanuts to Milton Loch and discovered that the bird feeder cage was damaged.  Why does nobody tell me about these things!  Went back later with tools and fixed it.  Took a lady, Rina, whom I had met in Ireland, and her boyfriend Ryan to the hide.  Unfortunately the cattle in the field forced us to go via a circuitous route which made us walk through very long wet grass so we were soaked when we got to the hide and the windows steamed up quickly.  However, badgers emerged almost straight away despite heavy rain and within about twenty minutes we had six in view.  Then an extraordinary thing happened; my guests spotted an osprey standing on a rock in the middle of the river clutching a very large fish.  It had tried to fly with the fish and failed.   The osprey shook its wings several times to try to shed most of the heavy water and then proceeded to eat the fish.  After a while it tried again to fly away with the fish but failed and had to return to the rock.   It then ate more of the fish before abandoning it and flying away.  The half eaten fish slid off the rock into the river for something else to finish.  For a time I was concerned that the osprey might persist in trying to fly with the fish and drown (it has happened before) but this bird had the sense to enjoy its meal and withdraw in a dignified fashion.  No sooner had the excitement subsided than a pine marten turned up, much to the delight of my guests.  On Tuesday I visited the Highland Wildlife Park for a meeting with a RZSS staff member about wildcats and in the evening took a keen photographer to the hide where we had 4 badgers and a pine marten.  My guest was absolutely delighted of course.  Weds was mostly golf but I managed to fix another damaged bird feeder cage.  Thursday was largely admin with lots of phone calls scheduling the last of a series of wildcat meetings; for once I manages to catch everyone at their desks.  In the evening I went to the badger hide on my own and enjoyed the company of four badgers on and off; two adults and two cubs.  Before I left I was able to speak quietly to them without them running away.  Call me the badger-whisperer.   Friday was a day of phone calls and scheduling a whole bunch of meetings over the next few weeks.

Sat 15th and Sun 16th July
This was the Club Championships weekend at Abernethy Golf Club so not much else got done.  I did get involved in an exchange on Twitter over people on the Faroes hunting puffins.  My Tweet in response was, "They'll claim it's tradition, as they do with the Grind to justify slaughtering whales. Times have changed folks. Kindly get with it", which met with widespread approval with more than 70 retweets.  There were a few people who thought hunting puffins and whales was still OK on cultural grounds and that those activities did not threaten the populations of those species, adding that a whale used to feed a whole village for a week so that made it OK, even in this day and age. No doubt that was true in far off days of yore but I doubt if anyone in the Faroes is going hungry any more for the want of a puffin to eat.  On Sunday afternoon I rebuilt the squirrel feeder from the golf club; the feeder had been neglected for at least five years.

Mon 17th to Fri 21st July
Spent all Monday morning building a PowerPoint presentation for Hen Harrier Day Highland in August.  Once you get started it's quite good fun, searching out just the right images, although it was a bit of a waste of the lovely weather so I spent the rest of the day out of doors.  Began planning where to put hedgehog doors in our garden fences, having checked out suggestions online.  Tuesday began by reinstalling the squirrel feeder at Abernethy Golf Club.  In the evening I took a chap and his grandson to the badger hide.  On arrival we chatted to the farmer and I tried to persuade him to let me introduce an extra padlock into the chain that secured the field gate in case we had someone who was unable to climb the gate.  He refused, but was happy with my alternative suggestion which was to build an extra stile near the gate.  Fair enough.  At the hide we soon had five badgers in view and later it became six.  At 2135 a pine marten turned up to complete a tremendous evening.  My guest and I chatted like old buddies and I gleaned a nugget of information from the conversation which was to use strips of those evil sharp carpet grippers to prevent predators from climbing trees containing nests or nest boxes.   You attach vertical 4 foot strips an inch or so apart around the tree trunk and any cat or pine marten that attempts to climb the tree will have very sore paws and hopefully never try to climb that tree again.  On Weds I took a group of five to the badger hide.  It should have been seven due to my incompetence in losing an email but as luck would have it one of the couples failed to turn up so that was fine - the hide is to small for seven plus me.  Anyway, a great evening was had by all with at least six badgers and two pine martens to entertain us.  Even the rain cooperated by not falling and the cattle cooperated by staying at the other end of the estate.  Thursday was a golf day (got soaked) and the week ended with work on a position statement on wildcats and a trip to the badger hide where I sat outside the hide on my own and was treated to the company of a mouse, two badgers, a pine marten and about a million midges.

Sat 22nd and Sun 23rd July
This was mostly a golfing weekend during which I shot a competition score of 76, which is one less than my age.  OK, so now you know.  Anyhow I was dead chuffed.  On Sunday evening I took a couple of wildlife photographers from Wisconsin, the Badger State, to the badger hide.   We had lots of badgery action including mating.  This is only the second time mating has been witnessed at the hide in all its 21 years.  We of course averted our eyes, to be rewarded by the arrival of a pine marten.  A delightful evening all round.

Mon 24th to Fri 28th July
On Monday Heather met with the CEO of Boat Hall and the organiser of Hen Harrier Day Highland to finalise arrangements for the event; I was able to join them briefly as they were finishing off.  It promises to be a lively day with lots of different views expressed.  In the afternoon I began building hedgehog doors into our garden fences and in the evening I took myself to the badger hide to sit outside with my wee furry friends.  I had 4 badgers and a pine marten for company.  The pine marten ignored me while I took lots of pictures but the badgers are still a bit nervous of having me sitting beside their sett.  We'll get there - have patience dear boy.   Wednesday saw me on the 0612 train to Edinburgh where I attended the SE LINK Workshop on Advocacy in my role as Scottish Badgers Trustee with responsibility for Advocacy and Engagement.  It was a most useful and instructive day, well worth the effort.  In the evening Ali G the Ranger took a group to the badger hide where they had 5 badgers and 2 pine martens.  The following evening I had a very similar experience (5 badgers and 3 pine martens) with a delightful family from Huddersfield.  At home I set up the fairly rubbishy Acorn camera in the garden to try to capture any hedgehogs that avail themnselves of the new access doors in the fences.   I'm fairly sure they are around, having twice recently found what looks very like hedgehog poo in the area, the most recent being on the field opposite our house yesterday.   On Friday I did the rounds of the bird feeders before getting stuck in to some wildcat thinking, phone calls and emails.  After two nights the Acorn camera had recorded no hedgehog images, just my dogs doing their night-time ablutions.

Sat 29th to Mon 31st July
This weekend was supposed to be just golf but on Saturday evening I took my wife Heather to the badger hide where we had 5 badgers and a pine marten.   Heather hadn't been to the hide for a few years and really enjoyed the experience except for having to negotiate a herd of cattle both on the way in and on the way out.  On Sunday the dogs and I went to Auchgourish and checked badger sett AU20; there were no signs of current use at all.  On Monday I refurbished an ancient nest box from Milton Loch with a new front and lid.  It had been placed so high in a tree that we didn't have the ladders or moral fibre to reach it but nature recently took a hand and a gale blew it out of the tree.  It had been used by generations of starlings and red squirrels so I didn't have the heart to bin it.  It will go back up a tree (not so high this time) next week when filming starts for the Channel 4 programme Village Of The Year with Penelope Keith.  Later I removed the Maginon camera from the pine marten nest tree; it has served its purpose in establishing fairly clearly that this years kits were born there.  The Maginon then joined the Acorn cam in our garden in the hope of capturing the moment when hedgehogs find the new doors in our fences - if they ever do.

August

Tues 1st to Fri 4th August
Most of Tuesday was devoted to admin of various sorts but in the evening I spent a terrific evening in the badger hide with a single guest where we saw at least 7 different badgers and 3 pine martens.  By the time we left the hide it was almost dark and it was very noticeable how relaxed the badgers were in the dark compared with their more nervous behaviour in daylight.   Hen Harrier Day looms large at the end of the week and people are getting quite excited about it on Twitter.  I am quite looking forward to the event at which my presentation on The Case For Partnership Working may not necessarily go down well with everybody but I'll enjoy the challenge.  On Wednesday I had a wildcat meeting in Perth with the SWT rep on the SWA Steering Group; this almost completes my round of the group.  Thursday was very wet but it dried up in time for me to take a Canadian couple to the badger hide in the evening.   We saw 8 badgers, a sparrowhawk (that's a first for the hide) and eventually a pine marten.  On the way home a barn owl flew across the road near the Boat of Garten bridge.    On Friday I began the rounds of the woodland feeders, checked the hedgehog cams in the garden (none yet) and worked on refining my talk for Sunday.

Sat 5th and Sun 6th August
On Saturday I finished filling the local woodland feeders, then went to Milton Loch for a dry run of putting up a new nest box and checking old ones ready for Tuesday's filming for Channel 4.  Sunday was Hen Harrier Day Highland in our Community Hall, organised by Birders Against Wildlife Crime and sponsored by the Boat of Garten Wildlife Group.   More than 200 people turned up and there was standing room only in the Hall.   The six speakers were all well received and the feedback on social media over the next two days was great.  There were of course a few trolls on Twitter who tried to belittle what we had achieved, including claiming that there were not as many people there as we claimed or saying we had bussed-in activists to swell the numbers.  Pathetic, and an indication of how worried some of these people are that their cruel activities might soon be restricted.  As for my part, I spoke of the value of partnership working but concluded that in the case of the hen harrier I doubted that a partnership could work with, among other things, the shooting industry claiming there isn't a problem.  I therefore added my voice to those who are urging the government to create a licensing scheme for shooting estates so that estates that persecute wildlife can be hit where it hurts, in their pockets.  I added that estates which operate within the law had nothing to fear from such a licensing scheme, in fact they should welcome it.   Later in the day, in answer to a question from the floor, I declared my belief that in a civilised society killing for pleasure no longer had a place.  This was well received by most of the audience, but by no means all of them.  I found that surprising at an event such as this.

The Audience At Hen Harrier Day Highland
Terrific turn-out for Hen Harrier Day Highland at Boat of Garten - Image courtesy of Peter Stronach

Mon 7th to Fri 11th August
On Monday, no practical wildlife stuff done apart from a certain amount of preparation and planning.  Tuesday was the filming day for Channel 4's Village of the Year programme with Penelope Keith.  My wife Heather and I spent nearly 2 hours filming with the delightful lady herself and we look forward to seeing the result later in the year.  In the evening I went to the badger hide and sat outside with my favourite badger family.  They're still a bit shy but I'll persevere through the autumn.  The rest of the week was a real mixture of mostly domestic duties and health appointments but I did manage to monitor the hedgehog cameras, check the badger hide, re-site the pine marten feeder, help transport some logs for seating at the old curling pond for next week's Capercaillie Festival storytelling event and set up a new camera bracket for next time I'm at the hide on my own.

Sat 12th and Sun 13th August
Spent Saturday morning helping my wife cleaning up, scrub clearing and strimming the grass at the old curling pond for next week's story telling session.  Also spent an hour responding to some badger crime prevention documents and suggesting some amendments.  Twitter is still very active on the subject of grouse shooting and hen harrier persecution, especially with today being the inglorious twelfth.  In the evening I took a young family from Liverpool to the hide; mum, dad and 2 impeccably behaved small boys.  We saw at least 5 badgers and a pine marten.  A lovely evening.  Before leaving the hide I set up the Bushnell trail camera to capture me and the badgers next time I decide to sit outside with them on my own; possibly tomorrow.  Sunday didn't quite work out the way I had planned.  I refilled all the woodland feeders but before I could head to the hide for my intended solo session I had a call from a young couple who were keen to see badgers and pine martens so I took them with me.  It turned out well as my young guests were great company and keen as mustard on wildlife matters, both conservation-wise and politically.  I hope I did not bore them too much with my stories but I could not resist taking full advantage of such an appreciative and understanding audience.

Mon 14th to Fri 18th Aug
Spent most of Monday fielding all sorts of stuff to do with meetings this week and walking the dogs because Heather was away in Dundee.  In the evening I went to the badger hide on my own and had five badgers near me once the light faded; the badgers really are more comfortable in darkness.  Tuesday was all spent with SNH Wildcat Action Staff.  Unfortunately our discussion agenda was undermined by the need to deal with and refute a press release from Wildcat Haven which spouted all sorts of nonsense about a cat they had found in Aberdeenshire.   Wednesday started with some very good news indeed; the trail cameras in the garden picked up a hedgehog in our front garden on Sunday night and last night.  Unfortunately the pictures are too poor to be worht displaying here.  Some of Wednesday's press ran the wildcat story but most included details of our dismissal of Wildcat Haven's claims.  Unfortunately BBC Radio Scotland spelled out WH's claims but only added "Rival project Wildcat Action disputes these claims" which is so weak as to be not much help at all.  Thursday was the first of two days at meetings in Perth for which I took the bus both days to save on costs.  Thursday's meeting was a couple of hours with NTS to do with their part in the Scottish Wildcat Action project whereas Friday was an all-day affair with the quarterly Scottish Badgers Advisory Group in the morning and the Trustees meeting in the afternoon.   The outputs from both days will keep me busy in the months ahead.

Sat 19th and Sun 20th Aug
This was intended to be mostly a golfing weekend but on Saturday morning I discovered that the mining bees had reutrned for the umpteenth year to the two bunkers to the right of the second green at Abernethy Golf Club and on Saturday evening I took a couple to the badger hide where we had 7 badgers and a pine marten.  On Sunday evening I sat out with the badgers in front of the hide - at one point I had six of them close to me.   It's such a thrill to do that.

Mon 21st to Fri 25th Aug
The feeders at the community hall had been tampered with, not for the first time.  If this goes on I'll simply remove them, which would be a shame but I cannot keep repairing them so that local kids or drunks at parties in the hall can wreck them for their amusement.  We are now getting regular videos of hedgehogs in our front garden, some of which might be worth uploading to YouTube for your delight when I find the time.  This week is proving to be busy with wildcat work of various kinds, mostly to do with upcoming meetings and dealing with the flack from some of Wildcat Haven's nonsense. There's also a lot of Scottish Badgers work to be done but I've told the Chairman Eddie Palmer that I'm reserving this week for wildcats and next week is set aside for badgers, although I did find the time to phone Scottish government on Eddie's behalf to clear up confusion on the current status of the Scottish Government's Partnership Against Wildlife Crime initiative (PAW).  Evidently PAW is still functioning as normal, contrary to a rumour that has been circulating.  Back to wildcats, I met with SNH on Tuesday to make final preparations for the Scottish Wildcat Action Steering Group meeting on Thursday, then on Weds I had a full-on session to write my own version of tomorrow's agenda which expands the A4 one-sider to five pages.  Had a panic over tonight's badger watch which I thought I had organised really badly on behalf of the duty guide, Alison, but it turned out OK.   Thursday was the Scottish Wildcat Action Steering Group meeting for which I had spent so much time to prepare.  As expected the meeting was hard going with lots of challenging issues to confront but the group members are talented and experienced so the issues were either resolved or a process put in place.  Sorry, not appropriate to give details here.

Sat 26th and Sun 27th Aug
A weekend to relax and play some (bad) golf.  Also did a bit of wildlife painting.  I might let you see it if it turns out OK.

Mon 28th to Thurs 31st Aug
I had planned that since last week would be concentrated on wildcats then this week would be devoted to badgers but things don't always work that neatly.  In fact Monday began with tidying up a few things from last week's wildcat stuff and I also had to prepare for tomorrow's Wildlife Crime Task Force meeting in Edinburgh before tackling my actions from the Scottish Badgers meetings ten days ago.  Tuesday saw me on the early Megabus to Edinburgh for the aforementioned Wildlife Crime Task Force meeting at RSPB HQ.  Note for the future, the No 12 bus from Princes street to Gyle takes twice as long as the tram; I only just got to the meeting in time.  It was my turn to take the meeting notes (we don't run to a secretary) and that was fine.  Topics covered included various wildlife reports, past and anticipated, from the government and elsewhere, meetings with the Crown Office and tactics for the future.  Wednesday began with lots of report reading and writing and reviewing footage from the hedgehog cameras which showed visits by our spiky friends at 3am and 5am.  The day ended with a visit to the badger hide with a colleague, Ann Innes, from Scottish Badgers.  We had six badgers on view at one point which was great but sadly no pine marten.  We've not seen the martens for the last four visits so they must have dispersed.  The early morning dog walk on Thursday produced another sighting of a large male capercaillie not very far from where we saw one last week - probably the same bird.

September

Fri 1st to Sun 3rd Sep
On Friday I went looking for capercaillie in the area I had seen them twice recently but failed to find any.  In the evening I took four delightful people to the badger hide - we had 5 badgers at one point but sadly no pine marten.  Sadly I received news that a badger sett I had visited some years ago may have been trashed - probably not a good idea to go into details here.  Made some progress with my capercaillie painting.

Mon 4th to Fri 8th September
We're still getting hedgehogs in the garden but they've gone off the dog food, preferring to hunt for their own food.  Seems reasonable but it rather dashes my hope of luring them to the vicinity of the hibernation box I built for them recently.  Back to the drawing board.  Looks as if we're going to run an osprey festival for the Channel 4 panel of judges who will be visiting the village again soon.   It would be great to win the Village Of The Year accolade but it's involving a lot of work for everybody.  On Monday I finished my power point presentation for next month's badger conference in Perth and on Tuesday I finished the capercaillie painting; it's done with acrylic paint which is waterproof so it can go on the garden fence once it's fully dry. On Weds morning we found the dog food had been eaten but not necessarily by the hedgehogs because the dish was already empty when the first video was triggered by the hedgehog.  A mystery.  Later I built a box for the Acorn camera to be mounted in to monitor the hedgehog hibernation box and then Bea and I mounted the capercaillie painting on the fence for the world to see - and I hope enjoy.  The day ended with a visit to the badger hide with two couples where we had six badgers on show - but no pine marten.  On Thursday it was back to the hide with another group of four where we had a very similar evening to the previous one with six badgers and no pine martens.  On Friday the extent to which pine martens are marking their territories became clearer; there's poo on every track in the forest.   As for the hedgehog, there was no sign of him on Friday night on the camera but we did have a large grey cat with a fat tail, suggesting there were wildcat genes in his system.

Sat 9th and Sun 10th September
Mostly a domestic weekend with a bit of golf and a lot of sheltering indoors from the rain.  However, while out with the dogs on Saturday Heather and I were checked out by a buzzard above the Caper Track and on Sunday we spooked a female capercaillie near the T junction where the Sock Route leaves the Discrete Path.   Note: the path names are our own invention; you won't find them on any map!  The Maginon camera recorded hedgehogs in the front garden on both Friday and Saturday nights.

Mon 11th to Fri 15th September
On Monday we had a bit of a breakthough with the Acorn camera.   In the past, no matter how you set it up you were unlikely to get what you asked for - when triggered, it randomly shot videos and JPGs in no particular pattern, even when fitted with fresh batteries and an Extreme Pro memory card.  In desperation I set it to record low resolution VGA videos (rather than 720 or 1080 HD quality) and it has worked perfectly the last two nights, delivering one video and two JPGs per trigger exactly as programmed.  Hope this info might be of help to others.  For the record we had hedgehogs visiting the garden three times last night.   Nice.   On Tues I went and sat at the badger hide for a while, but no badgers appeared.  While I was there I adjusted the pine marten feeder and swapped cards in the Bushnell camera.  Wednesday was mostly a day of admin for both badgers and wildcats.  I did find time to review the Acorn and Bushnell video footage - the Acorn has reverted to its old unreliable self and the Bushnell produced more than a hundred clips mostly of badgers but also a few of pine marten and roe deer.  The Bushnell infra red lamp began to flicker with the more recent clips so the batteries probably need to be changed.  In the evening I went to the badger hide and changed the batteries in the Bushnell camera, then sat for a while above the sett in the rain and the midges .  A few badgers came out but kept their distance so I did not stay long, but as I turned to leave I saw a pine marten on the feeder. Unfortunately it had already seen me so it ran away.  On Thursday I took two couples to the hide in heavy rain where, despite the weather, we had 7 badgers and a pine marten.  Friday was very wet indeed so I took advantage and cleared much of the badger and wildcat admin backlog and did some overdue domestic chores.

Sat 16th and Sun 17th September
On Saturday morning I did the round of the woodland feeders, all of which were empty or nearly empty.  There has been a late flsuh of baby sparrows in the area and they're ravenous.  Checked the trail camera footage of last night's action in our garden.  Lots of hedgehog videos including, to my delight, a clip of a hog using one of the new doors allowing access between the two halves of our garden.  The highlight however was a clip of a red squirrel in the front garden, the first such record for some years.   Squirrels have been rare since the new hall was built and even more so since the new housing estate effectively formed a barrier between us and the main forest.  Nice to know they're still around.  Spent part of the morning checking my badger records for the Pityoulish area where one of its residents and I intend to provide the foresters with up to date information on the location of badger setts ahead of some intended new planting.   This idea has been well received by the foresters and should hopefully help them plan their operation in a badger-friendly manner.  Sunday was for golf and tv watching.

Mon 18th to Fri 22nd September
Roe buck barking boldly in Boat Woods on Monday morning near where I found a wrecked wasp byke (nest) under the roots of a pine tree at map ref NH 9371 1834.  Obviously that wasn't the work of a roe deer, it was almost certainly Mr Badger doing what badgers do when they're hungry.   Woodland badgers don't have the same easy feeding as those that live on farmland so the woodland badgers have to make ends meet as best they can.  Wasp bykes are a common target - some say that's a shame for the wasps, other might think otherwise.  Certainly, as I tried to film the remaining few wasps at close quarters as they buzzed around the wreckage of their home they chased me off!  Quite right too.  Tuesday was a bit crazy with badger watches arranged, cancelled, arranged and cancelled again.  In the end I took a couple and their 3 year old daughter to the hide for an hour where we saw four badgers, much to the little girl's delight.  On Wednesday it was the SWT Eden Court event with Euan McIlwraith and Mark Stevens from the BBC Radio Scotland Out of Doors programme telling us about their adventures around Scotland and elsewhere.  An excellent evening with a good turn out and a profit for our funds.  Thursday was a day of heavy rain so I spent the day in the office, taking the chance to update and re-jig my PowerPoint talk on the mammals and birds of the Cairngorms ahead of its next airing in October .  In the evening it dried up nicely in time for me to take a couple to the badger hide where we had at least 7 badgers on view.  We stayed for more than 2 hours in the hope of seeing the pine marten but it didn't turn up.  Friday was a better day but I persevered and finished the PowerPoint work I had begun yesterday.   Went to the badger hide, swapped cards in the Bushnell camera and reviewed the footage; lots of badger activity of course and one pine marten clip.

Sat 23rd and Sun 24th September
Mostly a golfing weekend but managed to check the two goldeneye boxes on poles with the endoscope.  Still no action with the box in the hollow and the one on the hill with eggs in still had eggs, which means it was just used as a dump by the goldeneye.  Next time I'm up there with the ladder I'll remove the eggs for a proper count before submitting the Schedule One Annual Return.  While I was there I removed the Bushnell camera; recent footage has been very predictable with lots of badgers and the occasional pine marten, hare and roe deer.

Mon 25th to Sat 30th September
The week ahead has 3 badger watches and 2 meetings scheduled so there's plenty going on.  On Monday a local resident and I went through some plans from one of the estates that intends planting lots more trees.  We decided to proactively send the owner a map showing badger setts that could be affected by the planned new fencing.  Hopefully that will let the estate know they are being watched which might deter them from cutting corners.  On Tuesday I took a couple to the bagder hide. We had seven badgers at one point but no pine martens again so I set up the Acorn camera pointing at the pine marten feeder to see if it's simply that we are not staying at the hide late enough to see the marten because the food in the feeder is certainly going down more quickly than the local small birds could achieve unaided.  Stay tuned.  Wednesday's badger watch was cancelled at short notice which was a bit of a nuisance, however the hide will be really busy next month with lots of requests for bookings in the in-tray.  On Thursday I had a working lunch with a member of the Steering Group of the Scottish Wildcat Action Project, then in the evening I took myself off to the badger hide to sit out with the badgers for a while and to check the Acorn camera for pine martens:  I had 3 badgers for company for ten minutes but there were no pine martens on the Acorn, or at least I could not deternine from the grainy night-time pictures if there was an animal there or not.  The Acorn really isn't much use at night except at very short range.  On the plus side it takes fairly good daytime images so I really should only use it for that.  Friday began with an extraordinary piece of luck, not for me but for a bird watcher.  I bumped into the chap in Boat Woods early in the morning while out with the dogs.  He expressed his disappointment that he had not yet seen a capercaillie during his holiday in the area.  I told him that 2 weeks ago I had seen a male caper only 150 metres from where were standing and I pointed in that direction.  Less than an hour late, as I was de-pooping the garden, the same chap walked past, saw me and reported he had seen the male caper exactly where I had told him.  What a flook!  He of course was delighted and I was pleased to have been able to help tip the odds a little in his favour.  On Saturday, against my better judgement, I took a larger than usual group to the hide, including 2 very young children but it was fine, partly because the weather behaved, partly because there were no cattle in the field and partly because they were a delightful family with impeccably behaved children.

October

Sun 1st to Fri 6th October
On Sunday I decided I'd earned a day of rest - watched football and golf on tv, took the dogs out and that night slept for 8 hours straight which is not like me at all.  On Monday I felt great and ready for anything so I finally got round to editing some hedgehog video footage together to show the results of cutting hedgehog doors into our garden fences.  Here it is, with me playing some Chopin for background music:

In the afternoon I cycled through the woods with the dogs in what I thought was a break in the weather.  Wrong!  We got soaked.  In the late afternoon I went to the hide to swap cards in the Bushnell.  While I was there I scattered some peanuts for the badgers and called to them to let them know.  Out of curiosity I stayed for a few minutes to see how they would respond this early and sure enough one badger came out straight away - the time was only 5.10pm !!  The footage on the Bushnell camera was mostly badgers but there were a few pine marten videos, all of them deep into the night and way past the time I would expect to stay with a badger watch group.  Pity.  On Tuesday afternoon Paul Wheelhouse announced in the Scottish Parliament that Fracking would simply not be permitted in Scotland.  This was very well received in most quarters apart from the usual suspects in the Tory Party.  In the evening Bea and I went to the North of Scotland Scottish Wildlife Trust Group meeting where we were treated to a fascinating talk on SWT's Flying Flock of cattle and sheep that are used up and down the country for conservation grazing.  Thursday was a golf day and on Friday I put the finishing touches to my talk for Saturday and caught the buses to Perth where I stayed overnight in the Station Hotel.

Sat 7th and Sun 8th October
Saturday saw the annual conference and AGM of Scottish Badgers.  Excellent turn-out of 70 people and an interesting range of speakers.  I did "People and Wildlife" bringing a political dimension to the occasion, Sir John Lister-Kaye talked about  "Badgers, Beavers and Biodiversity" and there were lots of updates on projects of different kinds.  A good day all round.  Sunday was a morning of golf and in the afternoon I checked the woodland feeders.  Sadly the feeders behind the community hall had been interferred with again so Heather is going to have a chat with the CEO to see what could be done.  I am considering, not for the first time, removing that feeder altogether.

Mon 9th to Fri 13th October
Filled some more feeders including those at the badger hide and swapped SD cards in the Bushnell camera behind the hide while I was there.  At home I checked the Bushnell footage - lots of clips of our very fat badgers plus a few of the pine marten.  Pine martens were there during three of the last six nights.   Two of the videos showed the pine marten and a badger interacting, one of them with pine marten on top of the feeder and the badger stretching up the trunk of the tree to get a better look or scent of the intruder.  Later I caught a series of buses all the way from home to Dalkeith via Edinburgh.  Good old MegaBus.  Total cost for the day: 12.5 pence because I bought tickets for 4 journeys on the same order and the cost of the order was 50 pence.  Amazing, but can it be sustained?   I spent Tues and Weds at the "Spotlight on Scotland's Biodiversity Conference" at the Royal Society of Edinburgh.   An excellent event and a great opportunity to catch up with colleagues among the movers and shakers in Scotland's environmental conservation community and make some new contacts.  Conclusions drawn from the conference were somewhat mixed, as you would expect, although I think it's true to say that Scotland is doing better than many other countries, including those in other parts of the UK.   There was some reassurance from the view that Brexit will bring threats to environmental protection but probably less than was feared at first because some European protection flowed from UN and other international agreements that will remain in place post-Brexit.  On Thursday I checked the trail cameras in the gaden to find that a hedgehog had been visiting but not every night.   In the afternoon I saw a picture on Twitter from the Bird Fair.  Perhaps I'm old fashioned, but I think presenters dressing this poorly does nothing for the reputation of wildlife champions.  It seems to me unlikely that decision makers and the general public will take any of these unprofessional, unkempt, slovenly individuals seriously.   These untidy people contrast sharply with the well dressed presenters and audience members I was proud to be among at this weeks biodiversity conference at the Royal Society of Edinburgh.  Come on guys and gals, sharpen up.

High fashion at the Bird Fair
High Fashion at the Bird Fair

On Thursday evening I took a film maker to the badger hide.  We saw 7 badgers and I think my film maker got some really nice footage.  Apparently he'll come back in the Spring to film badgers in daylight.  On Friday I checked the garden trail cams to find a hedgehog had visited us overnight.

Sat 14th and Sun 15th October
On Saturday I took 4 people to the badger hide and at one point we had 7 badgers in view.  I removed the Bushnell camera to experiment with a different sort of battery arrangement before it returns to the hide.  Back at home I checked the card and it had lots of badger videos but the pine marten had not visited the feeder for the last five days - disappointing.

Mon 16th to Fri 20th October
Monday was very wet and windy with the remnants of a hurricane battering Ireland.  Spent most of the day indoors but took a couple to the badger hide in the evening.  For the third trip running we had seven badgers in view at one point.  Whilst there I set up the Bushnell camera again, this time running on rechargeable batteries which in theory ought not to be as good as Energisers.  Mind you, I have doubts about the last lot of Energisers I bought on eBay.  Started work on an animation featuring cats - we'll see if it amounts to something worth displaying.  On Tuesday the garden cameras revealed no hedgehogs since last Thursday.  I'll maybe start putting some food out again: they quite like crushed dry dog food. On Weds the local Ranger took a group to the hide where they saw 5 badgers.  What they didn't know was that just after they left the hide a fox turned up to nibble the left-over peanuts - I know this because on Thursday I checked the Bushnell camera and there it all was.  Also on Thursday I poured some gravel chips at the gate where we park for the badger hide to try to deal with the muddy grooves created by the farmer's tractor.   Later I took a three-generation family to the hide where we had 5 badgers, a fox and a barn owl.  Brilliant.  What was not so brilliant was two odd people down by the river with torches which the badgers did not like and went down their tunnels.  Fortunately the people did not stay long.  On a negative note, the pine marten has not been seen by our cameras for more than a week.  On Friday I held an informal meeting with two members of the SWA Steering Group.

Sat 21st and Sun 22nd Oct
Did some work on the somewhat dilpidated squirrel feeders in the wood; in all cases the lids, which I had made from plywood, had disintegrated and had to be replaced with material that was more robust but not too heavy for the squirrels to lift.  Time will tell if I got that right.  Actual wildlife seen: a red squirrel with a dark tail and three roe deer.  Watched some football, read a lot, played with animations and helped Heather with her end-of-season duties at the golf club.

Mon 23rd to Fri 27th October
On Monday, with a nod to my comment about the new lids to the squirrel feeders, I made an identical feeder out of a damaged one and installed it in a secluded corner of the woods and trained the Maginon camera on it to see if the squirrels really can operate the slightly heavier lid.  In the evening I did the annual BTO Schedule One License returns via the IPMR Nest Records programme, which is slightly weird (you have to go in as an administrator to get the programme to work on Windows 10), and having done that I completed the application form for next year's license.  I always dread this job but it's usually fairly straightforward.  On Tues I took a delightful gamily to the hide where we saw a barn owl and five badgers.  I swapped the card in the camera and when I got home I checked the card I had removed from the camera and it had recorded 6 different mammals over the previous 5 days: badger, pine marten, fox, roe deer, bat and me.  On Weds I checked the camera at the new squirrel feeder in the woods but the only wildlife recorded was a jay.  In the evening I took two ladies to the hide where we saw 3 badgers and a pine marten. Thursday was a domestic day and on Friday I took SWA colleague Duncan and his wife Suzette to the hide where we saw 6 badgers.

Sat 28th and Sun 29th October
Twice checked the camera at the new squirrel feeder deep in the woods.  It has been found by jays, woodpeckers and coal, great, blue and crested tits but not yet by squirrels.   Our stock of peanuts is dwindling fast under the pressure of keeping up with seven feeding stations around the village - just as well the badger hide is as successful as it is in raising funds for the wildlife group.  Adapted an ornamental bird nest box for practical use in the community garden to replace the old one that recently fell apart.  Saturday night's badger watch was cancelled due to client illness; they've rebooked for next week.   Took the refurbished nest box and installed it at the Community Garden, filled up the bird feeder there and then filled the squirrel feeder at the Milton Loch Hide where the feeding cage had been tampered with and one of the feeders was missing.   Some people just cannot leave things alone.

Mon 30th and Tues 31st October
Spent time on Monday preparing for next day's meetings in Edinburgh, then in the evening I went to the badger hide on my own and sat with the badgers in almost total darkness.  It was a magical experience and also rather scary because I could hear, but not see, badgers crunching peanuts within a few feet of where I was sitting.  On Tuesday I went to Edinburgh on the Megabus (50p return) for two meetings about wildcats.  First meeting was with a Scottish Government official and the second was with one of the RZSS genetics experts.  The wildcat project is both complex and challenging but we are definitely making progress as our understanding of the situation improves and we can better target what we are doing.

November

Weds 1st to Fri 3rd November
Wednesday began with a check of the Maginon camera at the new remote feeder.  I was pleased to see that not only are we getting all the same birds again but that at least two different red squirrels and a pine marten have found the feeder, although none had as yet attempted to lift the lid.  The rest of the morning was spent writing up yesterday's meetings.  In the evening we attended the SWT North of Scotland Group meeting in Inverness where Clifton Bain gave us a fascinating talk on Peatlands.  We took Clifton home with us afterwards and put him on the early train at Aviemore next morning.  On Thursday evening I took a couple to the badger hide where we saw 5 badgers at one point.  Something new: one of the badgers dragged a pile of dead leaves into its tunnel, I guess for bedding.  I haven't seen or heard of that behaviour before.  Friday saw lots of paperwork including writing my notes for next week's wildcat Forum.  Saw a capercaillie male in the usual place about 200m NW from the Boat Woods main crossroads.

Sat 4th and Sun 5th November
Spent part of Saturday morning at Milton Loch helping tidy the place up with others.  I refixed the bird feeders and swept the hide.  In the evening I went to the hide with a family of three.  We had five badgers at one point but we didn't stay long.  It was bonfire night in the village and the noise was deafening opposite our house where they always light the fire and set off the fireworks.  It's one of the very few fireworks displays in the area these days so there were cars parked everywhere as people drove in from up and down the valley.  Our dogs went nuts with all the bangs so image what is was like for the wildlife.  Fortunately it only lasted for an hour.  On Sunday I took the bus to Edinburgh for Monday's EEB Conference.

Mon 6th to Fri 10th November
Got to Dynamic Earth early ehough to do some networking and to snatch a few minutes with the Cabinet Secretary to talk wildcats before she delivered her speech and flew to London for a meeting with Michael Gove.  The morning session was most interesting, Brexit and its implications for wildlife and the environment being the central theme.  After lunch and more networking I skipped the afternoon session and caught an early bus home - really tired.  Am I getting old?   Tuesday; still tired but managed to check the remote feeder cam - pairs of jays, woodpeckers, red squirrels and cresties were frequent visitors but not even the jays have learned to lift the lid so I might have to prop it open slightly, as I've done in previous years, to give them a hint.  On Wednesday I put the finishing touches to my preparation for tomorrow's wildcat forum at Culloden, then visited the remote feeder with tools to fix two small screws under the lid to prop it up enough to provide a pretty heavy hint as to the best way in to the peanuts.  We'll see.  Thursday was the wildcat Forum at Culloden.  Good turn-out considering the short notice and an enjoyable and engaged day was had by all.  It was good to have some of our top experts on hand to explain how things are developing and how that might drive future actions.  We are already halfway through the project so minds are turning to what the legacy might be.   On Friday I wrote up the week's events in more detail than is appropriate here, then checked the remote camera to find most of the food gone.  That might have meant the squirrels had learned to lift the lid at last but the video footage showed that was not the case.

Sat 11th and Sun 12th November
This was supposed to be a weekend relaxing but I did manage to fill up the empty remote feeder and I went to the hide to change the SD card and batteries in the Bushnell camera and sit for twenty minutes with my badgers.  The SD card had lots of videos on it but mostly of the sky because the rooks had perched on it and changed the angle of the bracket.  However, one of the rook videos was a reminder of Hitchcock's The Birds movie so I made a GIF of it for Twitter.  It's quite scary.  Anyhow, to avoid the bracket shifting again I built a new one with a rock solid lockable joint system.  However, I didn't have the moral fibre to go up to the hide and fit it in the prevailing bitter weather.

Pine marten and badger

Mon 13th to Fri 17th November
Awoke on Monday to a decent snow fall so that made for a really nice dog walk in the woods.  During the day I picked up the threads of some wildcat work, mostly to do with the Scottish Government's reaction to our suggestions as how  to improve the standard of domestic cat ownership in Scotland.  I'm hoping for a meeting with the relevant department quite soon.  In the evening I took a couple to the badger hide, only to find we had a number of mutual friends in the fields of mountaineering and adventure travel.  A super evening; and by the way we saw at least six badgers.  Tuesday I checked the remote feeder; the birds and squirrels had eaten all the food by still had not learned to lift the lid.  Interesting that we are seeing red squirrels and crested tits in good numbers compared with my memory of the summer.  That probably says more about my memory than anything else.  I went to the badger hide and fitted the Bushnell camera to the new strong rook-proof bracket, watched closely over the fence by a herd of cattle.  At home I checked the footage from the Bushnell SD card to find lots of badger and pine marten action including a badger trying to climb the tree where the pine marten was using the feeder.  Made a nice GIF for Twitter.  Later Bea and I began the pre-winter clean up of our little pond, then I refilled most of the feeders around the wood.  On Weds I finished filling woodland feeders then went to meet a Scottish Natural Heritage staff member at Great Glen House, Inverness, to discuss the badger pages on SNH website.  Excellent meeting, great cooperation and a good outcome with benefits for badgers and for the public.  Back at home we finished tidying out the pond and cleared up the last of the leaves on what we laughingly call our lawn.  Thursday was a domestic day but Friday was a long day of badger meetings in Perth.   I hinted to the Scottish Badgers trustees that I am looking to cut down on some of my wildlife activities over the year ahead.  After the meeting I told the chairman I will stand down from the board at the next AGM and that I will also stand down as a Scottish Badgers representative on the Link Wildlife Crime Subgroup with immediate effect in order to forestall a possible conflict of interest that could be looming on the horizon.

Sat 18th and Sun 19th November
Filled up the loop feeder and checked the card in the camera - the birds and squirrels have still not learned to lift the lid.  In the evening I took a family of five to the hide.  On arrival I discovered the door was wide open so will email my fellow guides with a photo of how to ensure the door is locked when you leave the hide in the dark.  Fortunately I don't think any harm was done and we certainly had a nice evening with visits from one pine marten and four badgers.  On Sunday I went back to the hide, checked the Bushnell camera (no pine martens at the feeder for 5 days) and fitted a new plastic stop to the door frame to help guides to bolt the door properly in the dark.  I took some photos of the new arrangement, then went home and emailed the photos to all the badger guides with a note asking them to be extra careful now that winter is here; we don't want the door blowing open when it next snows.

Mon 20th to Sun 26th November
This was mostly a week of personal MOTs and servicings, ie doctors, dentists, audiologists and others (don't ask).   Nevertheless all the feeders and cameras were checked and quite a lot of phone calls and correspondence dealt with to smooth the way for next steps in our various activities, including the Scottish Wildcat Action and its range of projects-within-the-project and certain aspects of my trusteeship of Scottish Badgers.  The cold weather caused problems with the Bushnell camera and the Maginon so I brought them home.  Visits to the badger hide this week were mostly run by volunteers; we have a small body of willing souls who help out when I'm otherwise occupied.  However, Tuesday's visit was cancelled due to rain, Wednesday's group saw 5 badgers and my group on Sunday saw 3 badgers.  That concludes the official badger watching season and I'll be working out the statistics next week.  Next job is to paint the badger hide but we'll need to wait for better weather.

Mon 27th to Thurs 30th November
Another week of meetings and personal MOT tests.   The meetings included a visit to the Scottish Govt Animal Welfare department at Saughton to talk about wildcats and a visit to Scotlink's new office in Hunters Square, Edinburgh, for a meeting of the ScotLink Wildlife Sub Group.  It isn't appropriate to go into details here. 

December

Fri 1st to Sun 3rd December
There was an interesting piece on BBC Landward on TV about a petition to make neutering of all domestic cats compulsory in Scotland to both improve domestic cat welfare and to help prevent further hybridisation of our native wildcats.  Such a new law would undoubtedly achieve those aims but it remains to be seen if the Scottish Government would be bold enough to actually go ahead.   The petition is to be heard on 7th December so we'll see.   The SNP Council decided this weekend to support the licensing of shooting estates, which brings such a thing that little bit closer.  Well behaved shooting estates should welcome the scheme; it could make them more successful once some of the bad guys have been weeded out.  There was a bit of a development at the remote feeder; the 15 hazelnuts have been reduced to 5 so something has at last learned how to lift the lid.   Alas there was no camera to record the event but I've put that right now and topped the nuts back up to 15 again.  Stay tuned.   The Sunday Times carried an interesting article this week on wildcats but for legal reasons I'll not comment further.

Mon 4th to Fri 8th December
Spent Monday morning in the shed building a new all-mesh pine marten feeder for the badger hide.  The one I made last year did not allow good enough air circulation and some of the food went mouldy.  Later I installed the new feeder on a tree near the hide.  Put the finishing touches to my preparations for the next few days of meetings and events in Edinburgh, Perth and Inverness.  On Tuesday I checked the remote feeder to find that the hazelnuts had again been reduced in number but unfortunately the Maginon had failed to capture the moment, as I discovered when I got home and checked the SD card.  It looks as if that camera will have to be scrapped.  Later I took a series of buses to Edinburgh for the RSPB Christmas Reception at Dynamic Earth; a terrific event.  Spent the whole two hours blethering with friends, government officials, MSPs and colleagues past and present - far to many to name them all here - and I left feeling much encouraged.  After playing the piano for a few minutes at Waverley Station I got the train to Perth where I spent the night at the Royal George Hotel where the wildcat meetings would be held next day.  Wednesday was entirely taken up with the wildcat meetings and for the second day in a row I left at the end of the day feeling much heartened.  The picture is gradually clarifying and a range of options for the future of wildcats in Scotland is emerging.  Thursday began with a forecast of gales and snow which was a bit worrying due to our plans to go to Inverness in the evening for the annual Scottish Wildlife Trust North Group's Christmas event.  Out with the dogs early anyway to find that there were only 2 hazelnuts left in the remote feeder.  I took the card out of the damaged Maginon camera in the hope it had captured something of interest - I hadn't yet actually dumped it - but there were only 2 pictures on the card, one of a jay and one of a red squirrel, neither actually lifting the lid of the feeder.  Back to the drawing board.  Friday was mostly a case of staying warm as the temperature continued to fall, as did the snow.

Sat 9th and Sun 10th December
More snow overnight so we hunkered down most of the day.  I did manage to visit the the Maginon camera at the remote feeder and replace it with the much more reliable Bushnell Aggressor so hopefully tomorrow we'll have a better idea of who or what is removing the hazelnuts.  At home I made one last attempt to get the Maginon camera working properly but eventually gave up and scrapped it.

Dogs in the snowy woods
The dogs love the snow

Mon 11th to Sun 17th December
"In the Bothy," so to speak, for a couple of days while Heather visits family in Edinburgh to help out at the family business, so the dogs and I wandered the woods in the lovely snow to our hearts' content.  Not much conservation to do other than to keep the bird feeders topped up and check the cameras.  No great activity to report; everything's hunkered down and keeping warm, although it was nice to hear crested tits calling and interesting to find some badger tracks in the snow.  Our "Trusted House Sitter" arrived as arranged on Thursday which meant Heather and I could head off for our weekend break without having to feel guilty about putting the dogs in kennels; instead they'd be well looked after in their own home and walked in their local woods.