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.
Sun 1st to Tues 3rd Jan Checked
the camera at Auchgourish and was rewarded with some videos of a
fox stealing the chicken wing.
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
set up camera SWA 004 at the woodland edge, baited with chicken wings.
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
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 giving evidence for Scottish Badgers at the
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
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
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 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
Mon 30th and Tues 31st Jan Spent two days trying to fight off
Bea's cold and failing.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
Some of the police officers undergoing practical badger
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
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.
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
"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."
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.
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 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
The Tail Of A Humpback Whale
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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 2017.
Near 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 taking the egg from its feeder at the badger
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.
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.
Sitting out with the badger cubs - a wonderful
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.