Allan Bantick OBE welcomes you to the Cairngorm Wildlife Diary for 2019

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

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

The diary will be updated less often than in previous years - perhaps monthly.   For more immediate brief updates follow me on Twitter @AllanBoat  or Facebook


1st to 9th Jan
Mostly spent preparing for our trip to Cambodia and Laos 10 to 26 Jan.  Managed to keep up with the bird feeders and make arrangements for while we are away.  Various behind the scenes issues with cats and badgers but that's just routine.

10th to 26th Jan
Long, amazing trip to Indo China taking in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and back to Vietnam.  Car to Edinburgh, flew to Heathrow, flew to Hanoi, flew to Phnom Penh (Cambodia), by road to Battambang, by road to Siem Reap, flew to Pakse (Laos) flew to Luang Prabang, flew to Hanoi, flew to Heathrow, flew to Edinburgh and finally home by car.  The journey home took about 30 hours, after which I felt a bit like this:

 Cambodia Lion

Not to worry - nothing that a week's sleep can't fix.  I took lots of pictures and video clips so over the next two weeks I put together a short movie - and here it is:

Mon 28th to Thurs 31st Jan
Over the next few days I dealt with empty bird feeders, a backlog of emails (mostly badgers and wildcats) and checked the trail cameras.  The capercaillie and the golf club pine marten nestbox cams drew a blank but the feeder cam near the golf club pine marten nestbox was visited by a pine marten so there's hope it'll find the box eventually.  I also visited the badger hide where all was well except that the pine marten feeder was empty so I dealt with that and left some peanuts for the badgers too.   Still knackered though, and even after several days of rest and early nights I was still falling asleep almost every time I sat down.   Getting old!   BBC Winter Watch was live on tv from Tues to Fri inclusive; good stuff as usual and it was nice to have Scottish Wildcat Action given positive coverage.


Fri 1st to Sun 10th
On Friday I went by train to Hessilhead for a meeting of the Advisors, Trustees and Staff of Scottish Badgers.   An excellent day with lots of great plans for the coming year and beyond.   I then spent most of the weekend working on the film already mentioned above; I really enjoyed the process and could cheerfully get into film-making.  Having put the film on Facebook and YouTube I then linked to it from Twitter and by email to friends and family.  There has been some encouraging feedback so far.  I checked the cameras at the golf club but there was not much activity to report.  This was probably at least partly due to having set the cameras to low sensitivity, which is recommended for cold weather, but that advice may not be all that clever for our situation.  Anyhow, they are now set to high sensitivity and if that fills the cards and empties the batteries it's better than missing some good action.  Lots of action at our woodland feeders through the week requiring the topping up of all the feeders.  On Tuesday I spent most of the day getting to grips with BTO's new Online Demography system, dubbed DemOn for short.   By tea time the nestboxes in Deshar Wood, Milton Loch and our garden had all been entered into the system, leaving just those at the badger hide and the golf club to be done.  Bad weather over the next few days thwarted any attempt to finish the job so it'll probably have to be the weekend.   Nevertheless there were a couple of notable sightings on Weds and Thurs: a pair of house sparrows were checking out the starling box as a possible nest site and in the woods there were a lot of capercaillie droppings on what we call the caper track.  On Friday we were visited by Rowan Aitchieson who is following in his parents' footsteps (John and Mary-Lou) as a film cameraman.  Rowan's underwater kelp footage was recently featured in BBC WinterWatch and he is also working for the OneShow in various ways.   After a chat, I took Rowan into our woods and left him there cheerfully filming crested tits in the rain.  On Saturday the plan was to finalise the nest box set up at the golf club but it did not go well because I did not take all the required tools.  We managed to improvise to some extent but further work would be required.  We did manage to check the cameras and top up the feeder - no pine martens on the cameras this time but plenty of red squirrels and, to our great surprise and pleasure, a tawny owl!   On Sunday I met Andy Paton, great wildlife champion, at the Grant Arms Hotel for a blether and to solve all the world's wildlife problems.  From there I went back and finished the nestbox job properly at the golf club and repaired the access gate.   On the way home I went to the badger hide and got fresh map references and other information for all the nest boxes.  In the evening I settled down and finished entering all the details for all the 2019 nest boxes into BTO's DemOn system; a total of 40 boxes.   I'm now quite looking forward to applying any new nests to the new system.

Mon 11th to Sun 17th Feb
On Monday I travelled to Edinburgh for a hand-over meeting with Dr Andrew Kitchener of the National Museums of Scotland who will be taking over the Chair of Scottish Wildcat Action Steering Group from me next week.   Andrew will make a fantastic Chair and I wish him and the rest of the team all the best for the future; I will maintain a keen interest in how the project progresses.  On Tuesday it cut up the remaining pieces of a Pere David's antler that I acquired some years aga for our squirrels (the calcium is good for them) and then sent out feelers for getting some more, hopefully from the Highland Wildlife Park.  I've tried using roe deer antlers but the squirrels have shown no interest in it; it may be too hard for them.   Anyway, in the afternoon we had guests so we all went out into the woods for a walk while out there I screwed a piece of the Pere Davids antler to the tree alongside a new piece of roe antler that I had split to reveal the inner material - we'll see how that works.   On Wednesday I found pine marten droppings in Boat woods on the discrete path half way between the bottom of the sock route and Bobby's shortcut.   On Thursday Bea and I went to the SWT Members evening in Inverness where SWT Council Member Tim Duffy told us about his marathon cycle ride around all of SWT's 120 Wildlife Reserves.   Friday was an admin day with a meeting at SNH HQ in the morning followed by a succession of emails and phone calls, both sent and received, in preparation for next week's SWA Steering Group meeting; my final meeting as Chair.  The weekend was mostly spent on golf and domestic matters but it was very noticeable how much drumming the woodpeckers were doing on Saturday morning.  It had actually started about a week ago and but I had forgotten to mention it here.

Mon 18th to Sun 24th Feb
I spent much of Monday on the phone; altogether probably more than an hour, speaking to people about wildcats ahead of my final Steering Group meeting on Wednesday.  There's so much to do as we move ahead with the plan.  On Tuesday the woodpeckers were in full force in the woods, hammering out their messages.