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.
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:
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 age 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. On Wednesday I attended my final meeting as Chair of Scottish Wildcat Action. It has been a huge privilege to Chair this effort to save the Scottish Wildcat from extinction and a pleasure to work with the Steering Group both collectively and as individuals. I wish my successor, Dr Andrew Kitchener, and the project all the very best for the future and will follow progress with great interest. On Friday I went to the hide and sat outside for a while but no badgers - it was only 4.30pm so probably too early. Later that evening I learned that a female beaver from SWT's Loch of the Lowes had been shot and had died from infection. I was as upset as everybody else and had a rant on Twitter about lack of legal protection, which turned out to be a bit premature as next morning Roseanna Cunningham announced that beavers would received full legal protection with effect from 1st May. As you can imagine this went down very well with all conservationists, although some quite rightly said that announcing this two months ahead of time gave those rotten eggs in the Tayside farming community time to kill as many beavers as they could before the ban kicked in. Early on Saturday the dogs treed a cat that at first glance looked very like a wildcat with a fat, banded tail, until you spotted its collar and bell - clearly a moggie with some wild genes left over from ancestral wildcat encounters in the past. Here it is:
After that I played golf at Nethy and at the sixth hole I diverted to check the camera pointing at the new pine marten nestbox - no pine marten yet. On Sunday I checked the Acorn camera for the first time this month at the site where we are hoping to snap a capercaillie; no luck yet.
Mon 25th to Thurs 28th Feb
On Monday I set up the Aggressor camera on the pine marten feeder at the badger hide, then stayed from 1715 to 1800 to see if any badgers were about; no luck. On Tuesday I started a production line for seven nest boxes for Abernethy Golf Club. On Wednesday I finished the nest box job and while I was doing that Roseanna Cunningham was at the Highland Wildlife Park, accompanied by my successor Andrew Kitchener and the team, launching the IUCN report on the state of the wildcat in Scotland. At the time of writing this diary there has only been minimal coverage in the Press and I'm not sure if that's a good thing or bad. Later I popped back to the hide to check the camera; no pine martens but to my annoyance I had mixed up the SD cards which would take a few cycles to sort out. Over the next few days. I stayed at the hide again and this time got lucky; a rather muddy badger came out at 1745. On Thursday myself, Eddie Palmer and Ellie Stirling met the new CE of Scottish Environment Link at the Link office in Perth to brief her on the work of Scottish Badgers and its relationship with Link. A most useful session for both sides.
Fri 1st to Sun 3rd March.
On Friday I switched cards in the Acorn camera (no wildlife recorded) as a first step in sorting out the SD card tangle, then attended an all day meeting at the Boat of Garten Community Hall to launch the Cairngorms National Park Forest Strategy and the Cairngorms Nature Action Plan. Excellent day all round with lots of interesting speakers and a useful workshop session. During the day it was good to renew relations with old friends and ex-colleagues and also to pick up some new contacts, some of whom will help our plans for BogWiG over the coming months. Of particular benefit will be a fresh relationship with RSPB at Abernethy and a renewed commitment from the BSW saw mill. On Saturday I swapped cards at the badger hide camera; the next step in sorting out the SD card hiatus. It was good to note that it had recorded a visit by a pine marten at 2324 on Thursday. In theory the badger watching season has now begun, although we're very light on bookings at the moment. Sunday was supposed to be the day we fixed up the final seven nestboxes at Abernethy Golf Club but bad weather put a stop to that.
Mon 4th to Sun 10th March
On Monday, in better weather, we were able to do the nest box job at the golf club and then upload the details to the BTO DemOn site. On Tuesday I inspected the Pere David antler at the Angle feeder to find it had clearly been chewed by the red squirrels, with curly bits of material sticking out where the squirrels' teeth had scraped it. Later I checked the feeder and camera at the golf club - still no sign of the pine marten having found the nest box. Wednesday was a foul day but I took the dogs into the woods anyway, to be confronted by a herd of cattle near where the capercaillie lek each spring. This is at least the third time in three weeks this has happened (13 Feb, 17 Feb and today). I phoned the farm to alert them on the first two occasions, to be told they would deal with it, and sure enough the fence was repaired after a fashion, but today's calls were unanswered and judging from the hammering sounds coming from the woods I expect they were all in there mending the fence again. Given reports every year of dog walkers being killed by cattle and the level of dog walking that goes on in that wood, there is a dangerous situation developing here. I gave some thought to whether or not I should alert the Estate and others. Eventually I got through to the farm to be told they were not out repairing fences and did not know the cattle were in the woods. They phoned back later to say the herd were all back at the farm and I then got a bit of attitude from them so I left it at that and emailed the estate with all the details; dates, times etc. The estate got back thanking me and said they'd take it up with the tenant. At the same time I alerted the estate to motorcycles being driven in the woods again and I offered to set up a camera which they were pleased to accept, along with an appropriate public notice. Thursday was a golf day but on Friday we were visited by John and Shirley Martin; keen environmentalists and manufacturers of pine marten den boxes including the one at the golf course. We took them to the golf club and showed them where our box was and they strongly approved and offered advice on what foods we might use to tempt the martens with, raisins and eggs being strong candidates. We showed them around and discussed some of our ideas for greening up the course and they were kind enough to contribute ideas of their own. To top it all we even discovered lots of frog spawn in the pond at the 2nd hole. John also told me about his latest trail camera, a Browning Defender 850 that you can monitor with your smartphone - I bought the latest version online that evening! On Saturday I retrieved the Bushnell camera from the badger hide because that's the one we would use to monitor the woods for motorcycles. The card showed lots of badger activity but only one visit by a pine marten. There were also lots of false triggers due to the camera shaking in the wind; the bracket I was using on which to mount the camera is clearly not good enough. On the way home from the hide there was a dead male badger on the B970 road near Mullingarroch Farm at NH95021864; I reported it to Scottish Badgers online. Later we set up the Aggressor trail cam at the Angle junction to pick up any motor cycle activity and also put up a sign to say what we were doing, as requested by the estate.
Mon 11th to Sun 17th March
On Monday I travelled to Edinburgh for the farewell party for Johnny Hughes, SWT's CEO, who has been lured away to work for UNEP (I think). Lots of the great and good were at the party so it was a splendid chance to network, as these events always are. I stayed overnight at a cheap hotel and travelled home by bus next day. On arriving home I learned that at the ECCLR meeting in Scottish Parliament that morning the Scottish Tories had announced that they would attempt to block the proposed legal protection for beavers which is due to come into effect on 1st May. Lots of exchanges on social media that evening with a strong sense of outrage at this new attack on wildlife and environment from the usual quarter. Hopefully the SNP, Lib Dems and Greens (you never know with Labour) will be strong enough to see this threat off. Wednesday began with peanut feeder duties in our woods and continued at the golf club where I added sultanas and an egg to the pine marten feeder as recommended by expert John Martin last week. In the office I completed an article for Scottish Badgers Newsletter entitled "The Political Badger" outlining our advocacy and engagement work with decision makers, including through our membership of Scottish Environment Link. Checked two cameras, one at the golf club and one in the woods, neither of which had recorded anything of interest. Spent two hours on Friday updating the script for my talk "Birds and Mammals of the Cairngorms". Next step is to refresh some of the pictures and insert some videos. Later my new trail camera arrived, the Browning Defender 940 which you can monitor and adjust using a tablet or smartphone. Sadly I failed to get it to communicate with my smartphone, but next morning Heather suggested I try using her iPad and it worked flawlessly; it turns out that the OS of my smartphone is too old. On Sunday I retrieved the Acorn camera from its location in the woods where, after months of patience, it has spectacularly failed to capture capercaillie. Roe deer, lost dogs, lost blokes yes - capers no, so I'll find a better use for it.
Mon 18th to Sun 25th March
On Monday I met with Pete Cairns to talk wildlife, rewilding and all things natural. Later, I phoned various activists to do with lynx, wildcats and badgers; there is such a lot to think about, especially in figuring out which actual courses of practical action to take rather than continuing with endless surveys and analyticals and meetings and politics on and on and on for moths. On a practical note, I swapped over two of the trail cameras to better place them according to their abilities or lack of them. Lots of videos on the motor-cycle monitor cam including walkers (most of them with dogs) a few cyclists and runners, a couple of roe deer and a fox. No motorcycles were recorded but at 1038 on Sunday there were no tracks in the snow but the next video at 1103 showed two sets of tracks of what looked like motor cycle tyres so it looks as if they were going too fast to trigger the camera, which is one of the reasons I winter to try a different camera. Tuesday started with an attempt to set up the new Browning Trail Cam at the golf club. The effort did not start well but I eventually got the thing working properly despite its rather poor and inconvenient locking method; I reckon I can mod it in my shed to good effect. While I was there I checked the other camera (nothing worth noting) and refilled the feeder, which was totally empty: no peanuts, no sultanas and no egg to be found so the pine marten has definitely been to call. Hopefully the new camera will pick up on its next visit. On Tuesday afternoon I took part in a telecon (it was supposed to be a video call but some of the participants had techy problems) to do with organising Link's summer parliament reception. The topic this year is Citizen Science. Later I checked the motor-cycle cam (no luck) and then took some peanuts round to the couple who look after Milton Loch. We decided that the work on our new osprey nest at the loch will now have to wait until after the herons have finished their breeding season which is already under way. In the meantime we can get our osprey nest plans properly finalised and costed. Wednesday was mostly about setting up and baiting the trail cams in the woods, at the golf club and at the badger hide. In the evening I went briefly to the badger hide where one badger emerged just after 6pm. Some good news; the Scottish Tory attempt to scupper protection for beavers was itself scuppered in the Scottish Parliament yesterday so the protection kicks in as planned on the 1st May. On Friday Bea and I and the dogs did the first check of the crested tit nestboxes. As expected, there was not much activity yet except that box 18 had been used as a roost.. Also, the recent herd of cattle marauding through the woods had swiped one of the boxes off its tree and tllted two others. Easily fixed. On the way home we checked the motor cycle cam; none recorded yet. On Twitter, Ben Goldsmith posted a link to a very good article about beavers that he had written for The Spectator. He asked that we all share the link as widely as possible. On Sunday I checked the badger hide camera; the pine marten had been several times in the past few days and took the egg away at its second visit. There were motor cycles on the moor again, sadly. Hopefully the estate will get a grip of this quite soon.
Mon 25th to Sun 31st March
Checked the Acorn camera at the junction in the woods for motor cycle activity over the weekend; nothing to report. Had a meeting at Milton Loch with the tree surgeon Alban about building an osprey nest platform on a tree in the inner loch. Looks like we have a plan. Tuesday I checked the golf club cameras; just red squirrels on the cards. I removed the new camera and in the afternoon rejigged its fixing arrangement for a more stable set-up. In the evening i took two ladies to the badger hide. The camera revealed the pine marten had been there on Saturday and Sunday but not Monday. Surprisingly it had not take the egg so I left it in the feeder and added more raisins and some custard creams, as recommended by pine marten guru John Martin. We had a badger out in the open within ten minutes and not much later there were six, then seven in view. This was the first official badger watch of the season and I would have expected the badgers to have been very nervous but that simply was not the case - it's as if the badgers have just picked up where they left off 4 months ago. They did not even mind when we opened a window and left it open for the whole two hours while we conversed in barely half subdued voices, not even in whispers. Extraordinary. Wednesday was a long day trip to Edinburgh including a meeting of the Wildlife Sub Group of Scottish Environment Link on which I represent Scottish Badgers.. All interesting stuff, quite technical in parts but worth the journey. Thursday involved a bit of golf but was mostly to do with trail cameras, especially the new Browning at the Golf Club. Still cannot get it to talk to my Huawei phone but otherwise it's working OK despite being somewhat awkward to manage with a very poor fixing bracket, a clumsy locking arrangement and no threaded tripod mounting socket. Never mind - an hour in my workshop modifying its case sorted most of that out. Friday was a long and interesting day. It began with my being presented by Scottish Wildcat Action with the image of a wildcat climbing a tree carved into a slab of stone. What a kind and extraordinary gesture. We'll find an appropriate and prominent place to display it in our garden. Next was lunch with Charlie Moores who works for Lush and writes blogs and records podcast featuring personalities involved in wildlife conservation; today was my turn in the hot seat. After lunch we headed to the badger hide for some peace to do the actually recording. That took much of the afternoon so Charlie and I then had to dash back to the village for a quick bite before meeting again to take a group to the hide to watch badgers. It was a super evening with as many as 9 badgers in view at one point. We did not see any pine martens but the trail camera at the hide showed they had visited every night this week, but always much later than we would be prepared to stay in the hide. Charlie was good enough to blog about the experience before he went to bed.
Mon 1st to Sun 7th April
On Monday Bea and I put together the pallet frame for the first of the planned Bug Hotels at Abernethy Golf Club. It'll take a few weeks to finish the job properly. I spoke at length with Scottish Wildlife Trust and Scotland Big Picture about ambitious plans for the future. As of 1st May our beavers will have proper legal protection so it will be time to move on with other ideas. On Tuesday at the golf club our bug hotel plans took another step forward. Also at the golf club, footage on the pine marten feeder camera revealed we are being visited by at least two different pine martens, one fully fit but too stupid to work out how to open the feeder and the other one smart enough to do so but equipped with only one eye! In the evening I took 3 people to the badger hide in awful weather. Undeterred, six badgers came out to amuse us. There was no pine marten but the camera had recorded them at the feeder every night in the past week, usually quite late in the evening. On Wednesday Dr Emma Sheehy gave a presentation to the North Scotland Group of the Scottish Wildlife Trust in Inverness. It attracted the biggest audience any of us could remember and excited much debate. Linda Rosborough, Chair of SWT Council, then addressed the meeting with an update on activities of the Trust at national level before the final item of the evening, the AGM. Thursday was a foul day and I think I slept most of it, then on Friday first thing I met James Shooter at the golf club where he used his drone to take aerial photos of the course ahead of an article soon to appear in the Scotland Big Picture eMagazine. Later I prepared some wooden planks which will be ripped lengthwise to plug the gaps in the roof of our bug hotel at the golf club. Saturday was a golfing day. On Sunday the dogs and I found fox dung near Loch Vaa and pine marten poo on the secret path in Boat Woods. In the late morning I finished the wood work on the roof of the new bug hotel at the golf club and in the evening I took a family of 4 to the hide where we had 7 badgers. The camera failed to reveal when the pine marten took the egg out of the feeder two days ago (the egg was there at 7pm but gone in the next video at 6am next morning) so I guess the batteries may need to be changed; failing to take night-time shots is sometimes a clue to weak batteries.
Mon 8th to Sun 14th April
On Monday and Tuesday the work on the golf club bug hotel continued, then on Tuesday evening I took four youngish people to the hide where we saw at least 5 badgers. The trail cameras that are monitoring pine marten feeders are revealing that they do not always take the egg when one is supplied in the feeder, they just eat peanuts and possibly raisins. An exchange of emails with Browning of America has concluded I think that my Huawei smartphone is simply not suitable to work with the Browning camera; it was the same story with the Phantom drone so that's probably that. Not to worry, my wife's iPad works with the Browning no problem. Wednesday started with a decision to alter the dogs' walking routine to summer mode wherein we avoid the core capercaillie area most of the time but if we do go in there the dogs are on their leads. As if to join in the same spirit of springtime, two blue tits began nest building in our starling nest box; they're in for a nasty shock if starlings turn up. In the evening Bea and the dogs collected all sorts of loose detritus (pine cones, twigs, dry grass) from the forest to go in one of the layers of the bug hotel when I've fitted the mesh flooring for that section. Later I exchanged emails with the local saw mill BSW who have promised to let us have as much wood as we need free of charge for local wildlife projects. They will be a great help to us when we build the new osprey platform and some new goldeneye duck nest boxes at Milton Loch. Thursday was a busy day. We began with a crested tit nest box check. Sadly, but not unexpectedly, there are no nests to report. On the way round we found one box had been tampered with (not for the first time) and another which may have had a burrowing attempt. We'll see next time. We also managed to refix the box that had been knocked off its tree by a herd of escaped cattle. Bea took notes of all this and at the same time collected detritus from around the woods for our bug hotel at the golf club. On the way home we checked the Acorn camera that's monitoring illicit vehicle access in the woods; nothing untoward this time. After lunch Bea went to the golf club and finished off one layer of the bug hotel while I checked the nest boxes and cameras at the badger hide. No goldeneye nesting attempts yet but we did have a pine marten on camera on two of the last three nights but always very late in the evening. Some good news: BSW sawmill delivered a heap of wood with which we will make goldeneye nest boxes for Milton Loch. BSW have been very supportive of our wildlife work and we are all very grateful to them. On Saturday I attended The Aubrey Manning OBE Memorial Service in the McEwan Hall at the University of Edinburgh along with what looked like at least 200 other people. It was a fabulous celebration of the life of a truly great man, with speeches, music, poetry, readings and film clips presented by a string of eminent people in whose lives Aubrey had figured strongly. I had met and talked with Aubrey on several occasions to do with my work with The Wildlife Trusts and it is a privilege to have known him. On Sunday I took four people to the badger hide where we had 7 badgers at one point. No pine martens though and no clips of pine martens on the camera over the past two nights - a bit of a concern.
Mon 15th to Sun 21st April
On Monday afternoon I met with Gordon Eaglesham to be interviewed for an article he was writing for Scotland Big Picture e-magazine. It was an exhilarating session during which we discussed all manner of issues relating to rewilding and how that concept might work alongside or even supplant more traditional approaches to wildlife conservation. In the evening I took two couples to the badger hide. One of the couples was from Australia and they had been disappointed in their quest to see a red squirrel. They had been very unlucky because red squirrels are plentiful in the area so the rest of us did our best to advise how they might increase their chances by going to the right places at the right time. The other couple, Cath and Tony, are loyal readers of this diary; they are also most generous and not only donated more money than was usual for their visit but also gave me a bag of various sorts of food for the local birds and mammals; peanuts, mealworms etc. Such kindness. As for the badgers, the most we saw at one time was 7, which is about the usual number recently. The camera revealed that the pine marten had visited the previous evening at about 1045 and shortly before we left the hide the Australian lady thought she glimpsed something moving up the slope opposite the hide which could have been a pine marten and she said it was definitely not a badger. Unfortunately I was holding forth about something at the time so the rest of us missed it. Early next morning I bumped into Cath and Tony in our woods and they were looking rather pleased with themselves; they had just seen two capercaillies, one in flight and one perched in a tree. I think this was their first sightings of a caper and I was delighted for them; their love of wildlife and determination certain entitles them to a bit of good luck. Better still, they got in touch later that day to say they had seen another capercaillie in woods at Grantown. At the golf club I rejigged the camera setup and did a bit more work on the bug hotel, then in the evening I attended David Hetherington's talk at the Grant Arms hotel about lynx. The question session that followed the talk centred much on the negative attitude of farmers and farming organisations towards wildlife. On Thursday I removed the Acorn camera from its motor cycle monitoring position in agreement with the estate that it had served its purpose. I can now use it to monitor the pine marten den box at the badger hide. In the evening I took a family of four to the hide where we saw 6 badgers, some mice and heard a tawny owl. No pine marten again but the camera revealed it had visited the feeder briefly on two of the past three nights, on both occasions in the wee small hours so there's still not much prospect of seeing one during a badger watch. On Friday I took the bus to Perth for the quarterly Scottish Badgers Advisory Group and Trustees meetings. All is well with the organisation and I am pleased to be able to make a modest contribution. I dashed home in time to get to Pete Cairns talk at the Grant Arms on Scotland Big Picture. It was a sizeable audience and the talk was followed by a decent Q and A session. While I was away Bea spent time on bagging up discarded cores from the golf club greens which we are going to use to make a grass roof for the bug hotel. On Saturday I built a new device for holding a trail camera and used it to install the Acorn camera pointing up the trunk of the tree that holds the pine marten den box at the badger hide. Hopefully the evening showers didn't fill up the lens cavity.
As an aside, after struggling to find any books to my liking
lately I have embarked on re-reading (again) the ten volumes
that comprise the Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant The Unbeliever.
"....and with one word of truth or treachery he will save or damn the Earth."
It's not for the faint-hearted nor for lovers of a quick read but if you like complex, thought provoking fantasy then this might be worth trying. It comes as The First Chronicles (3 volumes), The Second Chronicles (3 volumes) and the Last Chronicles (4 volumes) and was written by Stephen Donaldson over a period of 36 years and is set in a period spanning thousands of years. Yes, it's BIG.
Sunday started with a dog walk during which I met and spoke to some interesting people including Nancy from the National Park with whom I spoke about various wildlife topics - a super start to the day. Next, Bea and I collected some fallen branches in the forest with which to make a containing rim around the roof of our fledgling bug hotel and when we got it home I hacked and drilled them into four useable spars. After lunch the dogs and I visited the squirrel car park and repaired and refilled the bird feeders there and in the evening Bea and I went to the Abernethy Golf Club to install the new containing spars on the bug hotel roof. Having done that, I went to check the camera by the pine marten feeder while Bea spread the earth cores in the bug hotel roof. I should explain that each year a machine extracts cores from the golf course greens to aerate them and the extracted cores just lie in a heap for evermore. Using them to start a grass roof for the bug hotel makes perfect sense. Finally, when I got home I checked the card from the golf course camera which revealed that the pine marten with only one eye has visited the feeder on two of the past three nights.
The Bug Hotel now has a roof which hopefully will soon be a grass roof
Mon 22nd to Tues 30th April
Monday was supposed to begin with meeting a photographer but it fell through and was rearranged for next day. Instead, I prepared lengths of wood for the bug hotel and in the afternoon I took them to the golf club and installed them. I then checked tit boxes 6 and 7 but neither had yet been used. On Tuesday I checked boxes 2 and 3 at the golf club; box 2 contained a complete nest and box 3 had some nest material covering the floor but no nest yet. I've still to check Nos 4 and 5. In the afternoon I took James Shooter of Scotland Big Picture to the hide to check the goldeneye boxes. One of the boxes contained four goldeneye eggs so we're up and running. Next job is to get clearance from SNH to do some camera trapping of activity at that box. On Thursday 2 of the camera traps stopped working; battery issues I think, easily put right. In the evening I reset the Acorn cam and set it up to watch the pine marten nest box, then met the two chaps for the badger watch at which we had 6 badgers and a pine marten. Spent most of Friday in the Boat of Garten Community Hall at the annual Scottish Wildcat Action Forum. There was a good turn-out to hear the latest update on the project and future plans. In essence, after four years of hard work the project is well informed enough to be able to make a plans for the future. The wildcat population in Scotland is so small, so hybridised and so fragmented that it could never recover unaided. To secure a future for our wildcats a coordinated programme of captive breeding, reinforcement from Europe, reduced persecution and more responsible domestic cat ownership will have to be instigated and the sooner the better. In the evening I checked the two trail cameras at the badger hide; nothing of interest to report. Saturday saw lots of activity at our sparrow gallery; a blue tit nest building at the north end and two sparrows taking heaps of bedding into the centre box. That activity carried on well into Sunday so we're hopeful for a result. On Sunday morning I went to Milton Loch and began the process of refurbishing the information table beside the pond dipping platform - much work to be done but none of it rocket science. At the golf club I cut another dozen straight branches and took them home, trimmed them and drilled holes in the ends ready to be added to the bug hotel. On Monday I went back to Milton Loch, cleaned up the interpretation board as best I could and photographed and drew a diagram of the details so that repairs could be planned. I then went to the golf club, installed the wooden branches I had prepared the previous day and then went to to see one of the club members who had some kind of reeds that might be useful to the bug hotel. Indeed the roll of linked reeds looked ideal both in design and quantity to the point that they might almost complete the project. On Tuesday that was put to the test and the reeds did indeed fill the remaining space with some left over to start our next bug hotel near the clubhouse. Lots of emails coming in this week to book the badger hide, so many that we are having to turn some people away, which is a great shame but we limit ourselves to no more than 3 nights per week to comply with the land owner's wishes and for other reasons which you can probably guess at. On Tuesday evening I went and sat with the badgers for half an hour and checked the camera footage. The Acorn cam has failed again so maybe it's time to chuck it out. The Aggressor had some amazing clips of the badger cubs larking about around the pine marten feeder tree while a pine marten blithely scoffed peanuts above them. One of the clips showed two pine martens, one was using the feeder when usurped by the other.
Weds 1st to Sun 5th May
On Weds 1st I dropped the dogs off at the kennels and set off with Bea for Edinburgh for the celebration to mark the day that legal protection for beavers kicks in. All organisations who played a part in the return of beavers to Scotland were represented and there was a marvelous party atmosphere throughout the event, as you would expect. I did an interview with Euan McIlwraith for the BBC Radio Scotland Out of Doors programme and then had the privilege of presenting a commemorative print of a beaver to Roseanna Cunningham, Cab Sec for Environment, Land Reform and Climate Change, on behalf of the Scottish Government. She and I had released the first beaver in the beaver trial 10 years ago. Also in the picture below is Michael Russell who, as Environment Minister at the time, had signed the license to release beavers on a trial basis at Knapdale, which got the whole thing under way. Several other MSPs were also there to share our happy day.
Left to Right: me, Cab Sec Michael Russell and Cab Sec Roseanna Cunningham
On Friday the weather was awful and it got worse as the day went on. I checked the Acorn cam at the badger hide and it was actually working but had recorded no pine martens at the nest box so it looks as if it will not be used this year. By evening it was snowing but rather than cancel the badger watch I met the couple who I was supposed to take to the hide and we decided by a narrow margin to go ahead anyway. Good decision because we had badgers feeding in the snow for two hours and then a pine marten for half an hour. The bad news is that the Aggressor camera had failed to take any pictures since it was last checked which is very disappointing as it has always been reliable in the past. On Saturday I was back at the hide with two young ladies from Durham and whilst there I checked the Aggressor again and it was working but had missed the pine marten activity from last night, probably because the batteries were almost dead. No matter, our badger watch followed similar lines to the previous night with 6 badgers, a mouse, a brown hare, a cuckoo (heard) a tawny owl (heard) and then at 2215 the pine marten showed up for half an hour. Note to self, make a new pine marten feeder; the current one is so big the pine marten disappears inside it so a smaller one would be better from the watchers' point of view. Sunday began with a check of the crested tit nest boxes. We set off with low expectations given the lack of success the past few years and the shortage of crestie sightings this year. However, box 18 had three eggs in it - probably not cresties, but time will tell. After lunch we cleaned the interpretation table at the Milton Loch dipping platform and installed a new magnifier and a new identification chart. The weather is still very cold for the time of year and yet our sparrows are continuing to nest-build in the central chamber of our sparrow gallery. I was supposed to go to the badger hide this evening with a new local badger enthusiast but it had to be postponed.
Monday 6th to Sun 12th May
On Monday afternoon Bea and I went to give a presentation "Mammals and Birds of the Cairngorms" for the Fort Augustus Heritage Group. A very decent sized audience more or less filled the hall and there were some very searching questions at the end. Later I went to the badger hide and removed the pine marten feeder to rebuild it to make it smaller; at the moment the pine martens can get right down inside it which is not much good if you want to watch them. I installed a temporary feeder while the job is done. It was a pleasant evening so before going home I called to the badgers and sat outside the hide with them for a while. They don't seem to mind too much.
My feet and a badger
On Tuesday I checked cameras at the badger hide. We've got battery issues again but the pine marten is still visiting the area but not using the nest box. The weather was lousy on Wednesday so my plan to check the goldeneye nest box fell through and instead I rebuilt the pine marten feeder as described above. I was interviewed on the phone that morning for a magazine article for the Scottish Wildlife Trust about beavers and the journey to this point in their recovery as a native mammal in the UK. In the evening I took Sally and Dennis to the hide; the have been in previous years so it was nice to catch up. They are very active in badger rescue in Essex along with another friend of mine (and badgers), Rene Hockley-Byam. Thursday began with checking Box 18 in Boat Woods; the same three eggs were there so maybe things are not so good. At the golf club I checked the camera to find no pine martens had been recorded for two days but that might be because the batteries were almost dead. It did however catch a red squirrel chasing off a large woodpigeon. I installed fresh batteries before leaving. On the course itself, Box 3 now had a blue tit sitting on eggs. In the evening I took Derek Panton, a wildlife keen villager, to the hide where we installed the refurbished pine marten feeder and then checked the goldeneye box. The box contained a female goldeneye duck apparently asleep and presumable incubating the four eggs we found there last week, plus any she had laid since. We stayed for an hour or so and had five badgers in view at one point and watched a brown hare and some geese in the field. We heard a cuckoo on and off. Spent most of Friday nursing a rotten cold but stirred myself enough in the evening to attend the launch event of the Cairngorms Connect project. During the launch they announced the first winners of financial grants dished out by the Cairngorms Trust and I'm delighted to say that our project "An Osprey Nest For The Osprey Village", a project to improve the habitats at Milton Loch in several respects, was a winner. It means our project can go ahead immediately to build an osprey nest on a tree on an island, raise the level of the loch by repairing the outlet dam system, build some goldeneye nest boxes and create a willow sculpture to represent the Ark of Caledon using a mixture of experts, local trainees and possibly even visitors. Great stuff. On Saturday morning we went to the Milton Loch vols morning; our main job was to check the nest boxes. Most showed no sings of use but Starling Box 01 contained nest material, starling box 02 had 4 blackbird eggs in it and titbox 03 had a blue tit on eggs. In the evening I took four lovely people to the hide (they run a fox sanctuary, bless 'em). We had 6 adult badgers and 2 tiny cubs and my new friends got some superb badger photos. Then something bizarre happened. We saw torches approaching across the field so I went to intercept; it was a police sergeant and two constables coming to see what two cars were doing parked at the gate; they suspected we could be hare coursing! All was explained and the crack was really good. The sergeant is the area wildlife crime coordinator and one of the constables is a wildlife crime officer and we arranged for me to visit them at the police station sometime soon for a chat. Brilliant. The badgers would have scattered as a result of all the fuss so we left it at that.
Mon 13th to Sun 19th May
Discovered via the camera and an endoscope that we have a bird sitting on eggs in the centre chamber of the sparrow gallery in our garden, species unknown at the time although it transpires that it's probably a great tit. The camera also showed a cat crouching on the lid of the gallery sniffing at the hole where the bird was sitting. I therefore screwed a sheet of Perspex to the lid in such a way as to stop the cat doing that. Later I checked cameras at the golf club; no pine marten activity at all for several days. In the evening I was supposed to take a lady to the badger hide but she didn't show up.
Cat inspecting a box containing an incubating great tit.
Checked the camera on Tues morning and no cat was recorded last night. The camera did show a great tit at the entrance to the centre hole and a sparrow at the south hole. However, most of Tuesday was taken up with golf at Rothes where their Green-keeper is very good at making the course welcoming to wildlife. He has made the biggest bug hotel I have ever seen or imagined, put up 24 nest boxes and right beside the clubhouse main door he's built a wood pile in which a long-tailed tit has built a nest. Back at home the camera revealed visits to the sparrow gallery by blue tit, great tit and house sparrow so there's a lot going on. On Thursday I checked the garden nest boxes: nests but no eggs on south and north sparrow galleries but a great ti on eggs in the centre gallery, tiny amount of nest material in the open fronted box and rather more but no nest in the starling box. Checked box 18 in the woods; still the same three eggs in the nest so probably abandoned. In the afternoon I went round all the 9 nest boxes at Abernethy Golf Club. 4 were unoccupied, one had 9 eggs, one had 3 tiny chicks and 3 eggs and the other 3 had a blue tit sitting tight either on eggs or chicks or both. Not bad. I checked the pine marten feeder as I passed it and the two pigeon eggs that the greens convener had put in it were gone so the pine marten has been visiting. Took a couple and 2 very young children (1 and 3 years old) to the hide on Friday and we had a delightful evening with at least 5 badgers in view. One of the badgers looked to have a piece of rope attached to its neck but it turned out to be a long strand of foliage. Sure enough, earlier we had watched a badger mowing the long grass and rolling it backwards into a sett for bedding so that's probably at the bottom of the scare. On Saturday morning I braved the rain and checked the camera and nest boxes at the badger hide. The Acorn cam had only taken one set of pictures (13th May) of a pine marten at the foot of the goldeneye box pole so that confirms how little pine marten activity we have in the area this summer. Thanks to the endoscope I was able to establish that the goldeneye female was still sitting in the box on a pole on the ridge and that no other boxes in the area were active. On the walk out I found a significant badger latrine right beside a badger tunnel under a fence; a classic badger technique for finding important features in the dark. In the evening I took former SWA co-steering group member Karen and her partner to the hide where we had at least 5 different badgers. We also saw a stoat, brown hare, mouse, chaffinch, GS woodpecker and on the way home a pine marten ran across the road in front of us. Sunday was mostly golf but BBC Springwatch got in touch late in the day so that spawned a bunch of emails. Watch this space.
Mon 20th to Sun 26th May
Bea and I removed the kestrel box from the badger hide area. It was falling out of the tree anyway and had never been used by anything, never mind kestrels. While we were there we swapped the old Acorn camera for a much better Bushnell to continue monitoring the foot of the goldeneye nest pole in case the pine martens get up to their hijinks again.. Email exchanges with BBC Springwatch and others continued; I can't say more at this stage. Tuesday was a mix of golf and websites, both with an environmental slant. The main event was a meeting of the Nethy Bridge Golf Course environmental sub group to review progress so far and agree actions for the next few months and beyond. It's all going really well. On Wednesday afternoon I checked the camera at the goldeneye box - it had recorded a brown hare and nothing else so presumably the eggs have not yet hatched. In the afternoon I spoke to a bird watcher in our woods who reckoned he had seen a crested tit which, if true, is very good news in deed. Later there was another email exchange with BBC Springwatch before I took a couple to the badger hide in rainy weather where we saw 7 badgers, a GS woodpecker and a brown hare, and we heard oyster catchers and a tawny owl. On Thursday, acting on yesterday's crested tit report, I set up the Acorn rubbishy camera very close to the squirrel car park feeding station, set to take one image when triggered and then sleep for 10 seconds. That should work OK without filling the card and killing the battery too quickly, as often happens at places with lots of visits by lots of small birds, figuring that once the birds are there they usually stay for much more than ten seconds so if a crestie should turn up we'd be very unlucky not to get at least one shot good enough to identify it. Time will tell. On Saturday the camera at the goldeneye box had a few badger videos and one of a pine marten. The duck was still sitting tight. At the squirrel car park the stupid Acorn cam recorded more than 500 videos (I'd set it to take single pictures! Grrrr) mostly of red squirrels which seem to be doing better than ever in our woods these days. Sadly, no cresties, which is what I'd been hoping for.. In the evening I took 5 delightful young people to the hide where we saw at least 5 different badgers.
Mon 27th to Fri 31st May
While out with the dogs early on Monday I met four bird-watchers. They had seen no capercaillies but had seen three crested tits, two together near The Angle and one on its own much deeper into the forest. The crestie sightings was very good news because so few have been seen in the forest in recent months. As a result of this good news, when I got home Heather and I had a diary session to schedule a crestie nest box check quite soon. Spent part of the morning working on this website, many of the pages of which I am making Mobile-Friendly; an interesting exercise and fairly daunting, although not quite as daunting as I had feared. This page is next on the list; let me know what you think. In future it will spread right across the width of the screen on all devices so it will look quite different when viewed on a PC or Mac. On mobile phones, the text will be much larger than it is at present and therefore be easier to read. After lunch I checked the nest boxes at Abernethy Golf Club. Five of the nine boxes have nests with blue tit chicks or eggs or both, which is quite amazing as eight of the boxes were only built and put out in early March. In the evening it was away to the badger hide again with two ladies from the Stirling area. We saw 8 badgers, several grey lag geese, a roe deer and a kingfisher. On Wednesday I checked the centre box of the sparrow gallery and there were at least 5 great tit chicks. I also made the BoGWiG website more Mobile-Friendly. Looking ahead to Friday, I cut some roofing felt and trimmed some garden canes canes for the next bug hotel at the golf club - apparently the Junior members are going to help. Time will tell what their definition of 'help' amounts to. To end the day we received an email from the BBC Radio Scotland Out Of Doors programme asking if we would speak to them on the show about the work of the Boat of Garten Wildlife Group. On Thursday we did some more prep for the new bug hotel at the golf club, then in the evening I took a lovely couple from Aberdeen/Cork/Germany/Italy (its complicated) to the hide where we saw 5 badgers plus GS woodpecker, chaffinch, great tit, coal tit, roe deer and mouse. Friday was manic. It started with a crested tit nest box check which was disappointing because only Box 18 (of 20) had a nest in and its three eggs had been there for a few weeks so definitely abandoned. Next we went to the golf club to build the main structure of another bug hotel which the junior members would begin to fill during their session in the afternoon. Of course it rained so my tools all got wet. Next was a phone call from Scottish Badgers asking if I could attend with police at a badger sett in the middle of nowhere which was suspected of having been interfered with. Sadly, I had to decline. Next was a goldeneye nest box check which we knew had a duck sitting on eggs. The endoscope revealed that the duck was away, presumably feeding on the river, so I dragged the ladder out of the bushes and investigated. The nest contained only the four eggs that I had discovered a few weeks ago and they were fairly cool to the touch. If the adult duck had only left the scene a short time ago the eggs ought to be quite hot, so I'm a little concerned that maybe all is not well. We'll see. In the evening I took a family of six, including two young boys, to the badger hide. Problems right from the start because there were cows in the field so we had to take a long detour through long wet grass to get to the hide. The cattle gathered near the hide which freaked the badgers out to the extent that instead of coming out for peanuts right away, which is their usual behaviour, they kept their distance until the cattle had wandered away and the light was beginning to fade, which is yet more evidence that badgers avoid cattle. Eventually all was well and our guests had a super experience. Most of Saturday was spent travelling to and from Edinburgh where I attended the annual SWT Chair's Reception for the trust's most avid supporters; Heather and I are proud to be counted among that number. The trust is in very good heart, doing all sorts of innovative things to try to restore Scotland's much depleted nature and trying to bring the public along with them. On Sunday I played golf at Nethy. During the round one of the members of our environment sub group spotted a plant that we had not yet listed on the course and then she saw a golden eagle doing cartwheels overhead. In the afternoon Bea and I did a nest box check at Milton Loch; the blackbird and blue tit families had all successfully left their nests so that was a super end to the day. In the autumn well take in all the nest boxes and create an easier-to-check system for future seasons in which the boxes will not be so high off the ground and the box lids will be easily opened for inspection. We did a superficial check of the bat boxes but there were no droppings under them, no urine stains on the ladders and no chattering sounds from within so we assume they are not being used.
Sat 1st to Sun 9th June
On Saturday I attended the SWT Chair's Reception in Edinburgh; always a great chance to catch up with old friend and colleagues. Sunday was a golf day, then on Monday it was particularly noticeable how Heather's purchase of live mealworms for our family of baby great tits has gone down very well with the rest of the neighbourhood birdlife as we were being visited by great flocks of newly fledged chicks, mostly house sparrows. I counted at least 12 of them. In the afternoon I checked the Acorn camera which had been checking for crested tits at the squirrel car park. It had taken more than 2,000 pictures but I did not check them all because by now we had heard that cresties were being seen by bird watchers in the woods. I then went to the badger hide and changed cards in the E3 camera which had been watching for pine martens and possibly goldeneye chicks; the card showed a few pine marten visits but no chicks yet. Before heading home I strimmed the grass near the hide to make the badgers easier to see. On Tuesday we entertained Mark Stephen of BBC Radio Scotland Out of Doors programme to talk about the Boat of Garten Wildlife Group, show him Milton Loch and describe the project that we had recently been awarded funding for. It seemed to go quite well but the proof will be how they edit together; it may go out next Saturday, depending on this and that. Afterwards Heather, Mark and I talked over coffee about possible future topics for the show. In the evening I took Emma and Scott to the badger hide; it was the couple's 14th anniversary. We had six badgers and several common bird species, also a lot of cows, their young and a bull. Yet again it showed how much badgers do not like cattle; the badgers ducked under ground each time the cattle went past. Wednesday was wet and cold all day. The great tits were still busy feeding their young so I was reluctant to build nest boxes in the shed on whose wall the nest box was fixed in case the hammering and sawing put them off. I did manage to check the garden trail camera but it had still not recorded any hedgehogs, which is disappointing. I also spent a little time sorting through some photos and some old Power Points before beginning to rewrite my badger lecture. I don't need it until November but this was a useful way of using the down time. On Friday I went to Perth for our Scottish Badgers set of regular meetings - all is going to plan. When I got home, Heather gleefully informed me that an oystercatcher had laid an egg at the practice ground on the Abernethy Golf Club so next morning I grabbed a map reference for it and took some photos. The parent birds were both in attendance. At home our great tits were still in their box which was quite surprising considering how big they must now be after all the mealworms they had been fed on.
Oystercatcher Egg On The Practice Ground
Sunday was a very wet day requiring three changes of trousers between dog walking a playing golf. The oyk egg was still at the golf club and I think our great tit chicks were still in their box in our garden - I'll check properly on Monday if the rain has stopped.
Mon 10th to Sun 16th June
On Monday the great tit parents continued to feed the young in the nest box, although at one point one of them stood on the tin shed roof with food in its mouth and tried to call the young out with lots of wing shaking. Didn't work. In the evening I took three great young Aussies to the hide where we had to wait a bit for the badgers to emerge but when they did we had nearly two hours of activity. Bad weather and a bit of an injury limited activity in the middle of the week but there were a few things worth mentioning. The goldeneye nest at the hide seems to have failed; the same four eggs are still in the box and even the pine marten has only been in the area once this week. On Weds the great tits fledged from the nest box in our garden; about time too, I can now get in the shed and do some noisy jobs. At the golf club all the of the five families of blue tits have fledged and the oyster catchers have laid a second egg. One of the blue tit boxes now has a second clutch of five eggs so we really are doing well in our first season of multiple nest boxes. Interestingly, a fresh badger latrine has appeared near box five at the golf club so next day I set up a trail camera there to start getting to know the animal. On Saturday I checked the garden trail cam and we have still had no hedgehogs this year.
Mon 17th to Sun 23rd June
The week began wet again but I managed to check the golf club badger latrine camera (no badgers but a few roe deer recorded) and put a new sign on the new bug hotel. The new sign portrays a spider and web and a cartoon ladybird drawn with a mix of pyrography and acrylic paint. On Monday evening I took a young couple from Singapore to the hide where we had 6 badgers, a brown hare and a few small. birds.