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


January

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
Aaaaaaghhh!!

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.

February

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.  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: 

Cat up a tree

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.

March

Fri 1st to Sun 3rd March.
On Friday I switched cards in the Acorn camera (no wildlife rexcorded) 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.

April

May

June

July

August

September

October

 November

December