Allan Bantick OBE welcomes you to the Cairngorm Wildlife Diary for 2020

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 usually be updated daily.   For comments on wider issues, follow  @AllanBoat  on Twitter or Allan Bantick on Facebook

Weds 1st to Sun 5th Jan 2020
Still in the Christmas mood so not much done apart from filling feeders and checking cameras plus some feeder design work in the shed on days when the weather was not too cold.   Pine martens seem to be avoiding my cameras at the moment and also avoiding the nest boxes which is a bit sad. On Fri 5th we went to Inverness to buy some new hedge plants to replace the monstrous hedge we had removed recently.  Later I went to the badger hide to check the camera; sadly, still no pine marten at the nestbox.   Whilst there, I removed what was left of the pine marten feeder and brought it home to salvage what I could for a new one.

Wrecked feeder
The wrecked feeder.

On Saturday 4th Jan BoGWiG members old and new met at Milton Loch for mince pies and mulled wine and to do a few tidying up jobs. I took a small group to see if our new osprey nest had survived the recent gales. Thankfully it had and was looking great.

Milton Loch Osprey Nest
The new osprey nest

On Sunday I resupplied one of our volunteers with a sack of peanuts for her allotted bird feeder in the woods.   Later I began writing an article about badgers for a local young lady who is in the process of putting together a wildlife magazine.

Mon 7th to Sun 12th Jan
On Monday, in the woods early on, I met a birdwatcher who had found a capercaillie and was studying it through binoculars.  It was good to know they are still to be found - obviously I'll not say here exactly where it was.   Back at home I finished the badger article and sent it off with some pictures.   Tuesday was supposed to include re-siting the camera at the golf club but the weather was foul so a short session in the shed was all I managed.  On Wednesday I gave a badger talk to the good people of Kincraig who are raising funds for a hospital in Africa.   A very engage audience of 35 or more and we may have gained a new member or two for Scottish Badgers.  One audience member told me afterwards that she is working towards her Level One badger surveyor qualification and will be in touch for my assistance.  On Thursday I filled up the feeder at the golf club and checked the camera; only red squirrels recorded yet again so I don't know what has happened to our pine martens.   Spent some time on Friday on preparation for Saturday's Scottish Badgers brain storming session, then went to the badger hide to put a few peanuts under a heavy board for my furry friends, then checked the pine marten camera.  Sadly, yet again the only action was caused by the wind.  Looks as if I'll have to get the ladders out and physically check the main chamber with the endoscope to make sure there's not a decomposing body in it again, which is what put the martens off a few years ago.  Spent Saturday in a very wet Dunblane at a brain-storming session of the Trustees of Scottish Badgers working on the next version of our Strategy for the period 2021 onwards; six hours of hard work but very worthwhile and highly rewarding.  Onwards and upwards.

Mon 13th to Sun 19th Jan
Wintry weather at the start of the week, too bad for golf but OK for getting out to the feeders.  A new cheap 600mm lens arrived for my phone; absolutely brilliant, considering the price.  Looking forward to getting to know it and will probably take it on holiday to Brazil in March.  It will certainly be excellent for checking the Milton Loch osprey nest; it can be used as a monocular as well as a photo lens.  On Wednesday the weather continued foul but the dogs and I visited the single-hole sett that John Aitcheson found when we were filming for Springwatch all those years ago.  The tunnel has shrunk but still appears useable, if only by a fox or marten or rabbit, and there were no signs of current use that I could determine among the mix of heather, moss and melting snow around the hole.  On Thursday I updated last year's diary and backed it up on two hard drives and two clouds.  Friday began with a check of the corner-post badger sett.  I only found two tunnels, there used to be more, bothe of which had clean entrances but there were no obvious badger signs round-about.  Unclear if the sett is being used.  It used to be a main sett, or possibly an annexe, but no longer

Corner post badger sett
Corner Post Badger Sett

On Saturday I checked the Bill's Badgery Basin setts.  The NW sett is definitely being used but it was hard to tell for certain about the other four.  The ten-tunnel Loch Roid sett was flooded, as it usually is at this time of year.  Only two tunnels were visible above the flood.  It dries out in the Spring, nice and clean after its wash out, and in the meantime there are other useable setts nearby.  On the way out I found a very fresh badger latrine about 100m from the corner post sett that I had checked the previous day; good to have the ultimate proof that the local badgers are doing fine.  At home I composed and sent off a fresh submission to the Scottish Parliament Petitions Committee in support of Ellie Stirling's petition to do with neutering domestic cats.  The angle I concentrated on was to do with the hybridisation effect on wildcats from having un-neutered domestic cats and their offspring in the countryside.  I offered to attend their next discussion, if they thought that would be helpful.

Flooded badger sett
Flooded Badger Sett

On Sunday Bea and I checked the pine marten nest box at the badger hide with the endoscope to make sure there was nothing dead in it, as had happened a few years ago.  Happy to report that all was well, so it's fingers crossed for some occupants.  Finished the new pine marten feeder; not convinced it's strong enough if the badgers get to it.

Checking the pine marten box.

Mon 20th to Sun 26th Jan
On Monday I worked on papers for a meeting later in the week, then took the new pine marten feeder to the hide and fixed it high in a tree with a camera trained on it to see what happens.  If the badgers manage to get to it I have a plan B involving a pole that the martens could climb but the badgers could not.

New pine marten feeder with camera

On Tuesday I had a trip to the physio (back's looking good at the moment) then played golf, then removed the Acorn camera from the course (it wasn't working properly) and replaced it with the Bushnell E3 for a better prospect of some photos.   At home I checked the Acorn's card to find only two photos, both of me close to it; it simply will no longer fire other than at close range.  Fine, I've got a job for it inside a bird feeder enclosure to check for cresties.  On Wednesday I sorted out the Acorn camera as best I could then set it up very close to the feeder at the squirrel car park to see if it's being visited by crested tits.  Later I did some work in preparation for Thursday's meeting in light of some new information about funding for two of the proposed projects.  Thursday morning was spent at the said meeting, the outcomes of which are confidential.  On Thursday afternoon I collated the information in the Badger Hide log book for 2019.  We did less visits than the previous year, mostly due to the enforced break by trying to capture a badger with a snare round its neck.  As you may know, we failed to catch it but it survived at least until the end of November when we closed the hide for the winter.  It will be interesting to see if it turns up once we start going again at the end of March, possibly sooner if the weather behaves.   On Friday the local tree surgeon came along to remove the last of our unruly pine-type trees so that we could plant some hazels along our front fence for the birds and red squirrels.  After that I spent two hours at the badger hide repairing and tidying up the dilapidated fence ready for the new season.  Whilst there I checked the Browning Defender camera to discover it had let me down again; it had recorded a few short videos and then the batteries failed.  In the spirit of perseverance I later went online and bought some rechargeable 3.7volt CR123 batteries and a charger to see if that provides a workable solution by changing the batteries every time I check the camera.  We'll see.  I've been a bit lax this winter about camera trapping but I've now got all four out there again doing different jobs so we'll soon see what's about. On Saturday I checked the Acorn camera at the squirrel car park; it had taken shots of red squirrels, coal tits, great tits and a chaffinch but no cresties, at least that's the best I can be sure of because I had made the rookie error of pointing the camera towards the bright exterior of the wood so all the bird images were very dark.  Later I went back and reversed the camera direction by strapping the camera to a different trap which itself may be problematical because it might be too far away from the feeder for the camera to be triggered by the small birds I am monitoring.  If that turned out to be the case it would have to be a tripod, with the security risks which that posed.   Next day would determine if that was necessary.  Yes it was necessary.   The camera only took three pictures, two of me and one of a coal tit.  The trouble was, in trying to replace the used SD card with a fresh one I managed to slide the card into a slot that wasn't a slot, resulting in the card being lost for ever in the entrails of the camera.  I dismantled the camera but could not access the lost card without unsoldering stuff so I put it down to experience and formatted a new card.   I then took the tripod to the site and set it up close to the feeder in the hope of better results next day.

Monday 27th to Friday 31st January
The week began with the news that Acorn camera at had at last produced results; at least two crested tits were regular visitors to the feeder between the time of repositioning the camera on Sunday and checking it on Monday.  This news was was rendered slightly unsurprising because two crested tits turned up while I was swapping cards in the camera!   On Tuesday I did a full circuit of the four camera trap sites.  I removed the Acorn from the squirrel car park feeder area having done its job in establishing that cresties were still present.  It came home to have its batteries recharged before checking the other two feeding stations in the wood over the weekend.  I fitted the Browning with new batteries and set it up on the feeder at the badger hide to see fi pine martens were visiting the area.  I checked the Bushnell near the badger hide pointing at the pine marten nest box to see if it was being used but it appears not but it would stay there to keep monitoring.  Finally I checked the other Bushnell at the golf club to see if pine martens were using the feeder; again they were not but there was plenty of red squirrel and roe deer activity.

Roe buck at the peanut feeder at the golf club
Roe buck at the Abernethy Golf Club

In our garden, interest was being shown in our nest boxes by both blue tits and house sparrows, despite the snow.  Thursday and Friday were lone days.  On Thursday, having stayed overnight with family at Dalkeith, it was an early start at the Parliament to accompany Ellie Stirling to hear the final discussion on her petition to have domestic cats neutered for the benefit of the Scottish domestic cat population and to aid the recovery of the wildcat in Scotland..  Sadly, the petition did receive the support of the Scottish Government or Parliament so the petition failed.  At the end there was some mention of the ECCLR Committee but due to loud building works outside we did not catch the details and will have to wait to read the Minutes of the session before deciding what action to take next, if any.  I then caught a but to Inverness to meet a neighbour to attend a performance of the ballet The Snow Queen at Eden Court theatre.    Friday was another very early start to get to Perth for an all-day meeting of the Advisors, Staff and Trustees of Scottish Badgers.  SB is in good shape and I came away much encouraged and with only a handful of tasks to carry out. 

Saturday 1st to Sunday 9th February 2020
On Saturday morning I set up the Acorn camera at the bird feeding station at The Angle to continue the crested tit monitoring session which started earlier in the week at the Squirrel Car Parker feeders.  I then emailed the lady who keeps the Angle feeder topped up to put her in the picture.  I then went to the badger hide and put fresh cards in both cameras and brought the used ones home for inspection.  The pine marten nest box camera had still not picked up any pine marten activity but the camera at the pine marten feeder most certainly had with lots of pine marten action recorded.   Unfortunately there had been so much wind that there were dozens of false triggers to the extent that the SD card had filled up after only two nights.  Never mind, it was great to see so much marten activity which boded well for the coming badger watching season, speaking of which, booking enquiries had picked up over the previous week. .   Monday was a foul day but while out with the dogs I brought home the Acorn camera and checked it for crested tits; there were a few single shots of one on and off so that's fine.  Later I set up the Acorn cam at the feeder behind the Community Hall.  On Tuesday I checked the Acorn cam to find I had forgotten to insert a card!  That was soon put to rights and I went to the Badger Hide to check the Browning camera and put in a fresh card and top up the peanuts.  The Browning's card turned out to be completely full, mostly due to the wind, I guess, but to my delight it had recorded hundreds of pine marten clips, including a dozen featuring two martens.  I reset the camera to take photos, rather than videos, for the time being until the wind calms down. Next job was to check the E3 camera at the golf club; plenty of red squirrel clips but still no sign of the pine martens.  Nothing daunted, back at home I made a short video from some of the pine marten clips from the badger hide and posted it on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. 

 

Wednesday began with a check of the Acorn camera.  I had put a close-up lens on it and it worked really well, although as usual the camera took some videos and some pictures in a random fashion; no matter since I am just doing a presence/absence of crested tits exercise.  Results from the three sites confirms that we have crested tits but in lesser numbers than most other small birds.  In the evening we attended the mothly SWT North Area meeting in Inverness where Chairman Kenny Taylor and Vennessa gave us a talk about Norway's landscape, wildlife and society.  Thursday began with two woodpeckers drumming near Craigie Rock at Boat of Garten; that's the second time this year in the same place.

Robin

In the afternoon I checked the Acorn cam with its close-up lens to find this shot of a robin.  The light must have been poor, which explains the strange colouration, but you can't have everything.   On Friday I checked the camera at the 6th Hole at Abernethy Golf Club to find that a pine marten had been visiting.

Pine Marten at Abernethy Golf Club

On Saturday I checked both cameras at the badger hide; the one monitoring the pine marten box had recorded nothing (dead batteries) and the other had also killed its batteries but not before recording a pine marten on 5th Feb but not at all on the 6th.  With windy weather forecast, which causes havoc with false triggers, I have switched off most of the cameras until things calm down, leaving just the golf course camera functioning.  If the pine marten continues to visit the feeder it will be worth checking the rood of the nearby nest box for droppings, again, once the wind dies down.  I use a very wobbly long pole with a camera phone fixed to the top of it to take video of the nest box roof; it would be disastrous if I tried that in a gale!  Sunday was an enforced tv-watching day due to a UK-wide storm.

Monday 10th to Sunday 16th February
Heavy snow overnight led to another quiet, but beautiful day and we were told it would be the same story for the next few days.   It was therefore a case of keeping the feeders topped up and doing a few indoor jobs such as making new feeders in the workshop, which was not an attractive prospect due to the freezing temperatures.  Refining close-up camera trap techniques was an interesting use of time, although I'm not sure how useful that will prove beyond mice and small birds.  On the plus side, getting to know the newish Browning camera may prove useful somewhere down the line.

Snowman at Boat of Gaarten
The Dogs Admire The New Snowman

Tues and Weds only involved topping up feeders.  I noticed that the food in the feeders at the squirrel car park was going mouldy so that had to be dealt with pronto.  The lull in wildlife activity meant I was been able to do some music writing and recording; a pleasant change of pace.   Interestingly, a time lapse experiment with the Browning camera did not work as expected, but it did reveal that the camera will trigger through glass, which my cameras of yester-year would not do.  Perhaps they all do it now?  I'll check, because if they do there are all sorts of positive implications for weather protection  and security.   Thursday saw some action.  At the badger hide I refilled the pine marten feeder (it was almost empty) and noted that there was some splintering of the wooden shelf support so I suspect the badgers have been climbing the tree; pity the camera is having a few days off due to the wind.  For the same reason I had switched off the camera monitoring the pine marten nest box so I fitted it with fresh batteries and switched it back on in the hope that now the pine martens are almost daily visitors to the peanut feeder they might have been tempted to settle down in the nest box.  Time will tell.  At Abernethy Golf Club the camera revealed that the pine marten has also been visiting the feeder almost every night so, as with the nest box at the badger hide, I'm hopeful that the golf course pine martens will also settle in the nest box we provided for them last spring.  Before going home I removed the squirrel feeder from the squirrel car park because some of the food in it was going mouldy, as mentioned above, so I took the feeder home, gave it a good scrub and scalded it with boiling water.  In the office, I sent a donation to a rewilding organisation as a sort of carbon offsetting gesture ahead of our upcoming trip to Brazil.  Not everyone buys into the concept of offsetting like that, including some very vocal organisations who make a bit of a habit of criticising mainstream conservation bodies whilst claiming to be conservationists themselves.  I'll refrain from naming names here because some of the individuals involved are very quick to cry "Defamation" and reach for the phone to call their solicitors.  I do not wish to end up in court.  While the offsetting conversation develops and some well researched guidance is forthcoming I shall take the view that doing something is better than doing nothing and make donations to suitable organisations as I see fit.  Lots of admin on Friday including decisions to be made about websites; it looked as if I'd have to rewrite the BoGWiG site to match the new Boat village site; which was no bad thing as the BoGWiG code was a train wreck and in need of an almost total rewrite.  I had no idea it was so bad, but where would I find the time?  Hmm.  In the end I got on with it and things were not anything like as bad as I had expected.

Mon 17th to Sun 23rd February
I was away all day on Monday at a Link Wildlife Sub Group meeting in Stirling.  Much to ponder as always.  Tuesday and Wednesday were more about admin and preparation than anything else, taking advantage of the continuing bad weather to catch up on stuff.  In the process it came to my attention that there are individuals and groups in England intent on protecting grey squirrels, which are a non-native species and a real and present danger to our native red squirrels.  I hope this attitude does not spread north into Scotland, the main refuge for the native reds.  Huge sums of money have been spent on eliminating grey squirrels from areas of Scotland where they threaten the reds and the last thing we need is a bunch of ill-informed zealots interfering. There was no let up in the weather on Thursday and Friday with a forecast of more rain and snow to come.  The dogs and I did find some pine marten droppings on Thursday morning and later, on the way to Tain, I spotted one of the local Black Isle red kites.  On Friday the news came through from the Scottish Government that the application to build a golf course at Coul Links had been refused.  Wonderful, brilliant news, although there is no doubt going to be an appeal.  All the same, it's a step in the right direction for the environment. The week ended with more wintry weather, the worst part about which was the driving rain, sleet and snow from the south forced water through the south wall of my workshop even more than ever, resulting in an actual puddle on the floor.  Time to do something about it, so I ordered a large tarpaulin that'll be fixed against that wall from the outside, once we've had enough dry weather to dry everything out.  Anyway, despite the puddle I spent much of Saturday in the said workshop putting the finishing touches to the new pine marten feeder on a pole.  On Sunday I continued with the pine marten feeder but was dissatisfied with the way it was going and started in a new plan involving better hinges, less distance above ground and a perch platform on the top.  That being so I went up to the hide and refilled the old feeder (it was empty) and scattered some peanuts for the badgers.  Whilst there, I checked the pine marten nest box camera; sadly still no action - yet.  From there I went to the Abernethy Golf Club and checked it's camera; red squirrels and roe deer every day and a pine marten most nights.  Excellent.

Pine marten

Mon 24th to Sat 29th February
Monday was a write off due to continuous heavy snow all day.  The result was some spectacularly snowy scenes next morning - here's one such:

Snowy scene