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

The rest of the week was subjected to continued bad weather and some family obligations so we'll draw a veil over it.

Sun 1st To Sun 8th March
Having finally finished building the new pine marten feeder, my daughter and I took it to the badger hide on Sunday and set it up.  We had intended to point the Browning camera at it to see how quickly the pine martens would find it but the camera batteries were dead flat, so it was back to the house to put them on charge.  No comments necessary, thanks very much.  At home we checked the pictures from the card in the other camera at the hide but they were rubbish, mostly due to a rookie error of pointing the camera at the place where the sun sets.  Note to self: always point a trail camera somewhere between NW and NE so that it never  points at the sun.  Not only does the sun ruin any pictures, it can also cause false triggers, thus draining the battery and filling the SD card with rubbish.  Next morning we went back to the hide and set up the Browning camera to monitor the new pine marten feeder.  While we were there we moved the Aggressor camera to a new location pointing north to check the area around the pine marten nest-box tree.  At this point my daughter spotted a small flock of long-tailed tits; a nice change of pace.  We then went to the Abernethy Golf Club where we put up a refurbished squirrel feeder at a place where it could be seen from the clubhouse.  We then walked across to the 6th hole to refill the feeder there and check the card in the camera; red squirrels, roe deer, brown hares and gs woodpeckers had been regular visitors and the pine marten had visited the feeder on 2 of the past 7 nights.   We would also have checked the roof of the pine marten nest box if I had remembered to put the long pole in the car!  I put that right next day but sadly there were no pine marten droppings on the roof.  This week gs woodpeckers were drumming like crazy.  One morning in particularly the dogs and I watched a woodpecker drumming on the snapped-off end of a branch high up in a granny scots pine tree.  On Friday I was at a meeting of ScotLink in Edinburgh to launch the Link strategy for the next few years.  The great and the good were all there and it was good to catch up.  Link has great ideas for a joined-up way forward, pity the Scottish Government is not convinced about the approach.  We'll have to keep working on them.  Met up with an old pal who had lots of good advice to offer me ahead of our trip to Brazil next week, including who best to make a donation to, to offset our carbon debt to some extent.  On Saturday Bea and I joined the work force at Mlton Loch who were doing great things with the dam and other practical jobs.  Bea and I were only of moral help as we were both injured in different ways and were hoping to recover before our Brazil adventure.  We learned from those who were there that our brand new osprey nest had been commandeered by a pair of herons.  What a cheek!  It'll be interesting to see what happens if ospreys take a fancy to that nest!  At the badger hide, I topped up the pine marten feeders and checked the cameras, which sadly had recorded no badgers or pine martens, largely due, I think, to the cameras being too far from the target areas and, in one case, not triggering, and in the other case not throwing its infra red light far enough.   Back at home, we started to pack and hope the coronavirus thing does not stop us going at the eleventh hour or stop us getting home two weeks hence.  On Sunday I refilled the feeders at the squirrel car park.  To my embarrassment, the feeders were empty and there was a lovely couple wishing to photograph red squirrels.  We had a long chat about all things wild whilst being scolded by crested tits.  At the golf club, I removed the camera and will replace it after we return from Brazil; it has done its job in revealing tha red squirrels are using the feeder beside the 6th fairway every day and pine martens are visiting it approximately every second or third day.  At the badger hide, I moved both cameras to more fruitful locations; they had captured nothing useful in the past week. 

Monday 9th March to Friday 13th March
On Monday I checked the Angle feeders and my worst fears were realised, some of the food had gone mouldy.  This was for two reasons.  Firstly, the lady who fills the feeders was intent on keeping the feeders full to the top which risked some of the food being in the feeder too long.  Also, when I last repaired that feeder I patched part of the mesh so effectively that the birds could not access the peanuts, thus ensuring the food would go off eventually.  So, I removed the feeder and dismantled it in my workshop, got rid of the bad food and rebuilt the feeder making it much smaller and using only undamaged mesh.  I also contacted the lady who fills it to explain the problem and advise letting the feeder get empty, or almost empty, before refilling it.   Hopefully the problem won't occur again.  Later on, two woodpeckers were having a drumming competition on Fairy Hill as the dogs and I passed by.  On Tuesday I took the repaired feeder back to its site in the woods; there was a red squirrel and a crested tit waiting for me.  On Wednesday there was good news about the ridiculous defamation court case against Andy Whiteman; he was found not guilty.  Later I went to the badger hide to refill the pine marten feeders and to check and remove the cameras and then to see if I could coax the badgers to appear.  It was 6pm by the time I settled down with my book in the hide and nothing happened for quite some time apart from a chaffinch binging on the peanuts I had scattered. Then, at 6.40pm, a badger's face appeared at one of the tunnel entrances.  Satisfied that all was well I closed the hide and went home where I checked to see what was on the SD cards in the two cameras that had been monitoring the surroundings of the hide for the last few days. Both cameras had recorded considerable badger activity plus a few visits by pine martens.  That meant I could go on holiday at the weekend feeling reasonably confident that the upcoming badger watching season would get off to a solid start on 30th March.   Pity it didn't turn out that way, but that's just the way it goes.

Sat 14th March to Sun 22nd March - our truncated holiday in Brazil
Long journey to the Pantanal that requires only a short description.  Car to Edinburgh, flight to a deserted Heathrow, flight to Sao Paolo International, minibus to Sao Paolo local airport, flight to Cuiaba, overnight in the De Ville Hotel and a bus next morning to Mutum in the Pantanal.  We were pretty tired due to the heat and not getting much sleep on the long flight from Heathrow but nevertheless excited to be in this beautiful wet rainforest.  The rainy season had not been as wet as usual so the roads and paths were mostly passable compared with this month in previous years.  Our guide filled us in on all sorts of stuff to do with politics, most of which I cannot remember and would have no place here anyway.  However, he did tell us that Brazilian farmers are mending their ways to be more environmentally friendly in order to keep access to European markets; the EU insists on certain standards.   In the past this would have meant the UK only buying from such responsible markets but now that we're out of the EU we could be buying dodgy stuff from the cheapest sources.  Chlorinated chicken anyone?   We arrived at Mutum in time for lunch on Mon 16th March, then we had a local walk.  There were lots of birds and animals in the grounds of the lodge including storks, parrots, a brown brocket deer (a new species for us), caimen, a tame tapir and a large family of capybaras.  Next morning we were up at 5am.  Bea and I were supposed to go horse riding but declined in favour of a walk.  Sadly, one of the ladies in our group who did go horse riding fell off (when one horse kicked another) and she spent the rest of the holiday in hospital undergoing surgery on her fractured shoulder.  Very sad.  Our walk was very hot and insect ridden but that was only to be expected.  Highlight was finding the footprint of a puma.  Apparently there had been a semi-tame young puma in the area but the staff thought it had gone away some weeks previously; clearly it was still kicking around.  The myriad insects included 3 types of ant, one of which is called the bullet ant due to the extreme pain caused by its bite.  The guide whizzed us round the local patch of jungle and when I called him back to examine a den I had spotted right beside the path he said it belonged to a giant armadillo, as if that was no big deal.  It probably wasn't to him but was pretty special to us.  

That afternoon was spent in a boat from which we saw lots of birds and a few caimen and capybara.  The guide did tell us the names of all the birds but there were too many to take in properly, however they included various herons and a snail kite.  That night we were out in the boat again which was really terrific.   Not as much to see as in the day time, obviously but we did glimpse caimen and capybaras, a few night-flying birds and some fishing bats. 

On Weds 18th Mar we were up at 4am for a dawn boat ride during which we watched the sun rise from the middle of a lake.  In the afternoon we had a 3-hour truck ride through a mix of rainforest and savannah during which we saw lots of birds again, the main stars being burrowing owls twice and hyacinth macaws, also twice. There were also a few mammals about including small black-tailed marmosets, howler monkeys and an agouti.   After dinner it was back in the truck for a night-time drive in the hope of seeing more mammals.  First sighting was of a female capybara suckling two of her young.  Not much happened after that until we came across a Brazilian porcupine which was another new species for us.  I got some video footage of both sightings but poor quality in the beam from the guide's torch.  We did see a cat but before we got too excited it turned out to be someone's moggie. 

Up at 5am on Thurs 19 Mar to be told one of our flights for next day had been cancelled, which was a foretaste of what was to come later in the day.  We spent the morning in a boat on a longish journey to visit a fishing village.  Their lifestyle depends on a strong connection with their environment and the ebb and flow of changing water levels.   Flood and non-flood conditions are taken in their stride - it made us feel a bit pathetic.  We saw lots of birds again, including an osprey more than once.  As for mammals, we saw a howler monkey sunning itself sprawled along a  branch and we heard, but did not see, giant river otters.   At lunch we heard that our holiday was to be cut short and that we would be heading home next day; which came as no surprise to any of us.  In the afternoon we had another long boat trip, finishing with piranha fishing and then champagne as the sun set on our holiday. 

On Fri 20th March we drove back to Cuiaba, flew to Sao Paolo International, then on to Rio de Janeiro where we stayed overnight at the Copacabana Hilton where the restaurant was shut and there was no room service so we went hungry to bed.   Next morning we had time to kill so we ventured onto the deserted Copacabana beach, making sure to avoid the areas where we were likely to get robbed.  One of our party, despite the warnings we had been given, wore her gold necklace and sure enough it got grabbed by a passing thug.  Luckily she was able to hang on to it but really, words fail. 

The flights home via Lisbon, Gatwick, Heathrow and Edinburgh were busy due to other flights being cancelled but the airports themselves were understandably quiet as the only people travelling were mostly those trying to get home, like us.   We were a bit put out at having to pay for our hold luggage (100 USD per case) from Rio to Lisbon because the tour company had omitted to pay for them when our tickets were booked which seemed odd to us but we had no choice.  We were told we could claim it back when we got home but I'm not holding my breath.  Also, the car hire arrangements fell through to some extent but a few phone calls got that sorted out and we arrived home exhausted at midnight on Sun 22nd March.

Mon 23rd March to Tues 31st March
Too tired on Monday to do anything but unpack, then on Tuesday I went to the badger hide to check all was well.  Both pine marten feeders were full, thanks I guess to my two trusty assistants Steve and Martin who promised to look after things while I was away.   I scattered some peanuts and waited for a while and sure enough within 20 minutes I had three badgers enjoying their first proper peanut feast of the season.  Sadly, there won't be many more while this coronavirus thing lasts.  Here's a wee picture of one of the badgers.

Alert badger
An alert badger at the hide

Very little happened the rest of the week for obvious reasons, however I did manage to get round the crested tit nest box circuit, found some pine marten poo and received an update on our new osprey nest.  There had been no nesting attempts in any of the crestie boxes yet, although four of the boxes contained dried-up bird droppings.  The pine marten poo was at a new location for me; the path junction beside a tall strainer post near the Kinchurdy Road gate.  The Milton Loch new osprey nest was reported to still be empty; even the pair of herons that seemed to have settled there had moved on.   Then some geese showed an interest and when they left a pair of mallards turned up.  Strange times.  Towrads the end of the week I put together all the images from our Brazil adventure and created a video for YouTube which you can find here.

 

Weds 1st to Sun 5th April
On Weds I checked the squirrel car park feeder and it was empty so I partly refilled it.  New policy, in the present difficult time, is to let the feeders become empty as a way of ensuring there is no waste, as has happened twice lately.  Also, I'm trying to do some actual bird watching again now that I have time.  I'm finding it quite difficult to get my binoculars settled onto birds quickly enough before they zoom off elsewhere; I'm very out of practice.   To help, I wore my hearing aids while out and about which revealed just how plentiful the birds are in the local woods, or at least in certain places.  For example, the Secret Path was much noisier than the Caper Track.  In two places, the Deshar Lochan and the new bench, I stopped walking altogether and was much better able to pick out birds both on the lochan and on the feeder near the bench.  When the new Canon SX70 camera arrives I'll concentrate on getting new pictures and videos of the local birds as a practice before heading off somewhere exotic, which is a plan for the future once the lock-down is over.  That assumes that travel will be possible again, which it might not be if all the travel companies go bust, which is looking highly likely.  There's always Sky and Mull which we will be able to drive to I hope.   On Thursday our walk was longer than usual.  It began by visiting the feeder behind the Community Hall expecting it would be empty but it still had a reasonable amount of food in it so the peanuts in my rucksack stayed where they were.   The weather was dry at first but cold and windy.  Halfway round a cold rain began which soon turned to soft hail (groupel?) and then snow before petering out.  We came across a poorly woodpigeon which collie Bobby sat beside, unsure of what to do.  I was equally unsure but soon attempted to pick the bird up but it flew away a short distance, settled on a mound and watched us.   I decided to leave well alone.  Earlier I spotted yet another pine marten scat but I cannot for the life of me remember where it was.   At home, I checked the trail cams in the garden, no hedgehog activity but we had two great tits investigating the sparrow gallery at 1430 the previous day.  Also, Heather told me that a sparrow checked out our starling box on Thursday morning.  On Friday the morning walk got going much later than usual and I came across quite a lot of people in the woods.   I hope that does not deter the local capercaillie population too much, although as far as lekking is concerned I understand the males get going as early as 3 or 4 in the morning so they should be OK.  Quite what will happen when (or if) the hens start to lay is another matter.  On Saturday the dogs and I had a long walk, starting with a visit to the squirrel car park feeders and the Deshar lochans.  The feeder only had a coal tit and a chaffinch in attendance but the lochans were busy with oyster catcher, goldeneye duck, lapwing, tufted duck, black-headed gull and at least one other type of gull, I'm not confident enough with such things to commit to which one.  At home, a pair of blue tits investigated the starling box; this had happened before but so far never resulted in a breeding attempt.  The garden trail cams told us nothing; the one at the sparrow gallery had more than 2,000 false triggers due to the wind and no birds and the hedgehog cam had only taken dogs, me, Heather and the neighbours.  On Sunday I was out for nearly 2 hours during which I checked two crested tit nest boxes (no action at either) on the way to checking the BBB badger setts using a route where new fences had been built so that I could see to what extent access to the badger setts had been inhibited.  As I suspected, the new fence ran between two setts of tunnels, one which at the time of checking was still under water, being close to a large, very full, lochan.  The main setts in the BBB area were all intact and there were clear signs of current use, although not as many signs as in some previous years.  The fox den beside the small lochan in the NE basin was completely flooded so one presumes unoccupied, unless it rises into a dry area underground further up the slope in which case there is a very small chance that otters are using it.  One indication of this is that one can clearly see a short track leading from the lochan into the den so otters may well have used it in the past.   At home, no hedgehog action in the main garden last night but a blue tit had twice explored the north end of the sparrow gallery in the morning.

Mon 6th to Sun 12th April
Not much to report at all in the early part of the week but on Weds 8th two things happened worth mentioning.  Firstly, the dogs and I found some fox poo at the junction of tracks where the Opal track meets the Yard track.  Secondly, a few minutes after finding the fox poo, we met a resident from the new housing estate who told us that he had just seen a red kite above his house.  That's very exciting news.   Ever since red kites were reintroduced to the Black Isle north of Inverness many years ago we have hoped that they would spread out and start a colony in the Cairngorms.  OK, one swallow doth not a summer make, and all that, but fingers crossed.  On Thursday my new Canon camera arrived so I'll be kite hunting with a vengeance at some point.  On Friday 10th, Good Friday, I took my new camera for a walk and was able to get some long range photos of birds on Deshar lochans that were good enough to easily identify which species of gull were living there; black headed gulls and common gulls (yellow being common to both beaks and legs apparently).  I was very pleased to see not just one, but two, crested tits on the squirrel car park feeder.  Soon afterwards, while walking the secret path I came across two piles of pine marten scat.  The pile were of different ages which suggests it was the favourite marking spot for one animal or the site of scat wars between two.  The exact location was NH 9306 1899.  I'll perhaps give the site a closer examination at some point in case it marks a small local track which would be worth exploring.  Also, placing a feeding station nearby with a trail camera might be worth doing.  On Sunday I revisited the scat site and discovered that it marked a crossroad of tracks, with a minor animal track crossing the main path at right angles.  The dogs and I investigated both side branches and found them both to be easy to follow for about 100 metres at which point they both petered out.   Further along the secret path we came across yet another pine marten scat, near what we used to call Bobby's favourite snow patch, being a small clearing in the forest where more snow usually accumulated than in the surrounding woodland and it therefore took longer to thaw.  In the afternoon I took some peanuts to one of our peanut fairies and then began working on the papers for next Saturday's Scottish Badgers online Zoom meeting.

Mon 13th to Sun 19th April
Spent much of Monday morning finishing off working on Badger papers and writing a new one in my role as Trustee for Advocacy and Engagement.  There wasn't much to say as almost everything has been cancelled including work on some pieces of government legislation.  A great tit investigated the north sparrow gallery this afternoon and next morning 2 house sparrows were seen collecting nesting material, it looked like grass, from beside our pond.  On Weds 15th April I did the regular crested tit nest box circuit with absolutely no nesting attempts seen, not even a tiny bit of nest material in any of the 20 boxes.  Disappointing.  Even our garden, which can usually be relied upon for a couple of nests, has had no more than a few perfunctory visits by sparrows and tits so far. However, pine martens seem to be very active and whilst on the crested tit nestbox circuit I found another scat in a place I've not seen before, part way round what we call the loop.   The trouble is, if cresties are using rotten tree stumps in which to build their nest, pine martens will almost certain find them and rip the stumps apart to get at the eggs or chicks.  If the cresties had any sense they'd use the nest boxes which are pine marten proof.  I've been reading up about Mongolia recently and came across what is considered a rule in Mongolian society, "Anyone who abandons nature dies".  Bea and I are planning a trip there when this coronavirus is over, if it ever is and if such trips are still available.  On Saturday I took part in Zoom meetings of Scottish Badgers Advisory Group and Trustees.  It all worked brilliantly well; I just wish I had thought to take a picture on my laptop screen to show you.   I think we'll be doing more of that sort of thing in future, even after the lockdown has ended.

Mon 20th to Sun 26th April
On Monday, for the second time in a week I met and had a word with a guy with two dogs running loose in the sensitive capercaillie area near "The Elbow".  He seemed receptive to my concerns about capercaillie, as he had appeared to be on the first occasion, so I don't expect he'll adjust his behaviour.  He claims to have been a resident at Boat of Garten for two years but I've never seen him before this year so I have my doubts.  It is of course possible that he normally works and would not have been able to walk in the woods were it not for lock-down.  Soon after that encounter I met a gamekeeper with his land rover who was in the process of collecting a bird trap in order to move it to a different location in the wood.  The trap contained a live jackdaw, and from our conversation I gathered that was his target species, although he was a bit reluctant to discuss the matter with the likes of me so I could not be entirely certain.  Conversations with gamekeepers are often a bit awkward, there being a general air of suspicion on both sides.  On Tuesday I came across a small, old piece of pine marten scat on a path that runs within 50 metres of the back gardens of the houses in Kinchurdy Road, roughly at map ref NH 9405 1858.  I reckon someone's feeding them.  Also, there's always easy scavenging around the wheelie bins in people's gardens, not to mention lots of mice and voles. Hill, map ref NH 93814 18409 so that was one more for Fergal Maur's collection; I had posted some to him on Wednesday for a photographic project with a promise of more.  Unlike previous examples, this was very dark in colour, almost black, so probably quite recent.  To my shame I spotted that one of the bird feeders behind the village hall was empty so after taking the dogs home I walked back and refilled it.  On Saturday I made a similar discovery at the Squirrel Car Park, which I fixed pronto.  I had been a bit worried about my new camera, that its screen was faulty, however, today I discovered that if you cover the viewfinder, even slightly, the screen goes off, so if you pass your hand briefly across behind the viewfinder the screen flicks on and off.  Problem gone - I think.  Time will tell. On Sunday I got off to an early, but not very successful start by bird watching for an hour at the squirrel car park, starting at 0700.  I saw one coal tit and heard a crestie; that was it.  However, I did notice that the Deshar, which have been at their highest for years, had started to dry up a bit after all this hot dry weather.  The dogs and I then tried and failed to find a better way to get to the local badger sett.   However, on the way home we found some pine marten scat stuck to a stone on the caper track at map ref NH 9263 1833 which is 200m from the Elbow.  At home, I was amazed and very pleased to see a great tit go into the central compartment of the sparrow gallery and stay there.  It gathered nest material and dragged it into the box all afternoon.

Mon 27th to Thurs 30th April
My walk ton Monday was to check out a different route to the BBB badger setts for when the wind is in the southwesterly quadrant.  My usual route in is OK at the moment with the recent easterlies but when it goes back to the southwest my scent would go straight to the setts as I walked in.  Altogether I walked nearly 6km but having sorted out a good route it will not be anything like that next time I go.  Yet again I found some pine marten scats en route; they're everywhere at the moment.  On that subject, the gentleman to whom I sent scats recently has sent me a guide book on Mongolia, where he knows I'm planning to go next year, as a thank you.  So kind of him.  Had a phone call from a lady in Drumnadrochet whose neighbourhood hedgehog had had a close encounter with a badger in her garden that was so loud it woke her up.    We had an honest and I hope comforting conversation on the subject for about half an hour.  On Tuesday or collie Bobbie took to lying in the gap between the garden fence and the end of our shed as if guarding something so I set up a trail camera to see if there were hedgehogs or mice or one of the local cats in residence..

Fri 1st May to Sun 10th May
On Friday I found two amazing pine marten scats with a few metres of each other on the secret path and picked them up to send to send to Fergal along with others I had found earlier in the week, to add to his collection.  That will be the last for a while out of respect for the pine martens; they deposit scats where they do for a good reason.  Still working on the film from our archive of images from two trips to Borneo in 2006 and 2010.  Music has been the sticking point this week, I'm undecided quite what to do - there are too many choices.  Anyhow, I got out an old Yamaha keyboard that has a passable choice of rhythm riffs and after running some ideas past Heather I think I now have a plan.  We'll see.  During the night I watched some tutorials on movie making and got some more ideas which suggested I should rebuild my home recording studio in the loft in order to do a proper job.  Monday, heard a cuckoo for the first time this year.  Tuesday, checked the garden cameras; nothing of interest other than pictures of a cat going behind the shed which would explain Bobby the collie's sudden interest in that area.  Great tits were seen busy at the centre gallery nest box.   Spent much of the day on the Borneo video; still quite a lot to do to finish it, plus getting verified on YouTube as it's longer than the maximum length for un-verified YouTubers.  New plan, we shortened it to 12 minutes so not a problem. Heard from Liz Sloan that the owl box in their garden has produced goldeneye duck chicks in each of the last four years including this year.  I must tell the BTO.  On Weds 6th I did the crested tit nest check.  Rather disappointed in what I found: box 12 had a complete nest and at least 5 eggs, species unknown, box 17 had been seriously excavated, as is done by cresties, but there was no nest, not even a scrap of nest material.  Finally, box 18 had a small amount of green nest material.  That was all.  Thursday I finished the Borneo movie and uploaded it - I'm fairly pleased with it.  On Saturday morning I posted the pine marten scats to Feral Maur.    On Saturday I cleaned out the both bird baths and set up a camera on the small one. On Sunday the dogs and I came across some fox poo and dog poo side by side, one of the animals over-marking the other one's mark; not something I have often seen around here but apparently not uncommon judging from responses on social media.  Also on Sunday it snowed but didn't stick.  I cannot remember the last time it snowed down here in May.   Heard a cuckoo in the local woods.

Mon 11th to Sun 17th May
Monday, great tits still busy in the centre sparrow gallery in the garden.  Nothing much to report at all for this week.  Worked on a few non-wildlife things, read a lot, worked a bit on music for the next video (Azores).  Checked feeders in the woods.  However, things got more active on Saturday evening when I walked the 45 minutes required to reach one of the badger setts in our local woods.  The last 20 minutes was over some pretty rough ground due to the need to approach from the downwind direction so the easier route was not an option.  Quite tiring.  I settled down in a secluded spot behind some trees and brash, then just after 9pm two badgers emerged from their sett and engaged in a mutual grooming session.  It quickly became clear that they had lost some of the hair on their backs, one of the badgers being much more badly affected than the other.  Not far from the sett, an old fallen-down fence was replaced recently with a brand new one so I guess the badgers have been squeezing under it to get to their feeding grounds.  Hopefully in time a tunnel will either be dug by the badgers or simply be worn down by their passing.  I just hope none of them becomes damaged and infected in the process.  After a while, one of the badgers began collecting bedding from part way up the hill and dragged it down to the sett entrance where it was abandoned, no doubt to complete its journey into a chamber later.  I got some nice video for social media; not good enough for YouTube I'm afraid because it was a bit shaky due to not having a tripod with me.   After just over an hour I walked out in the near-dark and even though I was able to use the slightly longer but easier route I was exhausted by the time I got home.  I went almost straight to bed and slept for nearly eleven hours.

Mon 18th to Sun 24th May
The week began with a bit of gardening and some concentrated camera trapping at the two bird baths.  Early results were not that great.  On Tuesday we began clearing the strip of ground where the new fence will be.  Once the fence is up, it will have a rock pile and woodpile all along its length and that area, including our wee pond, will be allowed to grow wild for wildlife.  On Wednesday I did a partial crested tit nest box check rather than do the whole thing in the heat of the day when it looks as if the crestie nest project is going to be a blank again.   The idea was to only check the three boxes that had shown evidence of activity two weeks ago: boxes 12, 17 and 18.  I was surprised and delighted to find that box 12 now had a coal tit sitting on the eggs, box 17 had a nest plus at least three eggs and box 18 had a great tit (I think, couldn't be certain because I only caught a glimpse) plus several eggs.  My argument to only do a partial nest box check now lay in tatters so over the next day or so I would check the other 17 boxes as it seemed likely from the burst of activity at the three checked boxes that one or more of the others could now have something going on.  On Thursday therefore I checked all of the boxes again, but was disappointed to find no breeding attempts in any of the other boxes, other than the colony of wood wasps in box 14.  So, we have a coal tit sitting in box 12, a great tit sitting in box 18 and something with now 6 eggs in box 17, species unknown.  I'm still hopeful that it's a crested tit family in 17 - but we'll find out soon enough.  At home, I had given up on the great tits in the sparrow gallery but the endoscope showed that they are still there, sitting, I assume, on eggs.  Once the eggs have hatched the birds will be much more obvious as they ferry food in and waste products out.  On Saturday and Sunday I exchanged a lot of stuff on Twitter about trail cameras.  Reassuringly, the Browning cameras came in for quite a bashing, so it's not just my one.  Various problems were reported including getting full of water, not focusing and failing in various ways including just dying.  People were, on the other hand, very complimentary about the cheap Crenova cameras that you can get for £51 to £74 on Amazon.  All that set my juices flowing so on Sunday I set up the Browning camera at nest box 17 at a distance of about 3 metres which I hoped would be close enough for a small bird to trigger, hopefully a crested tit.  Time would tell. 

Mon 25th to Sun 31st May
Feverish activity at our sparrow gallery on Monday as the great tit chicks have now hatched.  On Tuesday I checked and refilled as necessary the bird feeders at the squirrel car park and at the Community Hall.  Later, I checked the Browning camera at box 17 but although it had triggered OK when I set it up and when I arrived to check it, the small birds had failed to trigger it.  I did see the birds fleetingly but could not tell which species.   On Wednesday I did some filming at the golf club and in the evening I checked box 17 by stuffing a hanky in the entrance hole to prevent the occupant escaping then slid my phone, which was set to record video, under the lid to film the inside.  A blue tit sitting tight was revealed, which was disappointing as I was hoping for a crested tit.  The upshot was that for at least five years in a row, the crestie project has failed. On Thursday I saw a dead hedgehog on the B970 between Tom Dubh Farm and Rothiemoon; very sad but at least it shows they are around.  On the Nethy golf course on Friday I was filming and was told about oystercatcher eggs laid in gravel beside the war memorial on the course.  I went to look and sure enough there they were, three of them.  On Saturday I got a message to say a family of goldeneye ducks were seen on Milton Loch near where I had placed one of the two nest boxes, so next day I went to investigate.  Whilst there, I checked all of the variously sized boxes.  Two of the three tit boxes were in use by blue tits, one of the starling boxes also had a blue tit sitting in, one had nest material in it and the third looked as if a family had been raised and fledged from it; last year that box had successfully raised blackbird chicks so probably the same again.  The osprey nest was empty, as was one of the goldeneye boxes.  The second goldeneye box had a jackdaw nest in it, a problem we also had in previous years when we put goldeneye boxes on plastic poles.  The poles kept the pine martens out but not the jackdaws.  In the evening I went to the badger hide to check the goldeneye boxes, the pine marten box and the trail camera.  The goldeneye box on the tree just had a few bits of down in it so had merely been used as a roost, the box on a pole on the ridge had eggs just visible among the down and wood shavings and the box on a pole in the hollow had a female goldeneye sitting calmly.  The roof of the pine marten nest box was as clean as a whistle, no scats at all, so not being used by the martens.  The trail camera contained lots of videos of adult badgers but no cubs and no pine martens.  After all that checking I sat outside the hide with my Kindle in the hope of seeing some badgers.  Sure enough, out they came and roundly ignored me as they ate peanuts but the peace only lasted until one badger lost its nerve and ran off, thus spooking all the others.

Mon 1st to Sun 7th
On Monday I went back to the hide and sat outside.  Again, the badgers came really close to forage for peanuts; I guess they were really hungry after all the hot, dry weather with no worms.  On Tuesday, the dogs and I found 3 pine marten scats during our morning walk; two spaced out on the secret path and one halfway along the caper track.