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.
Weds 1st to Sun 5th
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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
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.
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. Spent most of Tuesday in front of a computer screen. In the morning it was the Scottish Parliament ECCLR Committee meeting on Parliament TV and after lunch I attended the ScotLink Wildlife Group meeting via Zoom. Both sessions were fiendishly technical so I'll avoid the gory details. Various bits of following up ensued but mostly I relaxed for a couple of days. On Saturday I replaced the broken bird feeder at the Community Hall with a good one, then went to the hide to check the trail camera, the two active goldeneye boxes and the trail camera and to set up another trail cam to monitor the pine marten feeder. The GE box on a pole in the hollow had a duck in it but it heard me coming and flew away. That made it nice and easy to check the box with a phone and my selfie stick, revealing four lovely eggs. At the the box on a pole on the ridge only one egg was visible but there was a pile of down in the corner so I assumed the eggs were in that. The badger trail cam revealed only badgers; no cubs and no pine martens. At the gate I had a long chat with the farmer who explained that his cattle breeding season was not going well; I'll spare you the details but one can fully sympathise. Later I moved the camera in our garden from the big bath to the small one to get some different footage. Also in the garden, the great tits are still feeding their babies; the chicks must be getting pretty big by now. On Sunday I went back to the badger hide, strimmed round part of the set and set up a third trail camera to give another angle to our survey to establish if there really were no pine martens or cubs in the area. That meant I had all four of my cameras operating for the first time for a very long time, which was disgraceful and a waste of having the equipment.
Mon 8th to Sun 14th June
On Monday evening I went to the badger hide to check the three cameras. The Acorn just had a roe deer on the card. The Browning had recorded 1200 pictures, mostly of corvids on the feeder, but at just before 11pm on Friday evening a pine marten had used the feeder for about 15 minutes. The Bushnell had taken a few nice badger videos, including one of the badger with a snare round its neck that we had first seen a year ago and had tried, and failed, to catch it. It looks remarkably well; tough as nails. Tuesday was a good day at the bird bath where the Bushnell E3 camera took some superb video clips of sparrows, a robin, coal tits and both sorts of blackbird. Later I spent an hour at Milton Loch hoping to video the goldeneye chicks but they did not show themselves, although I did get a few uninspiring clips of other birds. Filled up the feeders at the squirrel car park. On Thursday I worked on the papers for Saturday's Scottish Badgers Zoom meeting. On Friday the great tits were still feeding young. After breakfast I walked in the woods with the dogs and we found several roe deer. I got some super pictures of a splendid buck. I also found what I thought could have been a narrow headed ant nest but would need to experiment with the Macro setting on the new camera and re-visit. In the evening I sent individual emails to all seven list MSPs for this area plus our constituency MSP Fergus Ewing, nasty piece of work that he is, asking them all to vote in favour of the proposed amendments to the Animals and Wildlife Bill would reach its Stage 3 debate on Wednesday the following week. Saturday was a the Zoom day for Scottish Badgers. The whole procedure only took two-and-a-half hours so that was OK. Much of what we would normally be doing at this time of year was held up by lockdown. In the afternoon the dogs and I revisited the ants nest and took some excellent Macro pictures, from which it was possible to tell that the ants were not the rare narrow-headed variety. I noticed in passing on the way home that the temporary feeder behind the Community Hall was empty so I took it home and next day I would put back the original one, it having been repaired. In the evening we discovered that our family of great tits had fledged at some point in the past 24 hours. Stay safe, little ones! On Sunday I returned the feeder to the Community Hall and then explored with the dogs a path I had not used before; a lovely walk. There are others that even after 20 years here are still a mystery so there's still much to discover. Later I went to the hide, filled up the pine marten feeder and checked the cads in all three cameras. Plenty of badgers, corvids and deer but still no badger cubs or pine martens recorded. Note to self: dump the Acorn camera; it's now so bad as to be not worth the hassle. That would still leave me with two Bushnells and a Browning, so that's fine.
Mon 15th to Sun 21st June
Sent 5 kilos of peanuts to our Milton Loch peanut fairy, the lady who fills up the bird feeders there. Heather acted as courier and whilst there she did some path strimming. In the afternoon the dogs and I explored another previously unexplored track through the woods. It soon began to peter out but didn't quite disappear altogether and it led to some lovely glades near Kinchurdy pond. The afternoon ended with an online Webinar about badgers and where science and the law clash. Interesting but nothing I had not heard before. Sorry if that sounds arrogant but there it is. Tuesday was mostly spent wrestling with an errant printer; probably too old to salvage. In the garden, I rigged up a set of brackets on top of the gate post for mounting Bea's camera for her time-lapse project to photograph our young rowan tree over the course of a year.
Each picture should be identical apart from changes to foliage, blossom, snow, pollen, berries and so on. Spent 6 hours on Wednesday glued to my laptop, watching the Stage 3 debate in the Scottish Parliament on the Animals and Wildlife Penalties etc Bill. There was much to be pleased about, especially increased penalties for disturbance at resting and nesting sites, including, but also as a separate issue, the same for interference with badger setts, which is now up to 5 years in jail or an unlimited fine or both. This is a fantastic result. There was also better protection for mountain hares and (I think) better protection for certain marine areas. An attempt by the Green Party to stop licenses to cull beavers being issued failed for a number of reasons; it was clumsily put together at short notice and badly presented by Mark Ruskell who held out for no culling unless beavers were at an acceptable level all over Scotland, which is utterly stupid. Instead he should have stuck to asking the government to simply change its mind on ruling out catching problem beaver families in Tayside and releasing them in suitable habitat in other parts of Scotland where they would be welcomed with open arms. On Thursday I took peanuts to another one of my peanut fairies who maintains one of the woodland feeders, chilled in the heat of the afternoon and then in the cool of the evening completed the job of filling up the gaps between some of the planks that make up the south-facing wall of my workshop. The wall has taken the brunt of any gale, deluge or blizzard from the south for the past fifteen years, plus the heat of the sun in summer, resulting in damage and shrinkage of the wood, such that last winter the excellent floor of the workshop accumulated actual puddles. Hopefully that won't happen again. Gaffer tape and staples on the outside of the wall have saved the day! My life is held together by such Heath Robinson means. Much upheaval at home on Friday and Saturday due to a new fence being built with all the cleaning up and rubbish removal which such things entail. Found time on Saturday afternoon to move the sparrow gallery from its current position on the shed, where our coming and going between the kitchen and the garden is a significant disturbance to the birds, to new position on the new fence at the far end of the garden where it will be much quieter. In the evening I went to the badger hide to do various camera jobs, check the goldeneye boxes and sit for a while. I removed the Acorn camera from its site at the upper sett where yet again it had taken very few shots and those that it did were pink and the wrong format (I had set it for pictures but it had yet again switched itself to videos) so that was that and the camera went in the bin when I got home. I checked both goldeneye boxes on poles using my phone and a selfie stick and both were empty apart from a heap of down so I assumed the chicks had hatched and gone. I would confirm that next time I get the ladder out. I unscrewed the Aggressor camera from its place on the corner of the hide, where it had taken very few badgers pictures, and moved it to a tree beside the most well used set of tunnels in the area. As I approached I saw two badgers at a tunnel entrance. At first, they did not see me but one of them started up the hill towards where I was standing and got with two metres of me before it realised I was there. It then scuttled back to its tunnel, spooking its colleague to do the same in the process. The ground between the tunnels in that area was completely bare and worn smooth by the passing of many paws, unlike the area around the sett near the hide where no such paths existed and the tunnels were half hidden in long grass. I set up the camera as quickly and quietly as possible and then went back to sit by the hide reading my book for 45 minutes in the hope some badgers would come looking for the peanuts I had scattered and called to them about, but no luck. A fascinating evening.
Mon 22nd to Tues 30th June
Spent Monday nursing a sore back, then on Tuesday I retrieved the card from the camera at the badge hide which you will remember I moved to a new location at the most active sett in the local system. Bingo - we have a cub. There were more than a hundred videos taken over three nights and they included several of the cub plus a few of our snare-carrying badger, including four of it sharing the household chore of collecting fresh bedding. So, not only has it survived the snare but is a fully engaged member of the clan. On Wednesday I refilled the feeders at the squirrel car park, then spent much of the rest of the day sorting images and getting some of them into this page, which has been neglected in that regard lately. There ensued a couple of days of domestic jobs, mostly to do with the garden and some of that was in support of Bea's efforts to create a new wildlife garden comprising a new log pile, a new rock pile, a refurbished pond and ssome ground-hugging plants that we hope will smother the ground elder. We've already moved the sparrow gallery to a new site on a fence above the wildlife garden and intend to move an open-fronted box from the shed wall to the trunk of the biggest tree in our biggest garden. Yes we've got three gardens: two very small and one a bit bigger. On Saturday I removed the trail camera from the big sett near the badger hide, brought it home and checked its card. Only a few videos on it as the batteries had failed four days previously! At this point, all three cameras were back at home to have new batteries fitted ready to go out again. Next step was to have been to put together a new video showing highlights of the session at that sett but domestic jobs and weariness took over so a few days free from wildlife activities ensued.
Weds 1st to Sun 5th July
For a few days the trail cameras were occupied in monitoring the activities of one one of the local cats which had been finding its way into our house to eat the dogs' food, first by taking advantage of our slackness in not shutting the front door properly, then when we'd fixed that the cat availed itself of the dog flap in the kitchen door. A dish of vinegar placed just outside the kitchen door had a marked effect for a few days. Next problem; something had been digging up the new plants in our wildlife garden - probably the cat again but my wife installed a roll of chicken wire over the affected area so that ought to have fixed it. A trail camera was also deployed to monitor any attempts to get under the wire. On Friday I began work on the new badger video and then went to the hide in heavy rain to check all was well and to top up the peanuts in the pine marten feeder. While I was out I also refilled some of the woodland feeders. I dropped in to a Green Party Webinar in the afternoon about the Arts, Lockdown and the proposed Universal Basic Income - all a bit complicated. Later I spoke on the phone to one of the local land managers with whom we have an agreement on certain conservation projects, all good stuff. In the evening I exchanged messages with John Poyner about the perceived shortage of crested tits in some parts of the area including Boat of Garten so I agreed to set up a camera at one of our woodland feeders to see if cresties are here at all; I haven't seen or heard one at all lately so it'll be good to do a proper check. On Saturday I took the dogs to one of my favourite osprey nests, now that we were allowed to travel a little further afield. The nest was looking good but was covered in a thick mat of long grass and I did not see any ospreys. During the walk out I found an otter footprint in a wet sandy patch on the path which runs beside a burn. It is not quite where you would expect an otter, being at least a kilometre from the nearest proper river, but I expect the animal knew what it was doing. Spent much of Sunday refining a close-up lens system for the Bushnell Aggressor camera. It turned out that one of the lens from a pair of reading glasses worked really well at 60 cm from the subject. Later I dealt with booking enquires for the badger hide now that it looks as if we could tentatively reopen at the end of July with the standard social distancing in force and using face coverings.
Mon 6th to Sun 12th July
Monday started with some trail camera checks and battery switches before a Scottish Environment Link Zoom meeting about targets - don't ask, it's rather complicated and more than a little political. I then repaired a dodgy tripod head in the shed involving carving a new thread, sawing bolts in half and glue. After lunch I set up the now perfected (!) close-up trail camera at the squirrel car park feeding station to try to get a handle on crested tit activity in the area. On the way home I found a ringlet butterfly in grass beside the lorry park and got some nice pictures for social media. Whilst in camera mode I sorted out the pictures on the SD card in the new Canon SX70 and stored the best ones on the hard drive. Twitter was quite helpful in identifying some small eggs Bea had found on some rotten wood on our log pile - they turned out to be slug eggs. On Tuesday I took the dogs to Auchgourish in the morning and was amazed at the changes to the place. Many months of neglect has resulted in the forestry tracks becoming so overgrown that I doubt even a landrover could fight it's way along them. We did find horse tracks and fairly fresh horse droppings so someone is having some really wild rides to themselves. As for wildlife, we found fox and pine marten droppings and we visited one of the badger setts, the one furthest from the road. The sett lay among dense bushes on a steep slope which I had great difficulty negotiating; which was a sad reminder that I am not the fit machine I used to be. I did find one active tunnel before I totally lost balance and fell over, determining that I may not bother with this sett in future, now that my balance and reaction speed have deteriorated so much. There are other, more active, less awkward, setts in the area which can act as a kind of proxy for the badger population there. In the afternoon I swapped cards in the close-up camera at the squirrel car park and checked the used one at home. In about 24 hours it had recorded 2,030 pictures, only 3 of which were of crested tits and 2 of those were within a minute of each other so probably the same bird. Not very good. On the plus side, the close-up lens worked very well indeed. On Wednesday morning I removed the camera altogether and checked the card to find lots more pictures, none of which were of cresties. So, to summarise, over a period of 42 hours the camera had taken 3,589 pictures of which only 3 were of crested tits. Other species included red squirrel, often two at a time, GS woodpecker, great tit, coal tit blue tit, chaffinch and mouse. Also that morning, the dogs and I found a pine marten scat on the secret path where there is a junction with a small animal track exactly level with the squirrel car park feeding station that we had just left. The place is marked with a stick strapped to a fence post which I had put there nearly twenty years ago as the point at which I should leave the secret path if I wished to go directly across country to the feeding station without taking the extra time to walk via the main tracks. The scat was conveniently stuck to a stick which I used to lift it so that I could sniff it. Being fairly fresh and wet from the overnight rain it smelled quite clearly of some exotic aromatic perfume; not at all unpleasant. Thursday began with a couple of mild confrontations with fellow dog walkers. The first chap had quite a lot to say about badgers, most of it based on ignorance of both badger behaviour and Scots Law. The second one was to do with the difference between benign neglect at Milton Loch Loch and letting it become a wasteland. Later I exchanged emails with Scoltand's premier osprey expert about my visit to a local nest last weekend. He explained that the pair had begun the breeding process but for some unknown reason they had failed. Further afield, it had been a bad year for osprey breeding in Scotland, probably at least partly due to the wrong weather at the wrong time. We've had that before. On Friday the dogs and I went to Auchgourish to check another badger sett, the one we know as AU20. It's a small sett with only four tunnel entrances but it appeared to be in use; the tunnel entrances were wide open and there was a small latrine nearby. Frankly, it is not an ideal spot for badgers, being a fair distance from the nearest grazed fields. On the other hand, it's a safe spot which nobody every goes near these days so they lead a quiet life. On Saturday I exhausted myself by painting the weather-facing wall of my workshop so nothing else got done, although in the evening I had a slight face-off on Twitter with a guy who thinks most animal loving conservationists approve of hunting - I put politely put him straight on that. Next morning there was a response of sorts from the Scottish Gamekeepers Association asking if I was the wildcat man which I answered appropriately but at the time of writing (lunchtime on Sunday) it had gone no further. First thing on Sunday I took the dogs at Auchgourish again, this time check sett AU03. The sett was totally buried in ferns so it was not easy to find, but find it I did. There had been no fresh excavations but the holes that I did find were all wide open with no vegetation collecting in the entrances and I found two latrines, neither very fresh but still attracting flies. Next came an exchange about bats on messenger, text and telephone between myself and neighbour Louise and Dawn at Clurie Farm. Dawn had found a baby bat in her house and was feeding it while trying to find out from experts what to do. Bat Conservation had already got involved and SNH would be contacted on Monday for advice. Stay tuned. In the evening I finished editing a video entitled Laundry Night At The Badger Sett comprising clips of badgers taking fresh bedding into the sett. Just before bedtime I set up the Browning camera fitted with its close-up lens one metre from a dish of various foods in the garden.
Mon 13th to Sun 19th July
Had an idea about placing a goldeneye box on a raft in Milton Loch as a way of preventing jackdaws from taking over the box as they had done so often in the past, including one of this year's new boxes. As luck would have it, Kate, who manages Milton Loch came to collect peanuts and so I discussed the idea with her. She was all for it and would speak to our local raft expert, Billy, who built and manages quite a big raft on the loch; the raft is used to keep the reeds under control. I then checked the card from the Browning camera; it had taken lots of videos but nothing too remarkable. The food was taken by jackdaws, blackbirds and great tits, several of which were moulting and therefore too scruffy to be worth keeping. In the woods, I came across a dead woodmouse being eaten by some ants. I took some pictures and video and posted the video on Twitter to some mild acclaim. In the afternoon I made a tunnel for photographing mice and just before bed time I set it up in the garden with the Browning camera, baited with cheese, biscuit and chocolate. Tuesday was mostly domestic stuff but I did check the Browning camera and something had moved it, and the tunnel, so all the food was gone and no pictures were recorded. I screwed the camera to a board and put a rock on top of the tunnel in the hope of better luck that night. Our dogs are getting older and less physically able so on Wednesday I tried a new route along a harvester track in the woods that might be a short version of one of our usual morning dog walks. In reality it wasn't much shorter and was hard going so that didn't work. Later I checked the Browning 'mouse' camera but no takers yet so I moved it to a different location. In the evening I went to the badger hide. The first badger appeared within two minutes and 5 minutes later there were 3 and soon there were 5, including 'Bling' with the snare round its neck. I sat outside and the badgers came within 2 metres of me. They were a bit nervous but did not run away at the noise of the camera or the brightness of the flash. At one point I spoke quietly to them and they went away a few metres but were soon back to finish off the peanuts. A delightful evening - it showed the badgers remembered me and are reasonably comfortable around me, even though I have hardly been to see them this year. On Thursday morning I went to see the chap with whom I had a difference of opinion about benign neglect - we are now cool. He's actually very supportive of what we are doing in the area, it's just a question of getting the balance right, which we all agree to disagree on. I then checked the mouse cam which had recorded two clips of the nose of one of our dogs and one of the local cat that has been known to come in through the dog flap and steal the dogs' food. Thankfully, the cat has not tried that since I put a dish of strong smelling vinegar beside the door, but clearly it's still not averse to patrolling our garden. I've now got a water pistol with which to deter future visits if I catch the cat in daylight. Going back to the camera, the videos were all too pale so the light suppressing filter I taped over the infra red lens was doing too good a job so I decided to try something different for Thursday night, eg tape over half of the IR glass. That afternoon the dogs and I went to what we call the East Lochan near Auchgourish which took exactly an hour including some chill time at the loch, which didn't last long due to the flies. On Friday morning the dogs and I went to the Otter Loch near Auchgourish which again took about an hour. No otters at that time of day of course but it was great to see the loch surface carpeted with lilies. Beavers would just love it. There was also plenty of open water for dragonflies and I daresay ospreys would check it out from time to time. Back at home, I checked the mouse camera - only one video of my dog's nose, and that was not well enough illuminated so I removed the tape covering on the IR lamp for the next night. I'm pretty certain there are mice around, they just haven't found that food source yet. Saturday began with an hour at Milton Loch filming a group of 11 BoGWiG volunteers carrying out a major repair to the bed of the loch beside the dame where it is leaking under the old sluice. The job entailed spreading out a large sheet of pond liner and weighting it down with rocks. A great effort by all concerned - let's hope it works. Next was a Zoom meeting with the Trustees and a staff member of Scottish Badgers to discuss the cancellation of our annual conference which was due to happen in Glasgow in October and replacing it with an online version. The online version was agreed to and details would be circulated once they had been finalised. Next came checking the Browning mouse camera - sadly still no mice but we did get a great tit clip so at least I could be sure that a creature of that general size would trigger the camera. Sunday began by returning to Milton Loch to get some shots of the finished dam job. As luck would have it, Andy and Kate were there so I was able to discuss next steps for the video. From there I went to the badger hide and strimmed the grass, a very tiring effort, such that my arms did not work properly for the rest of the day, most of which was bingeing on football on tv.
Monday 20th the Sunday 26th July
The week began with a two-hour Zoom meeting with Link and the Media-coop team to further discuss the making of a film about nature networks. Quite hard going as there was a lot of ground to cover and many ideas to incorporate into just 4 minutes of video. I agreed to send them some badger and pine marten footage as they were short of such material. Next I checked the mouse camera; still no luck but I'll persevere. Late afternoon, I chose 2 badger videos and 2 pine marten videos and sent them to Media-coop. I spent most of Tuesday writing the captions and doing some extra filming for the new Dammit movie for BoGWiG then in the evening I spent 2 hours filming badgers at the hide. Shot some wonderful video; pity Twitter would not accept any of it despite trying MP4, WMV and MOV formats. The clips were all within Twitter's limits of 512MB and 2 mins 20 secs. Facebook published them perfectly well so what the blazes is it with Twitter! On Wednesday morning I made a good start on adding visuals to the Milton Loch video, then there was a Link meeting on Zoom to discuss the concept of the 4 Capitals approach to the relationship between economics and nature. After lunch I managed to more or less finish the video editing which just left the music and finishing touches to complete before showing it to other members of the team for approval. Much of Thursday was again to do with the Dammit Movie but that's OK, it's really taking shape. In the evening, the badger hide opened for the first time this year. I took a couple in and left them to it - they had been before and knew the ropes so that saved a lot of the social distancing problems. Just as I was going to bed the couple sent me a text saying they had had a great evening with 5 badgers in view at one point. Friday was entirely devoted to finishing the Dammit movie which had to undergo some tweaks in the light of political necessity. On Saturday the movie got uploaded to YouTube and distributed around Social Media and elsewhere. At home, Heather found a lovely large frog warming itself on the edge of our garden pond. It ignored me when I crouched down to get some photos, which was kind of it. In the evening I read through the first draft of ScotLink's Manifesto for 2021; an excellent vision of how things ought to be. On Sunday, Bingo - a mouse on the mouse-cam in the garden. Only one clip but now that it has found the dish of food I expect it'll be back.
Mon 27th to Fri 31st July
Very wet day, so wet that I phoned the group for the hide that night and postponed till Wednesday. No mice on the mouse-cam this morning, just a tiny bird and the nose of one of my dogs. On Tues morning I went to the hide to check all was OK after last week's visit and to top up the pine marten feeder. Remarkably, none of Monday's heavy rain had found it s way through the roof. Before returning home I strimmed the grass near the gate to aid car parking later. The mouse cam had drawn a blank overnight. In the evening I took a delightful couple to the badger hide where we saw 8 badgers close to the hide, tussling for peanuts. On Wednesday I had a LINK Wildlife Group meeting which over-ran its allotted time quite a bit - there's always so much to discuss. In the evening I took four ladies to the hide, two teenagers, their mum and her mum. They are all Scottish Wildlife Trust members and I had previously met Granny in Glasgow at SWT local events in my days as Chair of Council. We had a lovely evening with badgers right up close to the hide as always. Thursday started badly with my dogs being attacked by two collie-type dogs owned by a sullen, thick-set guy who lives on the nearby new housing estate. I warned him that any repeat of such a thing and I would call the police. I vaguely remember being warned about such a pair of dogs - it makes the woods feel less comfortable than they used to feel. We cut the walk short because our collie Bobby, who had born the brunt of the attack, was clearly unhappy, poor thing. As I'm typing this, he's curled up right beside my chair, still troubled by the affair. In the evening I took a couple to the hide. Most people take photos of the badgers but the lady used her sketch pad to draw lovely pictures. In the end we had at least 5 different badgers to enjoy. By Friday morning there had been more comments on Facebook about the aggressive dogs that had attacked my two the previous day. I copied the comments and pasted them into a Word document in case the need for evidence might arise in future. Otherwise, I had a bit of a lazy day.
Sat 1st to Sun 9th August
Over the weekend I saw the same guy twice, but both times he saw me and changed direction to avoid me, a highly satisfactory state of affairs. On Sunday I wrote to the local Councillor and got a strange reply advocating I tell the police and SSPCA, not a word about the Dog Warden. On a happier note, I discovered that my Aggressor camera has an option for day-time only or night-time only rather than be alert for 24 hours, so I took it to the hide on Sunday evening, pointed it at the pine marten feeder and set it for night-time only which should capture any visiting pine marten whilst not wasting battery and storage on the flock of rooks and jackdaws that swoop on the feeder in daytime. On Monday I exchanged messages and phone calls with police, SSPCA and the local Councillor about the dog attacks; it looks as if the SSPCA will take matters forward. Two bits of good news followed, firstly, my golf range-finder sold on eBay for £166 which will go a long way towards my next trail camera, and speaking of trail cameras, I checked the mouse tunnel camera to find several video clips of a hedgehog! The tunnel was really too tight for it but it did manage to squeeze in and out, just, and it struggled to turn round so I widened the tunnel before it went out again. Later I took a family to the hide where 6 badgers burst into view within a few minutes of our arrival. I checked the night-time camera but it had recorded no action at all. On Tuesday I checked the mouse tunnel cam and it had recorded several clips of a mouse and a hedgehog; the hedgehog had two different sessions, or maybe it was two different hedgehogs. In the afternoon Bea and I and Kate Johnson met with Lucy from the Cairngorms National Park had a chat about BoGWiG and the Park and past and future projects and collaborations. All cool. Before bed I set up the trail camera to survey the garden to determine where the hedgehog was coming from. On Weds I checked the camera at the hide rather than wait until this evening when I would have a family group to manage. There was good news and bad news. The bad news was that there were no videos of pine martens. The good news was that there were videos of my Monday group leaving the hide in dusk (not dark) conditions but no videos of any daylight activity, including the jay that was on the feeder when I arrived and or me when I arrived. This means it really is switching off during proper daylight but switches on when the light reduces significantly but it does not need to be actually dark. That's precisely what I wanted. Back at home I checked the garden camera for hedgehog videos but there were none unfortunately. When resetting the garden camera I discovered it too had a daytime/night-time setting so I set on night time and upped the sensitivity to 'high'. In the evening I took a lovely family - mum, dad and three boys - to the badger hide. Another great evening with 6 badgers and a roe buck to amuse us. On Weds morning James and his dog Taz and I and our dogs found a small common lizard scuttling around on the capercaillie track in the woods. Later, I checked the hedgehog camera in the garden and sure enough it had filmed a hog at 0437 that morning approaching the entrance to the mouse tunnel. The night time setting had worked really well. I shifted the camera to point in a different direction to try to see where it was getting into the garden; I'm hoping it's using a hole I cut in the fence a couple of years ago with the agreement of the neighbours. While gardening around our pond, Bea found two frogs so our wildlife friendly areas are doing fine. The SSPCA phoned about the recent dog attacks with a conciliatory tale which I did not entirely buy so they agreed to call in the Council Dog Warden. I then took last night's family for a second evening of badger watching. Excellent views of badgers again, plus the bonus of footage on the trail camera of a pine marten on the feeder the previous evening about two hours after we left.