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.
Fri 1st to Sun 10th January 2021
Saturday 2nd. Checked the camera at the golf club. No wildlife action so I removed it. Lots of wildlife footprints in the snow all over the course including rabbit, hare, roe deer and fox. Also lots of skiing tracks too which will not please the green keeper. Decided that I would go back and reset the camera in a new place to try to capture some winter activity while we still had snow.
Sunday 3rd. Set up the camera by the 7th fairway at the golf club. AGC.
Tues 5th. Checked the camera at the golf club. No wildlife and no skiers recorded. Took some snowy footage while I was there and put together a movie for Facebook and Twitter that evening.
Weds 6th. Decided to enter the 100km in 30 days challenge, organised by the RAF School of PT. Details of entry were a it sketchy but sent some emails off to check.
Thurs 7th. Registered for the100km challenge. Downloaded a fitness app onto my phone to help with recording, which will be backed up on the GPS and hand-written into a table each day to be sure. Paranoid or what! Anyhow, there's not much conservation work going on right now; Covid 19 and snow and ice have combined to make things quite difficult so we are more or less staying indoors apart from dog walking for exercise and the odd trip to the village shop. We get our main shopping online with Tesco.
Mon 11th to Sun 17th Jan 2021.
Very little to report this week. We were basically keeping our heads down due to lock-down and feeding the birds. The 100km challenge is going well but every inch of the 45 km walked up to Saturday was covered by trudging through snow and ice which made it much more of a challenge than expected. Lots of animal tracks in the snow, mostly roe deer and rabbits but two days on a row there were unmistakable tracks of a fox determinedly heading in a straight line, as they do. On Saturday I removed the trail cam from the golf club; the only footage taken was of roe deer wandering around in the snow and fog, none of which was worth keeping.
Mon 18th to Sun 24th Jan 2021
Snow was very much the order of the day throughout the week, making practical conservation difficult and my walking challenge really challenging. One significant event was my decision to step down from the Board of Trustees of Scottish Badgers. The organisation is doing a terrific job and I'm proud to have played a part but I am tired and strongly wish to retire and simply do things that take my fancy. Since leaving school in 1957 I have been engaged in public service of one kind or another without a break so I'm due timek in which to just sleep, chill, play golf, take photographs and make movies, as it suits me. On a practical wildlife front, the dogs and I found the remains of a recently kill woodcock in the woods which brought me to wonder how our badgers were faring. They have not had to suffer a winter like this one for many years and we might find the family has shrunk somewhat when we next go to watch them. On that subject, I had intended to set up one of the new trail cameras at the main sett but heavy snow that day meant the B970 was impassable so the idea was shelved. Instead I took videos of robins and the dogs in the snow and posted them online. The Guyana movie had really begun to take shape by the end of the week with just the selection of images from the last two phases of the trip to complete before getting down to the editing and the music. Even so, the job is unlikely to be finished for at least another two weeks. Next in line are movies from our trips to Ecuador and Zambia. Looking ahead to future trips, I had my first Covid 19 vaccination on Fri 22nd Jan which was marvelous. I just hope Heather's name comes up soon for her first one. Also on Friday I attended a scoping meeting for a proposed new Bat Conservation Group in the Cairngorms. I managed to avoid going on the committee but others volunteered so it will probably happen which will be really good. I also took steps that day to express support for a new consultation project for the possible reintroduction of lynx to Scotland. The consultation is being organised by Vincent Wildlife Trust, Scotland Big Picture and Trees For Life who have a much more credible plan than the nutcases who had previously tried to force the lynx issue without making any attempt to involve either the public or those who would be most affected by having lynx in their district. Watch this space.
Mon 25th to Sun 31st Jan
Monday. Checked the new SD cards for the Browning cameras and having established they worked OK I set one of the new cams up at the main sett near the badger hide. There were lots of signs of badger activity around the sett and in the snowy field so I expect things are OK. After a month of snowy weather with overnight frosts this is probably the worst winter this family has experienced so we can expect some casualties and a reduced family size for the coming summer season. Sadly, due to Covid 19, the prospects are not good of us reopening the hide at the end of February as we usually do. Fingers crossed for better Covid conditions later in the year.
Wednesday 27th Jan. Long walk in the snow with the dogs to Loch Vaa. Lots of footprints in the snow including roe deer, fox and red squirrel. Sent a snowy picture of Loch Vaa to BBC TV Weather Watchers website. In the afternoon Heather and I had a Zoom meeting with David Bavin of the Lynx study group, organised by Scotland Big Picture, Trees for Life and Vincent Wildlife Trust. We have vouched to help in any way we can to help bring lynx back to Scotland. Rest of the week was devoted to staying warm and getting on with the Guyana movie.
Saturday was a four-hour badger meeting for the Advisors and Trustees of Scottish Badgers. I will be leaving the Board of Trustees at the AGM in the Autumn having spent more years than I care to remember on the board. I'll still run the local badger hide of course, once the Covid rules slacken off a bit.
Mon 1st to Sun 7th Feb 2021
Monday - devoted every spare moment to finishing the Guyana movie "Glimpses of Guyana". Uploaded it to YouTube in the evening and advertised it on social media. I checked on line about Karanambu; sadly Diane McTurk has passed away, don't know when, but the ranch is still going and won an award in 2019 for sustainability in tourism I think. Wonderful place. Plans for the rest of the week include setting up a camera near the pine marten nest tree on the Abernethy Golf Club and getting to grips with a new-to-me music recording programme called Cakewalk. It's been around for a long time, but disappeared for a while but has come back under new owners I think. Looks promising.
Tuesday - set up the Aggressor trail camera at the Abernethy Golf Club to survey the area around the pine marten nest box tree to see if pine martens are about. Later I worked with the Cakewalk recording programme and decided it was not quite what I was hoping for. I'll keep looking.
Wednesday - quite a lot of new snow overnight so the dogs and I were walking on virgin snow for most of our morning walk. Even on the main track there was only one set of boot prints but there were wildlife footprints everywhere from roe deer, red squirrels and small mammals.
Thursday - again, more snow overnight. Badger footprints in the new snow to my surprise along what we call Bobby's short cut in the main Boat woods. The prints were quite fresh and snow was still falling so the badger must have passed only a short time ago. Weird. Later, I began writing the third and final chapter of my story for the RAF PTI magazine 'The Badge'. It will take a few days to finish. One of our bird feeders broke so, given the bad weather and the need to feed the birds, I was forced to go out and fix it. It was a bit fiddly so gloves were not an option; my fingers just about froze off. In the evening I discovered that one of my snowy woodland pictures was on the BBC Weather website as an editor's pick in the Weather-Watchers area. Very pleased.
Fri to Sunday - very cold still with more snow. Nothing to add apart from doing indoor stuff like music, working on a new atmospheric piece for videos.
Mon 8th to Sun 14th Feb.
Monday - still freezing. Topped up bird feeders around the village. We'll have to count pennies with no badger hide income to look forward to for some time to come I expect.
Wednesday - pine marten poo on the caper track 50 metres from the main crossroads.
Thursday - overnight temperature last night was -16C at Boat and -23C at Braemar, the coldest night since 1995 which was 26 years ago.
Friday - took Bea for her Covid 19 Jag No 1. On the way to Aviemore we passed a dead badger on the A95 at map ref NH 91126 1794 which is between the Kinveachy cottages and the railway bridge.
Sat and Sun. Binge watched football and tried to stay warm. Worked on a new piece of music called Mossphere, an atmospheric instrumental based on an electric piano rhythm with string base line, cello melody and a few gentle horn blasts.
Mon 16th to Sun 21st Feb
Spent much of Monday putting the finishing touches to Mossphere, ending up with two versions; one with drums and one without. The weather began to warn up and the forecast is for very warm temperatures for the rest of the week, by the end of which the snow will have probably gone. On Monday the Toshiba laptop was up to its old tricks, having presented me with the dreaded blue screen three days in a row, so that evening I downloaded a fresh version of Windows 10 and left it to install itself overnight, the plan being that if it keeps doing the same things again I'll scrap it, having already spent a lot of time and effort and at least £200 over recent years, trying to get it to behave.
Tuesday - the Toshiba was behaving itself with its new OS so I reinstalled Chrome and VLC media player (which I could not reasonably do without) with the intention of installing no other programmes until I can be reasonably sure that the problems have not come back. If they do come, with such a light load, I'll be fully justified in binning it. As for wildlife, the warmer weather makes it worth considering checking the trail cameras at the golf club and the badger hide, plus possibly putting one in the garden to see if the warm weather has woken up our hibernating hedgehog. Watch this space. On a medical note, my skin trouble got worse with a vengeance over the past month so lack of sleep was becoming an issue again. There's not much to be done other than persevere with the creams, although to help my scalp I cut the hair on my head down to the bone. Felt wonderfully fresh.
Wednesday - put out the E3 camera in the garden to see if the hedgehog had woken up. In the evening, Bea and I and 2,500 others attended the webinar "Scotland - the world's first rewilding nation. Lots of good intention but I cannot see past the lies and entrenched views of gamekeepers, shooters and farmers which seems to be getting worse in the face of perceived threats posed by conservationists. Pete Cairns declares that there is no need for a 'them-and-us' attitude but that's exactly what we've got and I see no way out of that. Scottish Government is reluctant to force the issue, preferring to achieve change by voluntary efforts, but previous attempts at voluntary restraint by land managers has got us nowhere and things have got worse, not better. They are laughing at us.
Thursday - the dogs and I found fox poo on a rock on the path behind the Kinchurdy houses. Later I refilled some of the woodland feeders.
Friday - exchanged messages with the Vincent Wildlife Trust coordinator of the lynx survey project to arrange a time for Heather and I to be interviewed as part of the study; we settled for Monday next week. I responded to a message from Scottish Badgers asking for opinions on the draft of an article about farmers and badgers intended for the next SB Newsletter. My response was mostly positive but I expressed doubts over some of it, which will not endear me to everybody. It's probably just as well that I will be stepping down from the Board in the autumn. Later I checked the trail camera in the garden to see if the hedgehog had woken up; it had not.
Saturday - in the morning, two woodpeckers were competing loudly by hammering on trees not very far apart near fairy hill; a sure sign that Spring is not too far away. At Abernethy Golf Club I swapped cards at the trail camera and would check for action later. I filled the peanut feeder at the 6th hole and intended to do the same at the feeder at the 9th green but there was rotten food in it and it stank of creosote so I planned to remove it, clean or rebuild it and re-site it away from the smelly shed.
Sunday - I removed the camera from the badger hide main sett and would check its card later. At the golf club I removed the offending feeder and put it in the shed ready for repairs. I then made a video of winter mammal activity from the footage taken at the golf club and posted it on Twitter and Facebook. That camera produces AVI videos which HitFilm editor can't handle so I had to use the free version of NCH Video Pad, which worked remarkably well despite its limitations. In the evening I began to work through the 630 videos from the camera that was at the Badger Hide main sett. Lots of good stuff in snowy conditions including mating, fighting, and sub-cordal gland rubbing. I gave up, exhausted, after about 400 clips and would finish it next day, then publish some of the better clips on Twitter and Facebook.
Mon 22nd to Sun 28th Feb
Monday - I reviewed the last of the clips from the SBH main sett trail camera. The final 100 clips were poor due to the batteries having run low. I put together a few clips of Bling and posted them on Twitter and Facebook; they got a good response, especially from people who knew Bling. In the afternoon I had a one-hour Zoom chat with David from Vincent Wildlife Trust about the Lynx survey on which he is leading for VWT, Trees for Life and Scotland Big Picture. This is not the place for details of our conversation but it was an hour well spent. Later, I signed up for the RZSS online webcast on Tuesday night about wildcats.
Tuesday - mostly a domestic day but I did check the hedgehog cam (still none) and in the evening Heather and I attended a Zoom seminar about the RZSS wildcat captive breeding for release project. We both have some reservations, especially to do with the continued risk of hybridisation with domestic cats, both due to the chosen release area in Strathspey being heavily populated with humans and their cats and because the Scottish Government has made it very clear they will not force cat owners either to microchip or neuter domestic cats, even in wildcat priority areas such as the release area for this new project.
Wednesday - woodpeckers drumming behind Fairy Hill again. I repaired the squirrel feeder from the golf club by sanding the back of it to remove the stinky creosote (stupid green-keeper) and making a new step. I also took/confirmed a couple of tentative badger hide booking for the end of May, with the caveat that they would only go ahead if the current Covid restrictions have been relaxed sufficiently by then.
Thursday - reinstalled the refurbished squirrel feeder on a tree at the golf club and put just a few peanuts in it to see if the squirrels will actually use it in its new position. In the evening, Bea and I attended the SWT north group Zoom webinar with Dan Puplett talking about wildlife tracks and signs. Dan is one of Scotland's best experts on the subject so it was very good indeed. The event attracted 700 attendees, which is marvelous.
Friday - I went to the badger hide to tidy up and check was well. I took all the notices off the walls, all of which were looking faded and tatty and some of which had been damaged due to the leaking roof. I checked the carpet which we had rolled up and placed on a cradle of chairs for the winter; it was bone dry and worth putting down again once we are allowed to open. The floor was bone dry which was something of a relief - I even jumped up and down on it to make sure it had not been weakened by the severe winter; it was fine. I checked the lights, which were working perfectly, and I had a sniff at the emergency fleece jackets that hung behind the door and they too were in good shape. As for the sett itself, the main sett at the east end of the slope was still the most active area, whereas the lower sett nearest the hide showed only slight usage. A few individual holes had been cleaned out, particularly at the south end, but there was no latrine or bedding activity to be found. All in all everything is OK and we will be able to open again once the Scottish government gives the go ahead. At home I checked the hedgehog cam; still no sign of our hog. I then rejigged that camera set up because I needed the adjustable bracket for the goldeneye cameras that we intended to install over the weekend at the badger hide.
Saturday - Bea and I installed the two new cameras at the goldeneye boxes at the badger hide. It didn't take very long at all but I have a few doubts about if it will work, not least because the cameras may not work well enough when set to take videos, a suspicion resulting from the frequent corrupt files produced during the recent long badger project. I'll check the cameras in a week or two and decide what to do then, perhaps having done some experiments at home in the meantime.
Sunday - watched football all day apart from an impromptu chat in the woods with fellow BoGWiG colleagues about Milton Loch, the local farmer and the busted fence, setting up the new goldeneye box on poles and the leaky badger hide roof..
Mon 1st to Sun 7th March
Monday - did a bit of work with the new cameras. Still not looking good, even with the new super-fast SD cards. More work to be done, but I'm wondering if the recent cold weather has been a factor, which will be a problem in winters in future but since most of our camera trapping is done in summer that might not matter too much. We'll see. Did some recording of a new piece "Coasting" in the loft studio; not too bad. Will mix it over the next few days and then work on one more piece before starting the next video "Ecuador".
Tuesday - Zoom meeting of the Link Wildlife Group; it was scheduled to last two hours but was all over after 48 minutes. Woodpeckers in the local woods are still drumming away near Fairy Hill. Did some more tests on the new Browning cameras; it's beginning to look as if the new super-duper SD cards may not be compatible with the Browning cameras. I asked Colin Roberts on Twitter for his opinion because he is a fan of Browning cameras. In the loft studio I finished mixing the piece "Coasting" and copied the final version to various hard drives. There remains a new very slow piece to create, after which I'll start a new video about Ecuador.
Wednesday - I set off at 0758 and spent the next 80 minutes doing the first crested tit nest box check of the season under my new intended schedule of checking all the boxes within the first week of each month. The new layout for the crestie boxes took less time and less effort than the previous layout, as intended. No real activity was found other than mouldy droppings in box 6 and blue droppings in box 18 which was weird. At home I concluded some of the camera experiments with mixed and confusing results, at which I phoned Mike Nash at Handycam to discuss matters. Mike will contact Browning to see if there is a firmware update and also to ask their advice. After that I went through the settings on the Browning cam to discover that whereas I had thought that the High video setting was 30 fps and the Ultra setting was 60 fps when in fact it is the other way round, at which I altered the settings to the 30 fps Ultra value and put the camera back in the garden to see if that improves matters. We shall see. Later I put that to the test but it did not work because the battery level was too low to record anything. Worryingly, the level in the battery pack was only down to 11.74 volts which is only a quarter of one volt below the required 12 volts; that's not very practical and means that rechargeable AA batteries will simply not work at all unless I make up a pack of 10, 11 or 12 batteries to achieve the required 12 volts. I'll speak to Handykam and ask if there is an an external 12 volt battery pack available.
Thursday - I checked the nest boxes at Abernethy Golf Club; no nesting activity at any of the nine boxes which was not surprise, given the continuing cold weather. There was lots of badgery digging near box 5 as usual but no dung in the latrines. Nearby, I swapped cards in the camera at the pine marten nest box and at home the old card revealed roe deer, badger and brown hare but no red squirrels or pine martens. Referring back to the Browning camera, I set one up showing only 50% battery life, then set it to take just one medium quality jpg (8MP) per trigger to see if it will work at all with a low battery. It did work very well. I then reset it it to Ultra (32MP) quality jpg with a one-second delay and reduced the IR light to Economy and left it out over night.
Friday - the dogs and I set off to check the Springwatch badger tunnel. On the way there we spotted a male capercaillie on the main track near it's highest point which is about halfway between the main crossroads and the far tee junction. Excellent, because we had not seen a capercaillie all winter. At the badger tunnel, we found it to be in use by something that had kept the small entrance entirely clear of debris. The dogs were quite interested, which seems to confirmed occupation. At home, there was a call from the health centre with my appointment for the second Covid jag next week, Fri 12th March - brilliant news. I checked the Browning camera with its 50% battery level and of the 70 jpg pictures 16 were corrupt so asking it to do Ultra High Quality pictures with a low battery is a bad idea. Conclusion, stick to medium quality jpgs (8MP), however as a final check I reset it to take High Quality (16MP) jpgs to see how that coped with only 50% battery life. Result; 7 of 104 pictures were corrupt so I set it back to Medium Quality (8MP) as a final check to see if that still delivers a faultless series of jpgs with only 50% battery. To be honest, I reckon High or Ultra would be fine and last for ages with full batteries. Again, we'll see. Went to the badger hide and swapped the cards in both Goldeneye boxes and reset both cameras to take medium quality jpgs, which was just as well because approximately half of the mp4 videos on the cards from the goldeneye boxes were corrupt. Rubbish! I will try again but with the 'other' video setting, the one that takes 30 frames per second instead of 60 fps, which I had selected by mistake for the first attempt which has been such a disaster. I'm totally confused as whether the cards are not good enough or the cameras are rubbish; I don't think it's the batteries because the camera at the goldeneye box on the hollow was still saying its batteries were 100% full.
Saturday - the Browning camera with 50% battery which had been set overnight to Medium jpgs (8MP) had taken 70 pictures, only 3 of which were corrupt. That's OK - I assume that with full battery it would deliver a perfect set.. Next job, put new batteries in the camera and set it to take videos at 30 fps "Ultra". I did that and it was no good. The batteries remained 100% full so I'm really beginning to suspect that the SD card is the issue. To test that, I tried a few things which failed until I put a card for the E3 camera (A PLY elite 16 GB 100mbs class 10 ) card in the Browning without deleted the Bushnell E3 files and without formatting it in the Browning; result was 16 perfect MP4 videos. Next, I formatted that card in the Browning which ought to remove everything on the card including the videos take with the Bushnell E3 and put the camera back out again. If that works, then I think we can safely conclude our problem is the SD card. After lunch Kate and Andy and I put the goldeneye-box-on-legs in Milton Loch in the hope of deterring jackdaws from using it. Fingers crossed that this innovative move will bear fruit - or even goldeneye ducks.
Sunday - I took the dogs to Dalnahaitnach in foul weather to check the osprey nest ; no ospreys seen but we found pine marten poo half way between the nest and the gate. At home, the SD card testing took on a new impetus now that it's looking as if the new ScanDisc Ultra cards will not work in the new Browning cameras but they will work in the Bushnell E3 and Canon SX70 cameras and therefore probably most other devices. I then continued testing old SD cards to see which of those will work in the Brownings. In the process, the batteries in the test Browning camera soon got down to 50% but it was still able to take videos. Alright!
Monday 8th to Sunday 14th March
Monday - played golf at Abernethy. There was fox poo on the 5th Fairway, not for the first time. At the 8th tee we checked the newly sited squirrel feeder but the food did not seem to have gone down at all. At the 6th hole I swapped cards in the camera and when I checked the old card at home there were just a few videos of a badger and one of a brown hare. In the afternoon I topped up the squirrel car park feeders. At various times through the day I continued with the SD card tests and it was looking increasingly likely that the new SD cards work in all devices apart from the new Browning cameras and that the old cards of different types all worked in all devices including the new Browning cameras. The final checks will be made overnight and next morning.
Tuesday - more or less completed the Browning camera SD card project and have 2 cards labeled for each of the six cameras which ought to work. The new 32GB Scandiscs do not work in the Brownings but almost everything else does except for a 64GB Scandisc which I borrowed from the Canon SX70 so perhaps size is a factor too. Policy: avoid buying cards larger than 16GB for the Browning cameras.
Wednesday - Heather and I removed the incompatible cards from the goldeneye cameras at the Badger Hide and replaced them with cards that had passed my Browning test routine over the past few days. Back at home I checked the cards that we had removed and found that the box in the hollow had been checked out by great tits, blue tits and tree creepers with no corrupt files at all, which was a pleasant surprise, whereas the box on the ridge had been visited by blue tits and great tits and there were several corrupt files on the card. I left both cameras to take just still images as previously, to save battery power and card memory capacity, with the intention of switching to videos once we have seen some goldeneye or owl action.
Thursday - at the golf club we discovered that the card in the Aggressor camera had not been formatted for that camera so it had failed to record anything. We did however find some fox poo near the 8th green. At home, responding to a discussion on Twitter about cameras and batteries, I put the notion that rechargeable batteries work just fine in Browning cameras to the test by putting some of my best rechargeables in one of our new Brownings, even though half of them were not fully charged. When I switched the camera one it declared that its battery power was a mere 25% but I persevered and left it pointing at bird food in a 2" mesh cage and with remarkable will-power I left it alone till next morning.
Friday - first job was to get my second Covid jag in Aviemore, after which I went to the golf club and formatted both SD cards that are designated for the Aggressor camera to hopefully avoid issues in future. Back at home, with great trepidation, I checked the camera in which I had put rechargeable batteries the previous day. To my astonishment it had recorded 125 videos flawlessly, which at a stroke dispels my fears about our not being able to afford all the lithium that might be required for our various projects. Next test is to use the poorest quality rechargeable batteries in my possession to see if even they are a viable option; because if they are then we really are in business.
Saturday - found fox poo and pine marten poo on paths near Loch Vaa, then more or less finished the testing of SD cards and batteries in the Browning trail cameras, so we're in good shape for the season ahead.
Sunday - an excellent start to the goldeneye duck season; the camera on the nest box in the hollow had photographed a duck going into the box at 0708 that morning. Brilliant. At the other box there was pine marten poo at the foot of the pole as per previous years, which makes little sense since there are no eggs in the box yet.. We also set up another camera on the main badger sett to see what they are up to; there was certainly lots of badger poo in evidence all over the sett. In the evening I put the goldeneye picture on Twitter and it received rave responses. I also sent it to the National Park Office as they had helped to fund the cameras.
Monday 15th to Sunday 21st March
Monday began with more social media bouquets for our goldeneye pictures. I then checked the golf club camera but nothing had been recorded. At home I checked the garden cameras; no hedgehogs on the hog cam but a great tit had inspected all three entrances of the sparrow gallery on Sunday.
Tuesday was mostly a domestic day but I did manage to check the golf course camera but it had recorded nothing at all.
Wednesday was again spent mostly at home but was not exactly idle regarding wildlife as I spent about three hours wrestling with the BTO Demon database system which I do not use very often and therefore struggle to find my way round it. Eventually it kinda fell into place and I was able to update the Milton Loch goldeneye box data and also enter the new map references for the adjusted crestie tit box layout in Deshar woods. I also added the information from our goldeneye duck visit to one of boxes at the badger hide on Sunday. Still to do: check the map references for the tit boxes and starling boxes at Milton Loch, now that I've remembered how to do it.
Thursday was mostly domestic but I did do some database work with Millton Loch goldeneye boxes. I also considered rejigging the titbox and starling box map references but ran out of enthusiasm.
Friday was very much a trail camera day in which I checked the cards in 5 of my 6 cameras. Starting with the two in the garden, the hedgehog cam still did not record any hedgehogs; I hope they're OK. The sparrow gallery cam showed prospecting by a pair of sparrows and one starling (!) but most of the activity was by two great tits which had gone in and out of various of the three entrances over the past three days. Looks hopeful. The camera at the badger hide main sett recorded general badger activity over the past week between 1830 in the evening and 0630, a period of roughly 12 hours per night. Both goldeneye boxes saw significant action; Box 1 in the hollow had a duck enter, then sit in the entrance at 0757 on 17 Mar 2021 and at Box 2 on the ridge a tawny owl checked out the box on 14 Mar and at 0800 on 17 Mar a GE duck entered the box, then sat in the entrance for a few minutes; probably the same duck as at Box 1, judging from the timing. In the badger hide itself, I opened the windows just a crack to allow the warmer weather to begin the task of drying the place out. We are beginning to receive a few requests for badger watches from mid May onwards which I am taking on a provisional basis with the option to cancel if the Covid situation does not improve along the expected lines.
Saturday and Sunday were lazy days, mostly binge-watching golf and football on tv.
Mon 22nd to Sun 28th March
On Monday morning I filled up some woodland feeders then finished reconciling the BTO Demon bird nest records with my own spreadsheets which will make life a lot easier to keep track of activity as the season progresses. I then checked some trail cameras as follows: at the golf club there were only roe deer sightings on the camera and in the garden there was still no sign of the hedgehog but the great tits continued to show an interest in the sparrow gallery. While at the golf club I checked the feeder at the 8th tee and there is still no sign of it being used; Heather's theory that it still smells of creosote may be proving to be true so I'll maybe scrap it and build a new one.
On Tuesday I filled feeders at the golf club and collected the feeder that the squirrels and birds won't use. Before scrapping it I put it up in our garden to see if the birds would use it.- if not it's certainly for the bin. Was contacted by someone who had found a badger sett while out walking in the Abernethy reserve. It turned out to be one that I already knew about but had not visited since 2006 - nice to know it's still OK.
On Wednesday evening I went to the badger hide 1800 to 1915. Almost all of the the tunnels at the lower sett had clearly not been used all winter as they were choked with leaves and twigs, but just one very small tunnel at the north end of the sett did appear to have been used recently. I put peanuts out in the usual way and called to the badgers but to no avail - no badgers came out. On the way out I paused opposite the main sett and a badger did emerge and watched me for a few minutes before dropping back out of sight. Disappointing but not a disaster. I'll do something similar each week throughout April in the hope of coaxing the badgers out for badger watching once we reopen, hopefully in May.
On Thursday I worked on a paper for the national park summarising the status of the goldeneye boxes in this area that are known to me and other BoGWiG members.
On Friday I had the goldeneye paper checked out by other BoGWiG members then sent it to the National Park.
Mon 29th March to Sun 4th April
On Monday there was roe deer activity close to the village; a roe buck on the main track and two does on the all-abilities track. At the golf club, I met with the greens staff and Genevieve from the Park/RSPB to finalise where we would build a bee bank near the practice green. We may get the use of a digger to save on manual labour but time will tell.
On Tuesday the great tits in our garden continue to show an interest in the sparrow gallery, especially the south compartment. Still no hedgehogs on the garden camera but mice were much in evidence.
On Wednesday I took Louise from Street of Kincardine, a wildlife guide and researcher, to the badger hide to brief her on BoGWiG's activities in the area including at Milton Loch and in Boat Woods. We checked the two goldeneye boxes on poles with the endoscope; both were empty. We also checked the old dilapidated stirling-board box on its big old tree on the ridge and to our surprise it had a tawny owl in it so we beat a hasty retreat. We then scattered some peanuts and sat blethering in the hide for an hour in the hope that badgers would come out but they didn't. At home I checked the SD card which I had taken from the camera at the sett and was pleased to note that the badgers are very active including lots of mating going on. I was particularly pleased to note that our old snared friend Bling is still in residence, complete with its snare.
On Thursday I took the squirrel feeder that used to be at the golf club, but which the squirrels did not use, into the local woods and set up a camera to monitor it. The chosen place was on a very clear animal track the start of which pine martens have routinely marked with droppings and is also not very far from the squirrel car park feeders so we know that both squirrels and martens frequent that area. In the evening I ground down the business end of a locking device which was too large to go through the security sockets of the new Browning cameras. Thinking back to the previous evening's tawny owl surprise I decided I would move the camera that was presently monitoring the badger sett and fix it up to monitor the owl's nest box. In years gone by, tawny owls regularly raised young in that box so it would be marvelous if a new pair were to take it over. If they do, I'll take the box down next autumn and build them a new one.
On Friday I did the monthly crested tit nest box checked with exactly the same result as last month; a few droppings in boxes 6 and 18 but no actual breeding activity. Bizarrely, we disturbed a female mallard near Box 4, which is well inside the woods and nowhere near water. In the afternoon I went back to the new feeder site to change the locking arrangement using the modified cable so that the chain would be available if needed at the badger hide. On the way there I topped up the squirrel car park feeder from the fresh supply of peanuts that arrived that morning and later I distributed nuts to two of my peanuts elves, Susan B and Kate J.
On Saturday, Frank. a local chap with a trail camera, reported a badger in his garden at 1.30pm. I reassured him that although that was quite early, it would only have been of concern if it was a cub, which it clearly was not...I pointed out that badgers had had a difficult winter and would have lost weight so were no busily putting it back on and Frank's fat balls would be really attractive for such an animal. I did however agree that 1.30pm was surprisingly early. I then went to the badger hide and removed the badger sett camera and re-sited it on a tree from where it could see what we are now calling the tawny owl box, to monitor progress. I then visited the goldeneye box cameras, swapped the cards and fitted close-up lenses to both cameras. Unfortunately, the clamp at the box in the hollow had fallen apart but I was able to jam it back together as a temporary measure. At the badger sett in front of the hide most of the holes were still full of twigs and leaves but two of them had been used since I was last there so before going home I scattered some peanuts down all of the holes including in amongst the twigs and leaves as a broad hint for the badgers to open the holes up again. At home I then checked the three SD cards. The badger sett camera had lots of badger activity including one badger out at 2pm one day the previous week, similar to Frank's early badger - it had also recorded a tawny owl standing on the sett at 2059 on 2nd April. Both goldeneye boxes had been visited by ducks once each, Box 1 at 0930 on 21st March and Box 2 at 0706 on 31st March. In the garden, still no hedgehogs.
Mon 5th to Sun 11th April
Monday began with some gadgetry work in the shed for the trail cameras. Later I heard from a friend that he had seen some dodgy vehicle behaviour on a local farm and he thought I knew the farmer. I did, and duly alerted the farmer for him to deal with.
Tuesday was another bitter winters day with strong winds and snow and hail showers and some fox footprints in the snow along the usual paths in our woods. I checked on things at the badger hide, firstly by swapping cards in the tawny owl camera. Down at the hide it was noticeable that some of the holes that were previously choked with leaves and twigs had now been opened up by the badgers, no doubt due to my having thrown some peanuts down those tunnels a few days ago. On the way home, a goldeneye female flew across my path from the direction of one of the goldeneye boxes. Nice one. At home I checked the card from the tawny owl camera to discover the card was full due to the windy weather having continually triggered the shutter, so it had only lasted for one day. On the plus side, before packing up it had recorded the comings and goings of a tawny owl in the wee small hours of the 4th April. In the afternoon I went back to the tawny owl camera, cleared the card, changed the batteries, took it off its swaying tree and mounted it on a tripod, lashed firmly down to the base of a tree. Before coming home I treated the badgers to some more peanuts.
On Wednesday I went back to the hide to check the owl camera and make some adjustments to the timing so that the sensor was only alive from 7pm to 7am to conserve battery power and SD card space. Whilst there I put more peanuts down the badger tunnels nearest to the hide. At home I checked the card from the owl camera and to my relief there were just a few videos on it so clearly putting the camera on the steady tripod rather than on a tree had hugely reduced the false triggers in this windy weather. Among the videos were two clips of a tawny owl entering the box. Excellent.
On Thursday, fellow dog walker Cath told me she had seen two badgers cross the main Deshar road from the fields to the woods near the squirrel car park soon after 9pm on Tuesday this week. Interesting. I checked the Sustrans camera and there was nothing recorded although a squirrel's tail seemed to brush across the camera lens at some point. I'll move the feeder a bit closer to the camera next time I'm passing in case it's not picking up squirrels at that range.
Friday began with a slightly unusual dog walk to include the Sustrans camera site where I moved the squirrel feeder one tree closer to the camera in case it had been too far away to be triggered by squirrels. Went to Abernethy Golf Club to check the small nest boxes (no breeding action, not event a scrap of net material), check the camera (just clips of roe deer and brown hare) and refill the squirrel feeder at the 6th hole. Of interest, I came across fresh badger dung at the usual latrine beside nest box No 5.
Saturday and Sunday was spent mostly watching football and golf on TV.
Mon 12th to Sun 18th April
Monday - checked the Sustrans feeder camera - no action recorded.
Tuesday - checked the cameras at the badger hide. There was lots of action at the tawny owl box including a visit by a pine marten; silly beast will have its face removed if it puts its head in that box. There had also been lots of action at the goldeneye box on the ridge but none at all at the box in the hollow.
Wednesday and Thursday - mostly domestic stuff and work on the Ecuador video.
Friday - took the dogs up on the Carrbridge moors to check an osprey nest but no sign of the birds either at the nest or at their usual perches. Continued with the Ecuador video. In the evening I went to the badger hide. By 1930 I had checked the goldeneye box on the ridge to see if there was any tell-tale down caught in the grain around the entrance (none seen) and swapped SD cards in the tawny owl camera. I scattered peanuts in the usual way and called to the badgers and to my delight a badger came out of the bushes at the upper sett within five minutes. Soon there were two badgers and by 2015 there were four badgers, at which point I went home. As I left, one of the badgers just calmly watched me lock up without batting an eyelid. At home I checked the card from the tawny owl camera to find the owl or owls had visited the box several times every night.
Saturday - went to Abernethy Golf Club to check the camera near the pine marten nest box; it had videos of roe deer, red squirrel, brown hare, badger and pine marten. Heard a woodpecker.
Sunday - I checked the Sustrans camera; nothing recorded again. Then, thanks to a heads-up from Nigel Woodall, I watched a presentation on YouTube about the Abernethy Forest, organised by the British Ornithological Club and presented by RSPB's Ron Summers. Apart from getting a welcome name-check about my goldeneye boxes on poles, there was an interesting section about pine martens and their predation on capercaillie and crested tits. Of particular note was the fact that Ron was conducting a crested tit nest box study in Culben Forest which included nest boxes designed specifically to prevent pine martens reaching into the boxes and dragging the chicks out. Later, I emailed Ron for advice that I might be able to use at Boat of Garten with our own crested tit project.
Mon 19th to Sun 25th April
On Monday, having established the previous day that there had been a pine marten at Abernethy Golf Club near the foot of the nest box tree, I moved the camera so that it was pointing straight at the nest box. The camera was now pointing south, which is not ideal for a trail camera as it would be pointing at the sun for part of the day, but in this case it probably didn't matter as we are mostly interested in night-time activity. We'll see. I had a plan B if the sun was too much of a problem.
On Tuesday I checked the golf club camera again but there was nothing on the card at all. Spent a little more time on the Ecuador movie. Got an email reply from Ron Summers about crested tits and it looks as if I will be getting access to some research which might alter my approach for next year; it's probably too late to do anything new for this year's breeding season.
On Wednesday I moved the Sustrans camera to a point near enough to the feeder for small birds to trigger so that I can see if crested tits are using that area, now that I have made contact with the RSPB experts. I set the camera to take single pictures rather than video because there might be a large number of triggers which could cause the card to fill up and the batteries drain quite quickly. On the way home I put more peanuts in the Community Hall feeder - it was empty. At home, I checked the card from the Sustrans camera and was delighted to see that a red squirrel had found the feeder.
Thursday - checked the Sustrans camera again but not birds or squirrels were recorded. Had a great score on the golf course; 39 shots gross giving 20 Stableford points for the nine-hole Seniors competition which was enough to win. In the evening I attended a Zoom presentation about bats, organised by SWT North Area as part of their AGM evening.
Friday - checked the garden camera, only birds recorded. Still no hedgehogs. Checked the Sustrans camera: there were two red squirrels there at 6am today. Our local computer guru installed a new computer system for Bea in the evening. I'll try to refurbish the old one and, if successful, either donate it to a worthy cause of use it in the shed to monitor a garden bird box. Or something.
Saturday - watched a woodpecker in our woods in the morning. The drumming noise made by woodpeckers has been very noticeable for the past two weeks which promises much for their breeding season I guess. Went to the badger hide and swapped SD cards in all three cameras, two at goldeneye boxes and one at the tawny owl box. In a nutshell, there was very little activity at goldeneye box No 1, lots of activity at goldeneye box No 2 and heaps of activity at the tawny owl box. of note: redstart at Box 2, blue tits stole duck down from both GE boxes and Box 2 was twice visited by two goldeneye ducks simultaneously. In the evening I went to the badger hide, filled up the pine marten feeder and stayed for an hour to watch badgers. One came out almost as soon as I called plus one more a little later on. On the way out I called to the badgers at the big sett and sure enough one came to see who was shouting.
Sunday - I filled up the feeders at the squirrel car park and the Community Hall. It has noticeable lately how slowly the peanuts are being consumed so I guess there must be plenty of natural food for the small birds and red squirrels. Met fellow BogWiG members in the woods and did some plotting with them.
Mon 26th April to Sun 2nd May
Monday. Checked the Sustrans feeder camera and once more it had only recorded red squirrels. So, I went back later and repositioned both camera and feeder so that they were just one metre apart in case distance between them had been the reason that small birds were not triggering the camera. It could be that no small birds at all have been visiting that feeder but I find that hard to believe. As ever, we'll see.
Tuesday. Checked the garden camera and the the golf club camera; nothing worth mentioning recorded.
Wednesday. Checked the Sustrans camera and found it had recorded several pics of a great tit, which is fine because it shows it is being triggered by small birds, the purpose of the camera being there is to see if crested tits are around. Bea and I then went to the hide, swept it out and re-laid the carpet. Two mince had taken up residence in the rolled up carpet, which I should have predicated, but no real harm was down either to the carpet or to the mice. Some of the tunnels at the lower sett were still not showing signs of use but others were and there were two busy latrines. Looking good. Before leaving, we scattered some peanuts for the badgers and put some of the rotten carpet underlay underneath the hide for the mice to take to their new den, if they wished. Bought a new phone; Samsung Galaxy A71, similar to my wife's camera - she has the A70.
Thursday. Golf cancelled due to foul weather. Checked the Sustrans camera; several great tit pics but nothing else. I fitted a close-up lens before I left.
Friday. Spent the morning in Inverness during which I sat at North Kessock for a while in the hope of seeing dolphins; sadly no luck. Later I made a new detailed spreadsheet for visits to the goldeneye duck boxes; it did not take as long as I had feared.
Saturday 1st May. Checked the 20 crested tit boxes; the new circuit only took 70 minutes to cover. Still not much activity but there was a tiny amount of nest material in box 4 and box 16 had been completed excavated, not a scrap of burrowing material was left, so that was hopeful. Went to the badger hide to check the log book and check the cameras on 2 goldeneye boxes and the tawny owl box. The previous evening the group in the hide saw 3 badgers; they only stayed for one hour. I checked Goldeneye Box GE1 in the hollow with the endoscope and it was empty so I swapped cards in the camera. I checked Goldeneye Box 02 on the ridge with the endoscope and there was a duck sitting in it so I did not swap cards in the camera for fear of disturbing the duck. I then swapped cards in the tawny owl camera and went home. The card from GE Box 01 revealed only one visit from a duck since the previous check so that box is unlikely to produce anything. There were lots of videos on the tawny owl camera recording activity every night since the last check, so that box is looking good. Checked the garden camera and at last there was a hedgehog - three pictures at 0244 on 30th April which was two nights ago.
Sunday 2nd May. A photographic day. I checked the cameras at the golf club and at the Sustrans feeder. No action recorded at all at the golf club pine marten nest box and just great tits and a red squirrel visited the Sustrans feeder. I also spent three hours taking photos and videos at the Twa Bridges golf event at Abernethy at which the golfers played nine holes at Abernethy followed by nine holes at Carrbridge. I got home in the afternoon exhausted.
Mon 3rd to Sun 9th May
Went to the badger hide to try to check No 2 goldeneye box on the ridge after Saturday's failed attempt. The duck heard my approach and flew away which in one sense was a shame but also helpful in another way. So, using a selfie stick and a phone set to taking video I checked the contents of the box and was delighted to have recorded 8 goldeneye eggs. I quickly nipped across to the tawny owl camera and measured the distance from the camera to the tawny's tree; it was 9 metres. I then went back to the goldeneye box and found that there was a tree about 9 metres from it onto which I could fix another camera, which would be easier to check than the one on the gantry. Food for thought, but it would only require some modest re-juggling of my six cameras to set up a trial. Towards that end, I checked the garden camera and there was a hedgehog at 10pm the previous night. I checked the SD card from GE box No 2 to find less images than I expected, probably because it has been less windy lately. All the same, the goldeneye comings and goings took two A4 pages to log in my book. In the evening I took a delightful couple to the hide for the first public badger watch of the year. The weather was awful, wet with a bitter north-east wind so I got frozen due to the need to have the windows open to comply with Covid rules. All the same, we had 4 badgers, 2 roe deer, a tawny owl and a brown hare for company and the customers really enjoyed it. By the time I got home my poor old body was thoroughly chilled despite the many layers I had on and I staggered up to bed shaking all over. Not nice. Sadly, this foul weather was forecast to continue for another week or more.
Tuesday. Spent the day recovering from the previous night.
Wednesday. Woke up to a covering of snow outside. In May for goodness sake! Did badger hide admin in the morning then repositioned some cameras to throw up one of the good ones for an experimental job at the most active goldeneye box. Sadly that leaves with none at the golf club at the moment but that is a low priority this month.
Thursday. Largely a domestic day and Friday was not terribly different. Poor weather meant that outdoor wildlife work was impractical.
Saturday. A trail camera day, checking 4 cameras in situ and installing a 5th one. The Aggressor at the Sustrans feeder had only recorded great tits and coal tits in the three days since I installed it so no cresties and not even a red squirrel. At the badger hide a medium sized mammal, a badger I assume, crept into one of its tunnels as I walked past the big sett at 1015 in the morning which is a bit unusual for it to be out and about at that time of day. I then checked the GE box No 1 in the hollow with the selfie stick and old phone; it was empty and when I checked the card later there had only been one visit by a goldeneye since the last check. Interestingly, the redstart had paid a visit again. Conclusion - that box is not being used for breeding at the moment. Box 2 on the ridge was a very different matter. As I approached, a duck flew out of the box which again was not all bad as it gave me time to do some proper checks. The selfie phone revealed the same 8 eggs as last time and the SD card from the gantry camera showed heaps of comings and goings every day since the last check including some action that very morning. Before moving on I set up another camera on a nearby (9 metres away) tree to see if the ducks would trigger it. If so, it will be much easier to manage than the camera on the gantry. Finally I swapped cards in the tawny owl camera and on the computer at home was pleased to see that there had been continuous action at the tawny box including the delivery of food. One pair of clips showed the male tawny flying up to perch on the camera and then flying up to the nest box carrying a prey item. I edited those clips together and posted them on social media to good effect.
Sunday. A fairly full day. First thing, while out with our dogs, I met a friend and her disabled neighbour's dog. One of her family members had recently seen a capercaillie in our woods and was thrilled about it. Good to hear about that because we hear so little of our remaining capers these days. Soon after that we found some pine marten poo near Kinchurdy pond. Before heading home I experimented with two new apps on my new phone, BirdNet and PlantNet, both of which performed OK, but no better than that. At home my wife and I did a bit of gardening, including clearing out some dense vegetation in our pond so that there was a little more open water. Finally, I checked our garden camera and there were just some birds on it and no hedgehogs so I moved it to monitor the sparrow gallery to see how the nesting great tits were getting on. A few days ago I had opened the three compartments to find two of them stuffed with new nests but we had not seen much activity in recent days from the kitchen window so the camera would tell us what was going on, if anything.
Mon 10th to Sun 16th May
Monday. Went to the hide to check how the newly placed camera was working; not very well as it turned out. It wasn't triggered at all by ducks entering or leaving the box but was triggered by the wind moving its supporting tree. Back to the drawing board then. In the evening I took two people to the hide in showery weather. We saw a minimum of 3 different badgers but with the comings and goings it was probably more than 3 but impossible to say for certain. Even so, such low numbers is unusual for that clan so either they have become shy during our forces absence due to lockdown or the long hard winter has caused losses.
Tuesday. Checked two trail cameras. The Sustrans camera just had great tits and red squirrels on it and the garden camera recorded no action at all at the sparrow gallery. In the evening I took a nice young couple to the hide where we had only 2 badgers. On the plus side we had several views of tawny owls and roe deer. Starting to get a bit concerned about the low badger numbers so I'll re-purpose our garden camera to monitor the big main sett at the hide.
Wednesday. Checked the camera in the garden to find that there had been a couple of visits to the sparrow gallery early in the morning by a great tit and rather oddly by a female blackbird. Bea had noticed sparrows showing an interest in the starling box so I checked it with the endoscope; it contained a fair amount of nest material but not a proper nest. I then visited a lady on the village whose trail cam had picked up a cat that could be a wildcat. She let me copy the videos so I could show them to the SWA team at Kincraig. I then took the garden trail cam to the badger hide and set it up at the big sett. Lots of the entrances showed signs of busy badgers which somehow did not support my concern that we had lost badgers to the severe winter weather. I determined to leave it a few days before checking it rather than jump to conclusions.
Thursday. A domestic day.
Friday. The Sustrans camera had only recorded red squirrels, coal tits and great tits; still no cresties. In the evening I took a very experienced wildlife couple to the badger hide. A nice evening with 4 badgers, a cuckoo, gs woodpeckers, roe deer and a pine marten. The marten ran across the field and headed for the river bank so quickly that we were unable to capture any pictures of it.. We expected to see the tawny owl but no such luck.
Saturday. A busy morning in which I collected one of the five cameras at the badger hide and swapped cards in the other four. The camera that I brought home had previously entirely failed to be triggered by ducks at GE box No 2, hence the reason for withdrawing it, except that when I checked the card it had twice been triggered by a duck leaving the box. Typical. I did not check any of the other cards, preferring to leave that long job for Sunday.
Sunday. Started with a walk to the D nest at Carrbridge; no ospreys but we were escorted in and out by a small flock of greylag geese. Back at home I began checking the four remaining SD cards from Saturday's trip to the badger hide. GE box No 1 in the hollow had very few visits in the past week and none by goldeneye ducks so that's that for the season I reckon. The redstart did visit a few times and and owl perched on the roof but not much else. GE box No 2 was a very different matter and had regular visits throughout the day and the duck spent the night in box every night. The camera on the tree near box 02 that I had removed because it was not being triggered, had actually been triggered twice by a duck since the last check but that is not sufficient to put it back there unless I can find a way to position it at least two metres closer; food for thought for net year? The tawny owl box camera again showed regular visits to the box, probably delivering food but one could not be sure about that. Most exciting clips were one of a fox showing an interest in the owl box and the next one showing the tawny owl attacking the fox! Amazing stuff. I put the clips together and published the result on Twitter and Facebook with good results, eg by 8pm Sunday evening there were over 100 likes on Twitter. Finally, the camera at the big badger sett showed that we have a t least one cub and that "Bling", our snared badger from 2019 is still around. Unfortunately the camera was not working very well, recording very short videos which I took to mean the batteries needed replacing. Later I went back and changed the batteries, only to find that there was nothing wrong with the old ones so I can only conclude that the SD card was at fault; the two cards for that camera are both of the type that did not work properly in the Browning cameras so that's probably it. I'll test it with a different type of card and if that works OK I'll simply bin the others.
Mon 17th to Sun 23rd May
Monday. Spent a couple of hours in the afternoon chatting to a local writer who intended to write an article about my wildlife work and particularly about the badger hide. In the evening I took a visitor to the hide where we saw 4 different badgers.
Tuesday. Checked the Sustrans camera which had taken almost 2000 images over the past four day, mostly of red squirrels plus a few great tits; still no cresties. On the way home I checked box 16 to find it contained a nest with one egg. It's a start. Played golf and during a hold-up I checked box No 2 at the club to find a nest with 5 eggs in it. Excellent. On the way home I swapped cards in the camera at the big badger sett near the hide, inserting one of the new Kingston ones that arrived yesterday to see if that worked any better. Finally I refilled the feeders at the squirrel car park and at the community hall. The card I had just taken out of the camera at the big badger sett had several videos on it - the ones in daylight were fine but the night-time ones were all cut short. I hope that time will reveal if it's battery problems or dodgy SD cards.
Wednesday was mostly a write-off with rain all day but I did put one of the new Kingston SD cards into a Browning camera to see how it would cope with videos overnight.
Thursday. Checked the Kingston SD card in the Browning camera and to my delight it worked really well on more than one level. To begin with it had recorded night time videos full length and good quality with no corrupt files and as a bonus there were two lovely videos of a hedgehog. Result! It remained to be seen if the Kingston SD card in the badger hide E3 camera would be as successful, but sadly not so. I brought the E3 home and went through the SD card; the daylight videos were fine but the night-time ones were all cut very short. Perhaps it was simply a battery thing; to be tested with new lithiums or fresh rechargeables.
Friday. Swapped cards in the Sustrans camera and filled up the feeder. The camera had taken more than 1200 images over the last few days of red squirrels, great tits, coal tits, chaffinches, roe deer and wood mice. Still no crested tits. Heather and I had a phone conversation with David Bavin of the Vincent Wildlife Trust who is managing a consultation to do with the possible reintroduction of the lynx to Scotland, with a view to holding a consultation event at Boat of Garten in late summer. We offered to help in whatever way we could.
Saturdays have become the major camera trap day in recent weeks. This Saturday I went to the hide and checked all three camera and installed an extra one as follows. Goldeneye box 01 in the hollow was empty and had only one brief visit by a goldeneye duck in the previous week so clearly it will not be a breeding site this year. Box 02 on the ridge has proved to be very much a breeding site with ten eggs in the box again this Saturday and several comings and goings by a goldeneye duck every day of the week. On one occasion there were two ducks; one in the box calling and one flying away. The tawny owl box saw action almost every day so I'm not sure what was going on there; surely if there were young in the box they would need to be fed every day, although I'm no expert. I installed an extra camera strapped to the pole of goldeneye box 02 on the ridge and pointing down the grassy slope which I expect the parent duck would lead the babies when they jumped out of the box. At home, the garden camera showed that the hedgehog had been in the garden almost every night.
Sunday. No wildlife activities. Played 18 holes of golf for the first time in two years. Chilled for the rest of the day.
Mon 24th to Mon 31st May
Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were a wash-out with heavy rain and a cold NE wind. I used some of that down-time to finish the Ecuador movie. Quite pleased with it.
Thursday. Checked the Sustrans feeder camera. 1,750 pictures including lots of red squirrel, several of chaffinch, coal tit, great tit and, woodmouse, plus one of a pine marten at 0530 25th May. Sadly, still none of crested tits which is quite worrying. On the way home I checked 3 of the crestie nest boxes; box 04 was stuffed to the roof with nest material such that it was hanging out of the entrance, but no nest. I uploaded the Ecuador movie to YouTube but had to remove it because it turned out that the ancient recording of The Magic Flute I had used, which the US Library of Congress claimed was no longer subject to copyright, was actually still in copyright.
Friday. Woke up in the middle of the night (3am) and checked the garden camera which I was delighted to see had recorded the hedgehog every night this week. Early walk with the dogs with the BirdNet app at the ready, it being a sunny and windless day, but the only bird we heard in that hour was a chaffinch. Very sad. I ought to go out at 5am I suppose. Spent much of the morning re-editing the Ecuador movie - it took several goes due to finding spelling mistakes in the captions and also having to fit new music into the scheme of things. It eventually fell into place and I uploaded it to YouTube and linked to it from Twitter and Facebook. The afternoon did not go to plan and was rather taken over by the realisation that next day, when I would normally have serviced the cameras at the badger hide and logged the data, was taken up with other activities so I grabbed the kitchen steps and headed for the badger hide. Long story short, the goldeneye eggs in Box 02 had hatched and the chicks had gone. Also, the tawny owl chick was big enough to be seen inside the box through the entrance hole so I expect it will leave the box soon. There could of course be more than one chick but hopefully the camera will capture the details in due course. Speaking of that, an adult tawny owl triggered a camera very near the goldeneye box that had just produced the ducklings and the timing of that video, which was only a few minutes after the ducklings had left their box, suggests the owl might have caught one of the chicks. Sad but we'll never know for sure. Finally, the camera at the goldeneye box 01 in the hollow had captured very little and the camera on the selfie stick showed the box to be empty so no chicks will be produced there this season, unless someone fancies a late brood. The final job will be to check box 02 thoroughly using a ladder; when I checked it with the selfie stick there was one egg visible in the box but it would be important to confirm there are none still buried in the deep bed of wood shavings and duck down so that I can assess how many chicks left the nest. There were ten eggs in the box three days before the fledging so it would be an easy calculation. The new plan was to do that check next day before meeting the rest of the group at Milton Loch for a volunteers session.
Saturday. Up at 5am and went to the badger hide and used the ladder to do a thorough physical check of goldeneye box No 2 to make certain there was only the single dud egg and that there were no more lurking amongst the wood shavings and down. Happily I was able to confirm that 9 of the 10 eggs hatched successfully and all 9 ducklings had left the nest, leaving just the one dud egg in the box. Brilliant result. Mid morning, Bea and I joined a handful of vols at Milton Loch to do such chores as nest checking, brush cutting, path sweeping and weeding. On Twitter, the pictures of the goldeneye ducklings leaving their box had reached more than 100 Likes, which is always nice.
Sunday. Walked part way up Cairngorm in the morning with Bobby the collie; it was pathetic really. My wife says to give myself a break coz I'm old but I find that hard to do. In the evening I took a lady and her delightful children to the hide. Not much action early on but as the light faded after 1015pm four badgers turned up to entertain us.
Monday. Checked the Sustrans camera; lots of red squirrels and a few coal tits and chaffinches but still no cresties. At the golf club I checked 8 of the nine tit boxes; the box at the 2nd hole had a great tit sitting and the one at the the third had four eggs in a nest with a great tit alarm calling in the tree above it. All the other six were empty. I would check box 5 with an endoscope another day. In the evening I took another young family to the hide. Another indifferent evening but we did see a badger three times over a two hour period, each time for 15 minutes or so. It was probably three different badgers, but only one at a time.
Tuesday. Checked box 5 at the golf club; it was a bit odd because as I approached a bird flew up into the tree above the box and alarm called but when I put the endoscope into the box there were no eggs and no chicks and the nest could even have been last year's; note that the stupid box is made of concrete and cannot be cleaned out. In the evening I went to the hide, swapped cards in the tawny owl camera and removed the camera from goldeneye box No 1 in the hollow, put a fresh card in it, fixed a bracket onto the hide wall and reset the camera to video the pine marten feeder, programmed to start triggering at 7pm and stop triggering at 7 am. At home I checked the cards from the tawny owl cam and the GE box 01 cam; neither had any action on at all so that's the breeding season for those birds over. I don't think either species is noted for having a second brood. Sadly, we don't know the outcome of the tawny owl box so we'll just have to hope they produced at least one chick.
Wednesday. Checked the crested tit nest boxes. Box 4 had lots of nest material but no nest, same as last time. Box 16 had a blue tit sitting and box 18 had a great tit with eggs. No crestie attempts at all, in fact I have not seen, heard or heard spoken about any crested tits in the woods this year. Very worrying. I posted the story on Facebook with mixed results; one chap reckoned he'd heard cresties more or less every day, while another consulted Bird-Track and found no reports of cresties in our woods this year whereas in previous years there were always reports. Lockdown could be a factor of course but there's no way to be sure. In the evening I took a family to the hide. They had been before and it was lovely to see them again. We had lots of birds and at least three badgers. The newly installed pine marten camera had recorded a few clips of a jackdaw just after the camera switched on at 7pm the previous evening and just before it switched off next morning so the settings were working perfectly.
Thursday. Golf and gardening.
Friday. Neighbour Colin took pictures of a slow-worm on the village football pitch. Nice one. I had a day of feeders; I built a new one for the Community Hall (the old one had been wrecked by the squirrels again and was now beyond repair) and I modified the new one at the Sustrans camera. All this took more time than you would expect. I also checked the card in the Sustrans feeder camera and it was the same old story; more than 900 pictures, none of them crested tits. I started to wear my hearing aids in the woods just in case a crestie decided to sing at me, which is what is claimed by two locals. One of the locals I'm not sure about but the other one knows what he's talking about so I must take him seriously. As well as the hearing aids I have been using BirdNet to try to learn a bit more about bird song, but I don't entirely trust it yet. Found a pine marten scat on the first part of the loop path, not far from crested tit nest box No 1.
Saturday. Bad night so slept much of the morning before heading up to the club in the afternoon to fulfill a golfing obligation. Bought some Niger seeds in the hope of attracting any cresties around to the Sustrans feeder and camera station. In the garden, our great tit pair in the left hand sparrow gallery box spent the day frantically bringing food to the box so we assume their chicks are growing nicely.
Sunday. Busy day. Went to the hide in the morning and swapped cards in the two cameras. Before leaving, I refilled the pine marten feeder and threw some peanuts down the nearest badger tunnels. At home, the tawny owl camera had recorded nothing so that's the end of their season, and the pine marten camera had no pine marten images, which was disappointing. Spent the rest of the day in the shed, mostly refining a new design for a lift-the-lid squirrel feeder as a present for a local lady. It did not go too well with lots of false starts but I got there in the end. Before bed, Bea and I set up a tunnel with a bowl of live mealworms in it and a camera at one end to try to video mice and hedgehogs. Last time we tried this the dogs wrecked it despite my beefing the system up with bricks; the dogs are older now and possibly less crazy, but we shall see.
Monday 7th to Sun 13th June
Put the finishing touches to the new squirrel feeder, created a graphic of it and noted some suggested changes for the next version. After researching crested tit preferred food and discovering they like insects and seeds best I installed a Niger seed feeder next to the peanut feeder at the Sustrans camera site to see if that attracted would attract cresties. At home I checked the SD card from that camera to discover that nothing had changed; no cresties, plenty of red squirrels, including one so dark it was almost black, and a few cola tits and chaffinches. The red squirrels had still not learned to lift the lid despite my having propped it partly open as a broad hint. In the evening I took the new squirrel feeder to the lady I had promised it to in Kinchurdy Road, then went to the badger hide to retrieve the tawny owl camera that is now redundant and check the pine marten camera. No pine martens on the SD card but lots of rooks and jackdaws which had managed to empty the feeder between them. I may have to reconsider the policy because we are spending a lot of peanuts on the corvids with no pine martens to show for it. Back at home I spoke on the phone to a gentleman who two days previously had accidentally killed one of our badgers on the B970. Poor man was mortified. I tried to reassure him that there was nothing anyone can do when a badger dashes out in front of your car on a country road, but he was nevertheless really upset. He and his family were regular visitors to the area and had in the past watched our badger at the hide.
Wednesday. Took a lady to the hide where we had 3 badgers in good light for photos. Still no pine martens on the camera, plus the heavy rooks had tilted the camera at a crazy angle so I brought the camera home. The small camera clamps just are not strong enough to cope with big birds so I'll develop some of my own design; one such clamp that I made a few years ago was quite successful, if a bit bulky, so more work along those lines is called for.
Thursday. Pine marten poo near the gate at Post Office corner in our woods, which is very close to the backs of several houses. Checked the food and pictures at the Sustrans feeder and camera site. The new Niger seeds had been totally ignored by the birds and the SD card had lots of images on it but still no cresties. Had a big session in the shed to build two new rigid mounts for trail cameras with half an eye on next year's goldeneye project.
Friday. Continued with the camera mount building session to good effect. Transferred all the videos and pictures from the Acer laptop to a large capacity external SSD drive, thus freeing up more than 100GB of memory on the laptops internal SSD drive which had been reduced down to only 30GB of free space - Yikes. On reflection I was a bit hasty in my choice of a new laptop last year but that's water under the bridge now and perfectly manageable provided I keep an eye on the hard drive. To be fair, the new laptop is working very well when editing videos which is what I bought it for so we're cool.
Saturday and Sunday was mostly golf and watching football on tv.
Monday 7th to Sunday 20th June
Monday. Checked the Sustrans and garden cameras. Still no cresties at the Sustrans and the red squirrels still have not learned to lift the feeder lid. In the garden, great tits taking peanuts from the tunnel feeder but no mice or hedgehogs. We added dishes of currants and Niger seeds to the peanut dish in the tunnel. In the evening I went for a brisk fitness walk with Bobbie the collie - it took exactly 1.5 hours, which from memory is ten minutes faster than usual.
Tuesday. Out with the dogs first thing as usual to the shop but via the steepest part of Fairy Hill. Our small dog Max has leg issues so I keep the pace sensible but each time he did get slightly behind I did half-squats while he caught up. In the garden, our great tits were still taking food to the nest box. On the golf course, the oyster catcher eggs had gone, either stolen by the gulls or rooks, or hatched and the shells tidied up by the parent birds which they sometimes do.
Tuesday. Set up another seed feeder at the Sustrans camera site using a mixture of seeds to see if that works any better than the Niger seeds that the birds are turning up their beaks at. Checked the camera card and it was the same story, ie no cresties at all.
Wednesday and Thursday. Mostly golf but on both days I took people to the badger hide where we had three badgers at least on both nights. On Thursday there was a lot of tawny owl action around the hide.
Friday. Checked the Sustrans feeder with the usual suspects recorded plus a pine marten at 8pm on Thursday evening. Still no cresties. Began carrying weight in a rucksack when dog walking to build towards a bit of light hill walking in two months time. In preparation, I weighed my rucksack packed as if for a summer hill walk including food and drink for me and one dog and it came to exactly 10lbs. For training purposes I then put a water container in my rucksack so that it weighed 10.5lbs and I would in future carry it when out dog walking. In the garden, I checked the sparrow gallery to find that the great tit chicks had gone, leaving one dud egg in the nest. Heather will continue providing meal worms for the time being to help the parents and chicks of all garden birds; that is, for the parents to recover from the exhaustion of raising a family and to help the chicks get established.
Saturday. Golf, garden and music.
Sunday. Long walk to Loch Vaa with both dogs and a moderately heavy rucksack, doing half squats and step-ups along the way when the older dog got left behind. During the walk we found two lots of pine marten scat, one near the cairn at the Yard Track/Vaa track junction at NH 9222 17674 and the other on the secret path near Donald's junction at NH 9253 18659. In the afternoon I checked the Sustrans camera; the usual customers and still no cresties.
Mon 21st to Sun 27th June
Monday. Refilled the Sustrans feeder. Worked on some music. In the evening I took two people to the hide where we had 3 badgers but not much else.
Tuesday. Did a bit of work on our garden pond. First, I set up a camera which was much affected by the wind blowing the grass around but at least, by chance, it recorded some frogs; I don't think the frogs triggered the camera. Due to lack of rain the pond was very shallow with lots of sludge in the bottom so I removed some of the sludge, cut the grass down around the pond and topped the water level up a bit from our rain tub. The frogs supervised my work quite thoroughly. I then set up the camera again, this time much closer to the surface of the pond making it more likely to be triggered by the frogs. We shall see. Before retiring to watch the football I removed the three old nests from the sparrow gallery and brushed out the compartments ready for the next occupants.
Wednesday. The frog camera in the garden overnight was not a great success so a rethink is required. I spent the morning doing DIY stuff at the golf club, then in the evening I took three friends from Wales to the hide where we saw at least four different badgers, including Bling our snared badger and I'm delighted to report that he or she is still looking great, even after wearing that snare for at least two years.
Thursday. Following yesterday's exertions, I slept most of the morning. Later I cleared the old nest out of the garden nest boxes and repaired the starling box (the floor was falling off). Next I cleaned out the shed gutter to improve the flow of water down the down pipe into the dog bath whence any overflow went down a pipe into the pond. At this point the pond was really low after the recent spell of hot summer weather but the forecast was for rain overnight so I was hopeful that things would have improved by next day. Sure enough the rain began in early evening and by the time I went to bed the dog bath was already full and water was trickling down the overflow pipe into the pond.
Friday. I checked the pond at 7am and it was full to overflowing, so job done. I checked the camera at the Sustrans feeder; it had recorded the usual suspects plus a sparrowhawk but still no crested tits. I decided that the time had probably come to give up on that site. Had a long chat with British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) about managing the large amount of data I had accrued this year about our highly successful goldeneye nestbox season. We agreed a way forward that suited us all. We also spoke about the apparent shortage of crested tits in Boat woods this year and agreed I would continue the nest box project in the hope that things would improve; BTO will circulate other crested tit volunteers to see how they were doing and what advice they might have for me.
Saturday. Brought the seed feeders home from the Sustrans camera site as a first step in moving that set-up. At home I moved the starling box and the robin box from their positions on the shed wall to inside the bushes along the middle fence in the hope that the more secluded and part-hidden place would entice birds to use them, eg blackbirds. Tidied the shed including throwing out enough unwanted stuff to free up a whole drawer in the metal filing cabinet for bird food, eg mealworms.
Monday 28th June to Sunday 4th July
Monday. Moved the camera and feeder from the Sustrans site to a new site at the far end of the woods beside the Yard Track, as it is known locally. We'll call it the VaaCam site, because it is close to the track junction that leads to Loch Vaa. At home, I checked the final card from the Sustrans camera; still no cresties. Rather oddly, it had stopped recording at 0400 that morning so I hoped the camera had not developed a fault; we'd know when I checked it at its new site later in the week.
Tuesday. Two dead badgers seen/reported this morning, both on the infamous B970. I passed one at Monduie on the way to Nethy Bridge and one of our fellow members told us of another one that he passed at Auchernack farm on his was to the club from the opposite direction. Played golf, then watched football before heading to the badger hide with Julie and Dave, an enthusiastic wildlife-loving couple who were staying at the Grant Arms Hotel. We had four badger at one point. Afterwards, I showed them the Squirrel Car Park feeding station as they were keen to see red squirrels next day.
Wednesday. Mostly domestics and music, however in the evening collie dog Bobbie and I checked the crested tit boxes, probably for the last time this year. Box 4 had feathers clogging the entrance and lots of nest material inside, but no nest. The blue tits in Box 16 had fledged, leaving one dud egg in the nest. Similarly, the great tit chicks in Box 18 had gone. Not a great season because crested tits, which is what this project was really about, seem to have deserted this patch of woodland. It will be interesting to see if the monitoring camera in its new position near the Loch Vaa track tells a different story.
Thursday. Played golf, then reported Tuesday's two dead badgers to Scottish Badgers, then contacted SAGA to postpone our Mongolia holiday until September next year.
Friday. Got quite a lot done First job was to put all the goldeneye duck data into the BTO's Demography Online system, which took a good bit less time than I was expecting. After lunch the dogs and I filled up the feeder at the Community Hall and then took the long trek to the new camera site near the Loch Vaa track. We need not have bothered. There were 161 images and the only wildlife captured was one roe deer and lots and lots of great tits; certainly no crested tits, which what we were looking for.
Sunday. Did a summary of the peanut costs of local feeders over the past 21 months and it works out at about £35 per feeder per year. Checked the Abernethy Golf Club nest boxes; there was a dead great tit chick in Box 2, the chicks in Box 3 had successfully fledged and the other 7 boxes were all unused.
Monday 5th to Sunday 11th July
Monday to Wednesday mostly golf and domestic stuff; we are expecting visitors next week. However, I did manage one trip to the hide on my own but could not persuade the badgers to come out, although to be fair it was a bit early and I did not stay long.
Mon 12th to Sun 18th July
Monday. Pine marten poo on the discreet path in the morning. In the evening I took three ladies to the hide where we had 4 badgers, including Bling, our snared badger.
Tuesday. At the hide again, this time with two wildlife enthusiasts where we had at least 5 different badgers (but no Bling this time) so things are looking up, numbers-wise. We had much to discuss, based on our strong wildlife backgrounds, whihc made for a superb evening. Encouragingly they told me they had seen a crested tit in our woods at Boat of Garten recently, but read on.....
Wednesday. The dogs and I retrieved the camera and feeder from near the Vaa turn-off at the Yard track. The feeder was still almost full so that did not bode well for mammals having found it, which was born out when we got home and checked the card which had taken hundreds of pictures of great tits plus a few of roe deer, coal tits and jays, two of GS woodpeckers and a juvenile robin and one of a blue tit. Surprisingly there were no images of mice, pine martens or red squirrels, all of which had featured at the previous site near the Sustrans track near the village. Disappointingly, no crested tit images. As for the feeder itself, I had filled it full to the top but because no mammals had found it it was still nearly full, consequently a few of the peanuts that had been up against the wooden superstructure, rather than up against mesh, so those peanuts had gone mouldy. My fault; the whole point of the mesh feeders is for the food to have air circulating round it so these feeders should never be so full as to have food trapped against the wooden frame. Rookie error. Anyway, the lack of red squirrels, pine martens and mice at the feeder is a repeat of what we have found in previous years elsewhere, that is mammals tend to be in the part of the woods closest to human habitation. In the evening I took a young couple to the badger hide where we had seven badgers, including two cubs but not including Bling so the family must be at least eight strong which is many more than I had feared after the severe winter and the slow start to the badger-watching season. A great relief.
Thursday to Sunday. Mostly golf and visitors, but on Saturday evening I took one of our guests to the badger hide where we had 4 badgers very quickly.
Monday 19th to Sunday 25th July
Monday. Golf and gardening and entertaining visitors.
Tuesday. Golf, garden and the recycling centre to get rid of a wrecked garden shed, then in the evening I took a friend and his family to the badger hide where we had at least 6 different badgers.
Wednesday. Slept mostly after an exhausting few days.
Thursday. Took the hedgehog hibernation box out from under its bush and opened it up and emptied out all the old straw and grass and cobwebs from last winter. Left it out in the hot sun to thoroughly dry out before putting it back ready for next winter. In the evening I took a photographer to the hide to get pictures of badgers in the evening sunshine before he headed off to photograph moonrise over the Cairngorms.
Friday. Prepared the ground for the hedgehog nest box to go back in place by leveling the earth and embedding a few bricks to prevent the box sagging at one corner as it did last winter. The box itself had been treated to three days of hot sunshine to dry it out thoroughly after which I put shallow layers of straw and dry dead leaves in the obx as a started for our little prickly friend to organise and add to as it wishes as it it did last winter. The box was then placed back under the hedge on its new foundation ready for the winter. A generous layer of leaves will be added on top in the autumn. In the evening I went to the hide and sat outside with my badger family. The cubs showed little fear and came quite close. On the way out I visited the main sett and enjoyed a five minute one-way conversation with one of the resident badgers who stood on a spoil heap and listened most attentively to my soliloquy.
Saturday and Sunday. Mostly golf but I refilled the feeders at the squirrel car park and at the community hall.
Monday 26th July to Sunday 1st August
Monday. I removed crestie boxes numbers 5 and 7 from the woods. Both were made from hollowed out tree limbs, both had been used by crested tits in years gone by and both had split and decayed beyond all further use. I'll replace them by building new boxes to the recommended dimensions for cresties. In the evening I took a delightful family to the badger hide. There was cattle in the main field so we had to walk in the long way over the wooded hill. At the hide we had two badgers in view within ten minutes and not long after that we had six. Excellent evening.
Tuesday. The expected bad weather hit today with heavy rain and thunder and lightning. Despite this I took a small group to the hide where the badgers were reluctant to emerge at first, possibly due to the thunder. We did however have three badgers eventually and they stayed for quite some time. We walked out in gathering darkness in the heaviest rain I have experienced for a long time; the roads were awash for the drive home.
Wednesday. In the morning Heather and I went to the Willow Weaving session at Milton Loch for an hour. The willow Ark of Caledon was looking great; a living, growing boat made of willow plants. Amazing. In the evening I took a young family to the badger hide where we had at least four different badgers. The cattle were in the wrong field so we had to traipse through long grass to get to the hide; not ideal. The weather was wet and the forecast for the next week is not good either; lots of rain to come.