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.