Allan Bantick OBE welcomes you to the Cairngorm Wildlife Diary for 2021

Most of the badger sightings mentioned here were made at the Strathspey Badger Hide. If you would like to go, click here for booking details.

Locations of sensitive nests and dens are kept deliberately vague for obvious reasons. If you have a bona fide reason for more detail please let me know. 

The diary will usually be updated daily.   For comments on wider issues and for images and videos, please follow  @AllanBoat  on Twitter or Allan Bantick on Facebook or go to my YouTube channel.

 

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.