Allan Bantick OBE welcomes you to the Cairngorm Wildlife Diary for 2023

The diary will be updated regularly from May onwards and will include comments on my health - this is in response to all those friends and former colleagues who have shown such an interest in my well-being, many of whom have been kind enough to visit, phone or write..  

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.

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Introduction:   In May I decided to keep this diary going after all, due to my disability stabilising, giving the prospect of a small amount of lightweight wildlife work becoming possible.  Unfortunately, due to my illness, (Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis known in brief as IPF)  most of my activity in the first half of 2023 did not get properly recorded so I'll jot down some of the bits that I remember as they occur to me.

2nd to 10th Jan 23.  Winter weather makes taking exercise very difficult but I did manage a few short walks in the snow with sticks, less than a mile each..  The wheelchair simply doesn't function in snow.  

20th to end of Jan 23.  Health still very poor.  Difficulty eating, breathing and sleeping so still losing weight and permanently tired.  Even taking a shower floors me for the rest of the day so mostly I don't bother - a flannel wash every few days suffices.  On the wildlife front, arrangements for other members of BoGWiG to take over my duties with the badger hide, the public feeding stations and various nest box projects are going well so I'm delighted that they will all continue.

Feb and March 2023.   Basically, my time was occupied by survival and hoping for warmer weather soon.  My weight came down to just above 9 stone which is almost an all-time low for me.  On the plus side, the recent creation of Pulmonary Fibrosis support groups is proving a great comfort and the source of hope that with careful management one's usefulness can be restored.  In my case, trail camera projects could be possible for example.  Also getting involved in online debates on environmental issues would be right up my street..  One of our support group members suggested I try audio books to help me get off to sleep which was very helpful indeed, and exactly the kind of thing that these groups are so helpful for.  On the wildlife front, sadly, our bird hide at Milton Loch and the interpretation board at the pond dipping area were vandalised but our volunteers managed to sort things out.  The police were informed but I doubt there is much they can do.  We could set up some trail cameras to try to catch the perpetrators if they came back but apparently that would be against the law.  Crazy situation.  On the plus side, I set up trail cameras at Abernethy Golf Club to assess how our red squirrels were doing - not bad but not great so any suggestion some could be used for a translocation project were ditched.

April 2023.   The hoped for warmer weather did not materialise but I was able to visit some of our feeding stations and watch the birds and red squirrels on the less cold days.  The team who took over the badger hide reported a decent number of bookings coming in, so that's great to hear.  I started to video my feeble activities for possibly publishing a short movie about what it's like to live with this IPF.  We'll see.  Daughter, granddaughter and great grandson visited for a few days - lovely to see them.  Repaired a broken feeder at the squirrel car park feeding station.  Met the researchers from Sky Arts with a view to helping them with an episode of Painting Birds with Jim Moir - they are targeting crested tits for that episode ahead of which I will do some camera trapping to get a handle on crestie activity at our feeding stations.

It's at this point that I can pick up the threads and write the diary properly. 

2nd to 4th May 2023   Spent ages trying to set up cameras at the three feeding stations that would be triggered by small birds, which is not something I had done previously, usually being more interested in mammals.  My electric buggy and flasks of oxygen were indispensible for these tasks.   On the 4th we fixed up a new nest box at the end of our garden.  While we were doing so we noticed that a female blackbird was sitting in our open-fronted nest box.  We have never before had any success with that type of box.  Also on that day I read about the Cairngorms National Park's plan to reintroduce beavers and was slightly taken aback by the organisations listed as members of the working group - it seemed to me that they were loaded in favour of bodies who you might expect to be opposed to having beavers in the area.  I hope I'm wrong.  Perhaps I should get in touch to try to get involved as an independent group member.   This was also the day that I decided to restore my website, which turned out to be less difficult than I had imagined.   

5th May 2023  Worked on website, adding more poems.  Checked all three trail cams at their respective feeding stations.  The E3 at the squirrel car park needs to be closed to the feeders, the Aggressor at the Hall needs to be further away and the Browning at the bench feeders was about right.  No crested tits recorded at any of them yet.

6Th May 2023 - Coronation Day.  Spent much of the day watching the great event on TV, but did manage to find time in the workshop to build a new device for holding a trail camera.  We'll install it tomorrow.

7th May 2023.   Installed the new camera device at the village hall feeder station.  I then removed the E3 cam from the squirrel car park intending to build a similar device to the one I made for the Aggressor yesterday.  On checking the card it was the same old story - lots of red squirrel pictures but no birds at all, confirming it has to go closer to the feeder if I hope to capture cresties.  Met a chap who had just been watching a slavonian grebe on the newly formed grebe pond.  Maybe the dam that we suspected had been removed by the farmer, has been replaced, or maybe that channel had become choked with debris as is nature's way.

8th May 2023.  Made and installed the new camera device for the E3 camera; now all three feeders have similar devices monitoring for cresties.  On the way round I swapped SD cards in the other two cameras at the Bench Feeder and the Hall Feeder.  Very disappointing that on checking the cards not a single crestie had been snapped - plenty of blue, coal and great tits, so the system in working well, but no cresties.   Met a chap who had been watching two slav grebes in breeding plumage  on the grebe pond.  At least that was some good news to celebrate.

10th May 2023   Lady blackbird is still sitting in her box, looking comfortable.   Went out with the elderly folks' health walk group - we got a bitt caught in a hefty shower but nobody seemed to mind.

11th May 2023.  Checked the three trail cameras three days after setting them up at the feeding stations.  Between them they had taken 2,500 pictures, roughly half-and-half red squirrels and a variety of small birds.

13th May 2023.   Walked my wheelchair with Bobby collie to the squirrel car park to see how things were with the slavonian grebes.  Already there was a keen birding couple with an impressive telescope who soon picked out one grebe, then two, on  the pond at the nest.  The birds even treated us to a courting display. 

14th May 2023.   Our male blackbird appeared to us to be feeding his wife but when I posted a picture on Social Media I was told he was probably feeding fledglings from a first brood while his female was incubating eggs for their second brood.  It may not even be "our" male blackbird, or if it is the first brood may have been raised in a different nest elsewhere.  It's complicated.  In the afternoon I went round the three trail cameras and swapped SD cards.  I'll post a summary of the main results later or tomorrow.

15th May 2023.  Had a good start to the day, managed to create a decent spreadsheet of this week's camera trap records, then had a poorly period, from which I recovered in a few minutes but it was worrying at the time.  Later, a bird watcher called Wayne phoned me to tell me that he and his wife had been watching crested tits between a car park and the loch-side at Loch Garten today, just as I had asked him (and others) to do when I bumped into him at the squirrel car park while watching slav grebes.  I had been dishing out my business cards to random birdwatchers over the past two weeks in the hope of that exact outcome.  If you happen to read this Wayne, thanks very much.

16th May 2023.  Acting on last night's call from Wayne, I went to the RSPB car park beside Loch Garten to survey the surface for my wheelchair and stroller and to ask any birdwatchers if they too had seen cresties.  Job One re the surface didn't happen due to heavy rain but the only birdwatchers I was able to speak to said there were cresties in the car park earlier! I didn't stay long due to the weather.

18th May 2023.   Checked the cards I took out of the trail cams the previous day.  One of the cards was blank so Bea and I went out to try to see what what was wrong and found the cam was working perfectly well so I must simply not have turned it on properly.  All together there were more than 2,000 images again showing hundreds of small birds and red squirrels, plus one visit by a pine marten to the 'bench' feeder, as we call it, the one deepest into the woods.

19th May 2023.   This morning both blackbird parents were seen carrying food to their nest box, in this case live mealworms.

20th May 2023.   Spent much of the day studying SD cards and readjusting trail cameras for the Sky Arts project.  Dished out some more business cards to bird watchers in the hope of tracking down some crested tits.  Feeling rotten most of the time, with Oramorph being largely forgotten - idiot that I am.  Early to bed, couldn't sleep, got up again and watched golf on tv.

22nd  May 2023.  Woke up feeling great, having slept all night for the first time in months.  Went round the cameras and swapped the SD Cards.  Back at home I spent the next hour checking the cards but alas still no cresties at the feeders.  Spoke to Seren, the Sky Arts TV director to be told that filming for my part in the Painting Birds series is confirmed at 1st June. 

25th May 2023.   Swapped SD Cards in all 3 trail cameras and looked through them in the evening.  More than 2,000 images, mostly the usual suspects but but at least this time there was one definite crested tit at the feeder near the new bench.

26th May 2023.  The last batch of pictures from the squirrel car park camera suffered from looking too closely towards the rising sun so some repositioning was required today.  Whilst I was there Martin, our new badger hide coordinator, turned up to check how the nesting slav grebes were doing - quite well, it seems, because they are still often seen together at the nest site.  Martin also told me some news from the badger hide.  Badger sightings are as good as ever, including one night when nine were in view simultaneously.  The nine included "Bling", the badger who has been wearing the remains of a wire snare since 2019 and still seems to be coping OK.  Martin also told of strange goings-on at the nest boxes: one of the goldeneye boxes currently contains four good-looking tawny owl chicks and the owl box contains 13 goldeneye duck eggs.  You couldn't make it up.

28th May 2023.   Collected the cards from the 3 trail cams and went throught them.  Once more there were nearly 2,000 images of a great variety of wildlife but no crested tits this time.

1st June 2023.   This was day one of the Wildlife Trusts' annual project "30 Days Wild."   My effort was to be filmed with Jim and Nancy Moir for their series "Painting Birds" on Sky Arts.   It was great fun and I was even able to show off some of my own sketching efforts.  Tomorrow I'll think of something else - maybe a poem.

2nd June 2023.  My contribution to 30DaysWild today is a poem:  " I used to climb trees on Hampstead Heath, With blue sky above and green grass beneath.  I went there to climb them again today.  But the Health and Safety people chased me away".

3rd June 2023.   @WildlifeTrusts #30DaysWild.   Set up a trail cam to see which birds were using our starling box, deep in the hedge along the garden fence.   We suspected great tit, and this was confirmed by the camera.

4th June 2023.  @WildlifeTrusts #30DaysWild.   Dismantled the last of the trail camera feeding station arrays that I'd set up for the Sky Arts "Painting Birds" filming session last week.

5th June 2023.   #30DaysWild: - Today's job was to sit in the garden with my BirdNet phone app to see what's about.  I got 12 species, mostly common garden birds plus a magpie of which we have very few.   Also began work on modifying/repairing another tripod head.

6th June 2023,  #30DaysWild Today's effort was to a hug a tree, in this case a young Rowan tree. Rowans in Scotland imbue the hugger with magic powers so I'll look forward to that.  Also took some pics of a granny pine at the golf club so I feel some sketching coming on.

7th June 2023.   30DaysWild: I returned the repaired nest box, that we had used as a demo for the Sky Arts filming session, to its rightful place in the forest, near the new all-abilities bench and Angle junction.

8th June 2023.   30DaysWild.  It was World Oceans Day today but I don't live near the sea so I took a stick from the forest, whittled it to a suitable shape, stamped WORLD OCEANS DAY on it and lobbed it into the River Spey to make its own way to the sea.

9th June 2023.   30DaysWild.  It was to hot and breathless to do much so I sketched a bush in our garden.

10th June 2023.   30DaysWild.  The theme today was water so I videoed a few seconds of insect activity in our garden pond.

11th June 2023.   30DaysWild  - 11th June. Today's suggestion was to go somewhere so I went to RSPB Abernethy Reserve and then Abernethy Golf Club. At the golf club I found an interesting insect.

12th June 2023...30 Days Wild.   Today, Day 12, was for mini beasts, so I found  a wee spider under a rock.

13th June 2023.  30 Days Wild.  Today, Day 13, was supposed to be bees etc but I did that a few days ago so instead I used an endoscope to check that all the great tits had fledged from the starling box.   sure enough, all gone.

14th June.2023.  30 Days Wild.   Today, Day 14, it was suggested we try to find ten particular common plants in our gardens. I only managed 5, but I guess what's common in one area is not necessarily common in others. On the other hand, I'm rubbish at plants.

15th June 2023.  30 Days Wild.  Today's suggestion about tree identification was well beyond my physical powers so I opted for a wild nap in the grass.

16th June 2023.   30 Days Wild. Too hot for the suggested outdoor stuff and quizzes, which were also suggested, are not my scene so I stayed cool indoors and sketched a crested tit.

17th June 2023.   30 Day Wild.  Today was an indoors day so I wrote a poem about a flower:

That Flower
I’m sitting with that flower again, I do so every day., I tell it all about myself, till nothing’s left to say.
I’ve told it what I call myself and zackly where I live,I’ve given every secret till there’s nothing left to give.
But sad to say it doesn’t ever listen or reply, It shrugs its leaves and turns away as if to say goodbye.
It shuns me and all men in our environmental shame, But really would it hurt so much to let me know its name?

I shall call it Doris.

18th June 2023.  30 Days Wild.  Today I ventured down the all-abilities track in Boat Woods with my electric buggy and my dog and we found a very active wood ant nest.

19th June 2023.   30 Days Wild...Reviewed some night-time pictures from my garden trail cam, hoping for mice. No luck this time.

20th June 2023.   30 Days Wild.   Took my invalid buggy to visit a mixed area of our local woods, mostly Scots Pine and Birch plus odds and ends.

21st June 2023.  30 Days Wild.  Set up a trail cam on one of the bird baths last night and today was rewarded with a picture of a sparrow having a bath.

22nd June 2023   30 Days Wild   A bit short of time and ideas today so I drew a quick sketch of part of the all-abilities track in lovely Boat Woods.

23rd June 2023.   30 Days Wild.  Chilled in the garden in the rain.

24th June 2023.   30 Days Wild.  Three birdwatching sessions today: Nethy Golf Course, Boat Woods and my garden, all ably assisted by the "Merlin" phone app. Too many species to list here, but specially pleased with the greenfinch which has become scarce here..

25th June 2023.   30 Days Wild.   Really missing watching badgers due to my disability so I tried experimentally to get to one of our local setts going really slowly, using sticks and breathing from an oxygen tank. Sadly, didn't make it. Another day perhaps.

26th June 2023.   30 Days Wildlife.  I posted on line the brilliant trail camera video captured over the weekend of a blackbird having a bath in our big bird bath.  Also today I got lots of birds on the Merlin app during the early dog walk.  Obviously morning is the best time and I should already have known that - thick or what.  Biggest surprise was a reed bunting but I'll pencil that in as doubtful.

27th June 2023   30 Days Wild.  In my fragile state, too wet to venture out today. Spent 10 mins in the workshop sorting nest box offcuts. Doesn't sound like much but I'm exhausted. Good old Oramorph.

28th June 2023.   30 Days Wild.  Today the wildlife world celebrated the decision by the Welsh Parliament to ban the use of snares.  Brilliant stuff.   Time now to get Scottish Badgers, the Badger Trust, the League Against Cruel Sports and like-minded bodies to work on the English and Scottish Parliaments to do the same.

29th June 2023   30 Days Wild.  Have to pace myself these days so some jobs have to be done in stages.  Today I cut the pieces for a new nest box, then tomorrow I'll screw it together and put it up somewhere in the autumn where it might produce chicks for 30 Days Wild 2024!

30th June 2023   30 Days Wild.   Today I completed my effort for 2023 by assembling the nest box that I started to make yesterday.  Time will tell if i am fit enough to do it all again next year.

8th July 2023.  Took a break from the diary after the rather intense 30 Days Wild in June.  Today however was a bit special because in the afternoon while out with the dog and the buggy my Merlin app picked up a crested tit near the feeders at the new bench in the thick woods.   It was my first close encounter with a crestie for months.

26th July 2023.   Pardon the silence lately - I have not been very well.  I'll be back with more to say soon, I hope.   Furthermore, Easyspace's upload system is not working as it used to, which is not helping.

29th July 2023.   In the woods this afternoon where my Merlin app was unable to detect even one bird singing.  Very sad.

30th July 2023.   It's now the middle of the night and I cannot sleep.  Might do a sketch or two.   Later, in the woods, I could still not find any birds.

17th August 2023.   Haven't been at all well lately so please pardon the silence.  I'll get back on the horse soon.

9th September 2023.   New meds routine so feeling more positive and less poorly.  Was visited by eldest Grandson Jo this week; he's a bit of a rebel and therefore an interesting boy who is soon to embark another of his adventures in Asia which cheers me up no end.  Anyhow, my wife Bea is encouraging me to keep this website going for the time being so here we go again.  Not much wildlife to report except that the crested tits are being seen at the woodland feeders once more so all's well in the forest. 

12th September 2023   Visited bench area feeders - several birds around but no cresties.   Topped up food at the squirrel car park feeders - plenty of birds but no cresties.   Health-wise, sleeping much better and a slight weight gain so not bad.  Was visited by John Martin of pine marten fame and received updates on ll things marten-related and a few things to do with cats (various) and beavers

13th September 2023.   Nice view of a crested tit at the bench feeders this morning.  Later, Bea and I attended the Cairngorms National Park Beaver Project public drop in session at the Grant Arms Hotel in Grantown.   Seemed quite well attended with a mix of pros and antis.  It was lovely to bump into and chat with some old friends, not all of them beaver people.

23rd September 2023.   Having been deprived of my mobility buggy for a couple of weeks the feeders at the squirrel car park had been neglected to so Bea wheeled me there in my wheelchair.   Imagine our surprise to find that someone else had already refilled the feeders - it turns out have been Martin who used to do it.  No harm done.

27th September 2023.   Finally my buggy came home, thanks to golfing friend John who went and got it with his car and trailer.   The buggy's working better now, but the fix I'm guessing may only be temporary.  Time will tell. 

3rd October 2023.   I've been neglectful of the diary lately, due to other distractions, illness and uncertainty over whether my ISP's insistence on migrating the site to a different server running a different version of PHP (?!) but I needn't have worried because they were very helpful so that I could leave it all to them, including checking for faults after the migration.  My memory about the diary was jogged this morning by my spotting  a crested tit at the bench feeder in the forest.   Marvelous!  Also in the past week I've written a story with a view to maybe submitting it to an art competition and attended the Scottish Badgers AGM via Zoom.  A bonus to the AGM was a visit by our friends from the other end of the valley who as well as badgers are involved in all sorts of other wildlife, including beavers, pine martens, fungii and wildcats. 

1th October 2023.   Saw a crested tit at the bench feeder again.  It's really good to know they're still around after having drawn such a blank when trying to find them for Sky Arts in the summer.  My buggy went all wrong again - the repair to its ability to reverse only lasted two days.  Not to worry, I'll quite easily make do without it.

12th October 2023.   A red squirrel ran across the main track in our woods today.  Pity it wasn't last week when a red squirrel survey was under way.tl

26th October 2023.    Topped up the peanuts at the Squirrel Car Park feeders, although they still had quite a lot in from last time which was two weeks ago.  I wondered if some 'helpful' person had been topping them up since I was last there but there was sign of the cage being secured any differently than when I last closed it so probably not. 

28th October 2023.   Visited the bench feeder cage and there was a lovely crested tit scoffing peanuts.  Brilliant.  Great to know they have not entirely deserted us.   Daughter now staying to look after me, with granddaughter and her little boy staying in a hotel in Aviemore and paying me lots of visits.

31st October 2023.   Crested it at the bench feeders again.  Later, there was a pumkin trail in the woods set up by the localparetns and children.   Daughter and I attended briefly - it was too cold to stay for long.  At least the rain held off for them.

7th November 2023.   The first week in November was quite interesting.  My wife had a good time n Spain and Andorra, my daughter had a fun stay with me and we were visited by my granddaughter Anna and her little boy, my great grandson, Oscar.   Crested tits were regulars at the bench feeder cage which always cheers me up.  A brown rat spent an afternoon cleaning up under the bird feeders in our garden - not entirely sure about that but probably not a good idea to encourage it.    Another crested tit item, TV presenter and friend Nick Baker has asked for my advice to do with a proposed nest box project in Anagach Woods at Grantown on Spey so that's something else to feel good about.

12th November 2023.   We decided to move the bird seed feeder to the other side of the road, rather than encourage the rat, which seems to have worked so far, according to the trail camera.  Plenty of birds and mice and a few cats but no rats for the last two days.   On the 1tth we did some filming in the woods to try to capture a suitable closing sequence for the IPF movie.  It first glance it looked quite good.   There are still a few short sequences left to shoot and then it'll be down to the editing, the prospect of which I find a bit daunting.   Never mind, slowly, slowly does it.

13 November 2023.   Tooth extraction day today - dreaded it.  Last minute the surgery cancelled the appointment so will reschedule.  Dammit.  Took Bobbie collie for a walk, which was preferable to having a tooth out I suppose.

26th November 2023.    Very little to report to do with wildlife except for shooting some video of my paltry efforts at topping up bird feeders in the woods and creeping into quiet woodland places to watch wildlife, this footage to be used in my upcoming video about my Pulmonary Fibrosis experience.  The editing of the video is now quite well advanced so should be finished some time this coming week.  The aim is to put it on YouTube once it has been approved by various medical people and friends.

27th November 2023.   Nick Baker of tv fame dropped in for a chat about crested tits and badger setts to do with a couple of upcoming projects in the area.  I'll send him some information via We Transfer over the next day or two.

28th November 2023.  Excellent meeting of the Highland Region IPF Support Group at which I learned a great deal more about the structure of local support for our conditions via ActionPF and the NHS.  That information has given me a better understanding of the shape of things and will help me put the finishing touches to my video on the subject and it also justified my taking on two roles today, as the official representative for Highland Region Support Group in the APF group support system and also as a befriender for the UK-wide APF befriending scheme.

17th December 2023.   Pardon the lack of stories over the past three weeks but everything takes such a long time to do and the new video was the top priority to get finished while I still have will power and strength to do it.   Yes, it's done and can be found on my YouTube Channel under the title Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis - it's only been on YouTube for a few days and has already attracted  almost 200 views and no negative feedback so I'm delighted.  On the practical wildlife front, crested tits have been few and far between at the new bench feeder cage but today Bea and I refilled the feeders at the squirrel car park and were supervised by two cresties.  Sadly, our neglect of that feeder has resulted in mould forming on some of the nuts so we threw them all away and refilled the feeders with fresh ones.  In our garden, brown rats have been putting in an appearance underneath the bird feeders so Bea is trying different strategies to deter them without stopping the bird feeding.  Also disappointing, I have not seen a red squirrel for several weeks; I'm hoping that's just bad luck.  As for my illness, I'm still quite ill but am doing what I can to help others with the same condition.  I have been asked to lead the Highland IPF Support Group and to act as their representative on the national network.   I have also applied to become a befriender for IPF sufferers which involves a maze of checks as to your fitness for such a job and that you are not some kind of criminal intent on abusing or defrauding the befriendees!   What a terrible world we live in that such checks are necessary.

 

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