Sun 1st to Tues 3rd Jan
the camera at Auchgourish and was rewarded with some videos of a
fox stealing the chicken wing.
A Fox Was First To Find The Chicken Wings
Managed to keep up with the demands
of hungry birds and squirrels at the feeding stations around the
woods. Laid plans for more cat cameras in our woods as
part of the Scottish Wildcat Action project. On Tuesday
set up camera SWA 004 at the woodland edge, baited with chicken wings.
Camera Trap For Wildcats With Chicken Wings For Bait
Weds 4th to Fri 6th Jan
Finished the lid for the pine marten
box apart from painting the edges. Cancelled the public
badger watch due to the very cold weather and therefore the
unlikelihood of badgers coming out. The local ranger went
there anyway with a friend and sure enough despite them staying
in the hide for something like three hours no badgers were seen.
On Thurs 5th I checked the cam SWA 004 to see if anything had
tackled the bait but it was intact. Later that day Bea and
I set up camera SWA 023 on the edge of woodland south of Loch
Vaa, then checked two of the local badger setts, one of which
showed signs of being used fairly recently but we couldn't find
the other one. I vaguely remembered a similar issue the
last time we were there some years ago. On Fri we met with
a volunteer to explain BogWig's activities; he doesn't live
locally but visits regularly and is keen to get involved.
Painted the pine marten box lid. Photographed cresties and
tree creepers at the Angle feeder.
Camera South of Loch Vaa
Sat 7th and Sun 8th Jan
On Saturday we changed the card
in the Auchgourish camera and replaced the bait. No
wildlife on the the card, just a man and a dog. On Sunday
I did the same for the SWA camera 004 by Donald's track; somehow
the camera had taken lots of shots of deer and jays and a pine
marten but missed the actually taking of the bait. Later
Bea and I went to the badger hide and fitted the new lid to the
pine marten nest box. Due to the slightly precarious
business of climbing a ladder and balancing in amongst the
branches of the tree I made a rope harness and fixed up a rope
system to catch me if it all went pear-shaped. Fortunately
it all went smoothly and the splendid new lid should keep the
rain out of the box for the foreseeable future.
Fixing A New Lid To The Pine Marten Nest Box
Mon 9th to Weds 11th Jan
Mon: was hoping to get some decent
crestie pictures but the weather and the dogs intervened.
Dealt with lots of badger emails to do with scheduling clashes
in the summer. Tues: watched the whole three hours of the
Scottish Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform committee
meeting at Holyrood which included evidence given by Police
Scotland, the Crown Prosecution Service, Bat Conservation,
Scottish Gamekeepers Association (Andy Smith), RSPB (Ian
Thomson) and Scottish Badgers (Eddie Palmer). MSP Graeme
Dey chaired the meeting and there were contributions from MSPs
David Stewart, Kate Forbes, Mark Ruskell, Claudia Beamish and
others. Very impressed with Graeme, Mark and Claudia but
not so much with Kate Forbes who is notoriously pro business and
anti wildlife, judging from a recent article in the press in
which she complained that planning applications were obstructed
and delayed due to too much emphasis being placed on protecting
wildlife and the environment. She applied this thinking
as much to National Parks as to anywhere else. Weds: the
weather turned increasingly wintry, as forecast, so our plans to
check wildcat camera 023 were put in doubt. However, we
manned-up and went through the snow to the camera to find that
the bait was untouched and there were no photos of any wildlife
on the camera, but plenty of us setting up the camera and a few
of us arriving to check it so the camera is clearly working OK..
Eddie Palmer giving evidence for Scottish Badgers at the
Thurs 12th Jan
Some snow fell overnight and there was more
arriving as I went out with the dogs to top up some of the
woodland feeders and also to check camera 004 and replace the
bait. The bait was almost chewed down to the bone and on
checking the card we found the culprits were almost certainly
red squirrels; one of the photos showed two together on the tree
trunk near the bait but none of the photos showed them actually
eating the meat so there must be an interval between photos.
This problem is one of the reasons I prefer with my own cameras
to use video rather than photos. I'll ask Hebe if there is
a reason SWA doesn't do the same. I may also commit one of
our own cameras to sit beside the official one so that we can
compare. When topping up the feeders at the Angle and at
the Community Hall it was noticeable how much more activity was
going on compared with other recent days before the snow
arrived. To my delight there were crested tits at both
Fri 13th to Tues 17th Jan
A period of snow for a few days
until the thaw set in on Sunday so it was mostly a matter of
keeping feeders topped up interspersed with the occasional photo
session for crested tits. On Sunday we checked the
Auchgourish camera where disappointingly the bait was untouched
and there was no wildlife on the card, just two people and a dog
passing by. On Monday I set the Maginon camera to
take videos and mounted it underneath the SWA cam 004 on the
same tree beside Donald's track to try to find out what is
taking the bait because the SWA camera is missing it. It
will also provide information on the comparitive benefits of
taking photos versus taking video as a basis for discussion in
future. My own work has deduced that video is more useful
because you get all the action and if you require a still photo
it is easy to extract one from the video with modern software.
The quality of such photos is usually good enough for species
identification and is sometimes better because a moving subject
will almost always produce a blurred still image, especially at
night, whereas in a video there is usually a brief moment when
the animal stops or changes direction and a decent frame can be
A Crested Tit In Woods At Boat of Garten In January 2017
Weds 18th and Thurs 19th Jan
Two days of meetings at RZSS in
Edinburgh concerning the Scottish Wildcat Action project.
The first day was all about communication of various kinds
including brain storming about how partner organisations could
best contribute to the project and how we might best conduct a
campaign for responsible cat ownership such as to persuade cat
owners to make their cats "SuperCats" by having them vaccinated,
neutered and microchipped. The second day was about
genetics; very technical and well outside my area of expertise
but it was useful to get an insight into which of our scientific
partners are doing which aspects of the work and to meet the
personalities I did not already know. Over the two
days there were a few opportunities for networking plus the
chance to get to know the project staff rather better during the
working sessions and over dinner on Weds evening.
Fri 20th Jan
Slept a full 9 hours last night, having been
exhausted by two days of strenuously exercising my poor old
brain. No real wildlife work done today due to the need to
clean the car, clear it out and negotiate with the insurers
because I got a message last night to say my new car, a "Fiat
Doblo Trekking", had arrived and can be collected at 4pm today.
Sat 21st and Sun 22nd Jan
Checked both Scottish Wildcat
Action cameras over the weekend. On Saturday we visited
SWA cam 004 (set on photos) which had the Maginon underneath it
(set on videos) so we were able to compare the performances.
The bait was fully stripped to the bone, probably by jays but
neither camera captured the stripping, although between they got
sheep, red squirrel, a jay and some roe deer.. As to other aspects
of performance, the SWA camera missed some of the action that
the Maginon picked up so the SWA trigger mechanism is not as
sensitive as the Maginon. However, the SWA cam is picking
up some of the sheep, deer and the jay so I'm fairly sure a cat would trigger it.
On Sunday it was the turn of camera 023 which had the same issue
as last time: the bait was untouched. However, the camera
did pick up a passing badger and some sheep.
Checking SWA camera 023 with the dogs
Mon 23rd to Thurs 26th Jan
Spent most of the time recovering
from a frozen shoulder, popping tablets and rubbing in Voltarol.
Managed to keep abreast of topping up feeders and juggling the
meetings diary for February which is getting a bit out of
control. Had a couple of photo sessions trying to get
better pictures of red squirrels but achieved nothing more than
frozen feet. On Weds 25th Bea and I checked the
Auchgourish camera to find the bait totally demolished.
The culprit was a badger which had climbed the tree and set to
work, as evidenced by 30 videos spread over two evenings.
Speaking of badgers, that same evening I went to the hide to
make sure all was well. The tunnels were freshly dug out
and bedding was visible in two tunnel entrances so clearly the
badgers are there and active but sadly they did not come out for
the peanuts during the hour I was there despite my coaxing.
On Thurs 26th I went back to Auchgourish and removed the camera
because cats, which we are looking for, are unlikely to find the
bait if the moment we put it there the local badgers are going
to pinch it, now that they have twigged where to look.
I'll put it somewhere else shortly.
Fri 27th to Sun 29th Jan
Mostly relaxed to try and fix my
injured shoulder - decent progress I'm pleased to say. On Sun
29th Bea and I went to the Maginon Camera (videos) and SWA
camera No 004 (still photos) beside Donald's track.
Disappointingly the bait was still intact so we had to be
content with photos and videos of just sheep, roe deer and red
Mon 30th and Tues 31st Jan
Spent two days trying to fight off
Bea's cold and failing.
Weds 1st and Thurs 2nd Feb
On Weds had a morning meeting
with Hebe Carus at our house to plan the forthcoming Sharing
Good Practice wildcat event. After lunch the dogs and I
checked out the AU SE badger sett to find all was well with
plenty of signs of activity. On Thurs I drove to Battleby
for the wildcat Steering Group meeting. Had a near miss on
the A9 with an idiot taking unwarranted overaking risk - the new
Dash Cam recorded it all but I doubt if there's any point in
sending it to the police. In future I'll stick with the
train - lesson learned.
Fri 3rd to Sun 5th Feb
Spent Friday laid low with this
rotten cold. On Saturday I set up the Acorn camera near
the tree containing the pine marten nest box to monitor any pine
marten activity around it. While I was there I had a snoop
around the badger hide sett; all was well with lots of freshly
excavated tunnels. demolished cow pats and heaps of bedding.
The weather however was very cold indeed with a bitter wind so
when tonight's clients phoned to say they too were a little
concerned about the conditions I postponed their planned badger
watch till the weather improves. I think it's time to
rethink our schedule of advertised watches and limit them to two
season: March to May and July to
November. Just before dark I refilled some of the woodland
bird feeders. On Sunday I finished filling the feeders
then Bea and I checked camera 023 near Loch Vaa. On the
way in we saw a woodcock near the badger sett and on the way
home Max found fox dung near The Yard. There were 90 pics
of badgers and roe deer on the camera but still no cats.
Now that badgers have found the chicken wing bait at that site
there's no point in continuing there so we removed the camera
and will put it somewhere else. Parcelled up the
hare skeleton we'd found last month in the pine marten box ready
to post to the Museum tomorrow; they're doing some hybridisation
research and want as many hare carcasses as possible.
Mon 6th to Thurs 9th Feb
Bea and I recced a possible new site for a
wildcat camera on Kinchurdy farm near the steam railway line.
Looks OK so we'll get it installed in the next day or two.
On the way out we met with some friends and the chat was all
about the arrival in the area of ravens and a few other exotics.
It reminded me that a few days ago I thought I was seeing ravens
at Auchgourish but thought I must have been mistaken; apparently
not then. Exchanged a number of emails over the
thorny question of how best to support the Badger Trust's
objections to the expansion of the badger cull down south.
We'll discuss it at the Scottish Badgers Trustee meeting on
Friday I expect. Tuesday was foul; snow, sleet and rain on and
off so no practical work achieved. I did however get
through a good deal of planning and preparation in the office
for a busy period over the next few weeks with several trips to
Perth and Edinburgh for events great and small. I also
looked into buying Memory Map for our computers but the demo
version refused to work on any of them and their support team
were not much help so a rethink is required. Evidently
Windows 10 is not strictly compatible with the software.
Spoke on the phone with the the tennant farmer at Kinchurdy to
let him know we'll be putting out a wildcat camera in one of his
fields - the estate had told him we would be coming and that
they supported our wildcat work and he was cool with that.
I promised to let him know if we captured anything interesting
on the cameras. On Weds Bea and I set up the camera on
Kinchurdy Farm and while we were there visited badger sett KF2
which was clearly in current use with lots of digging and busy
latrines. Later we arranged to help check a cat trap next
week with others in rotation. On Thursday Bea and I met
Andrea Goddard and Brad Chappell to plan the Hen Harrier Day
event at Boat of Garten Community Hall on Sun 6th August, hosted
by Boat of Garten Community Company Wildlife Group in support of
Get Mad For Wildlife and Birders Against Wildlife Crime.
Some first-rate speakers have already signed up and more are
being approached. Later we checked the Maginon and SWA
cameras at Donald's Track; only cattle and roe deer recorded
Setting up the trail cam at Kinchurdy Farm
Fri 10th Feb
Train to Perth for the quarterly meetings of
Scottish Badgers Advisory Group (morning) and Trustees
(afternoon). The work is going really well on
all fronts. Proud to be part of it.
Sat 11th and Sun 12th Feb
On Saturday we drove the Jeep
up a snowy track to locate a trap that we will have to check on
Monday. We found it no problem. On the way we met
the local keeper and had a useful chat. He is going to
show me some badger setts that I might not already know about.
On Sunday I checked out a Topo map app on my phone and found it
very useful. Unlike Google Maps and similar apps it shows
countour lines and heights as well as the usual roads so it will
be quite useful if I happen to be caught without my GPS and need
an accurate location for something out there in the wilds.
The down side is it's a bit heavy on the battery. Later I
went to the badger hide where there was lots of badger activity;
fresh digging, bedding and busy latrines. While I was
there I took away the Acorn camera and replaced it with the much
better Bushell to continue monitoring the tree in which we have
the pine marten nest box. Over the past 11 days the Acorn
had only recorded brown hares but we'll persevere for a few more
weeks to see if the pine martens will be tempted to breed there
Monitoring the pine marten nest box
Mon 13th Feb
Checked the Glencarnie trap - no cat but the
food seemed to be gone. It was actually quite hard to tell
in the cramped conditions, even with a torch, so we will bring
the endoscope in future. We put more food in to be on the
safe side and prodded it into place with a stick. Spent
much of the morning working on my notes for next week's wildcat
Sharing Good Practice event and later started the rounds of the
woodland bird feeders again. In the evening I took a
couple to the badger hide, not expecting to see much and sure
enough it was an hour and twenty minutes before a badger
strolled into view. We hung on for another hour during
which badgers came and went; the most we saw at once was two but
there's every chance we had seen as many as four different
animals. Nice evening.
Tues 14th and Weds 15th Feb
On Tues we checked the cat trap -
no cat in the trap or on the camera but some of the food had
gone. The rest of the day was domestic stuff; dogs annual
vet check and guests for dinner. On Weds it was the same
story at the cat trap, then Hebe from Scottish Wildcat Action
came for a meeting to finalise plans for the Sharing Good
Practice wildcat conference on 24th Feb. In the
evening I attended the Scottish Wildlife Trust North Area
meeting where RSPB's Stuart Benn gave an excellent talk on
golden eagles to an audience of about 30.
Thurs 16th Feb
Checked the cat trap one more time and again
it was the same story - no cat and no cat images on the camera.
Yesterday Hebe and I had discussed the possibility that there
may hardly be any feral cats in this area which led me to
reflect on my camera trapping over the past 15 years. At
various times I've had between zero (holidays) and five (two
borrowed) cameras on the go which you could argue meant an
average of at least one, possible two, cameras on the go full
time for fifteen years. One camera for fifteen years gives
131,400 camera trap hours, two cameras would give 262,800 hours
so it's reasonable to say I've run something like a quarter of a
million camera trap hours over the fifteen years, all of it in
suitable wildcat habitat. In all those hours we only
recorded one cat and that was a black furry moggie, probably
from the local farm, so I guess we're pretty short of
wild-living cats here. In the evening I took John and
Shirley Martin briefly to the badger hide to check the Bushnell
pine marten cam and to see badgers if they happened to be in the
mood. No luck with the cam but at 6pm a badger came out to
entertain us on and off for 30 minutes.
Fri 17th and Sat 18th Feb
On Friday Bea and I checked the
trap and camera north of the A95 but there was no cat action to
report and then later on we checked camera 023 which again
showed no action; the bait had not been touched. On
Saturday we moved the bird feeder array at the Angle to a new
location that would better fit in with plans for an
all-abilities footpath so that people in wheelchairs for example
could watch the birds and squirrels more easily. I
should add that in the past week I've twice heard woodpeckers
drumming in Boat woods.
Sun 19th to Tues 21st Feb
Sunday was a day of rest then Mon
and Tues were mostly preparing for going away for 3 days of
meetings. That included finishing my script for Friday
then editing in the changes that cropped up after I thought I'd
finished (grrr) and filling all the local bird feeders.
The highlight was Monday evening's badger watch during which we
not only had 2 badgers but also watched a pine marten eating
peanuts for ten minutes in the full glare of the floodlights.
Brilliant. On Tuesday morning during the dog walk I
checked three of the crestie boxes for signs of prospecting; one
had been used for a roost but the others showed no signs.
Weds 22nd to Fri 24th Feb
Train to Edinburgh on Weds in time
for a lunch-time meeting in the Parliament; part of the ScotLink
Environment week programme. The event was to do with
engaging young people with the environment and was attended by
lots of Link people but only a few MSPs. In the evening I
attended the annual Link Holyrood Reception in the Garden Lobby;
one of the best networking events of the year. I probably
knew about half of those attending so there wasn't time to talk
to as many people as I would have liked to. On Thurs
there was a breakfast meeting in the Members Restaurant in the
parliament but the weather was awful so quite a lot of the
expected guests did not turn up - more food for those who did.
I took a mid-morning train to Perth and walked to the Royal
George Hotel and went to bed for a while to recover from two
quite hard days; lots of standing around and lots of walking in
bad weather. I was joined in the evening by SNH Staff who
had travelled down from Inverness in readiness for next day's
Wildcat meeting. On Friday I Chaired the Wildcat Sharing
Good Practice event at Battleby; my first public event since
being appointed Chair of the Steering Group. The event was
very well attended, oversubscribed in fact, and I think we all
considered it a success.
Sat 25th to Tues 28th Feb
Saturday was spent preparing
for the big day on Sunday; Mum-in Laws' 100th Birthday party in
Dundee, however during the morning dog walk we saw two buzzards
fly low above the trees between the Angle and the Crossroads . Heather and I travelled down on Saturday evening
so as to be in pole position to help run the party, which was a
great success. There was snow overnight and on Monday
morning the woods looked lovely. Undeterred by the cold
weather a woodpecker started drumming near the burnt forest
which contains several tall dead trees in which woodpeckers have
drilled nest holes in the past. Got a call asking us to
take a hybrid wildcat to the vet for neutering which we did.
Got a bit of attitude from the vet about stuff over which we had
not control but it all got sorted in the end. On Tues I
headed off to Edinburgh for a couple of meetings, beginning with
the Link Wildlife Crime Task Force meeting at RSPB HQ.
Raptor persecution and badger related crime were the main focus
as usual but bats, wildcats and beavers also got a mention; it
isn't appropriate to go into detail here.
Weds 1st Mar
On behalf of the Boat of Garten Community
Company Wildlife Group I attended the Scottish Policy Conference
entitled "Next Steps For Environmental Policy" at the Edinburgh Radisson Blu
Hotel. There were more than 100 delegates and 13 speakers
spread over two main sessions. The first session was
Chaired by Alexander Burnett MSP, a member of the Environment,
Climate-Change and Land Reform (ECCLR) committee and the second
session was chaired by Graeme Dey MSP, Chair of the ECCLR
committee. Between the sessions we were treated to a
very positive address by Roseanna Cunningham MSP, Cabinet
Secretary for ECCLR. Outcomes from the conference
from the point of view of Boat of Garten included the good news
that environment seems to be very much higher up everyone's
agenda than it has been in recent years. Monetising the
environment, whilst understandably being treated with suspicion
by purists, is increasingly being seen as a way of valuing the
natural world in a way that is easy to understand by
non-specialists. This is particularly helpful to
decision makers and their economists whose backing is essential
if the environment is to be protected. In this sense the
term Natural Capital was much bandied about although I am not
convinced it meant the same thing to everybody and neither did
the expression, "We must learn to internalise externalities".
Filtering out all the jargon, there was clear recognition that communities in much of
the Highlands benefit hugely in economic terms from eco-tourism
and it was noted that the central activity of wildlife-watching is
quickly and has increased by 25% in just a few years.
It follows that any threat to wild habitats in the Boat of
Garten area must be vigorously repelled.
Thurs 2nd to Fri 3rd Mar
What a day on Thursday - spent almost all of it writing
up meetings over the past week while outside the weather was
lovely. Did manage a brief outing with the dogs and topped
up some feeders on the way. Good to see that our
newly positioned feeder at The Angle has now been found by
crested tits and red squirrels; it took them much longer than I
expected. Friday was more to my liking in which we checked
some cameras out there in the countryside and brought some of
them home at the end of their designated sessions. The
camera on Kinchurdy farm had recorded just sheep and badgers but
the ones on Donald's track in Boat woods had captured cattle,
roe deer, red squirrel, badger, a jay and one of my dogs.
While were out there we heard woodpeckers drumming and we met
some birders who exulted over the goldeneye ducks they had just
seen on the river. In the office I managed to confirm some
upcoming wildcat project meetings; I am happy to say that the
mission to save our native cat now occupies a fair slice of my
Sat 4th and Sun 5th Mar
Saturday was a day of rest.
On Sunday I joined in with the Ranger's penultimate wood ant
survey. I only managed the morning session due to these
aging old knees and hips - that's rough old country out there
off piste in the woods. Later I refilled the community
hall feeders and noticed the squirrel feeder lid is delaminating
so will have to make a new one. In the evening there were
badger watches and wildcat meetings to organise for the next
week or two.
Mon 6th to Fri 10th Mar
On Monday I fought a losing battle with Vodafone -
switching numbers shouldn't be this difficult. Brought the
broken squirrel feeder home for repair. Took a supply of peanuts to
the badger hide for Wednesday's badger watch and scattered a few
around the sett for tonight's badgers. Checked the
Bushnell camera at the pine marten nest box tree but in the past
week at had only captured badgers and a brown hare. Got
ready for tomorrow's trip to Edinburgh. Tues 7th Mar took
the Chieftain to Edinburgh in time for lunch at Ocean Terminal
before a meeting with the Scottish Wildcat Action comms officer
at Scottish Wildlife Trust HQ at Leith. Quite a long
session with plenty for me to absorb as I ease into the job of
Steering Group Chair. Later I took the bus over to
Holyrood for the evening's reception "50 for the Future",
celebrating an SWT initiative and setting out SWT's vision for
the next five years, much of it based around the idea of
effective stewardship of the environment. As always it was
great to catch up with friends and former colleagues and a
brilliant networking opportunity both in the parliament and
later at Holyrood 9A, one of our favourite Edinburgh pubs.
On Weds I headed home on the early train and spent the rest of
the day reading and writing up the past few days. Thursday
morning I checked the Maginon camera at Donald's track but it
had only recorded a jay, some sheep and some roe deer. The rest
of the morning was spent on more paper work and phone calls,
then after lunch I decided to move the Maginon camera deeper
into the woods now that the cat surveying has finished for this
Sat 11th and Sun 12th Mar
I attended the Scottish Green Party Spring
Conference at Maryhill in Glasgow; a long day starting at 4.30am
and not finishing till I got home at 11pm. This was my
first ever political conference and I was frankly disappointed
because the programme included virtually nothing about the
environment. Climate change and renewable energy did
get passing mentions within a list at one point but I cannot
recall anything else. At lunch time around the food tables
there was a bit of talk about environmental issues but that was
probably my fault! Next day Claudia Beamish was quoted as
saying that as things stand Scottish Labour is greener than the
Greens - from what I saw in Glasgow she might be right.
Such a pity. Sunday was a day off from all this - spent
much of it watching football on tv.
Mon 13th and Tues 14th Mar
On Monday morning I went to
RZSS Highland Wildlife Park to get a briefing on their part in
the Scottish Wildcat Action project - mostly to do with captive
breeding. Fascinating. Later I took a couple from
Sheffield to watch badgers - a superb evening with at least
three different badgers in view on and off. I checked the
Maginon camera while I was there; just badgers, a roe back and a
brown hare recorded. On Tuesday I did some SWA admin and
filled woodland feeders.
Weds 15th to Tues 21st Mar
This period has been a bit of a
blurr of paperwork and planning mixed in with a few practical
bits. On Weds the North Scotland Member Group was treated
to an excellent presentation about wildcats from Roo Campbell,
project leader of Scottish Wildcat Action. At various
times I checked cameras and refilled bird feeders as necessary.
The cameras revealed badger, hare, jay, roe deer and red
squirrel but no pine marten or wildcat. As for actual
sightings there were multiple views while out with the dogs of
crested tits, gs woodpeckers and buzzards plus the usual small
birds. Encouragingly these birds were sometimes seen in
pairs which bodes well for the breeding season. Speaking
of breeding, ospreys are now arriving back in small numbers.