Saturday, 16 December 2017

Walking ........ the sun

After lunch I put on my sunglasses and sauntered off into the sunset. In December night falls about 4.00 pm and sunglasses are unheard of unless as an affectation of cool.

Ben Tallaidh had a coat of white cloud following the mountain contours, up the western slopes, over the summit and down the east, like an inverted old man's beard. There was absolute silence, no crashing waves, no wind,no screaming gulls, The sun tumbled into the Atlantic behind the Treshnish Isles.

On the way back my forty metre shadow looked quite athletic, this cheered me, as I move more like a cart horse than a race horse. But at least I'm still moving, still walking, thinking and enjoying the freedom it brings at no more than two miles an hour.

I got to thinking about walking, two miles an hour is not fast but not slow, it's a pace that suits me, "sauntering" as recommended by  David Thoreau in his essay, "Walking" published in the, Atlantic Monthly shortly before his death in 1862.

Two miles an hour isn't slow as in the polar opposite of fast, it's a good slowness as opposed to haste, it's a pace that can be comfortably kept up all day. Twenty years ago my wife and I set out to climb Mt. Kathadin, highest point in the Appalachians. We left the National Park office at 5.00 am and were regularly overtaken by groups on younger walkers hurrying on. Then as the day progressed we passed the red faced, perspiring overtakers. We arrived on the summit at noon together with an elderly man and a child. Grandfather was wearing a USMC cap, he knew the art of walking.

The last big walk I did was 15 days along the GR 20 in Corsica 12 years ago and I got to thinking about doing something similar in 2018 but more slowly at a lower level but definitely in the sun and on my own, non of my contemporaries seem to be up for it.

GR 20 Traverse of the Corsican Mountains


How to become a wildlife cameraman Grey seals fighting

The majority of the images I use in blog posts are my own but some are are downloaded free of charge from Pixabay, the best videos and stills are provided by Hamsa Yassin photographer and cameraman who lives just down the road. I have seen him at work over the last two years and have learned what it takes to be really good at the job.

First and foremost you have to be a skilled and knowledgeable field naturalist. Hamsa's  speciality is birds; identification, biology, ecology and behaviour he is also a licensed bird ringer and has the most amazing eyesight, better than 20/20 if that's possible.

Then you need the technical ability and understanding of cameras, computers, editing and composition he has this too. Like every other sphere of life you also need talent. But give two people the same camera and the same subject to shoot and one will be miles better ta the other because of inherent talent.

On a recent trip to England Hamsa filmed a pair of Atlantic grey seal bulls fighting on a a beach you can see this and some of his other work on Vimeo at: Grey seals fighting

Compare this image of the, "Woods in winter" taken by Hamsa with my effort below. He has whiter, deeper snow, more contrast.......etc.

Glen Mallie

Monday, 11 December 2017

The woods in winter......... tracking the Scottish wildcat Pt. 2

Invermallie (Spot the bothy)
Well of course I was being over optimistic. In the time available and the survey team of two in a area of at least 100 sq. miles there wasn't much chance of finding tracks or getting trail cam video of anything other than deer, foxes and pine marten. But it was spectacular, blue skies, hoar frost, snow covered mountains; the woods in winter.

The birds were a compensation; Goldcrest, Goosander and Woodcock .

Hamsa ( photographer / wildlife cameraman) was so taken with Invermallie he decided that
The wildlife cameraman
he wants his wedding there. First he has to find a bride who is likely to agree but it is a stunning place on a day like yesterday. It's probably a better place to introduce your children to "affordable accommodation"  in remote areas. Then like mine they can dine out for ever on horror stories from their childhood holidays. I digress.

Next time we will have to roam wider, spend longer and use more trail cams but only in the likeliest places. In the meantime I have a had a memorable walk in the winter woods.

"The woods are lovely, dark and deep
But I have promises to keep
And  miles to go before I sleep
And  miles to go before I sleep"
                                  Robert Frost
Stopping by the woods on a snowy evening.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Another mini expedition.........Tracking the Scottish wildcat Part 1

I've been waiting for  a wintry spell of weather, snow followed by deep frost and this is the forecast for the next few days.  Conditions should be near perfect for a wildcat tracking expedition in the vast tract of wild country between the Great Glen and the Knoydart peninsula. This has to be one of the largest stretches of wild country with the lowest density of humans in Scotland. It's where I'd hang out if I was a wildcat. There's shelter, food and minimal human activity.More about Scottish Wildcats

For shelter there is woodland, gorse thickets, rocky cairns and even abandoned buildings. There is woodland including a remnant of the Caledonian pine forest, streams, rough grazing and moorland for hunting voles and mice. Here in the west there are few rabbits, their favourite prey, in E. Scotland rabbits make up 70 % of the wildcat's diet. As they need to hunt for up to eight hours a day we might find tracks in the snow and the trail camera might find them at night.

Our plan is to walk in to the bothy at Invermallie on the south shore of Loch Arkaig then to scout around
Invermallie in wildcat country

for tracks and set up the trail cameras. As the temperature will be well below zero we will have to pack in some firewood (trees are protected) and arctic sleeping bags. You can find Invermallie and see the extent of this wild country on Google Earth. Mountain bothies

I have optimistically labelled this Part 1 in the hope that we will get some positive results.

My own wildcat (she, Mimi, is a hybrid) just walked in , jumped on the desk and walked across the keyboard. I just let her
Wild Mimi as a kitten
do it, I have too many scars from trying to move her.
Semi-domesticated Mimi

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

North Northumberland again........ nest boxes in trees for barn owls.

The Coquet Valley around Alwinton and Harbottle is a patch work of woodland, hedgerows and grassland much of it rough grazing, ideal for voles and barn owls. Drive two or three miles after dark and you are sure to see a white owl perched on a fence post or hunting silently over the grassland.

The ideal tree in the ideal site in the Coquet Valley
Food supply is probably as good as it gets for most of the year but nesting sites can be few and far between. Before barns, the owls used holes in large old trees they still do of course when available.. Modern farm buildings tend to be enclosed and bird proof. Many of the big old trees have gone with the ancient woodland and hedgerows so purpose made nest boxes can be a big help.

The nest boxes have to be big enough, weatherproof and in the right place. For a detailed plan of the best design take a look at the Barn Owl Trust website. bear in mind it took me three days in the workshop to build and paint this one. I'm obsessive about the carpenter's mantra,"measure twice, cut once"!Barn Owl Trust Nest box plans

Where to put it? For a start well away from fast roads ( not a problem up the Coquet), it doesn't have to be adjacent to rough grazing the owls will commute to work but I guess, the closer the better. The tree itself should be relatively free of branches low down so that the owl can actually see the entrance hole, a straight stem with few side branches around the box is ideal. The fledglings need to hop about near the box. Four metres above ground level provides security from most predators, until the Coquet has it's own population of pine martens.

This box is designed so that it doesn't have to be tied to the tree there is a secure integral hooking device, a wooden spar that hooks over another piece of timber screwed to the tree. I should add, barn owls don't build nests or carry nesting materials they use the regurgitated owl pellets as bedding. Most people don't have a ready supply of these (Hamsa does, he keeps them in his freezer with the dead mice) two buckets full of a dry horticultural compost and wood shavings is a good substitute to get them started.

Monday, 20 November 2017

It's time to plant trees and to learn how to do it!

November is the start of the traditional tree planting season for bare root trees that are two to three years old. Normally, planting of bare root trees ends in March when the plants wake up after winter and start to grow again..

A bare root transplant
But things are changing. Mechanisation and industrialisation of the tree nursery business means that a much smaller number of very large nurseries on the best agricultural land now produce many millions of trees each and they have been able to extend the winter and planting season by keeping "bare root" tree plants in cold stores up until June or even later

Then there are trees grown in germination / propagation modules under plastic tunnels These can be planted at any time as they are well rooted in a ball of growing medium but these are much more expensive and difficult to handle on the planting site. A tree planter can carry 100 or more bare root plants in a bag over her shoulder but plants in modules have to be palletised and are a bit of a logistical nightmare on large, remote planting sites.

For my tree scheme the seed of the ,"native broad leaved" species that I plant must have a known provenance; in short the seed is collected in Argyll and is certified as such. It can then be sent anywhere to be propagated for two or more years before I plant it.

Because I am not a forester I went on a tree planting training course last weekend to learn how to establish a wood and a few basic rules emerged; plant good quality trees with well developed roots, smaller transplants are better than long whippy ones, don't let anything (voles, deer, sheep etc.) eat them, control the weeds and finally the actual planting is a skilled job. Rachel in the picture plants between 1,000 and 2,000 trees a day depending on conditions, I'll get her to do mine.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Nutritional wisdom of poultry .......low cost and low carbon egg production.

The first limiting factor in animal production systems is dietary energy. You can feed all the protein, minerals and vitamins you want but unless animals have enough energy in their ration they will not thrive and produce,

In egg production systems we feed a balanced energy rich, protein rich pellet fortified with minerals and vitamins...... everything the hen needs for egg production. These "layers pellets" make up about 70 per cent of the cost and 70 per cent of the carbon footprint of egg production.

There is an alternative to proprietary rations for for free range hens A large poultry farmer in the Netherlands has 24,000 free range hens fed on biscuit and bakery waste ( high in energy). Because they are free range they can also eat insects, worms, frogs....even mice and plant material to balance their diet.Low carbon, low cost eggs Research shows that hens can select an optimum diet if presented with several different feeds, they learn to do this over time

Real "free range" they go everywhere
My own hens have access to layers pellets and mixed corn ( whole wheat, kibbled maize, oats high in energy). They eat more of the mixed corn than the pellets and still lay perfectly well so are they showing "nutritional wisdom" and balancing their own diets with the wide selection of proteins available out there?

Given the scientific evidence that hens can and do select an appropriate and balanced range of proteins in their free range environment so I am tempted to feed only mixed corn which is cheaper than pellets and has a lower carbon footprint than pellets.


Forbes,J.M. and Covasa,M. Application of diet selection by poultry with particular reference to whole cereals, World's Poultry Science Journal, vol 5, issue 2, 1955, pp. 149 - 165