Wednesday, 7 November 2018

A curry night and whisky tasting at Peanmeanach bothy

On Monday, feeling the need for an adventure, exercise and a night out  " Kilchoan Old Guys Expedition Group", (average age 67.5 years) walked in to Peanmeanach bothy on the Ardnish Peninsula for a curry and whisky tasting (lat / long 56.9/5.8). It's not far, about 4 miles on a rugged, stalkers path that's rather wet in places, slightly wetter where you cross the river in spate below Lochan an Phearaim Dubh. First casualty!

Chris slipped and fell on the river bank put his hand out as he fell and dislocated the middle finger of his left hand. This can be painful but he's old, doesn't complain, pulls the finger straight to reset it himself and carries on. Half an hour later it was my turn. Descending the path through the birch wood above the shore I slipped and fell, my right arm landed on a fallen birch with the full weight of my pack driving it. My forearm was bruised and sore but didn't appear to have broken anything. Now it's Wednesday morning I'm typing one handed and waiting for a lift the nurse has told me to go to Ft. William for an X-ray.

Back to the bothy...... the curry was excellent; cooked by Steve's wife Maggie and carried in frozen. there was some dispute over the brand of Trevor's whisky..... was it Lagavullin or Laphroaig?  We'd carried in enough logs for two nights so the fire blazed and the craik was good. On going outside for a pee about 8.00 pm I became aware of thirty of so pairs of eyes watching me as I swung the head torch round. They belonged to the red deer that normally graze above the shoreline.

Postscript 9th November
It was pointed out to me yesterday that of the six vastly experienced outdoors people who set off on this short walk on Monday two became casualties. Despite the fact that I was in and out of the accident unit within an hour and nothing was broken this raises the question, " should we be allowed out on our own at our age". You might like to comment.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Coquetdale red squirrels need your help........ without it they'll be extinct in 10 years.

I am sitting at Janet's kitchen table in Holystone in the Coquet Valley, North Northumberland. We are working on a project submission to the Aviva Community Fund.  The red squirrels in the forest here need funding to prevent their  imminent extinction. You can help to save them!

We submitted this story as stage 1 of an application for funding and now we are through to the second stage where you the public have to vote for us.

Fifty years ago people in the valley saw red squirrels on a daily basis. Today red squirrels are rarely seen because of the incursion of Eastern grey squirrels which were imported from the USA in the 19th century. The greys ( an invasive alien species) out compete the reds for food resources and introduce a lethal disease; squirrel pox, the greys are immune to this. Reds have been replaced by greys throughout Britain. We now have only an estimated 140,000 native red squirrels in in the UK with only 12,000 in England, sixty percent of these are in Northumberland.

The Coquetdale Red Squirrel Group have been trapping squirrels for ten years and eliminating the greys, "with extreme prejudice" as the CIA might say.  The work required to do this successfully is now too much for a small band of volunteers. We need a full or part-time Ranger to trap squirrels, train and motivate volunteers , monitor populations etc... If we won project funding (£10,000) it would enable us to do this for 6 months and evaluate the benefits and unforeseen costs. If successful could  then seek further finance by "crowd funding".

Our aim is to reduce the adult, fertile grey squirrel population by 60% each year.  Population modelling has shown that this is necessary to prevent the replacement of native red squirrels by greys. ( Rushton 2006 )

Selection of the winning projects depends on the number of online votes that each submission receives, first you must register on line,then cast your ten votes for a selection or only one of 59 projects in the "Environment" section. You must be a UK resident in order to vote.  So... please....... vote for our project, "Saving Coquetdale Red Squirrels"

Register, log in and place your 10 votes via this link

Voting is open to UK residents until 20th November 2018

Rushton et al (2006) . Disease threats posed by alien species; the role of pox virus in the decline of native red squirrels in Britain - Epidemiology and infection. Journal of Applied  Ecology, 37, 521 - 533

Friday, 12 October 2018

A "pop up " restaurant in the old byre ....... Cafe L'Atelier...... a brief rant about Trumpism

On Thursday evenings  a small group of elderly men  meet in the bar of the, " Kilchoan Hotel" for gossip, discussion of the latest outrage from Trump ....the undoing of enlightenment values, rejection of truth, rationality and science;  beer and sometimes a meal. We also try to organise a small expedition, suitable for elderly and infirm male crumblies each summer.

Cafe L'Atelier
In 2017 we had a few days on the Knoydart Peninsula one of Scotland';s remotest places and communities. A highlight of that trip was an evening at a "pop-up restaurant" for the best fish and chips in the UK. Since then Big Al has been itching to do this  ourselves on our own peninsula in my old byre ( now  the workshop).

A couple of weeks ago he got his wish. I cooked.... Al provided the ambience with lighting, candles and French stuff. It was after all the " Cafe L'Atelier ".

 Menu  du jour..... salade verte ......Cassoulet.... Creme caramel.... Fromages regionaux. And of course a selection of malt whiskies. The Chef was awarded 3 Michelin Tyres.

Suggestions for a theme for the next pop-up dining experience are welcome. If your idea is selected you get an invitation. So far we have had, The Roadkill Cafe and  The Post Brexit Apocalypse Dinner which would comprise three courses, porridge, followed by porridge then more porridge we wont be able to afford anything else!

For the best analysis yet of Trumpism and Borisism have a look at this piece by a psychologist in today's Guardian. What Freud can teach us about Trumpism

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Our last barn owl leaves the nest's early October

Owlet's first night flight

Last week as he was driving home past the barn "Raptor" saw a young owl on the road in his car headlights it was the third owlet to be hatched.

Barn owls are usually 12 - 13 weeks old when they leave the nest so this one ( the last of the three) must have been hatched around the end of June. Incubation takes 31 - 32 days and the female sits on the eggs until three weeks after the first egg hatches, she must have spent about nine weeks in the nesting box being fed by the male. The first egg was probably laid in late May or early June.

It's not surprising that I found the male dead three weeks ago, after four months of feeding the female, the young and himself then three weeks of wind and rain he was probably starved and exhausted.

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Hybrid Scottish wildcat meets a pine marten

Press & Journal  22nd August 2018
While I was away in France a photograph taken by a holiday maker appeared in the Press & Journal of a pine marten and a "wildcat" together. The pine marten appears to be retreating and we ( my neighbours and I) are pretty sure that the photograph was taken in the garden of a nearby house, "Ardvaig" part of Mimi's territory.

My cat arrived here from the Cat's Protection League in Acharacle in December 2014. She was neutered and we thought she was just another tabby cat. Then I had a call from one of a team of vets neutering cats on the peninsula as part of the Scottish Wildcat conservation programme. He told me that they had just neutered her siblings and that they were wildcat hybrids and he asked if she had been neutered.

You can distinguish a domestic tabby from a hybrid and a true Scottish wildcat by examining their coat markings. DNA testing is the definitive, objective method  but perhaps the next best is pelage scoring. You can find out about this on the Scottish Wildcat Action website.Wildcat pelage scoring We did this and Mimi was indeed a hybrid.

You can see images of Mimi being wild; climbing trees mainly, soon after she arrived here on the blog at

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Barn owl in the freezer

I found a dead, male barn owl this morning, under the beam in the barn where they normally perch and roost. It was so light weight almost as it were only feathers. When I weighed it on my kitchen scales it was a mere 216g a healthy adult male should weigh 360g.

All white breast without any spots of black indicates a male

The past three weeks have been cold, wet and windy, perhaps the tail end of "Storm Ali" that we got this week was the last straw after nearly three months of feeding three owlets. Hamza is away in Spain filming so it's now in the kitchen freezer. He wants to take it to a taxidermist!

Friday, 21 September 2018

Sparrowhawk attack

House sparrows
 There has been a steady decline in the population of UK house sparrows during the last 100 years, probably since the motorcar replaced horses on our streets. Changes in farming practice have had an effect too, particularly the lack of winter stubble after a swing to autumn sown cereals and oil seed rape. But house sparrows aren't endangered here on the peninsula, my old buildings provide plenty of nest sites and the sparrows feast on food that's meant for the hens.

When I came back from holiday there must have been 50 house sparrows around the buildings and the poultry feeders, Alisdair thinks that they were eating as much as the hens.  But this morning there were only five or six on the fence by the barn.. I now know why.

This afternoon I went into the old byre to check on the water supply and as I was standing there a sparrowhawk shot in through the door, flew past me at waist height and dived to the floor. It picked up a sparrow in it's talons and swerved out of the door. It was all over in about two seconds.