Friday 29 December 2017

Pine marten at a red deer carcass last night

We tend to think of pine martens as living on voles, mice, rabbits, birds ( including my hens) but they are opportunists too. Here we have a female pine marten at a red deer carcass yesterday, the deer died from natural causes.

The pine marten clambers up on to the carcass, squats and then urinates. Is she scent marking the carcass to tell others that it's hers?

Thursday 28 December 2017

Orphan otter cub rescue on Boxing Day.

On Boxing Day one of my neighbours, Julie, was exercising her dog down on the beach. She came across a young otter on it's own by the tide line. It began to follow her and then she noticed it was dragging a hind leg.

Julie picked it up, took it home and called Hamsa. Hamsa called the Otter Refuge on Skye to arrange a pick up. He put it in a deep, dark cardboard box with a blanket for the night. Yesterday he handed it over to Ben Yoxon from IOSF (International Otter Survival Fund). What to do if you find an otter cub

Julie and Hamsa did all of the right things. Young otters are totally dependent on parental care not just feeding but for protection from predators such as foxes and eagles. We did show the otter to my grand children but they didn't handle them, they are best left alone to recover , they do have very sharp teeth and of course we don't want them to become habituated to humans...... that could be  dangerous for them. But  if you hand someone a baby otter they can't help cuddling it. Luckily this one is friendly and doesn't bite.

I spoke to Ben Yoxon at the IOSF refuge this morning and he told that the cub is well, eating salmon and has an appointment with the Vet for an inspection of the leg infection.

Video: Hamsa delivering the otter and totally ignoring the advice about cuddling small furry creatures.

Thursday 21 December 2017

Wild geese grazing............. 9 geese eat as much as 1 ewe (roughly!)

Non-migratory feral greylags

An average dairy cow weighs about 450 kg, I know, I had one stand on my foot and crush my big toe many years ago. So one 450 kg cow is equal to one LSU or grazing livestock unit based on the assumption that farm animals eat 2.5 to 3 % of their body weight each day. Why am I telling you this?

Well at lunchtime as I stood at the kitchen window I watched a flock of 38 greylag geese grazing it's way across the hay park in front of the house. I wonder how many sheep were the equivalent of 38 geese?

I worked out that 45 to 50 geese weighing 3.3 kg are roughly the equivalent of one 450 kg cow or nine 50 kg ewes. So the wild geese were equivalent to 4.2 ewes weighing 50 kg. In the past I would have gone out there and moved them on to graze somewhere else but now I don't have any sheep and I need to keep the grass short.

Goose grazing is a double edged sword, they produce a huge amount of goose shit and of course this fertilises the grass encouraging it to grow again if not now in the Spring.

Not many kitchens have a close up view of grazing wild geese so I should encourage them. 

Tuesday 19 December 2017

Firewood splitting ............. porridge beats petrol.

Powered by porridge
Having the wood shed close to the road is a big advantage. People passing by stop to watch and often want to have a go. this morning some really big logs needed to be split with a wedge as in the photograph.

Two people taking alternate swings at the wedge with big wood splitting mauls soon demolished the heap of logs that I sawed earlier.

Plus.... they feel good as a result of  exercise in the, "green gym"and no oil has been burned to the drive process. Of course you need the passing volunteers so it's not terribly reliable.More business for the physiotherapist too.

An electrically powered hydraulic ram again operated by a volunteer is quiet, effective but a bit slow and they are expensive pieces of kit.

A towable petrol engined machine can deal with lots of really big stuff but they are expensive and need two people to operate them.

 On balance people with axes and fueled by porridge oats is cheaper, greener and healthier.

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

Friday 3 November 2017

Yoga for owls........ the ,"Half bound lotus" posture.... really!

If you go to a yoga class you will have seen the, " half bound lotus stretch" before ... but "chair pose with dump" is rarely seen in class.

Perhaps we can make a calendar with these clips.

Why do barn owls (Tyto alba) live, hunt and breed in barns?

Stealth hunting 
As I have said before the weather in the W. Highlands makes the place unfit for human habitation in winter, it's cold ,wet and windy. It's the same for barn owls. Because they evolved as stealth hunters with silent deadly flight in warmer , drier climes their feathers are not waterproof and their insulation is poor. Heavy rain, snow and strong winds make vole hunting difficult and energy expensive.

Field mouse about 15 % of owl dinners
It has been estimated from barn owl pellet analysis that voles make up about forty five per cent of the barn owl's diet ,the rest, mainly shrews and mice are found in the same grassland habitats.  These largely nocturnal hunters need to catch 3 to 4 voles each night which is difficult in autumn and winter when voles are  less active and harder to catch.All you ever wanted to know about owls

Historically the solution was to hunt in winter around and in farm buildings. This was an effective strategy for thousands of years when corn was stored in ricks and barns which in turn were heaving with rats and mice. If you have a bird table in the garden you could be feeding owls as well as tits and finches . Spilt seed attracts mice and mice attract barn owls. Barn owls in winter

Yesterday there were two barn owls using the barn from dusk at about 5.30 pm until 8.00 am this morning, we know this from the timing of the video clips. During the day the hens are fed in the barn, they spill feed, the feeders are there 24/7 and this attracts mice.

So my barn provides protection from severe weather and a regular supply of food. This is unusual as most modern barns are not accessible to owls. Mice and rats are controlled with poisons.

The owls also conserve energy by hunting from perches on fence posts in daylight but they are prone to mobbing by crows, rooks and gulls. During daylight they are prone to predation by goshawks and occasionally buzzards .

Last night's video shows an owl comfortably at home in the barn preening, defecating and doing yoga while keeping one eye on the floor for mice.

Monday 30 October 2017

Two barn owls displaying aggressive behaviour over a dead mouse

The trail camera was busy again last night in the "Owl hotel", not just one owl in the barn but two and they are squabbling over a dead mouse.

We think that one of them, the one on the left is older and the one on the right is probably a juvenile as it seems to be more submissive. It we could see the colours of the wing coverts perhaps we could be more exact.

If there are any owl experts out there perhaps you could give us your view?

Sunday 29 October 2017

Barn owl watching and partying.......... wildlife watching after dark

Barn owls fit in well with the photographer's millennial  lifestyle, coming home from  from another party at about three this morning . He got this short video with his camera phone.

The owl flies out of the barn then up the road and perches on a branch of a big sycamore.

Under the rafter where the owl perches he found pellets (bundles of regurgitated bone and fur) so it was probably there for so time sitting out the storm.

 He then set up the trail camera directly opposite the perch with a dead mouse for bait but it looks as if tonight something else took the mouse or the owl swooped in too quickly for the trail cam.

Tuesday 24 October 2017

Roundup ready crops........ Monsanto's unholy grail

This week the European Union could revoke the licence for the use of the weedkiller glyphosate (ROUNDUP). Glyphosate (ROUNDUP) is a non-selective, post emergence, broad spectrum, systemic herbicide.  in other words ," if it's green it's almost 100 % certain that glyphosate will kill it" and its probably killing us too.EU vote on Roundup

Roundup is used world wide
If you are under 40 years old you have  been ingesting glyphosate in one form or other for the whole of your life'; in biscuits, potato crisps, bread and vegetables.If you are a farmer, gardener, green keeper or forester you have been directly exposed to this chemical in  it's concentrated form and when diluted as a spray.

The holy grail for the agro-chemical industry since Roundup was first marketed has been crop plants that are tolerant to glyphosate. These genetically modified "Roundup Ready" varieties have two big advantages for Monsanto; increased sales of Roundup and they can sell the GM crop seeds with the chemical as a package. For the farmer there is 100 per cent weed kill and the crop survives.

They have a virtual monopoly. Currently in the USA 90 % of soya beans and 70 % of the corn crop are "Roundup Ready". They are doused with glyphosate, and farmers have to go back to Monsanto for their chemical and seed package each year, they have become a captive market, almost sharecroppers.Roundup Ready Corn

Tomorrow in the media you will see the response of the agro-chemical industry (MONSANTO), the farmer's unions and a few tame politicians. They will reject the science behind the vote and argue that the world cannot be fed without Roundup. There are alternatives to Roundup readiness and we can feed the world without it. More on that later.

Friday 20 October 2017

No more pine martens until the Spring!

Production team head for the hills
You must have read enough about pine martens by now. But! the photographer is relentless in his pursuit of wildlife imagery and Big Al is ever keen to shoulder massive loads of kit up the hill.  So here we go again.

Having re-housed Peanut the one eyed pine marten we now know that martens find our den boxes  attractive, secure and comfortable homes.  The photographer is convinced that any boxes set up in the woods at this time of year will be full of marten kits in May.

He's never short of ideas. Next project is a huge marten den in his Mother's roof space, it's interior done out like the inside of a hollow tree and 24 /7 filming of the squatters.  I digress..... back to this afternoon. We succeeded in hauling the 20 kg wooden box four metres up an ash tree clinging to a rock outcrop. You have to  assume that house hunting martens are seriously agile.

The box is securely lashed to the tree. Next we sprinkle peanuts around the base  and smear the trunk with organic peanut butter.... only the best will do. Trail cameras will monitor the action,  the tree is only metres from a game trail that's well used and trodden.

Now we wait. You know when the martens are in residence, they soon dump a pile of scat on the roof and you can see this with binoculars. More news in Spring 2018.

Thursday 19 October 2017

Build a hut in the woods...... new planning regulations and code of good practice

Do you ever dream of owning your own cabin in the woods? A place where you wake up to birdsong and sit on the porch under a dark sky sparkling with stars. on....

Last weekend we had the annual gathering of Re-foresting Scotland, at Comrie in Perthshire. The theme was "re-wilding" but there was also a session on"hutting" and the recent changes in planning law and building regulations to allow people to build simple huts in the countryside for recreational purposes.

After WW1 there was a working class movement in Scotland to get out into the countryside to walk, climb, camp and build simple accommodation for holidays. It has become a Scottish tradition and Re-foresting Scotland's , "1,000 huts campaign" has been driving new developments to make it easier to get planning permission and a building warrant.

The best known hutting community is at Carbeth in Stirlingshire, This community of small huts was established in the 1920s  mainly by people from Clydeside, in 2013 they bought the land that their huts were sited on. Since then hutting has become recognised as a legitimate, valuable and desirable countryside

Canadian version
My Russian friends have their own, self built dachas in the countryside, N. American cousins have lakeside cottages, Germans have their " kleingarten" here in the UK it has been almost impossible to have anything other than a static caravan on a manged site. In Scotland  you can now self-build a woodland hut. But there is still one big hurdle....... finding a site in a countryside where land is so scarce.

Re-foresting Scotland presented a new document at the conference, " New hutting developments : Good practice guidance on the planning, development and management of huts and hut sites".

Thursday 28 September 2017

Hunting the Skipinnish oak...... one of Scotland's oldest trees

There's a rule of thumb that says you can measure (roughly) the age of an oak tree by measuring the diameter of the trunk at chest height with the span of your arms. I think you have to be of average height (me). Your arm span equals your height, in my case 5' 8" or 172.5 cm., and each span is worth 100 years of growth.

Soaring above the surrounding thicket of birches
Today I set out to find the "Skipinnish oak" a very old tree in what were once the policies of Achnacarry Castle. There is no signage to tell you where it is, no footpath and no interpretive display board. But the kind attendants at the Clan Cameron museum pointed me in right direction, told me that it was completely hidden by other lesser trees and that I would have to climb the deer fence.

A very old oak is going to be a very big oak I thought. So I scanned the forest canopy. There were three large venerable oaks in roughly the right place but their trunks and lower branches were completely obscured by a thicket of much younger trees.

Taking a bearing on the tallest I set off in a straight line over ditches, rocks, tree stumps and bog to the deer fence. Deer fences are at least 7'  high and if they are in good shape they aren't easy to climb. You have to find a strainer post that doesn't sway and wobble so I set off along the fence. I was in luck a ladder had been built up and over the wire.

Because the deer have been excluded there has been spectacular regeneration of birches, a thicket so dense I had to shoulder my way between them up the knoll to the old giant. My photo doesn't do it justice, you have nothing to compare the diameter of the trunk.

Measured around the huge boss about five feet above ground level
I measured approximately 5 spans..... about 28 feet. or 7 metres in circumference. So it's 500 years old, maybe more.

When Achnacarry Castle was destroyed by the Duke of Cumberland's troops after Culloden in 1745 the great tree could already have been 200 years old and it looks as if its still growing.

NB. The vegetation inside the fence is different from that outside. Inside there is quite spectacular natural regeneration of birch, oak and hazel. Outside the regeneration is much less due to deer browsing there are some oak seedlings and hazel but it is really sparse compared with inside.

If you want to know why it's called the "Skipinnish Oak" have a look at this link...Skipinnish oak

Monday 25 September 2017

Autumn mist and spider's webs

10.00 am , mainland Britain cut off from Mull....ferry cancelled
It's warm and windless with a sea haar (mist) enveloping the coast. Mainland Britain is cut off from Mull. The ferry has been cancelled. Fence rails, bushes and branches are festooned with spider's webs shiny with drops of dew. It's a perfect W. Highland day.

Garden spider web

Garden spiders are fully grown and hungry for flying insects. They rarely live beyond the first frosts. Overwintering eggs are tougher hatching in the Spring to start the life cycle over again.

Amorbious species have evolved these tangled untidy webs to catch crawling species as they move over trees and bushes.

12 noon mainland still cut off

The sky is a lot bluer than this, it really is a perfect day unless you want to get to Tobermory.

Sunday 24 September 2017

Hooded crow takes an egg away for breakfast

Crows, ravens, rooks and jays (Corvids) are thought by some authorities to be as intelligent as apes. They can solve problems, use tools and think ahead.

Earlier this year Trevor at the Ardnamurchan campsite found his windows splashed with blood one morning.A hoodie crow had been attacking it's own reflection thinking it was another crow. Not all that intelligent you might think it should have been able to recognise itself well some crows been shown to recognise themselves in mirrors.

Hamsa left the trail camera outside his back door one morning last week with an egg to attract the crows. See the video for what happened next and the intelligent way in which the crow made the egg portable.

Before the crow got there my cat "Mimi" a wildcat hybrid also got in on the act. Even serious minded wildcats can be playful

Peanut the pine marten is voluntarily relocated and patient she does come out of the box eventually

Just over a week ago I posted a piece about "Peanut" the pine marten living in the Campbell's roof. Since then things have moved on. I made a pine marten den box. Hamsa put it up on the roof above the valley gutter near where she was entering the loft and now she has moved in.See video clip.

From the top; two side entrances and central nesting chamber
Peanuts and peanut butter were used to entice her to investigate, she must have liked what she found because we now have video of her entering and leaving.

Den boxes have been successfully used to help conserve pine martens and to monitor their population by  the Forestry Commission and the Vincent Wildlife Trust.

In commercial forestry plantations the trees are close together and relatively young there are few trees with natural den sites ( deep holes in the trunk). A scarcity of den sites in tree cavities  is a major constraint on population growth. Den boxes have been very successful in Scotland and Ireland. The martens can safely shelter from the weather and predators (foxes).

In the workshop nearly finished, it needs two more coats of paint
Den boxes have been designed to be weather proof, a similar size to natural sites, well insulated and with two entrances, they like to have a choice of escape exits.

Now that we know she is using the box we can block off the hole in the roof, the pine marten will be safe and the Campbells will be free of an unwanted guest.
For all you want to know about pine martens and making den boxes click here

Tuesday 19 September 2017

The best time to plant trees was 20 years ago....... the next best time is now.

On Friday my Charolais cross bred ewes will be sold at Torlundy mart near Fort William. They are going for two reasons one economic and one personal.

This year it cost approximately £50 to breed and rear a lamb for sale. It then cost £2 to take each animal to the mart and the auctioneer charged another £3 to sell each one. The sale price was down 14 %  to £43 per head. I made a loss of £12 on each lamb.

Unprofitable and too heavy
The "Single Farm Payment" and the "Less Favoured Area Payment" subsidies that we get from Europe add up to just under £600 for this croft. This leaves a surplus of roughly £400 for a year's work. The subsidy comes from the  European Union. In 2019 when we have left the EU it is unlikely to be paid by the UK government despite it being a vital social subsidy for rural Scotland. This is the economic reason for selling the breeding ewes.

Each year these ewes seem to be heavier, stronger and less cooperative or could it be me getting older?

Keeping poultry is easier at my age and it is one of the two farming enterprises in Scotland that produced a profit before the SFP  last year the other was pigs.

As Crofters we have a sort of quasi legal obligation to carry on an agricultural or business activity on the croft. If this isn't a farming enterprise it can be equestrian, a camp site, a golf course, nature conservation or forestry. I intend to plant trees....... as shelter belts, as a source of native tree seed for re-wilding, as a landscape feature and for timber in 50 to 100 years.

Shelter from the prevailing wind will also increase the productivity of the remaining grassland and hens do like to rake about among the trees, it's close to their native jungle habitat in India.

Thursday 14 September 2017

Pine marten on the roof......................... a musical wildlife video

This is our first attempt at a full length ( 1 minute) wildlife film with a musical backing.

A condensed version of a day in the life of Peanut the one eyed pine marten in the Campbell's roof space. She works the night shift then comes home at about 6.30 am,  squeezes between the roof tiles and the rain gutter to get in  above the sitting room where  it's warm, dry and safe.

She stays indoors until 8.30 pm when she leaves for work. this  involves hunting small furry creatures, small feathered creatures in season and killing my hens if she gets a chance.

We think she has lost an eye as only one is reflecting light.

This is what we do on wet afternoons in the W. Highlands.

Sunday 10 September 2017

A conservation success story........Europe now has twice as many wolves as the 50 contiguous United States

In Britain we exterminated our large predators long before other Europeans. The wolverine is estimated to have gone 8,000 years ago, bears 1000 years ago and lynx in 400 AD. The last wolf is reputed to have been shot in Scotland in 1680.

European brown bear
In continental Europe large predators survived and in recent years have begun to recover in even the most densely human populated landscapes. Europe (4.3m km2) has  more wolves, about 12,000, than the 50 contiguous United States ( 8m km sq.) with 5,500 individuals.The recovery of European brown bear, wolf, lynx and wolverine populations in Europe is a little known and unappreciated story.Recovery of large carnivores in Europe

Conserving populations of large predators is complex not least because they live at low densities and need large land areas often crossing national boundaries.  In N.America black bears and mountain lions still live among low density human populations but brown bears and wolves have largely been confined within protected areas, people and predators are kept apart, the "separation" model.

Here in Europe in the last seventy years changing values, culture and legislation to protect large predatory species have resulted in a successful "co-existence" model.  Co-existence has led to increased and stable populations of bears, wolves lynx and wolverine. Twenty two countries have brown bears, 23 lynx, 28 wolves and 3 wolverine. The wolverine is limited to Scandinavia by climate and habitat requirements. Wolves have been seen and videoed in the Netherlands, the most densely populated country in Europe.Wolf in Netherlands video

Lynx habitat
Here in the UK our only large predators are eagles but there is a proposal to re-introduce lynx to the W. Highlands where this relatively small large predator could help to control deer numbers which are currently out of control. There is opposition of course from the usual suspects but at least one large estate owner is keen on the idea.Lynx Trust UK

Wednesday 6 September 2017

Tracking pine martens in north Northumberland

A couple of weeks ago I had a phone call from a friend in Northumberland, he'd just seen a pine marten at the side of the road as he was driving home. That happens all the time here in Ardnamurchan but Bob lives in England in the Coquet valley about fifteen miles south of the border. Pine martens were wiped out in England in the 19 th century.

The lambs were sold last week, the weather forecast for Northumberland was good and my neighbour was happy to look after the livestock. So a short scatological expedition to Northumberland looked good. Scatological because if I was looking for pine martens the only evidence I'd be likely to find would be pine marten scat.

Rowan berries
Rowan trees are heavy with berries in September and pine martens love them, their scat is full of undigested skins and easily identifiable. Starting where Bob saw his pine marten I have been walking the logging roads and footpaths of the nearby woods for the past two days.

Wild mammals tend to take the line of least resistance to get from A to B, footpaths and forest roads or well used game trails. I'd be unlikely to see one in daylight and despite the rain the ground isn't soft enough for distinct tracks scat would be the only possibility.

Line of least resistance
There's plenty of evidence of foxes and deer but none of martens. I'll just have to keep trying if I find a trail they they are using I'll then setup the trail camera for a night or two. For more on tracking pine martens by someone more experienced than me have a look at the Vincent Wildlife Trust blog.Tracking pine martens

As I have been often told by archaeologists, " absence of evidence is not evidence of absence!".

Update on Monday 11th September

I just found a Northumberland Wildlife Trust press release date 1st July 2010,"Found at last! Pine marten rediscovered in Northumberland." They have unequivocal evidence based on DNA analysis of scat found at Kidland. Pine marten in Northumberland  Not a very effective press release if I only found it seven years later. Or perhaps I'm just not a very effective researcher!

Saturday 2 September 2017

Pine martens like central heating , insulated lofts and permanent residence.

Pine martens are still an endangered and protected species in the UK. Here in Kilchoan they are more common than domesticated cats. Most residents have experienced living with a pine marten. You may be sitting reading one evening then you hear something like a body being dragged across your's a pine marten.

They don't actually live in pine trees they prefer old buildings and centrally heated houses for the winter. Access is easy most houses over 30 years old provide entrances to the roof space.

Pine marten in the roof space

If you want to remove your visitor you must remember that it has the highest category of protection, higher than the Queen. There must be some bureaucratic process that will enable you to trap and then release it somewhere suitable. If there is I've never heard of it. So what ever you do you mustn't set a wire cage trap baited with jam or peanut butter on toast then release your captive in the woods.

You will just have to live with it like everyone else. As for the smell..... the pine martens don't seem to mind.

Foraging, finding, cooking and eating chanterelles... it's that time of year

I've been complaining daily about the wet summer. But there is a plus side, heavy rain encourages the growth of chanterelle mushrooms.Yesterday I was shown, by someone who knows about these things..... where to find them.Within about five minutes I had filled a large brown paper bag with perhaps one kilo.A slight depression in the woodland floor was lit up with their golden trumpets.... as golden as the yolks of free range eggs.

Beware! there are some highly toxic lookalikes. As well as knowing where to find them you need to be able to identify them. Again you need someone who knows and a guide to edible mushrooms to supplement this. I am not going to help you there it's your  responsibility.

You can store them fresh in a paper bag in the fridge for about 10 days, otherwise dry them in the oven, slowly at 150 C.There are lots of recipes online.

La cuisinere

The simplest recipe is to saute them with onions. I gave mine to Mrs.Campbell who turned out a magnificent quiche with hedgehog mushrooms and chants. I was invited to help eat it of course.

The eating is the best bit...... it would be ill mannered to take photographs. Bon appetit!

If you do go foraging and find them please don't trample on them, please leave some and don't tell anyone where you found them.

Monday 28 August 2017

Barn owl feeding station

It's pretty obvious why they are called barn owls, they nest and roost in barns, first documented by Ray 1678 (The ornithology of Francis Willugby). Pennant 1768 ( Pennant, T, 1768, British Zoology ii.) calls it the, "white owl" but barn owl is the common usage and barn owl was officially adopted by the BOU (British Ornithologists Union) in 1883.

This is why we have just put up a feeding station in the sheep barn. We know that a barn owl comes in here to roost especially in wet and windy weather and Hamsa wants eventually to set up a hide in the barn.

The offerings on the feeding table are dead mice (humanely killed in a trap in his caravan).

When Hamsa lived in a barn himself at Swordle he used this technique to get some excellent images of the owls who also lived there.

There is also the possibility that owls will find and use the nesting box that's up in rafters.