Monday, 27 February 2017

Otter family at breakfast time on the trail camera



video


There was a new moon last night and a four metre high tide this morning at ten minutes to seven. High water would have driven the otters out of the sea some time before. They appeared on the trail camera at ten to eight running along the bank of a small freshwater pond on Trevor's campsite (Ardnamurchan Campsite).

You know yourself what happens when you've been in the sea, you need a freshwater shower to get rid of the salt, it's the same for otters and they use this pond regularly even though it's only ten metres from the nearest tent site.

I've been trying to get a video clip of them for over a month, All I have had has been grass blowing in the wind or stray sheep, until this morning, when I had 18 clips of grass blowing followed by one of the otter family.

You have to be patient and persistent even with a trail cam. If you are here on holiday and want to see otters here are a few tips:-

  • Get out before dawn or dusk
  • Move slowly scanning the shore in front of you
  • Spend more time sitting still than moving
  • Otters will be out of the water at low tide and high tide
  • Look for footprints in wet sand and spraint on green topped rocks or mounds above the high tide mark
  • You are most likely to see otters swimming when the sea when the water is flat calm the bow wave gives them away.
Good luck!

The barn owl is back with impressionist photography



Is this a new genre in wildlife photography? ...... impressionist?.......modernist?.........surreal? or..... too much partying?  You can just make out the gates, the car headlights and the owl, it's  in the top right corner as it's leaving. It won't be in the next BBC Countryfile calendar.

Hamza was returning home  at 3.00 am and again saw the white owl in the sheep house, he stopped, reversed  and took this photograph. It was another wet and stormy night so the owl is obviously sheltering up on the rafters.

Judging by the white streaks on the rafters it's been there a few times recently and there is a good chance that it will decide to use our hi-tech nest box.

Watch this space!

Friday, 24 February 2017

Sheep stells in the Upper Coquet Valley

Sheep stell  
The Scottish Borders are not quite, "arctic - alpine" in their climate and vegetation but winters can be severe with deep drifts and freezing temperatures, often for days on end.

A hill ewe's reaction to cold wind and snow is to seek shelter in  the lee of a wall, a rock or tree. snow then drifts over her.  Because they are sheep they do things together and many can be lost after a few days of burial.

For hundreds of years shepherds have driven their ewes into drystone walled "stells" for shelter.

The stell like this one at Windyhaugh  in the upper Coquet Valley can be up to 20 m in diameter and are capable of holding several hundred sheep safely until the storm is over. Stells are usually located at low level and near a burn (stream) and emergency food supplies.. The walls are about 1.5 m high and provide shelter all around the whole inner circumference.

At lambing time some ewes may need attention at
 the birth of the lambs or for a lamb adoption  the stell is then a useful holding pen.
Windyhaugh Farm with snow on the way
* Haugh is a Northumbrian word for the flood plain of a stream or river.


Monday, 20 February 2017

Trap door for swallows

Spring and summer
It will be two months before our swallows return from Africa to nest in the rafters of the sheep barn which has year round open access to birds.

Last week I saw a novel way to provide access to less open buildings for nesting swallows.

It's a small hinged door about 6" by 4" in the top corner of Bob Burston's hemmel (stable in Northumberland) door,  left open from Spring through to Autumn then closed after the swallows leave.

I haven't actually seen this but Bob assures me that the birds fly in and out through the opening at top speed.
Autumn and winter

Tomorrow there'll be one in the top of the door of the old byre.
















Controlling invasive american aliens in UK and Europe

North Northumberland -big skies and big landscpes
In north Northumberland last week I went looking for red squirrels. I spent an afternoon sitting in a woodland glade didn't get any photographs . However there were signs of their presence; warnings to motorists to slow down for them and spruce cones stripped of seeds. I didn't see any greys either, hopefully because of the control measures.

About 150 years ago grey squirrels were imported into the UK from America as a fashion item to grace the estates of the landed gentry.
They have been very successful and now we have an estimated 2.5 million of these "tree rats" The native red squirrels with an estimated UK population of 10 - 15000 can't compete.

The greys store four times as much fat reserve for winter because they evolved to survive much tougher winters in the Eastern USA, they are more prolific and are adapted to living at hgher densities than the reds.So greys have displaced  reds throughout much of England and Wales and in recent years have moved north into Northumberland and the Scottish borders..

Bigger, stronger faster breeding greys also carry "squirrel pox" or  Parapoxvirus to which they are immune but it is fatal to reds.

The "European Squirrel Initiative" began in 2002 to remove the american aliens from the whole of Europe to protect biodiversity and prevent economic damage to woodland. "Northern Red Squirrels" grew out of this, it coordinates population mapping of both species and control of the greys.   www.northernredsquirrels.co.uk

There used to be a bounty on the greys in the 1950s because they strip the bark from trees sometimes killing the tree directly or indirectly by opening up the tree to fungal infections. I think the bounty was 2/- ( two shillings in old money) per tail, an attractive payment for boys with air rifles. Now they are caught in baited cage traps and humanely disposed of.

More recently as pine martens have moved south into grey squirrel country it seems that they may be effective and selective predators on greys which feed more on the ground than reds. The reds can move fast high up in the tree canopy on flimsy branches where the pine martens can't follow.




Monday, 6 February 2017

Scots Pine - Scotland's national tree and black grouse.

Me on the left Trevor (Polar explorer on the right) we're a bit over qualified for this expedition but that's what happens when you become a "wrinkly",
In 2013 we had a national vote to decide on a national tree for Scotland, 52% of respondents voted for the Scots Pine. It's not exclusive to Scotland, I've seen the species from Spain to eastern Siberia. Until about 6,000 years ago it was predominant in the Caledonian Forest on drier mineral soils but clearance started by the neolithic farmers and continued up to WW2. Climate change also had a hand in it.

We still have remnants of the pine forest from Argyll to Wester Ross and the Cairngorms. It wasn't a closed canopy forest of tall straight trees there was a range of age classes other tree species and open spaces of high biodiversity. Yesterday we had a walk through one of the remnants, in the Cairngorms, to find a black cock leking site that I last visited ten years ago.

They spend the day around the forest edge grazing on blaeberry ( blueberries) and perching up in the pines. The " lek" is a spectacular mating display that starts before dawn and carries on into the morning. First, the males birds fly in do there macho displaying then the females arrive (the grey hens) to watch, participate and eventually mate with the best dancers Hamsa wants some video  of this display.

He has a licence to film  protected species and will be back towards the end of the month, to set up his hide and then freeze through the night until the birds arrive. No footage or pics yet as I can't find mine they are somewhere in the loft on a memory stick. I'll add them when I find it. In the mean time you can find black grouse in your field guide, between the falcons and the partridges.