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