Sunday, 30 March 2014

Mothering Sunday 2014

If you are a follower of my blog you will have seen the fathers day post I did last June all about how great my dad is...well the very best thing about his wife.

Being a good mum is the most important job on the planet and their loyalty is unrivaled anywhere. 

Kindness is the best asset anyone can ever have and my mum has mastered the art.

A bit of good luck is probably the second best asset anyone can have and I cant believe my luck as I ended up having the best mum anyone could ever wish for.

Happy mothers day to my mum and all the great mothers out there xxx

Mum and I in the early 90s...

Sunday, 16 March 2014

The promised land...

Prince Charles referred to as having 'passion for protecting wild animals' as he continues to completely ignore the fact that his native wildlife such as upland raptor species and wildcats to name a few are getting massacred in large areas of the country. The royals have a history of trophy hunting and persecuting protected British species. The only thing his family has passion for is that for killing.

Dead peregrine found shot near pheasant pen...

Sea Life Surveys will be undergoing its 32nd year of operation in the coming weeks. A large variety of species can be seen on the excursions including minke whales, basking sharks, dolphin sp, porpoise, eagles, and sea birds. Along with the chance of fantastic wildlife observations passengers will be directly involved in the research undertaken. Book trips online on our new website here...

Amazing discovery of a prehistoric porpoise...

Great to spend the last couple of weeks working local areas and a prime spell of weather at the start of this week really got things going as spring is kicking into gear. A couple of days (3rd - 4th) to the east watching Goshawk in a few locations was very special.

Another highlight has been watching a pair of kestrels providing a lot of courtship behaviour near our home. Copulation has been viewed a number of times along with general bonding as they prepare for the vital time of the year. A young male bird has been observed intruding on the happy couple a number of times with some amazing dive bombing and territory defence also seen.

Nearly every time I have looked out of the window in the last couple of weeks I have seen a buzzard paroling up and down the valley along with birds soaring on a thermal column with six seen on one occasion. Very lucky to see these birds daily and never tire of viewing them.

On the 6th of March I had a walk up the valley and saw the first lapwing back to their breeding grounds with a pair in flight over the moorland. Also two pairs of stonechat seen with the cock birds in song. A stunning pair of red grouse were seen in close range, I managed to get some nice shots but then stupidly formatted the memory card and lost them.

On the 7th Cain, Frijj and Phil came up to Gdale and we went for an evening wonder around the valley. The first record was a pair of Grey wagtails down at the Gelt. The usual buz and kes were seen and red grouse appearing from the heather. Grouse remains were found which looked like peregrine kill. A few roe deer showing in a birch woodland and long eared owl seen briefly at dusk along with roding woodcock.

Records in the garden included a first for me which amazingly was a pair of house sparrows which we rarely get this high up. Also a pair of long-tailed tits seem to be preparing to nest build with the curious birds coming right up to the window providing great views.

Male adder in his dull winter skin basking...
On the 10th the mouth watering weather made it a must for some serious time in the field and a check on the traditional adder sites provided three males out basking. The first curlews were seen back on the moors including a flock of 25 seen. Meadow pipit numbers building and three black grouse cocks and a grey hen also up the valley. I did a night shift up on the moors as the high pressure provided low winds so prime to listen for owls. I heard 2-3 short-eared owls in song along with snipe and woodcock heard.

The great weather continued on the 11th and I was joined by Rachel and Frijj as we got some great goshawk action in the morning and three adders at lunchtime. The first bees of the year seen in white-tailed and a seven-spot ladybird and a peacock butterfly. We also viewed copulating kestrels which are a different pair further up the valley. We flushed a grey hen while walking through an ancient woodland later in the afternoon.
I headed back out in the evening and the highlights were a grey partridge which is my first for Gdale. A single grey hen was also seen along with a few red grouse. I watched up to a hundred wood pigeons fly into a spruce plantation while waiting for long-eared owls as I eventually seen and heard one bird later on. Back down at the house and while viewing the stars at about 2130 I heard a kestrel calling which must have been disturbed by possibly a tawny owl.

A great couple of weeks covering some special wild areas. They mean a lot to me because apart from the obvious reason that they are hugely diverse and stunningly beautiful they are also and always will be my home grounds.

Thanks for looking :)

Friday, 7 March 2014

Ardnamurchan - a week in the wild west

Stag cottage, Glen Hurich -  

The Highlands, Best Birdwatching sites by Gordon Hamlett -

Saturday the 22nd, Rachel and Andrew arrived at Geltsdale at 8am all set for our venture north to the wild west of Scotland on the district of Ardnamurchan for the week. After ramming the car full of luggage we were on the move...briefly as mum appeared on the drive way to tell me my main rucksack was still in the living room! After finding room for it making Rachels view in the back even more restricted we headed off for Carlisle to do the weeks shopping along with a quick visit to the bank. As we got to Tesco we headed straight to the peanut butter section for pine marten bait and the fish-mungers for wildcat bait. A highlight was seeing a guy there with a tattoo of a dragon on the back of his bald head. Should of got a rabbit because from a distance it would of looked like hare!

With the shopping in the car and a dead pheasant I scooped up and route the car was officially brim full as we headed north to bonnie Scotland. Big highlights were a merlin and single red kite both just north of Argaty. We scooped up another pheasant on the A82 and a good trip up and usual excellent landscapes as we landed at our location of Stag cottage in Glen Hurich. We baited the area and within half an hour of dusk the pine martens appeared with at least 3 animals on the first night providing hours of entertainment..pure magic.

Piney at the window...
Day two was a bit moist but a fantastic wildlife hide looking out towards loch Sunart was only a few miles away so we headed down to do a shift in there. Little grebes, RB mergansers, shags, canada geese, displaying rock pipits and common seals to start. A pair of WT eagle appeared later on both been adult birds. More great piney action on the night as we began to recognise individuals by behaviour and appearance in particular unique markings on their cream bib. 

Day three and low winds and a spell of fair weather encouraged us to go further afield as we headed west, along the wilds of Ardnamurchan peninsula. We stopped at a traditional goldie eyrie view point on route and got a pair of birds in flight which was a promising sign. In the birds territory stood a newly erected wind turbine (out of place monstrosity). We continued on the longest 30 mile stretch in the country and made our way to the point of the great ocean where we took in the spectacular views and did a bit of sea watching while we had lunch. Naturally scarce oceans at the surface at this time of the year as we recorded guillemots, razorbills, shags and GBB Gulls. As a big surge came in it flushed half a dozen purple sandpipers into view on the shoreline. We moved round to the spectacular Sanna bay and ardnamurchan ring-dykes to take in the mass variety of landscapes all around us. On the journey back at dusk we kept a keen eye out for the very rare sight of wildcat eye shine but no joy, as looking for this rare mammal in this present day could be like chasing rainbows.

Looking across to Ben Hiant and the sound of Mull...
Day four and we focused more local and another sensational area to cover is the temperate rainforest's of the sunart oak woods. Even in February it is a great experience with the variety of mosses, tree ferns, lichens and fungi. We visited Ariundle oakwood NNR and had a walk through the forest floor towards the open uplands. A small group of lesser redpoll and a few treecreepers seen and a dipper on the nearby river. It was disturbing to see a number of dog poo bags hanging up in the tree by the path...A key sign to how out of touch with nature a percentage of the population are. The planet has evolved over millions of years to break down waste and harness its goodness and in one of the wildest areas of the UK and some people make the decision to put it in a plastic bag and hang it on a tree. 

The evening spell involved the important task of getting camera traps set up in the surrounding area around Glen Hurich. We deployed 5 traps in the vicinity in different areas with one on the woodlands edge on a deer track, one in a young birch woodland, one in a spruce plantation, one in lodgepole pine and one in our back garden surrounded by rough grassland. We would leave them there until Saturday and see if we can pick anything up on them.

Day five and sunny spells forecast so we set off to cover the planned locations to the north. The first port of call was loch Moidart and castle Tioram which is a very scenic location with the islands of Caledonian pine forest a real stand out. On the wildlife front we had rock doves coming out of the castle walls and ravens tumbling above the cliffs, wigeon in the shallows and a WT eagle soaring over the distant Morvern hills. 
We moved on further north and came to a car park which had 'raptor view point' written all over it. We pulled in and with in 10 seconds we had mewing buzzard and within 30 seconds two juvenile golden eagles appeared out of nowhere in flight coming towards us in pursuit of a woodcock! An attempt was made to tag the wader but it was unsuccessful potentially to do with the inexperience of the first year bird. An adult WT eagle joined appeared shortly afterwards gliding over the stunning glens and mountains in view all around.
We carried on north in excitement of what else we could see on our travels and more goldies were seen roadside as we joined the A830 and headed east towards Glenfinnan and the head of loch Shiel. Worth it for the classic highland landscapes alone although the harry potter bridge was about as impressive as Gelt bridge so we headed back on our selves as the light closed in and arrived back in Strontian for a meal at the badger bar to round off another cracking day. 

Day six and we were keen to get a good view of the large expanse of moss on the south side of loch shiel to see if there was anything working the area there. Going off resources there was a couple of view points from the conifer plantation to the south so we gave it a go and walked the forestry track for a couple of miles receiving no clear views of the moss left us confused. Weather the trees were too overgrown now or had we not gone far enough? Anyway we enjoyed views of crossbills singing, fox scats, goldcrest in song and saw the first frog spawn of the year it was nice woodland stroll. 
We headed back to the FC hide looking over Sunart to see what was going on. Nice views of common seals and mergansers as we had our lunch before heading back to Glen Hurich to see the far side of loch doilet. 
As we settled back down in Stag cottage for the night with the pine martens routinely sat on the window sill feeding I had a quick glance outside and some stars were showing so I brought the camera out to do some starscapes I noticed a strong glow to the north and saw a few columns...storming aurora! We managed a nice view and a few shots before the solid could moved in from the west to stop play for the night. A strong display was apparently visible as far south as Norfolk and great to see aurora all over the UK media and interest as a lot of people got to see the lights.

Stag cottage aurora...
Day seven and you just couldn't write the script for this...we were up early to catch the morning ferry from Lochaline to go to Mull as Rachel had a job interview there and we would cover the island in general as well. We set off from the bottom of the valley at about half 8 and noticed a solid covering of snow on the higher ground and didn't really think too much of it as we stated climbing the steep ascent. A bit further up the hill and we were in the thick of a healthy covering of snow and we were going nowhere in a hurry as the car wouldn't grip. We worked on the grit piles and managed to make small progress but we were still 500 yards from the top of the hill! Fate does not exist of course but a bit of good luck does as a road gritter turned up and cleared the track nicely as we managed to get a couple of hundred yards up the slope until we got stuck again on an even steeper ascent! We managed to reverse it into a passing place and get the grit fired on again and also hope that the gritter came back on it self. Hell fire god was been a grand lad today as the gritter came back ten minutes later and cleared the stretch completely as we got under-way and headed for Lochaline to get that ferry!
We missed the 1045 boat but were set for the next one as we got an adult WT Eagle at Fishnish as we made our way across to Mull and after Rach's interview we headed south and within minutes got onto two harriers, adult and juvenile female birds. Heading to Pennyghael and back we managed seven harriers in total and also three golden eagles with one bird getting chased away and another picking up the remains of a mountain hare and carrying it along the scree slope before landing and doing some really intensive feeding as we viewed it in the scope...another memorable encounter. Healthy numbers of stonechat seen and huge number of red deer as always present on the landscape. A black guillemot at Craignure guillemots and razorbill seen on the ferry crossing back to Morvern.
A tidy up of the house along with Braveheart and more pine marten action was had as we got prepared for leaving day in the morning.

Day eight and on the morning we rounded up the camera traps and with the bait only been taken at one location it didn't look two promising in terms of capturing species. We hit the road south and as it was a fine day we planned to do a few stops on route back to Cumbria. We stopped at a traditional golden eagle eyrie at morvern and had a quick scan but no sign of the birds with buzzard, stonechat, wrens, raven and red deer seen. The next stop was glencoe to take in the sights and visualise the beauty of it if it had not been destructively over grazed. 
The next stop was one of the worst decisions of my life was we called into Sterling to visit the castle there. After having a weeks worth of unbelievable nature experiences like pine martens, eagles, aurora and sensational landscapes all for FREE!! (spent money on facilities in the area, fuel, food etc) we paid £14 each to walk around a modernized village hall for fifteen minutes. They also had the cheek to try and charge us £4 to park the car chance, its not happening...thanks for the free parking. 
I apologize to frijj and frenchy for the decision to go there but hope you enjoyed all the other spectacles we had during the week. We arrived safely back in the north of England and I would like to thank them both for a great time.

Andrew checked the traps in the days to follow and there was no joy with any mammals yet alone that hugely slim chance of wildcat which is easily one of the rarest species on the planet now. Feral cats have had an impact in recent years but yet again it boils down to mass persecution by gamekeepers in the last two centuries as yet another species leads to extinction. Is it time for the return of the Lynx to British landscapes?

Thanks for looking...

Stag cottage, Glen Hurich -