Monday, 17 June 2013

Peaking Early

I warn you now, this will be brief.

We have a pair of foxes working the extreme North edge of the estate. Between ourselves and our neighbours, we've spent a lot of time spying the area from daybreak. (Which, by the way, means getting up there for about 3.30am.) One fox has been spotted regularly but over a huge area. Every time it has been spotted it has travelled out of everyones view and been lost to us.

The other has only shown muzzle 4 times in the last month. It seems to go around at breakneck speed and gets lost to us in double quick time.

Last night a friend came up with a (very, very expensive) thermal imager. We were up on the top of the highest hill in the area, right through the night, spying for any sign of either fox. And guess what?

That's right; no show.

So it looks like the alarm is going to be set for 2.30am. Again.


Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Foxes and Pussies

Although we are the middle of our 'foxing season', you haven't heard a lot about it. That's because it has been very quiet indeed. So far we've only found 2.5 dens.

If you're wondering about the 0.5 it's because we had a dog fox move onto the far reaches of our ground with a couple of cubs. They were survivors from a den being dealt with by a neighbouring estate.

But, all in all, it's turning out to be a strange season. We are catching few stoats, seeing few 'hoodie' crows, and finding very few foxes. 

There are a couple of foxes been spotted up on our North march too, but they also have eluded us. So far. Unfortunately the weather has broken down again so we're struggling to get good visibility for spying at first light.

We're also catching up with a few maintenance jobs around the place. Last Friday we were sorting up a footbridge, waaay out on the hill when I spotted a moth on one of the handrail uprights. It was bigger than any moth I'd ever seen.

As I had the email address of a chap who comes up here trapping and studying moths, I took some pics and sent them to him. I was surprised that, when he got back to me, he'd told me he'd only ever seen one before and asked whether he could post a pic on the Butterfly Conservation website. (

Apparently it's called a Puss Moth. You learn something new every day.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Beware Factors Bearing Gifts

A decade ago Angus Council came up with an initiative to boost local rural economies and encourage the public (yes, you!) to take some exercise. The Angus Glens Walking Festival was born.

At the news of the birth, the three wise men of Dalhousie Estates (the laird, the factor and the Head Gamekeeper) offered a gift.  That gift was a Glenesk resident who could help guide the walkers..... and maybe also the organisers. A Trudgin' Horse!

Since being volunteered that first year, I've been back every year bar 1. And I've grown to enjoy sharing my office with these visitors. I also enjoy the opportunity to tell them a little bit about the balancing act that is the management of a highland estate.

I was at it again just a couple of days ago and set out to demonstrate what it takes to get close enough to deer to shoot them. On reflection it was a rather tall order - and I'm not referring to the 1,000ft of climbing here. Rather, it was due to fact that there were 30 of them (plus 2 other leaders) and they were dressed in their most rustly clothes in colours that could be seen from space.

As you would expect, all the 'rare' stuff (sea eagles, golden eagles, hen harriers, adders, merlin, wildcat and otter marks etc) remained stubbornly out of sight. But we did get close to deer and we did see a good variety of 'other stuff'. And whenever I wasn't working their legs, I was working their ears.

They were very polite and gave me some very positive feedback. Personally, I considered it a bonus I survived the day at all after finding out that a couple of them were vegans. Although one chap likened me to Bear Grylls, I'm sure there were others who considered

me an arse.

We're needing a marketing 'hook' for our new wildlife tours. So I've decided to call myself Bear Arse.


Saturday, 1 June 2013


A few years back I was lucky enough to be offered the chance of a job exchange. The result was that I spent 3 months working on a remote 100,000ha game reserve on the edge of the Kalahari in South Africa.

From day one, it was incredible. I darted lions. I tracked rhino. I counted game from a low-flying helicopter. I helped in the live capture of 1500 head of game.

To call it a once-in-a-lifetime experience falls far short. It was surreal, like the plot of a cheap novel. But it happened.

The exchange was organised by my employer and one of our regular shooting guests. I spent a lot of time wondering how I could possibly show my gratitude for this amazing chance. The only answer I could come up with was to keep them up to date with my adventures. I emailed a daily blog.

As my time in the Kalahari went on, more and more people asked to be included on my mailing list. On my return to the UK, I was persuaded to keep writing.

My African adventure is 4 years behind me now. However it was such an amazing thing, that I can't bear for it to be over. It HAS to have been life-changing.

Yet, I feel the same. The only difference is that now I am a writer. My benefactor had my African blogs made into a coffee-table book. As I result of that, I was offered a regular column with 'Scots' magazine. A regular slot in 'Sporting Rifle' has since followed.

It might be small beer (I really don't know) but the fact is the ripples from Tswalu are still spreading out through my life.

If you're a regular visitor, you'll notice that my blogs had 'stalled' of late. Part of this is that I thought that, after 3 years, there wasn't much left to say. Part of it was also that it was getting a bit onerous. And part of it was that I could never find an answer to the question "...and why exactly am I doing this?!"

Well just recently there have been developments. The estate I work for- Invermark- is trying to develop in some new directions. One being wildlife tourism. And this blog is being pushed as a 'marketing tool'.

I still find myself asking "...and why exactly am I doing this?" because- at the moment- there seems to be nothing in it for me.

Apart from keeping those ripples going.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Spot the Difference

This snow, it appears, is as reluctant to shift as a seaside donkey. And while snow at this time of year is nothing unusual, this much for this long is.

Our ability to move about is seriously hampered for all but two of us. That's how many the snowbike can take. And, as a couple of my colleagues have ground far more suited to it, they are the ones who go.

There should have been 4 going out but our venerable old second snowbike decided to give up the ghost. In the absence of other jobs- like traps (buried) and heather burning (hah!)- I got the job of stripping it down. This was done without the aid of a manual. I've had to find out the hard way that nothing can be removed from this machine without first disassembling every other bit within arms length. At least I dont have the aneurysm-inducing 'assembly-is-the reverse-of-removal' chestnut  found in all good manuals. How they must laugh......

While all this has been going on, Scottish Police and Fire Services have 'requested' that all land managers cease muirburning immediately. They back up this request with a long list of reminders of all the different ways you can be guilty of an offence if you have a fire that gets out of control.

I reckon the only way we'd get a fire going anywhere on the place is if we used a kilotonne of napalm. I suppose that'd be an offence too.

It hardly seems like it, but in a couple of weeks the fishing starts on the loch. So it's high time we got the boats pulled from the water and checked over. I'll post a couple of pictures- one from last year and one from today. See if you can spot the difference......


Sunday, 24 March 2013

Getting the Drift

Well. My last post certainly put the kybosh on the weather! Instead of "feeling the warmth of the sun" we've got brrrrrrass monkeys and snow. More snow than we've had all winter. And these last days there have been strong winds that have rearranged it to make it even more troublesome.

After my last post we had a while of 'business as usual' for the time of year. We burned some heather, cut some firewood, got our stoat traps baited up, checked some fences.....

Then we made the mistake of taking the chains off the tractor and the tracks off the argocat and all hell (albeit without the inferno) broke loose. Since then we have been turning our attentions to indoor jobs. The outbuildings have surrendered 6 bogieloads of 'that-might-come-in-handy-one-day' material. Broken spades have been reshafted, cracked oars repaired and varnished, saddles oiled....

But we're all starting to get a bit stir crazy. There is a limit to indoor jobs and we are all champing at the bit to get 'oot the hill'. We managed a couple of days out on the snowbikes looking for foxes the week before last, but even then the visibility was poor. All last week it was dreadful conditions with low cloud, wind and snow every day.

But if we're getting stir crazy, spare a thought for our wives. They've been snowed-in all week. And if that isn't enough to drive you mad, the school has been closed so they've been stuck at home with the kids forbye.

Today I was all for wading 4 miles up the road to get the tractor and snowplough to clear our drive. Fortunately my colleague (who lives a lot closer to the tractor than that) had already thought of it and came and cleared our drive for us.

We were out of the starting blocks like Usain Bolt; off down the road to stock up on supplies. It was all I could do to stop the missus hugging everyone she met.

Friday, 1 March 2013

High Anxiety

We've had a great spell of weather this last few days. I must say, it feels good to feel some heat in the sun and to feel that winter is coming to a close. Regular readers amongst you will know that it's been a particularly tough one with regard to the hind cull.

I thought I'd take advantage of this good weather and the lengthening days to see if I could fall in with one of these foxes that I know is going about. (Since Christmas I've been seeing signs of them- pad marks, scats, kills. I even had one in my sights when I was out lamping one night. When I lay down to shoot it there wasn't quite enough clearance over the rise in the ground halfway between me and it. Sooooo frustrating!) So I decided to go out and spy a favourite rock face at first light.

The downside of these beautiful, clear, still days is that it gets bloomin' cold at night. And the coldest part of the night is often just before dawn. Which is about the time I was sitting down to spy.

Actually, I'd seen the forecast and knew that I was to expect about -8C so I took a sleeping bag and thick gloves with me. Just as well. I worked up a good sweat climbing and scrambling over snow wreaths to get to my place. Thereafter there was little to keep me distracted from the nipping of my ears.

By 8.30am I decided to try and stir things up and fired a shot into the rock face. Twenty minutes after that I picked up a fox on a ledge. It looked like a b******d of a place.

This fox faffed about, back and forwards, on that ledge for the next 2 hours before it eventually disappeared  out of sight under a bank. I could move at last, thank God!!

When I got to the floor of the corrie I dumped a heap of gear. Mostly clothes, actually. I had a feeling I was going to be sweating again before long. And I was right. The climb up through the rocks was bad enough but trying to move quietly over deep, crunchy snow was taking even more effort. And I had both the rifle and the shotgun to weigh me down.

At last I reached my chosen spot- only to find branches negating any chance of a clear shot to the ledge. After spying for 30 minutes and seeing nothing, I moved to the next likely spot.

Again, I had the same problem but this time I had a clear shot to one tiny bit of the ledge. I tried a squeak to see if the fox would show. Nothing. I still gave it a good half hour just in case. Then I moved in a bit more.

This time, I had a better view- at the cost of a  more precariuos shooting position. (Have a look at the pic!) So I squeaked and waited.....and squeaked and waited. After an hour I decided enough was enough. I fired a shot into a block of icicles hanging above the ledge, showering the place with a cascade of ice. I reloaded quickly, waiting for the fox to come bolting out. Nothing happened. I gave it another half an hour in case this was one of those foxes with nerves of steel that would come sneaking out after sizing things up. Still nothing....

 I concluded that either this fox had already left, or it was well underground. I decided to walk into the place with my terrier and shotgun. I slung the rifle on my back and started the painstaking approach. I got within 50 yards before I came to a narrow bit in the ledge. I looked down at the possible outcome and backed off. Too rich for my blood!

As a last resort I backtracked right down to the bottom of the corrie and climbed back up through the rocks. This time I approached the ledge from the other side. When I eventually gained a vantage point I fired a rifle shot straight into the bank where the fox had disappeared. Once again, nothing moved. Furthermore, it was obvious there was no way in from this side with terrier and gun. It was time to go home.

 A weary trudge later saw me back at the rover. Now there was a welcome sight! I arrived home some time later with a raging thirst and hunger gnawing at my belly. Little wonder really- it's not every day that I have my breakfast at 5pm.