Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Where Eagles Dare

I'm on my hols and thought, as I'm having a break from my ramblings, I'd give you a break from them also. But you don't get off that lightly.
Last week was one of extremes. For the first 2 days nearly all I had to do was 'jaw work'. The Monday was spent giving the Dean of the Conservation Faculty of George University (South Africa)a guided tour. He was in Britain for his holidays and, having heard much about the place from a former student- namely one Dylan Smith-felt he had to come and have a look for himself.
Then on Tuesday I was talking to a group of schoolkids as part of their 'Rural Skills' studies. As I was neither subjected to torrents of abuse, nor called a 'murdering bastard', nor even pelted with rotten vegetables I'll say both days went well.
The rest of the week was 'paw work'. I had my turn of a hired digger (and driver) and sorted a lot of the roads that were damaged by last Novembers floods. Cue the thunderstorms......
I'm also posting a couple of pics taken today. I went out with a group of lads to fit satellite trackers on a couple of Golden Eagle chicks.
In the process I ended up on a bit of my ground that I've never been on before (and there aren't many keepers can say that after being on the same beat for 6 years.) The place was a steeply sloping, narrow ledge high up in a corrie with a 200ft vertical rock face below it. I've spied it often and thought it might be POSSIBLE to get up there, but never had a reason- or the inclination- to try it.
Now I know it is, in fact, possible. But I still wont be back.
As it was the operation ran like clockwork; the tick tock sound effects were provided by my knocking knees and my alarm didn't go off until we were back on terra flatta. One of the pics is of Ed and I watching two of the group abseiling off over the edge. I've got a neck like a giraffes, but I can assure you that there's no way I was shifting my bum for a better look. (Anyway, I was using it to grip onto a wee bit of heather.)
Seriously tho', it was well worth it to get a good look at one of these awesome (but somewhat malodourous) birds. The website by which you can follow it's wanderings isn't up yet but when it is, I'll let you know. Thanks for having me along, lads.
One last bit of news before I go; I've been offered a monthly column in 'The Scots' magazine. Uh oh, there go those knees again!

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Mans Best Fiend

Any of you who have been reading my blogs with any regularity will have noticed that I have a rather unusual shadow. His name is Ed and he's my Mostly-Border Terrier. (Actually, there's one quarter of a Jack Russell in there but it's not the bit between his ears so I don't hold it against him.)
You'll have seen him in rather a lot of the photos I've posted, mainly because a)he's always with me, b)he's the more photogenic of us and, c)I haven't managed to train him to take the pics.
Most gamekeepers will tell you that theirs is The Best Dog in The World but that is just egotistical blethers; 'coz mine is!!
Ed stalks deer with me; he'll face a fox in any hole he can fit into; he'll point anything from deer calves to birds; he can find a stoat in a dyke and a flake of sausage roll in an acre. Hell, he'll even do the valve clearances on my 'bike.
In fact the only thing he can't do is leave my sons footballs in one piece. They're his Achilles Heel- were he to have a heel.
However what's most remarkble about him is the way he's trained me. I can tell whether he's getting the scent of deer or fox, rabbit or grouse. He'll tell me with a look if there's anybody home in a cairn or sandhole. He'll warn me with the quietest of 'wuf's if there's something I've failed to notice.
Altogether, he's one smart cookie and I think it's no exaggeration to say he has me wrapped round his little... er... claw.
Flea cheers for Ed.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Scouring for pads

Ring Ouzels; no, not an embarrasing medical condition but a bird very like our humble Blackbird. They winter in the Atlas mountains in North Africa and migrate to spend their summers here. Apparently, our area is one of their favourite destinations and, within that area, my beat is Numero Uno. (Imagine, flying over the Spanish Costas or French Riviera to come HERE.)
There's a chap who comes to monitor them throughout their breeding season and I met him the other day. He told me how he already had tabs on 40 nest sites on my beat and still had a heap of ground that he hadn't got to yet. Furthermore he told me that-touch wood-they had suffered zero predation. That has to be good news.
In my earlier blogs I promised that you'd be hearing lots of mention of foxes, stoats and 'hoodie' crows. Well I lied. And the reason is that there is hardly a sign of any of them.
Remember the fox that wouldn't bolt from the cairn that I wrote about on the 6th May? Since then I have been round all my cairns again, I have taken my terriers through all the peat holes that I can think of and I've done lots of early morning spying (that's 4am early, by the way) and I've seen nothing. Furthermore, I haven't come across a single pad mark or kill. I'm starting to think that Elvis has left the building.
Nor have I seen a hoodie for about 6 weeks and I've seen 1 stoat in months. And he didn't survive the encounter.
Dont get me wrong, it's not that they have been wiped out, just that their numbers have been suppressed enough to minimise their impact. And their numbers would bounce back very quickly if we were to let up on our controls. So it's business as usual but with a little more time for all those other jobs that are waiting in the wings.
Fencing tomorrow. Touche!

Wednesday, 9 June 2010


I've been struggling to think anything of interest to tell you about. The weather has been really dreich for the last 4 days. Heavy cloud, mist, cool winds, drizzle and rain have had us all biting our lips and gnawing our fingernails worrying about our grouse chicks.
We've been keeping away from the hill. The last thing they need is to be disturbed when the chicks are sheltering under the hen. Even worse, some of the early chicks are at the fluttering stage and if you were to scatter them in a strong wind they could get lost and quickly succumb to the wet conditions.
So instead we've been getting round our traps and catching up with more odd jobs.
I made a start at strimming along the length of an electric fence today. The strimmer itself has a finger-numbing buzz. However, that's the only buzz to be had; the task is mind-numbingly dull.
Between that and digging up a blocked sewerage pipe, I would say I've single-handedly exploded the myth of the romantic lifestyle of the gamekeeper.
Maybe D H Lawrence should have called him 'Smellors'.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Still busy!

It's been a full-on week. Monday saw a 3am start with all of us out spying for foxes. Three of us spotted a fox that disappeared over the top of a distant hill and we took off in hot pursuit. It was fully half an hour before we arrived gasping and heaving at places where we could see the next bit of ground. Foxy, of course, was nowhere to be seen.
Unlike the hoodies you get in the town, we're allowed to shoot ours. I've spent a bit of time this week re-checking trees, just in case there's a late nest. I've also been re-checking cairns in case foxes have moved in from locations unknown. Crow cages and stoat traps have also been taking a lot of my time. We've also had a half day patching up roads.
Grouse chicks are starting to hatch out now and I've been helping researchers catch them up. They record brood size, age, weight, size, tick burden and location. Then they'll check on them again after a few days. I have to say, I'm pretty dejected at the poor numbers in the broods. Don't ask me what the cause is, as neither the weather nor the tick numbers appear bad enough to have killed them off. Maybe the hen grouse were in poorer condition after the winter we had, but then why were there decent clutches on the nests that I found? These bloomin' birds dont half keep you guessing.
There are pics of Lapwing and Oystercatcher chicks this time. It gives me a real buzz knowing that the work we do for our grouse also helps safeguard them. Oh, and there's a prize for spotting the odd one out.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010


Since my last blog I've been to the Kalahari and back. It's been a rave to the grave and I plan to share some of my experiences with you. However, I've been somewhat busy catching up with work since I got home.
The glen is bursting with new life and new growth and I've added some pics to show you a few of the things I've been coming across.
I'll try and post a proper blog soon!