Friday, 16 December 2011

Storm Troopers

Since my last blog, the weather has turned a lot We've had frost, we've had snow and we've had wind. Lots of it. On the top of Cairngorm (about 30 miles as the crow rapidly flies) they recorded a max. wind speed of 165mph.

Through all this, I've been stalking hinds. More often than not with a guest. This week we've been host to a group of army snipers. Each day I've had two of them out with me. It has meant full-on days, trying to get a shot for both. On the plus side they've certainly been more help than hinderance. They know how to spot, they know how to stalk and they know how to shoot.....and I took it upon myself to teach them how to drag!

And despite the inclement weather at the start of the week, they've managed to bag over 40 hinds over the 4 beats. Good going guys

It's one of my great pleasures introducing rookies to what I consider to be the most challenging- and rewarding- of fieldsports. And I make no excuses for the enthusiastic 'bloodings' I gave them. As with everything that was asked of them, they were well up for it.

But for now, my rifle is cleaned and locked away; my gear is drying out and my radios are charging. And I've got all weekend to summon the energy to do it all again come Monday.

So if you'll excuse me, it's time to throw another log on the fire.

Monday, 12 December 2011

A Fresh Pair Of Eyes

You may remember that I recently had a young lady out stalking. It was her first time and I thought it might be of interest to all you out there to hear what she thought of the experience. So here you are!

A week or two ago, Andy invited me to spend a day stalking. As a meat-eater who is also determined to choose the ethical option – I buy free range and wild food whenever I can – I was really interested in this. At the same time, I didn’t know how I would feel about shooting an animal. But I know the deer population in the hills has to be controlled, mainly because we no longer have top predators such as wolves to curb numbers.

I had never used a rifle before, so Andy and I started off at the range. He showed me how to use the sight and explained that I’d need to squeeze the trigger gently. I was surprised at the lack of kick from the gun. I aimed at the deer target amongst the trees, hit it first time, so I was ready to head up the glen. Andy explained that, if possible, we’d be waiting for a beast to stand side on, which gave the best margin for error. I was worried I might miss the target area, and maim the deer. But Andy assured me that if this happened, he would take the rifle and shoot it properly.

We drove to the top of a hill, leaving Eric to collect Fergus the pony. Another ghillie, Angel, came with us, then went back down with the Land Rover. Andy and I set off with Ed the dog. The weather that day (swirling mist), was less than ideal for stalking, but it lent a certain atmosphere to the occasion. As we walked off, Andy explained the principles of stalking – you have to imagine where the deer would be on that day, and then try and approach them so they don’t know you are there. One of the most important factors is wind direction, because you don’t want the deer to smell or hear you coming. So we set off upwind to where Andy thought they might be. We found some very fresh deer droppings on a path, and so decided to follow their tracks. As we rounded a corner, we stopped and waited rather than push on in the thick mist. The tactic paid off as, a minute or two later, it lifted just enough for us to make out shapes on the next ridge.

Andy signalled to me to drop down, and we crawled through the heather towards them. The mist was swirling about and kept blocking our view, but then it would clear again. The deer didn’t seem to know we were there. Andy set the rifle in position for me, and showed me which hind would be a good target. He picked one grazing, side on to us, with no other beasts around it. I got into position and looked through the sight. It took me a while to ready myself for the shot, and in that time the mist had come back in, so I had to wait for it to clear again before I could shoot.
Then, when I could see properly and the deer was in place, I squeezed the trigger. Andy was a bit unsure of the shot so he took the rifle and shot it again. The gralloch (removing the stomach and intestines) revealed that my shot had hit the liver. Andy assured me it was a killing shot but with the poor visibility, he had erred on the safe side.

As I had never shot an animal before, it was now time for my “blooding”, which is a ritual performed after shooting. Andy drew blood across my cheeks as a mark of respect for the dead animal. We then radioed Eric with the pony and set off down the hill with Andy dragging the hind. As it was still morning, we dropped off the beast on the pony path and headed back up the hill for lunch. After sandwiches and thermoses of tea on the side of the glen, we set off again to look for more deer.

This stalk was much longer. It had been far too easy in the morning! But, eventually, as the light was starting to fade, we found another herd, and we crawled into place. This time I was quicker at getting into position and readying myself for the shoot. I squeezed the trigger and shot the hind. My shot was much better and the beast went down first time because I had hit a major blood vessel in the chest. Again we gralloched the animal, and then dragged the beast down the hill, this time through a burn! We met Eric and Angel on the pony path, loaded the hind on to Fergus, and walked out as the sun was setting.

All in all it was a very interesting experience. I am a keen hill walker and mountaineer, so I was doing something new in a very familiar environment. I realised stalking is a special skill and I couldn’t believe how close we could get to the deer (a necessity on a day with such low cloud) without them knowing we were there.
I certainly didn’t get any kind of thrill from shooting an animal, but I have a great respect for the skill involved in stalking, and I feel that if you are going to eat meat, wild, organic meat is the most ethical choice.

Friday, 2 December 2011

The Old Dear

Yesterday was the first clear day we've had for ages. It was so useful to be able to spy my ground from a vantage point and see where all my deer had been hiding.

While I was doing this I spotted a single beast lying in a tiny hollow on a face a mile distant. Unusual.

However I made a mental note of it and carried on with Plan A. Eventually, after Plan A had mutated into Plan F, I returned to the land-rover with a couple of beasts. When I spied back across the glen, the single beast was exactly where she had been. Highly suspicious.

Although there was only about an hour of light left, I decided to go and see if I could get this beast. I was pretty sure that if I did, I would find that there was something wrong with her.

Three-quarters of an hour later and I was crawling around on that hillside, trying desperately to find a place from where I could see into the little hollow. Fortunately for me she stood up and presented me with a shot.

When I went up to her, I could see she was a big hind in seemingly good condition. I checked her legs, body and head for damage- nothing. As I gralloched her I found nothing untoward apart from the wall of her rumen was so thin that my fingers went through it as I tried to remove it.

Puzzled, I looked at her again. She looked rangy- big framed but a bit thin. I could see from her coat that she wasn't old but I decided to have a look at her teeth anyway....and all became obvious.

Her teeth were worn down to the gums. It turned out she was one of the oldest beasts I've shot in a long time.

I have to say, I felt a huge admiration for this old dame. She had been a huge hind in her day and was still in incredibly good strip for her age. But, more, she'd managed to give me, my predecessor, and probably the stalkers on two or three of the neighbouring beats the slip for about 14 years. The only reason I'd eventually caught up with her was that she was so done in that she could no longer keep with the herd.

There is a real sadness to shooting an exceptional beast like her but it would have been far worse- in my eyes- to have left her to a lingering death in the depths of a winter storm.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

I've Seen The Light

Finally, after about 3 weeks of mirk and gloom, the sun came out today.

The morning started off as per usual; thick mist to halfway down the hills, dark and with a heavy drizzle thrown in for good measure. As usual, I donned my waterproofs on departure from the landrover. And proceeded to walk the hill in my own personal sauna.

As I started stalking, the mist started to break up. I watched the scraps intently as they drifted this way and that. There was no discernable wind and it was so quiet I could hear the blood thrumming in my ears. (Not the best of times to be in full waterproofs.)

I managed a successful stalk in the morning and another in the afternoon. Just as Eric arrived with Fergus to pick up the second beast, the sun broke through. I swear I could hear a choir somewhere.

"I'm blind, I tell you! Blind!!" I yelled, falling to my knees. Then I thought I'd better get a snap quickly before it went away again.

I offered this rare pic to the Daily Record for £10,000 but they weren't up for it. They did suggest I contact another of the tabloids but I'm damned if I can remember the name of it.....

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Roamin' in the gloamin'

Extract from a phone call 20 minutes ago:-

"What was it like out the hill today?"
"Och, just another really dreich day. That's six stalking days out of the last seven been nothing but thick mist."
"And have you been getting any hinds?"
"Aye. I got a couple yesterday and three today. After a lot of trying."
"Has anybody else been getting any?"
"Not these last two days."
"So how do you do it?"
"Och, I just go oot the hill and fire off a wheen of shots into the mirk. Then I have a rake aboot and see what I've got. I found 3 braw rucsacks today and all!"

I was joking of course, but if conditions go on like this for much longer, David Attenborough will be doing a special programme about us. We'll be like those fish that live in pools deep inside caves that have evolved without eyes.

By last Friday I think I was starting to suffer from SAD (Seasonally Affected Disorder) but now I'm definitely AHOLED (Absolutely Hacked Off from Light Emission Deficiency).

As I write this, I've just caught the forecast for tomorrow:- Mild, with South-East winds. It's going to bring in low cloud off the North Sea that might be slow to clear in some areas....for a change.

On a brighter note, the accompanying picture is of a young lady who shot her first hind with me yesterday. I'm hoping to bring you her account of the experience. Once she's recovered.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

4 Eds Are Better Than One

Would you believe it? I had 3 guys out stalking today and they were all called Ed. This morning, when they asked me the name of my dog and I answered "Ed", they wouldn't believe me!

So I include a picture of the 4 Eds. While you're looking at it, please note the crappy day in the background. We spent a highly frustrating day working the steep walls of the glen in the background. Visibility varied from bloody murky to blotted out. We stalked hinds only to have them obscured by the mist at the crucial time. We winded hinds when the light wind eddied and spun the mist in circles. We stalked shapes only to find they were all stags when we eventually got to our shooting position. We found hinds in a great position at the end of the day when there wasn't enough light left to stalk them and Fergus (the horse) was already on his way home.

I once managed to go an entire hind season without having a blank day. 198 hinds on the trot- as it were. I was hoping I might have managed it again this season.

Looks like it'll have to wait until next year now.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011


You may have read on my blog of the 13th October that a TV production company had been in touch. Well there's more.....

They are doing a series for National Geographic channel called Wild Case Files. In this series they investigate unexplained natural phenomena. One such phenomenon is this strange jelly-like substance that can be found in the countryside at this time of year.

A couple of years back I left a comment on the BBC 'Out of Doors' website claiming that I knew what this was- stag semen! (After all, that's what I'd been told when I asked my colleagues about it 20 years ago.)

Anyway, these TV folk just wanted me to voice my theory for the camera.

Before doing this I thought it prudent to ask around and see if I was, in fact, about to make a monumental Horses Arse of myself.

Amongst the people I asked, I heard theories ranging from 'ectoplasm' to ' frogspawn squeezed from the frog by a predator' to 'slime mould'.

When the TV crew eventually appeared I told them I'd changed my mind and wanted to say it was a 'polysacchirate mucus exuded by a fungus belonging to the trellus genus'. They told me to stick to the script.

So, after waiting 48 years for my big break, I've spent my Golden Opportunity spouting the biggest load of hogwash since the last election. I guess I'm going to be losing the deposit I made on that tasteful mock-Roman Villa in Beverly Hills then....

It's just as well I didn't give up my day job. However that's not what Angel (our Spanish ghillie) was thinking when he had to drag a calf 2 miles back to the landrover today.

I'd already shot a horseful (3) but wasn't going to let that stop me taking the chance when it presented. I know from bitter experience how hard you can work for just a single beast some days. Anyway, it was just a wee calf....honest.

So that's 11 in the bag now. Just another 139+ to go. I try not to think about it too much.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Shining Bright

The stag season is well behind us now- and it's taken me a few days just to gather the strength to write about it.

You can see from the pics that the whole team could do with a break.

That'll be shining bright.......

Friday, 14 October 2011

The Missing Link

On Monday I had an old regular out stalking. He's been coming here for 20 years and he's known by all as a terribly nice man who's a terribly poor shot.

So we get stalked into a nice shootable stag and he's just lining up for the shot when another stag comes charging up the hill out of the dead ground down to our left- and he's an absolute clinker.

I size him up in the briefest of moments- a big, mature stag with a pure switch antler on one side and the same but with just a token of a trez point on the other. My eyes are just about popping out.

This big stag chases the first one away then stands broadside in exactly the same spot. I can't believe our luck. I'm about to utter the words "remember to SQUEEZE that trigger gently" when the shot goes off. And when I say 'off' I mean miles off.


The very next day I come across the same stag. I stalk him once but we (I have a different guest with me) can't get a shot with him being on a skyline. (The bullet can go a long way even after passing through a deer.)

The stag and his hinds move off and eventually settle at the foot of the far side of the hill. We have a 2 hour stalk to get into them again. Imagine my dismay when we eventually get there only to find my switch has been ousted by a superior stag. So superior that he's too good to shoot.

*Bigger sigh*

Well today Mr Stagfevers' son was up from London. As we set out I told him of the switch that his father had missed at the start of the week. We both agreed that it would be quite something if he could 'wipe his fathers eye'.

An hour into the day and I'm using my telescope to spy a far hill. Even at that great distance, I recognise the switch immediately. He's in a vast grassy bowl, holding about 40 hinds and surrounded by young staggies.

I know we've got our work cut out but we decide to go for it anyway.

Once onto the same hill, we first have to 'nudge' three 'staggies' out of the way. I do this very carefully, over lunch. When they clear off we start again only to be forced into a big detour to get past another stag. During this detour we bump into yet another. This one goes off a little too smartly and the switch and his hareem move right into the middle of this seemingly featureless bowl.

Which means we have even further to crawl. Often only just managing to find enough cover to remain hidden from all the eyes in that natural amphitheatre. Anyway after an hour of crawling we eventually get into position. And I am greatly relieved to report that it's NOT a case of 'like father, like son'.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

In the space of a week I've gone from famine to feast. Everywhere I turn there are beasts. The hills resound with their roaring and I see fights on an almost hourly basis.

Some years the rut can be a bit of an anticlimax- if that isn't a bit of a contradiction. But this isn't some years. The last time I saw a rut like this was 4 or 5 years ago and that year I found 3 seperate stags that had been gored to death. Finding one is reasonably unusual.

But all these animals don't necessarily make things any easier for me. My problem now is being able to move for deer. And despite their numbers, I'm seeing relatively small numbers of 'shootable' stags. And those I do see always seem to have a pile of hinds, young stags and 'good' stags between them and me.

But with a bit of stealth and cunning- and a chunk of good ol' fashioned luck- I've been bringing home I've had 10 stags in the last 7 stalking days and a miss on a wicked switch (a stag with only 2 brow points and 2 top points) that I would have given my eye teeth for! C'est la vie.

On a totally different note, I've been contacted by a TV production company. They are investigating a 'jelly' that occurs in the countryside at this time of year. It appears that nobody really knows what it is. I was told a long time ago that is was stag semen but I have no way of verifying this.

Anyway I have my colleagues on red alert if they come across (sic) any of this stuff. A sample is needed. Just don't put it in the fridge next to the jams, lads.

Thursday, 6 October 2011


Strange. For the past couple of days my feet haven't quite reached the ground when I walk; everything I look at takes on a golden glow and when I listen carefully, I'm sure I can hear choirs singing.

Yes, the stags have finally arrived on the ground! The ones that are old enough and of poor enough quality to be considered 'shootable' are still thin on the ground.

But I don't care.

There are always loads of young stags and 'good' stags in the way.

But I don't care.

It was blowing a gale and lashing with rain yesterday.

But I don't care.

In fact, the only thing I'm bothered about is the fact that I have only 11 stalking days left to my season- or 100 if you include the hinds.

So that's alright then.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Out OF Stalk

Those of you who are regular followers of my blog will know how much I enjoy my stalking. I enjoy it even more when taking a guest out. Stag season used to be one of my favourite times of year.

But I've still no stags on my ground. Guests- many of them regulars whose company I really enjoy- have come and gone from the lodge. They've been out on the beats where they've had more chance of success. Which is as it should be.

As for me, I've been using this opportunity to catch up with a heap of other stuff. My grit piles have all been switched back to medicated grit. I've dug another 50 or so new ones. I've been round my stoat traps, upped my lamping activities, fenced, collected firewood, disinfected kennels.... hell, I've even brashed rides through a small wood. That one's been on the back-burner since I came to this beat 7 years ago!!

I'm told that there is a lodge-full of guests next week and that I'll be stalking, regardless. I must say it will come as a relief; but only if the rut gets going and those blessed stags put in an appearance.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011


It's been a real bonus to have a few days leeway between finishing the grouse season and starting our stag stalking. Not that they've been restful.

We've used the time to patch up our roads once again. (And once again that was the cue for the heavens to open and give us a couple of days of spate and floods). We've also cleaned the larder, bothies, rovers, argocat and kennels. I also made time to saw up a tree that was blown across my drive last week. Thanks Katia. (See Splashdance 12.9.11) On Friday morning the farrier was up and shod the ponies.

The final preparation is for us to switch from grouse driving mode to deerstalking mode....and to remember our guests haven't had the benefit of the 5 week warm-up that we've had.

Saying this, I'm not stalking yet. A fence erected along my Southern march by the neighbouring estate has completely scuppered my chances of early stags so I'm now getting round my grit piles.

The good news about doing it just now is that there is no competition for the argocat. I took it out to the far end of my ground today. Seven hours and 70+ grit piles later I returned with my kidneys rattled from their bonds. Shaken not stirred.

Monday, 12 September 2011


Today we had a visit from Hurricane Katia. Although she has now been downgraded to a 'tropical storm'. She didn't feel very tropical to me.

Despite the high winds and rain, we did manage to hold onto half decent visibility so we were driving grouse as per usual. Which meant we spent most of the day up at about 2000ft.

On the more exposed ground I can only describe the experience as like being at the receiving end of a powerwasher. Unlike most, my waterproofs passed this test with running colours. On the downside, they also seemingly doubled my surface area. This resulted in me dancing about the hill like I was auditioning for 'Strictly'.

It would take nothing short of a miracle for that to happen but, after today, maybe I'll start believing in them.

After all the guns did manage to hit 55 brace of these jetstream-propelled birds.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Wader Horizons

I'm both happy and sad to tell you that Russell the Curlew has flown the coop. You may remember that he was as RUFF as SANDPIPER when I first found him. In fact it was no exaggeration to say that he was looking decidedly down in the mouth. Well after a period of incarceration in our berry garden, his down TERN appeared to be REEVErsed. All this is due, in no small part, to all the mackerel, trootS AND ER LING that he had from our freezer. Plus the tonne of worms I dug for him, of course.

He'd obviously managed to build up the strength to clear both the fence to the fruit garden and the surrounding garden fence so now the world is his OYSTER. CATCHER glimpse of him again, will I? Perhaps KNOT but AVOCET of binoculars so I'll be ever hopeful.

Good luck Russell. It was great to have shared some time with you.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Remaining Changeable

I'm aware of how much I talk about the weather. I wouldn't be a true Scot if I didn't. But to all those of you out there who live in a predictable climate, you can't understand what a rollercoaster ride our weather can be.

Yesterday we were trying to drive grouse in light and variable winds. At times the wind dropped completely. At times like this the birds you put up just please themselves about which direction to head in. Tricky.

But that I can live with. The other problem of the wind dropping off is that the midges come out. And they came out in ravenous hordes in those lulls.

And then there was today. The clear, blustery conditions held just long enough to allow us all out onto the hill. Then it lashed with rain.

Driving grouse is hard enough work as is. When you're wrapped up in flogging waterproofs it's worse. And when the beaters have given up the very will to live it's near impossible to motivate them into keeping a decent beating line. Even if they were willing to listen to our 'guidance', making yourself heard over the wind and through their wooly hats and woolier heads is a challenge that Motorhead would baulk at.

We put in three drives and I have to say that I'm seriously impressed that the guns hit as much as they did- seeing as those birds must have been doing close on 100mph.

We came home with 62 bedraggled brace. But we DID come home.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Russell (so named by my son!)

Isn't technology wonderful.

I searched the internet to try and find information about Curlew and, more importantly, how to look after them.

To my great relief I read that they would eat thin strips of fish. And to my greater relief (and to my wifes' great annoyance) I had filled all the available voids in our freezer with mackerel after my last sea fishing trip.

So voids are appearing there once again as Russell scoffs his way through a couple of fillets a day.

I still dig worms for him and the silver lining to that particular cloud is that the berry garden is going to have it's first 'makeover' for years. It's also very satisfying to spy on him and picking his own food out of the disturbed earth.

But 'spy' is the operative word. Every bit of information I read about curlew described them as "shy". And they're not kidding. When I go to feed him, I quite often don't see him at all. He's given up his bower in the Honeysuckle and has instead chosen to play hide-and-seek among the berry bushes. And he usually wins.

I have managed a few pics of him after a bit of cat-and-mouse. Enjoy. ('Coz that's the best I can do for now!)

Monday, 22 August 2011


Have you heard the old chestnut:-

"What's the most important invention in human history?"

"The Venetian Blind- without which it would be curtains for us all."

Well, I'm afraid the midge net has now taken the crown. We were driving grouse today and although we were having a great day, the last two drives were blighted by midges. It was a warm, overcast day and the light breeze dropped at about 3pm. By 3.15 most of the entourage would have sold their granny for a midge net. I did have a spare in the rover but a) it was parked 500ft down the hill from us and b) what would I do with someone elses nan?

We finished the day with a bag of 198.5 brace. It would have been nice to have made the 200 and I dare say if we'd dallied longer we would have managed to pick them. But I reckon hamstringing would have been the only way you'd have persuaded me to dally.

By the way, the more observant of you might have noticed the pic of me with an exotic looking bird on my arm. Unfortunately it's a curlew.

I came across it on the last grouse drive on Friday. I could see it was a juvenile but I thought it was well enough grown that it should be flying. Luckily, I got to it just ahead of my dogs and as soon as I picked it up I could feel it was nothing but skin and bone.

Where I found it is very close to one of my hill tracks. I remember seeing a pair of curlews regularly in this area in the spring. I also remember thinking it was rather high up for curlew to be nesting, and on a rather dry ridge. I usually see them around the parks and boggy flushes near the floor of the glen.

Whatever the reason, I reckoned this bird was pretty close to death. I also reckoned that I was probably wasting my time to try and help it. But I thought I'd give it a go.

Three days on and I've dug a considerable patch of garden in my search for worms. I've also prowled the lawns at night scanning the damp grass with a torch. (It's another good way of collecting earthworms. Honest.) The curlew scoffs everything that's put in front of it.

I won't say it's out of the woods yet- seeing as it spends its time hiding in the Honeysuckle- but it's a good sign that it's feeding. All I have to do for the time being is- make sure it stays in the fruit garden; make sure the dogs stay out of the fruit garden; and dig about a pound of worms a day.


Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Dish Out the Gruel

I just had to share this pic with you.

I had a lot of fun with the guests last week. It's about the only time of year I'm asked to ghillie on the river or loch and, I have to say, it makes a fine change.

It's also the last bit of light relief before we get stuck in with our shooting season proper.

We were driving grouse today. Despite variable winds, nearly being blotted out by mist, heavy rain and occassional onslaughts by midge hordes we still managed 169 brace for our day.

However we've also lost one beater to a badly twisted knee and we have another who might have to drop out for a day or two. He has that many blisters his feet they look like they've been bubble-wrapped.

And after a week of swanning up and down the riverbank, this all-day routemarching that is grouse beating feels just that little bit... er...GRUELLING!

Monday, 8 August 2011

Ground Rush

The days have sped by since my last blog.

Parachuting types talk of 'ground rush' when their hopefully slow and steady downward progress finishes with Planet Earth leaping up at them when they get within 20 feet. We've had the same thing from our shooting season.

In a final flurry of activity, we've sawn, clogged and split enough firewood to restock the bothies and lodge. It should see both through to the end of the stag season (20th Oct). If it doesn't, they can get their own!!

We've also sorted some roads that, although only sorted a fortnight previously, were washed out by recent torrential rain. The way this weather is going, we could be visiting them again before long.

A couple of our ponies have been shod in preparation for some early stalking. I also gave our resident (and panicky) gardener a hand in the lodge garden.

But all this is history as we are now busy with a lodge full of guests. There are a couple of stag stalking parties out each day and perhaps a roe buck stalker too. Others are going out rabbiting, walking and fishing.

As there are no stags on my ground yet, I've been happy to take folk onto the river to try for a salmon.

Yesterday, conditions were perfect. There were also a lot of salmon showing. They were jumping and splashing all over the place- including at ends of my guests rods.

Frustratingly none would grab hold. Then at 6pm one particularly determined young lady hooked into one. And it was a BIG fish.

She played it for half an hour while I assaulted her with a constant deluge of encouragement and advice. Once or twice we thought the fish was starting to tire only to have it turn and strip line off the reel again.

We'd had occassional glimpses of it through the peaty water but when it did decide to show itself, it did it in style. Out of nowhere it made a leap. It was close to us and therefore on a short line. The line parted like cotton.

We stood on that rock, speechless. When we recovered our senses we made a few philisophical noises and packed up.

Truth be told, we were both gutted and didn't have the heart to fish any more that day.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

A Real Sod

The grouse shooting season is fast approaching. Every year in preparation for this, we all 'do up' our grouse butts.

When the weather is fine and the butts are in good order, it's a pleasant and satisfying job. However......

However when the weather is as it has been, the ground is saturated. This quadruples the weight of the divots we cut (no wonder they are also called 'sods') and makes them as slick as a grilled politician.

In the photos you'll see some action shots and a 'before' and 'after' pic of a butt that was sore needing our attention. If you're wondering what the lads are pointing at, it's the hill from which we had to carry 5 posts, mell, pinch bar, wire, saw, hammer, nails, staples, spades, butterflies (wire tensioners) and adjustable wrench.

They're smiling 'cos we only have to carry half the stuff back again.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Flipping our Lids

After the hobnobbing and holidaying mentioned in the last blog, reality has hit home with a vengeance.

On my return to work it was an immediate priority to get flipping my lids. I am, of course, referring to the lids of my grit trays. This removes the medicated grit from the grouses' diet and has to be done at least one month prior to the grouse going for human consumption. There is natural grit in the compartment that is exposed. This keeps the birds in the habit of using the site. Allegedly.

It's a rather boring description of a rather boring job. I now have over 200 of these gritting sites and they are spread over some considerable area. (I sat in the rover for a full 10 minutes on Monday morning considering just that.)

And if that isn't bad enough, I know that number one priority as soon as the shooting is over will be flipping them back again. Flipping hell.

The photo shows a well-used tray. Those objects that look like a popular cheesy snack are, in fact, grouse droppings. Don't confuse the two.

When I see that, I feel my labours are worthwhile. Unfortunately there seem to be as many that act as litter trays for hares instead. Glad to be of service, guys!!

Monday, 11 July 2011

High Days and Holidays

I thought I'd better write something before y'all gave up on me.

The long silence is due in part to us being off on holiday for a week. We went to Oban on the West Coast. The West Coast is infamous for midges and rain but we had virtually none of either. Which is more than can be said for home. My first job on my return was to go and check that my hill roads weren't all in the North Sea.

I'm happy to report that they were intact. That digger work (renewing offlets on the roads, mostly)I had done just before I went off couldn't have been more timely.

It's amazing to see the difference a week makes. In the short time we were away, the Bell Heather has started coming into bloom. If you've never seen the way heather-clad hills turn purple overnight, you'd hardly believe it.

In a good year the colour is so intense it looks unreal. Just check out any Chinese made teatowel to get the picture. Just ignore the tartan clad piper in the foreground.

We had to take a holiday from our holiday to go to Edinburgh. Louise and I were invited to the Queens garden party at Holyrood Palace. I hesitate to mention it but, after racking our brains to find a reason for our invitation, we could only guess it was through my keepering or writing activitiies.

"Maybe it's because you're just an all-round good egg." Louise suggested.

I then pointed out that- in my eyes- a round egg would be a highly suspect thing.

Anyway we went. Us and 8,000 other worthies. All clamouring for a glimpse of HRH. I reckon we got within a stones throw but decided it would not be a good career move to put this to the test.

When the hubbub had died down there was nothing else for it- we drank tea, ate cucumber sandwiches (yes, really!) and swanned. I think most people had the same idea which resulted in the highest incidence of swanning activity this side of Slimbridge.

I confess to rather enjoying the whole affair. Especially the people watching. But, after seeing all those hats, I can't help thinking that the Queens garden party is to egrets what Christmas is to turkeys.

We came away with our curiosity satisfied and with a deep relief that we weren't doing the washing-up.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Ring, Ring

And you thought a ringer was someone who reset stolen cars.

On my way 'oot the hill' to sort roads, I met Mike, the Ring Ouzel man. He gratefully accepted a lift to the top of the hill. En route, he asked me if I'd come across anything out of the ordinary.

"There were a pair of Golden Plover around this bump in front of us." I replied.

No sooner were the word out of my mouth when the plover and 2 chicks broke cover and scuttled away from the advancing rover. Mike asked if we could possibly stop and catch them.

This we did and Mike got to ring his first Golden Plover chicks (they should be called 'nuggets', I reckon) in years. The pics barely do the colour of them justice.

A couple of days later I volunteered to help a group who were going out to ring and put satellite trackers on my Golden Eagle chicks. (See I gave them a lift as far as I could and helped humph gear out to the site. But I left the rope work to them. (Look very carefully at the pic of the rock face- they're up there somewhere.

They were delighted to find that the eagles had successfully reared 3 young- a very rare occurrence. I was delighted to get back onto level ground in one piece.

And yesterday I gave a hand to Ron who has been monitoring our Merlins since the Boer War. (Sorry, Ron!)

I have to say, Merlins are a lot less popular with the general public and a lot less spectacular but they are a real favourite of mine. Not least because they nest in sensible places!