Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Done In

As promised, we walked the biggest corrie on the place today. In it there are dozens of cairns and holes where a fox might have a den. And hundreds of places a fox might lie up for the day. It's just not possible to find and check all the places, but we give it our best shot.

We work along the slope in a line. On a big slope we can be over a hundred metres apart. Whenever we spot a likely place the nearest person clambers up or down to it, checks it out with his terriers and returns to his place in the line. Big cairns will have two or three of us converge on it.

It's really demanding work. Not only do you have to negotiate steep rough ground, you also have to clamber through cairns and creep your way along narrow ledges. All the while you're moving as quietly as possible, constantly watching for a fox getting up from anywhere round about you.

You also have to watch your terriers to make sure they dont go straight off a precipice as they push through the rank heather which invariably grows in these steep sheltered places. You also need to monitor the progress of your colleagues to keep the line good.

While all this is going on you keep an eye out for any signs of foxy- kills, pad marks, scats. And you you watch the trees and cliff faces for crows or their nests.

It was another tough day. So much so that I'm going to have to leave Maisie (my 3 year old Border Terrier)at home tomorrow. She's all done in.

And I'm not far behind her.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Some Enchanted Evening

Since my last blog we have walked and walked and walked.

The fact of the matter is that we're just not finding anything to divert us from our walking. For whatever reason, foxes seem to be really thin on the ground this year.

And as I stated in my last blog, it has been the steepest, rockiest places that have getting our attentions up until now. When we were comparing notes at the end of todays slog, it was interesting to hear that we're all suffering from 'hot' right feet. That's been our downhill foot over the last couple of days. And, strangely, that seems to slip around inside your boot slightly more.

The weather over the last fortnight has been stunning. And stunned is pretty much how we've been feeling after sprachling about these slopes for a day. Word on the street (?) is that we're doing the biggest steepest corrie on the place tomorrow. I'd better put my insoles in the fridge.

On a different note, I was up on a promontory overlooking the loch at sundown last week. It was a warm, still evening and any sound was travelling a long way.

As I sat there it occurred to me that you only ever hear people banging on about the dawn chorus. The dusk chorus I heard that evening was magical.

There were ring ouzels pipng among the rocks, grouse cackling from near and far, down on the loch Wigeon were doing their most unduck-like whistling (like the second half of a wolf-whistle), a pair of Greylag geese were honking away.

As the light faded, snipe started their 'drumming' display flights, woodcock began their croaking and whistling, cock pheasants declared their territories and a dozen other species competed to have the last word.

The icing on the cake was a loud splash alerting me to the whereabouts of an otter. I watched him for 15 minutes as he worked his way up the loch.

I ended up staying longer than I should. Then came the last bit of magic- I groped my way back down onto level ground without breaking my bleedin' leg.


Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Haggis Country

Phew. It's been a tough week- and it's only Wednesday!

We've been walking ground, looking for fox dens. As I've said before, the foxes often favour the steep, rocky faces. So that's where we've been walking. I feel like I'm needing to grow one leg longer than the other. (And hope we then don't start walking the hillsides in the other direction.)

And what have we gained from all this invested shoe-leather? Not a lot.

We've found sandholes that have been scraped out. We've found a cairn that's had a recent visit. (See pic of one of my colleagues inspecting poo!) But really we're no further on.

Having said that, all is not lost. I located a 'hoodies' nest on Monday. It's going to be a major excursion to get out to it with a Larsen cage but that's what I'll be doing the first spare moment I get. Do you suppose the chicks will have flown by Christmas?

Friday, 15 April 2011

Needing a Fire Break

It turns out that yesterday was the last day of heather burning for us. I was planning a blog to commererate the fact but I didn't have the strength left to lift the lid on the laptop.

Twice before I had travelled out to a certain row of grouse butts. I was determined to give them a 'clean out' before the burning season ended. (Rank heather around the butts makes picking the shot grouse a nightmare.) Anyway, twice before the fire just wouldn't take.

I knew I was running out of time. Officially, we can burn until the 15th- or until the end of the month if it's over 2000ft.

As it turns out, I WAS out of time; I put up a hen grouse off 3 eggs before I got to the butts. I'd come all this way, so I decided to keep going but resolved that this would be my last burning for the season.

I got the butts cleaned out without incident then, for my piece de resistance, went down to a nearby bed of ancient heather that I'd been eyeing up for ages.

Well the fire made short work of the long heather- but then continued to smoulder it's way through the green strip where it was meant to stop. It ended up burning right up to the top of the hill. And we (our trainee was with me) had to rub and scrub every inch of the way to get the sides out. Probably about 1km.

I was out digging more grit piles (by hand again!) today and was in a position to get a picture of the fire. It looks pretty tame from a mile away.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Glad to be off the Phone

Well, I left you on a real cliff-hanger there, didn't I?

You'll be hugely relieved to hear that the digger started first turn of the key next day. (I was hugely relieved, anyway.)

It took no time at all to get it started and out of it's boggy hole. What DID take time was finding it. Again. It turned out to be another day of thick mist, high winds and even heavier rain. Nice.

There was nother thing that ended up taking up the whole of the rest of the morning. And that was getting out of the huge maze of peat hags I was in. Again the thick mist made it much more difficult to pick out the clear routes. It took about 2 hours to go the 500m to (relatively) solid ground. That's worse than the M25. So I hear.

Once I was back on safer ground I decided to get the hell out of Dodge and work my way towards home. Wherever that was.

I eventually climbed out of the digger at 4.30pm on Friday afternoon. Knackered.

It had been like spending a week in a phone box. Albeit a phone box in an earthquake. If I never, ever set eyes on a mini-digger again, it'll be too soon.

So this week has seen us returning to more 'normal' jobs. I've got grit trays out on all my new piles. I've burned some heather. We've taken the boats out of the water to prepare them for the new fishing season.

I'm constantly reminded that I'm just one in along line of folk who have lived and worked in these hills over the millenia. Today, while I was heather burning, the fire exposed a piece of rusty metal. On investigation it turned out to be a huge gin trap.

I often come across the rusting remains of old traps, but never one this size. From what I've heard these were placed on prominent rocks or prapps (man-made cairns)to catch eagles. Some things are best relegated to history.

On a lighter note, I've also included a pic of a regular visitor to our bird feeders.

Everybody go "awwwwwwwww" !