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!

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

The Solstice

It was the summer soltice yesterday. Ancient tradition dictates that we should have been dancing naked around our Beltane fires and running off into the undergrowth for nookie.

As it was, everything was so wet you wouldn't get a fire to light with anything less than a napalm bomb. And it was so cold that any nude gyrations would have been more likely to have resulted hypothermia and a hospital bed rather than bliss in a thicket.

Check out the pic of the river that I took this morning. That kind of says it all.

When the weather is like this at this time of year, we try and keep off the hill. The last thing you want to be doing is disturbing sheltering grouse chicks.

So I've been catching up with more odd jobs. A bit of fencing here, a bit of road work there. I've even repaired the footbridge support that was washed out 18 months ago. After this latest spate, I hope it's still there!

Another pic is of a rather bedraggled woodcock sitting on its nest. It still managed to look miserable despite having an expressionless face.

It occurs to me that woodcock are usually early nesters so perhaps this is a second brood. If that's the case I hope the first brood were reared successfully. There certainly shouldn't have been any problem with conditions being too dry for them to find a worm.

I spat the dummy yesterday afternoon and fell back on my 'inclement weather last resort' job; reloading bullets. I had a heap of cases already prepared so I managed to get 100 done in the course of the afternoon. All the time I was sat in front of the workshop window, watching the rain battering down.

And, try as I might, I couldn't bring myself to feel guilty about it.

Friday, 17 June 2011

A Fishy Tale

Once a year our gardener/handyman/part-time keeper has to cut the hedge that encloses the lodge garden. It usually takes a couple of days. For the other 363 days of the year, he dreads that time coming round again.

I must have upset someone because I was deputised to him this year. It's been 2 looong days and I'm sore in places I didn't know I had. I've been up and down that ladder like a fiddlers elbow.

After all that noise and graft I decided to spend a quick hour down at the river. It had been a muggy overcast day but it turned out to be a beautiful evening.The river was surprisingly low and I reckoned my chances of catching a fish were slim. But that didn't stop me trying.

Which is just as well as I was into a fish within 20 minutes. I was fishing with spinning rod and Flying C lure and hooked a large fish in a wee lie at the far side of the river.

For 15 minutes I played this fish, desperatly trying to keep it from going behind one of the many rocks that surrounded the lie. Eventually it got it's head downstream and went for it. I put as much strain on as I dared, knowing that if it got out of this little glide, it was lost.

But there was no turning it. In a last ditch attempt to stop it before it went behind a massive boulder, I increased my finger pressure on the spool a fraction more.

Suddenly the guitar-string line sprang back and floated down onto the surface of the water. The line had broken and the fish was gone!

I was gutted. I stood for a while on my rock at the side of the river, feeling sorry for myself and sorrier for the fish. I hoped the fish would manage to shed the lure.

However, it was far too bonny an evening to stay upset for long. I tied on another lure and decided to fish a bit further down the river.

I worked my way down through a series of little, difficult pools that I haven't fished for years. I was already 5 minutes overdue at home when I decided to try one more little spot I know.

I clambered over a shelf of rock and there, lying in the shallows below me, was a salmon. It was upside down, with it's tail waving feebly over the gravel. My first thought was that it was a diseased fish and then I saw the eye of my lure sticking out of it's mouth.

I couldn't believe my luck as I scooped it out of the water and onto the bank. The chances of me coming across the exhausted fish- and in an accessible place- had been tiny.

My dad loves a bit of wild salmon. I guess that's Fathers Day taken care of.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

The Last Post

Here's a picture of me carrying a rail trap. And yes, it is quite heavy.

And seeing as I had to carry it bleedin' miles out the glen, I thought I'd save myself a double journey and check out some cairns (for foxes) while I was at it. Hence the shotgun. And if my pack looks kind of heavy that's because it's got waterproofs (helluva showers that day) lunch, hammer, staples. Oh yes, and I had to take a tether post with me as well.

I had a pair of earplugs in my pocket too. They were light.

Despite appearances, the other photo is NOT a result of my carrying too much.

I've not come across this before but I assume a hind has lost her whole 'calving bed' in the process of giving birth. I was stunned at the size of it. What also stunned me was the fact that neither hind nor foetus/calf were anywhere to be seen. (And this was in the bottom of a steep sided glen.)

Poor creatures, I can't imagine either surviving.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Pleasure and Pain

I think I'm going to have to exchange my tweeds for a black PVC number.

As I've said many times before, the Red Grouse is a wild bird. We do what we can to make conditions as favourable for them as possible, but at the end of the day they are at the mercy of the vagries of nature. To me that's both the pleasure and the pain of working with them.

For whatever reason, it seems to have been a particularly difficult season to try and work out how they are faring. However it seems to be becoming more apparent that there are a few factors at work here.

Firstly, the brilliant weather we had in spring has encouraged them to lay early. We're reckoning about 2 weeks early. Subsequently, this cold wet weather has taken a toll on the chicks. Check out the photo- this chick has just died where it lay. And it's not the only one I've found like this.

Even worse, you'll also see a picture of a dead hen bird. If they have a high tristrongyl worm burden, the strain of sitting on eggs (and not feeding) can tip them over the edge. And we've seen a few like this too.

Things were looking so good in the run-up to the nesting season- good weather, excellent stocks of grouse, and a surprisingly low number of predators. I was thinking we were in 'pleasure' mode.

We're still looking for the very few foxes that we know are knocking about. As a result, I've had 6 hours sleep in the last 2 nights. I hope that's the reason for my black outlook. At the moment, as a way of punishing yourself, S&M seems preferrable to grouse keepering. It would certainly be easier.

On the upside, some grouse are still sitting on eggs (the picture of the nest was taken yesterday). Furthermore, because of the early nesting, any healthy birds that have lost whole broods will have a bit more time for a second brood.

Another plus, is that a lot of the surviving chicks are well on now. Many are already at the fluttering stage. This is a thing we always like to see- it means the chick has some chance of escaping danger should it appear.

Now, could someone call a locksmith please? I seem to have mislaid the keys for my fluffy handcuffs.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Busmans Holiday

My family and I were away for a break last week. However I was back in time to lead a couple of walks for an annual walking festival. Strangely, after 4 days of ice cream and sandcastles the hills seemed that little bit steeper.

However, without having to be carrying a rifle or shotgun, and without having to be working a shovel or spade or rake, it still felt like a walk in the park. (Albeit, an 8 mile long park today.)

Annoyingly, the local fauna decided to make itself scarce in a way I've rarely seen. I kept my eyes as peeled as I know how, but to little effect.

What I did come across were a couple of abandoned grouse nests and a handful of coveys of young grouse. The best had only 5 chicks.

Worrying times? Pass the anti-acid.

Oh, and if you're wondering why one of the walks takes in a scrapyard, it's actually the wreck of a Wellington bomber that crashed on a training flight in 1943.