Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Learning about Scottish Badgers


View Palacerigg Country Park in a larger map

I recently went on a badger course at Palacerigg Country Park in Cumbernauld run by the charity Scottish Badgers. The park is owned by North Lanarkshire Council and has a large variety of animals and educational facilities. Getting to the Cumbernauld from Motherwell is a short journey on the train. 

However, there is no public transport from Cumbernauld Railway Station to the park so I took my Razor A5 scooter to travel to avoid the long mile walk. The road to the park is uphill so is a bit difficult on the scooter, but on the return journey, it was much easier to freewheel for long periods. There is a footpath to the park, so is not dangerous for pedestrians. 

Arriving at Palacerigg Country Park, Cumbernauld

When I arrived at the park I was fortunate to meet Emilie who was organising the learning session and she showed me to the small wooden educational building where tea, coffee and some cakes were on offer to everyone on arrival. Emilie is the Biodiversity and Heritage Officer of the Central Scotland Forest Trust.

Peacocks at Palacerigg Country park
The main reason I wanted to go on the course was to learn more about badgers. I had been fortunate enough to see them one evening at New Lanark and had often come across their setts and tracks at New Lanark, Chatelherault Country Park and at Dalzell Estate in Motherwell. I wanted to learn more about badgers.

The instructor was badger expert Elaine, who is the Development Officer of Scottish Badgers. She had prepared an information pack which was very useful and included information about badgers, some images, information on map reading and some information regarding Ticks and Lyme Disease.

As badgers are often hunted by people with sinister intentions I am not going into great detail on how to identify a badger sett and their locations.

Useful Information on Badgers

Elaine informed us that the badger which is found in the UK is also found in most of Europe and Asia. There are approximately 340,000 badgers in the UK with 34,000 found in Scotland. Most badgers in Scotland are concentrated in the South and Lowlands and their habitats include woodland, hedgerows, sand dunes, moorland, railway embankments, urban areas etc.

Badgers have long bodies and short legs and have poor eyesight but have an excellent sense of smell to compensate for this. They have spade-like paws which are excellent for digging. They have black faces with white markings and grey bodies and a small head with long snout.

Setts 

Badgers live in setts and these are joined to other setts by tunnels. There are various different categories of setts in a territory.


Badger bedding
Diet

Badgers, like humans are omnivores, which means they eat both plants and animals. Most of their diet consists of eating earthworms but will eat young rabbits, insects, fruit, crops, slugs and fungi. They tend to be at their heaviest in the Autumn and lose weight over the winter when food is scarce.

Reproduction

The breeding season is from February to September, but cubs are born in February to give them time to develop and learn survival techniques in time for the winter. 

Legislation Protecting Badgers

Badgers in Scotland are protected by the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 and the Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011. Anyone convicted of any offences covered by legislation can be imprisoned for up to three years and given an unlimited fine.

Surveying Skills

While on the course we learned how to survey a badger site. The best times of the year are in early Spring and late Autumn when the grass is low and the setts can be seen easily. We were given information on how to identify a badger's path and of the various indicators of badger activity including dung heaps, bedding, scrape marks and snuffle holes. 


Earth balls from excavation on clay soil
Fresh excavation
Roll Test for Badger Hairs

Badger hairs are oval and a test to identify them is the finger roll test. When a badger hair is placed between the index finger and thumb it will not roll due to its oval shape and it is also very strong and will not break easily.


Lunch

Lunch was provided on the course and it was excellent. The food was nice and healthy and very enjoyable.


Fieldwork

After lunch the group went on to survey an area with badgers to look out for clues on badger activity and to find some setts. The group were also looking for scrape marks, paths and other signs of badger activity. It  was very good and we did find some setts, badger paths and badger bedding lying out to dry. 



Out on a survey trip
The fieldwork trip also allowed us to make use the information given in the morning session to identify possible areas where badgers would likely to be found. 


Elaine finds some badger bedding
Fieldwork
An exercise was set to try and find badger setts and signs of badger activity and we were fortunate in finding some setts, scratch marks and evidence the sett was currently in use.


Any signs here?
We then made our way back to our base before wrapping up the session and providing feedback on the day.

Review of the Day

It was a very interesting and informative day and both Elaine and Emilie were very informative and supportive. It was well organised and the learning materials were very well presented and were easy to understand. 

As I go walking about I will be more aware of the signs of badger activity and will conduct some surveys in the Autumn of the setts I come across.

Further Information:

Scottish Badgers - Organising the study, conservation and protection of Scotland's badgers.
Central Scotland Forest Trust - Maintaining and improving the woodland areas in Central Scotland. 
Palacerigg Country Park - Based in Cumbernauld in North Lanarkshire.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Baby Birds Growing Up

There are many things I love about summer including the long summer days, warm weather, sunshine and the new arrivals in the animal and bird worlds.

I enjoy watching the young animals and birds as they grow and learn behaviours from their parents to allow them to survive in the wild.

Great-spotted Woodpecker

One of the interesting birds I have seen this year is a Great-spotted woodpecker which has built a nest in an old tree. The nest is in a secluded wood near my home, well away from the footpaths in the area. This has allowed the Woodpecker family to get on with their lives without too much disturbance.

I have been going out at different times of the day to try and get some photographs of these birds, as it is quite unusual to find a nest so near a residential area. In fact, the whole area is rich in wildlife but not many people are aware of this. As a result, the wildlife is allowed to live undisturbed in the area.

Setting up Photography Equipment

Below are some photographs I took. One the day I took the photographs I arrived in the woods just after 05.00 when the area was alive with birdsong and the grass was still covered in dew. The sun had risen at 04.15 and it was still a bit chilly. I had my vacuum flask with tea and some croissants, as I expected to be there for a few hours.

I took along an SLR camera, a tripod and a small folding stool to enable me to get some images.

When I arrived at the area near the nest, I set up the tripod and camera and adjusted the height of the tripod to suit the height of my stool. I was hidden behind some bushes, out of sight of the nest.

Early Morning in the Woods

Sitting in the middle of a wooded area with all the birdsong, rustling in the bushes from the animals and birds and the lack of people in the surrounding area was a bit scary. The young Woodpeckers were making a screeching noise which got louder as the parents arrived at the nest with food. 


Male Great-spotted woodpecker feeding  juvenile
In the photograph above the male bird can be seen outside the nest feeding the juvenile bird. The male bird can be identified by the red patch on the back of its head, while the juvenile bird has a red patch on its head. 


Adult bird goes to collect more food
After feeding the juvenile, the adults flew off to collect more food. Both the male and female birds were busy feeding the juveniles.


More food for the Juveniles
The food being taken to the nest included  flies, berries and other insects.


Male bird feeding juvenile
In the above photograph the red head of the juvenile bird can be clearly seen.


Feeding time
Adult male flies away for more food
The adults were kept very busy. While I was sitting watching the birds I could hear some splashing in the pond to my right. I looked over and saw the family of Mute swans out for an early morning swim.

Danger - Mute Swans Approaching! 

A short time later I heard rustling in the trees in front of me and saw the Mute swan family appear on the path in front of me. They were going to have to pass near where I was sitting, so I left my camera gear and walked into the wood to let them pass. 

Mute swans can be very aggressive when looking after their young and can break a person's arm with their wing. It's best to keep well out of their way until their cygnets are more mature.

After they passed I resumed my position in front of the camera.

Adult male with food in his beak
Adult male bird feeding juvenile


Adult male leaves the nest with some debris
Occasionally, the adult birds would enter the nest and clear out some debris left by the juveniles. 

Coots

On another part of the pond two adult Coots were out on the pond with their young. The chicks had only hatched recently in contrast to the Coots in the other pond whose young are far bigger. 


Adult Coot and chicks
Adult Coot feeding chick
The pond is covered with water lillies but the birds can all manage to get through them quite easily.

On the other pond the Coots were out and about and were much older than the ones on the other pond.
Older Coots
Older Coots

Mute Swans

The Mute swan family were still out and about in the pond after my near encounter with them a few hours earlier.


Mute swan and cygnets
Mute swan and cygnets
The Mute cygnets and the Coot chicks look cute and will grow at a fast rate before winter arrives and with it the cold weather.

I will be keeping an eye on the progress of these families as their young develop throughout the summer and autumn.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Inversnaid on Loch Lomond


Today I went on a trip to Inversnaid on Loch Lomond. Inversnaid is on the eastern side of the loch and is quite difficult to get to by road. However, there are a few ferry companies who carry passengers on the loch, dropping them at various locations. I used the company "Cruise Loch Lomond"  who run cruises from Luss and Tarbet.

RSPB Inversnaid

The trip I went on today left from Tarbet and I had to travel on a Scottish Citylink bus as there is no train station in the village. The weather was very good, with bright sunshine and high temperatures. At Inversnaid I was going on a guided tour round the 2000 acre Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) reserve.

The ferry was on two levels, with an enclosed area below and an open area on top. As it was a very warm day, everyone sat on the top deck. Two reporters from BBC Radio Scotland were also on board, collecting material for a radio programme on the area.

The ferry had all the usual facilities and had a small area selling tea and coffee, as well as alcoholic beverages. The journey across to Inversnaid was nice and smooth, as the water was very calm and we were given many interesting facts about the area by the captain.


Cameron House Hotel
The scenery in this part of the UK is spectacular and quite breathtaking and the many passengers enjoyed it. There were people from the USA, Australia, Southern Ireland and Southern England.  


Loch Lomond
Blue area caused by Bluebells
Inversnaid Hotel
On the ferry we had spectacular views of the hills in the area including Ben Lomond. On approaching Inversnaid, the hotel there came into view. This was built as a hunting lodge for the Duke of Montrose in 1790.

Inversnaid Hotel


Many famous people have stayed there including Queen Victoria and William Wordsworth. American writer, Nathaniel Hawthorne also came here in 1857 and greatly admired the Lochs and mountain views. It is also believed that Robert the Bruce hid in a cave near the hotel during the Scottish Wars of Independence.

William Wordsworth wrote "To a Highland Lass" while staying at Inverbeg Hotel.

Sweet Highland Girl, a very shower
Of beauty is thy earthly dower!
Twice seven consenting years have shed
Their utmost bounty on thy head:
And these grey rocks; that household lawn;
Those trees, a veil just half withdrawn;
This fall of water that doth make
A murmur near the silent lake;
This little bay; a quiet road
That holds in shelter thy Abode—

 Arklet Falls

Next to the hotel are the Arklet Falls

Inversnaid Hotel and Arklet Falls
Rspb Inversnaid

On arriving at Inversnaid we walked along part of the West Highland Way path before turning onto the path on the RSPB site.The bluebells were in full bloom and we were able to excellent views of these beautiful flowers.


Bluebells at Inversnaid

Birds in the Area

As we walked along we heard Chaffinch, Wood Warbler, Blackcap, Cuckoo, Tree Pippit and a Woodpecker.
On some of the trees there were nesting boxes for Pied Flycatcher. These are specially designed to avoid the nest being attacked by Pine Martin.

Nesting box for Pied Flycatcher
The walk included a steep climb up steps to the summit but it was not too strenuous. The area is an SSSI – a site of special scientific interest and there are some rare plants and mosses in the area.

Tree with some rare moss
View of Loch Lomond from Top of a Hill

At the top we stopped to admired the views over Loch Lomond.

View of Loch Lomond
View of Loch Lomond
Loch Sloy Hydro Electric Power Station

We then continued around the reserve before re-joining the West Highland Way path. Across the loch could be seen Loch Sloy Hydro Electric power station. This was opened by the late Queen Mother on 18th October 1950 and is still the largest hydro electric power station in the UK.

On the way back a small frog was spotted on a path but it soon made its way back to the safety of the undergrowth.

Frog

West Highland Way

On walking back to Inversnaid we met many walkers on the West Highland Way. They were still  only a few days into the journey and the sunny weather helped keep their spirits up. 
I wondered how they might feel if the sunny weather is replaced by wet and windy conditions. On arriving back at Inversnaid we had lunch overlooking the loch.

View from ferry
Views at Lunch from Inversnaid
Ben Lomond

The ferry arrived at the correct time and the journey back was as smooth as the outward one. We were able to catch a glimpse of snow on Ben Lomond
Ben Lomond with patch of snow near the summit
View from the ferry
Honeymoon Island
On the way back we passed a small island called "Honeymoon Island". This was used by local gypsies who were ferried to the island after being married. If the newly-married couple were able to live on the island for two weeks without having an argument it was sign the marriage would be a happy one.
Honeymoon Island
We also got another look at the hills surrounding the loch and again enjoy the beauty of the area.

Cruise Loch Lomond ferry on way to Inversnaid
Returning Home
Arriving back at Tarbet we enjoyed some ice cream at a cafe beside the loch before waiting for the bus to return us to Glasgow.

Ferry Terminal at Tarbet
Tarbet Hotel
Tarbet Hotel
The bus stops in the village are beside the beautiful Tarbet Hotel. The present building dates back 250 years and was built in the Baronial style. The views from the guest rooms provide good views of the loch.

The ferry company Cruise Loch Lomond organise a number of tours from Luss and Tarbet with various drop-off points so allows visitors to visit many of the more inaccessible places on the loch which are too difficult to travel to by road.

Photographs of the visit can be seen here.

 Further Information 

Cruise Loch Lomond: http://www.cruiselochlomond.co.uk/

RSPB Inversnaid: http://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves/guide/i/inversnaid/ 

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Great Spotted Woodpecker and Mute Swan

Down at my local pond today I was fortunate to see a Great-spotted woodpecker feeding its young in a nest  situated within a tree.

The nest was inside an old tree and the Woodpecker entered the nest through a small circle in the tree. The mother was busy feeding the young in the nest and was in and out the nest continually while the youngsters were crying for more food.
Great-spotted woodpecker takes a dragonfly to feed its young
Great-spotted woodpecker takes a berry to feed its young
Leaving the nest
Taking more food
Next on the menu is a dead moth
Feeding the young
Mute Swan and Cygnets

Meanwhile a male Mute swan was taking two youngsters for a swim in the pond. The female was still sitting on the nest so some more young may be about to appear. The father was very protective of his young and they kept close beside him.

If one of the cygnets got left behind it started squealing.

Mute swan with young
Mute swan with young
On another pond the Coots were feeding their young but unfortunately were too far away to get a photograph of them through the scope.

It had been another great day.