Friday, 31 October 2014

Greenacres revisited and an invitation

Nipped into Greenacres this morning 
Emma woods Burial grounds

What a lovely serene place this is, and being enhanced all the time; today the grounds staff were busy planting out an orchard – to the left of the main drive in front of Emma’s Cottage, good news for the local wildlife.  I’m also told they have 2 new owl boxes to put out, pending RSPB advice and assistance on best places to situate.

On arrival I stocked up their bird table and went for a stroll. The first thing you notice as you head out is not necessarily what you see but what you hear, Grace wood was alive with the calls of long tailed tits, 

Long tailed tit in spring - Laura
intermingled were also the voices of nuthatch, robin and blue tit. On closer inspection you could see these pretty lollipops flitting around the trees and hedges.

No sign of the squabbling kestrels I’d seen in September, in fact no raptors in the hour I was there, just plenty of jackdaws, crows and wood pigeons flying over. Never mind at treat was in store, ‘Redwings’, I must have seen well over 100 fly over Grace to Emma woods in several flocks, some stopped to feast on the shrub laden berries on the woodland boundary, before moving on across the fields towards the East Lancs Rd. What Splendid birds these Scandinavian thrushes are, with their distinctive rusty red markings under their wings - often heard before seen, especially of an evening during migration.
Redwing in winter - Laura
In the grounds of Emma woods, there was plenty of other bird activity, blackbirds and robins, coal, long tailed, blue, great and coal tits flitting through the trees & hedgerows. Nuthatches were in good voice and clearly visible wandering up the tree trunks. A wren was searching through a log pile close by. The best was to come though a call alerted me to a gt spotted woodpecker hopping around the branches above, then a familiar waggy flight drew my attention to the small pond in this area of the wood, here a grey wagtail was skimming over the surface, great birds to watch a while.  
Tree sparrow  Andy Hay -RSPB

Leaving the woods and heading down the path towards Emma’s cottage, the well established mixed hawthorn, elder hedge was attracting more blackbirds, robins, tits, redwing and I’m glad to report - the tree sparrows.

Additionally Chaffinch, pied wagtail and collared dove around the cottage grounds.
Back to the office to pick up some info on the forthcoming Christmas craft fair, a pleasant little excursion to a special place. 

Come along and support  the local Willowbrook hospice, pick up a chrissie pressie!  all whilst doing a spot of  secret bird watching!

Willowbrook Craft Fair Sunday 02/11/14
Blindfoot Road, Rainford, St Helens
WA11 7HX

Doors open 10:00am – 2:30pm

Lots of stalls:

Anime, Hand made jewellery.
Dawn Jackson glassware.
Novelty Nicknacks - stocking fillers?
Angel creations,  bookmarks and cards
Vintage & artist creative photography cards
Willowbrook Hospice Merchandise and Tombola (
Hazles gifts & Non stoppers supporter group  (100% profit to Willowbrook)
Andrea brown Crafts
Bab-b bunting and vintage crafts
Sweet treats
Cake delights by Karen – beautifully baked cakes
Bill Chester Wood turning
Namaste healing, incense and candles
Charlwood crafts
Ann’s woolly crafts, knitted goodies
St Helens soroptomist club, knitted poppies

Staff from the Tartan Tea rooms, Rainford will be selling soup, sandwiches and refreshments throughout the day.


Palanga, Lithuania trip

This was my third trip to Lithuania, and I like the country very much. My previous stays have been in the capital Vilnius.  My day started early to catch a coach to Luton airport, and then flew to Kaunas and a taxi awaited me at the airport to take me to my hotel in the centre of Kaunas. After a good night’s sleep and a hearty continental breakfast I waited outside my hotel for my friend. I had a interesting conversation with a Ukrainian man who I just managed to gather where he was from and he didn’t like Russia. He shook my hand several times. I was picked up and driven to Palanga, a seaside resort some 230 km from Kaunas.

The day was overcast with occasional light rain but it was quite mild, and walking along the shore line was pleasant, looking out onto the Baltic Sea. There were various species of gull flying about. We saw some pintail in flight and eiders out at sea, also spotted a white tailed eagle some distance out at sea. In the wooded area we saw typical woodland birds, including short toed and common treecreeper, goldcrest, nuthatch, jay, great spotted woodpeckers, as well as jackdaws, ravens, hooded crows and rooks. The highlight was a brambling, my first of the year. There were many tit flocks, six species noted but no crested tits were spotted.

Our evening was spent in Palanga, and although it was quiet there, in mid October it is clear that this is a popular seaside resort in the summer months. We were informed that Midge Ure was performing in Palanga the following night. We didn’t ask if there was any tickets for sale. I had decided that I would try only Lithuanian dishes in my stay there, and almost all dishes seem to include potatoes, nice, but also very filling.
Wonderful autumn colours
We started early after a good night’s sleep at our excellent hotel, taking a packed breakfast with us. The clouds had cleared and it was a very different day. The car windscreen was caked in thick ice. After about an hour’s drive we walked along the shore line and the sea was as calm as I have seen it. There were various gulls and cormorants flying. There were other birds further out, and there was a large migration movement. We saw six species of raptors including buzzard, merlin and goshawk. A “V” of whooper swan flew close by to us. It was a fantastic morning and we picked up many small amber stones. Close to the holiday homes there were hawfinch, siskin and bullfinch in the trees and always a treat, black redstarts. We also saw a lesser spotted woodpecker.
Great black backed gull
Arriving back at Palanga we had time to go to the local park, which I have to say is one of the best maintained parks I have seen. It was large with many varieties of trees and flora. A large museum was in the centre of the park, with gardens in excellent condition. In the tall trees the usual woodland birds, but we did pick out a middle spotted woodpecker.
Interesting watching this jay, making a hole in the bag and stealing the bread
After another Lithuanian dish at out hotel, of pancakes that once again proved to be too filling for me to finish, and no hint that Ultravox’s former lead singer was in town. We had an early night for another early start on Sunday, taking a packed breakfast we set off for our highlight of the short trip, to Ventes Rajas. It is a ringing station further along the coast. The day weather wise was very different with the cloud cover back. It was quite windy at the station and frequent showers. We met a bird ringer who gave us a short demonstration of a female great tit being ringed after being caught in the nets. She was a biology teacher from Vilnius, and she had taken part in the counting birds day the day before. She told us shortly before we had arrived she had ringed a Northern hawk owl and showed us a picture on her phone. We didn’t stay too long because it was very windy but we did see some goldeneye and red breasted mergansers in flight. Our bird ringing friend advised us to call at some fisheries near to Kintai, more inland and less windy. We were grateful to her because we saw some magnificent birds near to the fisheries, including six white tailed eagles. There were over 100 whooper swans dropping in and flying off. We saw some waders in the mud including golden plover, spotted redshanks, dunlin, wood sandpipers and lapwing. Also some teal and smew in flight. The highlight was seeing the magnificent eagles, both in flight and perched on rocks in the lake. They looked huge just sitting, waiting for their next meal.

We then started our return to Kaunas and stopped off in a wooded area and although it was quiet we managed to pick up crested tits in amongst the other six species of tit. Almost 70 species seen and very little in the way of wildfowl, and they are expected to arrive when the weather gets colder.

On the way to the airport we stopped off at a restaurant and I had an unusual Lithuanian dish; potato sausages, that I couldn’t finish off. I was beginning to think I can’t eat as much as I used to. I usually never leave any food. The flight back home took longer because of a tail wind, about three hours and landed at midnight at Luton. I had earlier booked a hotel at the airport and set off the next morning by coach to arrive back in Liverpool in the afternoon. For me Lithuania is a fantastic country, and although it doesn’t attract as many birders as Estonia does, I am sure it won’t be long before it does.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

A bad apple can spoil everything

Know a bad apple?

Take the bloke who thinks it's okay to kill birds of prey.
Maybe you know him.
He might even be someone who tells you it's part of the job. He understands that killing protected wildlife is illegal. He's aware that it drags the good name of gamekeeping through the mud.
But who will end up in court, possibly prison, when it all goes wrong? He'll watch his own back. It's unlikely he'll be watching yours.
If you have any information about the illegal killing of birds of prey, call the RSPB's confidential hotline on 0845 466 3636*.
Together, we can make a stand for what's right.
* Calls to this number are not recorded and will be treated in strictest confidence.
We know that some people are pressurised into illegally killing birds of prey. We hope this hotline will encourage anyone with knowledge of such crimes to come forward and help us end the killing.

How you can help

The hotline telephone number above is intended as a confidential method for gamekeepers and other people connected with the shooting industry to report offences against birds of prey. For more general enquiries please click on the link below.

RSPB issues challenge to shooting community as illegal bird of prey killing continues in Lancashire

Hen Harrier fledgling Sky - now missing

Illegal persecution continues to deprive the Lancashire countryside of our native birds of prey and the RSPB is challenging leaders in the shooting community to acknowledge this and take real action to stop the killing.
Birdcrime 2013 reveals 164 reports in the UK of shooting and destruction of birds of prey including confirmed shooting of two hen harriers, two marsh harriers, five peregrines and 28 buzzards. It also included 74 reported incidents of wildlife poisoning and pesticide-related offences. Confirmed victims of poisoning include 30 buzzards, 20 red kites, a golden eagle and a white-tailed eagle. These figures are believed to represent only a fraction of the illegal persecution in the UK, with many incidents thought to be going undetected and unreported.

Lancashire is one of the worst counties in England for bird of prey persecution. In January 2013 a dog walker discovered a peregrine near Preston that had been shot in its wing. In October, a dead buzzard in the Lancaster area was found with four shotgun pellets lodged in its body.

Birdcrime 2013 marks four years since over 230,000 people signed an RSPB pledge which was handed in to the UK Government, asking for action to put an end to bird of prey persecution. However, in the four years since around 560 birds of prey have been confirmed shot or destroyed. Public outrage has continued to grow in response to the recent horror of mass poisoning events, such as the 11 birds of prey poisoned by a gamekeeper in Norfolk in 2013, and the 16 red kites and 6 buzzards killed in Ross-shire earlier this year. There is no sign to this carnage ending.

Martin Harper, the RSPB’s conservation director, said: “Witnessing a hen harrier’s dramatic skydancing display flight, or seeing the world’s fastest animal in action as a peregrine stoops over the moors is enough to take your breath away. These are sights that we should all be able to enjoy. Unfortunately, we are being robbed of the chance to see these beautiful birds flourish because of illegal persecution.”
Anne Selby, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside, said: "It is worrying to read the Birdcrime report and to hear that Lancashire is among the worst counties for bird of prey persecution.  The report again proves that some individuals have little regard for our wildlife. It it is important to highlight the crimes they are committing and to ensure that prosecutions are given publicity so that nature lovers can remain vigilant.  
"Lancashire Wildlife Trust fully supports the work of the RSPB in helping to combat bird crime. The North West region is vitally important for all species of bird from the smallest wren to the largest raptors and wildfowl. It is vital that we all work together to protect our wildlife."
The RSPB is doing more than ever to help birds of prey, including satellite tracking threatened species, protecting their nests, monitoring and undertaking research, raising awareness among the public of the problems faced by these birds, and working with others to stop persecution. Tackling wildlife crime requires a joint approach but condemnation from organizations representing the shooting community is not resulting in a widespread reduction in illegal persecution.

More action is needed in the uplands of England, where illegal persecution associated with grouse moors suppresses the population of several bird of prey species. Attempts to bring about change through self-regulation have proved ineffective and tough decisions are needed to combat these crimes.

Martin Harper added: “Awareness of illegal persecution is increasing. This year we have seen people taking to the streets to demonstrate against the killing of these birds, and hundreds of people joined rallies in northern England in support of Hen Harrier Day. This shows that public desire for the return of our cherished birds of prey populations is at an all time high and we will continue our efforts to highlight this to the shooting community and DEFRA.

“Illegal persecution has tarnished the beauty of our uplands for decades and continues to do so to this day. The RSPB challenges members of the shooting community to acknowledge that illegal persecution is a problem within the industry and that a change of attitude is needed in order to make a serious and effective effort to finally consign bird of prey persecution to the history books.”

In the uplands of England, the grouse shooting industry must demonstrate they can operate in harmony with birds of prey and help restore the environmental quality of our hills, which is why the RSPB believes it is time to regulate the industry through the introduction of robust licensing system for driven grouse moor shooting.
Hen harrier day mascot

Furthermore the RSPB believes that tougher legislation is needed to punish employers who turn a blind eye to staff committing wildlife crimes and are calling on the government to introduce the provision of vicarious liability, where employers would be legally responsible for the wildlife crimes committed by their employees.

“The RSPB supports the licensing of grouse moors and the introduction of vicarious liability as we believe these measures could address the low levels of detection and weak deterrents which currently allow these crimes to continue.

“We will also continue our efforts to work any organisations that represent the shooting community and who actively oppose the illegal persecution of birds of prey.  Equally, we urge DEFRA to ensure the promised hen harrier recovery plan is robust and will drive hen harrier recovery by tackling the root cause of its decline: illegal persecution. Effective leadership is needed to end to illegal persecution, but there is little evidence in Birdcrime 2013 to build public confidence that this is happening”

RSPB Hen Harrier of peace

For further information and to arrange an interview, please contact:
Chris Collett, Regional Communications Manager, 0191 233 4317 / 07885 834889 (Wednesday 29 October only)

Grahame Madge, Senior Media Officer (Conservation and Policy):01767 693221 Out of hours: 07702 196902.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Point of Ayr - a Sunday outing

Eventually got out today with my camera with Rhodie to the Point of Ayr .. nice and mild winds, good variety of birds managed to get some clear shots of them - Neil

The RSPB’s Point of Ayr reserve at Talacre is on the north-west corner of the Dee Estuary, a relatively small area comprising sand flats, mud banks, saltmarsh, scrub, sand dunes and fresh water pools. It therefore attracts a very good range of estuary birds. Being next to the Irish Sea it is also favoured by seawatchers, often being the first landfall for migrating birds crossing over from the North West coast of England. 

The scrub ,wildflower meadows and sand dunes are
good for skylarks, meadowpipits, wheatear, stonechats and warblers.

In winter thousands of waders and wildfowl  gather on the mudflats including  greylag, dunlin, redshank, godwit, curlew, knot, and sanderling.  When the tide rises, the birds are forced onto the nearby marshes. The carefully positioned open backed  hide gives close views of the feeding birds.

There is a 75 mile (1 km) seawall path. Wide, level and surfaced - the seawall is accessible to wheelchairs/pushchairs. The hide is 0.75 mile (1 km) from reserve entrance.  One fixed bench without back.

Previous blog on area:

Winter on the Dee Estuary- a film by Scott Reid & the RSPB

Short eared owl and Kestrel fight over dinner!

Just had to share this film with you again. I sent it out last Christmas, well worth another look and as we have lots of new members…..

A great little film by Scott  Reid and the RSPB about the Dee Estuary  in winter, including Burton Mere Wetlands and Hilbre.
Beautifully shot, informative, great for your wader id.
The Shortie who lost his lunch and swirling Knot, terrific.
Dare you not to watch it more than once

By the way

Hoylake High Tide Birdwatch

Saturday 8th November
10 am
Price: Free

Join the Coastal Rangers, the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens and the RSPB on this high tide birdwatch at Hoylake to see the large numbers of wading birds as they gather and roost on the shore. We hope to see spectacular large flocks of wading birds as they gather to roost on the beach over high tide, now that they have returned from their breeding grounds for the winter. With a rising tide, we should see the birds at close quarters as they roost and feed.
Beginners welcomes. Dress warmly and bring binoculars if you have them. No need to book.
Meet at the bottom of Trinity Road, King's Parade, Hoylake. There are public toilets nearby and various cafes and pubs for refreshments in Hoylake.
High tide 11:39am
9.61m H

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Hen Harriers for LIFE

Male Hen Harrier - Andy Hay

First cross-border project launched to save rare bird of prey

An exciting new European Union - supported project aims to achieve a secure and sustainable future for one of our most threatened birds of prey, the hen harrier.
Focusing on seven areas designated as nesting sites under the European Union Birds Directive  for hen harriers in northern England, and southern and eastern Scotland, the European-funded Hen Harrier *LIFE+ Project is an ambitious five-year programme of direct conservation action, community engagement, and awareness-raising measures.

In England, the focus will be on the Bowland Fells in Lancashire and the North Pennine Moors, which span Cumbria, Northumberland, Durham and North Yorkshire.

In historical times the hen harrier was a widespread and familiar bird in the uplands of Britain. However by 1900, Victorian persecution, including that linked to driven-grouse shooting, had driven this bird of prey to extinction as a breeding species on the British mainland.  Although the bird has clawed back some of its lost ground, its diet of birds and small mammals, including red grouse, brings this raptor into conflict with man, despite special legal protection. This is especially true in parts of northern England, and southern, central and eastern Scotland where land management for driven grouse shooting is most intensive.
Between 2004 and 2010 there was an 18 per cent decline in the UK hen harrier population, according to the National Hen Harrier Survey.

Sky missing Hen Harrier
Last year, hen harriers suffered their worst breeding season in England in decades failing to rear a single chick anywhere in England. While they fared slightly better with four nests in England in 2014, natural deaths and the sudden, unexplained disappearances of three satellite-tagged birds including two from Bowland, mean that only nine of the 16 chicks fledged are thought to still be alive.

Blánaid Denman is the Hen Harrier LIFE+ Project manager. Commenting on the launch of the project, she said: “Hen harriers are in dire straits. Numbers are declining dramatically and urgent action is needed, which is why this European-funded project is both welcome and timely.
“The cross-border project provides a huge boost to our efforts to monitor and protect hen harriers. Working together with volunteers and other organisations, we’ll have more eyes and ears on the hills than ever before, using satellite tagging, winter roost monitoring and nest protection to deter persecution, identify the important areas for these birds and highlight where they’re most at risk.”

The project combines two vital strands: practical conservation (protecting them here and now); and awareness-raising and education (protecting them for future generations).
Blánaid Denman added: “The project is not about RSPB fixing things on our own but about bringing together a whole conservation community, from organisations to individuals, working together to secure a future for hen harriers in our uplands.
“Building on the success of our award-winning Skydancer Project in England, The Hen Harrier LIFE+ Project also aims to work progressively with landowners and the shooting community, championing best practice where it occurs. It will link up and support the work of the **PAWS Raptor Group “Heads Up for Hen Harriers” project, which includes Scottish Government, Scottish Natural Heritage, conservation and landowning interests. 

Blánaid said: “We’ve already been doing some great stuff with gamekeeping students at colleges like Askham Bryan College in York. Now we want to build on this, working not just with students but with professional gamekeepers and landowners who like us, want to see a diverse and species-rich upland landscape protected for generations to come.”

Dr James Robinson is the RSPB’s head of nature policy. He said: “This EU LIFE+ funding means the RSPB and our partners can step up to do even more to stamp out the criminal acts that threaten the future of the iconic hen harrier in England and parts of Scotland. Actions speak louder than words and the RSPB is rolling up its sleeves to do the things that will secure a safe future for this ‘ghost of the moor’.”

Professor Des Thompson, Principal Adviser on Biodiversity in Scottish Natural Heritage, commented: "In parts of the UK the state of the hen harrier population is perilous.  This collaborative project offers a lifeline in securing key evidence on what is working well and badly for these birds."

Over the last 18 months, Defra have been consulting with RSPB and other stakeholders to draft an emergency recovery plan for hen harriers in England. While a final plan is still to be agreed, the initial draft has received widespread support from the shooting community. The Hen Harrier LIFE Project puts into action elements of the plan needed to achieve population recovery for hen harriers, by helping with the satellite tracking, monitoring of breeding and winter roost sites, and promotion of 
diversionary feeding, which will be needed to tackle illegal persecution.
The RSPB hope that the Hen Harrier LIFE project will be supported by Defra and stakeholders doing their bit, by providing the additional funding and support necessary for an effective species recovery plan

For further information and to arrange an interview, please contact:

Chris Collett, Regional Communications Manager, 0191 233 4317 / 07885 834889

* LIFE is the EU’s financial instrument for the environment. It funds conservation and other environmental projects right across Europe. In 2013, the year in which this hen harrier project was funded, LIFE awarded a total of €17 million to organisations in the UK.


Discover the dark side of RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands this Halloween

Dusk at Burton Mere  -Dan Trotman

There are spooky goings-on at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands this half term, with lots of Halloween fun for families to enjoy.

For those who are brave enough to watch darkness descend on the wetlands, there’s a special ‘Who’s afraid of the dark?’ event to be held on Halloween, giving families the chance to explore the spooky world of the nature reserve at dusk.

Dan Trotman, Visitor Development Officer for the RSPB Dee Estuary reserve, said: “Our Halloween event is a fantastic opportunity to show families the dark side of Burton Mere Wetlands – we can’t promise there’ll be witches, but those who are afraid of the dark should be warned, as there’s plenty of activity once the sun starts to set.
“Families can join us on a walk into the Discovery Zone and experience an exciting dusk spectacle which happens on the reserve every day; geese noisily flying in to roost on the water, the little egrets flying in to the colony in their hundreds, jackdaws swooping around the trees and bats emerging to feed. During the summer this happens too late for many of us to see, but in autumn it happens before tea-time, so now is a great time to watch.

“While there may only be a few bats still feeding at this colder time of year, the birds themselves create a really creepy atmosphere as darkness falls on Burton Mere –perfect for some spooky Halloween fun! If we’re really lucky, we might hear the tawny owls hooting to each other as they wake up in the woodland.”
Bat cartoon - A Rule -RSPB

Throughout half-term week, there’s plenty more to keep families busy; a self-led pumpkin quiz trail, Halloween craft activities and the chance to discover the creepy creatures that find a home at Burton Mere Wetlands.

The “Who’s afraid of the dark?” event runs from 4 pm-6 pm on Friday 31 October and costs £3 per child (£2 for RSPB Wildlife Explorer members), which includes a drink and snack. Halloween costumes are encouraged. Accompanying adults go free. Places are limited, with booking and payment in advance essential.

The quiz trail and craft activities will be available from Saturday 25 October to Sunday 2 November and are free to take part (normal reserve entry fees apply for non-members).

For more information on the reserve and its activities, please call the reserve on 0151 353 8478, or check out the website

Thursday, 16 October 2014

The Kindrogan Kindred, Jeff Clarke and a bunch of critters!


Recently five members of our local group attended the Small mammal course with Jeff Clark at the Kindrogan field studies centre in Scotland.

It was a short break with a full itinerary, unfortunately no one told the great weather controller in the heavens and heavy rain played havoc with our last day.

An early start after a scrumptious breakfast (and yes I did have porridge, although I didn’t have it with salt like Jeff!) saw the Kindrogan 12 familiarizing ourselves with putting together the Longworth mammal traps and loosely packing them with rabbit mix and hay for protection and warmth, note - add broken chocolate biscuit – a vole and mouse favourite, and lots of casters (pupae of blue bottles) for the ever hungry shrews. We then placed them in different areas in the Kindrogan estate grounds, alongside a walled garden, a wooded area, and a riverside/field boundary. We would return later that day to see who’d been visiting.
Trap team
Longworth trap

We then spent the rest of the day visiting our stake out areas.
Mallard prep
We had hoped to catch a glimpse of a wildcat, a long shot we know, but to this end Jeff had acquired an unfortunate  road kill Mallard, which we utilised by hanging it up in a tree beside the nearby River Ardle, Jeff then fixed a trail camera alongside hoping to catch any visitors.

Similarly a chance to see wild beavers saw us driving to another area by the  River Ericht , here we hoped to do an evening beaver watch on our last evening.
A generous helping of apples and more trail cameras left on watch. A glimpse of a dipper was a bonus.
(prev footage)

A walk up the trail behind the lodge leading to the old estate burial grounds gave us fabulous views of the Scottish countryside, no sign of wild cats sadly.

A quick visit back to the traps before tea, revealed a few traps had gone off by the walled area and Jeff demonstrated how to empty and handle the mammals safely, voles being the usual suspects. Traps re-stocked and re-set we left them over night.

After dinner we all retreated to the comfort of the minibuses which had been positioned by the Pine martin logpile feeding station. Logpile stocked with peanuts we waited,
Spot - Jeff clarke
  regular diners were named spot, smudge and squinty. Infrahead light bathed the log pile and eventually one came out, 2 red eyes shining out (not squinty then - our one eyed martin) enchanting, what beautiful animals they are.
The experience certainly touched us, Peaty Jen wrote
'As the mist spread languidly across the fields, a deer barked in the distance and a tawny owl pronounced its presence nearby. We hardy souls clad in suitably layered clothing sat in a minibus in the dark with all the windows open. After barely 10 minutes we then saw our quarry and spent the next 15 minutes beguiled and entranced watching a pine marten feeding’
Next day, our first job was back to the traps and lots of opportunities for those who wished to? a lesson in small mammal handling. ’ No one was compulsed to handle the critters...
Kev and shrew

Bank and field voles, hyperactive common shrews, feisty wood/field mice and an unexpected house mouse dropped out of our traps!
MMmh handling, the ever patient Jeff over saw proceeding, a bit of confidence, relax, straighten up  and for gods sake remember to breathe is the key…thanks Jeff. And on that note, then practice, practice. 
Jeff and vole
Focus on the perfect thumb and finger positioning and gathering of skin behind the little un's head, thus avoiding discomfort and minimizing the ability of the mammal to turn its head and giving you a nip!

On a personal note I was determined to give it ago, and I found it easier to tackle when physically I was not feeling tired and cold (no good with cold stiff hands) so the morning sessions felt better. Although I'm not sure when I'm likely to use the skill again, It's an experience I’m not likely to forget.

Laura and house mouse
Observing the animals at close quarters is a treat, the shrew who never stopped run around the tank, no wonder they have to eat there own body weight in food. The endearing vole washing his face and the juveniles in moult with their two toned coats.

After dinner we took to the road to drive to the upland water vole habitat, along the way we observed deer on the hillsides, red, roe and fallow seen in the area. After a trudge over the bog, I wore wellies the entire trip! Jeff identified a likely area for a colony alongside a stream.
Upland Bog
 Water voles feed on  waterside grasses, sedges and rushes and live in colonies using burrows dug into the side of the watercourses.

Vole tunnels
Jeff pointed out their entrance holes, noticeably larger than field voles  and in some areas you could make out nibbled areas of vegetation, the voles  grazed ‘lawns’.

There were also droppings, larger, cylindrical with blunt ends near the burrow entrances.  We positioned ourselves along the water course and sat quietly for roughly 40minutes, alas ‘ratty’ wasn't coming out to play.

Oak egger

On the bog we did find several oak egger moth caterpillars and spooked red grouse.

Back to the centre another session with the mammal traps and a survey of our findings for Jeff -species, approx age and sex. Most of the traps had gone off and it took us quite while to get round.

The planned evening entertainment was  bat  detecting, however despite having various recorders we failed to pick any up, over the weekend the temperature had dropped and the bats, pipistrelle, soprano pipistrelle and daubenton's, sensible I guess decided to stay in their roosts, it was flipping freezing!
During the night it began to rain, in the morning it was still raining, we woke up to a flood, the road to Pitlochry was closed and the day before’s serene River Ardle had turned into a torrent and burst it banks, fortunately for us and more importantly the mammals we had been trapping by the riverside, we had taken in the traps the night before, all was now under water.

The weather being inclement meant we spent the morning dissecting bird pellets.  Unable to find any owl pellets on site, Jeff had provided us with a big bag of kestrel pellets. Placed in a little water and using tweezers to gently tease them apart, we revealed what the little raptor had been eating.
Kevin had the pick of the pellets and uncovered a small mammal jaw bone, others had identifiable field vole teeth, others rib, leg and pelvic bones.

The rain eased a little and we headed out, fog hung in the air. On arrival at the River Ardle we soon discovered the waters had taken our mallard, such was the height of the waters; fortunately Jeff’s camera was an inch above the water and was retrieved.
River Ardle in flood
However the flood was not a good sign and we soon realised our chances off doing a beaver watch were zero, as the river Ericht was likely  to be raging as well, and Jeff and John’s cameras were likely to be underwater or downstream.

We moved on the Glenshee valley, along the way large areas were underwater; three sheep were observed marooned on an tiny grassy island, surrounded by water (a couple of hrs later we caught up with them again, the water had receded a little and they looked a little less desperate) Arriving at the ski lift/café we got good views of red grouse, and a mountain hare was espied.
Red deer
More red deer including a superb stag on the ridge of a hillside, a kestrel and a couple of buzzards entertained us for a while in the valley.

Loch straloch
Before dinner we took a stroll around the old lodge & loch Straloch, an old haunt of Queen Victoria and a good place to see otters, however time was not on our side and chef insisted we were back for seven so we couldn’t wait any longer to see tarka! However this late evening trip did give us the most spectacular weather created vista of a double rainbow and a moonlit valley.
Double rainbow

Beaver watch cancelled another opportunity to watch the Kindrogan pine martins, this time the kits stole the show, 2 of this years young came out together and stole our hearts with their antics.  

Here’s peaty Jen’s parting facebook comment
So you all liked my pine marten yesterday. Now wait for it: tonight we saw TWO and we think they are twins. How fab is that? Just one of today's wonderful experiences which included seeing rather spectacular flooding, my first visit to the Cairngorm National Park, good sightings of brown and mountain hares and red and roe deer, a magnificent double rainbow and the most enchanting moon rise. Such is the magic of doing courses with Jeff Clarke 

Short tailed or  Field vole

So there we have it , quite an experience