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.
We then spent the rest of the day visiting our stake out areas.
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.
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,
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.
|Spot - Jeff clarke|
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.
Water voles feed on waterside grasses, sedges and rushes and live in colonies using burrows dug into the side of the watercourses.
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.
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. http://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/Owlpellets_tcm9-133500.pdf
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.
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
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.
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