Heather Bashing

Another day, another wander into West Woods. I’ve been getting a tad unsatisfied with my walks into West Woods, so today I decided to walk straight through West Woods and into Tyrebagger Forest, owned by the Forestry Commission.

I hadn’t really decided what I was going to do whilst out so spent a bit of time looking at the birds around the new Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route. The Linnet flock was almost always flying overhead, c20 of them with 6 Yellowhammers mixed in. On Friday I spotted what was possibly a good candidate for pure Hooded Crow. It was a striking individual, and appeared to be cleanly grey in all the right places.

possible Hooded Crow

A Buzzard mewed overhead and I noted it as a ‘dark intermediate’. See here if you don’t know what I mean. It’s an interesting bit of research being carried out by the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany. It’s easy to submit info too so why not do it?

“In this project we are aiming to investigate the geographical and temporary differences of the distribution of the various morph-types in the Common Buzzard. We would like to find out how the variation in plumage colour can be maintained over time.”

More bird activity, I came across this when crossing the golf course into West Woods…

There’s been a murder…

Upon closer inspection it was clear the something had had a good go at a Woodpigeon, and I suspect it was almost certainly a Sparrowhawk due to the fact there are feathers everywhere. Sprawks tend to pluck their prey when they catch it so this one was obviously not disturbed as it de-feathered the Columba palumbus.

I didn’t stop again until I was in Tyrebagger, at which point I was met with the lovely ‘glip-glip-glip’-ing of Crossbills in the conifers. They pretty much replaced the sound of Linnets as they were constantly moving about, around about 30 in total, with a small flock of Siskin that joined in at one point.

After a bit of walking around in circles, feeling lost as to what to do, I remembered I’d brought my spider guide with me! Then realised I hadn’t brought anything to catch them in… No worries, I could try a technique that I’d been wanting to do for a while now. I found the nearest clump of Heather Calluna vulgaris, placed my book open on the first page (you know, the blank page right at the start) and started shaking it.

The idea here is to dislodge anything that might be clinging on, and get a clearer view of whatever you shake out on the white paper. It worked a treat! I’ll start off with a wee compilation of non-arachnid beasties…

I was actually quite surprised to find a busy little ant nest under a stone by a big larch. I suppose they’re getting ready for the season ahead! These ants I suspect are Scottish Wood Ants Formica aquilonia becuase they have little hair on the back of the head, unlike the Hairy Wood Ant F. lugubris. There’s a nice wee website on Wood Ants set up by the James Hutton Institute that I found very helpful.

Whilst bashing Heather, I spooked a Woodcock Scolopax rusticola from right next to where I’d been standing about for about 10 minutes. Needless to say, I almost needed a change of underwear, but you’ll be glad to know I didn’t. They really do rely heavily on their camouflage don’t they!

Right, now on to spiders. I have actually found spiders quite difficult to get into, probably down to the fact that there aren’t that many around when everything is frozen solid. Nevertheless, I’m giving them my best shot, with a bit of help from the British Spider ID group on Facebook.

No idea what this one is, I’m gonna be honest. I don’t think this one is identifiable without getting closer, better quality, well-lit pictures. I might be wrong so I’ll post it on the Facebook group in a bit.

Sorry to disappoint, but again, no idea. I’d thought this one had a fairly distinctive pattern but I can’t find anything similar in the Collins Guide. EDIT: IDed as Neottiura bimaculata spiderling.

One thing that I’ve found out about spiders and that I may have mentioned before, is that a lot of them are money spiders, Linyphiidae, as they represent 45% of all UK spider species. Therefore, I suspect the next bunch are all money spiders of some sorts.

EDIT: The spiderling in the bottom 2 pictures is probably a Ceratinella sp., perhaps C. brevipes

Right hopefully I can ID the next two… *gulp*…

Nope, I can’t. Ugh, spiders are tricky. I’ve posted on the Facebook group to see what the experts say. Apologies that I have literally just shown you pictures of spiders, all of which are under a centimetre long.

Despite all the non-IDs, I can explain that spiders, of any and every size, are good! Obviously, everyone knows spiders eat other invertebrates meaning we aren’t completely overcome by midges and mozzies and such. That’s their main niche in every ecosystem that they are a part of. Spiders even kill and eat spiders, as a form of self-control of their own population. On top of this, spiders feed species higher up in the food chain such as birds, wasps, ants and amphibians & reptiles.

Something I read recently was that spiders are actually so generalist that it’s pretty much impossible to say “this spider fits in this niche, and this spider fits in this niche,” and in fact, if a spider species is added or removed from and ecosystem it’ll have very little effect, unless of course it is the only spider in the ecosystem, in which case you’ve got a problem.

Anyway, I’ll update this if anyone can identify any of the spiders I’ve photographed and hopefully in summer there’ll be more, easier spiders about so I can do a proper spider post.

EDIT: The top two pictures are probably of Neriene peltata spiderling.

Heather Bashing

More Bodger Bothering

First up, I’d like to draw your attention to a guest blog I did on James’ blog about my inspirations that got me to where I am now! Have a read through his other posts too as they are all good reads, some more information heavy than others!

After thinking I’d finished my report, and finding I hadn’t, and re-doing it, then having to re-do it again… and one more time for good measure, I finally managed to get outdoors. Unfortunately it was already past three o’clock so I was either going to be out late or I was going to be out for a short amount of time.

Turned out to be the former as you can’t really let me outdoors and expect me to be back within 3 hours.

A few wee things were seen before leaving campus…

And once off campus I headed towards Elrick Hill, where I’d been on Wednesday clearing flipping Rhodedendron. A near impossible job. I think we’re going back up next Wednesday to try to get rid of the rest of it. I mean look at this, ridiculous.

Anyway, I was heading to Elrick as I’d been informed of another Badger sett that is pretty easy to find. I was interested to see how close it was to the one I found in West Woods and also to compare the size so as to build up an idea as to what a “large” sett is and what a “relatively small” sett is. On my way I forgot to take a picture of a Stonecrop that is growing on a stone dyke next to the road, and found what I think is Peltigera membranacea (a dog lichen) due to the large red apothecia.


Anyway, down the wee track to the carpark by Elrick Hill then in an unspecified direction and I found the sett pretty easily! It was hard to miss due to the huge spoil heap next to two holes just below a large willow, which actually had some Green Yoke-moss Zygodon viridissimus on it. Lovely.

I started taking my usual pictures of the holes with my white 15cm ruler next to them. One thing I found slightly strange was the fact that there were no Badger tracks in the soil on the spoil heap. I would’ve thought there’d be at least a few but perhaps due to the freezing temperatures they had faded. As I backed away from the two holes, I spotted another, and then another, and… well in the end I’d found eight different holes, seven of them all pretty close to each other but one of them was about 10m away from the rest. Does it lead into the same sett? Is it used as much as the others? It looked pretty well used with dirt having been scraped out recently. Speaking of distance, this sett is 1.07km away from the one in West Woods. Referring back that pdf, I can see that… nope, it’s not letting me access the pdf so I’m on the Forestry Commision (England) website. They say that Badgers can have a territory size of 30 hectares to 150 hectares, depending on the availability of food.

Right, I’ve had a read (here and here), so I’m going to summarise my thoughts now. The Elrick Hill sett (6 holes) is a main sett with 1 annexe sett (1 hole 10m away from the rest). The West Woods sett is an outlier sett of some sort… possibly. West Woods sett has some very clear paths leading to it and away from it, and is over a kilometre from the Elrick Hill sett. If these setts both belong to the same “cete” of Badgers then the territory may look a little like this: 76 hectares


But if they are separate then they both need cover (woodland) and sufficient feeding areas so the Elrick Hill Badgers would maybe spread further west, and the West Woods Badgers further on to the farmland and golf course to the east, like so: West Woods; 73 hectares. Elrick Hill; 67 hectares.

It’d be nice if those lined up… Anyway, these are completely theoretical just to sort of help gauge the situation with the setts and what seems most likely. I suspect the second idea is more likely as both setts look like they’re in use, and the little pinch point between both of them looks like a likely place for the territories to border each other. Plus, I found Badger tracks towards the north end of the West Woods hypothetical territory so I suspect the West Woods sett has its territory spreading north.

Right, enough theorising. Here’s the pics of the various Badger holes at the Elrick sett, some obviously in use, some less so. (Hover over them to see if in use or not)

After a wee nosey around I decided that I’d stakeout the sett to see if I could get Meles meles on the mammal year list. Alas, I did not… But I had a very close encounter with 2 Roe Deer who must’ve smelt me (my deodorant, not me of course) and bolted after getting within about 5 metres of me! A Woodcock flew over towards Brimmond Hill, a Red Grouse called from the top of Elrick behind me, and a Red Fox plodded along the path ahead of me after I’d stood up.

The Badgers never did show and I ended up getting as close to hypothermia as I think I’ve ever been. I’ll go back another night with a couple more layers and a balaclava to keep the snow out of my face! The walk home wasn’t all bad, with Tawny Owls calling on campus and the Oystercatchers (at least 3 of which have returned to rooftops around halls) making their usual racket.


I’m going to keep you updated on the sett-uation (ha…) with the Badgers as the story develops, and I gather more information as to the whereabouts of the Badgers  and hopefully learn a bit about the biology of those wonderful mustelids.

I’ll leave you with that. Not sure what I’m doing over the weekend, probably bothering some more Badgers.

More Bodger Bothering

New Things

It’s been a wee whiley since I blogged and I’ve had a few new experiences over the past week or so.

First up, Badgers. I found my first Badger Meles meles tracks in West Woods, my usual haunt when not working or on campus. I found this print whilst staring at the ground hoping for signs of Pine Martens but found Badger instead.

The four toes in a line are clearly visible in pic numero uno, the fifth toe at the side of the main pad not so obvious. The long digging claws in the front paws can be clearly seen in the second pic, where the back paw has gone in the same spot as the front paw did, typical for Badger tracks.

A couple of days later I was out with one of my coursemates as he’d bought a nice new camera and wanted to try it out somewhere. I took him to West Woods and we accidentally found more Badger tracks. I followed these tracks the next day…

Over a wee stream…

… along a few trails clearly made with no intention of being walked along my humans, and to an embankment where a lot of excavation had clearly been carried out by Badgers and Rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus I think.

The pic I’ve captioned as too small for Badger I suspect is actually Rabbit as Badger sett entrances are typically 20cm wide I’ve been told. The top-left pic shows the large spoil heap of sandy soil (easier to dig in!) that is characteristic of a Badger sett.

After the discovery of the set I found multiple trails leading off in different directions, one towards the golf course where I found Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus tracks as well as some possible Red Fox Vulpes vulpes tracks, quite faded so might’ve just been some funny shapes in the mud!

One path I followed actually resulted in me getting quite a fright as a Woodcock Scolopax rusticola sprung up from where it must’ve been resting and flew off, but it also drew my attention to what appears to be another entrance to the sett, about 8 metres from the entrance I first found.


There’s two things I took from this little section of my amble about in the woods. Firstly, I found that Woodcock must be doing better in Aberdeenshire than my home county of Lothian because I went on to flush another 2 elsewhere in West Woods. Add that to the one I saw up Brimmond Hill a week ago and that’s 4 I’ve seen in a week and a bit. I’ve only ever seen 3 Woodcock before these ones and those were all around Gladhouse Reservoir. Hopefully I’ll maybe flush one from the woods on campus for a Patchwork Challenge 2016 tick! Here’s all that was left by one of the birds…

Woodcock wee

Secondly, Badger setts are much larger than I thought they were if both of the entrances I found lead into the same tunnel system! I’m going to have a quick browse of the interwebz to see what I can find…

Well, this pdf by badger.org.uk is pretty informative! I’ve picked out the fact that there are different types of setts that have different purposes. I can’t really tell what type of sett this is as I haven’t properly checked it out. I don’t know how often it is used or how many entrances there are, although I do know how big that spoil heap is (pretty hefty amount of dirt there) and I can see that there are pretty obvious paths leading away from and towards the sett, perhaps meaning this sett is a main sett, occupied continuously and used for breeding purposes. When I get my act together and apply for funding for new trail cameras then perhaps we’ll find out how well used it is!

Another thing that took my interest was the fact that I found another set of Badger tracks 430m away from where I’d found the sett. Having done a bit of reading, I now know that male Badgers (the boar) will patrol their territories during the breeding season (Feb-Mar) scent marking and getting rid of any intruding boars. This might be the male that I’ve tracked, but at the same time it may just be a Badger that’s foraging in a different area.

Badgers, interesting mammals! In truth, I wasn’t looking for Badgers on any of the trips in which I came across signs of them. As I already mentioned, I was looking for Pine Marten, but I was also hoping I might find signs of Water Vole along one of the many burns in West Woods. No luck, but I think I’ll need to have a read up about their habitat requirements. Trail cameras will also help me in my quest to see my third vole species of the UK.


How awesome are mammals? Majority are difficult to see, nocturnal (or at least crepuscular, there’s a word for you to Google) but are still so interesting. Or at least they are to me. But so are insects…

One true bug I found whilst tracking was this Water Cricket Velia caprai.


I also attended a Bumblebee Conservation Trust volunteer event where I learnt about how to become a volunteer for BBCT. It’s something I’ll be following up by possibly taking people out on organised Bumblebee walks, just to raise awareness of the troubles bees are facing and the crucial part they play in the ecosystem and in our lives as well! This event has also, once again, given me the urge to buy another field guide. Steven Falk and Richard Lewington’s Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland looks like it would fit very nicely in amongst the field guides I already have… Hm…

To finish off, a liverwort and a couple mosses that I’ve IDed recently…

I tend to pick up about six or seven species each time I’m out, identify 4 of them and now I have a backlog of mosses to work through. I’m getting there though!

Well, that’s 1000 words now so I’ll stop now before I start to bore you! But I’ll just let you know that I have some exciting news (well, exciting for me) that will be revealed some time soon!

New Things