Wester Ross and a new camera

Title says it all really. I was surveying in Wester Ross last weekend and I got a new camera as my old one broke. Its dying moments really typified the life that my camera led. The last photo it took was of Water Vole droppings. Enough said.

My new camera (Sony DSC-H300) is a bridge camera and I’m finding it so exciting to use as I can now photograph birds! The 30x mag means I don’t have to get lucky with a close encounter to get nice shots, or just reasonably identifiable shots from a distance, as these shots from surveying last weeekend will show…

On top of those birds (my first Golden Eagle by the way!!!), we also had some very nice rare breeders including displaying Wood Sandpiper at the first stop, Whooper Swan, Greenshank, Black-throated Divers, Ptarmigan and Dotterel (I didn’t see the Dotterel unfortunately).

My camera also manages pretty well with landscape shots…


And it is still capable of close-up shots of plants and bugs and whatnot…

Right, enough pictures. Since my last blog post on our Mar Lodge trip I’ve received my new camera and been up north surveying, as already mentioned, but I’ve also helped construct a new stile, lead 2 groups of scouts as part of our Leadership of Countryside Activities module (of course, my activity was looking at the wonder of feathers and how they work, the scouts seemed to enjoy themselves!).

Yesterday (Thursday) I had a trip to RSPB Fowlsheugh (translates as “bird cliffs”) where I saw the most auks I’ve ever seen. This was for our Classfication and Identification of Organisms module to help with part of the assessment. The part of the assessment it helped with was in producing a logbook containing 20 species that I’ve identified, giving a few ID points, details on habitat, and a little bit on conservation and threats to the species. Here’s my Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos sketch…

Unfortunately, due to a series of irritating events very early in the morning, I ended up sleeping in and only had 5 minutes to get ready and run to get on the minibus, and therefore was very disorganised and forgot my SD card for my camera. I’m sure there’ll be plenty opportunities for photographing auks on the Isle of May though..!

The Sunday after I got back from up north, I decided to do my urban breeding Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus survey in Kirkhill Industrial Estate that I’d been asked to do for another birder. It was actually a very enjoyable day, admiring the adaptability of the Oycs that have taken to nesting on flat roofs.

If you didn’t know already, this creates a slightly odd situation as when Oyc chicks hatch, as with all other wader species, they are precocial; able to fend for/feed themselves very soon after leaving the egg. However, if they’re stuck on a roof, how are they going to manage to do that? The parents end up feeding them until they eventually fall (purposefully or otherwise) off the roof and can poke their wee beaks into the grassy verges on the roadsides where the buildings are.

I ended up finding 7 nests in the industrial estate, which is 2 more than there were last year. I also noticed that the Oycs seemed to have a reasonably good relationship with the Common Gulls Larus canus but not the other species of gull.


And that’s that. The coming week brings nothing but possibly some Hen Harrier surveying, and finishing off bits of work. I might try and do some lizard photographing tomorrow, provided the weather is nice!


Wester Ross and a new camera

One of the best places I’ve ever been

Before getting into the main section of this post, I’ll just let you all know I finally saw a newt. A Palmate Newt, Lissotriton helveticus, on a field trip.

Palmate Newt

So you’re probably wondering where this amazing place is. Or you’ve already seen my tweets and know exactly where it is. Other places that I have given this prestigious title are Loch Leven, Findhorn Bay, Glen Tanar NNR, Muir of Dinnet NNR, etc.

Mar Lodge Estate was amazing. We had a somewhat last-minute organised weekend staying on the estate in the bunkhouse.

The weekend started with the trip there on the Friday afternoon. Passing through Ballater we saw the damage that the flooding at the start of the year had caused; all the shops on the high street were shut, bar one.

We arrived at the lodge, unloaded all our food and things we’d brought, and headed out on to the hillside above the lodge to have a look at the estate. Just before heading out we placed my trail camera in some woods, the better clips are below..:

Also see Scottish Squirrels to see what they had to say about the above clip.

From up on the hillside we could see far down the valley. The ranger, Kim, informed us that the area of the estate around the lodge is more conservation/restoration focused, with other parts more focused on game shooting because the aim of the National Trust for Scotland when buying the property was to also conserve the cultural values of the area. We never went to the shooting end so my picture of Mar Lodge Estate is almost completely unflawed.

Here’s a link to the Mar Lodge Estate NTS page, not much point me typing up info that’s already out there!

Some botanising was done on the hillside, 2 new plant species for me, and later in the evening we watched Woodcock, Scolopax rusticola, roding.

The next day was the day of actually doing things. We headed up into an old forestry plantation (fording a river in my dream car on the way there) where all the Scots Pines, Pinus sylvestris, were growing unnaturally, i.e. straight and thin. They aren’t meant to look like that, they only grow like that when tightly packed. This is what they’re meant to look like…

Scots Pine

So our job was to give the big trees some space amongst the wee forestry trees, and also to give some space to a selected few of the forestry trees in the hopes that they will end up replacing the old mature Scots Pine such as the one above. The mature trees are remnants of what was once the Great Caledonian Pine Forest that covered much of Scotland. Unfortunately, these big, old trees are on their way out.

How did we give the trees space? Ring barking and haloing. Ring barking is the process of removing a ring of bark around the tree, getting rid of the xylem and the phloem which are the parts that transport nutrients and water up the tree from the ground. Haloing is when you ring bark the trees surrounding one central tree, giving it a halo. Without this, the tree slowly dies. I know it sounds bad but giving other trees a better chance means that regeneration of our once great forests is more likely. That and the controlling the extreme overpopulation of deer in the area. But that’s a whole other blog post…

In the uplands there was a wee selection of new species for me…

On the Sunday we went to the Linn o’ Dee just to make sure we got some tourist-ing done. Beautiful place and we were there relatively early so there weren’t many people there. I don’t really have anything to say about it other than it was beautiful and I want to return some time to explore on my own terms!

One thing I did mean to point out was the fact that all non-native conifers have been removed… Except European larch Larix decidua. This is because it has become well naturalised in the area and provides a good food source for Capercaillie Tetrao urogallus and Black Grouse Lyrurus tetrix. Or at least that’s what I was told so don’t shoot the messenger. Apparently Larch was also present in Britain before the glaciers wiped them off the island. I can’t find any information that though, so that might be wrong.

I have nothing left to do other than add a slideshow of loads of pics from the trip for you to sift through if you want.

Last bit of news before that: my camera, after 2 and a bit years of good service, stopped working today. Therefore, I have bought a new one. A bridge camera, so hopefully you’ll be seeing a lot more bird pictures now!

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If you’ve decided to read past the slideshow, I’ll let you know I’m surveying up north next week in an area of Scotland I’ve never visited! Hoping for eagles mostly. And also, look out for my next article on BiOME Ecology. If you missed my first article you can see it here. Have a look around the site, I’ve read almost every article so far, definitely plenty on there so it’s unlikely you won’t find something you don’t like!

One of the best places I’ve ever been