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Wednesday 31 August 2011

New Book Store page

Practical Field Ecology: A Project GuideRSPB Complete Birds of Britain and Europe At long last I've made time to sort out my reference books page by integrating my Amazon aStore into the blog.

There are four pages of my own selection of books such as those illustrated right and the menu also includes Photography, Science and Nature; and Scientific and Technical.

I'll be occasionally adding to and changing my personal selection with books I think may be of interest.

Visit my Amazon Book Store

Tuesday 30 August 2011

Grey Dagger Moth caterpillar (Acronicta psi)

Every so often I come across a bug of some kind that captures my attention, either because of its appearance or behaviour; and I couldn't resist this spectacularly coloured caterpillar.

Problem is that on nearly every occasion I have to do a search to find out what it is. I've looked through a couple of books, one being the Collins Field Guide for Insects and the only caterpillar that comes close to this one is the Grey Dagger (Acronicta psi); but the colouring isn't right. The illustration shows white below the red spots and grey up to the yellow, whereas this specimen  is black; so if anyone can help I'd be greatfull.

When I do identify it properly I'll amend the post.

My thanks to the warden at Pensychnant Conservation Centre and Nature Reserve in North Wales who offered this information
It is a Grey Dagger caterpillar. It is not too surprising that it doesn’t concur exactly with the illustration in your book because caterpillars vary considerably between instars, making identification difficult.
Grey Dagger is a common moth but this is an uncommon record because Grey Dagger is virtually indistinguishable from Dark Dagger, so it is usually recorded as Grey Dagger agg. However the caterpillars are not alike so we can be certain that this is the Grey Dagger sensu stricto.

Monday 29 August 2011

Corrimoney Falls - Squirrel survey map update

I've just updated the maps on the Corrimony page, which now includes the map on the left, showing more detail for the falls area.

Each red dot represents fresh or recent Scots Pine cone feeding remains.

I've also found the odd split Common Hazel cob from last year; which squirrels have been collecting from the river gorge and carrying up into the forest, before extracting the kernel's.

Squirrel feeding signs - Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris)

The forest I'm currently surveying to the east of the Corrimoney Falls is primarily Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris) plantation which has not been thinned. Trees are close together with a herb layer of heath, bilberry, bracken and grasses, interspersed with areas of moss.

Red Squirrels are feeding both in the canopy and on the ground, but signs can be difficult to find where scales and cone remains drop within the herb layer.

At this time of year squirrels are feeding on green cones which are often torn apart in the canopy with the remains scattered over an area beneath the tree. Where fresh feeding is taking place over ground which supports the remains, the debris is easier to see, as shown in the next two images.

This is all canopy feeding but squirrels will also feed on the ground, sitting on a stump or moss mound and leaving a pile of torn or gnawed off scales around the cone remains.
The scales of older cones are gnawed off, leaving the cone's centre axis intact; whereas the greener, softer cones are usually torn apart from the base up, as shown above.

Pines can live for several hundred years and where one of these beautiful old trees has survived being suffocated by close planting, you'll find an area of bare ground, carpeted with pine needles, around the base of the tree. These old trees will be a regular feeding place when squirrels are present.
This last image shows a collection of cone remains.

Friday 26 August 2011

Deer at Corrimoney RSPB Reserve

Collection of trail camera clips of Roe and Red Deer at three separate locations on the reserve between the 8th and 26th of August 2011

Friday 19 August 2011

Trees for Life - Volunteer Support Appeal

Trees for Life have just launched their volunteer support appeal and as they state their case much more eloquently than I ever could I have just included their mailing below. 

Please join or donate to this worthwhile cause if you can. Their work is invaluable in helping to restore the indigenous forests and wildlife of the old Caledonian Wildwood.

You could even book yourself a working holiday and really get to appreciate the Scottish Highlands.

Please help us recruit more volunteers to plant trees!

Dear Supporter,

This month we've launched our ‘Volunteer Support Appeal’. 

Ever since Trees for Life began practical work in 1989, volunteers have been an essential part of our project, carrying out crucial tasks such as planting trees, collecting seeds and helping in our tree nursery. As our volunteer programmes have grown over the years, so have their costs, and much of our fundraising is directed towards them. It’s vital for us to keep our programmes accessible to as many people as possible, through providing subsidised places on them, so I’m writing today to ask for your help in raising £15,000 for this.

Volunteers make all the difference to our success. You can make a real difference too, by sending a donation today, and my heartfelt thanks to you for any contribution that you can make.
Why not become a member?

A great way to support our work is to join one of our membership packages for as little as £3/month... These come with many benefits and by completing a simple online Direct Debit sign up, your donations help us throughout the year. Please visit to find out more.

Thank you for your ongoing support,

Alan Watson Featherstone
Executive Director

FundRaising Standards Board

Trees for Life is an award winning conservation charity working to restore the Caledonian Forest
and all its species to a large contiguous area in the Highlands of Scotland.

Trees for Life is a registered charity Scottish charity No. SCO21303,
and a company limited by guarantee No. 143304 with its registered offices at Forres, Scotland.

Tuesday 16 August 2011

Common Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea) hysteria: BBC biased and inaccurate.

It's disappointing to discover that the BBC doesn't feel able to do proper research of all the facts before it commits a programme to air; especially as they are well recognised and respected for their wildlife and environmental contributions.

Last week BBC Radio Lancashire broadcast several programmes vilifying Common Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea), most of which was demonstrably untrue.

Livestock are unlikely to voluntarily eat Ragwort, except maybe when they are short of food or when fed hay which is baled from a field where Ragwort grows; so it's basically a man made problem, again.

Ragwort is only dangerous after it is digested and it's chemicals are poorly absorbed through the skin, so if you need to remove it from pasture, pull it up using gloves and don't eat it.

Ragwort is also probably in decline which could be of more importance - it's the principal food plant of the Cinnabar moth larva - than the spectres created by human hysteria.

For more real Common Ragwort facts follow this link:
Ragwort hysteria: BBC biased and inaccurate again.

Monday 15 August 2011

Buzzard captures pork steak

Last week I had a pork steak that I'd kept in the fridge a bit too long and decided to bait a trail camera with it to see if anything would take an interest.

Five hours after I'd set the camera up, a Pine Marten came by and gave it an inspection; but obviously decided it was too far gone. The next day, either the same Marten or another checked it out again without touching it. Then, on the third day, a Buzzard came just into camera, had a look and briefly left before returning to claim its meal.

It would seem Pine Martens are a lot more fussy about what they eat than Buzzards; and this Buzzard certainly maintained  its reputation for being a scavenger and ever ready for an easy meal.

This steak was smelly when I put it out and although the Pine Marten didn't think much of it, the Buzzard wasn't going to pass up an easy meal.

Saturday 13 August 2011

What's this fungus ?

No, it's not a trick question. I struggle with fungi identification and would really like someone to tell me what this is. When I first noticed it I thought the colouring of the cap was the way it grew but on closer inspection it appears to have been grazed by a slug.

It stands about 100 mm tall and is growing on a very old tree stump which is tight against the side of a Larch tree; but it's hard to say if the stump was originally also a Larch.

I don't ever recall seeing a fungus like this and if I ever did it's obviously been lost in the mists of memory.

Are these Wildcat (Felis silvestris) prints

I don't want to get too excited about these prints at the moment but they are almost certainly cat and very large for a domestic. They are also over a kilometre from the nearest human habitation and on a forest track leading to open hill.

The first two images are for sizing and on the third image I have overlaid my interpretation of the prints. The white line is roughly the visible part of the fore print and the red outlines the hind print which is slightly forward and offset. This is fairly typical of a cats walking gait.

The fourth image is of a fresh print found in the same area about six days later.

As shown by all of these images there is no sign of claw marks and each print is at least 4 cm long by 3.5 cm wide. I live in hope and have cameras out in the area.

Friday 12 August 2011

Corrimoney RSPB Reserve - Survey update

I've just updated the survey map with records around the Corrimony Falls area.

The image on the left is looking down onto the main part of the falls from the top of the gorge.

Up river from the falls and on the left in the picture, a mix of birch, rowan and hazel grows on the steep sides of the gorge.

Here I found signs of squirrel split hazel cobs from last year which had been collected and carried to the top to be eaten.

Pine Marten scats (faeces or droppings) are frequent along trails paralleling the gorge and away into the forest.

At regularly used spots there are multiple droppings of different ages which act as territorial markers and messages to other Martens.

The forest to the east of the River Enrick is Scots Pine plantation with a herb layer of Bracken, Bilberry, Heath, Moss and grasses.

Scattered within this layer are the clues to Squirrel feeding activities that I'm looking for. It would be difficult to find anything which drops into the bottom of this low level jungle but fortunately squirrels like to sit on stumps, logs and moss mounds when ground feeding; and the more recent remains stay on the surface for some time before being hidden.

The image below shows the remains of a partially ripened scots pine cone which has been ripped apart to get at the seeds.

This next image shows the undamaged tops of two green cones which were dropped from the canopy after the squirrel removed the lower scales. I would imagine that the seeds were not fully developed and the squirrel gave up part way through to look for better cones.

Further down river on the northern boundary of the reserve stand some mature Norway Spruce, Larch and Douglas Fir.

The next image is of a partially consumed green Douglas Fir cone. I've only ever seen Douglas cones worked on when they're green and not when they're fully ripened. I don't know if there's a reason for this other than me not finding them.

Next is a Larch cone where the Squirrel removed the seeds without completely destroying the cone. This is due to the much softer scales which the squirrel can bend and tear back.

and finally, Norway Spruce cones where the scales are chewed off to get at the seed. These cones were worked on the ground as indicated by the close group of scales.

Thursday 4 August 2011

More on Badgers and Bovine TB

Last week I received this response from Tom Rabbetts who is the Farm Policy Adviser (Bovine TB) at the NFU.

The problem found in the mid-70s was that whilst TB control measures were working across most of the country in these small pockets there remained to be high incidents. Higher levels of disease in cattle mean that cattle to cattle infection will have had some influence upon this, but it is thought that there must also have been additional transmission.

As found today these pockets of land are ideal environments for badger habitat and these areas still had higher badger populations than other areas which were much lower than are seen today as populations were controlled, and also the rise in popularity of the car had a very large impact on their numbers.

It therefore appears that whilst the cattle controls worked well in areas where the badger population was lower it appears that they did not work in areas where the badger population was higher. This period coincided with a couple of major influences upon TB control in that it was also the time that badgers were first implicated in disease transmission and also the introduction of the first badger protection legislation. We cannot say definitively for how long before this badgers played a role in TB transmission but one would suspect that they have always done so and that it is the higher numbers we see now that have contributed the greatest. Whether in these pockets it was due to cattle to badger reinfection or badger to cattle infection we are unable to say but only draw some conclusions that in these areas where badgers were reasonably plentiful the infection in cattle remains. Gloucestershire is still today the county with the highest number of Confirmed Herd Breakdowns.

The original legislation to protect badgers introduced in 1973 can go some way in explaining as to why disease incidence was not further reduced as populations were allowed to grow in these hotspot areas which continue to be ideal areas with plenty of pasture land and plenty of hedgerows to support large social groups of badgers. The increase in badgers populations was noted in the last major survey which can be found here -

The following link is to a paper upon the contribution of cattle to cattle transmission which you may find of interest, whilst we do not suggest that this route of infection has no part to play it is clear that there are other influences upon disease levels. .

I hope that this helps to answer your question slightly, and I apologise if it does not. There are no definitive answers to your questions I am afraid but experts agree that badgers played a role in these areas, their protection prevented their control and therefore the control of disease in their populations, and cattle controls alone were not enough to deal with reinfection from this external source.

There are so many different facets to the current bTB crisis that making any sort of informed opinion is at best difficult and at worst so confusing as to be fatuous.

My personal opinion is that ultimately, a vaccination programme for livestock (and maybe for badgers) is the only sensible solution; which means, of course, that politicians in this country and the rest of Europe need to stop running about like chickens with their heads removed, and produce a sensible long term, science based policy, rather than short term politically based solutions.

It is possible that, because of the current situation, some limited badger culling may be deemed necessary, but it's only ever going to dull the edge of the epidemic. I would recommend that in order to form your own opinion you digest as much available information as possible and a good place to start would be at and in particular this government report

I also believe that the issue of trace element deficiencies may well prove to be a key factor in a long term solution.
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This web site is about the wildlife, particularly the mammals, of the Glen Affric National Nature Reserve area in the north west Highlands of Scotland, UK; and the equipment I use to search for them, which is chiefly trail cameras.

I provide a technical support and parts service for the Ltl Acorn range of cameras and the income from this provides for the upkeep of this site and the purchase of cameras for my own surveying.

I hope you find the site useful and informative; and please contact me if you have any questions that I haven't already covered.