Archives for February 2017

White Stoat Green Grass

Through February, I’ve been watching a most beautiful ermine, white stoat, visiting our garden. Talk about sore thumbs, the poor stoat is so obvious in a landscape lacking snow.  Long ago I remember winters with snow cover from November to mid March, when ermine were in their element.  This year the grass is growing long enough to harvest for my eight year old daughter’s guinea pigs.  Not surprising since there has been a series of beautiful sunny days since the New Year, in fact better than last summer!

I’ve been trying to photograph the stoat and finally managed the other day, albeit a long distance shot because just when I thought I’d get a close photo a wood lorry sent it scuttling over the bank. The other morning I saw a weasel darting across the garden, but then I’ve spent more time gazing out the window as I rest after an operation. It’s also given me time to read and think.

One thing that caught my mind in the papers was a forward look, by a Microsoft think tank, at jobs our children will be doing in ten years time. One of the ten “new jobs” was ‘Rewilding Strategist’. Good to see the need for ecosystem recovery being mainstream, but surely we should be doing that now rather than wait. And some of us could say “isn’t that what we are doing now!” But then may be it’s because we don’t call ourselves a “Strategist”. Oh well, I better redo my CV.

One book I’ve really enjoyed was The Neanderthals Rediscovered – a really fascinating read about them and our ancestors. It added ancient history to my two beautiful prehistoric stone axes, I found when a teenager birding along the Solent coast. Although in my work of restoring species and ecosystems, the problems are usually to do with modern human exploitation and damage, I’ve always been fascinated by our original role within natural ecosystems. For most of our history on earth, we’ve just been a very efficient apex predator in nature; the tipping point to becoming over-dominant is relatively recent. So can we and should we try to emulate our original role?

Yesterday I read an article in the Guardian magazine about the ‘wolf problem’ in Finland and the arguments about how many wolves there should be. Some say there are far too many and others say they have a right to be there and we should leave them alone. But it’s incorrect to think that 20,000 years ago we ‘left them alone’, the difference is that when numbers were high we threw spears and rocks at them, and hunted their young for furs, and when numbers were low it was not worth the effort. A sort of natural system, unlike the recent millennium with metal traps and poisons, and high powered rifles.

It’s very encouraging that conservation and legal protection can restore species, even the big predators in Europe, but what if our efforts are so successful that they may cause threats to other species or rural people. The ‘Rewilding Strategist’ is going to have to learn how to regulate species that boom in present day conditions to the detriment of others. Where I live in northern Scotland, the middle-guild predators, fox, badger, marten and otter, are thriving under societal changes and/or legal protection, and in the absence of the top predators like lynx, wolf and bear there are few natural checks on numbers.  As a great supporter of restoring species I can see the dilemmas ahead. I want to see beavers restored over much larger areas and the lynx brought back home, but I also recognise the need for robust management. To me the conservation of the species, as a whole, in as big a range as possible is more important that the conservation of an individual of the species. We are in interesting and challenging times, but the important thrust is to massively increase the areas of natural ecosystems.

Staying closer to nest area

Roxy is staying closer to her nesting area now that spring is getting closer; she ranged in an area of 18 km²

Usual range and big flight on 19th February

Mackay spent February mostly to the east of Ben Avon and south to the River Dee. On the 19th made a big flight of at least 125 km, leaving the overnight roost flew south of Braemar at 8am and was flying at a height of 1030 m. An hour later she was further south at nearly 1000 m and then flew north to be perched east of Ben Avon at 10am. She flew east to be north of Daldownie at 11am and then flew south over the River Dee and Loch Muick to the north end of Glen Clova at midday when she was at the height of 1120 m; an hour later she was flying over Glasmaol heading west. At 2pm south of Braemar at 1020 m heading north at 23kph. At 3pm flying at 1550 m near Brown Cow Hill and an hour later was flying south near Culardoch. Obviously a lovely day for displaying eagles.

February locations

Big day flight 19th February


Settling in the Cape Wrath area

Loyal was south of Syre on 2nd February and then flew north-west to Cape Wrath, and ranged between the north coast near the lighthouse southwards towards Oldshoremore, with visits to Achfary on 12th February and near Rhiconich on the 12th and 15th

February 2nd – 24th

West Sutherland

Globe ranged over 800 km² in West Sutherland. She was in the Elphin & Lochinver area until 8th February and then flew north to Foinaven, moving to the top end of Loch Shin on the 11th and by the 12th was south of Elphin. On the 16th flew north to Kylesku and on to Foinaven by the 20th and then back down toDuchally, east of Ben More Assynt on the 24th

February 1st to 24th

No change

Canisp remained in her normal range in the Foinaven SPA throughout February ranging in an area of 50 km²

in northern part of range

Agnes was east of Lochcarron in early February to the 10th then north to Strathconon and Glen Orrin before spending the rest of the month to the 24th in the mountains between Loch Cluanie and Loch Mullardoch

February 2nd – 24th