Wilderness Cottages Self Catering Holiday Cottages in Scotland

Wildlife in the North

Garden food – Ray Collier – Wildlife in the North

Thursday, January 5th, 2017

There is now such a wide variety of food to put out in gardens for  wide range of wildlife from birds to mammals that it is often difficult to choose.   In  the run up to  the festive season it seems that many people were  giving bags of food as presents which was a  very good idea.  A quick look around the Garden Centres and Stores that  stock such food revealed that the most popular food this year has been peanuts.  Indeed when I went to buy a  large bag last week I could only find one  garden centre that had any left and that was one bag under bags of other feed.    Peanuts are an obvious choice because so many birds, and mammals for that matter,  will take them but there are others to bear in mind.  In our garden, for example, there are also mixed seed, suet balls, nyger and  sunflower seeds.

0ne type of food that goes out fresh every day are the apples and these are ripe eating apples and they are taken in a variety of ways.  We came across the fact that roe deer eat apples by chance as some apples were left out overnight for the early rising blackbirds.  One of the impressive sights in garden feeding is to see  a blackbird tackling  apples.  They do it with such vigour and intensity and it is  a joy to watch.  One night the usual apples were put out for them, sliced in half so that they are easier to tackle.  Then the overnight camera recorded the usual badgers coming in when, in the middle of the night, there was something different.  There were four badgers at the peanuts, especially put out for them, and they were tucking in as usual when a roe  deer doe  suddenly walked around  from behind of the sheds.   The badgers just looked up and then carried on eating.   The roe just ate all the apples and walked off.  She became a regular  visitor recognised by the odd shaped white patch of fur on her throat,  and still comes in  these days.

The other mammal that will take them is the red squirrel although they mainly take them off the  trees.  We first saw this when the apples were still growing on the trees although it was some time until the squirrels  found them ripe enough to tackle.  One day a squirrel had been at the peanut feeders, ones with lids on the top that they raise with their heads.  Then suddenly, without  warning the squirrel ran along a branch and seized a small apple and ran off with it.   Presumably  it was going to cache the apple somewhere as it was soon back.  A few days later a squirrel sat on a branch and ate part of an apple and from then on it was often seen.   Various birds take apples from various situation whether the fruit is still growing on the trees, tied there after the  fruiting season has finished or just on the ground.  Other mammals will also take apples such as hedgehogs and pine martens let alone mice and rats but so far we have not recorded badgers taking them in our garden  although my books suggest they will.  Most birds will take them wherever the apples are from the various titmice to great spotted woodpeckers and redwings to   chaffinches.   Why not try some slice apples over the New Year?

Enjoy Wildlife in 2017 – Ray Collier – Wildlife in the North

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017

With the New Year upon us why not think about  setting yourself some wildlife targets for 2017?   Whether you are interested in wildflowers, mammals, insects or birds there is always something different to see.     As far as mammals are concerned one target could be to see all the different species of deer in the Highlands which is not too difficult as there are only five  species  if you exclude muntjac.  There were several records, almost certainly correct, for muntjac some years ago when a pair were deliberately released near Beauly but there have been none since.   Fallow deer is, perhaps, a doubtful one as the only current records seems to be of two herds in deer parks.  One of these is just north of Inverness and the other long established one at Berriedale way up on the east coast.  The one at Berriedale is unusual as they are all white deer.   Fortunately  they can be seen from the road so there is no question about permission for access.   As for three of the other ones, red, sika and roe deer, they are virtually common in all part of the Highlands.   The other deer is the very impressive reindeer that can be seen on the open hill in the Cairngorms east of Aviemore and close to at the Reindeer Centre nearby.

If it is mammals you are interested  in the one target and a real challenge would be to see an otter.  These are quite widespread in the Highlands although  commoner on the west coast.  The photograph was taken on the west coast near Little Loch Broom  and the otter is hunting and is just about to dive into the sea.  In contrast they have been seen on the River Ness actually in Inverness, along the coast at Ethie on the Black Isle, and many of the rivers and lochans.  These are often brief and fleeting glances at the most and another good example is the reporter on this newspaper who was glancing out of his office window at the firth below when as otter swam past.   However, to see an otter for any length of time is another matter as they can be secretive and are  disturbed very easily.  Some books say that they are nocturnal but this is just not the case as I have seen them very active on the River Nairn and nearby lochs in the middle of the day.  The best thing to do is to first establish that otters are in the areas and the best way to do this if to look for the droppings.   These are left on prominent rocks in or on the side of a river or large burn.  This will tell a male – called a dog – or female  – called  a bitch – that the territory is occupied so  clear off.  If the fresh  droppings indicate otters then choose a viewpoint looking along a stretch of river or burn and just sit there as long as you can. If you  are lucky you will see an otter behaving naturally.

There are other possible wildlife targets such as butterflies and one that would be worth looking  for is the painted lady as its presence is so unpredictable as it is a migrant from Africa.  The numbers vary each year but a good  place to see them is in your garden providing  you have been  planning to have nectar sources such as Buddleias and Sedums.     Now is the time to start planning for such nectar sources, and many others, so that when the summer comes  butterflies will be faced with an  abundance of food.   However when butterflies are around do not do as I do  which is to have an occasional glance at the garden  and the plants.    Take a chair out there and just sit for a long while and watch for the various butterflies and those elusive painted ladies.    In contrast why not find  sites to look for ten species  of dragonflies over the summer.   One  good place is Loch Bran near Foyers and others include  Glen Affric and the west end of Loch Maree.    Then  again another good target would be to see all the wild orchids growing in the Highlands as some of these are rare whilst  others, such as the small white  orchid, are difficult to find as they vary in number each year and are very inconspicuous.    One aspect about such challenges  is that they are so enjoyable and make you learn more about wildlife around you.  The more you know about wildlife the more you enjoy it.

Garden Bird Feeding – Ray Collier – Wildlife in the North

Monday, December 26th, 2016

We hope you had a wonderful Christmas! Today, Ray gives us insight into the birds he sees in his garden, with bird feeders contributing to the variety of birds he sees. If you would like to see more birds in your garden, why not provide them with a feeder? Over the winter months small birds need a great deal of food that is increasingly hard to come by just to survive, so you’ll be giving nature a hand as well as seeing more garden activity.

If you would like to see some highland birdlife first hand, many of our holiday cottages have feeders and all are situated near forests or other habitats that are abundant with wildlife, often just being quiet and waiting is all that’s required. We look forward to seeing you in 2017.

Last week was a good time to be looking at those bird feeders in the garden as various uncommon birds  species have been on the move.  In contrast some common birds have been absent and others have been only occasional visitors to the various feeders.   The bird that has been noted by its absence is the siskin as normally at this  time of the year it is normally one of the commonest, after the chaffinches and titmice.  Yet I have not seen any siskins for a few weeks, not even a single bird.  I can only think that there is still a great deal of natural food around. They particularly like the  seed of spruce and pine trees but will also freely take seed from alders and birch trees.  They will also feed on the seeds of a range of plants such as dandelions, docks, thistles and meadowsweet.   They will freely go for peanuts in garden feeders but will also go for  seed mix and their beaks can tackle the niger feeders.  They seem to be one of the very few birds that will not tackle the suet balls.

In contrast the long-tailed tits seem to be only occasional visitors to the garden these days.  If you are outside you can hear their call notes that are high pitched and sound like ”see,see,see”.  Unfortunately, they are one of several birds that I cannot hear any more, the goldcrest is another,  which happens with age.  As for the feeders, suddenly they are there at my feeders and there is a party of twelve that suddenly descend.   They seem to favour the suet ball feeder more  than  any other but they will also go for the mixed seed.     For the photographer  they are a nightmare as they are so active it is difficult  for the autofocus on the camera to work successfully.   It really is a case of hit or miss as most of the time  only a few of the birds are in focus at any one time.   Seeing them on the suet or mixed seed or even peanuts is a surprise as for the summer months they feed on flies, beetles, spiders and the eggs, caterpillars, pupa and adults of moth and butterflies.  The change to solid food, which means they can visit  garden feeders, is a recent change.

One of the other uncommon visitors to garden feeders is the brambling  as in most years I only get one or two.  However, they are easily overlooked when they are feeding with chaffinches as the male of these two birds are, in the winter months, easy to confuse.   Last week I was looking at the various birds  on the feeders and suddenly there was something different  and it was  a male brambling at the mixed seed.  Apart for the brambling there were three chaffinches at the  same feeder and I had to look twice to make sure my identification was  correct.  Fortunately  the camera  was at hand although the bird was so active it took some time to get the attached photograph.   The orange on the breast and the blackish head may look conspicuous  but it is easy to confuse with a male chaffinch.

The other surprise was at the mixed seed feeder and it was a tree sparrow which is one of my favourite garden birds for some reason.   We normally just get one a year so to see  a pair together was indeed a treat.    For some reason this bird is increasing as a garden visitor and it would be great if a pair took over one of the nestboxes put up for house sparrows.  Watch this space.