New Life Under Lockdown

Like so many others, one of the things I enjoyed most about being “locked down” was the opportunity to witness in detail the coming of spring/summer and the new lives that were emerging, be it fauna or flora. This latest blog therefore will focus, not entirely, but predominantly on the young birds and mammals that I’ve had the pleasure of watching and photographing over the past few weeks.

At my squirrel site I was hopeful of seeing kittens given that Patty, the dominant female, had very pronounced teats. First to appear, as mentioned in my last blog was “Wee Bruce”. I’m still not sure quite where he came from. He didn’t look much like a kitten although his behaviour certainly was. He chases the other little ones away, but at the same time is very nervous. Here’s a video of him:

I think he came to visit my garden a week or so ago too, and again struggled with the feeder, this one has a very heavy lid. Seeing a squirrel in the garden was a thrill!!

I do, however, have two new squirrels that are certainly kittens. Gram (Parsons) and Marty (Stuart), both boys, aka “The Twins”. Hard to tell apart by sight, but Gram is considerably more confident and playful. He likes to be chased. Marty is nervous and doesn’t appear as often, he does approach the feeder, but tends to stay higher up the tree.

They do play together sometimes but it’s often obscured by leaves. I did capture (poorly) the two of them descending the tree hanging by their feet entwined together.

They are both adorable. Squirrel kittens have thicker pelages and ear tufts to help protect them from the inclement weather. This is great at a time when adults are losing the tufts and their coats become sleeker and darker. They like to sit in the feeder box (which I often prop open as they find it too difficult to open). It’s lovely watching them in there munching through the nuts and funny when another squirrel approaches and is surprised to find them there!

They aren’t particularly fussy which nuts they eat although I have seen them caching hazelnuts already.

When spooked by the jays (who are around a lot), the woodpeckers or people, the little ones tend to run up the tree and sit on one of the “safe” branches. (although on this occasion the squirrel decided hanging underneath the branch would be a good idea!)

From the “safe branches” they can survey what’s going on below and are often out of sight of more dominant squirrels so can therefore eat their nuts, or have a groom, in peace. I love when they do this because these are by far and away the most photogenic perches right now. There’s a beech tree to the right of the big “feeder tree” and the leaves provide a beautiful soft green curtain around the squirrels. I confess I’ve had to do a spot of pruning, otherwise the squirrels would be completely obscured! Worth it though I think.

Here’s a video of the kittens

The squirrels are now coming down all day, not just in the mornings, and as the light is better (although still mostly rubbish due to the pesky leaves) in the afternoons, that’s when I’ve been going to see them. All the adults are still turning up, looking completely different now from when we first met. Slaid still has remnants of his ear tufts but all three have darker coats and lighter tails. Patty seems to have lost the tip of hers.

It’s not just red squirrels I see at the hide. At least one pine marten still visits over night sometimes, but sadly never in daylight. The jays, as mentioned above, regularly steal nuts – I try and scare them off now! A male great spotted woodpecker was virtually living there, in fact, I think the nest was higher up the tree. In the past week a fledgling has been about too which is wonderful to see. Initially it came with Dad, but recently has been on its own. Comical birds!

This is Dad with Jr.:

I’ve seen a male bullfinch and female yellowhammer recently as well as fledgling great and coal tits – the latter are probably the noisiest and most demanding fledglings I’ve witnessed!

Also in the woods, aside from rapidly appearing and growing bracken – it shoots up at a tremendous rate! – are a few warblers. They too were feeding youngsters high up in a tree. I couldn’t get close but here are some distant images, one of which is a wren who gets very agitated when I walk through the woods.

The most frustrating animal I’ve attempted to photograph this spring has without a shadow of a doubt been the badgers. Such beautiful creatures, and it’s been fascinating to watch them on my trailcams but oh so difficult to actually photograph for a number of reasons. Firstly, the sett is huge and in an awkward position part-way down a slope. It has at least 10 entrances that the badgers regularly use and much of it is obscured by trees, humps and grass. I was so envious of Chris Packham’s local sett on Springwatch which was flat and foliage free! The badgers do not work to a schedule. I remember when I was photographing the beavers at Bamff Ecotourism they would appear at 7pm every night which was helpful! The badgers have been out as early as 5pm or as late as 11pm. There are two cubs which is fab and they are so much fun to watch but I’ve only really managed this one image so far.

The female is very easily spooked. I tried to take an image on quiet-mode. Just the one, once she and the cubs had settled. It was enough to send her, and then the cubs, rushing back underground and they weren’t out again in daylight. Next evening a distant child called out as they emerged which had the same effect. Annoyingly, on both those occasions it was close to 8pm so ok for photographs, but maybe the daylight made her more nervous. I therefore have to keep the camera (Nikon D850) in live view which has the option of a silent shutter. It’s much harder to nail focus especially with all the grass, but I’m just pleased I have this option, my other cameras don’t. I have seen all the badgers out and about though (there are at least 5 of them in the sett) mostly too late to photograph but here are a handful.

When the light was too poor for photographs I was able to do some filming, and these are the results. I think videos are the best way to show their behaviours:

The garden badger was turning up in daylight on occasion, but, just to continue with my badger frustrations, always did so when I wasn’t looking. I’ve spent 3 or 4 evenings sitting at my kitchen window on darkish evenings awaiting her and on none of these did she come early. On one occasion I stepped away for 5 minutes and missed her! I have been putting my trailcams out and other than carrion crows attempting to steal all the nuts, 3 cats (all in one evening) and a night when it became a rabbit cam with about 40 rabbit clips, I did manage this in daylight. I love how she swipes away the rock.

More recently the the female has been accompanied by one cub. This confirms my suspicions that they aren’t from the sett I’ve been watching as there are 2 cubs there. This is footage from early July filmed on my two Browning cameras:

Talking of rabbits they have become very regular garden visitors and more often than not I spot one or two when I look out the window. I’ve been photographing them through the glass, which fortunately doesn’t seem to cause too much image deterioration. I’d like to get down to eye level, but it might actually be tricky with the long grass (I don’t cut it short). They aren’t my beloved hares, but they have become a good substitute. I’d love for one of the black ones to pay a visit. These images are all of one individual – it was around for so long that I started with my 70-200mm lens when it was right under the window and then progressed to a 300mm and finally my 500mm as it moved further away.

I’ve been trying to photograph the little black rabbit kittens too, but have mostly failed so far. This is the only image I have taken just before the bull in the field next to them decide to bellow and they all scarpered!

The past month has been fledgling central in the garden – so many! After the initial siskins there have been tree and house sparrows, goldfinch, greenfinch, coal tits, blue tits, one brief sighting of a robin, and most recently starlings, blackbird and carrion crows.

Unsurprisingly this fine fellow has been visiting – a male sparrowhawk. Apparently the deep orange colour of the eyes means he’s a more mature bird.

I’ve had new neighbours in the field behind my house too. Initially a few sheep and then they were joined by some huge cows and their calves. Very curious animals!

I have travelled a short distance a few times to the Black Isle Nature Photography pine marten hide which, although closed to the public right now I was able to use as I do some work with James Roddie. The regular female has had three kits this year which is fab, and she is sometimes bringing them to the site. So far I’ve just seen the one kit, but, to be honest, one is probably easier to photograph than three and it was a delight to watch their interactions. I’ll write more about my time in the hide in my next blog, but here are a few images featuring the kit. The hide re-opens on the 15th July.

The female had real trouble attempting to prize the egg I’d left out for her out of the tree stump, heavy rain must have pushed it down too far. Full marks for her determination, I really wanted to pop out and help!

I’ve also been busy producing more greeting cards and my 2021 calendars. There are three designs for next year: Scottish Wildlife, Red Squirrels and Mountain Hares. Check out my Facebook page for a special July offer, alternatively they are on Etsy. These are a selection of the images, you can see them all on the Etsy pages.

Lockdown is over for now, and I’m looking forward to getting out and about, researching new locations and revisiting some favourites – the mountain hares!!!

Highland based nature photographer and guide specialising primarily in Scottish wildlife but available to cover live music and events.

2 thoughts on “New Life Under Lockdown

  1. Thank you for sending your photos to my e-mail. I find your photos stunning! I smile, or laugh, and sometimes stare at a photo to see all the details on their coat. You are an amazing photographer, and I’m so happy you are happy to share!

    Like

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