In total contrast to last year’s course, this year, the Small Mammal Course enjoyed exceptionally mild conditions with overnight temperatures somewhere around 12oC each night.
As usual we began with an introduction to some of the mammals we were likely to encounter during the course and how we were going to capture and handle the many species of small mammals that abound at Kindrogan. The following morning was taken up with prepping and setting our traps, stocking them with the appropriate foods and hay, placing them carefully to maximise our captures.
From here we headed out to a known site for ‘Northern’ Water Voles and after yomping across the boggy moorland north of Pitlochry we found plenty of Water Vole evidence. Our pre-prepared camera traps hadn’t captured any action so we looked for fresh sites to place them and headed back to Kindrogan for our first round of the traps.
As usual the daytime captures were dominated by voles, both Bank and Short tailed Field Voles being captured in every session. Everyone on the course made at least one attempt at handling and those that were comfortable with it made good progress with a couple of the attendees showing a natural flair for it. All of the handlers steadily improved their techniques in the three days.
Saturday night was reserved for Pine Marten watching and we were not to be disappointed as ‘Spot’ put on a great show, accompanied by a hedgehog throughout. By 11.30pm we retired for the night and left our camera trap in position. This captured the visiting Fallow deer and a large ‘hybrid’ cat.
Sunday began before dawn on an otter stakeout. Sadly the otter was not on our stretch of the river that morning but a hearty breakfast set us up for the rest of a busy day. After completing the trap round at which we captured a House Mouse (a first for this course at Kindrogan). We set off for Glenshee. Our target was Mountain Hare. We were rewarded with the sighting of many cavorting across the lower slopes and we were delighted to have prolonged views of a Roe Deer family at remarkably close quarters, including a stunning buck.
We returned to Kindrogan for another round of the traps ready for an early evening meal to give us time to reach our Beaver stakeout site. This proved a frustrating exercise as at least one animal had felled a large, heavily-leaved, branch on the opposite bank and could be heard periodically crunching vegetation whilst never being visible behind its screen of leaves. A couple of members of the party had views in almost total darkness of an animal swimming past but the rest had to be content with distant views of animals swimming across bright patches of water. The Daubentons Bats skimming low across the river were some compensation.
We returned to KD to have an unscheduled rendezvous with the Pine Marten, after which those with the energy enjoyed a nocturnal round of the traps. A very different experience to daytime but essential due to the gap that would have been between trap rounds had we not done so.
Slightly bleary eyed the following morning we once again completed out last full round of the traps. Before setting the group on the team challenge of prepping and setting their own traps. Both teams performed exceptionally well which showed just how much they had taken in during the three days of trapping. Some 85 animals were captured, much fewer than the previous year’s 120+ and probably a testament to the long-cold spring of 2013.
We returned to the water vole site and retrieved our camera traps and thankfully one of them had captured some slightly blurry footage of a Water Vole munching on some of our apple bait. As a bonus we also noted Black Grouse as we left the moor.
After the smelly task of cleaning the traps our final evening was dedicated to a session of Bat Detecting. We had a lively time with Soprano and Common Pipistrelles readily detected, including courting males serenading would-be mates. Lizi Langston’s exceptionally acute ears helped to pick out the occasional passing Brown Long-eared Bat.
And so to bed… but not for long. As a final option a few folks trekked out one more pre-dawn to the banks of the Brerechan in search of Otter. Tawny Owls hooted and flew over our heads; it was another magical but otterless morning, with bellowing Red Deer rutting on the slopes above us creating a ‘timeless’ feel and the flash of electric blue from a passing Kingfisher heralded a halcyon morning.
For the Record the species list below shows those mammals directly observed and those for which signs (italics) were found.
Brown Long-eared Bat
Red Fox – signs and corpse
Otter – spraint
‘Hybrid’ Cat – Caught on camera
Northern Water Vole – signs and caught on camera