A quick Visit to Hillockhead; Pine Marten, Siskin and lots of Toads…

This weekend, I flew up to Inverness for  quick visit to see Tim and Hillockhead, go to a Marine Forum and to put up a Vivara Pro pine marten box that we had had sent up.

Not everything quite went accordingly to plan, sadly. I have been keen to get the pine marten box up as Tim is recording lots of marten activity in and around Hillockhead and we want to see how readily they will take to a box. We decided on a Vivara Pro box. This box has been designed with the mammal Society and provides two chambers inside and two tunnelled entrances.

We looked all around the woods and decided on a suitable tree, that had trail cam options opposite also, as we would want to omit the visits to this box without disturbance. In the future, I would hope to put a box with an internal camera up at this site.

Starting early on Friday morning, we loaded everything we needed onto the wheelbarrow, to transport all of it into the woods. The box is quite big and heavy and it was going to take quite a lot of planning and effort to get it up into the tree, about 4m up.

We were about half way through the woods to our chosen location when the track got really muddy. We were worried the wheelbarrow would get stuck in the mud, so I went to lift it, from the side, over the muddy patch. Unfortunately, in doing so, something went in my back and I was in so much pain, I couldn’t move! For a few minutes, we had to stay in position before I could begin to move again. To cut a long story short, we had to abandon all plans as Tim helped me hobble back to the house. I’m not sure what I managed to do, but it left me unable to move more than at a snail’s pace for all of Friday… incredibly frustrating as I had been really looking forward to getting this box up and ready for the Spring. Tim will have to find someone else to help him!

Thank goodness, over the last 2 days, the pain has eased and it is beginning to get better. I will need to be a lot more careful in future regarding lifting heavy items, especially at funny angles!

Luckily, there has been some other wildlife to photograph that didn’t need too much movement. There is a large pond very near to Hillockhead and the recent warm weather has meant that the toads are beginning to emerge from hibernation in the wooded areas and move across the track towards the pond. There have been hundreds and, when driving out not he track, particularly at night, one of us had to walk ahead of the car, moving them all off of the track.

It is amazing to see so many and I took these shots with my phone, as I could get it right on the floor next to them…

Their wonderful texture makes them an excellent subject for black and white photography too, so I converted some images…

We are hoping that the predicted drop in temperature, back to the more normal temperatures for February, will not be too drastic and that these toads have not been premature in their emergence.

I also helped Tim set up a few bird feeding stations over the last few visits. Previously, there had been no bird feeding on site. The feeders have become increasingly busy and over the last cold spell, brambling, siskin and redpoll visited along with the more common species.

When I arrived, there were lots of siskin around; a visitor I don’t often see at home on my feeders. I hobbled out with my camera on a monopod… I was getting fed up of my back pain and I could manage a spot of bird photography!

The siskin were quite obliging and keen to come down onto the feeders, particularly the peanuts…

They were also perching in the surrounding branches and this gave me the chance to snap a few shots of this male sitting in the greyness of the silver birch, its yellow plumage making it stand out beautifully in the late afternoon light…

A slow walk up the track to see if we could see the yellowhammer we had seen on Thursday only revealed one individual, who wasn’t keen on coming close. Lovely to see this beautiful male, like a little canary in the gorse!

My next challenge is to wade through some of the great Bushnell footage Tim has been capturing on the cameras we set up last time I visited. That will be for another blog post…..

Here’s a little taster…