Friday, 31 July 2015

Random knots: 001

Found this knot out walking on the moor

Knots are brilliant. Like having an entire toolbox in one length of cord: each knot does very specific things. Here is a very cool place for learning new ones! Gave up trying to ID this one.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Owls in barns and boxes on trees

A fine owl box on an ash tree bole I wonder, is anyone home?


This box is part of a big, long-running barn owl project in the Scottish Borders, in conjunction with The Barn Owl Trust. The project has been very successful, providing nest sites in areas with great habitat with lots of long grass and wide field margins but few suitable nesting sites. Owls like a good hole-some ash but many of our old trees have crumbled and fallen. The holes that are left are hot property with jackdaws, owls (tawny and barn), goosanders and stock doves all contesting ownership. Jackdaws have nested in this box the last year or two (always a major problem as they tend to fill the boxes up with hundreds of sticks and piles of cattle hair and sheep's wool). Turns out that this year someone else had moved in!

Check out his amazing big talons - all the better for catching dinner - a wee mouse or vole has no chance. This adult barn owl did not have a ring so we do not know where he came from. Part of this project involves monitoring all the owls which use the boxes and in order to know who is who, each bird is fitted with a unique BTO ring. See here for a very cool blog of all the UK bird ring recoveries in 2015 so far!

A nearby box also had a single adult female in residence but there were no signs of any successful nesting attempts. We had expected young barn owls however many of the boxes we checked held only a single adult or were completely empty. It is a similar story in many parts of the UK: see hereWhen food is short, often the smallest chick becomes food for the others, and if food is really scarce, only one chick survives. It seems a horrible process but it does ensure that at least one chick survives. And then there were the boxes with squirrel kits in (Note to self: do not bother putting boxes up on woodland corners!). Luckily, the last box of the day was a different story - inside were three fine big barn owl chicks, probably only a few days from taking their first flight out of the box.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

A buzzard with a difference!

Buzzard expert Richard Franckensen sent me these fascinating photos from his visits to one of his buzzard nests last year. Climbing up to a big nest he was very surprised to find this little fella, soon to fledge, with a bit of a funky foot.

Look closely at that right foot (on your left). This very rare funky foot has a strange realignment of toes and talons. Imagine the middle bit of your hand was really, really long - your thumb would not reach your fingers. Birds of prey rely on their talons to grasp live prey so this could be a major disadvantage for effective dining. Luckily for it, Richard was able to report that this bird was spotted in fine fettle many weeks after fledging.


Monday, 27 July 2015

My new favourite book!

The book is Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds by Bernd Heinrich. Ok, so strictly speaking, it's not new as I've been reading it for months, its one of those books that you cannot read too much at once, there is too much to think about in there. "Deeply engaging" says Austin Hackney in his review. I totally agree!And where better to tackle the next chapter but up  a tree! So on a fine lazy Sunday afternoon I took it 15m up into my favourite oak to read the chapter on caching behaviour and all the mind-games his ravens play on each other. Amazing.

Tried this new technique for me, setting up a SRT canopy anchor. I had left a fine cord in place last time I was up so I used that to run up the tougher throwline, which in turn I used to haul up the Blaze arb access line. After a visual check through the binoculars and then bounce-testing I fairly zipped up on the SAKA (the anchor is self-cinching by climbing on the left of the two lines). Once up there I hauled up one end and set up a DRT rig with my favourite Pinto pulley and the Distal hitch. then disassembled the canopy anchor, so I could descend at any time. The knot in the rope hanging out of the pulley is an alpine butterfly, a very cool knot, here used as a stopper just in case the prusik slipped if I dozed off in the afternoon warmth....

Hands-free selfie!

Happy Tim time, suspended between the main stem and the big branch behind me (white Grillion lanyard)! 

Ha ha...lookin thoughtful! Probably thinking about the big slice of cake in my mini haulbag...

Time to head to the ground before it starts to pour (JUST in time!)

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Stonechat and Sedge

A couple of interesting birds from my ringing trainer's long-running bird ringing at his Constant Effort Site. First up, a superb young stonechat - check out those brilliant modified bristle feathers around its bill.

And we finally some evidence of success from the sedge warblers -5 fledged young from different broods. Like most birds this year, they've had a tough time with the lack of insects due to the terribly cold, damp Spring.  You can see this in the fault line (see arrow) in the tail where there was an intense food shortage while those feathers were growing.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Rigging a tree for SRT

That's what I like to see, a fine set access rope (11mm static arb: Blaze) in position, bounce-tested to check the Top Insertion Point anchor, a bomber oak limb in this case (although...), ready for climbing! TIP at 15m, on second attempt with the fantastic 2m long catapault aka the Big-Shot.

With the 60m SS line I usually use some fancy knots ace tree climb training company Canopy Access's Waldo Etherinton taught me to make a basal anchor. This time, I'm travelling light: I've used a 10m length of 11mm DMM Worksafe (semi-static) tied off to a 40mm DMM anchor ring with an anchor hitch backed up with a single stopper knot. There's a double wrap on the trunk and the working end is a Fig-9 or a Fig-8 here to the spliced end of the arb with a triple-lock DMM krab, you with me?

Quickest way to the top is with my new wonder kit - the all-amazing SAKA by Richard Mumford (more on this in another blog).

When I got up there I found that my line was over an added small limb above the big bomber oak limb, though it was plenty strong enough as it turned out! The main fork is just out of sight at the bottom right corner of the photo. Great view from up there and no a horse-fly to be found woop woop (got eaten alive on the walk in!).

Tim's are happiest up trees!

Friday, 24 July 2015

Life in the trees!

Climbing trees, hanging out in trees, sleeping in my hammock at height: this is all trumped by working on our amazing raptors which often pick some pretty interesting places to access! This buzzard nest was relatively easy to access, hand throw of the throw-line, pull the rope up and through, climb SRT on two prusiks, up and out of the thronging, thick midge-infested ground zone (another benefit of being up high!) and lanyards to the top.

And down again.

On the other hand, this tree, a fantastic big pine with a raven nest in it's crown, was a real scunner to access as the perfect TIP was blocked by all kinds of twigs and pegs and dead branches. A mild case of throwline spaghetti after I hit the perfect window but triple wrapped a branch on the way down, stuck. So I settled for the main fork at 10m with the access line, and then lanyard it up to the nest 6m up (arrow).

This was back in April and in the nest were two fine, well-grown raven pulli. They were lowered down to be ringed and biometrics taken. Minutes later they were returned to their nest and I abseiled out of there - what a great morning!

Thanks to photographers Megan Layton and Emily Trevail!

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Meadow pipits are blithe, bonny and very good at hiding their nests!

Ok, here is that well-hidden nest I promised to reveal - like I said, it's in the dragon's left nostril...(tell me I'm not the only one who can see it, please!). Anyone spot the entrance hole?


Here is a quick view of the nest with five, fine healthy little pipit chicks awaiting more grub.

We returned to ring them a few days later. This older chick has left the nest, a fledgling, but still a few days off being able to actually fly - see how short the tail is, the wing feathers are still in pin and mum was soon stuffing a great beakful of flies down its beak.

FEATHERS: some cool stuff

Here are a few more items off the peregrine lunch menu. As you can see, they like their fine nosh, with golden plover, cuckoo (male, tail feather), meadow pipit, chaffinch, and more to come. And all rounded off with a juvenile black-headed gull.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

FEATHERS: the unknown - some help needed here please!

Task: to ID all prey remains at a series of peregrine nest sites. I have got most of them (to follow) but these few have me baffled. Any ideas much appreciated.

This small passerine has plain PP with converts that have interesting with faint though specific markings on them (see enlarged image below). This marking rules out pied wagtail and the PP too plain for other common spp like medow pipit or skylark. And the largest PP here is 80mm.

Ok, these two feathers I am pretty sure are PP from red-legged partridge though the size confuses me a little - these are 133mm and 117mm.

This gathering of feathers is likely from more than one species. I had thought some rather yucky remains were fieldfare; the PP here is 122mm. The tail feather is 114 and the secondary is 94mm. The secondary is mistle thrush I reckon. But the other two? And the breast feathers..they should clinch it.

Fairly sure the two on the left are tawny owl breast feathers. These would be some way from their normal haunt although I would still go with an owl scavenging at the peregrine plucks rather than being the subject of one; size 40mm. The other two feathers are very distinctive: 52mm 43mm; starling? mistle thrush?....

Monday, 20 July 2015

Find the nest

Ok, so the last well hidden meadow pipit nest of the season. I spied an adult carrying food and stayed well away, watching. And followed first one bird then another taking great beakfuls of insects, including a green-veined white butterfly, into the hungry chicks.

Where do you think?

Sunday, 19 July 2015

The will is strong...

A small stunted ash tree.

And it's a stunted ash is a tree with a difference for if we hae a gander around the other side you can see this tree is to be admired:

Check it out - it's more 'plank' than 'tree'! With a will of iron this tree has worked hard to 'heal' the damage, you can see the living edges of the tree's bark have begun to curl over the exposed heart, but it cannot seal such a vast wound. And it happened some years ago too, probably high winds causing an imperfect union of the main stems to suffer complete failure. Anyhow, I think it is doing remarkably with its scraggly canopy given how little living tissue is in contact with the soil! 

Here are a few more trees I've noticed recently. The first two have roots that swarm over the surface of, and deep  within the faults of sedimentary old red sandstone. The trees are beech, oak, alder, alder, rowan and alder.