Thurs 31st May 2012

I didn’t expect to be back with you quite so soon but I just wanted to cover an important omission I made in my last blog post. I didn’t mention Warwick Lister-Kaye, Sir John’s son, who played a huge part in making our stay at Aigas so special.

Warwick was born in the Highlands and brought up at Aigas so knows just about everything there is to know about the area and its wildlife. He has also travelled widely; living, working and travelling in many different countries, which makes him a very interesting chap to talk to.

With his love of the countryside and the creature that inhabit it, and his work as a professional photographer, there was never any doubt that he and I were going to get on well. I would like to thank him for making us so welcome at Aigas and for all the help and support he gave us over the weekend.

I must also mention that the ‘Friends of Johnny’ photo gallery is now up to date, including a couple of pictures from the Aigas weekend. Apologies to anyone who had been waiting a while so see their photo up on the website but we are now back on track.

 
 

Sat 26th May 2012

Aigas 1

Well Julie and I have been away on a trip since I last spoke to you. We were on a long weekend at Aigas in Scotland, joint hosting an event organised in conjunction with Swarovski Optik. Aigas is the impressive family home of Sir John and Lady Lucy Lister-Kaye who, for the past 30 year, have been running it as the Aigas Field Centre. Together with their dedicated team of staff, they have developed an extensive programme of small group learning holidays and study courses which give visitors the opportunity to explore the wonderful wildlife, habitats and stunning landscapes of the Scottish Highlands and islands.

I can also report that the Aigas Experience includes excellent accommodation and superb home cooked food. Do have at look at their website at www.aigas.co.uk as they have a wide range of different wildlife holidays and education programmes on offer. If you love wildlife as much as I do then I recommend you take a trip up there soon. You’ll not be disappointed.

We’d like to thank Sir John and Lady Lucy for making us so welcome. It was also great to meet Peter and Christine from Swarovski who worked so hard to make it all happen, and all the people who came along to the weekend. They were a great crowd and we had a really special time up there.

What we were there for, of course, was to see the wildlife in this beautiful part of Scotland. In fact, we were lucky in our sightings even before we reached the Field Centre. As Sir John drove us along the last part of the journey, we saw two red kites and six red deer. That first evening we went out on a badger watch which I really enjoyed as we got up close to seven of these wonderful animals. It was then back to the house for a welcome night cap.  What a great start to the weekend.

The next day we went out on a rib (an inflatable boat) to see bottlenose dolphins, but the sea was too rough for us to spot any. We did have fun though, flying over the waves, getting covered in spray. It’s a good job everyone was given waterproofs to put on. I’m pleased to say that we didn’t miss out on the dolphins as we were able to watch some from the shore at a place where they swim in quite close.

Next we went high up in the mountains to Glen Strathfarrar where we saw five golden eagles. What a place. The landscape was out of this world. We had our packed lunch up there which included all sorts of lovely things to eat.

Anyway, the animals I was looking forward to seeing most were the beavers.  Julie and I had seen them four years back when we were up at Aigas making a film for the BBC. We went out at night to watch them, to the hide we helped to build on our last visit. What a laugh we had doing that. It was so much fun. And did we see any beavers? Yes, we saw five. It was such a thrill.

As if that wasn’t excitement enough, we also had a pine martin night, getting up very close to one and seeing others in groups. We actually saw more pine martins than we did red squirrels which are also at Aigas in good numbers. Red squirrels used to found all over Great Britain, as I’m sure many of you will remember, but were driven out of most areas by the larger, more aggressive grey squirrels.

Other highlights were a peregrine nesting site and an osprey’s nest. The peregrines flew quite close to us so we got a really good view of them. The ospreys were further away but we had no problem getting a close look with our Swarovski binoculars and scopes.

So you can see that Aigas is a pretty wonderful place to visit. I know that Julie and I will be going there again. On the last night we had a Highland piper play for us all and lots of funny stories were told. What a night that was to finish the trip. Such a laugh.

Believe it or not, I didn’t have a chance to take many photos. For once it was nice just to enjoy watching the wildlife along with everyone else. I do have couple to show you though, taken with Julie’s camera. One is of us with Sir John and Lady Lucy and the other of the lovely African round house Julie and I stayed in. Sir John made it for his family and let us stay there for the weekend. I’d like to say another thank you to him and Lady Lucy, also to Peter and Christine from Swarovski, for making the whole weekend possible and so enjoyable.

 
 

Sat 12th May 2012

Well we’ve finally got some fine weather. That’s good news for us and for the birds who can find it hard to keep their young fed when it rains day after day. Before I come on to that let’s talk about what’s been going on in our wood. It’s looking so good with all the bluebells coming up, the leaves coming out and the grass growing once more. It’s wonderful when everything comes to life again after the winter.

The young tawny owls have flown the nest but the sad news is that only two made it. The second piece of news about them is that there were actually five chicks in the nesting box not just the three we had seen. When you are filming with a camera in a box you can’t see so well looking down three feet, so when the chicks where very small we couldn’t see them all.  It was only when Billy, my granddaughter’s partner, went up and cleaned out the nest that he discovered the remains of the other small chicks that had been eaten.

I believe it was all down to the weather. I know there was plenty of food to go round when the chicks first hatched because when the owl came out of the nest we could see about ten mice in the bottom of the box. That was during that long warm spell when everybody was praying for rain. When it did come it was at the wrong time for the owls as they can’t fly when it rains hard, as it did for a week with hardly a break. When there’s not enough food for the growing chicks it is the way of nature that the small chicks get eaten by the big chicks. We call it ‘survival of the fittest’. It seems hard to us humans but otherwise all the babies would die. Anyway, the main thing is that two of the young owls flew the nest and that is wonderful news.

 My other news for this week is that we’ve got two lots of blue tits in our nesting boxes near the new tree hide. One has got just one egg in it but the other one has got ten eggs. I’ve seen a blue tit’s nest with nine eggs in before but ten really is a lot. I would guess that we’ll see six chicks fly the nest from that brood but I’ll be letting you lovely people know how things go on.

Next time I have something completely different to tell you about. If you want a clue then have a glance at my home page to find out what I’m up to this weekend.