Friday, February 12, 2016

Safer Red Squirrel Feeding

We have a small population of red squirrels.  Last year a nursing female was killed on the road in front of our house.  We were all horrified.  We didn't know where this female was hiding her babies.  Our only hope was that the babies were old enough to fend for themselves.

The squirrels have returned to our part of the world and have been helping themselves to food at the squirrel feeder and bird feeders.  One squirrel became two squirrels visiting.  I identified a male and female squirrel.  With the hope of romance in the air, there will be little squirrels later on in the spring.

Not wishing a repeat of last year's road accident, I have moved the squirrel feeder across the road into the trees.  This means that I won't see them as often as I don't look out the windows that face the trees very often but it isn't about me.  It's about helping the squirrels.
new location for old squirrel feeder

I have also added a second squirrel feeder.  If there are going to be babies, we're going to need more food! The food that was put in is a mix of corn (maize) sunflower seeds and peanuts.
New and larger squirrel feeder

Checking the feeders yesterday, there was evidence that the feeders have been visited.  One of the feeders had all the peanuts and half the sunflowers carefully picked out.  The squirrels had started picking through the second box as well.  It seems that red squirrels prefer peanuts to maize and black sunflower seeds.

I pulled out the remaining maize from the smaller squirrel feeder and refilled it with whole hazelnuts in the shell.  I have a small stock of hazelnuts in from Christmas.

As of this afternoon, the hazelnuts are gone!  I watched them get removed one by one.  There was no stopping to nibble on a nut.

The new squirrel feeder is larger.  It turns out that a red squirrel can fit inside it quite easily!
red squirrel inside the feeder
There are no hazelnuts in the large feeder.  The squirrels are just going to have to eat the maize.

I am hoping that this is the year that I get to see baby squirrels. . . .but the hitch in this plan is that most of the spruce trees across the road are due to be harvested this spring.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Red Squirrel Survey

Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels is a group I have helped for a while now.

I started helping their squirrel survey last year.  This year will be more of the same.

There was a call from the Dumfries & Galloway headquarters for help to mix up the bags of bait to go in the squirrel boxes.
bags of maize, sunflower seeds and peanuts to be mixed
Each volunteer is in charge of a section on the map.  These sections or tetrads (2km by 2km square  area) have four baited squirrel feeders in them.
Maps of where our tetrads are located
On the underside of the feeder lid is as bit of velcro with sticky tape on it.  If an animal lifts the lid to get food, the sticky tape will grab a few hairs as payment for the food.
squirrel feeders
Every two weeks, volunteers will change the tapes and add more bait.  The tapes are then sealed and sent off to be analyzed.  This keeps going until there are four samples collected.

Looking at the hairs under the microscope is fun.  Volunteers don't get to do this, but I had a shot at it one afternoon.  The hair of most small mammals can be identified by their hair.  Red squirrel, grey squirrel, badger, rat, mouse and sometimes pine martens!

It turns out that the red squirrel hairs are distinctive.  They aren't completely round, there is a groove down one side.  If you sliced the hair into sections, the cross section would have a kidney shape.

My tetrad isn't far from the house and I'm looking forward to finding out what's out there.
126 bags of mixed squirrel bait

This is the bags of mixed bait.  Two parts maize, to one part peanuts and one part sunflower seeds.

AND our squirrels have returned.  I have identified two different animals coming to the feeders.  A male and a female red squirrel.  As soon as the rain lets up, I'm going to move our squirrel feeder across the road.  I don't want any further deaths on our road.  I'll miss seeing them come to the feeder for nuts, but I must put their needs before mine.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Welcome to the Family Ayla

Well now. . . I have another grandchild to welcome into the world!  She showed up on Hogmanay, 31st of December at about 10:40 in the morning.
Ayla has just been born and is looking around

Welcome to our family little Ayla.  We were surprised that you are a girl.  You're the first girl to be born in our family in some time.
Layla meets her Nana but has fallen asleep and gone floppy

We are all besotted by this little six and half pound little bundle.

Her big brother Jack is very gentle with her.  He cried when she cried yesterday.
 He said her crying made him sad.

Newborns are small but they are hard work!  My son falls asleep with his little daughter

She brings the grandchild total up to four!  I'm so very fortunate!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Counting Hours

In addition to keeping a tally of how many dives a diver has made, one is supposed to keep a tally of all the hours spent under the water.

I have been very good about logging my dives and keeping a record of how many dives I have made.  I record the time, date, how much weight I have put on my weight belt, who I am diving with and where.  I then use up the rest of the page describing the dive and what fish I've seen. A record of the total hours under water, not so much.

As I work toward my master diver award, I have to count up all the hours I've spent under the waves.  I did have a record of the hours a few years ago when I was becoming a branch instructor.  I had vowed then that I would be much more conscientious at keeping a tally of the total hours under water.  Like many resolutions before it, I it slide.  

Dragging out all the diving log books I have ever used this morning, I paused.  
I love taking a good long look at the pile of dive logs and their wrinkled from damp pages with the very important things to be kept safe, stuck between the pages. . . . brochures from dive companies we have used, spare i.d. photos and even a plastic Red Sea fish identification guide that was purchased on our first trip to Egypt.

What a lot of lovely memories are logged in these books. I treasure them.  They are a record of my consuming hobby.  My first enthusiastic but short dives off the coast of Skiathos when I didn't know the names of any of the fish and went through my air so quickly.  There is a record of my decision to start diving at home in the United Kingdom.  I realised that I didn't know nearly as much about diving as I thought I did and then there was the getting to grips with diving in a dry suit.  

The dives this March near the border with Sudan were much longer as I'm so much better at air consumption.  I saw dolphins and sharks on the same dive and I knew the names of most of the fish I saw.  

I recorded when I was shown my first nudibranch in Menorca, when I managed to get over an hour on a twelve litre tank of air and when I got to watch a spotted dogfish digging in the silt in Loch Fyne.  I recorded my first frightening night dive and compared it to the last enthusiastic night dive I had.  

My diving has brought me so much joy and I'm glad I've got a record of the journey.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Hard Year

I haven't been posting on my blog this year for a number of reasons. . .. Mostly, it's been a hard year for me.   It hasn't always been horrible.. . .

On the 31st of May, Rory Atlas Denson was born.  Another grandson!  He is a delightful infant, full of smiles.  He sleeps well, eats well and thinks the ceiling fan is the greatest thing ever.

I have had a whole bunch of work related drama . . . which I will not go into.  I do however, have plenty of time to write on the blog now.

The birds have had a hard year as well.  I have noticed that the sparrow bounty we enjoyed last year has not been repeated.  There are far fewer sparrows.  No visits from jays, redpolls OR red squirrels.

We haven't seen a red squirrel since January.  Please compare and contrast these two photos.  One is from this blog in 2006 and the other was taken this morning.

There are far fewer swallows this year.  We have picked up three dead fledglings in the shed over the summer.  The summer has been rough for a lot of birds.  Too wet and cold.

When walking I looked over the blackberry patch.  The berries are still hard and green.  Some parts of the patch still have blossom instead of berries.  It looks as though nothing will ripen before the frost comes.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Love of Spring

Right after the first time we cut the grass this spring, we had snow. My initial reaction was disbelief.  Then I realised that it is spring.  This happens. It's rubbish, but it happens.

Now I've cut the grass two more times.  Nothing harsher than a spring frost since.  

Yesterday and today have been a delight as I spend time in the garden.

I've started digging the vegetable plot.  If it stays dry tomorrow, I'll actually get it finished and ready for planting.

The little greenhouse is all tidy and ready for the little tomato and cucumber plants to be stuck in there.  I can't wait for homegrown tomatoes!!

I heard the cuckoo calling yesterday as I pulled marsh reeds from our garden.  Returning swallows flew past.   Our swallows aren't here yet, but I've seen others flying over.
orange tip butterfly

pied wagtail

longtailed tit

Zebra spider (a jumping spider)

Here are a few visitors to the place (everybody does gardening with a camera in their pocket, right?

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Night Dives

I was really unsure about them at first.  Afraid of the dark, but underwater.  Now I love them.  I may even prefer them to daytime dives.

Giant moray going out on a hunt
I love how the daytime fish go find a hole in which they can spend the night.  Parrotfish enrobe themselves in a bubble to protect their fishy scent from attracting the patroling moray eels and sharks.
remnants of a parrot fish's mucus bubble
On morning dives, we will sometimes come across the remnants of those mucus bubbles.

Feather stars starting the show
The feather stars come out at night as well.  They look like an underwater Las Vegas floor show!
basket star
 Basket stars are even more amazing.  I keep having to remind myself that they are animals, not plants.

The man of the place and I had one particularly great dive at dusk during our trip.  We saw dolphins and sharks almost at the same time.
bottlenose dolphins

silky shark