Monthly Archives: December 2015


2015 started with working in the best pub ever (Bow Bar – again) with the best people ever (again). I went to see Berwick Rangers play Hibs for some reason, and drank some amazingly good beers.

coworkers and Frank

pub regular Rob took me to my first footy match since the mid 90s. we was robbed

I also got to live in a real house like a real person, and it was the best house ever with a complete bunch of nutters who are also the best people ever. And some furry friends!

House Sarah and Frank
Leo, Nootka and Frank’s important business meeting

I continued moth trapping, having finally found a hobby that mystifies everyone else. Getting the first county record for Buff Arches was PRETTY good.

In June I went to Saint Kilda, 40 miles west of the Hebrides. I have always wanted to go, but never even imagined I’d get to visit, let alone work there for a month. After staying a week on Mingulay a few years previously, me and dad committed to getting to Saint Kilda to camp for a few days, but then in May I got 2 weeks notice to head out to take part in the colonial nesting bird survey.
My trip home included a ride around the Gannetry of Borerary and its stacks, about 12 miles from the main St Kilda group

Living and working out there gave me such an amazing appreciation of the place. Incredible, once-in-a-lifetime type stuff. and dad came out to visit too!

Jack, Me, Dad, and Alan Hinkes on the highest point on Saint Kilda
Jack, me, dad and Alan Hinkes

When I got back, alas it became clear I wasn’t in any position to keep Whisky cat, as she was showing signs of stress from being moved about so much as she grew older. Sad, but I assume she’s happy and settled now. What an awesome cat to have had the company of for 7 years!

Best cat ever! Unfortunately I had to rehome Whisky, as I was to spend two years without being able to have her with me, and constantly moving from place to place was stressing her out.

I found her a wonderful family home where she was settled and very much loved, but sadly after just over a year, she died of a blood clot at 8 years old. She really was a one of a kind, the best cat ever. I miss her every day and there will never be another cat like her, my best friend and companion for 8 years xxx

A few months later I was off to the Republic of Georgia, working with Batumi Raptor Count in the south west of the country, to monitor illegal raptor hunting, but generally to have an incredible time with a brilliant bunch of people. And speak Russian, and laugh lots. There might have been some beer too. And like all great times, it ended up with me hospitalised but I was OK really.

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thousands of honey buzzard, black kite, red kite, and various eagles circle overhead at Batumi, one of the world’s biggest migration flyways
the team hard at work counting migrating birds-of-prey

A week after getting back, I was offered a job as a nature reserve warden in Cumbria, which is LITERALLY the job I have been aiming for all of these years. I still cannot believe it!

eh, quite a good year, and it finished with birth of my niece Millie Melissa! Very wonderful and I can’t wait to meet her!

MouseCam: The sniffening

I had a quick look at the cam that’s looking at the mousecam. I put this one so I can check it from a distance to see if anything has been near the Bucket Trap that houses Mousecam, without leaving human-scent all over the BucketTrap


ha! Typical!

So a dark tabby cat comes at about 7pm last night and finds two things behind the camera trap, and quickly carries them off. I’m sure there was nothing there when I put the trap out, and they don’t look like rodents:

What on earth..? I baited the trap by putting lumps of peanut butter on the inside, but the cat appears to have found something solid. How utterly weird! The cat then sniffs about, presumably licking off the peanut butter from where I had put some around the trap’s entrances

It comes back again at half nine, and again at around midnight – and there’s nothing else on the camera! I think this is probably a feral or farm cat. Cheeky thing, guess I needn’t have worried about leaving human-scent all over the bucket!


I was wondering about how to do a small mammal survey on the reserve, the last having been carried out in 1994. I want to get a good idea of what species we have, and the usual way to do this would be with small live traps called Longworth Traps, which are tried and tested and have been used in small mammal survey for nearly 70 years!

These traps are expensive and time-consuming, as they need to be checked ever 12 hours (or less), and once it’s been triggered it won’t register anything else until you’ve been along to have a look, released the catch and reset it.

So I thought about how I could use one of our Trailcams, a motion-activated camera with an infra-red flash and lens (for taking pictures at night) and found a paper called A novel method for camera-trapping small mammals. In it, they use a large plastic barrel with the base cut out, and a camera pointing down into it. The base is replaced with a gridded floor, and baited, so that small mammals entering are seen from above and measurements for size can be seen:

Figure 1: Floating camera trap for small mammals, tested in Florida, USA, during February 2012 to February 2013. The 7-gallon (26.5-L) bucket sits on a base that floats when the tide is high and fiberglass poles keep the trap in place. Lid will be painted white for heat deflection.

Figure 3: Species captured in camera trap to demonstrate ease of identification. Species include (clockwise from top left; a) Microtus pennsylvanicus dukecampbelli and Sigmodon hispidus, b) Oryzomys palustris and S. hispidus, c) M. pennsylvanicus dukecampbelli and O. palustris, and d) O. palustris, M. pennsylvanicus dukecampbelli, and S. hispidus. Trap was tested in Florida, USA, during February 2012 to February 2013.

Additionally, as they want to use it in a tidal area, they affix it to a large float, and then so long as it is baited, it can be left alone.

I thought that sounds like it might be quite interesting! First I’ll need a large plastic bucket with the base cut out… Luckily, the sea provides us with plenty of rubbish, including a large plastic bucket with the base cut out. How convenient.

I fixed some L-shaped brackets, to hold an off-cut of corrugated plastic sheeting in place, then cut a hole in that for the camera to sit, so the whole thing looks like this:

Not very hi-tec! I drilled a few small entrance holes, put it out in the yard and baited it, along with the second camera trap pointed at it to see if anything shows interest but doesn’t go inside.

I’ll have a check of it after a few days. I’ve just put it in the yard here rather than out on the reserve already because I believe as it is, it won’t focus on something as near, and the infra-red flash will be far too bright! They’re designed to take pictures up to about 14m away. But it would be good to get a feel for how it works to start off with.

White Curlew

I’ve started wardening a Nature Reserve on the Cumbrian Coast, which is very exciting. Until moth season starts up again I’ll just have to bore you with pictures of scenery and birds and stuff.

There’s plenty of wintering birds here, oystercatcher, redshank, curlew, dunlin, sanderling, turnstone and grey plover, mostly. I had heard rumour of a leucistic curlew that had been seen for a few years now. Leucistic is when the bird doesn’t have a dark pigmentation, not albino as there might still be some colour, but pale. I found an actual photograph of one in a drawer (along with thousands of other, undated, unlabeled photographs), so set out on a mission to find what I decided was now called Luke. Moby Luke, because it was white, I kept searching for it and wasn’t sure it even existed.

I spotted it a few times, way out on the flats, hanging with some little egrets. After a few weeks, this was the best picture I’d managed of it:


On Friday evening, I set off to work’s Christmas Lunch as the tide was coming in and – wow! there was Moby Luke right by the track. I did a 5-point turn and sped back to get my camera, resulting in these great pictures:


Next week I’ll compare it to the old photo and see if it’s the same bird.

Also: how great are Curlew bills?