white tail squirrel


Scotland trip blog 1: 18/01/18 Brilliant birds and mammals of the Highlands 

I was able to write my blogs about my Scottish adventure on the nights whilst away, so they read in present tense of those nights as dated at the top of the blog. After a long and interesting train journey up to the Cairngorms, taking me to cities, counties and obviously one country I’ve always dreamed of going due to its iconic wildlife and landscape we headed out for our first day’s birding today. It really was nice yesterday to see the Tyne, Tweed, my first Grey Heron of the year in a London Park and beautiful views in Scotland on the way up. The other big thing of note from Wednesday was the snow, getting thicker and thicker the further north we got and making for a lovely addition to the landscape. I’d probably never seen snow this thick in Hampshire.

So day one was absolutely incredible as we searched out the specialities of the Highlands with Heatherlea the wonderful company the holiday was booked with. Today I got 8 bird year ticks including 5 bird life ticks and 4 mammal year ticks with one of them a life tick as well. We darted about a lot in the mini bus to different places but it made sense to do one Wildlife Sightings Summary of the day at the bottom and I’ll talk through the highlights saying some of the specific places we went.

It was an early start as we headed out to try and see some Black Grouse at Dorback and what struck me here and throughout the day was how surreal the landscape looked just blanketed in very thick snow. Needless to say it was absolutely stunning and I captured the 1st picture in this photoset of it. The Cairngorms and Highlands have offered me some of the most stunning views I’ve seen ever. We didn’t see Black Grouse in the morning but did see a Red Grouse at the brow of a hill, still amazing as the first of my 5 life ticks today.
When driving back we saw a Red Squirrel on a feeder which is always brilliant, I took the 2nd picture in this photoset of it. This had the extra prestige of being our first ever mainland Red Squirrel with Brownsea Island the only place I had and easily can see them down south. Red-legged Partridge and Brown Hare were interesting things to see for the first time this year as we were driving also. 

Then we went back via a break at the cottage in Nethy Bridge to the famous Loch Garten where it was just nice to be at and take in, I took more pictures at Loch Garten than any single place on the holiday including the 4th and 5th pictures in this photoset of snowy vistas. At the feeder area we quickly saw the bird we had come to see there, the iconic Crested Tit our first ever enjoying lots of views of a few which was amazing. I took the 3rd picture in this photoset of one. On the way to the Loch we were looking out for Capercaillie in the woods with no success so we walked along a path in woods to try and see one. The wonderful guides just caught sight of on flying through the trees and fantastically the whole group of 10 saw it our third bird life tick of the day. It struck me what a gigantic bird they are.

More open country namely Strathdearn was where we headed next with Eagles on the mind and we stopped the mini bus at Slochd Summit in glorious sunshine now as a lovely day had fully awoken. This was because a White-tailed Eagle had been spotted and again we all saw it what glorious views I got the 6th picture in this photoset of it a record shot. This was only my second ever sighting of one and like that Old Basing rarity for Hampshire in 2011 one of my favourite birds the Buzzard was on hand near it in the air to show how big the Eagle really is.The Buzzards showed well in the Highlands throughout and if I thought it was good for Eagles as we made our way down a ten mile track it got a whole lot more amazing. On our first stop off at Garbole pictured in the 7th in this photoset a Golden Eagle was seen and flew right over our head! A young bird showing white on the feathers. This was my first ever and a bird I had dreamt of seeing for years and years. It was a big one for me to see as my Mum saw one in Switzerland as a teenager before she was into birdwatching so ever since we began over 10 years ago she always had this one over me but not anymore. This all probably made it the biggest sighting for me of a phenomenal wildlife day and I got the record shot in the 8th picture in this photoset of it.

As we moved further down the road to Coignafearn the landscape looked magnificent and large in scale again. Indicated perfectly by the fact we saw our first Deers of the year high up and they looked like insignificant dots in the landscape. On our last stop off down this track where I took the 9th picture in this photoset we would go onto see 5+ more Golden Eagles with some displaying nicely and loads more of another on the day life tick Red Grouse. Since this area looked up onto massive mountains we were able to see a Mountain Hare in the distance a new mammal for us. There was also a little river in this area perfect for one of my favourite birds the Dipper and sure enough we saw one just before leaving. My earliest ever sighting of one in a year and probably the best view I’d got of an adult since 2014. 

Just when we thought we had seen everything we possibly could we cleaned up on the way back to the hotel via one final stop off by seeing the bird we couldn’t in the morning the Black Grouse just as we passed Garbole again on the way out. One showed really nicely at the top of the tree and I got the 10th picture in this photoset of it. I was thrilled with this too, there is only one British game bird we are now yet to see in our lives. I am just so thankful for today it was one of my best ever wildlife days and one of the best in my life in total. When I heard we were coming to Scotland for definite for my 21st birthday present I rattled off a list of iconic Scottish species we could see and I saw them all today which is just thrilling. I have no idea which pictures I will take forward right now and I think it’s unlikely every picture from the day is in this blog so as always you can find them all on my Twitter Dans_Pictures.  

Wildlife Sightings Summary: My first ever Red Grouse, Crested Tit, Capercaillie, Golden Eagle and Black Grouse, my first of one of my favourite birds the Dipper this year, my first Red-legged Partridge and White-tailed Eagle of the year, my first ever Mountain Hare, my first Red Squirrel, Brown Hare and Red Deer of the year, Roe Deer, two of my favourite birds the Buzzard and Great Spotted Woodpecker, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Chaffinch, Siskin, Robin, Wren, Blackbird, Woodpigeon, Pheasant, Raven, Kestrel, Mallard and Goosander.


Muddler Minnow step by step

Don Gapen invented this legendary pattern for the Nipigon river in Canada. It was supposed to imitate Cockatush minnow which is a sculpin and called a “muddler” in parts of Wisconsin. The muddler wasn’t supposed to be that type of firm and clinically cut that we like today but rather sparse and long. Customers seemed to prefer the look of the shorter cut tighter heads and the fly evolved accordingly. You might want to try it with a more original head too for fishing as it will have a very different type of movement and sinking rate. The version tied above is just according to my personal preferences, cut to a symmetrical cone and packed pretty dense but not too dense to still keep it soft.

Hook: #2-10 3X Streamer hook.
Tail: Mottled Brown Turkey wing.
Rib: Oval Gold tinsel.
Body: Flat Gold tinsel.
Wing: Natural white tip Squirrel tail and Mottled brown Turkey wing slips on top.
Head: Natural Deer hair muddler style. Stack the tips of the first bunch to form a neat collar.


I hunt.
This may surprise some, but not others. I often deeply reflect on the fact that I hunt, and what it means, and what it means to others. It took a lot of courage to make this post, because frankly hunters are often viewed poorly by modern society. Some of this negativity is because there are a lot of asshole hunters. But, some of this is because of ignorance. I don’t mean this in a mocking way; it’s just that, like all things, we form opinions about controversial subjects by what we have personally experienced and been exposed to.

It is for this reason that I am inviting any hunting related questions to my ask box. Though I don’t allow anonymous asks (when I do, I get a lot of garbage), if you don’t wish to be identified when I respond, all you need to do is ask to remain anonymous and I will respect that. I’ll remove your name when I respond.
This is especially aimed at people that might be interested in learning to hunt. I’ve always been willing to mentor others locally, but few people are like minded. So, if I can help you online in a calm, peaceful way, with no bravado, I’ll try. So many resources online for learning seem to be generic articles (with a lot of bravado, sadly) or forums, where the people often get quite toxic in their responses. Every hunting forum I’ve attempted to visit seems to have a lot of bickering and awful misogyny. I have also noticed that the majority of hunting videos are not representative of how I hunt. It’s a huge turn off to people like me, who are sensitive and thoughtful, and just want to learn.

A few things, so you know what to expect:
++ I will tag all of my responses with a “hunting” tag so that you can avoid them if you’d prefer.
++ I will not show photos of dead animals, gore, etc.
++ If asked for specifics, I will attempt to respectfully discuss specifics. For example, though, if someone asks about butchering, I will tag the post with a “gore” tag even though I will not post photos.
++ I will always attempt to be respectful and thoughtful. This is how I hunt, and this is also how I will discuss hunting.
++ I will not engage in arguments; if you are curious, ask. If you want to scorn or guilt trip me, expect to be ignored.
++ For real; don’t just try to start an argument. I respect that people may not share my opinions, but I am not down for debate. I’m trying to help people learn. I’m really nervous posting this to begin with, please don’t be a jerk. There are a million other places online that will happily engage you in hunting debate and arguments. This is not one of them. If you want to argue with OTHER people, please take it to asks and don’t do it in the reblogs of this post. Please.

To start things off, the basics:

Why do I hunt?
I hunt because I consume. I mean this literally and figuratively; I am a consumer and eating is not something I can go without. I take great personal responsibility for the origins of my food (veggies, too) and attempt to source as much as possible myself. Around 80% of what I eat grew or lived within 20 miles of my home. I am a meat eater, and though I do not eat meat that often, it has been increasingly important for me to source meat in a way that jives with my personal ethics. To me, taking a sustainable wild animal as food, and being involved in it from start to finish, is more agreeable than supporting any sort of commercial livestock operation (though I do also support a few local farms where I can see in person that they care kindly for their animals). I admittedly also sometimes hunt when I do not necessarily intend to harvest (this means kill) an animal. I suppose you could call this stealthy hiking, in a way. I never kill for fun or enjoyment or trophy. Taking the life of an animal is very serious to me and I never take it lightly.

What do I hunt?
I hunt primarily white-tailed deer and squirrels. I have hunted geese once, and have hunted turkeys in the past.

Where do I hunt?
I hunt where I live, which is Western NY state.

How do I hunt?
I use firearms. At this time I am physically incapable of drawing a bow of the legal draw weight limit (for my state’s laws). I understand that there are compound bows that meet the legal requirement designed for people that can’t pull many pounds but they are very expensive and I haven’t been in the position to explore that option yet.