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

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Diving Again!

So, I wasn't just ignoring my blog again after promising that I would be much more faithful about writing.  I was out of town!

Google Map view of where we were

I was in Egypt doing some dives with The Man of the Place.  We were also there to visit George who has been there since December.  He has had some time to establish himself down there with a bit of credit.
Tracy, Luke and George

 We thought we'd undermine that.

Tracy in charge of two goofs
We tried to keep the safari trip as a surprise for George but he inadvertently found out.  We took him away from his dive guide and desk duties for a week and went on the boat Emperor Asmaa.

The ship's route was the southern Red Sea near the border with Sudan.  There are exquisite corals and pristine dives to be had on this route.

Someday, I'd love to dive in the Red Sea further south in Sudan but I can't the political climate won't allow it.  I'll just have to wait here until there is peace.

Yes, we saw sharks.  We saw white tipped reef sharks, oceanic white tipped sharks, grey reef sharks, and silky sharks.  We also saw some bottlenose dolphins and loads of moray eels.

Two firsts for me were smaller, less glamorous fish.  I knew what I was seeing as soon as I saw them! I certainly wrote notes in the margins of my field guide and lots of exclamation points in my dive log.

I saw the exquisite Oranghead butterflyfish - Chaetodon lavatus
Orangehead Butterflyfish - not my photo
and the Whitehead butterflyfish - Chaetodon mesoleucos

Whitehead butterflyfish - not my photo
Both were seen toward the end of the diving holiday and I was thrilled to see them.
Another treat was this little sea slug or nudibranch, the Red Sea Nembrotha.
Red Sea Nembrotha - Nembrotha megalocera
 It was right on the sand just as I was descending on the first dive of the day.  I know this isn't very exciting to non-fish nerds so here is something exciting!
The Man of the Place and I did a dive at dusk.  The daytime fish were going to bed, the anemones were curling up and the nighttime creatures were starting their day.

The first exciting thing happened when my husband was pointing out something to me and two bottlenose dolphins swam right under him.  "Never mind about the fish, DOLPHINS!"
bottlenose dolphins

Silky shark in the distance
Literally a minute later two silky sharks swam by!  That was about the extent of our shark encounters this trip.  Sharks swam by us with no interest in us whatsoever.