Who's Watching Whom?
[Editor] Glen Tanar's Head Ranger Eric Baird has put pen to paper for us and shares some stories of the glen's animals nocturnal habits as well as fantastic nighttime footage with us.
If you visit Glen Tanar at this time of the year, there’s a good chance of seeing some wildlife. Red deer stags are gathering the hinds and have started roaring, now that we’ve had the first frosts. Salmon are making their way up the Water of Tanar to spawn. And red squirrels are particularly active now, gathering and storing caches of seeds and nuts for the winter. You can spot geese – after their calls alert you to look up – flying to roost around Loch Kinord.
But if you visit at night-time, the roles are reversed: The animals in Glen Tanar will still be about, and if you have entered this year’s Illuminator, they will be watching you as the temporary passage of the runners and walkers interrupts their night-time schedule.
During our work as Rangers in Glen Tanar we often use trail cameras to ‘see’ who is active during the hours of darkness. Recently, we had a family of pine marten living near the Visitor Centre, and whilst they occasionally peeked out to see us during the day, most of their activity – feeding, toileting, playing – took place at night:
Not usually thought of as ‘nocturnal’, the mother and her two kits were probably keeping themselves safely hidden from us – and visitors. It’s good to see this animal back, after an absence from the Glen of several decades. Recent studies suggest they may be supportive of red squirrel, against the potentially invasive greys. They sometimes prey on squirrels: the red, being lighter, can evade them by going out onto ever thinner branches before leaping across the gap to another tree, whilst the heavier grey is trapped, or falls to the ground….
More typical animals of the night – the badger, for example – will of course be foraging whilst you are running. A few years ago we had a hide set up to watch them: shortly afterwards, they moved, not their home, but their playground – not far, but far enough to be just frustratingly out of sight of the hide.
Owls, of course, are the classic ‘night bird’. The owl species you are most likely to see flying soundlessly across the track, or maybe hear when you take a break will be the tawny owl (https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/mediafile/100820593/xc393993-tawny-owl-strix-aluco.mp3). I’ve sometimes tempted them out of hiding by scraping a piece of expanded polystyrene across my wing mirror. Are they looking for prey, a mate, a rival? The potential effect on your fingers is all the same… We also have barn owl in the Glen: the old Victorian steadings provide fine roosts. And short-eared owl, on the edge between forest and moorland. It’s possible that you will catch a glimpse of their eyes by the light of your headtorch. Alert to your passage, they will be watching you, walkers and runners, waiting until the Illuminator is over before they get on with their lives. Or maybe one of these little, but loud fellows crosses your way:
If you are tempted further and want a more certain opportunity to see some of these animals, Glen Tanar Estate have set up the ‘Wildlife Lookout’, https://www.glentanar.co.uk/blog/wildlife-lookout, where you can watch and photograph them at your leisure.