European Otter – April

©Nick Sidle – Full Screen Image

Out of the sea for a short time, whilst hunting along the coast on a rising tide, just after dawn at North Kessock on The Black Isle in Ross and Cromarty, Highland Scotland.

Otters are shy and elusive animals and difficult to see but patience and getting up early can be rewarded. There are many stories about them, including the one recorded by J Wentworth Day writing in 1937, who described a belief on the West Coast that there were ‘Otter Altars’, flat rocks by the sea worn flat by centuries of use as dining tables by Otters on migration. Scientifically this is dubious, Otters do not really migrate and even for a well used rock, their numbers would be unlikely to erode the surface till it was flat. This is almost certainly a case of confusing cause and effect and association. Otters do not start by using pointed rocks and make them flat. They do however like to come out of the water to eat, often do this at preferred sites and convenient, already flat, rocks are very likely to be used again and again.

This otter is on the East side of Highlands and was found this morning in the traditional territories of Clan Mackenzie.


Gallery – Scotland’s Clans and Families

Gallery – Clan Mackenzie

Gallery – Black Isle

Gallery – Scotland’s Mammals

European Otter – Lutra lutra

Valentine’s Day is coming. If music be the food of love and you are a mouse do you need to go to school?


Full Screen Image – Wood Mouse, Glen Convinth, Highland Scotland ©Nick Sidle

The achievements and abilities of mice have been greatly underestimated by people throughout the ages. Yet another entry on that list is that most people are completely unaware that mice are accomplished singers, although since they choose to perform using a frequency way above the sounds detectable to human hearing, perhaps this is not our fault, perhaps the mice wanted to keep it private. One reason could be that, in the best Mediterranean romantic tradition, one major use of song by mice is to win the heart of another mouse they have fallen for. Whether this includes performances under balconies or a mouse equivalent of balconies is not, as far as I know, yet recorded.

Once you have caught up with the choral skills of mice, there is then an immediate question, are they born with a repertoire of songs that they can use or do they have to learn them from other mice? How much they have to rehearse before another mouse wants to listen to them is a different issue on which, like the balconies, I am again not aware if there is any research. The same is true for the issue of if for mice, like people, there are some of us whose abilities in musical performance are such that the best way to show we care about someone else is to stay silent and fall back on the alternatives like red roses, chocolates and candle lit dinners. If there are mice who would be best advised to skip the singing, then I hope that in their society they have different ways to show they care as well.

To return to the main question of whether mice are born with their songs or have to go to school, the answer, like so much in the natural world, is not that simple or, to put it more simply, looks like a bit of both. Two studies have identified both paths as being active for mice who aspire to be the next sensation on the mouse music scene. One set of researchers at Northeastern Ohio Universities found evidence of substantial learning taking place:

Development of Social Vocalizations in Mice

whilst another based in Japan showed an innate ability in mice to know the songs since they found that sibling mice raised by different foster parents had the same repertoire of songs as their own biological parents and each other:

Cross Fostering Experiments Suggest That Mice Songs Are Innate

So, to make it in the music business as a mouse you need just the same as we do. You need instinct, innate ability and talent, a lot of hard work, possibly some help and even then probably still just a bit of luck. So I wish all mice and people with romance on their mind and a hint of love in the air all the luck they need on February 14th and let’s hope that everyone, and every mouse who wants to, finds the happiness and futures they seek together for however long it can last.


Gallery – Glen Convinth

Gallery – Scotland’s Mammals


Wood Mouse – Apodemus sylvaticus


Losing friends is easy……

We’ve all done it and by far the most common reason is by what we do not do. Yes, friendships can end in a dramatic falling out but quite often real friends find a way of making up even after one of those. Most friendships that end are because of drifting apart when leaving somewhere or moving on in life, most end through not doing enough, not by doing something easily recognised as terribly wrong.

So a puzzle, spot the odd two out in the gallery below.

Long-tailed Duck

Full Screen Image – Long-tailed Duck, Merkinch Local Nature Reserve, Highland Scotland ©Nick Sidle


Full Screen Image – Atlantic Puffin, Fowlsheugh, Kincardineshire, Scotland ©Nick Sidle


Full Screen Image – African Lions, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania ©Nick Sidle

Common Pochard

Full Screen Image – Pochard, Moray Firth, Highland Scotland ©Nick Sidle

Common Pochard

Full Screen Image – Pochard, Richmond, London, England ©Nick Sidle


Full Screen Image – African Elephants, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania ©Nick Sidle


Full Screen Image – Slavonian Grebe, Loch Ruthven, Highland Scotland ©Nick Sidle

Yes, you could be right by saying the Lion and the Elephant, both were in the Serengeti and neither can be found wild in Scotland whereas the Puffin, Slavonian Grebe, Pochard and Long-tailed Duck certainly are but, as you have probably guessed, that would be too easy. In fact, I’m now going to apologise for a trick question but it is a very sad trick question, the answer I was thinking of is none of them. All now share the unfortunate distinction of being on the IUCN Red List of Threatened species under the heading ‘Vulnerable to Extinction” which means that whilst they are still in the wild in significant numbers, their populations are falling at a worrying rate and all it would take would be for that to continue and you can predict that they will and even when they might become extinct. The Atlantic Puffin, Slavonian Grebe and Pochard have only just been added to the list, things are not going in the right direction.

BBC News – Four UK bird species including puffins ‘face extinction’

Like most things, their stories are complicated. Changes in climate feature prominently, for example rising sea temperatures are attributed with having greatly reduced the number of Sandeels, a staple food of Puffins and other seabirds, with serious negative effects on breeding success in their colonies.


Full Screen Image – Sandeels, Porthminster Reef, St Ives Bay, Cornwall, England ©Nick Sidle

Pressures on habitat and disturbance from people are also recurring themes. If we want to keep seeing these animals and birds, we all need to contribute to doing something, we all need to care a bit more. They are all important but Puffins and Elephants frequently feature very high up on lists of favourite species, the majority of us think of them in some way as friends and so that is why what we all need to take very seriously is that taking things for granted, neglect and not doing enough really are the most common ways that friends are lost.

I would like to end on an upbeat note but perhaps there is something more important that still has to be shared. Work your way though the photographs of birds that follow. With a bit of patience and effort, you can see all of them in Scotland, just get out into the wild in the right habitats and they are all there. Why have I included them? Well take a good hard look. All these species, some of which are not thought of in any way as rare, appear on the next category down from ‘Vulnerable to Extinction’, which is ‘Near Threatened’. All of these birds, which it is so easy to take for granted, are waiting in the wings to take their place with the Puffin, Slavonian Grebe, Pochard and Long-tailed Duck. All we have to do is look the other way, forget and change nothing.

Bar-tailed Godwit

Full Screen Image – Bar-tailed Godwit, Udale Bay, Black Isle, Ross and Cromarty ©Nick Sidle


Full Screen Image – Eurasian Oystercatcher, Merkinch Local Nature Reserve, Highland Scotland ©Nick Sidle

Northern Lapwing

Full Screen Image – Northern Lapwings, Udale Bay, Black Isle, Ross and Cromarty, Highland Scotland ©Nick Sidle


Full Screen Image – Razorbills, Fowlsheugh, Kincardineshire, Scotland ©Nick Sidle


Full Screen Image – Meadow Pipit, Merkinch Local Nature Reserve, Highland Scotland ©Nick Sidle

Red Knot

Full Screen Image – Red Knot, Udale Bay, Black Isle, Ross and Cromarty, Highland Scotland ©Nick Sidle


Full Screen Image – Black-tailed Godwit, Udale Bay, Black Isle, Ross and Cromarty, Highland Scotland ©Nick Sidle


Full Screen Image – Red Kite, Black Isle, Ross and Cromarty, Highland Scotland ©Nick Sidle


Full Screen Image – Eurasian Curlew, Lochinver, Sutherland, Highland Scotland ©Nick Sidle


Full Screen Image – Eider, Newhall Point, Black Isle, Ross and Cromarty, Highland Scotland ©Nick Sidle


Full Screen Image – Redwing, Merkinch Local Nature Reserve, Highland Scotland ©Nick Sidle

There never are easy answers in conservation and those responsible always have to weigh competing priorities and claims but it is up to all of us who care to make our voices heard so that those in power and who determine and lead policy and opinion always remember what is at stake and that there are some of us, enough of us, who really would like to make the effort to keep all the friends we can.


Scotland’s Birds Gallery

British Isles Marine gallery

Tanzania Land and Wildlife gallery


Long-tailed Duck – Clangula hyemalis

Atlantic Puffin – Fratercula arctica

African Lion – Panthera leo

Pochard – Aythya ferina

African Elephant – Loxodonta africana

Slavonian Grebe – Podiceps auritus

Sandeel – Ammodytes tobianus

Bar-tailed Godwit – Limosa lapponica

Eurasian Oystercatcher – Haemotopus ostralegus

Northern Lapwing – Vanellus vanellus

Razorbill – Alca torda

Meadow Pipit – Anthus pratensis

Red Knot – Calidris canutus

Black-tailed Godwit – Limosa limosa

Red Kite – Milvus milvus

Eurasian Curlew – Numenius arquata

Eider – Somateria mollissima

Redwing – Turdus iliacus

In the autumn, a Badger’s thoughts turn to…………


Full screen image – Eurasian Badgers, Glen Convinth, Highland Scotland ©Nick Sidle

The autumn is a busy time for badgers. Trying to build themselves up for the winter they are particularly active foraging for food. It is also one of the times in the year when they mate (the others being the spring and the early summer) but because they are one of the few mammals that use delayed implantation, they can still regulate when cubs will be born, which for almost all will be between December and April and in the safety of the underground world of the sett.


Scottish Mammals gallery

Glen Convinth

Eurasian Badger – Meles meles