Monday, 28 March 2011

Thank-you WildPlaces!

WildPlaces I thank-you. Not only am I now a complete technical genius and words such as Sniper IR and Prowler HD roll off the tongue, I have learnt so much about the wildlife that this part of the world has to offfer. I have discovered the joys of badger courting rituals, underground fox cub feeding and strange visitors to dens at night and I've seen more hedgehogs than I could shake a stick at!

I like to think that I now know a lot more about wildlife and conservation in general (thank-you to all my teachers at NWT!) and I have a definite affinity with otter poo (not too bad) and badger poo (yucky yucky stuff!). Plus I've seen my first wax wings, badgers, great crested newts and even a water shrew while I have been here. Not bad for a girl who had only read about the animals in Farthing Wood while watching elephants out the back window (no, dont even think it, I did not have elephants and lions running round my garden).

Seriously though, its been great working on WildPlaces and setting children straight that an otter is not a meerkat, beaver or even a duck-billed platypus! I guess theres hope for us all yet. So I hope you have all enjoyed reading my WildPlaces adventures and watching my videos of the great North Eastern wildlife that I have filmed. I have enjoyed capturing all the weird and wonderful creatures of the North East (not least of all the Ouseburn Otter) and being able to vent my frustrations and, at times, my self-satisfaction, on this blog. Keep on filming!

Thursday, 17 March 2011

G-otter picture!!

Well the wonderful past two years that has been WildPlaces is coming to an end. In exactly two weeks time today. But that's ok (no really it is) because its mission accomplished and just in the nick of time. With some sadness that the chase is finally over but also with a huge dollop of relief that a mere otter didn't manage to outsmart me in the end, I am happy to say that the Ouseburn otter has, at last, been cap - tured! And properly this time, although something tells me that he wasn't quite trying to hide - rather flaunt himself gladly in front of the cameras. Maybe he too knew that the chase was indeed up.

But now I can relinquish my post as WildPlaces officer a happy woman. For two years I have dedicated myself to trying to outwit Mr O. I have tried the cruel 'kill-the-spiders-on-the-lens' technique. I have tried the 'stick-a-bit-of-cod-on-an-island' technique. I have even built him palaces all up and down the Ouseburn River, lugging rocks from near and far to provide an enticing outdoor toilet (now what other holt can boast an en suite hey). All to no avail. Until now. Mr O, I got you good and proper!

It was a bittersweet moment when I saw this footage. Triumphant. Yes. Bit a little sad that my mission had come to an end. I guess my next challenge will be to see this little critter in the flesh. A considerable amount more frustrating I would think and I'm not sure that its a challenge that I wish to undertake. Not just yet anyway.

But hey-ho who know what the future holds with regards to otters. My partner in crime Bob Wilkin has been with me every step of the way in the otter seeking fiasco. He was the one wielding the bug spray, rescuing cameras in the middle of the night during floods and building walkways, holts and islands to lure Mr O in closer and closer. And he did succeed. We got prints. We got spraint. Just no footage on camera that wasn't blighted by spiders, rain and underwater swimming ability. Until now of course. But yes, I digress. My point is, Bob has all these wonderful stories about taking otters for walks, having his lower ear nearly bitten off by the very same otter and probably seeing more otters, in more places, than you or I could ever wish for. I have every faith that one day, this might be me telling such wonderful stories to someone else embarking on a near impossible mission such as I did. I wish you luck. Really I do.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Love is in the air

Love is in the air. Da da da da da. Love is in the aiiiiiiir. What wonderful watching these two have made over the past few weeks. Utterly content with each other and just chilling out. I love it. Now, I have been told that my choice of music for this clip is absolutely cringe-worthy but I thought it must surely be better than Kev's suggestion of J'taime. Unimaginable isn't it - tainting these two sweethearts with such lewd lyrics. Tut tut Kevin.

But seriously, can it get any sweeter. When we first saw these two lovebirds it was all rubbing each other up and bickering. Now their relationship has blossomed into a chilled out relaxed-ness. Over the past two years my vast array of stealth cameras, GL80s and Prowler HD's, amongst others, have provided me with an amazing insight into the secret life of mammals (and other random creatures). I've seen rats leaping, and swinging from, ridiculous heights, I've seen hedgehogs scale blocks way too big for their little legs. Hey, I've even seen a group of badgers sitting around so similar to a group of old men, they might as well have been smoking pipes. Its all been wonderful (look at me getting all sentimental) but these badgers must be some of my favourite footage. Pure emotion. All they need now is a little cub pattering around their feet.

Badgers. I love you. I think that I've said all I can do about badger romance, except of course for this .....


Caught in a bad(ger) romance.

Oh-oh-oh-oh-oooh! Oh-oh-oooh-oh-oh!

Caught in a bad(ger) romance.


Want your bad(ger) romance

Absolutely terrible I know, but there you are. A bit of badger GaGa for you to enjoy. Who wouldn't love it? I do.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Go Prowler HD!

Theres nothing better than putting my cameras to good use. And by good use I mean finding the first records of badgers in a certain area (sssshhhh its a secret) for nigh on 60 years. Yep, Prowler HD to the rescue. My good ranger friend set up a couple of my cameras in a very unlikely spot after his son spotted a few strange holes (trust kids to clamber up and down cliffs and make such an exciting discovery). Thinking that capturing a fox on camera might be quite nice, the ranger (we'll call him Mike) left the camera to its own devices and thought nothing more of it.

So imagine his surprise (and mine) when the memory card was filled with badger antics such as these ...

And the good times kept on rolling. I currently have 3 discs full of clips of badgers that Mike has kindly given me (thank goodness he's a sharer) so my Tuesday at work is pretty darn cool. Meetings? Nah. Paperwork and spreadsheets? No thanks. Saving the planet one mammal at a time? Maybe tomorrow. Right now, watching badgers coat each other in musky scent and frolic in the dead of night is something that I can definitelty do.

And the exciting species didnt stop there. Last week met me with the descent of a flock of wax wings on the trees outside the wildlife trust's headquarters in Gosforth. My first sighting of wax wings ever. Who knew birds could be so awesome. No offence to all the bird lovers out there but as a general rule, if it aint a mammal (or an amphibian at a push), I aint interested. But really, what a great way to spend those last few minutes between work closing and the pub opening. Bliss.

Further bliss is the final, final showing of some colour in this barren winter landscape. The snowdrops are out and this gives me hope. Now I know these flower earlier than most but still, its nice to think that spring is finally on its way and with it, some sunshine and cutesy, fluffy cubs of all species for my cameras to film.

Friday, 7 January 2011

And so 2011 has arrived. Not so much with a bang as with a brrrrr but never mind things can only get warmer. I hope. All the snow must have caused some serious problems for all the wildlife out there but take comfort from these intrepid little travellers who don't look too fazed at all by the white stuff.

In fact, this fox looks positively bright eyed and bushy tailed considering the amount of snow it is having to plough through!

Just before Christmas, WildPlaces held its 'Iiiiiiits Chriiiiiistmas' (you guessed it) Christmas event. Despite the treacherous weather lots of lovely children and their parents ventured down to Jesmond Dene to join us in a crafty crafy morning. Good times we had. From making plant pot reindeers to candle table decorations and owl pencil holders, the kids got down and dirty in the name of Christmas and all the shiny, glittery, sparkling things that go with it. Here is a wee sample of the offerings of the day.....

So seeing as it the new year and only my first week back at work I'm afraid I have no exciting news to part with. I did see a lovely big fat mistle thrush which I thoroughly enjoyed but thats just by the by. So for now, please make do with these lovely wintery shots and have a great 2011!

Friday, 10 December 2010

Melting snow - finally!

Christmas is coming and the the world is starting to defrost. Life couldnt be better. Finally the squirrels, badgers, otters, foxes, birds and other will have something to drink and maybe, just maybe, something to eat in this brown sludge that was once called snow. Good times.

There are of course animals that are smart enough to bunk down somewhere warm and wait it out, others even leave the country (wimps) but for those of us with no choice but to brave the cold, all is not lost. But its a balmy six degrees out I hear you cry - the worst is over. That may be true (but again it may not, especially if we judge by previous weather forecasts - where was that indian summer so anticipated?) but we still need to think of the wildlife out there. Yep, they may now be able to drink, fish and whatnot in these newfound tropical conditions but this past fortnight would have left its mark. Leave fresh water (check that it doesnt freeze though!) and scraps out in the garden for birds and other wildlife (or at a feeding station if you are super motivated), and we can hopefully help our wildlife survive this horrible (but beautiful) winter, even if it is rapidly melting at the moment.

A school in Prudhoe has been leaving handmade honey-covered peanuts (a delicacy in badger land) out for their residents badgers although the little tykes did seem to enjoy ripping up the school field in favour of worms and other wrigglys once they had chomped all the peanuts up.

Admittedly this was before the worst of the snow hit but they seemed to be doing ok even when the ground was all frosty and white.

Yes, lets pretend the ground is all frosty and white here. Film was taken of these very badgers during the last two weeks of snow but I like this film better so thats what you get.

So what more is there to say than Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and Happy Mammal Hunting (in a lovey conservation way, not the guns and blood type).

Bring on 2011!

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Rain, the dene and school children. What fun!

Who loves drawing? I don't. In fact I'm terrible at it. I always used to get the creative guy in my class to do my art for me. Oh yes. I cheated at school. But only at art. Promise. As a general rule (in my job, not life before anyone gets offended) drawing and colouring in is normally accompanied by a mass of very excited primary school children. Hence the calming clip of a fox before I delve into the chaotic (yet fun) world of working with kids.

Over the past few weeks I have had the privilege of working with Class 15 from Atkinson Rd primary in Benwell. Now why does Benwell ring a bell? I would hope its because you've all taken note and have instantly thought of Benwell Dene. Well this was the plan with the kids. We did some mammal-y sessions at school and finally when I asked for a mammal example, I was not told eagle, owl or snake. That was the hard part over. Next was the visit to Benwell Dene to ooooh and aaaaah over the new pond dipping platform and to discover what mammals might be lurking in the dene. It all went rather well I think. The rain was lashing down but the kids all braved the weather and filed out of the school gates and into the dene. We were a little wet but our enthusiasm could not be dampened (Ba!Bom!). Off we set to look for tracks and trails (planted by me) and to 'crack the code' (wingdings, I love you). So yup, take 22 kids, in the wet, in a park. What do you get? Lots of muddy bottoms. Not great for the moms and dads when they got home. But so so so great for me. Never have I seen such anctics. Yes, my risk assesment covered 'slips, trips and falls' but not flying through the air superman-style or just how high kids could bounce. Hilarious. Best part of the day.

But anyway, what I am trying to get to is the drawing. The last phase of the Benwell Dene project is to put up an interpretation board, telling all and sundry about the fanatastic wildlife that can be found in here. This is where the drawing comes in. Once we were dry and warm back in the classroom, I got the kids to draw me mammals that they think might be found in the dene. Some wanted to draw rats which, while technically right, I didnt think would raise the dene's profile too much. Here are a couple which I think are just brilliant, weird or just downright disturbing. I'll leave you to decide which one falls in which category.