A Not So Secret Island

This is a slightly different blog to the ones I normally write. This time I will not be telling you the location of this walk. You will see the reason at the endnotei.

This blog is the result of a couple of visits to an island – which explains the very different weather conditions. The first day was really hot and had a forecast of sunshine all day. The second day was forecast for rain and strong gusty winds, and much cooler. I think it was over 10oC of difference between the two consecutive days.

This walk started from our village, along a local single track roadii that passes by some stables. This is now a very pleasant road to walk along as the lockdown has meant an overall reduction in traffic. Each day we only encountered a couple of vehicles.

The Stables

Not far from the stables we turned down to the island on a dirt-track type road. This is quite a steep road (well, that’s what my knees told me, although my fitness tracker may tell a different story). We then crossed a very old wooden bridge which afforded us views over the river. The trees on either side were in full leaf and looked stunning against the blue of the water and sky.

The island is about 99 acres in size and is mainly arable farmland although it has a path round the island. There also used to be an iron age fort on the island.

We turned left after we crossed the bridge. This took us onto a well trodden path at the edge of one of the fields. As the walk was in early June there were lots of spring flowers in bloom – a real bonus for many types of insects and wildlife. I do wish that more farms adopted this policy it would really benefit the wildlife.

Turn left at the bridge and there’s your path

Then, without warning we had a serious predicament! The path cut across the field. Now, I hate walking across fields especially when there is a crop in the field. However, this was a very well trodden path, and from doing a bit of research it appears as if the path has been here for many years. The path took us into another field and was now flanked by the field on the right and a small burn on the left.

Small burn at start of second field

Within a very short period of time we reached a small junction in the path. One small, obviously less well used track led off to the left – I suspect that this took us down to the most easterly part of the island, and we left that for us to explore another day. Instead we took the path that took us along the southerly part of the island.

The path for another day

Although the path took us along the field margin, there were several sections that diverted us down to the river edge where we could follow part of a riverside path.

Periodically we came across lots of small benches which I suspect are riverside beats for fishermen. However, there was one very nice bench which was dedicated to Dr Robin John Hope.

Memorial bench for Dr Robin John Hope

A short distance further on there was a small hut which I suspect was a fishermans hut. Around this area was a hive of activity. Not fishermen, but dozens of sand-martins and swifts flying around the hut.

If we had taken the path that followed the field margin we would have missed most of this. But ever worse, we would have missed the little bridge. Now, there is a warning that we were crossing at our own risk – so we did cross one at a time. However, the bridge did seem quite safe – although there was only a barrier at one side meaning there was nothing to stop you falling at the other. Now, that would have been a lovely dip on a hot summers day.

Cross At Your Own Risk

A short way on we then came across a much larger fishermans hut. We left the fisherman’s hut and branched out onto the path on top of a constructed embankment. This path was quite uneven as it was made up of hard core and covered by weather resistant fencing type material. This led out to a small building. As you will see from the photo it looked absolutely idyllic with a blue sky highlighting the distant hills, river, old trees and a very calm almost mirror like river.

As we reached the building we heard a very quiet rhythmic wooshing noise. Then the penny dropped – this was the hydro generating system that the local estate installed and then commissioned at the end of October 2015. Sure enough, as we drew nearer we saw two Archimedean Screw turbines. The wooshing was the water passing over their corkscrew style mechanisms. This was installed to provide energy to the local estate with excess capacity being fed back into the national grid.

We spent quite a bit of time here having a good look around the building to get some idea how it worked. The water very peacefully flowed under the front of the building and next to the turbines there were a couple of fishladder channels. This is really important as this river contains both trout and salmon.

After crossing the bridge, rather than taking the same route back to the village we walked through a path that crosses the bottom of the field margin. Again, this is a really broad field margin, full of grasses, wildflowers and trees. Occasionally we caught glimpses of the river through gaps in the vegetation. Finally we arrived back at the village, and the end of our walks.

i I live in Scotland and we are currently under what is commonly called ‘lockdown’ due to covid-19. However, a few days ago these measures were eased slightly and people can now travel/drive approximately 5 miles to take exercise. This however, has resulted in many people totally ignoring this instruction and travelling many miles to beauty spots. So, to avoid encouraging anyone to make a long journey to visit this island, I won’t be naming any of the locations.

ii I have seen many (very heated) discussions about different road types which have arisen due to a misunderstanding of the road discussed. A single track road is a road with one vehicle-width carriageway. This road is used by traffic going in both directions. Therefore, if one vehicle meets another vehicle one will have to go into the nearest passing place to let the other one pass. Vehicles are also meant to pull into passing places to let faster vehicles going in the same direction pass.


At the end of my last garden blog I left with the pond being completed but the remaining area between the pond and our boundary fence was still unworked.  This blog will look at the work we undertook to get this as we wanted it.  Unfortunately, while last spring/summer was filled with sunny days this year was the complete opposite.  One of the most frustrating things was that we had so little to do to complete the job but continual rain meant the area was completely unworkable, and although we did get some days of dry weather they were so few and far between that the area didn’t get a chance to dry out.

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The first thing that we tried to do was to dig over and rake the area to clear it off all the weeds and get it level for the next stage of landscaping.  As we had already decided that we were going to store the outdoor tools like the roller and wheelbarrow next to the fence we used a lot of the rocks we removed from the soil to produce a hard standing area next to the fence.  We also planted the area between the patio and the fence.  These were all plants that had been transplanted into pots before we started working on this complete area.

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We then moved onto the next stage which was constructing the compost heap and the bug hotel.  You may remember from our previous work that we had slabs delivered on wooden pallets.  Well, rather than throw them out we decided to recycle them into the ends and sides of our compost heap.  We used extra wood from previous projects to reduce some of the gaps.  As soon as we finished our wee friendly robin landed on it and inspected it.

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Next – our bug hotel.  Most people who know me will know that for the last few years I’ve been planning this bug hotel, and have been gathering some things to put into it.  Again, this was built from wood we had in the garage.  We’ve started filling it with well-rotted wood, partially rotten wood and freshly cut wood, dog hair, hay, pine cones, wood shavings and bamboo.  We still have lots of space so filling it will continue to be a work in progress.  We have deliberately stood it on lumps of wood as we intend filling the bottom area with leaves once they fall in the autumn.  This should give a good home for one of the many hedgehogs that visit our garden.

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We got to this stage and then it started to rain, and rain, and rain.  So, this stopped all work in this area as walking on it was turning it into a quagmire.  Eventually, several weeks later, it stopped raining for long enough to let the soil dry out sufficiently for us to work in the garden.  We still had some slabs left over from our patio(s) so we decided to make a short path from them, but as we still wanted this to look like a wilder area in the garden we left spaces between them to allow grass to grow through.  So, path building for us, and we were very pleased with the appearance – exactly what we wanted.

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DISASTER.  No sooner than we had completed the path it started raining again.  We had visions of the sand underneath the path being washed away.  After about a week of constant rain it finally stopped.  So we left it a couple of days to dry out and then we walked on the path only to see torrents of water streaming from under it with every step we took.  Obviously not dry enough to work round it then.

Finally we got some sun with the wind, and the area dried really quickly.  We gingerly walked on the path to see if we would have to re-lay any of the slabs but no, they were all OK.  Now we were able to landscape the area around the path.

Our intention had always been to put screening up to hide the worst of the storage area.  After a lot of deliberation we decided on putting up a brushwood screen as it wouldn’t be a complete barrier.  We also decided that we wouldn’t put the screening down to the soil level as we wanted to allow space for the hedgehogs to wander through the garden.  We had already bought the screening but needed to fit it to a frame.  More wood came out of the garage and we built the frame and attached the screening.  We thought it would be really difficult to hammer the wood into the soil, but no, down they went quite easily.  We put the frame uprights about 40 – 50 cms into the soil.  To finalise this area we planted honeysuckles at each corner.

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Now, we could finalise the landscaping and planting in this area.  We planted grass seed on both sides of the path and in-between the path slabs.  The area between the shed and the path, and the area between the path and the irises were planted with a Scottish wildflower seed mix.  We hope this will give an area of traditional Scottish wildflowers for all the insects and birds to enjoy.  We used old CDs on string to try to persuade the local woodpigeons not to eat the seed until it is established.  Once established the CDs will be removed.

seeded path

Area completed and the grass seed and wildflower seed sown.

Another area of our garden that has always been a disappointment to us is the area next to our gate.  There is an old tree stump there that we cannot dig out which makes it really difficult to mow.  As I had some wildflower seed left over, I decided to sow more wildflowers in this area.  We have laid a wooded border to delineate the end of the grass and the start of the wildflowers.  This is purely to allow us to know where we can stop mowing the grass and let the wildflowers establish themselves.

Seeded area at gate

Wildflower area between wooded boundary and garden gate

Finally, we reseeded the grass area as it has suffered a lot of wear and tear due while we were carrying out the landscaping.

Completed area for this year

Area completed this year: wildflower area, pond, patio, screening, compost heap and bug hotel

Have we managed to enjoy our garden?  Well, not really.  We get the occasional glimpses of sunshine but the cold, wet and windy theme has now continued into July – but who knows, next week could see the weather improve.  I will live in hope.

Pond, Patio and Planting

In our last blog we covered the hard landscaping of the pond.  This blog will cover the completion of the pond and marginal landscaping.

Once we picked up the pond liner and other bits and pieces our next task was to empty the remaining water from the bottom of the pond.  There was a reason for this.  We knew that we had both newts and a frog in the bottom of the pond.  We also knew there were lots of pond insects mixed in there too.  We also knew that in the gunge at bottom of the pond there may be other valuable wildlife such as caddis fly larvae etc, so, out came the buckets and the whole lot got emptied into a trugg for temporary safe keeping.

7023 liner as placed

Pond liner in place, and trugg containing the wildlife

The pond liner we bought when we first did the pond several years ago was quite difficult to fit.  We deliberately chose a good quality one at the time, but it was really awkward to work with.  And, it was plastic.  This time we purchased an eco rubber liner.  I fully expected to take all afternoon trying to fight with it to get it to lie into the ledges correctly.  It was beautiful to work with, really flexible and moulded into the ledges really well.  I think I finished the whole thing in less than an hour.

7033 moulded liner

Pond liner moulded into ledges

At the same time as picking up the liner we also picked up a couple of water lilies as these had to be positioned at the bottom of the pond.  We had loads of underlay left over so we placed the lilies on these.  Now, we had to return the pond residents to their rightful home.  Once all this had been done we could sit back and relax and not worry about the rain headed our way – after all, it would help fill the pond for us.  Hmmmph, the rain did come, according to my rain gauge all 0.3mm of it.

7035 bottom of liner filled

Water lilies, oxygenator bags and wildlife now introduced

Before we started this project we had taken some of the marginal, and pond plants out, potted them up and kept them well watered.  We planted up the pond plants and positioned them in the pond.  As we had some old radiator bricks in the garden we placed them on pieces of underlay and used them as a level surface for the pots.  Now, we could start filling up the pond.

7040 2nd level filled

Next set of plants in the pond and starting to fill pond with water

We had already taken the decision that we would fill up the pond layer by layer.  This would allow the liner to settle nicely into the pond, and would give us time to check that each layer of planting was looking as we expected.  As this was to be a pond mainly for wildlife I hadn’t intended introducing a pump, especially as I didn’t want to have to cable electricity back to the house.  However, I did have concerns that if the water was stagnant we would get blue green algae growth, which we had for a couple of years the last time we attempted a pond until the pH levels evened out.  When we were picking up our liner we were asked if we had thought of a solar powered pump to give some water circulation.  So, on a later visit to pick up oxygenators we also bought a small solar powered pump.

7048 Stone containers and plants

Pump, oxygenators and gravel trays

We also knew that the side of the pond nearest to the fence and the end which would be nearest to the patio would be slightly steeper than we would like, and would cause problems when we came to placing the gravel.  We suspected the gravel would not sit properly.  You may have seen plastic gravel containers at the garden centre – these are designed to keep gravel contained in a path etc.  Well, they are really easy to cut, so we got a pack, cut them to size, placed them on underlay and then filled them with gravel.  This would make it much easier to achieve an impression of the gravel dipping under the water edge without losing all the gravel.

7060 taram down

Landscaping next to fence – now waiting the gravel

While it was really tempting to continue with the pond, we were also aware that before we could finish the pond we would have to complete the height of the overflow to the drainage ditch.  That meant completing the marginal area between the pond and the back garden fence.  So, these were dug over, shrubs planted and weed suppressing membrane laid.  Now, we could tie the marginal area and pond together using the gravel.  We were really pleased at how well we were able to integrate the gravel using the plastic holders.  They worked as we had intended.  This allowed us to continue to fill the pond.  Once we reached the correct height of the pond we made very small alterations to the overflow channel so that any further water would drain away into the drainage ditch rather than keep filling up the pond.

As mentioned earlier, we had intended designing this as a dried river bed.  We decided that we would achieve this effect by making it look as if it was a rock strewn area, with cobbles and slightly different coloured gravel.  We also decided that we would have the dried river bed at both sides of the pond.

7070 start of gravelling back

Starting to gravel, pleased with the gravel containers

We gradually worked round the pond, bedding down the setts, laying weed suppressing membrane and gravelling each area.  However, once we came to the back of the pond we made the decision to stop at that stage, and to lay the path and patio.  Once we had this completed we would be able to finish laying the setts and then complete the pond.

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The patio area was completed really quickly.  Now, we knew its exact location we were able to complete the landscaping between the patio and the pond.  This was to be home to several primulas that had been rescued from the pond area at the end of last year.  We now had a final home for the solar panel to the pond.  This meant that we could finalise all the gravel at the pond edge.

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The final planting of further marginals and primulas and the inclusion of two potted grasses, and a piece of gnarled wood made up the final touches to the pond project.

7159 primulae

Primula from our old pond now happily replanted

You will have noticed that I haven’t mentioned Willow our Labrador, and supervisor, on this part of the project.  Well, that’s because she said she was far too busy so contracted out the supervision to a robin.  What was her other more important task …… SLEEPING ON THE JOB!

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Next project, it will be the area between the patio/pond area and the fence between us and our neighbours.

The Hard Landscaping

I left you at the end of our last blog with a definite plan, and the first stage was to define the area.  We decided we wanted quite a large curved area for the total pond and marginal area.  We established the curved theme when we added the paths a couple of summers ago.  Also, I love the feel in a garden that a curve pulls you into an area.  Then, what to do with the tree?  This tree when we first planted it was lovely – if you check back on the Willow. Pond.  blog entry you will see it several years ago.  Then slowly it deteriorated.  A few years ago we cut off all the dead and it seems to have been making a comeback over the last year or two.  This year, although really small, its better looking than it has ever been.  So, we would include the tree within the gravelled area.

6970 overall area

Setting out the setts

The last time we created our pond we built in small ledges to give different heights for the different plant types.  But they didn’t go round the whole pond, and there weren’t enough of them.  This time we remedied this.  We started re-modelling the interior of the pond to include ledges that went round the whole pond.

At the end of the winter, when the hole in the ground was full of water we marked the top edge of the water with metal spikes.  You may remember in my previous pond blog I mentioned that our other error when we created our last pond was that it wasn’t completely level.  We used the metal spikes not just to mark the area of the pond, but also used a spirit level to set up a simple string guide to make sure that the pond was completely level.

7000 Layers in pond

Starting to define the layers

Once we had the interior complete, out came the spirit level and each part of the pond was checked to make sure it was level, and that we had kept the level across the width and length.  There was one addition to our team.  Willow was still supervising, but this time she had an apprentice – a little Robin.  There he was, every time we moved, waiting to pick up grubs and worms.  Several times we had to stop and wait for him to finish what he was doing – well, that’s our excuse for taking a break, and we’re sticking to it.

Robin On Sett

Robin – our supervisor

We got to this stage and then things got a wee bit panicky.  We had expected that this part would take us most of the spring and summer.  We fully expected, as we live in the north of Scotland, for us to get so far, rain, pond fill up and then have to wait for it to empty before we could get any further.  But no, so far so good, no rain!  BUT! Now we had a pond, no liner, and rain was forecast.  Not a problem! Fishkeeper Scotland has a store in one of the local garden centres and they happily reserved a liner and underlay for us.  Phew.  Now all we had to do was visit Inverness and pick it up before the rain.

In the next blog I’ll cover the building of the pond and marginal area.

Great Plans for the Pond

Well, at the end of the last blog we left you with this: a drainage ditch, a muddy pond and bits of pond liner.  Where next?

Completed Drainage Ditch

Drainage ditch, muddy pond and bits of pond liner

One of the major mistakes we made last time we constructed the pond was that we hadn’t thought through the pond marginal area and how we would keep it maintained.  This time, and one of our main activities over the winter, was coming up with ideas how the pond would fit into the rest of the garden, what its immediate surrounds would be, and how we would stop the grass encroaching into the area.  We quite quickly came to the conclusion that we wanted a gravel and rock surround, but of course then came the problem of keeping that enclosed without the inevitable mix of grass and gravel.  Up stepped the humble sett.  If you don’t know how we ‘rescued’ these you can read more in my blog entry Spring Work – Summer Relax.  We decided that we’d circle the whole pond and marginal area with the setts.  Question was – would we have enough?

6970 overall area

Estimating the number of setts we’d need round the pond

Then, I came up with another idea.  I decided that I wanted the pond to look as if it had been left behind as an ox-bow lake as part of a meandering river.  Then the idea came that the area on top of the drainage ditch was to be the dried out river bed of this meandering river.  This also served another purpose – we could, at a glance, tell exactly where the drainage ditch was.

So, this was all coming together nicely: we sorted defining the area, the ‘story’ of the pond and river; now we decided we wanted somewhere to sit.  Yes, you are quite right, we have already got 2 patios in the garden.  However, as we had to buy palettes of patio slabs last year we inevitably had some left over.  The planning for patio number 3 had started.  This wasn’t going to be a big patio it was just enough for 2 chairs and a wee table.  The location was also quite obvious too – it was to be in the last bit of the garden to get sunshine in the early evening.

Well, with that all sorted – now the really hard work could begin.

Willow.  Pond.  

Now it wasn’t perfect, in life things rarely are.  It did provide a habitat for frogs and toads, and the plants provided shelter and food for lots of insects.  We’d never created a pond before, it was our first attempt and it looked OK until we had heavy rain over a prolonged period.  Then we acquired an island.  In the middle of the pond, this pond liner “island” would appear.  OK, we also didn’t quite get our levels correct and one side was slightly lower than the other – but more about this later.

Pond in 2007

Completed Pond with Willow as a 3 month old puppy in the background

But, these problems were nothing compared to what was about to hit our pond.

Onto the scene came Willow.  A lovely, fox-red Labrador puppy.  Being a typical puppy she was into everything, and being Labrador loved water.  One day we thought she was being a wee bit too quiet in the garden so looked to see what she was up to and there it was: the offending pond liner, in bits, strewn across the lawn, totally destroyed, and unrepairable.

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As I type this, Willow who is now a grand old lady of (nearly) twelve is lying next to me, snoring away.  But, nearly 12 years since “pondgate” the time has come and we have to take action.  We’re going to sort it!

You may remember that last year we tackled the garden at one side of our house.  After we did all the digging we had lots of soil left over.  We used that to raise the side of the pond that had been slightly lower than the other.

We also decided to put in a drainage ditch and water retention sump between the pond and the fence.  At the end of last year that was dug out.  We didn’t quite finish it as the Scottish winter beat us, and the sump was finally completed this week.

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However, despite heavy rain and winter storms we realised things had changed our garden.  Normally, when we walk between the pond and fence we squelch our way through mud.  Not this year.  Obviously it was damp, but not boggy quagmire wet. I hear you say, drainage ditch.  Nope, apart from wee puddles in the bottom that wasn’t full of water either.  So, that blew apart our theory that we had a really high water table and it was that which created the “island”.  So, currently, my “working theory” is that the water overflowed the pond and created a really wet environment both under and around the pond.  Like I said, a “working theory” which will be tested over time.

I suppose one of the advantages of being married to an environmental engineer who, before he retired, specialised in flood risk assessments (yep I know, ironic) is that he knew how to build a really good drainage ditch.  Obviously, he wasn’t going to be irresponsible and simply stick in a drainage pipe and drain off to the path behind our property, so he constructed the water retention sump which will hold the water and allow it to percolate away naturally.  He’s also planned soft engineering of planting around the area.

So, that was this week’s work: pulling the remains of the old liner out of the pond, lining the drainage ditch with weed suppressing liner, lugging enough pea gravel from the sack in the drive to the drainage ditch to allow us to have a layer under the drainage pipe.  Laying the drainage pipe, and ensuring that it was correctly positioned into the sump.  Finally, lugging the remaining ton of pea gravel to the drainage ditch to ensure the pipe was correctly covered.

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Ah, I remember now, I don’t think I mentioned that we’re not just repairing the damage Willow created, oh no, after last years gardening exploits we’ve decided we’re giving the whole pond area a massive “facelift”.  I will try to keep posting on this blog to keep you up to date with how this is progressing.

Completed Drainage Ditch

Drainage ditch complete

Now, more importantly, what does Willow think of all this?  Well, at every stage, there she is, inspecting all our work.  When we’re busy lugging barrow after barrow of gravel she’s just lying there calmly watching, supervising.  Wait, is she dreaming?  Oh no, perhaps she’s dreaming about what she wants to do to this pond!

The Fishwife in my Head

Last year we were very fortunate to walk a length of road that is normally submerged under a loch (see In the Footsteps of those who went before).  As you will see I took many photos along that route but there was something bothering me.  It was a woman, a fishwife.

Facing Contin direction length of road

Road which is normally submerged under Loch Glascarnoch

While I was walking the road I kept imagining the people who would have used it.  This fishwife kept creeping into my thoughts.  No, I’d try to get rid of her by thinking of other people, but yet there she was.  Lingering.  Interrupting.  Butting into my thoughts.

Whenever I’ve thought of the road since then, there she is.  She’s not gone away.  She’s still there, walking down that road, with her creel on her back. Perhaps she’s on her way to sell her fish, perhaps she’s away to collect durkins (pine cones which were used on fires to smoke fish) perhaps she’s making her way home after a long day.  But there she is, a fishwife, walking down the Fish Road.

Fast forward a few months and I was visiting the town of Nairn in Scotland and there she was.  A fishwife.  This one wasn’t the one of my imagination; this was a beautiful bronze statue by Ginny Hutchison and Charles Engebretson of the Nairn fishwife Annie Ralph.

Nairn Fishwife front

Statue by Ginny Hutchison & Charles Engebretson of the Nairn fishwife, Annie Ralph

So, now I had my fishwife, all I had to do was insert her into the photo that was waiting for her, and my visualisation would be complete.  Now fishwife can I please stop thinking about you?

Road in loch looking eastwards with fishwife

The image of a fishwife on the Fish Road that has been hounding me for the last year.



Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

Until I visited the Highland Wildlife Park (HWP) I had never heard of the Mishmi Takin.  This is one animal that you can’t say ‘it looks like a…’ as you’d then have to start listing a long list of other animals.  It’s a very distinctive looking animal in its own right.

These are large, muscular animals who, from ground to shoulder, stand at 105cm (female) – 120 cm (male) with a body length of 170 – 220 cm and a body weight approximately 250 – 400 kg.  They have impressive crescent-shaped  horns which can be 64 – 90 cm long and are ridged at the base.  Another outstanding feature is their nose.  It’s very large and contains sinuses which warm up the air before it reaches its lungs – this stops loss of body heat.  They don’t have skin glands but do secrete an oily, strong smelling substance which covers their coat.  This provides them with protection from fog, rain and other moisture.  They also have a thick secondary coat which they shed in the summer.  As you look at them, you’ll see that they have a stripe down their backs.  They also have split hooves.

I won’t tease you any longer, this is the Mishmi takin:

Solitary mishmi takin lying sleeping

Mishmi Takin lying down with its mouth slightly open

If I asked what animal do you think the Mishmi Takin are most closely related to, what would you say?

The Mishmi Takin (Budorcas taxicolor taxicolor) is a subspecies of the Takin (Budorcas taxicolor).  You probably wouldn’t believe it but its most closely related to the aoudad, or Barbary, sheep of North Africa.  However, it does share a lot of characteristics with goats and antelopes, and despite their size can be very nimble.  Due to their size and strength they tend not to have too many natural, wild predators except for wolves and tigers.

They are ruminants who will eat almost any vegetation they can find.  This includes tough leaves of evergreens, bark of pine and willow trees, bamboo and rhododendron leaves. They can also stand on their back legs to reach higher and new grown shoots.  In fact, quite often when visiting the HWP I have seen them standing on their back legs eating from their feeding troughs.  They tend to eat early in the morning and late afternoon.  In the wild, they can travel great distances to get salt deposits as they require a large mineral intake.

Mishmi takin lying in a group

As ruminants its usual for Mishmi Takin lying around ‘chewing the cud’

The Mishmi Takin tend to live in herds which can be very large.  During the spring/summer period they can be as large as 300 animals.  The herd is made up of young males, subadults, young kids and adult females who are referred to as cows.  The older bull males tend to be solitary animals and only join up with the herd during the rut, also known as the breeding season.  The cows tend to have a single kid and give birth in dense woodland.  During the winter, in the wild, there tends to be less food so the herd tends to break into much smaller herds of around 30 animals.

Mishma Takin standing in woods

Single Mishmi Takin behind a fence.  Look at the tree behind – its been stripped by a Mishmi

Don’t worry you are not going to bump into any of these animals as they aren’t found in the wild in Scotland.  They are found in China, India, Myanmar and Bhutan.  It was thought that the subspecies found in Bhutan was a completely separate subspecies but the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) found that these were part of the Mishmi subspecies.

Mishmi Takin standing feeding as group

Mishmi Takin grazing on grass with dense woodland behind

The Mishmi Takin is on the Red List as Vu (Vulnerable) and decreasing.  It’s listing of A2cd has been based on a probably decline of at least 30% over the last three generations.  This last assessment was made in 2008.  In China the main threat is hunting mainly for the traditional medicine trade whereas in Myanmar they are hunted for bushmeat.  However, one of their other main threats is loss of their habitat caused by deforestation and competition with other species.

The European Studbook (ESB) for this species is managed by RZSS.








Highlandwildlifepark.org.uk. (2019). Mishmi Takin | Highland Wildlife Park. [online] Available at: http://www.highlandwildlifepark.org.uk/animals-attractions/animals/mishmi-takin/ [Accessed 8 Mar. 2019].


Song, Y.-L., Smith, A.T. & MacKinnon, J. 2008. Budorcas taxicolorThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008: e.T3160A9643719. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2008.RLTS.T3160A9643719.en. Downloaded on 08 March 2019.


Miller, M. (2019). Meet the Takin: The Largest Mammal You’ve Never Heard Of. [online] Cool Green Science. Available at: https://blog.nature.org/science/2018/01/22/meet-the-takin-the-largest-mammal-youve-never-heard-of/ [Accessed 8 Mar. 2019].


Tibet Nature Environmental Conservation Network. (2019). TAKIN – Tibet Nature Environmental Conservation Network. [online] Available at: http://www.tibetnature.net/en/takin/ [Accessed 8 Mar. 2019].


Animals.sandiegozoo.org. (2019). Takin | San Diego Zoo Animals & Plants. [online] Available at: https://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/takin [Accessed 8 Mar. 2019].

WOLVERINE (Gulo gulo)

The animals that I’ve found difficult to see in the Highland Wildlife Park (HWP) are wolverine (Gulo gulo).  We’ve found the best times are when the park first opens in the morning as they tend to be quite active then.  We’ve had several visits where we haven’t seen any as they have been well camouflaged by the topography of their enclosure.  But this week when we visited they were quite active for periods throughout the day. In the wild wolverine would be a largely nocturnal animal but do have some daylight activity.

Of course, we have to remember that the wolverine is a very shy creature who, in the wild, will often be a loner.  The female will dig out a den in the snow and will give birth to her kits there.  She will then be visited by the male from time to time after the kits have been born.   This week, at the HWP we saw one wolverine running around, and then suddenly saw a second one.  As you’ll see from the photo it was hidden away by the topography and initially we only saw the face.


Look closely – we nearly missed this wolverine – I’ve marked it to make it easier for you to see

Wolverine belongs to the mustelidae or weasel family.  However, they are much bigger than a weasel being 66 to 86 cms long, the tail can add another 18 to 25 cms to their length. They weigh approximately 11 to 18 kgs.  They are known to have a fierce nature and are very strong.   Their legs are very powerful and paws end in very strong claws.  In the snow their paws are known to spread to almost twice their normal size as they spread flat and wide to act as snowshoes.   In the wild they live, on average, about 7 years.

Wolverine near shelter

Wolverine running near its shelter – look at its claws

One of the most distinctive things about the wolverine is their coat.  This is thick and oily and is almost impenetrable to water which means it can live in exposed shelters in harsh conditions.  Wolverine don’t live in the wild in Scotland but are resident in the circumpolar regions of the United States;  Canada; Norway; Sweden; Finland; Russian Federation; China; Mongolia.  They are also present in Estonia but are a vagrant population.

In the wild females have a range of 100 to 200 km2 while the males have 100 to 500 km2.  This means that there will be several females within the range of one male.  They normally have extensive seasonal movements and normally prefer living in boreal forests made up of pines, firs, spruce etc. and tundra.  Within the HWP the male and female wolverine normally share the same tree and bush studded enclosure.

Wolverine at tree

Wolverine running round part of its enclosure

In the wild, being an omnivore, Wolverine have a varied diet.  While they will eat berries and plants they tend to prefer meat.  They actively hunt smaller animals eg rodents, musk-deer, hares and roe deer; and, have been known to hunt larger animals such as moose, reindeer and sheep.    Wolverine are well known as scavengers eating prey which have been abandoned by other carnivores as well as animals that have succumbed to injury or disease. They can eat parts of prey that others don’t such as bones and teeth.

Wolverine with horse tail for blog

Wolverine eating – look at the size of the canine tooth

Wolverine also cache large amounts of meat.  Recent research has shown that they live in a ‘refrigerator zone’ where insects and bacteria won’t spoil their meat.    They also have a keen sense of smell which allows them to locate prey 20 feet under the snow.

They are categorised as Least Concern (LC) on the Red List but their numbers are decreasing.  One of their threats is global warming affecting the arctic polar area as they build their natal dens into snow.  However, they are also affected by increasing urbanisation, tourism, recreation, roads & railroads, farming & ranching, logging/wood harvesting, hunting & trapping.  Their main predators are wolves but normally predators such as bears, mountain lions and eagles would go after young and inexperienced wolverines as they aren’t as strong as the adults.

Next time we visit the HWP I’ll make sure I take a few minutes longer to watch the wolverine and if I can’t see them immediately I’ll spend some time looking for them up a tree, hiding under bushes or nestled in a hollow in the landscape.



Abramov, A.V. 2016. Gulo gulo. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T9561A45198537. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T9561A45198537.en. Downloaded on 07 March 2019.


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Highlandwildlifepark.org.uk. (2019). Wolverine | Highland Wildlife Park. [online] Available at: http://www.highlandwildlifepark.org.uk/animals-attractions/animals/wolverine/ [Accessed 7 Mar. 2019].


Sciencing. (2019). Wolverine Animal Facts. [online] Available at: https://sciencing.com/wolverine-animal-5438022.html [Accessed 7 Mar. 2019].


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Landa, A., Strand, O., Linnell, J. D. C. and Skogland, T. 1998. Home-range sizes and altitude selection for arctic foxes and wolverines in an alpine environment. Canadian Journal of Zoology 76: 448-457.


One of the animals that enchant me every time I see it at the Highland Wildlife Park (HWP) at Kincraig, is the Eurasian Lynx (Lynx lynx).  Why?  I think it’s the face and eyes.  It has a very wise, ‘old’ face and always leaves me with the feeling that it has read me, and knows every thought I have.

I have been visiting the HWP many times over the years but this week I saw something I haven’t seen before.  One of the lynx was up a tree.  Just lying, chilling, watching, knowing; up a tree.  Why was I surprised, it’s a cat, and that’s what cats do.

Lynx sitting in a tree

In the middle of the picture is a Northern Lynx, sitting in a tree

So do Lynx normally climb trees?  In the wild they do and it is quite common for them to cache carcasses in trees.  So, it was nice to see natural behaviour from these cats.  We’ve also noticed that very often the Lynx at HWP hides in the dense undergrowth of their enclosure.  If you look very carefully amongst the bushes you may catch a glimpse of them sleeping.  Again, this is very natural behaviour as lynx is mainly nocturnal or crepuscular so tend to spend the day sleeping in dense bushes and shrubs.  They also tend to be solitary and secretive animals, except when mothers have kittens.

It’s not until you see a Lynx up close you realise how big they are.  The average height of a Lynx is about 65-75 cms and weighs about 15-29 kgs.  To put this into perspective, we have a Labrador dog and she weighs about 30 kg and is about 58 cms.

Lynx Sitting

2 Lynx sitting next to each other.  One in profile the other facing the camera

In the wild their prey species would include small hoofed mammals (ungulates) eg roe deer or smaller prey like hares.

The lynx has a very wide range which extends throughout Europe and Central Asia.  This has led to a proposal for 6 different subspecies.  The HWP has Northern Lynx (Lynx lynx lynx) which are slightly greyer and less spotted than more southern subspecies.  In the wild the Northern lynx would be found in Northern Europe, Scandinavia, Finland, the Baltic states and part of Russia.  There are currently no Lynx in the wild in Scotland, Northern Ireland or the rest of the United Kingdom.

Due to this wide range they have a variety of habitats but in Europe they most commonly live in deciduous and mixed forests.  This is a habitat that is reflected within their HWP enclosure.  However, in Western Europe their habitat is under threat due to increased urbanisation/deforestation and the loss of their prey species.  They are also persecuted due to stock killing and illegal poaching.  Although they have a Red List categorisation of LC (Least Concern) some subpopulations within Europe have become isolated and are categorised as Endangered or Critically Endangered.

2 sleeping lynx and one standing guard

Two Lynx lying sleeping, facing the camera, being guarded by another Lynx (in profile)


Breitenmoser, U., Breitenmoser-Würsten, C., Lanz, T., von Arx, M., Antonevich, A., Bao, W. & Avgan, B. 2015. Lynx lynx (errata version published in 2017). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T12519A121707666. Downloaded on 05 March 2019. From https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/12519/121707666,


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Highlandwildlifepark.org.uk. (2019). Northern Lynx | Highland Wildlife Park. [online] Available at: http://www.highlandwildlifepark.org.uk/animals-attractions/animals/northern-lynx/ [Accessed 5 Mar. 2019].

Kaczensky, P., Chapron, G., von Arx, M., Huber, D., Andrén, H. and Linnell J. (eds). 2012. Status, management and distribution of large carnivores – bear, lynx, wolf & wolverine – in Europe. This document has been prepared with the assistance of Istituto di Ecologia Applicata and with the contributions of the IUCN/SSC Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe under contract N° 070307/2012/629085/SER/B3.