Jonathan: A few weeks back, at Eight Askernish, Denise and I were packing up having completed our winter programme of redecorating (including, this year, new carpets throughout). My final task before leaving was to set up the wildlife camera. On each of our visits to the house, I’d noticed ‘calling cards’ left by deer visiting the garden in search of food, so on this last visit I attached the wildlife camera to a rainwater down-pipe, and directed it at the area where the deer paw the ground in search of the naturalized crocosmia/mombretia bulbs (which are rich in carbohydrates and minerals). Today – with Alex and Frazer Fotheringham from Wester Ross about to arrive for a Hogmanay holiday, I removed the camera and checked the contents.
Disappointment, yet again! About 300 each of stills and videos, but no deer – no wildlife of any kind. In fact the only movement of living things caught was of the grasses and shrubs rocking about in the wind! The sensitivity of the infra-red detector is adjustable, and I’d set it to react only to movement within about 50m, but it appears that the camera was far more interested in passing traffic, on the Askernish road, which is about 150m away!
Passing Traffic – Tractor
Passing Traffic – Wind & Moonlight
What’s really interesting from the hundreds of images, capturing passing traffic – day and night, is that almost half of the traffic on the Askernish road is agricultural – and almost all of that tractors. In Askernish, at least, crofting is very much alive and well!
Jonathan: Yesterday evening I was rummaging in a drawer of techy stuff, searching for an assortment of small connectors. It suddenly occurred to me that of the ‘big fish’ items swirling around the drawer as I pursued my prey beneath and between them, one ‘big fish’ was missing. The wildlife camera. There was the remote controller – and there the USB cable … but no, no camera. So where could it be? The only places I wouId ever leave it would be in the drawer (nope!), on my desk (nope!), on the floor (aka desk overflow – nope!) or ‘in the field’.
It was 11pm, D was already in bed with the light out, and I’d already taken the dog out and the drawer-rummaging was only a minor diversion from my direct route to the land of nod. I couldn’t help suspect that the reason I couldn’t find the wildlife camera anywhere in the house was because it wasn’t there. To be specific, because I’d set it up somewhere – ‘in the field’, as they say – and forgotten about it.
Now, although my memory – whether long term, medium, or … now what was it I was going to write …. oh yes, indeed – short. Memory. Yes, whether or not my memory is what it was in former years, it’s not unreasonable to suppose that I probably didn’t set the camera up somewhere or other this morning. No, if I had, Denise would have reminded me that I’d done so. (By now I’d woken her up to discuss the urgent matter of the absent wildlife camera: as is so often the case with those roused from sleep, she really didn’t care much where it was, how dear it was to me, or even how dear it was to buy.) Quite. Hmmm.
Now I’m sure I can rely on your sympathy and understanding when I tell you that I have a number of behaviour traits normally associated with autism. (Very 21stC, I understand, though I suspect not for persons of my age. Presumably people think it’s something you grow out of, or autistic people die young and tragically?) One of these traits concerns things being in their proper place (and for that matter, there being a proper place for everything to be properly in – I think that’s the essence of what I’ve been working at here in Uist over 14 years!). A discovery like this upsets my equilibrium – and I really cannot easily go to sleep. So, nothing for it but to pull back on shoes, winter coat and hat – all still warm from having taken Tilly for her bedtime walk – and search the walled garden.
No moon last night, but a sky full of stars! Tilly and I had walked out and back by star-light alone, the torch needed only to flash a warning to a solitary passing car. But within the walls, around the outbuildings and under the trees – all the places where there might be wildlife to catch on camera (and somewhere to fix the thing!) – the torch was essential. Nope! Nothing.
Well, I’d done all I could for now, and reluctantly accepted that I probably could settle enough to go to sleep – but tomorrow I’d certainly have to search the croft.
Oh, another time-gobbling unplanned and unwanted task! Grrr!
So, this morning, I set about my usual crofting duties, eyes scanning for any likely spots, hoping I wouldn’t end up trudging around the boundaries of the entire croft and still return home empty-handed. I stopped still a moment, taking in the glorious view, the wonder of the minutae – individual stones, the curl of sheep’s horn, the gentle wheesh …. whaash of the sea on the shingle at low tide. Mode-switching: from autistic to artistic, from driven to delighted, and from worry … back to work. As this medicine took effect, my thoughts re-focussed and took an interest in what my eyes just happened to be pointing at. I was standing by the gaping doorway of the old stone house – the Seann Taigh, with views framed by the ruinous tumble of stone and timbers. There, strapped to one of the last two joists still propping up the walls, and watching over the ruined south gable – a favourite vantage point for gulls, ravens – and eagles, was the very thing I’d been tossing and turning in bed over. The wildlife camera!
Armed with coffee, quince jelly on toast, and the memory card, I set about discovering what the camera had been up to – and since when. The batteries had run flat, and the memory card was full – having stored more than 500 still pictures and the same number of 10-second videos: the first in early August, the last in early October. Intriguing!
And mysterious, too! It’s certainly a mystery to me what the camera was responding to, because none of the 1000-plus images showed anything of interest whatsoever – no living being or moving object of any kind, just an ever-changing sky. Except for one night-time infra-red picture, all were taken between 10am and 2pm, on certain days. Why … ? No idea! Nope – none at all!
Above: A study in stillness – A day in ruins – 31st August 2016
We’ve still not caught anything with this camera: it apparently functions correctly. Perhaps it’s just more interested in flora (with a special fasination with grasses waving in the wind and scudding clouds), rather than mere fauna!
Jonathan: I think the days of my camera are numbered. Problems started yesterday. Fine stripes across most photos. Failing to save photos – or taking an indefinite time to do so. Shutter not going back down. Today it got rapidly worse. Nothing about this in the handbook. No function to re-set to factory defaults. I’ve removed both operating and back-up batteries, formatted a new CF card … Here’s a sequence of the last photos I managed to get to save at all. I seem to recall reading, many years ago, about something that looked like this. Ah yes – it was A Brief History of Time. Stephen Hawking – describing what it would be like to be sucked into a black hole.
Hmm, do you think the camera should be disposed of as hazardous waste?