Sunday, 31 December 2017

Unexpected Garden Visitor

in October my eldest went to a Spaianish island for a week of work experience which he'd won in a writing competition. On the 4 o'clock get up for the airport my son and wife spotted a hedgehog in our garden.

A few weeks passed and I spotted the tell take small cigar shaped droppings of a hedgehog So I had a quick squint at several website pages the RSPCA's hedghog care information and dug out some mealworms from our supply of bird table food.

I had my trail cam out already set up in the garden as I had a chicken carcass out to try and attract Red Kites in (memories of Steve the rabbit). Here you can see the meal worm bowl as I remove the chicken for the night. The RSPCA site said that chicken, if left out, must be finely chopped for hogs whereas all the pieces were deliberately large for Kites to potentially grab.

We also get a load of cats passing through that would have scoffed the chicken if left out and indeed they quite often pass a movement too!

And sure enough we had a visitor, not once but on several (but not necessarily consecutive) nights. Apparently they can cover a couple of kilometres in a night so it's perhaps not surprising that we didn't have it at our beck and call.

I set the trail cam up in several different locations and swopped over the chicken and the mealworms depending who I was enticing. I keep chicken carcasses in the freezer so I was able to do so over a number of days. When it visited it cleaned the bowl out.

We noticed that the hedgehog had a light mark on it's left hand rump which looked a bit odd, and boy did it scratch a lot as seen in the above movie clip.

Due to the regular visitations of cats I decided not to use cat food for obvious reasons but if we had the odd night that the hog didn't visit the birds were in there like a shot. In the above clip one of the pigeons actually scares the Magpie off which I've not seen before. Actually the Wood Pigeons regularly ate from the chicken carcasses meant for the Kites. On that note I've had the Kites swoop into the garden but as yet I've not managed to capture it with either my trail cam or my DSLR set on movie mode inside.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Paul Kirtley Tree & Plant ID Masterclass

As I'm sure you may know Paul Kirtley is a great sharer of information in many guises from blog to his ongoing #askpaulkirtley series and to be honest I can't think of a professional bushcraft/ outdoors instructor who can match his output. So when an email came through about a new online course I was curious to see what it was all about.

The Three Fs promotional video has Paul using it to define what the course was all about (not surprisingly), it was the launch of his Tree and Plant Masterclass. You'll need to set aside about 40 minutes to view it and I recall some folk on social media saying that it was a bit too long, well it is long I grant you but if you are serious about ID you'll need to commit time to the course anyway but more on that later. There are various links on this page which will get you more information.


Basically to sum the video up it said that books and courses can touch on tree and plant ID but never do it in any great depth and that this course takes all the information needed and distils it into seasonal modules. I recommend that you watch the whole way through but if you watch from about the 24:10 mark you'll get a view of what has been distilled into the masterclass. 

 At the end of the original video Paul talks about the cost of joining, now you might be familiar with the Austin Powers franchise, well the introductory video, when it got to the cost, reminded somewhat of the famous Dr Evil  one hundred million dollars ransom scene

I'd made my interest in joining during my sabbatical known to Paul and he messaged me to say that there was a early bird booking portal open which I assume will run year on year but please check and don't take my word as gospel. Like the Frontier Bushcraft courses the masterclass offered a money back guarantee, specifically if not satisfied after the first month which I assume will still apply but do please check. 


I think the first thing to say about the Tree and Plant Masterclass is that it is, quite literally, a masterclass on trees and plants 'From  a bushcraft and survival perspective' (a phrase you hear a lot during the modules). The second thing to say is that it isn't a bushcraft 'How to' course and whilst uses and techniques are discussed Paul encourages the user to visit his copious volume of work across several media channels to cross reference. Equally, this isn't a series of videos where Paul just says 'This is a useful dandelion' and 'This is poisonous Hemlock', the modules take you into some detail about the flora from genera to Latin names to knowing your drupes from your stomatal bands. 

I'd suggest that if you are the sort of person who really wants to advance their identification skills and stops to look at every tree and plant when out and about then seriously consider it. It's also worth noting that it isn't centred just on the UK but covers Europe and North America too.


There is one vaguely similar course that I'd previously signed up for online and that is Marcus Harrison's wild food mentor which I joined in the Spring of 2011 and whilst it supplies useful information and recipes it is limited to edible plants only. I also searched for other similar courses to offer a comparison and the nearest I could find was a limited place course (February to August) which has a tutor assigned to each pupil who oversees the 'homework' and makes corrections. The masterclass covers more, is bushcraft specific, runs right up to the end of the year, is updated and is well priced against this.

Now to illustrate what you will see during the online tutelage I have done some screen grabs but I've deliberately tried to make them basic but representative because I don't want to give too much away. It's both Paul's baby and also I wouldn't want to spoil the experience for those following on after me. It is worth mentioning that this package is separate from Paul's body of work that he puts out, he has purposely made it so that the sections can't be downloaded and viewed later as this is a source of income for him and downloads could be shared around. 

Well I'll start right at the very beginning. This is a shot of the opening welcome video that gives you an overview of the course. There is also a members area to introduce yourself in too.

There are other videos but  the information sections (screen casts) use the standard screen (above) onto which information and pictures are projected at the correct time with Paul narrating in some detail throughout. He also adds any apposite links to his blogs etc and encourages the listener to use any knowledge that they have to aid the learning process. You'll see this style in parts of the 3 Fs video mentioned earlier if you watch it.

The modules are released for viewing at the appropriate time in the year which gives you plenty of time to study and get outside. The seasons during my year were a little out of kelter but there's not a lot you can do about that! Interestingly module eight was a little delayed because Paul had re-recorded it and the sound levels weren't brilliant on it and he had to re-do it. It did hold up the module up as stated but actually I drew a positive out of this in  that it would have been easy for Paul to rest on his laurels but he pro-actively wanted to improve the module content. It's also worth re-iterating that there was still plenty of information to digest in the previous seven modules at that moment in time. 

And this is a general shot of the navigation dashboard early on in the course which has module and forum access plus any house keeping announcements that Paul occasionally added. It should be stated that the masterclass has migrated to a general learning portal since I did and this screen is from the previously separate masterclass.

And yes homework, you didn't think Paul was going to just spoon feed you did you? Again all relevant to the season and current module and this is a timely point to reinterate that you need to allow time for this masterclass. Out of this section sprang my Facebook album entitled #myhomeworkwood and another called #treeplantid which is the tag that Paul encourages those signed up to use when putting pictures up on social media platforms. My pictorial offering by the end of the course was, at one stage, in excess of 300 pictures which to be fair also included some non-bushcraft species too.

As well as homework the course also offers several printable worksheets too.


There is also a live interaction with Paul in the shape of six webinars, well seven actually as he added a  bonus one in towards the end of the year that I did it. They are usually scheduled on a Tuesday between 7:30 and 9:30 although they often went on past this time. You hear Paul's voice in real time and reply via the small white panel in the top right of the above picture. If you don't type anything for a while the white panel minimises but a click on the red tab brings it back.


They are a good mental workout of your knowledge with lots of questions appertaining to pictures displayed on your screen (from Paul's 60,000+ collection) and then you type an answer or response if you know. Paul often announces who's  got the answer correct but don't expect everything you type to be acknowledged as there is one way traffic to Paul who is also trying to narrate whilst reading. That said he does a decent job of it and genuinely seems to enjoy the interaction and banter of the evening. Course attendees also have the opportunity to drop Paul a question for consideration at the end via a dedicated webinar email address.

Interestingly Paul has said that he is do an extra more detailed webinar for masterclass veterans...


When I joined the portal had a forum which Tree and Plant Masterclass which started off with a flurry of posts but then went quiet, not sure why but the masterclass Facebook page was started during my year which is much livelier. Just a quick note on this group it's for course members only, hence that fact that I haven't linked to it.

It's fair to say that the course isn't cheap but for anyone who thinks it is pricey should note that the total duration is around three full days worth of content with one module at just over four-and-a-half hours of running time. It is also worth noting that this is way more than the time an individual could spend on a weekend course learning.

Add to this around twelve hours of webinar time (with the extra one and the veteran ones that can be potentially added in) and the fact that once an individual joins they have a lifetime membership...

I'll just finish with a screen grab from the Frontier bushcraft which was taken from a course review article I did for Bushcraft & Survival Skills magazine a few years ago. The course isn't run anymore but website oxymoronic quote concerning time seems to sort of fit the masterclass...The course that keeps on giving.

Oh, and Paul says 'Grass' (gr-ass) and not 'Grass' (gr-arse) which is alright by me...

Suggested further reading.