Day 17: Following on from last week’s Close Up Monday, today’s focus is on the red squirrel.
I am very lucky to live within an hours drive from Formby, which is a stronghold of the red squirrels. Disease and the introduction of the American grey squirrel in the 19th Century has impacted greatly on red squirrel numbers.
Red squirrels, a mammal, are native to the UK and classed regionally as endangered. Though red squirrels can be found in other European countries. Their population in the UK is estimated at approx. 140,000 which is quite shocking given that the figure of the grey squirrel as 2.5 million.
The reason for this disparity is obvious when you see both species side by side. Whereas the red squirrel is small and dainty the grey is larger in body.
The two main competitions are:
Food: The grey squirrel being larger has show to eat more and also to be more successful at foraging. Whereas the red has been left behind and is often pushed out of an area due to the competition for food.
Disease: grey squirrels seem to have a natural immunity to squirrel pox than reds. Pox to the red squirrels has a 100% mortality rate, which is catastrophic to any resident population. According to The Wildlife Trusts, there is currently an outbreak of squirrel pox at Formby, but hopefully it won’t be as devastating to the population as the 2008 pox outbreak when 80% of Merseyside and Lancashire’s red squirrels were wiped out!
Habitat loss is also a contributing factor to the decline of the red squirrel.
Red Squirrel by David Evans
Red Squirrel by David Evans
Red squirrels are found in the North of England and Scotland. They prefer to live in coniferous forests and nest in dreys. They can have up to two litters a year, with 2-3 kittens per litter. Their diet consists of hazelnuts and pine cones but occasionally they eat small birds and eggs. Like the grey squirrel they do not hibernate.
There are a number of projects currently running to help sustain red squirrel numbers: Red Squirrels United is a partnership with The Wildlife Trusts, academics and volunteers and funded by the EU and The National Lottery to create a scientifically robust conservation programme. In turn Red Squirrels United are working closely with Saving Scotland’s RED Squirrels, who work with local communities to preserve this iconic UK animal. Red Squirrel Survival Trust is an entirely donation run initiative created to spread awareness to the plight of the red squirrel.
What is your stance on the red vs grey squirrel argument? Do you ever see a time when both can coexist in the UK?
I can’t quite believe how fast this June is going, too quickly for my liking! Unlike last years 30 Days Wild, I am trying to look beyond the yarden. Taking more days out in the country for long scenic walks and wild swims.
Here’s a summary of week three!
Day 15: Wednesday
The third week of The Wildlife Trust’s 30 Days Wild dawned with a migraine. So I forsook the treadmill and spent a lazy day of watching ‘wild’ webcams. I particularly enjoyed watching the Derby Cathedral peregrines. It had four, close to fledgling peregrine chicks in a nest that had lots of pigeon kill! I also tried to spot the puffins on the Teaching Through Nature website. David had chosen this ‘wild’ card and it was perfect for the type of day it became. I frequently tune into the RSPB’s Lodge webcam to watch garden birds visit the feeders. Today when I logged on, two grey squirrels and a great spotted woodpecker hung off the feeders. It cheered me up!
Day 16: Thursday
I wasn’t feeling very wild today. It was a staying under the bed covers kind of day. So I thought I would ID a plant that was growing in my yarden. I used the Pl@nt.Net app, but the programme was having trouble identifying the leaves. I said to David ‘I’m sure I’ve seen the buds before,’ but on what plant I could not remember! Then I realised! The flower buds are very like borage, though the leaves look very different. I grew borage for the bees last year as one of my 30 Days Wild and it looks like some have seeded themselves! I am not complaining though, they’ll be more food for the bees! 🙂 And I suppose it ticks off another wild task without me even trying! 🙂
Day 17: Friday
Today was a special day. It was a day I got to go wild swimming again!! The weather may have been much grottier than my first time in Derwentwater, but it was a much special day. I got to swim in the waters of my favourite lake, Buttermere! 🙂
After walking three hours alongside Crummock Water and then back towards Buttermere, I finally submerged my weary body under the cool, clear waters of the lake, with Fleetwith Pike as the glorious backdrop.
Today was busy with shopping and visiting family, so I didn’t have much time to do anything ‘wild’. In the evening, I decided to try my hand at identification, with little result. I began by looking at Google images in the hope of identifying the owner of this feather I found at Crummock Water the day before. Then I turned to theForest Xplorer app by the Forestry Commission to discover what type of tree I had hugged.
I’ve come to the conclusion that I am useless at identification. After a good few hours searching, I stopped feeling frustrated, with still no answers! I really need to improve my skills, perhaps I should take a course in the future?
Day 19: Sunday
Today’s ‘wild’ card was, keep an eye out for newborns. Once again I had set my camcorder at the kitchen window overlooking the bird feeders. During the hours recording, it captured a baby Goldfinch visiting the feeders with two adults!
Day 20: Monday
Happy Summer Solstice or Litha. I don’t think I have sat up and watched the Longest Day of the year dawn, if I have in the past it was unintentionally! For one of my 30 Days Wild this year, I wanted to wake up with the city dawn chorus. I decided it would be a perfect way to celebrate the solstice too.
Sunrise was at 4.42am. I crawled out of bed blurry eyed an hour before. I left David in the thrall of Morpheus. With a hot drink in hand, notepad and pen, camcorder and phone, I sat in the guest bedroom with the window open wide and listened to the soft breeze for any birdsong.
It was faint, ethereal almost in the gloaming, but there was the sound of sweet birdsong. I think if I lived closer to a park the volume would have been louder. I tried to record the sound, which I have mixed in a video below.
I found it difficult to identify the birdsong. I had expected to hear a blackbird’s call but I think the predominant song was that of a robin. (I heard the blackbird before I returned to bed.)
Half an hour before the dawn, I saw herring gulls circling in the sky. These birds get up early! Members of the tit family were also calling and flying between the houses at this time.
It was after sunrise, when the birds came to the yarden, that I captured the loudest of the birdsong. It seemed that the lighter the day became the louder the sounds! 5am seemed to be the best time! Goldfinches came to the yarden in charms. I saw a crow fly over the roof. Mr. Dunnock sang so loudly he almost deafened me! Pigeons visited the feeders and magpies cackled somewhere in the near distance. Also at this time a tree bumblebee was heard and seen buzzing loudly around the campanula, bell flowers. If that was not enough for my small yarden oasis, a black cat walked along the wall crying. It jumped into the yarden and went for a long, quenching drink from our pond before jumping back on the wall and walking out of sight!
The sunrise was less eventful than the dawn chorus. The day broke grey and uninspiring. I retired to bed, to a fitful snooze after 5.30am.
Day 21: Tuesday
David went back to work today, so I spent the day looking over the pictures we took during out visit toChester Zoo on Monday. I know I am cheating a little here and its not totally nature or indeed wild but the weather in the morning could have been described as wild so its going into my 30 Days blog.
Chester Zoo do have an initiative called Act for Wildlife. They have conservation projects not only around the world but in the UK too.
We spent a good three hours dodging the showers. We spent over half an hour watching the Aye-aye (Madagascan Lemur), he is so cute, and marveling at the new dinosaurs collection. We both liked Utahraptor with his feathers!
Aye-aye by David Evans
This week has been quite a diverse one! Like last years 30 Days Wild, I am loving every moment! I am continuing to read and enjoy other blogs and I am learning along the way.
With only one more full week left of June, I hope you will continue to follow me as I discover more wildness in my life.
The May bank holiday dawned like previous bank holidays, cold and dreary. We had decided that whatever the weather we would try and get out of the house, even if it was just for a little while.
So on Monday we drove the 45 minutes to Formby Point under a grey leaden sky. We arrived just before 10am, paid the £5.70 parking fee and stepped out of the car to go in search of red squirrels. While traversing the 1/2 mile circular walk under a canopy of pine trees the rain started to fall heavily!
We watched while getting soaked, several red squirrels gather monkey nuts, shred the shells with their teeth and quickly devour their nuts. The squirrels didn’t seem to mind the rain unlike David and I who tried to keep the rainwater from damaging our cameras.
I read later that the red squirrel is native to Britain, but due to competition for food with grey squirrels and diseases their future has become less certain. There is estimated to be only 140,000 red squirrels left in Britain, mostly found now in small conservation areas in the north of England and Scotland. Red squirrels are arboreal (live in trees) and are diurnal (active during the day), though they are more active several hours after dawn and before dusk. They are mostly solitary and live in dreys, similar to birds nests. Red squirrels also do not hibernate and prefer forests of pine.
After spending an hour or so with the squirrels we decided to walk towards the beach (Cornerstone walk). We went past some wind bent trees as the rain started to wane. The sand dunes looked bleak in the overcast weather and the contrast between beach and forest was striking.
As we made our way back to the car for our packed lunch we wandered off the track and followed another path, (Asparagus trail) that lead us back towards the beach. By this time the clouds were dispersing from the coast and radiant blue sky was bringing everything into colour. So David and I walked back towards the beach. The difference in weather could not be more contrasting!
Dancing on the beach
Path to the beach
David dressed for the elements
I am glad that we persevered with the dreich weather, a glorious afternoon of blue skies was our reward. I really enjoyed getting out of the house, even if we were drenched at the beginning of the day, there were many smiles as the sun broke through the clouds. We stayed at Formby Point for four hours. A whole day could be well spent there. We look forward to visiting again in the summer but will arrive early as the queue at the entrance as we left was growing!
Did you get up to anything over the spring bank holiday? Been to the beach recently?