Wednesday, 12 December 2012

An Uncooperative Red Squirrel

It’s been a while since I’ve managed to photograph one of my favourite animals – the Red Squirrel – and with no success with them locally around the Tyneside area, I decided to move further afield to Northumberland where they still have a stronghold against the invading Greys.

So it was with temperatures hovering around zero that I set out early morning and arrived just as the sun was rising.  With the combination recently of freezing temperatures and rain, paths were either covered in black ice or mud or off the paths, frozen leaves that made a very loud ‘crunch’ when you walked on them, so it was a case of finding a good spot and just staying put.

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Most of my wildlife photography comes from just finding a good spot and sitting up against a tree or something else that hides my shape.  It takes time and patience, but it is surprising what turns up.  I’d also put some food out (nuts and fruit) on a picturesque log and tree stump, and with the rising sun behind me, sat back and waited.

In surprising little time my first Red arrived, scuttling along the leave litter and pausing in the early morning glow of light, unfortunately eagerness got the better of me and took a picture too soon.  The sound of the camera shutter caused the little critter to shoot half way up the nearest tree, look back at me and make that scolding sound that Red Squirrels make.

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Red Squirrels used to be common in the Tyneside area and I used to like to just sit in a quiet place and watch them.  There’s something about them that makes them very endearing, unlike their counter part – Grey Squirrels – they seem to have a character about them.  Despite being wary, they also seem to have a great deal of curiosity and pluckiness the Greys lack and of course they are cute and I think these attributes is what made them a favourite for me.

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After making its way up the tree, it moved around my location effetely by crossing along the tree canopy, occasionally stopping to look at me and eventually it moved out of sight behind me.  I didn’t want to turn and watch it – making this much eye contact to most animals would be seen as a threat, so instead I just continued to sit back and enjoy the early morning sounds.  Soon I could hear a very loud ‘chattering’ sound directly behind me which I knew was the the squirrel and sounded like it was literally on my shoulder. 

At the risk of scaring it away, I turned slowly around and saw it on a trunk of a nearby tree, stretching itself out and madly wagging its tail.  Twisting around, it was hard to get a decent image of it, not helped by the strong back-lit sun behind and my lens set to the pre-set focusing option of 8 metres plus.  One of the view times I’ve felt a zoom lens would have been an advantage.

While this was going on, out of the corner of my eye where I had originally been training my lens, I saw movement and was just in time to see a Roe Deer move into cover.  I was amazed that I hadn’t heard it at all walking over the frosted leaves and undergrowth less than a hundred metres in front.  I saw it too late to get a photograph.

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Meanwhile, the Red Squirrel was determined to stay behind me, in the worst position for light so when some passer-by's scared it up the tree, I took the advantage and moved to a better location where the sun was again, more favourable, and waited.  After a while it appeared again but was on a branch the other side of the tree and in mostly shade, but every now and then, would poke its head out and check on me.  It had found something to eat and was seemed to be periodically checking I was still there.

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I waited around, hoping it would eventually move to my front where the morning sunlight would have made a perfect picture, but instead it again, circled around me before disappearing in the tree tops. After some three hours since I arrived, I decided it was time to move off too.  A short distance away I found what I believe was the same squirrel, moving some bedding around in its drey.  It seemed quite a small drey so I’m guessing it was new or had been damaged by recent strong winds.

On the day I only saw two Red Squirrels, though at this time of year they are less active.  Thankfully I saw no Greys and now I know that, that spot was in the territory of a particular Red Squirrel, so it’s a place to visit again another time – maybe when there’s snow on the ground so I can get a more picturesque image.  Hopefully it will be more cooperative next time!

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Organising bedding for its drey

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