Wednesday, 29 October 2014

On the hunt for red squirrels...

When I first applied to be one BBC Wildlife Magazine's 'Local Patch Reporters', I wrote on my application form that one of my wildlife goals for 2014 was to see red squirrels in the wild. This half term break seemed like the opportune time to to try to realise this ambition.

Luckily, one of my teacher / ecologist friends was staying on the Isle of Wight with her family whilst we were visiting Southsea. In trying to organise a visit for the day, she tantalisingly said that she had been 'reliably informed that squirrels come to a certain hide south of Ryde'. So, we had a plan.

Catching the hovercraft from Southsea to Ryde, we spotted several skeins of brent geese fly over. It would seem there is a huge eelgrass bed near Ryde pier which is where they start the winter. Having not seen these birds in a very long time, it set the tone for a successful wildlife watching day!

My friends picked us up from Ryde, and drove us to Alverton. We walked along tracks, spotting a grey wagtail, a very furry moth caterpillar and hearing a Cetti's warbler, buzzards and other interesting birds. There were also some amazing fungi adorning the trees either side of the path. I would hazard a guess at Southern bracket for the fungi pictured above right. Eventually we reached a bird hide, which is reportedly often hijacked by red squirrels. We waited for a few minutes, then we saw a red squirrel picking his way silently along the muddy bank of the river, then promptly disappeared again. I would have been happy at just seeing this one little fellow briefly, as I daren't get my hopes up too high. We spread a few peanuts, and within minutes our little squirrel was back, scaling the roof of the hide looking for food, scampering loudly through the trees. At one point, he jumped over all of us, ran along the fence, towards us, down and up the tree where we had placed some nuts, and came to within touching distance. The agility of this red squirrel out-competed anything I had ever seen the more familiar grey squirrels perform. Soon, he was joined by another, this one much more russet in colour and much more talkative, clinging to a tree just above us and loudly chirruping. He too clambered on top of the hide in search of the seeds and nuts we and other visitors had scattered. We watched for an unmeasurable amount of time. We were so absorbed in their antics that, I at least, had no concept of how much time had passed. Regrettably, we had to tear ourselves away, but had stayed to watch one of this cheeky pair fall asleep in a tree not too far from the hide.

We finished our day shell collecting on the beech, me gathering shells that I could add to my somewhat dusty nature table. Before we set off back to Southsea on the hovercraft, the brent geese bade us farewell, as did a flock of sanderlings and a rock pipit from the harbor.

Page from my nature diary detailing our sightings

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