"Red Alert"

By

Yesterday, I went to a local conifer wood (mainly Scots and Corsican Pine), known to be good for sighting Woodpeckers, both Green and Greater-spotted.

Sitting among the ferns and grass in the middle of the wood, eyes and ears tuned into the bird sounds, I picked up a crackling sound from high above in a Scots Pine. Looking up towards the sound, I was delighted to see…….

….a lovely native red squirrel, busy having lunch on the cones, whilst being waved around in the breeze. We do have a sizeable population of these delightful little animals here in Fife (unfortunately, I do not have figures at present), but they are so shy and elusive, that they are not easy to spot.

I reckon that he was at least 50 feet above the ground and, although he occasionally moved around the tree canopy in search of more cones, he did not, unfortunately, venture further down the trunk.

The distance, together with the tree moving in the wind, was really beyond the limits of my camera’s capabilities, as you can see……..

…. but it does look as if he knew that I was there, judging by the “eye contact”.

Now, for me, some nice pics of one of my favourite creatures is at the top of my agenda, along with those Woodpeckers! Having chosen a spot fairly close to a likely tree, I did see 2 Greater-spotteds fly by, without stopping, but did not see any Greens.

:-))

Comments

12 May, 2011
P1150022_1
jane said:

Oh David I am so glad you managed to spot one of these beauties as I knew it was high on your "wish list " !!! Sure now you have found a likely "haunt" you will be able to return for those elusive shots ! Good luck and happy tracking ..:o))

12 May, 2011
Dipper
david said:

Many Thanks, Jane! Hadn't seen one since last Autumn when I disturbed one in the undergrowth in a similar woodland a few miles from here. Even then, only caught sight of its ear tufts, sticking above the undergrowth, before it disappeared. Have been looking at the website of our local red squirrel conservation project today, and seriously considering enrolling as a volunteer with survey work/school education, etc. Like ospreys, another great wildlife conservation success story. For the squirrels, this came about almost wholly by accident, as Scots Pine, one of their favoured conifers (and not only because they merge so well against the reddish brown colour of the trunks) was the choice for new plantation planting in the late 1940s and early 1950s. This tree is not native this far south, but was excellently suited to the sandy loam, and the squirrels followed. Excellent conservation management since has had fantastic results.

12 May, 2011
P1150022_1
jane said:

Thats brilliant news on the conseration front David and I think its a great idea to volunteer for survey work.Regarding education...raising awareness has to be a number one in my book.Talking of which my project is going well and the veg coming on nicely. Patches of native wild flowers also sown...along with the obligatory sunflowers of course...lol !!

12 May, 2011
Dipper
david said:

Thought it might be, Jane, lol! Have e-mailed my registration, now. Meant to enquire re the veggies and garden. Gr8 to learn that it is all "green for go" (links in, a bit, to the Tufty Club, eh?) As for "obligatory" sunflowers, try the many different shades and names. Love "Vanilla Ice", "Claret", etc., and the dwarf varieties are much easier for viewing, such as "Little Leo". Can send you seed of some, if you like? Not sure how many will germinate, as some out of date - not that this means much, to me, as usually get a few - which is all that is needed. And, of course, the birds will love the seedheads, leading to another educational resource - as if it needs saying! -)))

12 May, 2011
P1150022_1
jane said:

Thanks David..would love some of the sunflower seeds to try if thats okay.We have planted so called out of date seeds recently and they have germinated ! Nothing ventured...as they say.Will PM you our address.The kids are really up for it and its great to see..:o) PS..The Tufty Club..thought that the minute I saw your pics...lol...

12 May, 2011
Dipper
david said:

Will look for the Pm, Jane. Am working Frid, Sat and Mon, but will be happy to send surplus on, next week. The smell of Sunflower seeds drying in an oven is awesome, as you may know, and we always keep some in a kilner jar for ourselves, to snack on!, or as storable winter garden bird food Another project topic, perhaps? Tufty Club Rools OK, BTW!!!!!! :-)))

12 May, 2011
P1150022_1
jane said:

No rush David.....the kids need to know that sunflower seeds are not just available at the supermarket...but can be grown by themselves and preserved !! Fond memories of the Tufty Club will never fade..lol :O))))

13 May, 2011
P1220732
bonkersbon said:

Sorry late to this David .. wonderful creatures to see and great that they have several strongholds to retreat to.A delight for you and good luck with the volunteer work .. where do you find the time ?

Always been interested in the red v grey debate and surprisingly little information exists apart from assumptions that greys out compete reds.

Its assumed that greys drive reds out of territories yet they favour different habitats we are surrounded by coniferous woodland on the edge of the moors but greys rarely seen in them.

Areas such as Formby in Lancashire and those on west coast of Scotland were where greys first introduced to , yet are red strongholds .

Greys were significantly introduced in numbers in the early 1920s following the loss of many agricultural / estate workers during the First world war .Greys were valued for burying broad leaf woodland seeds and nuts whilst the red preferred pine cones.

Timber had been widely used during this conflict and the advent of World War 2 again had dramatic consequences for the countryside , the grey squirrel was responsible for planting much of the broad leaf woodland we have left today.

14 May, 2011
Dipper
david said:

You are so right on many aspects, here, Bb. The main impact by the Greys upon the Reds, was, initially, the competition for food. Greys will, cunningly, dig many food storage holes, but put food in only some of them, to act as "decoys". They do stick to broad-leaved woodland (I would never see one in a coniferous wood, here), and careful conservation management for the benefit of the reds involves prohibiting the growth or planting of such trees/woods adjacent to a conifer wood.

This is because, over the last 30 years, the Greys have been gradually decimating the Reds with a newer, more deadly "super weapon" - Parapox virus, also known as Squirrelpox. First ID'd in E. Anglia in the '80s, it reached SW Scotland in 2007, where it seems to have been contained. Greys are "hosts" or carriers, so it does not harm them, but is fatal to the Reds: from catching the virus to death takes up to 2 weeks.

On the timber and WW2, all the conifer woodlands here were planted from 1947 into the 50s, to replace timber felled during WW2, and to provide employment. Scots Pine is not actually native to southern Scotland, but was introduced here, as the sandy loam is ideal for them. Who, then, would have predicted that this, and other pines, would have had a much broader benefit, with regard to the survival of the red squirrel, various deer, and many woodland birds, including the Woodpeckers Imentioned in this blog. We just do not see a Green or Greater-spotted Woodpecker here visitng garden bird feeders, no matter how rural our location. You have to go into a conifer wood to spot them. Subsequent planting of narrow strips of Scots Pine, etc., has provided "squirrel highways" to enable them to reach and visit surrounding woodlands.

Re the volunteering:- have e-mailed my interest, and awaiting a pack on the various forms this can take. This can be anything from taking on a local "patch" and taking notes when visiting, to educational talks to schoolkids and local groups (which I have extensive experience of) to actively culling the Greys (not sure I could do this one, even though, living a few hundred yards from our town park, they screech threateningly at us when we come home, and some neighbours come home to find a trashed room filled with grey squirrels, having left a window open when they went out). Am sure that, with their cunning, they will soon be able to watch our DVDs, too. My personal guess as to what they will watch is the movie "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", especially the scenes with the squirrels, lol!! But then, you know that we have a soft spot for that movie! :-D)

PS. My pics are from a group of local pine plantations, known, collectively, as Ladybank Forests. Jst remembered you mentioning to me last year that you stopped off here once during a trip. :-))

15 May, 2011
P1220732
bonkersbon said:

What a day David ! Lost internet connection and decided I could sort by opening router address and fiddling with all those technical details ..ha ha us men eh wont be beaten by technology even when no idea how it works lol When Jane saw me with a screwdriver she got real worried ..

Got there eventually but if happens again no idea what I clicked to get back on line .. thanks for info yes have been aware of the parapox virus but drawn a blank when trying to discover how this suddenly became an issue .

As indigenous to US why is the virus relatively unknown there ?

Given that man has declared biological and chemical warfare on many things in the countryside with little regard to the consequences , I believe that this pox virus has the hallmarks of our intervention.

No record has been kept of the ways in which grey squirrels have been eridicated .Although its now acknowledged that they carry this virus what evidence is there that they didnt at first suffer a similar fate to the reds and built up resistance through future generations?

Much like rabbits have done with myxamatoses.No one would have recorded the deaths of grey squirrels due to this virus as they were being eridicated by many toxic substances.

I have noticed that they are very fond of sunflower hearts and will gorge themselves on them.Really beginning to wonder if this all connected to what finches are suffering with ..

Aye remember Ladybank well stayed at Fernie Castle where I had my first haggis .. quite enjoyed it but a little less salt next time lol

19 May, 2011
Dipper
david said:

I share your suspicions, Bb. Questions have been asked whether this virus could be transmitted to humans, but the replies say "no". Other articles I have read say that not every grey squirrel has antibodies to combat the virus. Main advice, applicable here, seems to be that, if squirrels visit your garden feeders, disinfect every day. I had thought, from the description of the effects on the red squirrel, that it is akin to the virus that effects birds.

Re the haggis, yes, less salt and more whisky sauce! :-))
Re the PC, bet you wondered what had happened when Ispy went down on Monday, as did I. Was hunting about for computer viruses which didn't exist! :-D)

21 May, 2011
P1220732
bonkersbon said:

Aye David recall seeing rabbits with myxamatoses when a child and never forget that glazed stare being unable to drink or swallow just sitting there .. you could walk up to them and pick them up.

The symptoms look so similar to the trichomonas that finches are suffering with and given the lack of research or recording at the time I m unconvinced about causes of this pox virus.To dismiss the grey as a pest does nothing to address the issue and if they require controlling as a result , understanding our role in things may at least ensure they are dealt with humanely.

As you can gather bit of an issue for me my grandfather and father worked in forestry for many years and were horrified by the use of such things.My grandfather esp would cycle many miles to work and be expected to live on site for as long as work lasted so needed to eat off the land.Rabbits were a staple part of his diet as they were for many shortly after the war .

The use of myamatoses caused an outcry in rural communities due to this .. my father witnessed the use of defoliants akin to agent orange used to strip trees during vietnam war.It was widely used esp along railway embankments and staff were offered extra pay as compensation for using it - he declined.

Add cyanide for moles and anti coagulant feed for squirrels and the lethal cocktails man has used in the countryside must surely have had longterm effects.Much of this is hidden in our now more enlightened times and few would ever admit to having be part of such a process.

Ah well cant change the past but failing to acknowledge it means we run the risk of repeating our mistakes in the future.

Now then .. whisky sauce ? really never offered that with my haggis that would certainly have improved my appetite .. yes would have done the same with PC , David had not been off line earlier given all the fiddling about I did was beginning to think it was something I did that caused the problem ! Much relieved to see it wasnt lol ;)

23 May, 2011
Dipper
david said:

Will we ever learn from past mistakes, I wonder? Fascinating family history, Bb, so am not at all surprised by your interest. I remember myxomatosis well, too. Terrible! A school-mate was very adept at despatching any poor, suffering rabbit he came across.

A local butcher, many years ago, made a fortune from haggis laced with Drambuie (it was very good). He exported it, tinned, and was a hit in the USA and Japan. Alas, he is no longer with us.

Re the volunteering with the squirrels, received an info pack and application form, now returned. Next step will be an "informal chat", possibly followed by an induction programme. Sounds worse than my last job interview, quite a few years ago now, lol!

25 May, 2011
P1220732
bonkersbon said:

Ha ha David obviously bureacrats have got to the squirrels too !
Hope youre brushing up and get to your interview bright eyed and bushy tailed .

The induction programme sounds interesting wondering if you have to climb trees , bury nuts and adopt a variety of cute poses ? Sure its something you ll love and bet the children will be impressed .. good luck !

26 May, 2011
Dipper
david said:

Wondered if you might get around to the bright eyed...phrase, Bb!
:-D)

Your version of the induction sounds, er, "interesting", lol!!

Thank You. Will let you know if/when I get to this stage.

30 May, 2011
P1220732
bonkersbon said:

Ha ha David .. well we both seem to be gluttons for pun - ishment dont we ? look forward to the updates.

30 May, 2011
Dipper
david said:

Just hope that your foot is now better enough to...er...put it in it!

:-D)

Yes, will let you know. 3 categories to be "slotted into", and already know which would be mine - not necessarily the one I'd most like, as would learn more from other 2, but minds can be changed at any stage, as stated in info sent out.

Leave a comment

You need to be logged in to comment


Liked by

  • Bird watching with friends since
    14 May, 2010

  • Bird watching with friends since
    14 May, 2010

  • Bird watching with friends since
    19 May, 2010

  • Bird watching with friends since
    21 May, 2010

  • Bird watching with friends since
    6 Jun, 2010