I have an acre and a half on the edge of a Perthshire village. Roughly half is woodland, comprising mainly 60 or 70 years old larch trees (a friend and former colleague, Neil Macdonald, planted them as a youngster when his parents had the house), some fir, ash, rowan, birch and hawthorn. There are two burns, the smaller joining the larger one in the garden and creating a great environment for my khaki Campbell ducks, a large vegetable garden and five sizeable chunks of grass, which are not manicured well enough to be termed ‘lawns’.
In the summer an adult red squirrel visited for a day, but seemed to move on. Since early September we have had, on a much more permanent basis, its two offspring. Compared with some of the young squirrels I have seen in other places they seem quite small, maybe the result of their mother taking a while to find a mate and consequently being born slightly later in the year. They are extremely healthy and energetic, feeding on a variety of peanuts, black sunflower seeds, fat balls, pine nuts, mealworms, peanut butter, which I spread into the cracks in the larch trees, and a concoction of cracked wheat, peas, budgie-type seed and aniseed made up by a gamekeeper friend, George Simmons. The incredible aniseed smell from George’s mix should draw squirrels from miles around! A few days ago I bought a squirrel feeder, which they have still to christen. They sit on top of it but have never – so far as I have seen – sat on the tray that would give them a view of the contents and tempt them to open the lid, which I have left partly-open until they get used to it.
Before I came in to type this I replenished a small pile of pine nuts on the ground in the wood (all of the rest is in bird feeders, the squirrels and birds apparently happy to share). By the time I came in and sat down to type, one of the wee squirrels was busily carting the nuts away, three or four stuffed into its mouth at a time, and burying them within a 20 metre radius of the tree. Where it sat collecting the pine nuts was in the centre of a beam of sunshine coming through the trees, giving it the appearance of having a silver halo round its body as the light sparkled on its fine outer hairs. The second squirrel appeared above it, facing down the larch tree immediately under the squirrel feeder and filling its belly with peanut butter.
The siblings suddenly saw each other, with the peanut butter squirrel immediately spinning round and facing up the tree and the pine nut squirrel running to the base of the adjacent tree. There was much swishing of tails, a prelude to a chase up through the trees, the two jumping from branch to branch with incredible skill and agility. I’m not sure if there is some rivalry creeping in or if this is play. They are so difficult to tell apart that I can’t work out if one is dominant and the more regular visitor. In due course maybe their habits will determine this more than their appearance.
Before long both were back, one again at the peanut butter and the other burying pine nuts on the grass between the wood and the house, not 10 metres from where I was sitting. For red squirrels they are spending a lot of time on the ground, which makes them vulnerable. Vulnerable to what I will keep for a later update!