Squirrels identified?

The lighter tip to this squirrel’s tail is the main means of identification

I had an interesting day yesterday watching the red squirrels in my garden. I think I can see a slight difference between the two: one seems to have a slightly darker tail than the other and seems the more dominant of the two. In the meantime I’ll call them ‘Lighter Tail’ and ‘Darker Tail’. Darker Tail seems to visit early in the morning and in late afternoon, which are the most active times for red squirrels in any case. She (I’d prefer them both to be female though I haven’t a clue what sex they are) has a predilection for peanuts from the birds’ peanut feeder, teasing particles through the wire rather than tackling the squirrel feeder, where she could gorge on whole peanuts. In the early afternoon I was watching Lighter Tail collecting pine nuts from a small pile on the ground and burying them. According to Jan, my wife, she was busy at this most of the afternoon.

To save on the cost of pine nuts, and since I needed some exercise anyway, I visited several oak trees in woodland about a mile away, intending to come back with pockets full of acorns as a free supplement. I came back with six, and three of them were tiny! There just isn’t the crop this year, nor of hazel nuts, as I had checked out some hazel trees several days ago.

Lighter Tail was still busy with her mini-excavations when I came home. She reluctantly scampered up a tree as I added my meagre collection of acorns to what was left of the pine nut pile. She watched me from a fork in a larch tree not far above my head, and I was hardly into the kitchen when she was back at the only slightly enlarged pile of nuts. There was no burying of the acorns: they were a treat and she sat and munched them, forepaws holding and rotating the acorn and fragments of white shell cascading to the ground around her. What a pity I could only find six.

Not long after Lighter Tail had finished the acorns and was still sitting beside the remaining pine nuts, Darker Tail appeared, probably no more than ten yards from her. She watched from the base of a Larch tree as Darker Tail probed around on the ground, apparently unearthing some of Lighter Tails earlier caches. The fact that she stopped digging and sat up with her forepaws to her mouth seemed evidence of success. In due course she spotted Lighter Tail, who fled up the tree trunk a short distance and flicked her lighter tail vigorously.  A treetop chase ensued, with Darker Tail eventually returning to her preferred peanut bird feeder and Lighter Tail watching from a distance.

I’d earlier said that, even in the relative sanctity of my garden, the squirrels were not without danger. I had gone out at daybreak one morning to fill the feeders and disturbed a cat lying in wait under an elder bush. I’ve little time for cats and gave it short shrift. Was it waiting for the appearance of the squirrels; was it waiting for birds to arrive and come down to the ground for dropped seed, or was it waiting for field mice that would inevitably be attracted to a regular food source. Whatever it was trying to ambush it hasn’t been back – at least in daylight.

An even bigger threat to the squirrels is a buzzard that I have four times now seen having low-level and incredibly fast sorties past the feeders, one time swinging in through the larches where the squirrels are normally feeding. As buzzards don’t take a lot of garden birds – at least healthy ones – I’ve little doubt it has spotted the squirrels. As I type this, one of the squirrels – I think Lighter Tail – is ten yards from the wood out on the grass and would be an easy catch for a buzzard. Like the cat, I haven’t seen the buzzard for a few days so just maybe it has given up.

I lost one of my khaki Campbell ducks a few days ago. I have a feeling I missed it when I put the rest in for the night. That morning the ducks were reluctant to leave the safety of the shed and it was when I counted out 15 rather than 16 that I realised one was missing. I solved that mystery this morning, and what shock that was!  That revelation will be the next episode.

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