Monday, 19 September 2011

Seeing Red

Wobbling my way along a quiet lane near Wooler in North Northumberland yesterday, I was gently bonked on the head.

Working on the principle that unripe nuts don't just drop off trees on still days I stopped the bike and looked up.  Nothing. Silence.  But I knew it was there somewhere so I parked up the bike and stood and stared.  Five minutes passed. Nothing.  However, when it comes to capacity to stand and stare I'm right up there with the best.  The little blighter cracked first and showed itself but not until after fully 10 minutes of stand off.

It moved across a branch and looked down at me making a quiet alarm call. At each call its whole body jerked as if to force the air out of its lungs.  I've seen this before but done with more vigour, accompanied by a little jump followed by all four feet banging on the branch simultaneously, making an audible knocking sound but this one made do with a shudder and a squeak.

We are very fortunate in Northumberland to still have the red squirrel though the inexorable northward march of the grey keeps it under threat.  Where I work in Co Durham to the south, the reds have long gone.  Greys are commonplace so I know that if this had been a grey I would not have had to wait 10 minutes before it made itself known.

Many people hate grey squirrels but actually they are fascinating to watch and wonderfully inventive. I take my squirrel fur hat off to them.  I have a bird feeder outside my first floor window at work and greys regularly appear on the external window sill looking in at me.  They just shin up the brick wall and chew the feeders to bits.  If I disturb them they just jump off, land on the grass and lollop off waving metaphorical double digits.  As a survival machine they've got what it takes. But I'm sorry, American readers, reds have cute factor 10, and being our native squirrel, yours has no chance in the popularity stakes round here.

Sometimes I have thought that the fate of the red squirrel is sealed, that we might as well stop trying to kid ourselves otherwise and give up trying to protect them against the tide of greys. However, you only have to see one like this to realise that the effort is well worth while.  Even if it is only postponing the inevitable, let's stick with it as every encounter with this marvellous animal is a priceless bonus.


  1. :-)
    What a great way to start the day. I so enjoyed reading that.

  2. Thanks Mel. It was an enjoyable experience. I have a video clip which I might post if I can work out how to get it off the camera.
    (Having technology trouble at moment...for some reason blogger won't let me comment on my own blog other than as 'anonymous'! )