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Squidgy Squirrel’s Dark Side!

I received this correspondence recently from Jean and Jim Weatherill, of Knaresborough. “We are sending this to tell you of a very strange happening in our garden yesterday. We saw a squirrel bound across the garden with what appeared to be a bundle of twigs in its mouth. It then sat on the fence for about five minutes enabling us to fetch the binoculars and we were shocked to see that it had a struggling thrush in its mouth. Is this common? We did not know that squirrels were carnivorous although we know that they will take birds eggs.” I know it’s a bit disconcerting when animals you see frequently and have come to love display tendencies that are, well, frankly outside the box, or at least what you consider to be outside the box. Yes squirrels will take meat if they can catch it. I’m surprised however that a thrush was not nimble enough to get away. A squirrel taking an adult bird, especially one so large, is not something I have heard of before, although it doesn’t surprise me. They not only take eggs but also chicks and possibly will wait until the chicks are almost ready to fledge before taking them. Just one of the reason that some folk call them tree rats! They, along with woodpeckers which also take eggs and chicks, are responsible for the enlarged holes on nest boxes which they excavate to get access to the nest box contents. It’s not only greys which are carnivorous, our native reds have a similar diet.

Continuing on the subject of squirrels, Ian Law has reported seeing a red squirrel at Low Birkwith in Ribblesdale which he reported to the area ranger for Upper Wensleydale, Matt Neale, who replied, “We have regular sightings of red squirrels in Greenfield Forest and occasionally in the area that you have reported. Very useful, and I’ll add it to our records.” In case you are confused, Greenfields Forest is the wood near Beckermonds in Upper Wharfedale and was designated the country’s 17th red squirrel reserve. Low Birkwith is in Ribblesdale, due east of Selside and north of Horton. We have of course had red squirrels in Upper Nidderdale in relatively recent years, do you know if they are still there?

Footprints in The Snow!

Some folk have contacted me about tracks they have seen in the snow in their gardens, these include John Henderson of Victoria Road, Harrogate who asks, “This last week’s snow has left a trail of four pads - not quite obviously hooves or cloven but possibly with imagination. The photo with the garden spade as ruler shows the group of four together and another set four feet further on as though leaping gently. We have never seen or have evidence of deer here on Victoria Road but the wooded area at the back is an ideal route for owls and foxes etc. You will probably get hundreds of similar sightings but you might suggest looking at the recent snow for footprints.” I haven’t included John’s photo because frankly it’s difficult, at least for me, to positively identify something from tracks in snow. I will say however that roe deer are quite common and I suspect that almost all our woodlands are home to them. We don’t see them so much because they venture out when we are aren’t around and they are very secretive creatures. I also have had reports of roe deer venturing into urban areas and especially if there is snow I might expect them to even wander further afield than usual to find food. Now one creature that has ventured out in the snow and into our garden is Peter the peacock and despite having a very wet and bedraggled tail he seems no worse for wear, probably due to all the kindly folk who feed him. His tail is slowly taking shape ready for the noisy season when he shouts his amorous wares, literally, from the tree tops, sadly at dawn.

Sightings

Andy and Sal Beattie have sent me two pictures which “show in different ways how birds can adapt to difficult conditions such as the very cold weather just now. The robin is fluffed up to twice its size with a portable duvet which is a common sight, but what about the treecreeper, usually seen climbing up tree trunks looking for bark dwelling insects which are its normal food. This picture shows one which has visited a feeding station to take seeds here in Yew Tree Lane, Pannal. Though we see treecreepers and nuthatches frequently in the garden, this is first for us.” One strategy used by treecreepers to survive the cold is a communal roost, often under the bark of trees.