Red Squirrels and waterfalls – day Two.   2 comments

Our hunt for Red Squirrels began on Saturday morning in Whinlatter Forest (see here for back story: http://wp.me/p1tlxQ-84 ), just a few miles from our base camp on Derwent water. Although, perversely enough my first encounter was to be earlier that morning just a few hundred meters away.

I’d headed out before breakfast to try some long exposure photography at the waterfall down the lane. I’d taken some test shots and attached the ND filter (neutral density filter – reduces the light coming in to the camera to allow longer shutter times) and positioned my camera on its tripod when I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye. I looked up to see a distant red squirrel bounding over the moss between the trees! Without thinking I grabbed and detached the tripod plate from the tripod and brought the camera up to my eye and took as many shots of the squirrel as possible as it disappeared into the undergrowth.

Examining the images on the camera back revealed nothing but a vastly underexposed image – of course. Drat. I took the ND filter off, reset the camera for the correct exposure under the conditions and stood quietly, waiting for the little guy to reappear. It did not. So I reluctantly went back to photographing the waterfall.

Waterfall Lodore Falls 02

Above: part of the waterfall at Lodore. Notice how it contains absolutely no red squirrels.

I returned to the hotel and told my sorry tale to my wife as we wandered over to the breakfast room with our dogs. She asked to see the evidence. I showed her the back of the camera and explained about the ND filter. She was not sympathetic to my plight. I think she may have laughed.

After consuming a full English breakfast and copious amounts of tea we set off for Whinlatter Forest. I went to the information kiosk and asked the two rangers there about the best paths to walk in search of our quarry. They looked shamefaced at me and explained that there was forestry commission work going on which involved felling trees. They apologies saying that many of the pathways were closed. I thanked them and left, thinking how perhaps we should have stayed put at the waterfall back at the hotel and stalked the squirrels there. But that isn’t the spirit is it. Its not the destination but the journey so they say.

Whinlatter Forest

And the views around Whinlatter Forest were beautiful even for early March.

Walking the trails I couldn’t help but think how wonderful it would be to live locally and stake out an area like the one in the image above. I can easily see me picking the perfect mossy tuft and daily baiting it with nuts and seeds and waiting patiently in the shadows decked out in camouflage gear, for that perfect shot. Now that’s the way to do it. However, as this was not possible on a 3 day break I was kinda depending less on field craft and more on blind luck.

So, we set off on a trail that had been marked with wooden stakes with a pink blob on the top. As we started up the trail my wife commented, ‘I think there is a very slim chance of seeing red squirrels on a trail that has been marked with…..’ at which point a red squirrel bounced across the path about 20 feet in front of us and disappeared in to the forest. After a moment of stunned silence we burst out laughing. It was at this point that I began to think mother nature was toying with us.

It all happened so quickly I hadn’t even turned my damned camera on (Canon 7D with a 100-400mm lens attached). I know, I know, first rule of wildlife photography; turn your camera on. 🙂 Much encouraged by our encounter we continued our trek in good heart. We treked and we searched and we searched and we treked but to no avail. No squirrels.

We decided to descend again and return to the visitors center for some hot chocolate and a bite to eat. Half an hour later we’d arrived back by one of the car parks and stopped to get our bearings when my wife tapped me gently on the shoulder and pointed behind me.

‘Up there’ she said, ‘on top of that feeder, its a red squirrel!’

I turned to look but couldn’t see it. ‘where?’ I said.

‘On the feeder’ she said.

‘Which one, I can’t see it’ I said.

‘The one with the red squirrel on top of it’ she said laconically.

Red Squirrel on Feeder 02

And there he (or she) was. It was some distance from me and I took several shots of it before daring to creep closer. The beautiful creature was watching my every move and although it was being very photogenic I really wanted a shot of it on a branch, or on the ground, or… well, anywhere but on top of a red squirrel feeder! It felt a little like cheating. I edged closer. He watched my edging. I edged closer still, he resolutely refused to move. Eventually my incremental creeping was creeping him out and he turned tail and ran along a high branch. I photographed him as he went, getting some great shots of his backside.

And just when I’d given up hope of him turning around before he disappeared… he stopped, hopped up on to a lichen covered branch and turned to look down at me. CLICK! 🙂

Red Squirrel Feeder tree 01 CROP

I’m sorry… but that is just the cutest thing! He looks like a stuffed toy. He’s certainly been wintering well. Look at those little tufted ears. And those incredibly long fingers – which makes perfect sense when you see how dexterous they are. If Beatrix Potter had painted him he’d be wearing a little red Paisley waistcoat.

We saw no more Red Squirrels that day, but we didn’t care, this encounter had been a red letter day.

Tomorrow: more red squirrels, and Buzzards, oh and that damned helicopter I mentioned.

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2 responses to “Red Squirrels and waterfalls – day Two.

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