Tuesday, 28 February 2017


As winter was approaching, during our Underscar stay, the red squirrels all around us - hidden or in plain sight - were actively planning ahead and making preparations to survive the dropping temperatures. Part of this preparation includes the red squirrels preparing the dreys that will keep them and their families alive during the colder months.

This Underscar red is out searching for food in the snow on 18th November 2016.

The following day all the snow had disappeared as another Underscar red spotted a clump of fungi as he peered over the wall.

He knows how useful mushrooms can be to include in his larder over the winter months.

I observed this red squirrel carry off some of these mushrooms.From my research I have discovered he will make mushroom jerky by hanging pieces to dry between tree branches so they are preserved for longer.

This red squirrel will probably take its mushroom feast back to trees nearer his drey.A drey built in tree branches can be as high as 30 feet off the ground,and one of a few nests built by the same squirrel, which act as contingencies for unforeseen complications like flea infestations.

During our two week November stay our weather changed each day. On some of the drier brighter days I took out a set of baskets filled with hazelnuts to tempt the red squirrels into making an appearance.

I moved the baskets onto the top of the garden shed by Castlerigg, so the red squirrels could peer down to see the basket contents from the top of the fence.

Their curiosity about the baskets and the contents made them very bold. Late autumn is the time for Underscar red squirrels to bury a whole ton of nuts. What an opportunity for gathering nuts here!

I kept swapping the baskets around on top of the shed to try and give me better photographic opportunities. It was interesting to see how with their sharp noses they rooted out the exact amount of nuts in each basket.

This red squirrel always seemed to return to the smallest basket and then sit in the basket to enjoy eating its nut.

This red squirrel is preparing for winter by eating as much as it can. In just one week, a squirrel can eat as much food as his entire body weight.The extra fat from these meals helps red squirrels survive even the coldest temperatures.

Some red squirrels visiting the basket perfectly balance themselves to enjoy their nut.

The same red squirrel dips in a second time just like choosing a chocolate . He is searching for a heavy nut as he knows this will have plenty of nourishment inside it, and will be a good one to bury.

This red squirrel is making sure he is storing a heavy nut to eat later on in the winter season - often he will remember exactly where he has buried his stash of nuts.

This red squirrel is content to pose in the sunshine on the basket.

Another November day during our stay brings a frosty morning. It seems to motivate the red squirrels into collecting nuts all the daylight hours they can.

To save time they jump the falls in the woodland walk  to reach the supply of nuts in the baskets.

I watch as this red squirrel goes back and forth many times always launching itself from the same spot. It's a lot of work for a little animal.

Returning with his nut from the baskets and planning to bury it just on the other side of the fall. It is clear to see him patting the earth down with his paws.

Red squirrels are active like this all winter and spend much time on the ground, apparently searching for caches and occasionally digging up and reburying a nut.

I observed how they seem to need self-imposed rewards for all their toil.They dug up and reburied several nuts - but not 
until they had first munched on a bunch of them.

Sitting now writing my blog report for our November visit in 2016, I am aware of a magical time which will be happening in the Underscar woods right now in February. Baby squirrels, who are often born in the chilly month of January, will be curled up in their dreys all huddled together to keep warm.

By using this link I can provide a photo of this for you.


Saturday, 24 September 2016

Hazelnut Breakfast.

During the first two weeks in August I followed the antics of two young red squirrels born earlier in the year.

I have named them Marmalade and Sooty. Early morning would always see them arriving for a hazelnut breakfast.

                              Sooty - young male red squirrel.

                    Marmalade - young female red squirrel.

Sooty would always travel up to the feeder using the low stone wall to the side of the woodland walk.

Occasionally he tried the rope handrails to get to the feeders.

Obviously his balance skills are needing more practice.

Marmalade always came from a different direction in the mornings.She liked to creep around the back of the trees to reach hazelnuts I had carefully placed.

Her skills in retrieving hazelnuts over the two week observation period were brilliant. No matter where I hid the nuts she discovered them.

Marmalade seemed to enjoy eating a hazelnut breakfast upside down. She did this on several mornings.

Every morning visit she made for breakfast she searched every crevice for the hidden nuts.

Sooty would grab hold of a hazelnut between his paws, turning it several times to determine its contents. Sometimes he would find a bad nut and discard it - a lighter nut may have a shrivelled or absent kernel.

This next photo shows Sooty breaking into the hazelnut using his front two sharp incisors. His teeth will continue to grow throughout his life-time as they are worn away at the tip, just like our fingernails.


Sooty opening a hazelnut can be heard from quite a distance - his teeth gnawing at the shell. If you are in the woodland walk you will know if a squirrel is in the area because you can hear its teeth working away, like little bandsaws.

I observed how Marmalade seems to clasp her nuts in her mouth and then be intent on burying them.

I hope she can remember where her buried nuts are in winter.

I did wonder if another red squirrel is just as likely to find the buried nut in winter.

Both Marmalade and Sooty open a hazelnut by notching the point,and then cracking the shell neatly in two.They then might hold both parts of the shell until the kernel has been eaten,or might use one half as a saucer.

I watched many times as Marmalade and Sooty used one half of the nut as a saucer.

Alternatively,some red squirrels might hold the nut, and tear off chunks of shell until the kernel can be extracted. Possibly they could learn either technique from their mother.

The above photo shows how a squirrel might tear chunks from the nut to gain access to the kernel

The following photograph shows a nut opened by Marmalade  or Sooty.They both use the method of using one half as a saucer.

In my two weeks of observation on Marmalade and Sooty I was sometimes joined by other Underscar owners.They were as delighted as myself to see the red squirrel colony looking so healthy.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Agile Reds at Underscar

After reading ' Rowan The Red Squirrel' by Fran Foster, where Rowan is a young agile red squirrel learning skills to be an adult, I decided to see if I could capture similar behaviour in the Underscar juvenile reds.

The red squirrels at Underscar tend to use the same routes through the trees to get to the feeders. So I positioned myself at the top of the woodland walk and sat in wait.

This young juvenile soon appeared. Having been born late in the summer, his moult into the thicker winter coat started later. Head moult and side of body moult isn't quite finished. It is a hard life for red squirrels born towards the end of summer as they really need to busy themselves storing food for the winter.

He peeps round the tree to see if it is all clear to make his way to the feeder.

Down the juvenile red moves headfirst. I am often asked how it does this. The answer is that they have ankle joints that are adapted to be super flexible. When a red squirrel wants to climb down it can rotate its feet 180 degrees, digging its claws into the trunk and hanging from its back legs.

In human terms this would mean that you could rotate your feet around until they were pointing backwards.

This juvenile red is using his sharp claws to show what a super climber he is. What a prize he carries to eat high in the canopy.

Down near the feeder this young juvenile just manages to hold onto the branch without tipping over.

He is building up leg muscle all the time so that he can climb always keeping his balance.

Nearly balanced; he just needs to pull himself up so all legs are on the branch. How tempting those hazelnuts seem.

He made it successfully just pausing to look down at another red squirrel who is approaching the feeder. On this photo the moult can be clearly seen.

I also was able to observe more agility in a juvenile red by its balancing acts.

This one is very well positioned to enjoy its hazelnut. However not for long as another red is just approaching. A quick glance down assures this red that it is in no danger and he finishes off his kernel.

Underscar timeshare owners are able to borrow this booklet from Oxley's reception at Underscar apartments near Applethwaite in Cumbria.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Foraging for Breakfast.

They say, " the early bird catches the worm. " That is why this photographer is filling the feeder with hazelnuts at 5.30am on an August morning.I didn't have to wait long before a red squirrel came for breakfast.

The squirrel held the nut in its jaw and scampered along the wall displaying wonderful agility skills, as captured when tracking the movement with my camera. It took 7 seconds to travel the length of the wall and into the wood.

A little while later the same red squirrel returns to select a hazelnut and stays to eat the nut whilst perched on the branch.

The same red squirrel returns for a third helping of hazelnuts which it buries to hopefully find later.

A red squirrel has an exceptionally good sense of smell.They can find buried food underneath a foot of snow and know if a nut is rotten without opening it. Hope this red squirrel finds this nut during the winter. 

This photographer is now going for her breakfast!