Thursday, 15 February 2018

TIMESHARE with the reds.

As an Underscar timeshare owner I would like to share with you my recent experiences at the resort enjoying the local wildlife. Staying at Underscar's timeshare with an on-site health spa, pool and bistro what more could one want?
And yet,there is more, for we share this idyll with a colony of red squirrels and they visit our walled gardens every day.

To help you visualise our location straight away I would like to share with you this photo by Chris Sale, who has kindly agreed for its use. It shows our timeshare nestled under Skiddaw Little Man.

To see the stunning photos of this landscape photographer,                     please visit

Wildlife photography can sometimes feel like a waiting game, but when nature comes through your patience is always rewarded. Several weeks of 2017 were spent at Underscar, in different weather conditions, using different props, in order to discover more about the day to day life of the Underscar Reds.

Red Squirrel using the wisteria as a climbing frame. 

Mike, the Underscar gardener has often told me how the Underscar reds use the many wisteria shrubs on the complex to get quickly to the feeders. Usually the wisteria is in leaf and flower. In November, as the shrub lost its leaves, I was so fortunate to observe red squirrels in acrobatic mode.

Up and down to the feeder.The outlook from the window at Manesty apartment was perfect armchair viewing. Can you spot the red squirrel on the plant? 

By using several open feeders positioned on the wisteria shrubs I started to try and bring the squirrels to me. Food was clearly the answer. All I had to do was sit patiently to lure the squirrels to these spots. If you look just to the right of the feeder you should spot part of a deer antler. Mineral rich deer antlers provide an extra source of calcium and phosphorus for squirrels, as well as helping them to sharpen and trim their incisors.

Out of the corner of my eye I see a flash of red at the top of the wisteria. It was right in front of my camera as it stopped to watch me. I hardly dared breathe. Fortunately the squirrel started to relax in my presence as it made its way to the feeder.

This squirrel has double-jointed ankles that allow it to climb down branches head-first.

On its way back from the feeder the squirrel decides to enjoy sitting on the wisteria to eat the hazelnut. Red squirrels can recognise nutritious food by smell.

I would hope that in the spring/summer months visitors to Underscar will still spot the red squirrels making their way to the feeders. The wisteria will look very different in flower.

Whatever season of the year we visit Underscar I try to find the best backgrounds before I compose my shots. Sometimes I am really lucky and a natural prop will work for me. Staying in Stonethwaite apartment in November 2017,
 I noticed at the top of the column step pillar an empty bird's nest. Could I get the red squirrels to come to me if I left hazelnuts in the empty nest?

Again I was lucky that a wisteria bush was twining itself 
around this pillar.So a perfect climbing frame for the red to use. 

At first the red squirrels would just come and take a nut and disappear straight down their wisteria climbing frame. After 3 days they started to stay and eat their nut.

This squirrel seemed very content to perch for up to 5 minutes and watch the comings and goings of visitors as they came up the many steps.The squirrel's thick fur isn't just for keeping warm either. A lifetime of rushing about tree tops is a prescription for bumps and bruises, so the fur protects them from brushes with thorns and twigs.Squirrels have excellent vision to judge distances in three dimensions.

Visitors in the summer months will see these wisteria branches holding beautiful flowers. I wonder how many of you will spot a red squirrel on the branches then? Thank you to Barbara Hedley for the use of the wisteria flower photographs.

Often the only sign of red squirrels in winter is their prints in the snow. On the ground they move in jumps like a rabbit, placing their front feet first, and then the hind feet in front of them. Pawprints are 3-4 cm long, and about 2cm wide.

This pawprint photo was taken by Kim Wright, our Underscar housekeeper. It shows the red squirrels making their way to the feeder near Derwent apartment.

Thank-you Kim for sending me photos of your Underscar winter.

In the month of November 2017 some mornings felt almost too cold to be squirrel watching. On a couple of mornings my camera malfunctioned with the cold.

One early morning I was rewarded with a magnificent sight to behold in the wild. I was aware that something was watching me eye to eye.

Winter meant that this red deer had grown a thicker coat to account for the colder weather.These coats are often brown or grey in colour, as the lighter coat blends more with the harsher seasonal environment.

After a few moments of staring at me this deer bounded back to its cover.

This coat will be shed again by the time summer comes, usually as a result of rubbing against trees and leaving large clumps throughout the forest.

Feeding hazelnuts in the November months makes sure red squirrels are in tip top condition when they breed. When the young are born in March there are many buds and catkins around to provide nutritious food.

At the beginning of this blog post I mentioned that I often employ props to attract the red squirrels. At Underscar in November 2017 this red squirrel nest was an instant attraction. It was made by "Cuddly-and-Thrilling" in Germany using real wool. In November each morning I would fill this with hazelnuts.

The red squirrel would go head first in the nest searching for its preferred nut.

Squirrel gymnastics are at their most impressive when launching themselves from dry stone walls onto tree branches.This red squirrel chose the same spot every morning to leap onto the woollen nest.

Leaping is an important trick, saving a squirrel from bounding across open ground and risking exposure to predators.

Leaping back to safety the long, bushy tail can act like a rudder for last second steering in mid-leap, and squirrels have whisker like receptor hairs on their forefeet to help them sense the right landing.

These adaptations are critical,because tree branches are rarely still. In autumn and winter when the wind howls, the twiggy canopy will turn into an obstacle of moving trapezes.

I was asked by another owner which was my favourite shot of the year. My answer was that it was a series of shots I took early morning in August 2017.

Emotion and habitat is what I like to capture in an image.  Spending time early morning, after stocking up the coconut tree feeder with hazelnuts, this is what I found happened. The reds became more interested and excited in my wooden box of nuts I had left on the wall. Placing it on the ground their curiosity got the better of them as they chose carefully nuts by their smell for freshness. They couldn't believe their good fortune in finding such a stash of hazelnuts.The fir cones contained pine nuts which I had carefully placed with tweezers in between the layers of the cones. A bank vole also joined in to pick up any hazelnut crumbs.They kept eating a nut and then going off to bury one.There always seemed to be the same squirrel on the wall watching the others. So some of the squirrels engaged in phantom nut burying to confuse him!

        Photo cropped from the original taken by Chris Sale.

Here we see the timeshare property surrounded by woodland which is home to the Underscar red squirrel colony.

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.