It’s been a long time coming but at last I have had an opportunity to photograph red squirrels. I was all keyed up to go and see them at Formby a year or two back only to discover that I had missed the boat and that they had all succumbed to the dreaded squirrel pox. Several times over the years I have stumbled across them, in France, on Brownsea island, in the Lake District and the Scottish Borders but never when I have had my camera with me.
Fortunately Des managed to track down a site within reach (just!) of home and along with Mark Green, we set off North to an estate where the landowner is putting considerable effort into maintaining the remaining red squirrel population.
There might not be many around these days and even here at an established viewing and feeding site, we only probably saw three individuals; but they were not shy in coming forward. Mark saw the first one run across his path within a couple of minutes of leaving the car.
I always knew that they were cute, everybody does, but I couldn’t help being smitten by them. They are enchanting creatures, no doubt about that, but they are so comical. They are a photographer’s dream subject and I was surprised how similar they are to grey squirrels when it comes to resourcefulness. They visited the site in front of us for about ten minutes in every hour, so it was slow going, but when they appeared, they always did something interesting.
In my own mind, I had them down as pretty but more serious, wilder animals, than the greys, but they were just as happy to use man-made feeders, eat peanuts, hang upside down while eating and generally act the fool as any other squirrel.
I spent some time trying hard to get images of them on natural looking branches and trees, with cleanish backgrounds, but it wasn’t easy.
The site is not set-up for photography and the viewing position is just a bit far from the feeders for my lenses. The ground is covered with small saplings in gaudy tree-guards and it is a minefield of sawn branches lying at improbable angles and every one of their favoured sitting positions had twigs in front of it, but despite the difficulties, we managed a few.
Every time one appeared, it would leave the wood and race across the clearing along strategically positioned poles between the few remaining trees to the feeder and go straight inside. When we left, I was disappointed at how few chances I had been able to get of them in a natural setting, but when I opened my pictures up, I found that I personally liked the ones taken amid the junk best anyway.
Not for the first time, I realised that I was guilty of ignoring the lessons I had recently learned elsewhere. In modern Britain, a red squirrel sitting on a dustbin is a pretty natural image and one sitting on a nice branch with a flawless background is quite likely to be a fake set-up.
That cliche image of a red squirrel sitting in a nice fir tree with his tail curled back over his head is a lovely one and I’d never turn it down, but the ones I like, show him scratching himself under the armpits and eating while upside down hanging by his back toes, even if there is a dustbin in the shot. Besides the dustbin has quite a nice patina of its own anyway.
I love the way that the lid has to be wired on to keep these guys out of the food. It seems that they are just as ‘Mission Impossible’ as their larger cousins after all.
I hope that you have found the more detailed explanation of what I was trying to achieve with these images, interesting. If, having read this, you think that I am talking rubbish then at least you have stopped and thought about it long enough to come to that conclusion which is something of a result in my book. If you would like to comment on this article or anything else relating to my website, please feel free to contact me using the adjacent form. Feedback is always greatly appreciated and very helpful when it comes to improving both my site and my photography. Thank you for looking.