My First Red Squirrel (at long last)

Instead of making new year’s resolutions this year I made a list of several things that I wanted to do or achieve during the course of the year. I won’t bore you with all of them, but I’m steadily working my way through the list. Near the top was an ambition I’ve had for years: to see a red squirrel. This is something that, despite having been to many of the theoretical ‘hot spots’ of this small rodent before, I seem to have failed at for quite some time. Until now that is.

On Sunday I visited Brownsea Island, the famous spiritual home of the scouting movement, and the actual home for around 200 red squirrels as well as hundreds of other species, from colonies of breeding Common tern to 24 species of dragonfly and numerous enormous Scots Pine trees. Owned by the National Trust, and partly leased to Dorset Wildlife Trust, Brownsea is accessible by boat from nearby Sandbanks, and is a mecca for scouts, ecotourists and families who want to experience its relative seclusion (from built development as opposed to seclusion from people). This was my first visit to the island and I had been assured that I was ‘bound’ to see a squirrel. I’d heard that before, but was, as usual, optimistic.

We parked the car at Sandbanks and walked the short distance to the ferry. I should apologise at this point that there is a notable lack of photos in this post. I had been camping the evening before, near the monumental, romantic ruin of Corfe Castle, sacked following the English Civil War, and my phone ran out of battery that night.

I therefore cannot provide you with a picture of the squirrel (the featured image at the top is not ‘my’ red squirrel but a stranger, labelled for general reuse as an image) but here is a photo of Corfe Castle instead, as a (very) small consolation.

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So, no photos of Brownsea I’m afraid. The benefit at the time was that my full concentration could be in the moment, as opposed to constantly feeling the need to record it for my future self. The memories will stay with me forever.

It might sound odd but I had butterflies in my stomach as we began our walk, setting out northwards across the island. It was the second day of the English school holidays and there had also been a swimming event on the Island that morning, so there were lots of people about; probably not the best scenario for squirrel watching. Nonetheless, we continued. We passed peacocks and hens with their chicks. We stopped by at a couple of bird hides and watched Common Terns as well as dozens of Cormorants and Oystercatchers on the lagoon. A couple of Spoonbills also appeared (many apologies on this front for lack of images). However, still no squirrels.

It was just before we approached an old vinery that the moment happened. We had left the picnicking families and celebrating swimmers behind us and the woodland was much quieter. Suddenly, a small furry animal appeared before us. We were just as startled as our gazes met for a fleeting moment. The squirrel darted to the left, climbing a great oak tree, all the while keeping a firm eye on us. Despite the thousands of visitors to Brownsea these glorious creatures remain timid and rather reclusive. This particular individual seemed to do all it could to avoid the paths by climbing trees and jumping branches.

The meeting only lasted a few minutes, if that, but it will be marked in my mind forever. My first red squirrel.

 

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