Much excitement this morning… we’re off to Brownsea Island to visit my good friends, the red squirrels! Our last, very successful, visit was a few years ago with 10 (10!) red squirrel sightings and of course it’s where we adopted our travel buddy, Squiz.
Brownsea Island sits in the Poole harbour, providing a haven for wildlife, particularly for its 200+ red squirrel population. Decimated by a virus carried by the greys on the mainland, Brownsea is one of few places in England that still boasts a population of red squirrels. Much smaller than the greys and very shy, the reds unlike the greys, did not adapt to the human invasion. They prefer to remain “proper” wild squirrels, thank you very much.
Despite an early start, we don’t make it off the ferry onto Brownsea until just after 10. I’m very conscious of squirrels habits, busy early morning and late afternoon, so it should come as no disappointment that they are not about….but it doesn’t.
Hopes and heads high, we set of on the first of many tracks. The squirrel walk, the bird sanctuaries and hides, the outer walking track, the inner walking track, the visitors centre….no squirrels to be seen anywhere. There’s lots of evidence of nibbling though…
We do see though, many fabulous things: water bird chicks, still downy fluff, black headed gulls, massive herring gulls, terns and oyster catchers, all bothering their parents for breakfast, or perhaps second breakfast. Endless rainbow hued dragonflies and blue damselflies. A fat rabbit thumps by, tail flashing and further on, a stunningly plumed pheasant and his dowdy lady friend emerge from the long grass. Later, we see peacocks, the male with his glorious tail and a female who eats from my hand. But no squizs.
By 3.30, we’ve been waking for 5 hours and in tiredness, hope is virtually lost. Chris suggests home, I’m desperately clinging on, knowing that the second wave of squirrel “busy time” should be just around the corner. I wheedle another pass at the squirrel walk to buy time and a ranger suggests the boardwalk as a good sighting spot.
All of a sudden… success! Right outside the church a squirrel has braved the crowds. He’s a spring baby judging by his size. Luckily for us, he’s failed to read the squirrel handbook and is willing to come closer for the promise of nuts.
Oh happy day! We’ve seen many red squirrels around the globe, all of whom have been intensely shy. This little one approachs with a great deal of caution, but comes close enough to claim a thrown peanut, then bolts to a hidey hole to enjoy it. He makes a few reappearances then disappears. Chris suggests home again, clearly relieved that we’ve had success of some kind. Is he mad? My theory is where there’s one, there’s more.
It’s off to the boardwalk, and it’s here where things really start to get good. This is where our baby went to hide. He spots us, quite alone on the path, and clearly has linked us with treats – he bounds over, still cautious, but quite willing to engage for nuts.
We’re then led on a charming “more nuts please” squirrel flirtation where he begs for his nut, collects it from an approved distance from us, then proceeds bury each one, firmly tamping them down for good measure. He’s so cute, and I’m so tired at this point that I’m virtually in tears from both relief and joy.
The nut dance goes on for quite a while, but in our enthusiasm, supply has outstripped demand. Our little buddy’s memory is excellent – he goes back over our path, meticulously collecting each nut he missed. Chris drags me away, ever closer to the front gate…nope, he’s got no hope.
Further down the boardwalk, there’s a flash of red, then another! Two red squirrels, in full chase, not giving a moment’s thought as to who’s around, making baby squirrels in mind I suspect. Very promising… we’ve hit the jackpot in this spot. Another flash of red darts by. 3!
The reality of the last ferry (5 pm) starts to dawn. Surely there’s a little longer….just one more. And my luck is in, a fully grown, lusciously plump and fluffy squirrel appears on the embankment above us. Working on the theory that if one red squirrel has learnt to accept nuts then others might…I throw another. He’s on it in a flash and even bolder than our baby. Very obligingly, he takes up position on the tip of a log, offering a perfect photo opportunity.
Eventually, I give in to the pressure of the last ferry, stopping only to pick up a tiny pine cone for Squiz – a memento from his home town. Very happy and relieved to have seen our 4. Not the 10 of last time, but a perfectly respectable number nonetheless. Especially when others in the ferry queue tell us they saw none.
Spirits are high, if exhausted, by the time we make it home. And just to round the day out, a baby grey squirrel makes a tentative appearance at dusk. Squirrel bliss – it’s a perfect end to our last day in England.