Words and Photos by James C Duncan
In Scotland, one of our most iconic mammals has returned to its former site in Balloch Castle Country Park after an absence of more than 50 years!
Red Squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris) were once a common sight in the park.
After the great storm hurricane of 1968 that swept the area, the introduced non-native North American Grey squirrels started to take over and pushed the Reds out as they were larger and immune to a virus they carried, now known as squirrel pox.
As a naturalist, my last encounter in Balloch Park with the Red squirrels was in the late 1960s or early 1970s when they reminded me of our early childhood days in school with the ‘Tufty Club’.
Set up by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), the Tufty Club saw Tufty the red squirrel character communicate simple safety messages to children across the UK.
It’s fantastic to see our native reds back in our local park.
They are a joy to watch and photograph.
A red squirrel is a captivating sight, though you do need a lot of patience and a lot of luck.
Grey squirrels can still be found in the park.
Sightings of both reds and greys can be reported to the Scottish Wildlife Trust.
Red squirrels make a rough nest called a ‘drey’ out of twigs, leaves and strips of bark high up in the tree canopy.
Males can be seen chasing females through the trees, leaping across branches and spiralling up and down tree trunks.
Locals and visitors to the area often see multiple individuals at one time, including young – called kittens – as they forage for acorns on the ground.
With their distinctive russet fur, tufted ears, and twitching tail, (though during moulting, particularly at the end of the summer, they may lose the ear tufts, they do grow back though) they are comical-looking characters.
Autumn is a great time to watch them gather food to cache for the long winter months.
Red squirrels do not hibernate, but they do keep stores of food to see them through difficult times when fresh food is not available.
If you’re out and about in the park, please help by sending any sightings of Red or Grey online to the Scottish Wildlife Trust here; Scottishsquirrels.org.uk/