Peter Yeats learns from a mas­ter about red squir­rel con­ser­va­tion

Peter Yeats is in the field learn­ing all he can from a mas­ter con­ser­va­tion­ist

Air Gunner - - Contents -

AsI wrote in my last ar­ti­cle, ‘See­ing Red’, I was lucky enough to spend a full day with Glen Gra­ham, a red squir­rel con­ser­va­tion of­fi­cer, who as full-time es­tate ranger has sole re­spon­si­bil­ity for pro­tect­ing red squir­rels over an es­tate of 20,000 acres. His pre­ferred tool for the job is an air ri­fle, and for the cu­ri­ous, it’s an AA S510, in .22 cal­i­bre, run­ning at about 30 ft.lbs., shoot­ing H& N Bar­racuda Match pel­lets. He does say that full- power sub-12 ft.lbs. air ri­fles are fine for hunt­ing grey squir­rels, but he prefers the flat­ter tra­jec­tory of FAC sim­ply be­cause his other es­tate du­ties re­quire an FAC ticket, any­way.

Over a cof­fee, I ex­plained that I hoped to write about re­duc­ing grey squir­rel num­bers to help con­serve our na­tive red species and to set up two feeder lo­ca­tions in the wooded area of my per­mis­sion, mak­ing my prac­ti­cal con­tri­bu­tion to the cause. As we talked, Glen showed me the kind of ev­i­dence I should look for when I start with my feed­ers.

Greys like maize, but reds don’t, so one of the first clear signs will be the con­di­tion of the maize in the feed mix­ture. Reds will throw the maize to the ground, un­dam­aged, but feed on the other pre­ferred seeds; if the maize has the soft cen­tre gouged out, then grey squir­rels are present. Other signs are pro­vided by gnawed pine cones, in conif­er­ous wood­land, and the hairs at­tached to dou­ble-sided tape stuck to the un­der­side of the feed­ers’ hinged lids. Greys’ hair is not only a less rusty colour than the reds’, but it is thicker, coarser and dif­fer­ent in cross-sec­tion from the finer hair of the reds. Check­ing for these de­tails at your feed­ers will tell you im­me­di­ately if you need to set up your hide and get down to shoot­ing.

CAREFULY PO­SI­TIONED

Once we’d fin­ished our cof­fee, it was off to the first hide and feeder lo­ca­tion of the day, and I could im­me­di­ately see why Glen loves his job.

“This is where I work,” he said. “The best of­fice in the world!” It’s hard to dis­agree.

Glen’s hide and feeder were very care­fully po­si­tioned. The hide it­self lay in dap­pled sun­light near the edge of the wood – it was a sim­ply glo­ri­ous, sunny day of this year’s heat- wave – ex­actly 25 yards from the large feeder.

“The vast ma­jor­ity of my shots are taken at the feeder. My gun is ze­roed at that dis­tance, even though it shoots flat right out to 40 yards. Be­cause ev­ery shot is taken at pre­cisely the same dis­tance, a scoped and ze­roed sub-12 ft.lbs. gun is just as ef­fec­tive as FAC for this kind of job.” Glen told me. He also pointed out that the line of fire to the feeder al­lowed for shots to the foot of the tree, for greys that might choose to feed on the ground. The feeder plat­form was also in line with the trunk of a tree that stood five yards fur­ther on.

“Safe back stop,” he said, even though we were in a pri­vate wood, well off the beaten track.

I re­ally ap­pre­ci­ated his at­ten­tion to de­tail and would re­mem­ber that for the sight­ing of my two smaller feed­ers.

“I use larger feed­ers than the ones you’re go­ing to use, be­cause the area

that I cover is so large and squir­rels won’t stay long near an empty feeder, so the time and food would have been com­pletely wasted.”

I made a men­tal note to visit mine fre­quently and avoid that mis­take.

“Why have you used the edge of the wood for the feeder?” I asked. “Aren’t there more squir­rels to­ward the cen­tre?”

“I’ve found that the edges of woods are more pro­duc­tive, and some of the larger clear­ings. I think that it’s some­thing to do with be­ing able to see clearly any­thing that might be ap­proach­ing. They seem very sen­si­tive to move­ment, as well as ex­posed skin. The type of cammo that I use seems less im­por­tant than the sim­ple fact that it is camo, and I have my face cov­ered with a shoot­ing veil. Once you’re in­side the hide, you’re very quickly for­got­ten. I’ve had squir­rels right next to the hide and even on the roof!”

EX­PE­RI­ENCE COUNTS

Other great ad­vice in­cluded tak­ing food and drink, as well as a com­fort­able seat and cush­ion. Glen also rec­om­mended us­ing a two- man hide be­cause it en­ables stretch­ing dur­ing a long ob­ser­va­tion and enough room for your gear.

Af­ter check­ing the feeder and de­cid­ing that he’d need to re­turn with­out my pres­ence, we left this idyl­lic spot and trav­elled to the next feeder lo­ca­tion, which was even more iso­lated. The first task?

“Tuck your trousers into your socks. There are quite a few deer in these woods and, where there are deer, there are ticks. Lyme dis­ease isn’t pleas­ant, and I’ve known ticks to get in­side trousers above socks. That’s why I wear good- qual­ity, high lace- up boots over my trousers.”

I didn’t need to be told twice! I re­mem­bered see­ing deer in the wood of my per­mis­sion, on sev­eral oc­ca­sions, so would be more care­ful from now on. Clearly, ex­pe­ri­ence re­ally does count.

The next feeder was deep in the wood, with no path. GPS led Glen eas­ily and quickly to its lo­ca­tion and, as good for­tune would have it, there was a red squir­rel at the feeder. We were able to ob­serve it for a few sec­onds be­fore it be­came aware of us and then scam­pered up the tree from where it peered as us over the edge of a hor­i­zon­tal branch with en­dear­ing, cheeky cu­rios­ity. Mag­i­cal!

The other good news was the maize strewn all over the ground – classic be­hav­iour for reds, none with the grooves char­ac­ter­is­tic of feed­ing grey squir­rels. This red was safe from in­vad­ing greys, at least for now. See­ing, and know­ing this was a great way to end my day learn­ing about red squir­rel con­ser­va­tion from Glen.

Soon, we were in his 4x4 and head­ing back to­ward my car, and our time to­gether was al­most over, but not be­fore a clear view of a deer run­ning through the woods right next to the road on which we were trav­el­ling.

It had been a fan­tas­tic day, one that I would never for­get. Glen had taught me very clearly why air­gun­ners re­duc­ing the num­bers of grey squir­rels is so very im­por­tant. He shared with me a lot of knowl­edge, born of ex­pe­ri­ence, that I would soon be able to ap­ply to my own ef­forts in re­duc­ing greys, all to help con­serve our na­tive habi­tat, birds species tar­geted by greys, and es­pe­cially, our de­light­ful red squir­rels.

The trail cam­era of­fers in­valu­able in­for­ma­tion about who has been feed­ing

RIGHT: The best of­fice in the world!

BE­LOW: We checked to see what food had been eaten

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