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Can You Spot The Squirrel?

Posted on - 4th May, 2010 - 2:31pm | Author - | Posted in - Uncategorized

I know several of you read my last three articles and are now becoming nature detectives. One of the best things about getting out there and enjoying nature is that it has no social barriers. Whether saint or a sinner, man or woman, old or new, British Wildlife treats us all the same and hopefully we treat wildlife with equal impartiality, but can this be possible?

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The humble snail with its amazing ability to go without food and water for anything up to 1 year should be treated with as much respect as something like the very rare Sand Lizard which can be found in the sand dunes around the Fylde coast. All wildlife is precious but on occasion some is a little more precious than others. As habitat is destroyed some creatures cannot cope with such actions and becomes endangered through no fault of their own, I’m certain you don’t need me to tell you that but what you may not know is, sometimes it is a well kept secret. I can feel your face screwing up at that last line and now you’re beginning to wonder if I have lost my literary mind so please allow me to explain.

Last year I decided to take Tracey’s children to the ‘Red Squirrel’ reserve in Formby; which is just south of Southport, and having made up a healthy picnic we began the one and a half hour journey, all looking forward to seeing at least one of this most beautiful creature. I took some sketch pads and sharp pencils, the kids had similar stuff whilst Tracey preferred the more modern approach and packed a digital camera into her bag. If you are like us, you take everything off the children who sit next to one another in the back of the car. It’s amazing how they can conjure up a small war between themselves, armed with nothing more than an old wooden chip fork or a paper tissue, so suitably disarmed they had to make do with ‘eye spy’ or ‘car spotting’ and thus the miles flew by until we reached the queue to enter the ‘squirrel reserve’. I looked forward and was pleased to discover I was only about 20th in the queue and the man at the head; who was taking the money and giving the tickets, was doing so at a fair old pace. With a beaming smile I turned to the kids and explained we would soon be able to get out and stretch our legs and explore the reserve. Next I noticed the entry price, ‘cars from £2.80’, not bad at all and soon we were at the toll booth at which sat a cheerful man in the safari suit. I asked if my humble car was only £2.80 and he nodded in splendid reply. Next I noticed the pile of cuddly soft squirrel toys and the kids wanted one each but not wanting to sell a kidney in order to finance the deal I decided to drive on. Down the bumpy path we crawled at 4 miles per hour, certainly not wanting to run one of the little tufty eared chaps over and seriously reduce the beleaguered squirrel population of Formby and before many minutes had passed we found a nice spot to park.

We slowly crept down the first path, hardly daring to breathe in case one of the ‘little nutkins’ should hear us and scurry away. Then, not having seen any we went a little faster down the next and by the time we had been down at least another 15 we were going at a fair old canter quite desperate to see any kind of mammal let alone a red squirrel. Running North, South, East and West brought no better results and all hope of getting as much as a glimpse of a squirrel was diminishing fast. Then I heard the most common sound, universally found on all outings, “I need the toilet”. Following the signs and dragging a cross legged 5 year old child down 4 paths isn’t easy so it was with great pride I managed to get my little charge safely to the WC. As Tracey was indoors helping her daughter with the call of nature I took the time to read the signs on the notice board. “Please either take your litter home or place it in the bin.” “Good advice” I thought. “Don’t leave valuables in your car, lock them in the boot.” Again, good advice. “2 years ago the red squirrels on this reserve caught a virus and died, if anyone should see a squirrel please notify a ranger.” What DEAD???

Yes they were all dead and that brings me to my point, why is it still called ‘the red squirrel reserve’ when like the all the other red squirrels in Lancashire, they don’t exist? Why don’t they have a sign up at the toll booth informing would be squirrel hunters, there aren’t any, and whilst I’m in the mood, what about ‘Puffin Island?’ Just off the North coast of Anglesey is Puffin Island and it can be reached at low water quite easily if you can swim a little. Well, when I say quite easily there is a current so fierce it could rip your cozzy off but that’s by the point. Now last year I happened to be there doing a spot of rock pool searching and I saw party of bird spotters arrive in the car park there. There were two car loads of tourists consisting of Grandma, Granddad, Mum and Dad and three children. Grandma was so excited at the prospect of seeing Puffins she was about to burst. Her enthusiasm could not be matched by any of her party but I must admit they were pretty keen also. Each member of the family carried a pair of field glasses and after a few minutes they all trained them at the little black and white birds sitting precariously on the side of the Island. Grandma was the first to speak. “Oh how wonderful” She said as she clasped her binoculars to her beating chest. Next she smiled at the children, not a normal smile but one that told of satisfaction and a job well done. “Can you see them?” She went on to ask. “Puffins are such dear little birds, they have a most colourful beak. Oh I’m so glad we took the trouble to drive all this way and I’m so pleased we have seen them.”

I stopped what I was doing and sidled over in a most ‘know all’ fashion. “Excuse me love,” I said with attitude. “Those aren’t Puffins, they’re Guillemots, in fact the rats ate all the Puffins years ago, I must admit that if had travelled a long distance like you have I would be quite ——-”

It was as if I’d taken the last meringue at a vicar’s tea party. “Not Puffins?” She gasped and would have probably continued to gasp as she beat me to a pulp had Tracey’s hand not pulled me to safety.

As we headed for the sanctuary of our car Tracey tried to explain how it would have done no harm to let the lady return home with the false knowledge she had seen Puffins. In hindsight, I suppose I could have.

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