The Red Squirrels of Snaizeholme

red squirrelred squirrelAs soon as we park at Mirk Pot Farm, Snaizeholme, we get a view of a red squirrel which has been attracted to the bird feeders. When it has finished, it scampers past, paying no attention to us, heading for a corner of the plantation.

Walking towards the viewing area down through the conifer plantation, we pause to watch a second squirrel which is sitting in the fork of a conifer nibbling a pine cone as if it were a corn on the cob.

squirrelThis squirrel not only runs towards us but circles around us a couple of times. I’m using my telephoto lens and I’ve got my camera attached to a walking pole which doubles as a monopod, so I struggle to focus on the squirrel as it pauses for a few seconds just a few feet away from me. 

Two or three red squirrels are active around the feeder at the viewing area, but none comes quite as close to us as the first two squirrels that we saw.

It’s hard to believe that when Hugh and Jane Kemp arrived at Mirk Pot Farm in 1966, Snaizeholme was a bare hillside. red squirrelThey initially planted conifers but encouraged the regrowth of native trees, such as rowan, birch, blackthorn and oak, by fencing off the area from grazing sheep. Red squirrels started to arrive in 1997.

Red squirrels are capable of thriving in isolated conifer woods like this but as the woodlands of the Yorkshire Dales start to return to their natural state with more deciduous trees, would the red squirrels be able to hold their own if greys started to move in?

Young rabbit at
Young rabbit at West Field, Snaizeholme
Chaffinch, coal tit and pheasant.
Chaffinch, coal tit and pheasant.

We see lots of coal tits – probably the most numerous bird in the plantation – and the inevitable chaffinches near the feeding station and also a great spotted woodpecker in the top of a dead tree. When we return to the car park a goldcrest is hopping about feeding on the branches of a willow by the bird feeders.

goldcrestIt’s so quick that I realise that I’d be better if my camera could take a burst of multiple exposures (if it can, it’s not given as an option in the manual) because the instant that I press the shutter button, it moves. In fact it is probably never entirely motionless during the time that we’re watching it.

Dales Centre

Gayle BeckI’ve been concentrating on photography and trying to keep up with my written notes during our stay here but after lunch at the Firebox cafe at the Dales Countryside Museum at Hawes, I get the perfect chance to spend an hour drawing by Gayle Beck as the others head off to the shops. My key-fob thermometer registers a comfortable 60° Fahrenheit. Winter gnats dance in the sunny sheltered bank clearing beside me.

Mist around Ingleborough

IngleboroughAs we return over the moor we pull in at the view-point to photograph mist rising around the sphinx-shaped bulk of Ingleborough as the sun starts to set.

Dark Skies

From my 1979 book 'A Sketchbook of the Natural History of Wakefield'. I've never seen the Milky Way as bright as this!
From my 1979 book ‘A Sketchbook of the Natural History of Wakefield’. I’ve never seen the Milky Way as bright as this, even in the Dales!

Appropriately for Halloween, we hear the screeching call of the barn owl as we venture out briefly to look at the stars.

Above the hill, the Great Bear is fading into thin cloud but overhead the ‘W’ of Cassiopeia looks brighter than it might at home, against the dark sky of this part of the Yorkshire Dales. Through binoculars there are bright star fields sprinkled along this arm of the Milky Way and nearby the Pleiades are also impressive through binoculars.

Even with dark skies, I’m struggling to see the Andromeda galaxy which is directly overhead with my unaided eyes but the misty patch that marks its bright centre is clearly visible in binoculars. The photons that are reaching our eyes tonight set off on their long journey from Andromeda 250 million years ago.