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|Category:||Animals / Wildlife|
Photographing red squirrels - ePz member Cheryl Surry shares her red squirrel photography expertise.
The red squirrel is an icon of British Wildlife and due to their rarity and cuteness rate highly in the top ten species for most Britons.
The UK has two resident species of squirrel, the grey and the red; the red being the native squirrel but also the more scarce of the two.
The red is smaller than the grey and the population is believed to have been in decline since the 1940s. The causes of the decline include periods of hunting of the red as a pest where a bounty was paid for each tail, which is now a fate that befalls the grey. The grey is being eradicated in some areas to allow the re-introduction of the red and to protect already existing populations. The grey causes a threat to the red mainly through a virus that it carries which was responsible for wiping out some 80% of the red population at Formby Point a couple of years ago.
So if you are lucky enough to live near or to visit a stronghold for the reds how do you go about getting a good image?
The red is generally less confident than the grey around humans, but with some patience and pre-planning can be photographed on the ground or placed perches. The red spends a lot of its time in the treetops, coming down to foray for food, and it is this knowledge that can help you as a photographer get an image.
One of the best baits to use is hazelnuts, these are not only a good food source for the squirrel, but also look good in the final image. Whether the shell should be cracked or not is a matter of personal choice, I tend to favour cracking as the squirrel is less likely to run off and bury the nut as soon as it has found it.
Find a suitable log or perch which is befitting of the subject and place it in an area with a clear or less busy background. Bait the log with some hazelnuts or crushed nuts (unsalted) and wait. It is better to wait in one place than to chase around looking for the squirrels. A case of if you bait it, he will come! Well obviously it’s not guaranteed, but generally works.
There are also some hides in red squirrel locations that you can find by searching the web, like at Wallington Hall in Northumberland. These can provide good access to reds as they will be used to the feeding regime. The same is true of Formby where the population is recovering, but be sure to find a location free of discarded monkey nut shells which will spoil your photo.
Since the squirrels are generally in quite dense forest you will need to use a high ISO and shoot with the lens fairly wide open. The shutter speed you choose will depend on how many you are prepared to discard as the squirrel is constantly twitching whilst eating. I tend to shoot at around 1/100th as a minimum if at all possible.
Of course if you don’t live near a red population then the above can be applied to greys as well.
Words and images by Cheryl Surry.
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