Tracking Red Squirrels in Mid Wales

Red Squirrel by Rebecca Vincent

Red Squirrel by Rebecca Vincent

Good news!

The feeder above Llanddewi Brefi has had regular red squirrel visitors again since mid-December 2017. In the last two and a half years since the feeder and camera were installed, this location has been a regular 'haunt' for reds. However, over the summer and autumn months, the frequency of visits dropped substantially and then petered out. However, the reds are back again and there is more than individual using the feeder. Volunteer and wildlife photographer Paul Harry has recorded some excellent footage of the red squirrels using this feeder which can be viewed here. The short video shows some interesting squirrel behaviour, including tail-wagging and, if you listen carefully, distinct calls. The photo opposite is captured from this footage.

Red Squirrel feeder above Llanddewi Brefi

Feeder with a Red Squirrel on it at Llanddewi Brefi.

Red Squirrel feeder above Llanddewi Brefi in daytime

Red Squirrel Feeder at Llanddewi Brefi

Paul has also been hard at work conducting a survey in the NRW-managed woodland Esgair Dafydd near Cynghordy. Back in October, we were excited to hear that Paul managed to get a red on camera in this forest, the first red spotted in this area for several years.  The 4-month survey using the standard method of a series of trail cameras trained on feeder boxes only produced footage of grey squirrels. The greys were quickly trapped and dispatched, but still no sign of the elusive reds.

The feeders and scatter-bait appeared to have been drawing grey squirrels into this woodland.  Then Paul had a brainwave; he noticed an area on the ground with several freshly-chewed cones, possible evidence that squirrels had been feeding in the area. One last camera was installed, pointing at the evidence, without the use of a feeder or ground bait.

Trail camera pointing to the ground

Trail camera pointing to the ground

The camera was left in a location for about 3 weeks, and when checked there were several photos of a red squirrel foraging on the ground.  Try and spot the red in the photo above.  We were intrigued to discover that a red squirrel had probably been present all along but did not use the feeders due to the presence of grey squirrels.  Grey squirrels tend to dominate food supplies; a dynamic that seems to have been at play during the course of this survey. The results from the Esgair Dafydd survey will inform future surveys in the Mid Wales Red Squirrel Focal Site, especially in woodlands around the edge of the focal site where grey squirrels are more likely to be present.  Paul is moving his survey efforts to the Irfon Forest soon and will be experimenting using 'ground cams' without feeders initially.
A survey is also ongoing in Blaen Rhisglog forest, located between Ffarmers and Cwrt Y Cadno. This site is just a 'hop and a jump' from Bryn Arau Duon, where there has been a known red squirrel population for many years.  Volunteer Rowena Mathews is shown here with Red Squirrel Officer Becky Hulme has been trudging through snow, rain and mud to the monitor camera traps on site.

Red Squirrel Officer Becky Hulme and volunteer Rowena Mathews

Red Squirrel Officer Becky Hulme and volunteer Rowena Mathews

Back in February whilst setting up the survey, Rowena was joined by a reporter from BBC Radio Wales who recorded an interview for the 'Country Focus' programme, great publicity for the Project.  We have only had jays, a tawny owl, badgers, rabbits and grey squirrels on camera to date.  Rowena is currently busy with lambing, so she has been following protocol to prevent the transfer of disease from grey to red squirrels and removing the food source when grey squirrels are identified. She intends to start trapping the grey squirrels soon and we will be experimenting with 'ground cams' at this site as well.

Volunteer Rhian Mai Hubbart has been 'squirrelling away' since mid-March monitoring camera traps at Clywedog, another NRW managed forest near to Llanfair Clydogau. Rhian is pictured here on the left along with Graduate Ecologist, Becky Blackman from Carmarthenshire County Council who helped to set up the survey. Rhian, who works at a horse and pony rescue centre is passionate about animals and is using her weekly day off work to undertake this survey.  To date, we've only had a roe deer on camera, but we know that red squirrels are active nearby so think that we are in with a good chance of finding reds on camera during the course of this survey.

Red Squirrel Volunteer Rhian May and Graduate Ecologist Becky Blackman

Red Squirrel Volunteer Rhian May and Graduate Ecologist Becky Blackman

The remote camera at Bryn Arau Duon, installed and monitored by pupils from Ysgol Dyffryn Aman continued to have visits from a pine marten family over the winter months. In February the camera was moved a short distance to near to where the forest manager, Huw Denman had been getting red squirrels on his trail camera. NRW Land Management Officer Russell Jones is shown here installing the feeder box in its new location.

NRW Land Management Officer, Russell Jone, installing a red squirrel feeder

NRW Land Management Officer, Russell Jone, installing a red squirrel feeder

Judging from the quantity of pine marten scats in the vicinity, it was not surprising when a pine marten started paying regular visits to this feeder again.  However, at the end of March, we were excited to discover that a red squirrel has also been using this feeder!

Red Squirrel using the feeder

Red Squirrel using the feeder

The length of visits to the feeder have been short, and infrequent, but this seems to be in line with research carried out in Scotland on red squirrel behaviour in the presence of pine martens.  Reds are known to visit feeders that are being used by pine martens, but they will be on the look-out for this squirrel-predator and, being cautious, will not hang around for too long. The Red Squirrel Officer is currently liaising with an
MA student with an interest in interactions between pine martens and red squirrels. We hope that research into the dynamic between red squirrels and pine martens in mid-Wales might help us to develop suitable survey techniques for tracking red squirrels in the presence of pine martens.