Tracking the Red Trail in Mid Wales

Red Squirrel discovering the feeding station above Llanddewi Brefi

In early May red squirrels eventually re-discovered our feeding station above Llanddewi Brefi.  We were overjoyed to find reds on camera again at his location where we have been monitoring red squirrel activity for over three years.   It was back in August 2018 that the feeder had to be taken down and moved a short distance as the larch coupe where the feeder was located was found to be diseased and was felled.  The absence of red squirrels was concerning, but volunteer Merryll persisted, keeping an eye out for activity and refreshing the food when it became stale.  Recently the feeder has had regular visits from more than one red squirrel.  You can view some charming footage of the ‘mating chase’ here.

With the help of data gleaned from our volunteer cone hunt in July, we have been tracking a hive of red squirrel activity at Clywedog Forest above Llanfair Clydogau. We currently have eleven trail cameras recording activity in this forest and in the adjacent Forest, Bryn Mawr. In May we discovered an active drey in Bryn Mawr, a delight for the two project officers, who spent an extended five minutes watching three red squirrels, most likely a mother and her kits, as they viewed us from their drey tree.   We have been monitoring a variety of interesting behaviours on this survey, including red and grey squirrel interactions and bone gnawing. Squirrels chew on bones as well as deer antlers as they benefit from the calcium content.  Volunteer Rhian Mai Hubbart was thrilled to find this footage when she checked the cameras on her regular visit to site.

Red Squirrel in Tywi Glasffrwd, April 2019

Volunteer Chris Harris has also been picking up some interesting footage from our cameras in Tywi Glasffrwd above Pontrhydfendigaid.  Although the nest box that we installed early in the year does not appear to have been used by squirrels, the new camera locations are proving productive. Chris captured some excellent footage of a red squirrel on a fallen pine tree.  There’s a lot of large-seeded lodgepole pine at this site, ideal food for red squirrels.  As long as the pine remains, the red squirrels are also likely to stay in the area.

 

Red Squirrel in Dalarwen, June 2019

In 2017 student Madeleine Powell undertook a camera trap survey for the project in and around Dalarwen Forest.  The survey was very successful in picking up pine marten activity but unfortunately did not record any red squirrels in this part of the Focal Site.  Since 2017 we have been steering Project volunteers away from using feeders which attract larger mammals and towards using ‘ground cameras’, training trail cameras on the ground, focused on evidence of squirrel feeding.  This technique proved successful.  Madeleine installed a series of trail cameras in May, and by mid June, she had a red squirrel on camera.  The image is black and white, and to date is the only appearance, but it proves that red squirrels do persist at Dalarwen, despite pine marten presence.  It appears that, in the presence of predators, red squirrels are keeping a low profile in this forest, a very sensible strategy!

Madeline has also set up a camera survey in Cwm Berwyn Forest above Tregaron.   The last photographic evidence of red squirrels in this forest was in 2013 when the Vincent Wildlife Trust undertook a trapping survey.  We were keen to know if reds were still using this part of the Focal Site . This forest links up with the forestry around our feeding station near Llanddewi Brefi, and we are keen to find out where the red squirrels using our feeder are spending the rest of their time.  Within a couple of weeks of installing the cameras, Madeleine had some great footage of red squirrels in Cwm Berwyn.

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Our long standing volunteer Matthew Hand has been following up on a red squirrel sighting in forestry above Rhandirmwyn with a trail camera survey. Matthew had attempted to record reds on camera in Nant Y Bai Forest previously, with no results. Matthew installed cameras in early September and when he checked one of the camera monitor screens a week later, he had a red squirrel on camera. “I was so excited when I thought I had one on that tiny screen” Matthew explained, “that I ran home and never bothered to check the other cameras. I’ll be up there early next week to check the rest; celebratory pint tonight”

The red squirrel tracking activity will soon be taking another dimension thanks to our Healthy Reds project. The project will be training staff and key volunteers to handle red squirrels in order to insert pit tags, which will enable identification of individual squirrels. This will give us a much better idea of how many red squirrels are present on a particular site. Following a course of red squirrel handling training, a pit-tagging exercise will begin in Clywedog forest in the late autumn.

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