Ghost

Fox mist 1 Jan 21

The year has turned but earth and sky are divided by a cold curtain. On this morning when trees are only suggestions in the grey, I was guided to a fox by a magpie, cackling its annoyance in the great misty somewhere. Sure enough, after a little waiting, a familiar face appeared.

January is the breeding season for foxes, and also for a mammal that views them with great distrust. Grey squirrel: whistler above us, pausing in its clambering to breakfast on a nut.

Squirrel breakfast 1 Jan 21

They are not a British native, of course; as is well known, they were deliberately released on many occasions in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Their real home is eastern North America. They have not been good news for the red squirrel, which in south-eastern England is now restricted to a few islands off the south coast.

I saw this one on the Isle of Wight a while ago. It is a very different species to the red squirrel of North America.

Red squirrel IoW 23 May 2019

Back to the greys. They are controversial and probably have had some impact on other species too, but realistically, it is the grey squirrel or no squirrel in much of England at present. And as wildlife ambassadors, they sit in a unique niche – especially when a ghost like this catches the eye.

Albino squirrel 1 Jan 21

We had thought our white squirrels lost. For decades, they have brightened our trees but many years passed without a sighting – and yet, here one is, on New Years Day 2021. The gene that causes albinism is recessive, meaning an animal can carry it while retaining normal pigment – it has to be present in both parents to create a white squirrel. Unlike many animals with albinism, they survive well in the wild.

I suppose in a way they have been here all the time, the gene passed quietly through generations without showing itself. Perhaps a small reminder that there can be more hope in life than that readily seen.

24 thoughts on “Ghost

    1. Thank you, it was well worth the wait in the chill. He actually had a woodpigeon meandering about 10 feet in front of him but knew better than to charge. Pigeons nearly always get airbourne in time.

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  1. I’m glad you explained about the gray squirrel, and that would account for the numbers of the red squirrel being down. I’m glad we don’t have gray squirrels here, but I know they are in the south part of Vancouver Island and working their way north – sadly. They are harmful to bird populations as well. So sad to see. I wish we could train all of the species to just be vegetarians. Love that misty fox picture!

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    1. Or perhaps, train humans to not release non-native species! I don’t blame the people of the past for not understanding ecological science, but it’s still happening on a significant scale, which is mindboggling. Not the squirrels (the UK is strict on most invasive species now) but thinking of pythons in the Everglades etc, you have to ask what, if anything, we have learned.

      Our red squirrel is a lot bigger than its North American namesake, and not closely related. They are on the edge of their range in the UK so easily out-competed by the grey. They’re still common in Europe and Russia.

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  2. Adele, Happy New Year! Just this morning I was watching a Grey Squirrel in our yard. A proper Grey one. She was hunting for peanuts. These guys have done the same to our native Squirrel. There are only a couple of spots where the Reds still survive. Also our true Greys are being replace by a Black morph. Seems the black gene is dominant and there are only a few proper Greys around. So now with have lots of Black Grey Squirrels! I guess in time they will just be Black Squirrels!

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    1. That is really sad. People should leave species in the ecosystems that are adapted to handle them! It is curious about the melanistic / black ones. They appear in the UK sometimes, but are quite localised, but I have seen them in Toronto.

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  3. I love that foggy fox shot – so beautiful!
    The loss of your native red squirrels (I always think of BP’s Squirrel Nutkin) is a sad thing and I’m sorry that our eastern greys have contributed to that. Sadly, one story among many invasive ones. We occasionally get all black squirrels here. There is a city park about 40 minutes away that is famous for them. Interestingly, there is a town in the midwest, Olney, Illinois that claims to be the white squirrel capital. They attract tourists, so officials occasionally trap and relocate any grays to keep the white genes coming. https://www.enjoyillinois.com/illinois-200/olneys-white-squirrels/

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    1. It is sad. You still see the reds on islands, and in wilder parts of the north. It’s not the greys’ fault of course but a good lesson why we shouldn’t mess with ecosystems. There is some evidence, not universally accepted, that the recovery of the pine marten may help resolve the crisis because it tends to hunt greys more than reds.

      It must be very strange to have so many white squirrels in one place!

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    1. Yes, she was there but she ignores the foxes and on the whole, they ignore her. I thought it was watching the woodpigeon (out of view here) but didn’t charge. It sauntered off into a garden after a bit.

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  4. The fox is mesmerizing, Adele! I love your species of red squirrel with those wonderful ear tufts. Ours are relatively accepting of humans and make for good subjects. Of course, we see greys the most and the ones I enjoy are those with black fur which I am sure you know are a melanistic variant, mostly of the eastern gray. (Yes, I spelled that both ways…here we use gray more while in Europe grey seems the more used. πŸ™‚ )

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    1. πŸ™‚ yes, we usually spell it ‘grey’. It’s interesting how language / spelling evolves over time!

      I have never seen the melanistic variant of the eastern grey in the UK but it has been reported from time to time. I spotted one in Toronto some years ago. Interestingly, our Eurasian red squirrel is also fairly variable, and is much darker in the Alps.

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