Photographing red squirrels on Brownsea Island, Dorset
I had a fantastic three days photographing red squirrels on Brownsea Island in Dorset last week.
Brownsea Island is, as the name suggests an Island in the middle of Poole harbour in Dorset. It’s owned by the National Trust and is managed as a nature reserve. It’s probably the best place to see and photograph red squirrels in the south of the country. We all know about how the grey squirrels displaced the reds by out-competing them for food and also by passing on a virus that affects red squirrels – but not the greys. This means they have disappeared from most of their former range in England; but because Brownsea is an Island the greys never made it ashore there so the reds are safe! There are about three hundred red squirrels on Brownsea which is a large enough number to be a self-sustaining population.
Late autumn is one of the best times to spot and photograph the red squirrels because they spend more time on the ground gathering food than to see them through the winter.
Having already been to Brownsea Island a couple of years ago I already knew where the best locations to photograph the squirrels would be. It was a case of setting up and waiting for them to arrive. You really have to concentrate though because these small mammals move incredibly quickly; so you have to be ready to hit the shutter button at a split second’s notice.
I managed to get a variety of images from the sitting-on-a-log-eating-nuts variety to action shots of them running and leaping about at a fair rate of knots. I was most pleased with a picture of a squirrel in mid-air. I was on Brownsea with a few photographer friends and we noticed the squirrels were leaping from a tree stump to a log a few feet away. They were doing this on a regular basis so we waited for about three hours and I finally got my shot. A red squirrel – in flight – that was sharp. I have to say I was really, really pleased. This type of image was top of my list for the trip.
I also experimented with backlighting the squirrels which I think worked quite well. Again this type of image was on my wish-list for the trip.
So, all in all a very successful expedition. Many thanks to the National Trust for continuing to look after this very special Island.