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Where can I spot red squirrels in the Devon area?

Photographing red squirrels at Escot (c) David Chapman
Photographing red squirrels at Escot (c) David Chapman

Photographer David Chapman tells us about some of the wildlife to spot this month and discovers the county’s home for an endangered species

What to spot

Great British Life: Fieldfares will come to ground to feed on windfall apples (c) David ChapmanFieldfares will come to ground to feed on windfall apples (c) David Chapman

FIELDFARE

Last month I featured the redwing, this month it is the turn of our other winter thrush, the fieldfare. This is a large thrush, about the size of a mistle thrush, which spends most of its time in flocks feeding on berries in hedgerows. But if we have a cold snap, fieldfares will come into gardens to feed on windfall apples and then they become much more confiding and will often fight amongst themselves for the best apples. This is when we can truly appreciate what a stunning bird this is.

Great British Life: Goose barnacles can be found on beaches after stormy weather (c) David ChapmanGoose barnacles can be found on beaches after stormy weather (c) David Chapman

GOOSE BARNACLES

If we have a winter storm it is well worth getting down to a beach to see what has been washed ashore. We can find some quite interesting things that should be well out to sea. Goose barnacles are fascinating creatures. When they are at their earliest stages they attach themselves to floating objects such as pieces of timber and discarded buoys and then they float through the oceans of the world siphoning the water for tiny prey. Without any control over direction they can get washed ashore and sadly that is the end of their journey.

Great British Life: Mistletoe is a semi-parasitic plant with distinctive berries (c) David ChapmanMistletoe is a semi-parasitic plant with distinctive berries (c) David Chapman

MISTLETOE

There are about 1,500 different species of mistletoe found in different parts of the world, but only one in Devon. It is semi-parasitic because although it does create some of its own sugars using chlorophyll, it also takes some water and minerals from its host plant. Our mistletoe grows on many different trees, most commonly apple and poplar, and its berries are eaten by a variety of birds including the mistle thrush, whose scientific name, Turdus viscivorus, literally means the thrush that eats mistletoe.

Where to go

Great British Life: A red squirrel at Escot (c) David ChapmanA red squirrel at Escot (c) David Chapman

ESCOT

We don’t have wild red squirrels in Devon but there is a place where we can come face to face with no bars between us. Wildwood Devon, based on the Escot estate near Ottery St Mary, is a great place to visit to see red squirrels up close and personal. Part of Wildwood Trust, a charity dedicated to conserving and protecting British wildlife, Wildwood Devon provides a walk-through enclosure with huge trees where the squirrels will literally run right past your feet.

The idea of this enclosure is to raise awareness of the plight of red squirrels and to breed the animals for reintroduction back into the UK. But Wildwood is more than just a place to see the squirrels, there are other animals including brown bears, wolves, lynx, otters, arctic foxes and wildcats.  There are also plenty of activities for children making this a great place to bring the family.

Great British Life: Inside the red squirrel enclosure at Escot (c) David ChapmanInside the red squirrel enclosure at Escot (c) David Chapman Access to the red squirrels is included within the admission fee for Wildwood Devon. The best time to see the squirrels is during Wildwood's timetabled talks. There is also a café where we can feed ourselves! 

devon.wildwoodtrust.org

To see more of David’s photography go to davidchapman.org.uk

Great British Life: A red squirrel at Escot (c) David ChapmanA red squirrel at Escot (c) David Chapman



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