Thursday, January 28, 2016

Red Squirrel Survey

Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels is a group I have helped for a while now.

I started helping their squirrel survey last year.  This year will be more of the same.

There was a call from the Dumfries & Galloway headquarters for help to mix up the bags of bait to go in the squirrel boxes.
bags of maize, sunflower seeds and peanuts to be mixed
Each volunteer is in charge of a section on the map.  These sections or tetrads (2km by 2km square  area) have four baited squirrel feeders in them.
Maps of where our tetrads are located
On the underside of the feeder lid is as bit of velcro with sticky tape on it.  If an animal lifts the lid to get food, the sticky tape will grab a few hairs as payment for the food.
squirrel feeders
Every two weeks, volunteers will change the tapes and add more bait.  The tapes are then sealed and sent off to be analyzed.  This keeps going until there are four samples collected.

Looking at the hairs under the microscope is fun.  Volunteers don't get to do this, but I had a shot at it one afternoon.  The hair of most small mammals can be identified by their hair.  Red squirrel, grey squirrel, badger, rat, mouse and sometimes pine martens!

It turns out that the red squirrel hairs are distinctive.  They aren't completely round, there is a groove down one side.  If you sliced the hair into sections, the cross section would have a kidney shape.

My tetrad isn't far from the house and I'm looking forward to finding out what's out there.
126 bags of mixed squirrel bait

This is the bags of mixed bait.  Two parts maize, to one part peanuts and one part sunflower seeds.

AND our squirrels have returned.  I have identified two different animals coming to the feeders.  A male and a female red squirrel.  As soon as the rain lets up, I'm going to move our squirrel feeder across the road.  I don't want any further deaths on our road.  I'll miss seeing them come to the feeder for nuts, but I must put their needs before mine.


joared said...

I see so many gray squirrels in Southern California and have seen multiple numbers of red ones in the Great Lakes area here in the U.S. it never occurred to me they could be a threatened species anywhere. I've learned the most commonly harvested species for its fur in Canada is the red squirrel. I did a quick search on their U.S. status and find the reds are not considered to face any major threats here except for a Mount Graham subspecies. They were believed to be extinct in the 1950s, then a small pocket of them were rediscovered in the 1970s. Since 1990 there has been a recovery plan with the tiny population estimated to be 250 in 2009. Habitat loss, competition from another species introduced, Albert's Squirrel, climate change, drought, fire and insect invasion are the main threats they face, but the species as a whole are not thought to be threatened. Sounds threatening to me. Your efforts sound interesting and important.

Peggy said...

The native red squirrel is at risk due to the non-native North American gray. The gray squirrels are squeezing the reds out. They also carry squirrel pox for which our reds have no natural immunity. I like all squirrels but I feel the most affinity to the native red squirrels.