by Paul Cormacain
IT seems to me that wherever we go to in England or Scotland, we are sure to see many grey squirrels.
The parks in one of the largest cities in the world hold many of these creatures, and indeed I would not be surprised if there were more greys in London than in any other city.
If we hit the sunny south coast, as in a spot like Bournemouth, there seems to be many greys. When we go north, and cross the border into Scotland, the,, likes of Edinburgh has a thriving population of grey squirrels. And it is very easy to see them.
I do not remember this apparent surplus of squirrels in Wales, but I am prepared to accept there are many grey squirrels in that country also.
Yet when we cross to the other side of the Irish Sea, grey squirrels seem to be as scarce as red squirrels, and difficult to find.
I was pondering on this when we came across a grey squirrel in Derby last week. it was sitting on the ground in a local park, seemingly unconcerned about us humans 'Who were walking about, or just sitting and chatting.
It was only en a dog hoved into sight that the animal decided its proper environment was the trees. So up the nearest tree the squirrel went, like a rocket! They are such brilliant climbers when the need arises.
Of course, once we saw one squirrel, we saw loads of squirrels. They were all greys, and none of them seemed in the least concerned about humans. Dogs were a different matter.
Grey squirrels originated in north America. They were introduced into Ireland nearly a hundred years ago.
It is generally believed that the British introduction was in 1847, more than half a century earlier. But unconfirmed reports put the grey squirrel in England before then.
However, the identification may have been incorrect, or, on the other hand, some one may have brought a few animals from America and released them.
Now it could happen that the extra half century the grey squirrels lived in England gave them a chance to spread and multiply. People had more chance to see them, and learn to exist amicably with them.
So in fifty years time there may be very many of the creatures here, and we may all get on together very well, except for the dogs, of course.
Some folk used to think the squirrels hibernated during the winter. They tend to have a lower profile in cold weather, which probably gave rise to that particular misconception. But you may even see the animals out and about when there is snow on the ground.
Some folk say that grey squirrels drive out the red squirrel population.
Fighting between the red and greys has been seen, but then reds fight among themselves, and greys fight amo---- are larger, and the ones in Derby last week were certainly very forward, almost cheeky, and not afraid of being seen. Except by dogs!
Red squirrels are much more shy and retiring and do not like being seen by anyone. They tend to hide if anyone comes near. Because of these differing characteristics, the greys appear successful and common, and the reds tend to be thought of as loosing ground to the greys.
I love the English and Scottish grey squirrels because of (partly) their high profile. But on balance I would prefer our own red squirrels, even if we do see less of them.
Monday 22nd September - Lisburn RSPB will hear about the Re-introduction of the Golden Eagle from Lorcan O'Toole, the project co-ordinator. Members and public are all warmly welcomed.
Saturday 20, Sunday 21 September - European Heritage Open days at Moneypenny Lock, more details from Oxford Island on 3832 2205
Thursday 25 September - Birdwatch morning at Castle Espie,10.30, more from 9187 4146