RED SQUIRREL EVENTUALLY CHECKS IN @ ESKRIGG RESERVE
On Tuesday I made the journey up to Scotland to spend a few days in Dumfries and Galloway and after dropping my bags off at the Station Hotel in Dumfries I headed east to visit Eskrigg Nature Reserve. The reserve is on the site of an old curling pond just outside Lockerbie and occupies 7 acres of land with a range of habitats such as mixed woodland, grassland, heathland, reedbed with a stream and large pond. There is coniferous woodland to the north and west, grassland to the east and marshland to the south. Some of the star species are Willow Tits, Little Grebes, Kingfisher and Tawny Owl with Red Squirrels being the number one attraction.
Jim Rae found out about the old curling pond from a pupil in 1986 whilst he was the Principal Teacher of Biology at the local secondary school. In January 1987 he explained his ideas to Sir Rupert Buchanan-Jardine for a joint one year lease of the curling pond with the then shooting tenant Henry Strath. In September a public meeting was held where Jim Rae explained the draft plans to members of the local community at Lockerbie Academy. The plans got overwhelming approval and that evening a local support group was set up.
At the first meeting in October 1987 the Lockerbie Wildlife Trust was formed and the site named Eskrigg Reserve. The first meeting of the Lockerbie Wildlife Trust was held and in January 1989, the lease for the pond site was transferred to Lockerbie Wildlife Trust and the site was then officially recognised as Eskrigg Reserve. Over one weekend during the summer holidays a range of workshops are run for both children and adults by the trust such as pond dipping, small mammal trapping, moth trapping, wild food foray and bird or bat box workshops.
In 2009 the Eskrigg Centre was built with wheelchair access and views overlooking the pond as well as trees and wildlife feeders at either side and it was officially opened by Sir Rupert Buchanan-Jardine in April 2010. In 2013 one of the original bird hides was replaced with a new Red Squirrel Hide providing visitors with excellent opportunities to view and take photos of Red Squirrels and other wildlife.
It was a cloudy but dry afternoon when I arrived just after 1pm, there were several Rooks in the field to my right as I walked down the path from the car park to the reserve. The path turned through a gate and headed towards a wooded area and in the cut down shrubs and branches either side of the path I could see and hear Wrens. Further along the path it turns ninety degrees to the left and heads through the trees where I saw a pair of Redwings moving along the branches before flying off.
A little further along is the Red Squirrel hide with the large pond at the other side, but before visiting this hide I continued on to the Eskrigg Centre which looks out over the large pond. On the water in front of me were a trio of Mute Swans and more than twenty Mallards whilst on the feeders either side of me were a couple of Chaffinches and Blackbirds. Before heading to the Red Squirrel hide I decided to walk through the woodland heading south east away from the Eskrigg Centre, following the path as it turned southwards.
After a few hundred yards the path split in two and I took the path now heading west and in the trees above me I could see Blue Tits, Great Tits, Long Tailed Tits and a lone Willow Tit. I followed this path for a few minutes before turning off onto a path heading north and all along I could hear Nuthatches calling and saw several Wrens moving quickly through the undergrowth. Eventually the path reached a crossroad of paths and I turned to the right heading back through the trees towards the Eskrigg Centre.
I now visited the Red Squirrel hide where I saw Robins, Blue Tits and Great Tits visiting the feeder with an inquisitive male Pheasant picking up the scraps just in front of the hide. I waited for nearly an hour but there was no sign of the Red Squirrels so I walked back to the car and as I neared the car park I saw a Grey Wagtail sat on a wooden fence post before it flew off and then made its way along a narrow stream running down the side of the path.
My first visit to Eskrigg to look for Red Squirrels had not been successful but after my visit to RSPB Mersehead on Thursday I drove back to Eskrigg for a second attempt. It was a sunny day on my second visit and just after I had walked past the ninety degree left turn in the path I spotted a Red Squirrel sat half way up a lichen and moss covered tree. I spent several minutes watching it as it looked for food before it climbed higher up into the tree.
I now moved onto the Red Squirrel hide hoping that it would make an appearance there and as I waited several birds visited the feeders including a Nuthatch, Robin and Coal Tit. After half an hour of waiting it had not turned up so I headed back round to where I had seen it earlier but it had gone so, as the light was starting to fade, I headed back to the car and drove back to my hotel.
I have attached a few photos and a full sightings list for both my visits to Eskrigg Nature Reserve.