One of my favourite animals to photograph are Red Squirrels. They are great to watch and photograph, each squirrel has their own unique character and personality that helps identify them. Previously I have posted 'a photographers guide to photographing Red Squirrels at Forest How' which can be found in the tutorials section. My favourite location at Forest How is the stone wall, its a very natural setting and can give some great backgrounds too. Another benefit is knowing the squirrels use the top of the wall as a highway between the Forest How wood and the fell side. This is a huge benefit as we know the Red Squirrels will travel within 50cm wide area on a regular basis allowing us to set up for a particular image and 'clean' background. Over the last four years of visiting Forest How I've managed to take several images of the Red Squirrels on the wall, some of these can be seen below.
Whilst I like these images its very easy to walk away with similar images when shooting at the stone wall, especially if you only take images of Red Squirrels sitting eating on the stone wall.
Dedicating time to the Stone Wall and setting up my own scene
During my last trip I decided I would setup at the stone wall and dedicate all of the trip to this one location. I felt this location gave the best chance to capture images with the backgrounds I love and images I had in my mind prior to the trip. One aspect that dawned on me early during the trip was I could potentially capture many similar 'Red Squirrels on stones' images on this trip, and also similar to images taken on previous trips. Whilst the moss and lichen covered stones are fantastic they provide little variation in environment and images. I have previously tried to setup new locations but found I would never have time for the Red Squirrels to find and normalise to new locations in the time I had available each trip. This meant if I wanted to capture slightly different images I needed to use the locations they are already happy to use, and this is why I felt I needed to set up my own 'scene'. I came across this stunning moss covered log and had the idea to place it on top of the stone wall. Whilst the log is only short it was larger enough for a squirrel to stand on, and the perfect length for a telephoto lens when shooting from only a few metres away.
How is to get the Red Squirrels to stop in this location?
My only issue was how to get the Red Squirrels to stop in this new location. I (and many others) have always provided the Red Squirrels with hazelnuts as it helps them stay still and pose nicely long enough to get a photo. It helps Deb regularly puts food out for the Red Squirrels and leaves a handful on both sides of the stone wall when taking her dogs for a walk. The Red Squirrels are used to looking for hazelnuts in this location which really helps in my quest to get images.
I like to provide a selection of hazelnuts, both in shells and kernels. My usual selection is 1-2 hazelnuts in shells, 1-2 hazelnut kernels and a couple of crushed kernels. This allows the Red Squirrels to bury some of the hazelnuts as natural behaviour and eat the others, most often eating them in the position they are in. The crushed hazelnut kernels can keep the Red Squirrel in the spot you want them in for longer as they can't run off with a whole nut to eat or bury elsewhere.
Whilst i provide hazelnuts I don't like them to be visible in the images. This means the positioning of the nuts needs some thought. You have to use the natural hollows or dips as hiding places. As you can see in the photos below they are hidden from the camera's view but are still easily visible to the passing Red Squirrels on the opposite side of the log.
Once the hazelnuts are in place I waited quietly for the Red Squirrels to appear. This can be anything from a few minutes to an hour or two, sometimes they may never appear. One thing you can't guarantee with wildlife is they will appear at a certain time or even at all. Waiting is part of the game, and there isn't a better place to wait than Forest How with the landscape views, and sound of birds and other wildlife.
So what did I manage to get?