Grey Squirrel at Stirling University (5th November 2013)

Another reason for me going to the University was to film some grey squirrels. As soon as I got to the wooded area I spotted one of these charming fellows, darting around the golden leaves on the ground.

So fascinating to watch these busy little animals always on the move and ever watchful constantly caching food supplies for the winter.This makes it incredibly difficult to film them, but I think I got some good shots here.

Earlier in the year we had taken a journey up to the Loch of the Lowes wildlife reserve where we had filmed Red Squirrels.They are a lot smaller than the grey and its the Reds, that are our native species but they have been almost driven out by the greys unfortunately.

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“Two different squirrels: the facts”

The grey squirrel(Sciurus carolinensis)

The grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)

Size: between 540 and 660 g in weight.

Appearance: upper fur is mainly grey with mid-brown along the upper back and chestnut over the flanks, limbs and feet. Their underside is white. The tail hairs are grey, banded with brown and black and a characteristic white fringe.They have no ear tufts,pale ears and have a larger, more robust build.

Food: Grey squirrels share food sources with reds. However, unlike red squirrels; grey squirrels can feed on seeds with high tannin content, such as acorns, thanks to differences in digestive physiology. As a result, more food sources are available to them and grey squirrels tend to put on 20% in body weight over the autumn, compared with 10% for reds. This gives grey squirrels an advantage in hard winters.

Distribution: 200,000 and 300,000 in Scotland (around three million in England). Grey squirrels have expanded across Scotland’s entire central belt and are now spreading northwards through Angus, Perth and Kinross and Stirling. There is also a population of grey squirrels in Aberdeen city which is now spreading across Aberdeenshire. In south Scotland, grey squirrels carrying squirrelpox, are moving in from England.

Habitat: prefer oak, beech, sweet-chestnut and horse-chestnut habitats. Due to more efficient digestive processes, these habitats can support larger numbers of grey squirrels than red squirrels. Grey squirrels can also make use of conifer habitats (mainly Scots pine and Norway spruce) especially if there is good broadleaved habitat within 1 mile.

Threats: Minimal, aside from human control efforts and road kill.

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The red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris)

 

The red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris)

Size: between 270 and 340 g in weight.

Appearance: despite their name, red squirrels can have coats ranging from almost black to chestnut or light brown on the back. The chest and stomach are white. They are famed for their characteristically long eartufts, which are especially prominent in winter.

Food: eats mainly tree seeds but in spring and early summer also eats the buds, flowers and shoots of both deciduous and coniferous trees. Other foods include fungi, fruits, berries, caterpillars and even birds’ eggs. Unlike grey squirrels, red squirrels cannot digest seeds with high tannin content, such as acorns, which limits the food sources available for reds.

Distribution: 75% (around 121,000) of the UK red squirrel population is found in Scotland. In the north, strong populations still exist in areas as yet uncolonised by grey squirrels. Red squirrels can also be found in some parts of central Scotland as ‘pocket’ populations and, although much reduced from their former range, can still be found in many parts of southern and south-western Scotland. The last remaining populations of red squirrels in mainland England are found in Northumberland, Cumbria, North Yorkshire and North Merseyside, which are continuous with the south Scotland populations.

Habitat: typically conifer forests to broadleaf woodland; favours Scots pine and Norway spruce forests, but also enjoys hazel and beech. They can also live in mountainous areas (with altitudes of 425 metres near Aberdeen).

Threats: Competition from grey squirrels, squirrelpox virus, habitat fragmentation and road kill.

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Cygnets at Stirling University (5th November 2013)

Yesterday I took a bike ride to Stirling University to see if I could film any wildlife there, one of our John, one of our wildlife reporters works there and on his dinner hour, he will often take a walk around the various ponds that are there.

He has watched all summer as the eight young cygnets there have grown up and looking very healthy, you can see in the video and photos that they are almost fully grown now, with just a hint of grey left in their feathers.

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STIRLING UNIVERSITY IN THE AUTUMN

Survey Suggests Pine Marten Numbers Recovering

One of Scotland’s rarest carnivores is showing signs of recovery after years of declining populations, a new report has suggested.

Continue reading “Survey Suggests Pine Marten Numbers Recovering”

Stirling University Biologist Discovers Rare Hybrid Plant In Scotland

 

A new species of plant, which has overcome infertility to evolve, has been found on the bank of a stream in Scotland.

“monkey flower”

The discovery of the new “monkey flower” near Leadhills in South Lanarkshire was made by Stirling University‘s Dr Mario Vallejo-Marin.

He said it was a rare example of a species being found to have originated in the wild within the last 150 years. Only a handful of examples exists in recent history.

Dr Vallejo-Marin, a plant evolutionary biologist, said:

“Our discovery will help enable scientists to understand how new species form.

“Finding examples of the process in action is rare, so this is an exciting opportunity to study evolution as it happens.”

British monkey flowers: North and South American parents (A, B); the sterile hybrid (C); and the new species (D). Scale bar = 1cm
British monkey flowers: North and South American parents (A, B); the sterile hybrid (C); and the new species (D). Scale bar = 1cm

The new yellow flower is derived from the union of two American species, originally brought to the UK in the 1800s. Soon after their arrival, the parent plants escaped garden confines and began to grow in the wild along the banks of rivers and streams. Reproduction between these parents then produced hybrids which are now widespread in Britain.

Normally, genetic differences between two species render hybrid offspring infertile and unable to go beyond the first generation but, surprisingly,

Dr Vallejo-Marin said he found wild hybrid plants that have overcome these genetic barriers to possess fully restored fertility.

The fertile hybrid therefore represents a completely new species, native to Scotland.

His research is published in the journal, PhytoKeys.

Meanwhile, a highly invasive plant called piri piri burr, originally from New Zealand, has been found on the sand dunes near the Forvie national nature reserve in Aberdeenshire.

Mike Smedley, Scottish Natural Heritage‘s operations officer, discovered several patches of piri piri burr growing near a path a few hundred metres from the Forvie reserve.

It has already been found around the River Tweed in the Borders and around the coast in East Lothian, but Forvie is the furthest north it has been seen yet.