Autumn wildlife and red squirrels

Rachel Lamb , Outdoor Learning Manager Rachel Lamb Outdoor Learning Manager
Red squirrel Brownsea Island

It's a really important time of year for the red squirrels as they can enjoy a new menu of delicious nutritious nuts such as beech, sweet chestnut and hazelnut. A real treat and a break from the monotony of chewing their way through pine cones.

From a wildlife perspective, Brownsea is a very special place. It has a wide range of different habitats in a small area providing us with some unique and curious wildlife.  One of our rangers, Phil, has provided us with some nature notes on the kind of things that you might see on a visit to Brownsea in the autumn:

The action of red squirrels scurrying around in the undergrowth in the autumn months allows them to be seen more readily by visitors.  Their tail fur has turned much darker, almost black, rather than the blonde look they prefer in the summer.  We’re currently baiting around twenty traps to provide specimens for the  Edinburgh uni who are coming over in the next couple of weeks to continue their study into the endemic leprosy issues that our population faces.  

For most of the year there are very few stags on Brownsea except the young Pricketts. During the rutting season the stags visit, they don’t come by boat. They also risk being  killed by one another.  The things a man will do for a woman know no bounds.

We often discuss the issues created by overgrazing from too many rabbits and deer. However, one interesting upside is the number and quantity of lichens that are present on Brownsea that would not necessarily be present if the sward on our acid grass land was not kept so short by grazing pressure.  Although easily overlooked lichen is a strange and wonderful thing being a combination of algae and fungi living symbiotically. There are tens of thousands of species globally and lichen is thought to cover between five and ten percent of the earth’s surface, they are a good indicator of clean air, so it’s safe to breathe deeply on Brownsea.

There are plenty of dragonflies all the way up to mid to late October especially along the heath block track, common darters in profusion. The hobby, our smallest raptor, eats them. They do visit, so people should keep an eye out whilst they're up there.

There is plenty of action under the sea at this time of year.  Brownsea sits neatly on a division between temperate and northern waters and open sea/estuarial waters which is what gives us so many species of fish, mollusc and crustacea. Early autumn brings huge shoals of small bait fish like juvenile herring, sprat, smelt and sand ee. With them come the predators like mackerel, bass, garfish and scad. It’s an immense spectacle except we can’t see it but if you head down to the cafe you might be lucky to catch some of it the screen from the underwater camera that we have in the sea by the quayside.
There aren’t that many species of slug on Brownsea. It may well be due to the acidic nature of the terrain. Fortunately we do have those big beauties Arion Ater. They are able to tolerate a very wide range of conditions and are found throughout Europe from sea level to mountain ranges, once one overcomes an initial revulsion they become exquisitely beautiful creatures with a fascinating life cycle.

Slug Arion Ater

There are at least three species of bat living and breeding on B’sea including Soprano Pipistrelle, Brown Long Eared and Natterers. Hopefully a study group is in the making whih will conduct trapping and ringing exercises to record movements on and off the island especially when certain species swarm for breeding purposes in the autumn.

We are currently offering two daily red squirrel guided walks at 11.30am and 2pm.  These are free and led by our knowledgable volunteers.   There is no need to book, just turn up on the day.  In half-term (21-29 October), these walks will change into family red squirrel walks (11.30am & 2pm daily).