Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Hunt for the Elusive White Squirrel

The Elusive White Squirrel

In November of 2010 I heard that white albino squirrels were living in a cemetery near me. I made it my New Years mission to try to find the white squirrels and photograph them, in what became an ongoing photo project.
When I first started, I found it a real struggle just to capture a decent photo of any squirrel, let alone find the elusive white ones. Obviously I wasn't going about it the right way and revised how I tackled shooting them.
I soon learned that monkey nuts are crucial for any squirrel photography. I can be spotted most weekends at the cemetery sitting very still camera at the ready and pockets bulging at the seams with nuts!
I have found wandering around aimlessly looking for them doesn't work at all, it scares them off. I gradually developed a technique for success in capturing photographs of the squirrels and after many months of gaining their trust I persuaded them to come in very close to me - close enough I can now shoot them with a 45mm lens rather than always relying my 300mm lens.
Squirrel Photograph by ©GREG BOTTLE All Rights Reserved.
Squirrel running in towards me
Several of the squirrels, one in particular, have also become very friendly and rush over to greet me, even taking nuts straight out of my hand, but still no sighting of any white squirrels at this stage. I've discovered that all the squirrels have their own personality and I have named a few that I easily recognise out of the 15 to 20 odd that surround me each time I go up to the cemetery. I try to time my visits to see them when there is less chance of meeting other people and maximum chance of attracting the squirrels in; it took me quite a while to figure out the best time of day to do this. I'm not keen to reveal the best time, or every man and his dog will be there then and the squirrels will disappear.

Squirrel Photograph by ©GREG BOTTLE All Rights Reserved.
Suzy - The first squirrel I bonded with, and my favourite

After several months of weekends last year spent trying to find the white squirrels I got talking to one of the grounds men. He said he knew white squirrels had been thereabouts in the past as he'd found several drowned in the water containers. He took me into a small chapel that is now being used as a shed and showed me a picture someone had taken of one of the white squirrels a few years earlier. He didn't think that there were any left, but wished me luck in my hunt to track them down.
As the months rolled past and my photo collection of the grey squirrels grew but I had still not seen any sighting of a white squirrel. October 2011 came quicker than I had anticipated, and my luck was about to change! 
I spotted a white squirrel at the back of the cemetery in the open on 16th October - I tried to get closer but he rushed off into the undergrowth at warp speed and disappeared, but now I knew for certain there was one, I set about trying to encourage him to come to me.
Squirrel Photograph by ©GREG BOTTLE All Rights Reserved.
The White Squirrel - very thin, and very hungry
My next sighting wasn't until early February 2012 camouflaged by a heavy fall of snow during the previous night the white squirrel came in to get nuts but rushed off very soon after getting nuts, so I only managed to get this one shot that's worth showing. I guess with all the snow around he had plucked up enough courage to come to me as food was scarce and he was starving, as you can tell from the above photograph - he looks like a little bag of bones. I felt sorry for him.
Over the following weekends he'd appear where the other squirrels usually come to greet me and get fed nuts at a distance, but was very skittish and only stayed for short periods, but at least I got a few photos to prove his existence, even if they were not that good.
Since then over the last few weekends I've been gaining his trust, feeding him nuts and getting him to come in close for better photographs. It has taken a lot of effort, patience, perseverance and also deploying diversion tactics on the grey squirrels who have a habit of chasing him off, one could even call it "ganging up" on the poor little fellow and bullying him. I guess it is as good example of the "gang mentality" as there is - bully the odd one out.
Squirrel Photograph by ©GREG BOTTLE All Rights Reserved.
Grey Squirrel just about to launch an attack on the White Squirrel.
Then this last weekend of 24-25 March 2012 something quite amazing happened - when I was feeding the greys I saw the white squirrel come charging in at speed as usual, but this time he charged right past the scattered nuts up to within six inches of my feet, as if he knew he would be safer with me to get his nuts without being attacked by the greys. He also didn't scarper off as usual, but hung around nearby so I managed to get some nice shots of him. He's also looking a lot heathier than when I first saw him.
Squirrel Photograph by ©GREG BOTTLE All Rights Reserved.
He is a healthier, happier and fatter looking White Squirrel now

Out of all the squirrels he seems to have sharper eye sight - whether this is just down to the fact he has to just react faster as the greys chase him off all the time I don't know, but he is definitely faster reacting than the greys. This doesn't help when trying to get photos of him obviously.
I could say that my mission is now complete, but I've become very attached to the little critters, so I'll still keep going to see them, feed them nuts, observe their behaviour and take their photos, I find it very therapeutic for the soul. I also feel almost obliged to help the white squirrel in his quest for food, he's a lot bigger and stronger than he was when I first saw him and now has more chance of survival. I know we aren't meant to interfere with nature, but the white squirrel is kind of special, and it would be a shame if there wasn't at least one surviving well.
Click here to view some of the photographs
taken since I started the project >
CLICK HERE for White Squirrel Gallery of photographs taken on Sunday 8th April >