I first visited Forest How in 2014, and I wrote a blog post about that trip here. That contains an introduction to the place, and some tips for getting the best out of your visit. To briefly summarise; Forest How Guest House is a B&B in Eskdale, Cumbria, which is one of the areas of the Lake District where red squirrels are thriving. They’re totally wild, but they visit the grounds and gardens of the guest house where proprietor Deb leaves nuts out for them, and they have a variety of great habitats to use within that area.
I returned to Forest How this time around with 3 fellow photographers; Rob Cain, Elliot Hook, and Peter Trimming. Peter visits regularly, and knows the squirrels well. He keeps a log of their activity on Facebook, and has a book of photos coming out later this year. Elliot and Rob are good friends with whom I regularly share photo trips, and they have some great photos from the weekend too. In addition, Rob has a very useful “Photographer’s Guide to Photographing Red Squirrels at Forest How” tutorial, which describes the various areas which the squirrels frequent and your options for photography in those spots, so check that out if you’re thinking of going yourself.
RED SQUIRREL PHOTOGRAPHY
I took the photo above of a squirrel on the old dry stone wall, which runs along the back of the Forest How grounds. It’s a great location to try to spot the squirrels, as they use it as a highway between woodland areas. Here’s a set of 3 more photos I took from there…
During our first day, we noticed that one picturesque moss-covered rock was used frequently by the squirrels as a spot to look out from, so I set up a camera there, with a wide-angle lens attached, and waited for an opportunity to click the shutter. Three opportunities arose during the day, and this was the best one of those. The light is a little harsh (lower sun would have been better), but the composition and framing is about as good as I could have hoped for, so I’m really pleased with it…
After getting some portraits, and the wide-angle, there was only one more image I had in mind, and that was back-lit. Using the sun behind a log, and a large tree to create some background shadow, I was lucky enough to get an angle on this squirrel, who posed for a minute or so in just the right place…
Forest How is an ideal place to visit if you want to see or photograph red squirrels without being restricted to a hide. You have full flexibility for getting the shots you want to, and you can spend as much or as little time with the squirrels as you like. It works either as a dedicated photography trip, or as a short break with a partner or family, where you can mix photography in the morning with walking and sightseeing in the afternoon.
Note though, that this is not a hide or workshop location, where squirrels are delivered for you and you’re told where to shoot. It’s best suited to those who are happy to spend time working on their own ideas, and are prepared for quiet periods of inactivity. Personally I prefer this kind of setup as it means you can work on achieving your own shots, rather than taking the same as everyone else, which is what you end up with at more restricted locations. It’s a much more relaxed and enjoyable experience, and you earn a sense of achievement in getting your shots, compared to ones from a hide or workshop where you’re pretty much setup by someone else.
Around the grounds, and in the nearby woods, there are lots of squirrel nesting boxes and old dreys, which the squirrels use. Each spring there are a new set of squirrel kittens running around, and the population seems to be doing well.
I recommend you take a bag (500g or so) of whole hazelnuts, which the squirrels love, and you can use those to entice them to pose where you want them. Each squirrel has a slightly different personality, and will differ in their reaction to people. Some will dash in, grab a nut, and dash out. Some will hesitate to approach at all, if you’re around. But most will come fairly close (2-3 metres) if you’re quiet and still, and will hang around for a few minutes at a time.
As well as the red squirrels, the area is a rich and varied habitat used by roe deer, barn owls, buzzards, and tawny owls. The barn owls and the roe deer are definitely worth trying to photograph, but you’d be lucky to get close enough to the buzzards and tawny owls at the moment. We saw a barn owl every morning and evening, and it caught us out on a few occasions, flying within a few metres of us when we were looking for squirrels. Since I was concentrating on the squirrels I didn’t make the effort to get close to the other species, but there were many woodland birds visiting the grounds around us, and I found one robin in particular who was happy to let me come as close as realistically possible. If you follow my photography you’ll know I have an on-going project of low-key wildlife portraits on black, so I was thrilled to find this spot which got the perfect side-light at one point during the day.
For more information about Forest How, check out their website, and the other links at the top of this post. For more of my photos, take a look around this website, or my Flickr photostream and Facebook page.
I thought I’d sign off with another back-lit red squirrel photo. This was an image I had in mind beforehand, but didn’t really expect to be able to get. So I’m really pleased I managed it.