Bruce’s Christmas Carol

‘Phew! That’s a relief’ sighed Bruce, as teetering on top of a pile of logs; he attached the star to the top of the lodge’s Christmas tree.  ‘Don’t forget you’re taking the kits to the Stramash do in Oban this afternoon Bruce’ shouted Sheila from the kitchen.  ‘How could I?’ said Bruce, ‘they’ve talked of nothing else all week!’

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So, sporting a rather natty tinsel scarf and with the three kits in tow Bruce hopped on the Citylynx bus to Oban.  The bus was packed, Harry Otter, Balfour Badger, Sandra Stoat, Wilma Wildcat, Ronald Roe Deer and many others were on board along with a bundle of kittens, pups, fawns, whelps, kits and even a sea eagle eaglet.  ‘I can see little Samuel but where’s his mum?’ ‘Oh she’s on the roof Bruce’ said Harry, ‘there’s a two metre wingspan limit on this bus’. ‘I’m sure she’d have stayed furled if the bus driver had asked nicely’ thought Bruce.

 

 

Arriving just outside Oban, Bruce and his friends narrowly avoided being flattened as the herd of youngsters stampeded off the bus and up to the outdoor nursery.

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Within minutes it seemed they were all making wooden snowmen, toasting marshmallows, weaving Christmas garlands or eating too many cupcakes whilst others climbed trees, dug holes or flew off for a bit of fishing.  ‘Good turnout’ thought Bruce, ‘and lots of human kits as well’.

3Whilst surreptitiously trying out the tyre walk (and wondering whether he might look silly if he got stuck in it) Bruce became aware of a commotion up at the yurt.  The highlight of the event was to be the arrival of Father Christmas and he was late.  Looking at a sea of expectant small faces Bruce was aware that tears would not be far behind this news.  He quickly found Stella the sea eagle; ‘can you take a look and see if you can see him Stella?’ he asked. Stella was soon a speck in the distance as she headed north.  In the meantime Harry hurried down to the seashore to see if any of the local seals or porpoises had heard of any unexpected landings on water.

Within minutes both were back.  ‘He’s on the beach just north of here’ said Stella.  ‘Hare-Seal rescue’s in attendance’ said Harry ‘but there’s been a catastrophic magic leak from the onside sledge runner’.  As we all know Father Christmas’s sleigh is very, very heavy and the reindeer need a bit of magical help to keep it in the air.  The sleigh’s runners were made of aspen, common in Lapland and famed for its magical flying properties.

Bruce had an idea.  Beavers are very fond of aspen, but it is very rare in Argyll.  However Bruce knew there was one close by.  Hoping that the owner wouldn’t be too angry (the aspen was in a nearby garden), it was the work of a moment to gnaw through a length of the tree.  Stella quickly delivered it to Father Christmas before returning with a bunch of woodworking elves from a nearby elf-storage centre.

The busy little elves soon had the new runner fitted and as the sleigh raced away from the beach Bruce and Harry could hear the cheers of the children as it swept around the hillside to a chorus of Ho! Ho! Hos.

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On the bus back home whilst the kits, pups, kittens, whelps, fawns and Samuel the eaglet slept soundly clutching their presents  all the grown-ups joined in singing their favourite carols that included: The first vole, Do you hare what I hare, Away with a ranger, See amid the winter’s crow and many more.

 

 

 

5Bruce, Harry and Stella (the others wouldn’t hear of her being left outside) took a well-earned rest and looked forward to opening the extra special looking presents from a grateful Father Christmas (Bruce could smell the aspen, the others were rather fish-shaped).  ‘That was nice of him’ said Bruce. ‘Just goes to show’ said Harry and as we say ’Do unto otters…

 

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Partners publish final Scottish Beaver Trial report

The partner organisations behind the Scottish Beaver Trial (SBT), the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) and the Scottish Wildlife Trust, today published their final report on this groundbreaking project that saw the first ever official trial mammal reintroduction into the UK.

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Commencing in spring 2009 in the Knapdale Forest, mid-Argyll, the scientific monitoring period of the Trial ended in May 2014. This report documents the entire process of the Scottish Beaver Trial, from the licence application through the release of the beavers and to the end of the monitoring period. It also examines the process objectively and the learning experiences from the reintroduction.

Last month, Scottish Natural Heritage also published six of the independent scientific monitoring reports that will be used for a Ministerial decision on the future of beavers in Scotland.

Project Manager of the Scottish Beaver Trial, Simon Jones, said:

“The Scottish Beaver Trial Final Report documents every part of the reintroduction process. If there are any further reintroductions of beavers to Scotland, our story will prove to be essential reading. Beavers have never been legally reintroduced to Scotland before, for that reason, this report records  the various lessons learned by the Scottish Beaver Trial team during the course of the project.”

Field Operations Manager for the Scottish Beaver Trial, Roisin Campbell-Palmer, said:

“A very special trial, the Scottish Beaver Trial allowed for ground breaking research and thorough monitoring taking place in Knapdale over the five year period. We hope our findings and learnings will form a template for similar future reintroduction projects across the UK and beyond.”

In 2013, the groundbreaking Scottish project was named ‘Best Conservation Project in the UK’ by BBC Countryfile magazine.

The carefully managed and monitored Trial has helped to understand how the beavers behave in a Scottish environment and during the five year period the Scottish Beaver Trial became a tourist attraction for visitors to the Argyll area

The findings of the Trial will help advise informed decisions to be made about the future of the species. The future of beaver reintroduction is ultimately up to the Scottish Government with a Ministerial decision expected in the second half of 2015.

Click here to read the final Scottish Beaver Trial report.

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Home improvements

It’s home improvement time for the beavers of Knapdale. Food is being cashed and stored underwater for the winter in the cool waters of the lochs – natures natural fridges. Now the beavers are working on adding insulation to their lodges.

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Lots of extra branches have been dragged up onto the lodge and ‘plastered’ in with layers of mud that the beavers are carrying up from the loch bottom, in their front paws.

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Here are some prints that the beavers left in the mud when they were patting it down and firming it into place with their front ‘paws’.

 

 

It may not be a frozen winter yet, but the beaver will be prepared just in case!

 

 

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Bruce Goes Bump in the Night

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It was a braw, bricht, moonlicht nicht when Bruce set off on his final trip of the year. The nights were drawing in fast and he wanted to visit all his woodland pals before they hibernated like Shona Squirrel, or stayed at home feeling a bit grumpy, which was always the case with Balfour Badger.

Things were going well but, as we all know, when you are chatting with friends, you can lose track of time. Emerging from his last call, at Michael and Jay Fox’s pad, Bruce was shocked to find a thick fog had descended and the moon had disappeared.

Undeterred Bruce headed for home but soon realised he was lost. What a relief it was to see lights in the distance and the sound of voices.  As he drew nearer, Bruce, who had at first thought he was heading for one of those nighttime parties where humans burnt all the food, realised he had made a terrible mistake. Suddenly, he was surrounded by ghouls and ghosties. Monstrous figures were draped around the cavernous tents from which knives and axes swung in and out of the fog.

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Small demons ran giggling everywhere brandishing eyeballs and weirdly glowing sticks of light. Bruce stumbled through the swinging cobwebs into a tent where to his horror he saw tiny Bruces being squeezed onto the tops of cakes. The Bruces had vampire fangs and enormous eyes and were being eaten by the giggling demons.  Back outside Bruce realised he was wearing a black cape and a strange pointy hat.

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Fearing he would never see his cosy lodge ever again Bruce was distracted by a ghostly fluttering. What a relief! It was Bertrand Pipistrelle. “Am I glad to see you” exclaimed Bruce, “What are you doing in this terrible place Bertrand?”

“Just the usual Bruce, I always do a piece for ‘The Long Ear’ about the Forestry Commission’s Halloween do”. “We have quite a ‘specialised’ readership and these local stories help pad out the ads pages for detached coffins, old bandages, brooms and the like.”

“Halloween do? You mean, but, the demons?”

“Kids dressed up, Bruce.”

“The axes?”

“Silver foil and red ink Bruce.”

“Eyeballs?”

“Gobstoppers.”

“And the tiny vampire Bruces?”

“Cupcakes old bean.”

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“How did I end up in this outfit?”

“Ah well, that was Balfour’s idea. He’s not that grumpy. When you fell asleep in his sett earlier he thought it would be fun to dress you up as a witch!”

Happily Bruce saw the funny side and cheered up even more when he was offered a lift home in a Forestry Commission van. On the way back he was looking forward to all the stories he would be able to tell the kitts during the long winter nights when they were tucked up snug in the lodge.

 

 

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Zest for the outdoor life.

11 teenagers from the Zoo and Environment Skills Training (ZEST) hosted and run by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland at Edinburgh Zoo arrived at Beaver Trial HQ last week to experience what working on a conservation project entails.

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They came well prepared for the weather with waterproofs and wellies, so after a quick lunch they got themselves all suited and booted and we headed out into the Trial site to visit the beaver lochs and do some mock field work. Luckily, it was a beautiful still, clear Autumn day so they got away lightly weather wise with their ‘day in the field’ experience!

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We walked up to one of the beaver lochs, searching for beaver feeding signs on the way.  We talked about how field staff would walk the loch edges and all water courses (burns and ditches) within the Trail area regularly looking for ‘field signs’ like nibbled branches and chewed tree stumps. Whenever they found any, they would be marked with a piece of wool so that we can tell that they have been noted, and then plotted on a GIS map to build up an accurate picture of where the beavers have been feeding.

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The group had a close up look at one of the beaver lodges so that they could see the signs of the beavers pulling more sticks and mud up onto the lodge for extra winter insulation. Then they set a camera trap on the lodge to see if they could capture any images of the beaver busy at work over night.

On the edges of one of the lochs the students found some fresh feeding signs and an obvious trail leading back to the waters edge where the beaver had been dragging sticks and branches. Here, they set up another camera trap to see if they could get footage of the beavers tree nibbling.

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The students then went for a walk down to see the beaver dam at the Dubh Loch before going to Kilmartin for some well earned food.  They collected their cameras before heading back to Edinburgh, however, unfortunately these did not collect any beaver footage as they had hoped – that’s one of the disappointments of a working in the field!

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Frogs and Dragons at the beaver trial.

Glasgow based amphibian and reptile organisation Froglife held a ‘Dragon finder’ event at the SBT trial site last Friday.

Families were invited to come along to the morning or afternoon session held at the Scottish Beaver Trial’s Barnluasgan visitor information centre.

Froglife activity leaders, James and Emily, along with SBT Education Ranger Oly Hemmings and Volunteer Pat Batty (a dragonfly expert) led a walk around Loch Barnluasgan where participants could play a game of wildlife bingo. A lot of interesting things were spotted along the way including various fungi, hazelnut shells nibbled by mice and squirrels, and even a large frog.

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Wildlife bingo begins around Loch Barnluasgan

 

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A frog was spotted along the way – definitely extra points for that!

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There was lots to see on our wildlife walk

Back at the information centre everyone had a go at pond dipping where they identified lots of amazing creatures living in the loch – a fascinating activity that kept adults and children alike captivated for ages.

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Indoor pond dipping was a fun activity for all ages

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There was lots of wriggly aquatic life to identify

There was also a craft activity where we all got to make our very own leaping froggy paper pet, complete with googly eyes, to take away with us.

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Fantastic frogs ready to go home with their makers

What a fun way to spend the day! And it just proves that no matter what time of year it is, there is still lots to see out and about in Knapdale!

 

 

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Do beavers like chocolate?

Well our Bruce certainly does!

It was ‘Chocolate Day’ at Kilmartin House Museum café on Saturday and Bruce was invited to come along and have some fun with the chocolate fans.

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Bruce enjoys the variety of chocolate treats on offer at the Kilmartin House Museum cafe

There was lots to keep everyone happy and occupied: while you were at the counter trying to decide which one of the many varieties of chocolatey cakes and treats to try next, you could have a go at guessing how many calories were in the massive chocolate cake to stand a chance of winning it! It was then probably advisable to sit down and fill in the chocolate themed quiz sheet while eating your chosen chocolatey treat from the counter!

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Kitchen assistant Pam checks to see if Bruce has a sweet tooth

For those without a sweet tooth (are there really people out there who don’t like sweets and chocolate!?) there was a few ‘normal’ food options available from the menu. But, even the specials of the day were chocolate themed! There was even a chocolate chicken dish!

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Bruce may have eaten one too many cakes!

Once the sugar rush had hit, the kids could run off the excess energy taking part in a chocolate themed treasure hunt around the Museum grounds. Once worn out and able to sit still again for five minutes they could have a fantastic face painting done by Jojo, before decorating their very own beaver chocolate cupcake to take away and eat.

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Bruce had his portrait done, in face paint!

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Two beautifully made, and very yummy beaver cakes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Finishing off with a caramel waffle tail

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Make sure to get lots of icing on there

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everyone still even had plenty of energy left to play with Bruce, who was as usual more than happy for cuddles and high fives.

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Bruce even made his own beaver cake

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What a tasty trio

Everyone was incredible happy and cheerful and had a very enjoyable day – after all, chocolate is supposed to release feel good endorphins! Once all the cupcakes were gone, and no one could eat any more chocolate, we all packed up and went home.  Bruce was very happy to get back to the lodge to brush his teeth and wash the chocolate stains from all the children’s cuddles off his t-shirt!

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A very happy boy made himself into a chocolate monster!

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Autumn in Knapdale

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Autumn colours in the trees.

Autumn has very definitely made an appearance in Knapdale now. The deciduous trees are changing colour and leaving a colourful carpet of leaves on the forest floor, and the coniferous trees branches are laden with cones.

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A lovely brown sep mushroom, almost disguised in the leaf litter.

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A beautiful red toadstool – I always expect to find a fairy sitting underneath these!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a fantastic time for a walk through the woods. There is still lots to see and it’s a great time to slow down and look closely at nature’s detail! A wide variety of mushrooms and toadstools are still hanging in there and every colour of the rainbow can be seen in the tree leaves. The low, bright, autumn sunlight is just stunning; reflecting and sparkling off the lochs, highlighting and casting shadows off the mosses on the forest floor. On a peaceful day try standing quietly and listening to the sounds of crisp leaves falling from the tree branches to the forest floor, it’s a wonderful sound!

 

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Loch Buic looking magical in the sparkling sunshine.

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Devils bit scabious still hanging on in there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When the leaves have all fallen from the trees the landscape really opens up and views are so much bigger. It’s often easier to spot other wildlife at this time too – deer come down into the glens to forage and the red stags can be heard roaring over the hills as the rutting season begins.  The beavers, however, are becoming harder to spot as they are coming out when it is too dark for us to see them. But, you can still find plenty of feeding evidence around the lochs where they have been busy working to build up their winter feed caches.

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Sunlight creates sunning shadows and highlights on the moss.

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Plenty of beaver feeding signs to be seen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Loch Coille-bharr looking stunning.

What are you waiting for? Get out there!

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Knapdale News

 

Hello! I’m Kelsey, a student currently helping out as part of a 10 month placement for my university course in Zoology. I first started working with beavers in June this year in Perthshire studying the families in Tayside. It’s great to come up to Knapdale to the trial site and see the Norwegian beavers in person and finally put some furry faces to the names! The scenery is amazing, especially at this time of year when everything is changing colour and feeling very autumnal. The days have still been quite warm here in Knapdale which has led to some spectacular sunsets.

Late September sunset over Barnslaugan

Late September sunset over Barnslaugan

On this trip, we have been searching the trial area for fresh signs of the beavers and have not been disappointed so far! Lots of freshly gnawed trees and woody chips have been sighted showing the beavers have been busy lately.

Lots of beaver feeding activity!

Lots of beaver feeding activity!

We have also been putting out camera traps with wild apples to entice the beavers in for a snack and quick picture. On Coille Bharr we hope to see Trude and Eoghann and perhaps the pitter patter of tiny kit feet. We’ve also placed some cameras on Lochan Bheag to catch a glimpse of Christian – fingers crossed!

 

 

Ranger Oly and I took the canoe out on Loch Linne one evening to catch a glimpse of  beavers. It was a calm night where the surface of the water was like glass – it was very peaceful!

Not a bad spot to be on beaver watch for the evening!

Not a bad spot to be on beaver watch for the evening!

 

It is getting darker much earlier now winter is drawing nearer so unfortunately it got a little too dark before anyone made an appearance tonight, but we had an enjoyable night and got to see lots of amazing wildlife nonetheless.

 

 

This week of field sign searches, camera trapping and evening observations has been very interesting and I have learned a lot in such a short time. Cannot wait to come back next spring to see some beavers and more of Knapdale!

Kelsey

October sunset over Loch Linne

October sunset over Loch Linne

 

 

 

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Bruce Fest

It was a misty autumn morning in Knapdale when Bruce set off to meet up with his best friend and Riverbank News reporter, Harry Otter for a weekend at the ‘Best of the West’ Festival at Inveraray Castle. After living in Knapdale for five years, Bruce knows all the shortcuts and by first light he has swam down the Crinan Canal to Ardrishaig. From here, he hitches a ride with some friends from the local rowing club who take him down Loch Fyne to Otter Ferry. Harry and his family have lived here for generations and used to run the small animal ferry across the loch.

“Hi Harry! Apologies for disturbing your breakfast” said Bruce, noticing that Harry has a small fish tail sticking out the corner of his mouth.

“Sorry about that Bruce, I tend to go for the full fry at this time of year, after all winter is coming!”

“No worries Harry, I’ve been putting away the bark like there’s no tomorrow! But, we’re well ahead with all this good weather so let’s party!”

Without further ado, Bruce and Harry donned their festival wellies and shorts, jumped into the boat and headed for Inveraray.

“Let’s rock and row guys!”

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“Wow Bruce!  That’s the biggest bouncy castle I’ve ever seen!”

“Don’t be daft Harry that’s ‘THE’ castle, home to the Dukes of Argyll who have been heads of Clan Campbell since the 17th Century. It’s you that’s bouncing up and down.”

“Just excited Bruce, haven’t been off the territory much of late, but it is a big castle. Must be if you can see it Bruce, with your eyesight!”

But Bruce was off, having caught the scent of exotic greenery in one of the big tents.

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“Whoa Bruce!  Not sure if that’s meant for you. This isn’t one of the food stalls. So sorry about that madam, I never knew he had a thing about fuschias.’  Harry sifted some change from the fish scales out of his pocket and handed it over whilst steering Bruce away.

‘Let’s hit the food tent Bruce and fuel up for the day. Will it be oysters, will it be prawns, we’ll have to wait and see’.

 

 

 

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‘They sell chips Harry!  Look how much they cost!  I made hundreds of those last night when I took down that birch tree. We could have made a fortune!’

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‘I think you’ll find they’re made of potatoes Harry, not birch.  Hmm, deep-fried birch chips…? You never know Harry, in these health conscious times we might be on to something. That Ray Mears chap would probably go for those.  Maybe one for next year?’

The sound of music drew our two friends to another of the tents where a band was playing.

‘Not much room in here Harry, this bunch are really popular’

‘You can say that again Bruce, mind where you’re swinging that stomach! I’ll even forgive them for calling you a squirrel!’

‘I’d better put them right on that score Harry’

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So at the end of the set Bruce got together with the Coaltown Daisies who demanded his autograph and apologised for thinking Bruce was rusty!

‘Rusty? I know I spend a lot of time in water but I’m a meticulous groomer and we have castoreum oil for that sort of thing you know.’

Not rusty, Bruce. “Rusty”, that’s the squirrel’s name.  Oh my word!  There he is. That’s one enormous squirrel!

‘Better go and say hello Harry, always happy to meet up with the woodland crew’.

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So whilst Bruce and Rusty got together for a few photos, Harry, his reporter’s instincts on red alert had a quick scout around.

‘How did that go Bruce?  Nice squirrel?

‘Sure is Harry, fellow rodent of course.  His voice was a tad muffled and he was a bit nut-obsessed, but friendly enough.’

‘Tell you what Bruce, there’s something odd about him, he’s got green feet and his tail’s tied to his back.’

‘The shoes are probably a fashion thing Harry and you know that red squirrels are a mite sensitive about their twitchy tails.’

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Our two friends were distracted by the music again and Bruce started an impromptu ceilidh outside the ArtMap tent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Nothing I like more than a ‘Strip the Willow’ Harry.’

‘I know Bruce, I’ve seen the photos!’ Harry ducks as another member of the public becomes airborne.

 

 

 

 

As the sun started to set our two friends took a well-earned break.

‘That was some day Bruce.  It was great to meet up with lots of the folk we’ve seen at other events this year as well. I lost count of the number of hugs we got, even if they did make a bit of a mess of that herring I was saving for later’.

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h8‘Couldn’t agree more Harry and it’s good to know that we and all our wildlife friends around Argyll are so popular.’

 

 

 

Bruce glanced across and his eyes met a very strange sight at the back of a tent, a man hanging up a suit that looked very much like Rusty the squirrel.

‘Am I really seeing that Harry or is my head still spinning from the last dance?’

‘I knew there was something odd about him Bruce, but I’ve seen this before.  Sometimes humans dress up as animals for fun and other humans seem to enjoy being around them.’

‘I’ll have to take your word for that Harry, I think it’s time we headed for the lodge. Fancy tea at our place, Sheila’s doing alder bark shreddies followed by treecle tart?’

‘Very kind Harry, very kind.  I will join you, but I’m not really into bark.  I’ll pick up a fish supper on the way back, do you fancy some chips?’

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