Lockdown has definitely made me look for entertainment primarily in my local area and it helped me realise yet again that happiness can come from small, simple things. One of the parks I visited most often at the beginning of the quarantine was Ruskin Park. A small park in southern London, not much different from your regular city park. A big, grassy open space for picnics, a cute little pond, trees, flowers and sport facilities. But the natural inhabitants of the park are one of a kind.
London parks are full of wildlife. There’s plenty of geese and swans in the ponds, there are the iconic green parrots high up in the trees, and there are also squirrels. Grey squirrels, to be specific, though most of them look a bit red in good light. When I first discovered that Ruskin Park was full of squirrels, I decided to next time bring some nuts and try to make friends.
The first attempt required a bit of time and patience. I spotted a target – a cute, little, fluffy squirrel – and tried to lure it closer to me with big, tasty monkey nuts. It approached me with limited trust, nervously shaking its tail whilst weighing the options. I wish I knew what goes on in those cute little heads. Is it a choice between ignoring the tasty treat and risking their lives to get it from the scary giant? I had to throw the nuts a few times, closer and closer, until I finally managed to hand feed one of these adorable little creatures. Success!
From that point, it got much easier. A month later, I would go through a few bags of monkey nuts a day, getting swarmed by dozens of squirrels every time I went to the park to feed them. I even learnt to recognise some of the most distinctive individuals and gave them names. The one below is one of my favourites, Barry. Barry the Barrel, the perfectly round, fearless good boy. He’s always hungry, always ready to eat, and will keep coming back to beg for more and more nuts. We had a small photoshoot with Barry one day, he was the most adorable model I’ve ever seen. So photogenic, great genes!
The beginnings were slow, but after a few weeks, I think I can say I made friends with these cute furry creatures. In the middle of our feeding sessions, they would climb up my legs impatiently expecting more treats. I’m very much an animal person, and each interaction with an animal brings me incredible joy and happiness. The photos below were like a dream come true!
One day, I decided to conduct a little experiment on my new, adorable friends. I wanted to find the best, the most superior nut to rule them all. And who can answer this question better than the nut experts themselves? So I bought a selection of nuts – walnuts, monkey nuts, cashews, hazelnuts and almonds – and lined them up on my leg (at that points the squirrels were comfortable helping themselves from a buffet on my hands or legs) and observed which nuts they went for. The results… I should have seen this happening, to be honest. The winning nut was… drumroll… the biggest or the closest. They did seem to favour cashews though, when all nuts were of a similar size. Which made me incredibly happy, as cashews also happen to be my favourites. Although I have to say, for the entertainment factor, I love watching the squirrels eat monkey nuts the most, just because they’re the only ones in extra shells. It’s so adorable how they peel the external shell and also the brown skin off the peanuts, rotating the nuts in their little paws. I’ve gone through dozens of big bags of monkey nuts at this point and I still haven’t got enough of that sight!
I just wanted to quickly mention some of the other inhabitants of Ruskin Park, a family of Canada Geese. These three babies changed from fluffy, yellow chicks to just a slightly smaller version of their parents in about 6 weeks!
Is there any wildlife in your local parks? If so, what creatures can you find there?