benchThey taunt me. Recently, I stood in a Lake District wood reportedly full of the blighters and all I saw for two hours was an empty nut dispenser swinging in the breeze, my wellies crunching over discarded shells. You’d think a dash of redcoat would make them easier to spot, but they’re the original scarlet pimpernels.

In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if the existence of red squirrels is apocryphal – a bit like the yeti, but with better PR – a suspicion compounded by their high-profile appearance on every conceivable surface in the vicinity, from tea towels to park benches (see pic).

This is my second time to visit people who’ve lured me outdoors in the bleak(ish) midwinter on the offchance of Tufty-spotting. Last time it was Jersey. Apparently, the coastal ones are ‘shy’ clifftop dwellers, like dotcom millionaires who’ve bought their own islands. On that occasion, I clambered up a cliff and promptly slithered down it again, the russet-tinted rodents pelting me with pistachios from a twig-constructed trebuchet (all right, I made some of that up – particularly the bit about scaling anything higher than a stepladder).

At least my fruitless squirrel-spotting – and tendency to make things up – provided me with a great idea for a story. And my trip to the Lake District wasn’t a total wildlife no-show. Back in my hosts’ garden, a woodpecker made a special guest appearance on the feeder, reddily available for his close-up. Some Beau Brummels of the underbrush know what they owe their public…woody