Today was the day of the annual squirrel shoot - a family affair with my dad handling the poles, me with the gun (the trusty pump-action Remmy), and assorted others as general helpers doing vital jobs like spotting the dreys and helping to lug the poles around the woods.
Along the way I was able to spot which rabbit burrows are active, in preparation for ferreting in a week's time. I was amazed how dark and orange the rabbit pee looked in the snow. In some places it was almost like blood. Perhaps it's that colour all the time and we just can't see it. Or maybe the weather has made the rabbits a bit dehydrated, so their urine is more concentrated than normal.
UPDATE: Daughter Emma, who's practically a vet (2 1/2 years to go!) has looked into this and tells me that blood in the urine can indicate Viral Haemmorhagic Disease, uterine cancer, or various rare conditions. However, there's also some documented evidence that a) the urine of perfectly healthy rabbits can vary from almost clear to dark orange/red, and b) one factor that seems to make it darker is cold conditions. So, unless all our rabbits have got VHD at once (unlikely), it seems that the cold snap is the cause, and the snow just allows us to see it. If you have any more info on this, do let me know.
Anyhow, the bag was five squirrels, a big improvement on last year when we saw next to nothing. One particular success was getting a squirrel out of a hole in a big tree, using the cunning tactic of lobbing snowballs into the hole.
For one drey, my Australian nephews abandoned the poles and used snowballs instead - it worked, and out came a squirrel!
Skye and Bracken came too - Skye doing her best to act like a proper gundog, and Bracken showing more interest in rabbit poo than anything else.
And when we got home they, er, helped me pluck a couple of brace of pheasants...