A skylark was singing over the fields as I walked up to the wood, and a cuckoo ‘cuckoo’d’ as I walked back, so I suppose it must be nearly summer, but with a chill wind and towering black clouds it felt more like February than late May.
But I shouldn’t complain about the wind. A good breeze is the badger watcher’s friend. Badgers see only poorly, and their hearing isn’t great, but their sense of smell is something like 800 times more sensitive than ours (sounds like the beginnings of a bad joke – “how does a badger smell? – terrible!”). If they catch a sniff of human scent in the air they’ll be back in the sett before you know it. Providing you’re sat in the right place, a nice breeze carries your scent up and away from the sett, and the badgers will hardly suspect you’re there.
The badgers emerged from the sett a few minutes after 8.00pm. There are five cubs at the sett this year; one litter of two and another of three. When they first came out into the open in late April they were very unsteady, never venturing very far from the sett entrance. Now they are like boisterous children, much to the exasperation of their parents, and spend their whole time chasing each other around and play fighting.
The play fighting looks quite vicious at first sight, with cubs wrestling and rolling over each other, trying to get a playful bite. They don’t seem to do each other any harm though, and the atmosphere is definitely light-hearted. I suppose the thick fur prevents their teeth from really making contact. Occasionally one will give another a harder nip than usual, causing a sharp ‘yip’ cry, but this is not frequent. The adults usually try and keep a respectful distance , but at times even they get drawn into the fun and play along with the cubs.
Life at the sett goes on as normal though, even with a gang of rowdy kids running around. One of the adult sows was busy collecting bedding. It is usually said that badgers prefer dried grass or bracken as bedding, and this may be true in autumn and winter, but at this time of year they seem to favour greenstuff. This may be due to convenience, as the whole area around the sett is carpeted in a thick layer of foliage (bluebells and ground elder mostly) so the badgers do not have to go far to collect a good bundle.
To see a badger grabbing a ball of bedding in its forepaws and shuffling backwards with it towards the sett is one of the classic sights of badger watching. Sometimes they seem very preoccupied with the task and oblivious to the world around them, whilst at other times they’ll stop every now and then and sniff the air, perhaps self-conscious about being spotted in such an ungainly pose.
Lately, I’ve been trying to take both video and still pictures at the sett, partly to prove to my wife that I really am watching badgers and that there is no sinister reason behind me creeping out of the house in the evenings wearing camouflage clothing, but mostly to try to identify individual badgers and to start to analyse behaviour. I’ll write more about this subject at some point, but if you want to see some of the events of the evening, here are the videos on YouTube.
I watched for a while and then left shortly before 9.00pm. The badgers were all still active as I moved carefully away. These kids have far too much energy…