At last, the summer is back, and it’s been a long, hot day. Having done my chores in the garden, it was time for a trip to the woods for a spot of badger watching.
“You’ve got to watch badgers”, I explained to my wife, “badgers need watching! If you don’t watch them, they’ll get up to all kinds of mischief!” How true this turned out to be!
It being a nice day, and inspired by reading Pablo’s Woodlife Blog, I decided to have a bushcraft adventure and spend the night in the wood. I stuffed my hammock and a light sleeping bag into my small rucksack and I was off.
It was a warm, airless evening in the wood. I climbed my favourite tree, sat on my cushion, and waited. And waited. And waited a little bit longer. By about 8.15 the sun was sinking and there were no badgers in sight. By this time they should be up and out and sitting around the sett entrance. Where have all the badgers gone?
Eventually, a badger ambled into view. Not from the sett entrance, but from the east side of the sett. It was the little tiny cub, and as usual it was busy foraging. I couldn’t see what it was eating, but every now and then it would pounce on something, much like a fox pouncing on mice. It didn’t seem to eating anything large, so it could have been catching beetles or insects.
The tiny cub (which is less tiny now) seems to be out on its own quite often, but where was the rest of the clan? On an impulse, I turned round and looked behind me. There, about 50 yards away, was the whole pack of badgers.
Curse these stripey fiends! They had obviously come from one of the eastern sett entrances, and there they
were, rolling around in silent badger laughter, no doubt delighted at having tricked me into watching an empty piece of woodland for the last half an hour!
Obviously, they have moved back into the other part of the sett. When I first started watching this sett, three years ago, this was the main area of occupation, but since then the badgers had moved to western end. Now they seemed to have gone back. Is this normal? Did they move to the western end because of the cubs? Had I disturbed them? I shall have to check up on this.
Anyway, the badgers were making the most of the fine evening. There was plenty of running around, play fighting and general high spirits. The annoying thing for me was that I was too far away to get a very good view except through binoculars, and several large patches of nettles hid the badgers from sight a lot of the time.
They all seemed happy and healthy enough, which was good. The little cub still seems to be a bit of a loner, staying away from the main pack. It’ll be interesting to see if it comes back into the main group later in the year.
Of course, because the badgers were in a different place, they were potentially downwind of me. There wasn’t much breeze, but probably enough. Having satisfied myself that all was well, I left them to it and ambled off myself.
Here’s a video montage of the badgers this evening:
Having decided to spend a night out of doors, I circled around so that I was upwind of the badger sett, found a couple of suitable trees, and put up my hammock. This is a very comfortable way to camp, especially in a wood where the ground is littered with fallen trees and debris. I chose a spot overlooking a deer trail in the hope of spotting some deer in the morning.
I’d love to say that I spent a restful and refreshing night in the wild, but it would be a lie. No sooner had I turned off my light and put down my copy of Jim Corbett’s The Man-eating Leopard of Rudraprayag (a book describing nights spent stalking man-eaters in the jungles of India, and possibly the best thing to read in a wood after dark), than the muntjac started.
Generally, I like muntjac. I’ve a soft spot for these little deer. With two exceptions – firstly, they have a habit of sneaking into my garden and nibbling my sweetcorn plants, which I take very personally. Secondly, the barking.
If you have never heard a muntjac bark before, then it is hard to describe what it is like. The sound is a cross between a bark and an unearthly scream, and in a quiet wood it is unbeliveably loud. It is hard to imagine that such a small deer could create such a loud noise. I was walking out of the wood one day when a muntjac started barking, and I could still hear it when I reached my house, three-quarters of a mile away as the crow flies. The terrible thing about muntjac barking is that they bark about every five seconds, regular as clockwork, and they can keep it up for hours.
I honestly don’t know why muntjac bark. It may be as an alarm call, or a way of attracting other muntjacs, or a way of warning them off. I suspect it may be for all of these reasons.
So there I was. I had one muntjac barking away about a hundred yards to my left, and another barking back at it about a hundred yards to my right. To add to the cacophony there was a tawny owl crying somewhere overhead.
I may sound a bit churlish. You would think that as a naturalist I would enjoy this. This is what being close to nature is all about. Perhaps you’re right, I should appreciate it more. Nevertheless, it wasn’t the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had. I’ll have to work at this bushcraft thing.