It is definitely autumn. It hasn’t felt like we’ve had much of a summer this year, but the seasons are definitely turning. The blackberries are in full flow, the leaves are starting to turn on the horse chestnut trees (always the first to get leaves and the first to lose them) and the evenings are drawing in.
Sadly, the badger watching season is coming to an end for me. Badgers don’t hibernate, so they’ll be out and about all winter, but it is now pretty well dark when they emerge from the sett. Fine for the badgers, not so fine for badger watching. I may try and see if I can watch them using an artificial light – red light is not supposed to bother them very much – but I’m always wary of disturbing them.
Today I’ve been for a wander around the woods and fields. All the summer crops have now been harvested, so everything is looking a bit bare. No doubt the badgers are hard at work getting in their harvest, eating as much as they can and putting on as much weight as possible for the leaner months ahead.
The badger dung in one of the latrine sites was dark red and a mass of pips, a sign that at least one badger has been gorging itself on elderberries. Apparently elderberries are edible for humans, but I’ve tried them and they aren’t very nice. I’m happy to leave them to the badgers.
I visited the far end of the wood today in search of the neighboring badger setts that I am sure are there, based on my mapping of latrine sites and territories. Sure enough, about 700m from the main sett I came across what looks very like a badger hole. This fits in very nicely with my estimate of 350m for the radius of a badger territory.
Unfortunately the rain had washed out any tracks from the vicinity, but the hole looked badger-ish to me. There were old dung pits nearby, and some fairly well-used paths. Of course, the only proof would be to go there one evening and see if a badger comes out of it.
The interesting thing is that this is a single hole, compared to the dozen or so holes at the main sett. There has been a fair amount written about subsidiary setts – setts connected by kinship to a main sett, so I wonder if this is an example. To be honest, I’ve always found the literature on main, outlying and subsidiary setts a trifle confusing, but I’ve got a reason to go back and re-read it now. I’ll also try and get down here one evening and see what happens.
As I was sitting contemplating this new sett, a Chinese Water Deer wandered up. These are small deer, about the size of a muntjac, but more graceful. Their most distinctive feature is that they have two long ‘fangs’ or tusks on the upper jaw, which gives them a strange, vampire deer appearance. My camouflage jacket was obviously working today because this one wandered to within about 15 feet of me. Chinese Water Deer are less common than the other species around here. Like so many unusual species they were introduced by the Duke of Bedford in Woburn and subsequently escaped. Now it’s estimated that the UK has something like 10% of the total world population, so they have obviously become scarce in their native country.
Elsewhere, I’m still practising my tracking. The field behind my house is great, as the sandy soil is always full of the tracks of rabbit, muntjac and roe deer. This evening I came across what looked very much like badger tracks. This in itself is not unusual, but they must have been made this afternoon, as the heavy rain this morning washed out all last night’s tracks.
Does this mean that my local badger has taken to wandering around in the daytime, or have I misidentified the tracks? There’s still more work for me to do on my tracking. If nothing else, it’ll keep me occupied over the winter.