I don’t know what it is, but I always find this time of year a bit melancholy and dreary. The leaves are gone from the trees, the woods are quiet, the vegetable garden is sleeping and there is a cold, damp stillness over everything. Summer seems a long way off.
Because of this, I decided that I needed to shake off the urge to sit in front of the fire for the next three months and get out and do something. Over the last week or so the lack of badger-watching has been nagging at me, and I made up my mind to try and get a peep at the stripey devils.
As I’ve said before, I am not keen on the idea of using artificial lights by the sett for fear of disturbing the badgers, so I hatched a plan to try and see them as they foraged in the big pasture field. There would still be a risk of disturbance, but not so great as there would be by shining lights on them as soon as they poked their noses above ground. So – it was time for another late night excursion to the fields.
I’d seen a badger here the last time I tried it (see Fieldnotes: 2nd August 2008) so I was at least partly confident. The problem was that sitting in a field for half the night in August is one thing. Doing it in November is quite another.
As anyone who has spent time outdoors will know, it is perfectly possible to keep warm when you’re walking around. Indeed, the challenge is often to avoid getting too hot. When you’re just sitting in one place though, the chill seems to seep into your bones and even a mild night can be very cold. Tonight was a cold night to begin with, with a sharp wind and a damp mist hanging over the fields.
In anticipation of the cold, I dressed up in almost every article of clothing I possess – fleece trousers, thermal T-shirt, mountain walking fleece top (which I never wear when mountain walking because it gets too hot), army extreme cold weather shirt, jumper, waterproof jacket, mittens and fleece neckwarmer. To top everything off I put on the furry Russian hat that my wife gave me. I was all dressed up with somewhere to go, and at 10.30pm I headed off towards the fields.
God only knows what I looked like. A couple of cars passed me as I walked through the village. To the drivers I must have appeared in the headlights like a cross between a German soldier in the last days of the siege of Stalingrad and some strange Bedfordshire sasquatch!
Sitting on a log at the top of the field I was surprisingly warm and cosy. As well I should have been, given the amount of gear I was wearing! In an odd way it was nice to be there in winter, especially after having spent quite a bit of time on the same log over the summer. It seemed to be taking things full circle in some way.
I sat there for an hour or so, occasionally shining a torch around the field. And then, just before midnight, a badger appeared.
It seemed quite unconcerned about me being there as it snuffled about finding worms in the grass. I turned on my red torch and crept closer, until I was about 20 feet away. This is the first badger I have seen for a few months now, and it was good just to stand there and watch it. It was particularly interesting to watch it feeding, working methodically across the field with its nose to the ground, obviously sniffing out the next earthworm.
I took a couple of photos. They aren’t the best badger pictures ever taken, but they are a first for me. The badger didn’t seem too put off by the flash, but I didn’t want to make a nuisance of myself.
After about five minutes it ambled off and I let it go. For me, it was enough to have been out and about on a winters night, and to get a glimpse of one of these fascinating creatures. I had satisfied my badger cravings for the time being.