The weather today has been much warmer than of late. It was a cold night, but the sun came out and the temperature went up to 8 degrees or so. It doesn’t sound much, but compared to the last couple of weeks it feels almost tropical!
I went on my usual Sunday morning dawn stroll today. When I set off it was still very frosty.
Here’s an example of tracks that you won’t find in a tracking book.
The pavement was very frosty, although the road had been gritted. At some point in the night a pair of rabbits had crossed the road, hopped up onto the pavement and then gone through the railings to the field beyond.
They had picked up the salt from the road on their feet, and this salt had melted the frost where their feet had touched it, leaving this perfect set of tracks in the ice.
I decided to make the most of the day and went for a longer walk than usual. I let my feet carry me in a big loop around the woods. The Chinese Water Deer were out again, and the local buzzard seems to have found a friend, as there were two buzzards swooping and calling over the fields. Either that or he was having a territorial dispute with the neighbour.
I thought it was time I checked in at the sett to see how the badgers were doing. Of course, there was no chance of them being out at 9.30am, but I wanted to have a look round. It gave me a good chance to look at the different parts of the sett. In summer, when I’m actively watching the badgers, I don’t like to get to close to the sett for fear of disturbing them as scent can linger for a long while. Today though, I thought I’d have a look, since the badgers would not be active until much later in the evening.
Everything seemed to be in order at the sett. There were two entrances that looked to be in very active use. Here’s a picture of one of them – note the relatively clean hole, without many fallen leaves or other debris. You can also see how the sides have been polished by the coming and going of many badgers. This is obviously well-used at the moment.
Very encouragingly, a couple of entrances showed signs of recent digging and of having been cleared out. In the picture below you can see a furrow pointing directly to the hole, made by badgers dragging out spoil. This is another classic sign of an active badger sett.
In the picture below, you can see that the badgers have dug out large amounts of dead leaves from this entrance. This is a sign that they’re clearing out an old chamber for re-use.
Why is this encouraging? Well, badgers re-dig parts of the sett at this time of year to make ready for the birth of cubs in February. The sow prepares a separate ‘maternity suite’ where she can get away from the other badgers and won’t be disturbed. The signs of activity at the sett all point to there being cubs on the way!
The interesting thing is that there is clear activity at both ends of the sett – the east and west sides. This implies that badgers are in residence at both ends. There is re-digging going on at both ends too. Does this mean that there will be two separate litters of cubs from separate mothers? Has there been a split in the badgers, so that different groups have taken to living in different parts of the sett?
All the books I’ve read suggest that all the badgers in a sett should be part of one single group, with only the dominant male and female breeding. This wasn’t the case last year, as there were at least two litters of cubs, and the signs seem to indicate that there will be separate litters again this year.
I’ve also been thinking about the number of badgers in the sett at the moment. If all the cubs survived (and I have no reason to think that they haven’t) then there will be at least 10 badgers in residence. Do some of them leave home at some point, or do they stay in the group permanently? Might this account for the active use of different parts of the sett? If they leave, what is it that determines who leaves and who stays, and where do the badgers that leave go? Do they join another sett, or start their own?
You see, this is the great thing about badgers. We’re only in January and already they’ve got me confused. I’m going to start the badger watching season as I finished the last one – with more questions than answers!
This is a mystery that needs solving. Does anyone know where I can get a cheap copy of Hans Kruuk’s The Social Badger? Even better, if anyone knows anything about the clan structure of badger groups and how they change over time, then please do leave a comment and enlighten me.