Damp, still nights aren’t the best for badger watching. The moist air carries your scent further, and since badgers rely heavily on their sense of smell there’s a greater chance of them detecting you. Nevertheless, 7.30pm found me in my favourite tree.
It was good to be back again, to put on the camouflage jacket and assume my secret identity. There’s something liberating about it. I was the Badger Watching Man once more. I imagine that Superman must feel the same way when he casts away Clark Kent and becomes himself again.
At 7.58pm a fox appeared from one of the holes in the middle area of the sett. This is an interesting development. I wonder if he’s taken up residence permanently? I’ll see if this is a regular occurrence.
At 8.20pm the first badgers appeared. Two adults ambled across from the eastern end of the sett, joined almost immediately by three others from what looks like a very active entrance on the west.
I am pleased to say that I still get a thrill from seeing badgers. This is my fourth year of badger watching, but the sight of these big, bold beasts still impresses me. The idea that such animals can exist almost under our noses is amazing.
In no time at all there were at least seven adult badgers outside the sett (badgers are notoriously difficult to count). There were at least ten badgers last year, including cubs, so I’m curious to see how the number has changed. This time of year is when the male badgers tend to leave the sett, so I’ll see if I can get a better idea of numbers and try and work out if this has happened. I’ve got a better understanding of how badgers leave and join other setts since reading Hans Kruuk’s The Social Badger, so when I get a chance I’ll put a brief summary on here.
As well as the usual scratching and rolling round, I was treated to a view of badger sex. At the risk of being labelled as some sort of wildlife peeping tom, I watched this with interest. Badgers have a complex reproductive life, but the females are fertile very soon after cubs are born, and badgers can mate at any time of year.
By now it was getting dark, and I had badgers all around me. It was still just possible to see them using binoculars (binoculars gather more light than the naked eye, hence you can often see more with them when the light is failing). I took my first ever picture of a badger using the flash on my camera. I’ve never done this before for fear of spooking them, but after taking a few flash pictures in the pasture field in November without any serious impact on the badger, I decided to give it a go. Luckily, the badger didn’t seem bothered.
The badgers were still snuffling around me quite happily, which put me in a dilemma. My number one rule of badger watching is ‘don’t disturb the badgers’. Unfortunately, if you’re up a tree with badgers all around, this means that you’re pretty much stuck there. To climb down and appear in the middle of them would be very bad style.
By the time the snuffling and scuffling sounds had moved away it was pretty much dark. If you’ve ever been in a rural wood on a dark and misty April night then you can imagine just how dark it gets. Of course, it is just these occasions that make it a good idea to take a torch when badger watching. I had one with me, but out of a perverse desire to avoid disturbance I didn’t use it. Climbing down the tree by feel wasn’t elegant, but I got down in one piece. Luckily I know these woods very well, but even so there were a few Blair Witch Project moments as I crept out, using my tracking stick in front of me like a blind man.
But that’s the joy of the whole thing. To be out in a wood at night, with the deer barking and the tawny owls crying – I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.