I still haven’t managed to get a good look at any badger cubs this year, so once again I climbed the hill to the woods.
The badgers had obviously been busy around the western part of the sett, so I set myself up there and waited. The wait was made easier by a great-spotted woodpecker that worked its way up the trees in the area. I’ve been hearing woodpeckers for weeks, but this is the first time I’ve managed to see one.
At 8.14pm a pair of badgers came out of one of the eastern entrances, followed quickly by a third. Frustratingly, this part of the sett is hidden in undergrowth, so although I could get glimpses of black and white faces, I couldn’t tell if any of them were cubs.
For the next half hour or so I sat and listened to the badgers happily playing and whickering just out of sight. Then my attention was diverted elsewhere.
Remember the fox I mentioned a few posts ago that was living in one outlying
hole of the sett? Well, it seems that ‘he’ is a ‘she’, because at 8.40 two adorable fox cubs appeared outside the hole. These little chaps were very cute indeed! Difficult to photograph, but still very cute. Sod the badgers, I thought. If they’re going to play hard to get then I’ll watch the foxes instead.
As if in answer, two badgers ambled over to the western sett entrance and in quick succession another six emerged from the hole. In no time there were eight badgers grooming and playing in front of me.
A few things stand out from the evening. Firstly, there were no cubs. All the badgers seemed adult size with adult behaviours, so unless this year’s cubs are very quick to mature then these are all last years. The main reason for keeping this diary is so that I can compare notes, and looking at the pictures from the end of May last year there is no way the cubs would be so grown up. The cubs (I’ve only seen one) must still be out of sight.
The badgers were in a playful mood – running, play-fighting and climbing trees. There is a tree at the sett that grows at an angle of 45 degrees, and I’ve seen the badgers climb up it a few times. The end of the tree is about 12 feet off the ground yet they don’t seem bothered. I walked up it once and it scared the hell out of me.
There was a lot of social behaviour going on. I noticed that as each new badger emerged from the sett it would musk (scent mark) the others, which implies that musking is a group behaviour and not just done by dominant individuals. I took some video, but the evening was a little too dark for it. Nevertheless, I’ve uploaded some because there’s a good example of musking going on. Watch how the badger coming in from the right lifts his tail when he rubs against the others. He (or she) is marking them with scent from the sub-caudal gland.
Talking of dominant individuals, I was treated to another fine display of badger sex. I really should stop watching things like this, but since the badgers in question were surrounded by six of their fellows and didn’t seem embarrassed, then neither should I be. The mating was interesting, because it was the first time I’ve ever been sure of the gender of individual badgers. It also implied that the badgers doing the mating were dominant in the clan, so these are obviously badgers of importance to watch out for in the future. I tried to see any distinguishing features so I could recognise them again, but they looked the same as any other badgers, dammit!
Ernest Neal distinguishes between short- and long-duration mating in badgers, where the long variety is a more serious attempt to breed. My pair were at it for 10 minutes, which seemed quite long, although Neal records instances of up to 90 minutes. Badger mating seems to involve a certain roughness, with the male biting the neck of the female to stop her running away, and she in turn trying to bite him when he gets too agressive.
Another thing of note was that a number of badgers rolled on the ground in exactly the same spot. This seemed like more than just coincidence. Do badgers scent-mark the soil, and then other badgers pick it up? Another thing to look out for in the future.
After an hour or so the badgers wandered off to begin the night’s foraging. By 9.45pm the sett was quiet again and I gracelessly climbed down from my tree. It was a fine evening, and the playfulness and the complexity of the social behaviour reminded my why I enjoy watching these remarkable creatures.