On Tuesday I went to the wood and, as recorded below, I didn’t see any badgers. In the absence of badgers, I spent the evening watching birds, and I want to make some notes on these – hence the separate post.
It always amazes me what you can see if you sit quietly and unobtrusively somewhere for an hour or so. I had a pair of bullfinches working the tree in front of me. These are far less common now than when I was a lad, so it was good to see them. There was also a pair of robins with a nest about 50 feet away, and they spent the whole evening going backwards and forwards with food for the young – it was a proper Springwatch moment. I always find it slightly strange to see robins in the wild. I am so used to seeing them in the garden that I tend to forget that they exist outside.
One of the most interesting things for me personally was the effect of a tawny owl on the local birds. As it was getting dark, a tawny owl called from the deep woods somewhere behind me – kee-wick, kee-wick. Instantly, a blackbird nearby started up its chattering alarm call – chink-chink-chink-chink-chink. Then another blackbird did the same a little further away, and then a third.
The blackbirds had obviously heard and seen the owl and they were raising the alarm. What made it so interesting was that although I could not see the owl myself, I could locate its position and track its progress by the alarm calls of the blackbirds.
Some trackers regard this as a higher form of tracking – following a predator through the reactions of other species. Jon Young discusses it in detail in Animal Tracking Basics (probably the least basic book on tracking I’ve ever read, incidentally). I’ve noticed blackbirds responding to foxes in this way, but this was the first time I’ve really been able to follow the progress of a predator through alarm calls. I was quite pleased with myself.
So although there were no badgers that evening, I still had a great time. All of this happened in a little patch of woodland that 99% of people would drive past without a second thought.
If you’re interested in nature and wildlife then I strongly recommend you find somewhere outside – a wood, a field, a park, anywhere – and just sit there quietly for at least an hour. I think you’d be surprised at what you see and hear.