I think it’s time I got back to some serious badgerology.
I was up at the wood on Saturday, and an interesting evening it was too. Firstly, the badgers have started feeding on the wheat in the wheat field. This seems to become a regular food source as soon as it ripens. The badgers seem to have a simple way of getting at the wheat – they trample down the stalks and then pull off the grain. You can see the patches where they have been feeding.
These feeding signs are accompanied by fresh dung, full of wheat. In this case, there is quite an impressive amount.
The badgers use this field all year (I see their tracks), but the latrines only appear when they are feeding on the wheat. Now, it could be that wheat has an effect on their digestion that makes latrines necessary, but my guess is that it is probably territorial. The wheat fields are a major food resource, so it makes sense that each badger clan will try and claim it as their territory, marking it out with latrine sites. When there is no food, there is no need to mark it, hence the latrines only occur when the wheat is ripe. I must get round to some more of the latrine sites to see which ones contain wheat. That would be interesting, to find out which badgers have been feeding here.
When I arrived, the local buzzard was flying from tree to tree, calling all the time. I could see it through binoculars, perched high up on a branch. I don’t know why buzzards call like this. It is too late for mating, so perhaps it is a territorial display.
I tried to record the sound using the video function on my camera. You can’t actually see the buzzard on the video, but turn the volume up and you should hear its cry. It kept this noise up for over an hour!
At 8.30 a badger emerged briefly from the western sett entrance and then almost immediately went back underground. Ten minutes later the cub did the same. They seemed nervous. It sounds strange, but badgers seem to be afraid of buzzards. A buzzard would have no chance of carrying off even a half-grown badger, yet I’ve seen an entire family of badgers dive for cover when one passed overhead.
Five minutes later a badger came out and trotted off to the west, followed five minutes later by another, and then another and another, all at five minute intervals. None of them stayed near the sett entrance. This means that there were at least four badgers in this half of the sett.
Another ten minutes passed and badgers five and six emerged from the same hole. As they did so, the badgers at the east end of the sett came out into a clearing, foraging, playing and, amusingly, trying to climb trees. I counted five badgers in the group, which, plus the two at the west, gave a total of seven badgers visible at the same time.
One noteworthy behaviour was a fight that developed between two adult badgers. Badgers will usually engage in some rough and tumble play or play-fighting, but this was more serious. It ended with one badger running off, hotly pursued by the other. I could hear their noises at least a hundred yards off; for them to go this far meant it was serious. Perhaps this was an issue about dominance being acted out.
The other interesting event of the night was a fox that trotted past. This must one of the cubs from earlier in the year. I tried Pablo’s trick of calling in a fox by making a high-pitched squeaking noise (see here for a very impressive video), and blow me, it worked! The fox changed direction and came trotting up to the base of my tree!
It obviously felt that something wasn’t right, but I was sitting very still and was well camouflaged. So the fox did a very cunning thing – it walked round my tree in a big circle.
I’ve read about this behaviour but never seen it before. It happens when an animal such as a fox is not sure about you, so they circle round to get downwind so they can check you out. Clever little fox! Since I was in a tree and there was virtually no wind I must have passed the test, for the fox carried on wandering about. It was too dark for pictures, but I watched through the binoculars. The fox was young – its coat sleek and perfect, quite unlike the scruffy urban foxes we got in London. I know that foxes aren’t everyone’s friend, and I know the damage they can do, but they’re still beautiful creatures when you see them in their element.