Picture the scene. It’s been dark for an hour. I’m perched on a branch of an oak tree, fifteen feet off the ground. I’ve long since lost any feeling in my legs but my backside feels bruised where the branch has cut into it. I shift the weight from one buttock to another to try to relieve the pressure for a few minutes. I’ve been staring into the dark for long enough to lose perspective. Only the tree seems real. I know there’s no chance of seeing any badgers now – even with the night vision scope I can only just make out the ground – but I’m hoping I’ll hear them, if and when they emerge. The tree was easy enough to climb up in the light, but I’m wondering how I’m going to climb down in the dark when I can’t see the branches or feel my legs.
The best thing is, it’s only 6.00pm. And this is my idea of a fun evening?
I don’t usually watch badgers this late in the season. It’s cold and dark and there’s less chance of the interesting social interaction you get on warm summer evenings. But I haven’t been out much this year so I’m taking every chance I get. I’ve got warm clothes and the dark shouldn’t be a problem with my night vision scope, so why not extend the season? Why not find out what badgers do in the winter?
And how come I’m badger watching on a Tuesday? Well, I’ve got a few days off work this week. Technically, I’m between jobs. I’ve left my old job and I’m starting a new one next week, so I’m taking some time off to sort things out. Hence, I’ve been out badger watching.
I’ve been spending my badger watching time at the main sett lately, and I now feel that I’ve answered my main questions: ‘are the badgers OK?’ (they seem fine); and ‘how many badgers are in residence?’ (three – two adults and a cub). This being achieved, I have decided to see if I can answer the same questions at the Hawthorn Sett. I’ve never actually seen an entire badger here, only a nose, so I also want to get to grips with it as a sett.
I arrived this afternoon at about 4.30. I have a suspicion that the badgers here are late risers, possibly because of their proximity to the road, but I wanted to be sure. The sett is in what appears to be an old quarry, now only a shallow depression about four feet deep, but the undergrowth makes observation difficult. In the centre of the depression is a small oak tree that was begging to be climbed. The oaks in most of the wood are tall maidens, fifty feet straight up to the first branch. This little tree though, has branches at two-foot intervals, just like a ladder. I just had to climb it.
As it happened, it wasn’t ideal. The tree was still carrying its leaves, which limited the view and reflected the IR beam of the NV scope. It was close to the sett too, which meant the possibility of leaving scent that could drift over the holes and disturb the badgers. But I climbed it anyway. I settled on what felt like a decently comfortable branch and was soon joined by a little wren flitting about the tree. Two tawny owls started calling to each other only a couple of trees away. So far so good.
But you know the story ends. I gave it until 6pm but there was no sign of the badgers, so I slowly and gracelessly lowered myself down the tree. This was an hour after I would have expected them to emerge. The sett is obviously in use, but I can’t seem to see the badgers there. Perhaps I disturbed them coming in. Perhaps they really are late risers.
I’ll try to get another evening here when parenting duties allow. I’ll pick a nice comfy spot on the ground and wrap up warm so that I can stay for as long as it takes. If the badgers really do come out late at this sett, then I’ll just have to wait for them.