The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Robert Frost Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
I don’t know if Robert Frost ever watched badgers. Probably not, but he knew the lure of the woods and, like me, was kept away from them. It’s been a while since I’ve been in the woods, partly through work commitments, partly because I’ve been on parenting duty as Mrs BWM has been working weekend shifts lately (apart from last weekend, when she went for a night out with the girls). Anyhow, it’s been a good while since I’ve seen a badger, and since Mrs BWM was home to baby-sit and I had no other promises to keep, a trip to the main sett was in order this evening.
Now, this winter badger watching is a far cry from the warm, golden evenings of summer. It’s dark and it’s cold, with an icy wind blowing chill across the fields. If I was going to sit still (and have an enjoyable evening) I needed to dress up warmly. Since I’ve never done a guide on ‘what to wear when badger watching’, and as a record for myself, here’s what I wore today, from the bottom up:
- Leather mountain walking boots (overkill for the rolling fields of Bedfordshire, but warm and comfortable and sturdy enough to go stumbling over rough ground in the dark)
- Two pairs of thick wool boot socks
- Thermal long johns
- Army surplus thick wool trousers (c. Korean War vintage, a bit itchy but very warm and utterly silent)
- Thermal T-shirt
- Thick brushed cotton ‘farmer’s shirt’
- Fleece jumper
- Fleece jacket
- Waxed cotton jacket
- Fleece gloves, balaclava and headover
In addition I had my camera and binoculars, and a rucksack with the night vision scope, inflatable cushion and – to fortify the inner man – a jacket potato from the kitchen and flask of hot tea. It is no wonder I was feeling a little warm after walking the uphill mile to the woods!
Mind you, I was glad of all the clothes when I sat down near the sett. As I’ve said before, badger watching means always having the wind in your face, and a raw, cold wind it was too. But I was feeling quite cosy, since the only bit of me exposed to the wind was the inch or so around my eyes.
I settled down with my back to a tree with a good a view of the sett. The advantage of this time of year is that there is no undergrowth, so the parts of the sett normally hidden by elder and nettles were visible. I arrived at about 4.45pm while there was still some light and sat cross-legged under my tree like a contented Buddha. It was good to be back in the woods again, to just sit still and listen to the owls and the pheasants around me.
After 20 minutes or so a Chinese Water Deer picked its way slowly through the woods, passing within 20 feet of me without alarm. It shows how effectively you can hide in plain sight by sitting very still with suitable clothing and a tree behind you to hide your silhouette.
The minutes ticked by until I heard more rustling in the dead leaves. Two badgers appeared out of the gloom and stopped – again about 20 feet from me – for a short grooming session. One of the badgers let out an odd purring sound, which I haven’t heard before. Mind you, I’m not normally this close to them, or it may be something to do with the time of year: female badgers should be ready to have cubs in a week or two now.
To my mingled delight and horror, one of the badgers started plodding off the path in my direction. It was looking right at me, and seemed to want to investigate further. It got to within about five feet of me before obviously catching my scent and bolting, the other following. This is the double-edged sword of watching badgers from the ground (as opposed to from a tree). You get thrilling close-up encounters, but there’s always a danger that you’ll be discovered.
I obviously had been discovered, so I crept off to another tree a bit further away. I never like disturbing the badgers. It was 5.38pm. Thinking the badgers wouldn’t be back for a while, I poured myself a cup of tea and took out my baked potato supper, when I heard the purring noise again. One of the badgers had come back to the tree where I had been sitting and was sniffing around the spot I had sat on. It didn’t like what it found and scurried off again.
With that, I thought it best to call it a day and leave the badgers in peace. I didn’t want to risk disturbing them further. Still, I had satisfied my urge to sit in a dark wood again and I’d got close to the badgers, so it was a good evening. The purring noise is new to me, so I’ll have to investigate that. I like it when I learn new things, and all before six o’clock.
And no. I didn’t use my new camera. Didn’t even take it out of its case. All the gear and no idea…