The steady rain that had drizzled down for most of the day cleared up in the afternoon to leave sunshine and a clear blue sky. Shortly after 4.00pm I left Scarlett and Mrs BWM having a quiet nap on the sofa and set out for the wood.
After the snow and the cold weather of the last few weeks (down to -11 last Friday here) there are the first hints of spring in the air. The snowdrops are out on the verges and in the churchyard, which is always a good sign. The walk up to the wood was livened up by a flock of Greylag Geese grazing on the young winter wheat. They have been hanging around the village recently. Of course, they would be here when I didn’t have the long lens for my camera with me, so I had to be content with a more panoramic shot of the flock rather than a close up.
The first two weeks of February are significant in the badger’s year, as it is now that the cubs are born. Thanks to delayed implantation, badgers can mate at any time of year but the cubs are always born at the start of spring. I’m hoping there’ll be cubs at the main sett this year, as the numbers are still low. I’m as certain as I can be that there are just three badgers, including one cub from last year. That means there’s at least one breeding pair, so hopefully there’ll be more little ones on the way.
The badgers have been active, certainly. The field was pock-marked with fresh latrine sites, the dung characteristic of badgers that have been feeding on earthworms. I take this as a good sign too.
The wind was blowing in an odd direction, so to keep downwind I settled at the east end of the sett. This is where the active holes are, but it’s also difficult to watch from because of the uneven ground. Never mind – it would have to do. Part of the pleasure of badger watching for me is simply being out in the wood, and today was no exception. I came across two small herds of fallow deer on the walk in, and I also sat and watched a Chinese Water Deer as it browsed across the small valley. I was pleased to see that it was the same deer I’d seen and photographed 18 months ago (see Fieldnotes: 15th August 2010), easily identifiable by the split in its ear. There’s something satisfying about being able to recognise individual animals. I’ve never really managed to do it with badgers.
The light was fading when another visitor arrived. A man in a camouflage jacket walked across the pasture field near the wood and sat down behind a fallen tree. I was slightly alarmed to see that he was carrying a rifle. I don’t really have a problem with hunters, but I did get nervous when he was looking in my direction*. I hoped he was just a chap with an airgun after rabbits, but there’s a few deer hunters around here and that means proper high-velocity bullets. I didn’t want to be mistaken for one of the fallows in the dusk. To be honest, he probably never saw me. I was a hundred yards away, dressed in drab clothing with my silhouette hidden by the tree I was sitting against, and unlike him I was wearing a balaclava and gloves to hide the obvious face and hands.
Just as the church clock struck six, a badger appeared, followed shortly after by a second. I watched them through the NV scope as they pottered and foraged for 15 minutes or so before trotting off. There was nothing very noteworthy to be seen, just normal relaxed badger behaviour, but they were still good to see.
I only saw two out of the three badgers. Does this mean the third was underground with her cubs? I have no way of knowing, but I’ll be optimistic. I left them to it at about 6.30 and crept off as quietly as I could. Just to be on the safe side I walked home the long way around the hill rather than across the firing line.
*with some justification. A few years ago a badger watcher with night vision goggles was shot dead by a hunter who was out lamping and mistook him for a fox(!)