Archive for the ‘Background’ Category

Just a few quick notes to show that I’m still here, and I haven’t been killed off by bovine TB or a virulent disease caught from a dead animal by the roadside.  But another month has gone by and what’s the closest I’ve got to a badger?

Shaving Brush

That’s right, the nearest I’ve been to a badger is my shaving brush.  And even that isn’t very close (arguably the finest shaving brushes are made from badger hair, but mine isn’t – it didn’t seem right somehow).  Anyhow, suffice it to say that I haven’t been near badgers lately.

Actually, this isn’t strictly true.  There’s been a couple of road casualties, one of which I had to move off the road.  This was an adult female in the spot that I saw a live badger in February last year. The other was in the usual spot for road casualties around here, the big wood where there have been most of the deaths.  There must be a very substantial sett in this wood to sustain this number of road casualties over the years.

What else has happened?  I got an unexpected parcel through the door the other day.  It was a book – ‘Urban Mammals – a concise guide‘ by David Wembridge.  It’s published by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species and it’s a great book – a thoughtful and informed look at the common, and not so common, urban species, from foxes to bats.

Urban Mammals by the People's Trust for Endangered Species

Why did it come through my door?  Well, it wasn’t entirely unexpected, to be honest.  I was contacted by the Trust a few months ago who had found this blog and asked me if they could use some of my pictures in the book.  Of course I was happy to help a worthwhile charity, they used the pictures and in return they sent me a copy of the book.  I’m very grateful, and it is a very good book.

What else?  There have been a lot of buzzards flying over the house lately – I hear them mewing as I sit in our living room.  One day I looked out to see what looked at first sight to be a seagull, but on second glance seemed to be a very pale, almost white, buzzard.  It had drifted out of sight by the time I’d dashed in and returned with the camera.  There were reports of a white buzzard in the area a while ago, so perhaps this was it?

What else?  On the subject of birds, I took Scarlett to the lake at Woburn to feed the ducks today.  There’s a family of black swans in residence that are interesting to see.  Black swans are introductions from Australia, which fits with them being on an estate lake (and given all the other species the Dukes of Bedford have introduced…). The RSPB website says they rarely breed in the UK, but these ones obviously have done.

Feeding the black swans at Woburn

Anyhow, after throwing in bread for a good five minutes I looked to the side and there was a heron perched on a tree, quite oblivious to us.


There’s a lesson to me to be more observant next time!

I’ll be back soon – there’s a whole bunch of correspondence I need to catch up on too, so bear with me…

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Blackthorn Hedgerow

Blackthorn Hedgerow

I don’t know if it’s just me, or if anyone else has noticed, but the Blackthorn flowers seem particularly splendid this year. The blossoms appeared early but they’ve been in full flower for a good few weeks now, lining the hedgerows in white while the other trees are just coming into bud. The Blackthorn is, of course, the plant that gives us sloes (and last year’s sloe gin has been particularly fine, incidentally).  There’s a lot of folklore attached to it: it’s wood is hard and dense and traditionally used for shillelaghs and cudgels.  My tracking stick is made out of Blackthorn, and a good sturdy stick it is too. Now, the flowering of the Blackthorn means that we should be in the ‘Blackthorn Winter’, the cold snap that traditionally accompanies the flowering.  And today it’s certainly felt like it.

Scarlett in the Vegetable Garden

Helping in the Vegetable Garden

I’ve been in the vegetable garden for most of the day, planting peas and beans. Scarlett helped – I dug the holes and she put in the seeds.  And we’ve been shifting loads of manure.  We are on sandy soil here on the Greensand Ridge of Bedfordshire.  It’s easy to dig, free draining and warms up quickly in the spring, but nutrients tend to wash out quickly so the vegetable beds need all the help they can get.  Luckily we have a friend with a horse, and the stables have an inexhaustible supply of manure.  It’s a bit of a shame to be using my executive motor to carry dustbins filled with poo, but it’s worth it for the garden.  And I do clean it afterwards, of course.
Steaming manure on the vegetable garden

Steaming manure on the vegetable garden

The weather today has certainly been changeable.  The day started with a frost and a thick coating of ice on the car, but has been mostly sunny and bright, apart from sporadic squalls of hail and cold rain that have sent us scurrying for shelter.  And the wind has been bitingly cold.  Looking out of the window it’s been a lovely spring day, but at times I was secretly glad to be next to the warmth of a steaming dungheap.  The Blackthorn Winter indeed…

Mucky Girl in the Vegetable Garden

Luckily this was before the manure was put on, but I'm sure Mummy won't be impressed when she gets home from work...

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I’ve just returned from a very pleasant Easter break with my parents up in Cheshire.  We’ve had a great time, with Scarlett having plenty of space to run around in, Timmy the dog to play with, and a visit to Chester Zoo to see the elephants and tigers (and the Giant Otters are highly recommended).  All in all a very nice few days.

Even with all this going on, I found time for some badger-related activity.  I was lucky to have the local knowledge of my parents to guide me, and I was able to visit a few different setts.

The first sett is instructive.  Here it is – a splendid entrance inside a hollow tree in a hedgerow, with a big spoil heap of sandy soil.  Badgers seem to like to have sett entrances in or under trees, either for support or protection.  Perhaps it’s a little close to the farm buildings behind, but still a very nice place for a hedgerow sett.

Cheshire Badger Sett in Hollow Tree

Cheshire Badger Sett in Hollow Tree

But – if I show you the full picture, the scenario changes.  Here’s the sett and the spoil heap in the middle of the picture:

Cheshire Badger Sett by the Road

The Hollow Tree Badger Sett - next to the Road!

As you can see, it is right on the road.  Not a big road or a busy one, but right on the road.  It shows just how adaptable badgers can be, and that not all badgers are to be found in the depths of secluded woodland.

I spent a few hours on Saturday evening sitting out by a large sett in a patch of woodland near Delamere Forest.  Unlike the roadside sett, this particular site is well off the beaten track, so I had high hopes of spotting the residents.  It was not to be, however, proving that the badgers in Cheshire can be just as awkward as those back home in Bedfordshire.  The sett was clearly active, with deep paths and four holes with big, fresh spoil heaps outside.  It was a good site to watch too, with the holes in the side of a steep ravine.  I could sit on the other side and get a clear view as if across an arena.

I watched until dusk (8.20pm), but I had no night viewing aids (binoculars or NV scope) with me, so I didn’t stay too late.  Perhaps the badgers were using other holes round the corner.  Perhaps Cheshire badgers are just late risers.

It was still a good evening.  I listened to the alarm calls of Blackbirds and watched as a Tawny Owl – the target of their alarm – crossed the trees in front of me.  I spotted a Goldcrest flitting about in a low tree, which is a new bird for me.  Unfortunately, autofocus lenses can’t pick out a bird from a tangle of branches, so the photo isn’t great.  You can see the bright yellow stripe on its head though.  I know it’s there, anyway.


Goldcrest (in there somewhere...)

The evening was livened up by the antics of a squirrel in the tree opposite.  One of the good things about my new camera is its quick shutter compared to my old bridge camera, which had a delay of a second or so between pressing the button and taking the picture.  It makes it easier to get proper ‘action squirrel’ mid-air shots like this:

Leaping Squirrel

Leaping Squirrel

So no badgers, but it was a good weekend all round.  A nice family break, a visit to the zoo and some new wildlife.  Happy Easter everyone.

Grandad BWM and Scarlett at Chester Zoo

Grandad BWM and Scarlett at Chester Zoo

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Parakeets in the Office Car Park

Well well.  Here we are on March 21st.  The Spring Equinox.  Hasn’t the year flown by?  It seems like only the other day that we had snow and ice, and now the days are longer, the trees are in bud and the Blackthorn is in flower.  It seems that spring has well and truly arrived.

I’m conscious that I haven’t been on here much lately.  There’s a few reasons for this, but they all boil down to the fact that I haven’t done much.  You see, I don’t do things just so I can write about them.  People sometimes say to me that they couldn’t write a blog because they don’t think they could do enough to fill it.  To me, this is putting it the wrong way round.  The blog is simply a diary, a record of what you’ve done, and I haven’t done much.

Partly it’s because I’ve been busy at work.  I’ve just returned from a business trip to Saudi Arabia, for instance (sandstorms, and absolutely no wildlife!) and work does otherwise take up a certain amount of time.  Partly it’s because of Mrs BWM’s shift patterns, since when she’s at work in the evenings then I need to stay at home parenting.  A lot of it is because young Scarlett is getting more independent-minded.  In the old days I could carry her around the fields and she’d be happy with that.  She’s now got to the age where she’s less easily impressed and she has the language skills to say ‘No Daddy, I don’t want to go out. I want to watch Thomas the Tank Engine’. Which she does.  A lot.  Although I still take her out (for educational purposes) we tend to spend more time at the playground, or feeding ducks, or other, more fun, places.

So what news is there?  Well, there was a dead badger on the road a couple of weeks ago, in the same place I saw the polecat a couple of years ago (see https://badgerwatcher.com/2010/06/27/a-very-much-alive-polecat/).  It isn’t safe to stop and look closely, but I haven’t seen a badger here before so it’s a new spot on the map.

And talking of badgers, I saw a badger on our road yesterday evening, at 7.31pm to be precise.  This is good, partly because I like the idea of a badger being on the same road as me, partly because I’ve waited ages to see it.  This is undoubtedly the badger that I regularly track in the field behind my house.  I feel I know it already, so it was good to finally meet in person.  If only I could entice it a couple of hundred yards into my garden…

Finally, I’ve added a new bird to my life list.  I work in an office in suburban Surrey, near Surbiton, which is actually more leafy and wooded than you might think.  It turns out that our office car park is home to a small flock of a dozen or so Parakeets.  Now the days are longer and I’m in the car park in daylight I’ve started to notice them.  Parakeets are a naturalised species across a lot of London, and some people complain about them because they can be quite noisy, but I quite like them.  They add a bit of colour to the office in more ways than one.  I was told that they are descendants of birds that escaped from Henry VIII’s menagerie at nearby Hampton Court.  Not sure if I believe that one, but they’re interesting enough all the same.

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Beaver Scouts looking for BadgersI admit that most of have my wildlife adventures have been solitary ones.  This isn’t because I am by nature a  loner, although sitting on your own outdoors is quite soothing, and it is true that one person can be a lot stealthier than a group.

No, one of the main reasons for me being on my own is that I haven’t yet successfully persuaded anyone else to come out with me.  OK, the idea sounds attractive to people, but when it comes to it, the grim reality of sitting in the cold dark of the woods, waiting for an animal that may or may not make an appearance, or getting up at dawn to traipse through a muddy field looking for tracks, suddenly loses its appeal.

Not today though.  This evening I had a whole gang of helpers along with me.  Twenty-five of them, to be precise, and all very keen.  I had agreed to help the local Beaver Scouts with a session of tracking and looking for badgers.

With 25 loud and enthusiastic 6-8 year olds, dressed in hi-viz clothing, you can work out for yourself the chances of seeing any badgers.  But we had a great little walk.  I put together a short ‘I-Spy’ leaflet for everyone with pictures of the tracks of common animals (badger, fox, muntjac, fallow deer, rabbit etc) for them to tick off and we headed to the field behind my house.

We had great fun finding deer tracks and dog tracks and ticking them off the list.  It was good to see the Beavers getting stuck into the tracking game, and the adult helpers too.  Mind you, the highlight of the walk was the badger latrine site, with real badger poo!  It never fails to impress…

In fact, it was a thoroughly enjoyable little trip.  And it was good to take a group of children out and show them a little of the wildlife in our own village, and perhaps build on their enthusiasm and encourage them to take a look around for tracks and signs the next time they’re out.

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The wildlife event of the day has been our cat Mayfield, delightful little psychopath that she is, bringing a live field vole into the house.

Mrs BWM spotted the cat acting suspiciously and cornered both cat and vole in the kitchen, at which point the vole, doubtless having watched too many 1950s cartoons, ran up the inside of her trouser leg.  Mrs BWM screamed in true housewife fashion and managed to shake out the offending rodent while the cat just sat and watched.

She seems to have taken it in her stride though.  Despite the shock of the experience, she noticed enough detail to positively I.D. the species.  That’s my girl!

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Bizarre ‘Roadkill’

Regular readers may have noticed my unhealthy interest in dead animals by the roadside.  I’m the first to admit that it isn’t always very pleasant, and probably does nothing to endear me to passers-by, but roadkill does provide a durable record of species in the area and the opportunity to examine individual animals at close quarters.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s a legitimate biological sampling method.

Imagine my morbid delight then, when a couple of days ago I drove past a very unusual animal carcass lying on the verge.  I was driving down a remote country lane so there was no traffic and I was able to quickly brake and reverse back for a closer look.  It was like nothing I’ve ever seen in the area before, and thoughts of all manner of exotic species flashed through my mind.  It was only when I got close that I saw what it was.

It was a wig.  A long, blonde wig.  Fairly dishevelled, and discarded by the roadside in a lonely wooded area.

I’m wondering now just what sort of nocturnal activity goes on in these quiet lanes.  I really must find myself a more wholesome hobby…

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We had an interesting meeting of the Bedfordshire Badger Network this week.  In addition to the usual badger matters, we were joined by a Police Inspector – the Wildlife Liaison Officer for Bedfordshire.

Police Wildlife Liaison Officers are responsible for all wildlife-related crime, which thankfully is rare in Bedfordshire.  There has been the odd incident of illegal sett blocking or badgers being shot, but no large-scale persecution.  Illegal disturbance during building and development is a far greater threat.  Still, it is good to think that the watchful eye of enthusiastic amateur badger watchers is backed up by a dedicated (in both senses of the word) police officer.

As for myself, I used it as an opportunity to get my excuses in early.  After all, it isn’t every day that I talk to a Police Inspector.  I had a quiet word with her.  “Listen”, I said, “if ever the police get reports of a suspicious character dressed in a camouflage jacket and hanging around the village after dark, it’ll probably be me.  Can you put in a good word for me please?”

Well, you never know when I’ll need a friend who can vouch that “I’m badger watching” isn’t just a lame excuse…

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Village Cider Collective 2011It seems that autumn is here, despite the warm weather of the last few days.  The leaves are turning on the trees and hedgerows, most of the harvest is in (we’ve been gorging on blackberries for weeks!) and there’s a definite chill in the morning air.  The summer seems to have flown by.

But every season has its own special treats.  Autumn, in our village, means cider.  On Sunday the village cider collective convened for the third year of chopping, pulping and pressing and juicing.

The idea of the collective is simple.  Lots of people have apple trees.  Very few eat all the fruit.  Making cider is a good way of using up the surplus, but for most people it isn’t worth buying and storing the kit required.  So what we do is get together and pool apples, equipment, bottles, labour and knowledge – a cider collective.  Everyone who contributes gets a share of the spoils.

We’re getting quite good at it.  The whole thing is run like a well-oiled machine.  But to be honest, apart from the gruelling hard labour, Cider Day is more about getting together with the neighbours for a jolly day out.  The cider is a bonus.

Mostly a bonus.  Sometimes it’s a bit of an acquired taste.  We’re still learning the art of cider making.  This year we produced 20 gallons of apple juice for cider, plus fresh juice for everyone (fresh apple juice is delicious – darker and murkier than anything from the supermarket, but absolutely delicious).  We’ve adopted a scientific approach this time.  The cider has been split into four batches, each of a slightly different recipe and strength.  These range from simple scrumpy (OG 1050) to the sinister and potentially lethal ‘Nick’s Brew’ (OG 1080, plus crab apples for an extra tannin bite).  We’ll see how each brew turns out, and hopefully replicate the good ones in years to come.

I’ll make a note of how it goes.  Right now I need to check the 10 gallons of cider bubbling away under my dining room table…

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Sore Toe Update

Some good news!  Having persisted with my sore toe for a week, in which the antibiotics made no impact whatsoever, I sought a second (and hopefully more competent) medical opinion.

The second doctor sent me for X-rays, so after a fun evening at the Luton and Dunstable Hospital, it was revealed that I have neither gout nor an infection, but a broken toe.  The X-ray showed a fracture on the first joint of the toe.  It wasn’t just a hairline stress fracture, but a significant piece knocked off the end of the bone at the joint.  Hence the pain and swelling.  I’ve broken toes before, but in this case I just woke up one morning in pain – I didn’t fall over or kick anything.  I haven’t even been running for a while.

I’m relieved.  It still hurts to walk, but at least it’s a one-off and explainable event.  I don’t have a long-term problem.

Mostly explainable.  One mystery remains, which has baffled both me and medical science.  How the hell can I break a lump of bone off my toe without even noticing it…???

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