Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Fieldnotes’ Category

FoxHmmm.  I notice that it is almost exactly a year since I posted on here, which means that it is also a year since I last went out looking for badgers.  I really need to get out more.

In fact, the circumstances are similar in many ways.  Last year, I took advantage of Mrs BWM and Scarlett taking a trip to Ireland.  This year they are both on a trip to Disneyland Paris.  While they are meeting the mouse, my time is my own for a few days.  Which has meant catching up with chores in the house and garden.

But this evening, like Mole in Wind in the Willows, I said “Hang spring-cleaning!”, dug out my badger watching clothes and headed off to the wood.

Spring is definitely coming.  The first leaves are out in the hedgerows, the lambs are in the fields, the primroses are blooming in the wood.  It was even sunny, although with a chill wind.  The wood hadn’t changed much in a year, a few more of the dead ash trees blown down, and there were good signs of badgers at the main sett.  There were fresh spoil heaps at both the east and west ends, and one of the fallen trees was covered in claw marks where the badgers have obviously used it as a ‘play tree’.  Badgers do seem to love climbing on and over trees – perhaps they have some of the instincts of their pine marten cousins.

I climbed my usual tree (perhaps tree climbing is a universal mammal urge) and settled down to wait.  I’ve said it before, but it is rare to get time to just sit and think these days.  At 6.30 there was a movement in the undergrowth – not a badger, but a fox.  Foxes aren’t very common around here, certainly not so common as they were when I lived in London, and as long as they aren’t after my chickens I like to see them.  A few years ago a fox reared a litter of cubs in an unused part of the sett, but this fox (a dog fox) seemed to be just passing through.

fox

After another half hour, more sounds of stealthy movement.  This time it was a herd of fallow deer.  We have a few of these deer in the area – I used to see their tracks regularly, but again it isn’t common to see them.  There were six of them, three young and three older, and a mix of males and females judging by the antlers (or rather the antler buds).  I wonder if they were a family group, as they were all quite dark coloured.  Fallow deer can be any colour from dark brown through light brown with spots to white all over.  These were all the same dark colour.  They slowly grazed their way past, a couple of the males occasionally playing at butting antlers, despite not having any.

Fallow deer

And then, at 7.50, a badger emerged at the west end of the sett and sat down for a good scratch before wandering off.  By now it was getting too dark for photos (as well as a bit chilly).  I waited for another 20 minutes to see if any more came out, but none did.  Judging by the signs the east end of the sett is well occupied, so presumably they came out after I had left.

Badger

A pleasant evening all round.  I really shouldn’t wait another year before doing it again…

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

So Mrs BWM and Scarlett are off in the west of Ireland for a long weekend, visiting a friend.  I’m left here alone in Bedfordshire.  Am I despondent?  No.  I’m doing what any other re-blooded male would do when his wife goes away and he’s suddenly relieved of family duties.  I’ve been out looking for badgers!

Coincidentally, the weather this weekend has been fantastic.  The first nice weekend of spring is always a great time in the village as people emerge after winter.  You bump into people you haven’t seen in ages and the sound of lawnmowers and the smell of freshly cut grass fills the air.

So, Friday evening.  The closest badger sett to my house is also one of the least accessible.  It is on the edge of a small private wood.  I’ve asked for permission to go there, but evidently not asked the right people yet because I haven’t got it.  However, you can sit on a footpath and look out over a small valley and watch the sett.  The only problem is that it is about 350 yards away, so it is only really possible with a telescope.  This is probably the longest range badger watching ever, and to be honest not the easiest, but for an hour or so after work it is only a very short walk and a pleasant diversion.  The badgers were not entirely obliging, two emerging at about 7.15pm and disappearing into the wood rather than staying in the open, but at least I was outside and watching badgers.

The badger sett across the valley

The badger sett in the hedge line across the valley – real long-range badger watching

On the way home I passed the village notice board, and saw an leaflet for a talk on ecology to be held in Ampthill on Saturday by the CPRE.  Being wholly without commitments this weekend, and open to a chance to learn something new, I went along – how decadent – and a fascinating talk it turned out to be.

The speaker was Hugh Warwick, hedgehog expert, who spoke about the issue of fragmenting habitat and its impact on a range of species.  He is a very entertaining and informative speaker, so if you ever get the chance to hear him, do so.  As well as some solid ecological science and wonderful wildlife anecdotes he had some interesting observations on badgers.  For instance, the folk tale that if you have a lot of badgers in the area then you won’t have a lot of hedgehogs is confirmed by research.  But it isn’t just that badgers eat hedgehogs.  It is more complicated.  It seems that if resources are plentiful then the two species co-exist in  competition, but if resources dip below a certain level the relationship becomes predator-prey.  Interesting stuff!  I bought a couple of his books from him too, so I’ve got some good reading to look forward to.

Inspired by this I went up to the badger sett on Saturday evening.  There was evidence of activity – fresh spoil and the like – but I only saw one solitary badger that emerged at 7.40 and ambled off straight away.  At least it was a badger though, and I can’t complain, seeing as how I haven’t been up there for almost a year.  I really should get here more often…

Badger in the distance

There is a badger in here, if you look closely!

Sunday was too nice a day to waste too.  After working the garden for most of the day I took a stroll to the lake in the evening, just to be out in the spring countryside.  One of the local buzzards was making the most of the fine weather too.

Buzzard

Buzzard in the blue sky

The lake was home to a flock of geese – Greylags and some Canada Geese – nothing rare but good to see nonetheless.  There’s been a flock of these in the neighborhood lately, so the lake is obviously their current haunt.

Greylag Geese on the lake

Greylag Geese on the lake

Here’s something I haven’t noticed before.  These are holes in a dead ash tree.  I’m assuming they were made by a woodpecker (they were 25 feet off the ground).  Do they nest in these holes?  They’re too big to be just in search of food.

Woodpecker holes

Woodpecker holes, I presume

I lingered around a bit after sunset in the hope of catching the Barn Owl that lives around here, but with no luck.  And it’s chilly after the sun goes down!  It was just me in a field with just Chinese Water Deer for company – six of these little deer, all dotted around in the growing cereal.  Oddly, they didn’t seem to interact with each other at all, they all kept separate.

Chinese Water Deer

Chinese Water Deer – they always look slightly startled

It doesn’t matter if it wasn’t the most exciting walk in terms of wildlife seen, it was nice to just be out and about on a nice spring day.

Read Full Post »

Alert BadgerIt’s the Whitsun Bank Holiday weekend, and the weather has been glorious.  The village open-air swimming pool opened for the summer today, and it’s been warm enough for Scarlett and me to have a splash around.  In fact, it’s the first weekend for ages that it’s been both light enough in the evenings and pleasant enough weather to go out.

I haven’t been out lately, due to family commitments.  Badger watching time coincides neatly with bedtime for a three year old, so that’s curtailed things a little.  But today was too nice to miss.  Mrs BWM wasn’t working, so I asked her to take my parenting duties and headed off to the wood to see if the badgers were still around.  After successfully breeding last year I’m less worried about them, but I still wanted to get out.  The bluebells are out, cuckoos are calling and it’s generally a nice time to be in the woods.

https://badgerwatcher.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/foraging-badger-11.jpgHaving been away from the sett for half a year I didn’t know what to expect.  There were signs of active digging at both the east and west ends, but the badgers still surprised me.  At 7.30pm five badgers popped out of an unremarkable hole at the south side of the middle of the sett.  I haven’t seen any serious badger activity at this hole before, but it is the same hole in which the fox reared a litter of cubs four years ago (see https://badgerwatcher.com/2009/05/10/fieldnotes-10th-may-2009-more-fox-cubs/).  Blimey, four years, hasn’t time flown…

Badger foraging under fallen logs

Anyhow, I counted five badgers, including at least one cub.  Why do I say ‘at least one’ cub?  Well, as always, badgers are damn difficult to count.  They don’t stay still, they hide in undergrowth so you can only see part of them, and they’re constantly nipping off and coming back again.  Hence I can be sure there was one cub, but there may have been more.  The maximum number of badgers I saw at one time was five, so that’s what I’m calling.

The badgers were relaxed and happy.  There was a lot of grooming, playing and play fighting.  This got quite funny and endearing, for instance two badgers chasing each other around the trunk of a tree, or one badger climbing on a fallen tree and jumping on another as it walked underneath.  I know that play has a serious purpose in training animals for the real world, but badgers often seem like they’re playing for the sheer joy of it

Badger foraging in leavesAfter half an hour or so the play stopped and serious work began.  The badgers were collecting a lot of bedding, shuffling backwards with paws full of dead leaves.  It occurred to me that this is the first dry spell we’ve had for a while, so they may have been taking advantage of the warm weather to get a clean, dry bed.

As well as the bedding, they spent a lot of time foraging for food.  This is always fascinating to watch.  The badgers were snuffling in the leaves, digging out the soil and turning over dead wood to get at insect underneath.  In the soft leaf mould they often seemed to be ploughing furrows with their noses to get at choice morsels.

I was treated to some good close-up views.  I was sitting in a tree with badgers snuffling around and underneath me – Badger - view from abovehence the unusual top-down view!

As the church clock struck nine the badgers moved off.  Time for me to go too.  It’s good to know that the badgers are healthy and happy, and very good to spend time with them again.

Read Full Post »

A professional case of great gravity was engaging my own attention at the time…

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, A Case of Identity

.

Badger cubsWell, I’m back.

I’ve been neglecting my badgers again lately.  I can’t believe I haven’t been to see them since April.  Partly this has been due to a demanding schedule at work.  In the last couple of months my work has taken me from the heat of Saudi Arabia to the cool opulence of a boardroom by the lakeside in Zurich and the offices of the United Nations in Vienna.  It’s been good work and nice to see the world, but it’s also good to take time to reflect every now and then.  Partly it’s been due to an even more demanding two and a half year old daughter, who is now old enough to prefer playing with her toys to being taken out into fields, and who is also quite capable of saying so.  Throw in Mrs BWM’s shift schedule and holidays and social events, and there has been no time to get out to the woods.

But tonight I had a free evening, so it was time for a long-overdue trip to the badgers.  The day had been sunny and warm but with a threat of rain.  I don’t get to pick and choose the days of my visits at the moment, so I picked up my (now repaired) umbrella and was off.

To refresh the memory, the main sett I watch has had a bit of decline over the past couple of years, going from at least twelve badgers down to just three.  But on my last trip I saw a new cub, so it looked like the numbers were increasing again.  Would there be more cubs to be seen this time?

The sett is in it’s full summer undergrowth, so it is impossible to see all of it.  There were signs of activity (fresh spoil and discarded bedding) at the west end where I saw the cub, so that’s where I sat.  But there was also a lot of fresh spoil at the east end, so it looked like multiple holes are in occupation.

Badger cub

I arrived at 7.45pm and settled down, and at 8.20 the first badger emerged from the west end, joined quickly by two more.  One adult and two cubs!  This was good news, as it meant the cub I saw back in April has a brother or sister.  Things are looking better for the clan.

The three badgers did all the proper badger things – scratching, grooming, play-fighting and collecting bedding.  Despite watching badgers for some years now I still enjoy watching a relaxed family group like this.

At 8.30 the sound of whickering drew my attention to the east end.  There, by the new spoil heap were one, two, three, four badgers – two adults and two cubs.  This was even better news!  They were too distant for photos in the dim light, but clear enough through binoculars.  The badgers at the west end disappeared underground, and shortly afterwards I counted seven badgers at the east end.  I’m inclined to believe that this was the west end badgers joining the social group, having made their way their by some devious underground route (I know the west end holes are linked to the centre holes of the sett – the tunnels may well go further).

The adult badger and cubs at the west end of the settIt was a fine display of badger behaviour, with all seven snuffling and playing and scratching.  I crept down from my tree and stalked over for a closer look, but it was still impossible to get decent photos.  I watched for half an hour until the rain finally started and then headed home.

All in all, a good visit.  There are at least four cubs this year, which makes the clan stronger and more stable – hopefully a good sign for the future.  Interestingly, the cubs are clearly from two separate litters; and more interestingly, the mother of one litter has obviously separated herself to the outlying west end but without and sign of being distant from the rest of the clan.  Fine badger watching, and another aspect of badger behaviour for me to ponder.

Read Full Post »

The adult badger in the rain

The adult badger in the rain

We have a standing joke in our house.  About four years ago my father-in-law kindly bought us an irrigation system for the garden – a very nice one, with a hose and individual little sprinklers.  Since then, every time we plan to install it, nature responds with prolonged rain that makes it entirely unnecessary.  The irrigation system sits unopened in the shed, and we joke that even to mention it will provoke an inevitable downpour.

The early spring was fine and warm, and we’re officially in a drought here.  But last week we talked about the irrigation system, with predictable consequences.  It’s been torrential rain all week.

Since my last badger watching trip in the rain (in which I vowed never to do it again) I’ve made some adjustments to my kit.  I’ve improved my waterproof camera cover and bought a lens hood to keep the rain off the front of the lens.  This means that I no longer need to shelter the camera under my coat.  I’ve even bought a new pair of waterproof trousers (from my local country and outdoor store, Rugged and Tough in Hockliffe – an Aladdin’s cave of quality clothing and accessories), which takes care of my bottom half.

All this is was useful, since by 7.00pm I was sitting in a tree under a heavy shower and with a cold wind blowing in my face, but pretty warm and dry.  I wasn’t expecting much from the badgers in this sort of weather, but I’ll take any chance to get out and get watching, especially since it’s the season for cubs to be emerging, if there are any.

The camera shy badger cub

The camera shy badger cub

As the church clock struck 8.00 and the light was fading, a badger popped up from the west end of the sett.  Aha!  So this end of the sett is occupied again.  A quick scratch and a visit to the latrine site, and at 8.15 it was joined by a second badger, this time a young cub.

This is good news, as the sett can do with a few more badgers.  The cub didn’t move far from the entrance to the hole, as I’d expect at this time of year, and it went back underground after 5 minutes or so.  It was a little camera shy and I couldn’t get a good picture of it, but it was good to see it.

Another badger came out from the east end of the sett at 8.30 and trotted busily around the undergrowth, but by this time the light was pretty much gone.  I’m glad I didn’t stick to my resolution of staying inside when it rains.  I don’t know if there are more cubs, or whether any new badgers have joined the sett, but at least I’ve seen the first cub of the year.

Read Full Post »

Live by the foma [harmless untruths] that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy

Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle 

.

Splashing in Puddles

Splashing in puddles - the fun side of rain

Most of the time I like to think I’m a positive chap, or at least I’m generally cynical in a cheerful kind of way.  But every now and then I have one of those moments of clarity that makes me question just what the hell I think I’m doing for a hobby.

Take this evening, for instance.  It’s been raining all day and I’ve been digging the vegetable garden, taking time out to splash in puddles with Scarlett (an activity she absolutely loves).  But seeing how it’s the last day of the holiday, and that I’ll be back in the office tomorrow, I’ve had an irresistible urge to go out and watch badgers again before I swap my camouflage clothes for my pinstripe suit.

6.30pm saw me sitting against a tree at the north side of the sett.  I don’t often sit here as the wind is usually in the other direction, but today it was blowing from the south of the wood, and the north side gives a good view of the big new spoil heap.

The rain was steady.  I sat on the damp ground with my camera tucked into one side of my open coat and my binoculars tucked into the other.  My gear was nice and dry while I was getting nice and wet.  I’d brought my camouflage umbrella with a vague idea that I’d set it up and sit under it, but I was sitting closer to the sett than I planned so I opted for a damp and inconspicuous low profile rather than comfort and left the brolly down.

I sat there for an hour, getting steadily wetter.  I really must get myself a pair of decent waterproof trousers one day (prospective sponsors please note!)  The badgers failed to make any appearance.  Badgers don’t seem too bothered by rain when they’re out foraging, but it does seem to keep them indoors later.  Sensible beasts.

By 7.30pm the light was failing, as were my hopes of an award-winning photo, or even of seeing a badger.  I confess I was thinking of home, when the wind suddenly blew up, the rain started hammering down and somewhere in the wood there was a tremendous crash and clatter as a substantial branch broke off in the wind.  Never mind the badgers – it was definitely time to head for home, through fields lashed by wind and rain.

As I walked I thought about what I needed to do to make badger watching in the rain a more practical option.  I could rig up a small hide from my umbrella with my camouflage tarp over the top – very snug.  I’ve made a waterproof cover for my camera out of an old dry-bag with the end cut off and the lens poking through the drawstring top, so I could put that into operation.  I could store my gear in a dry-bag in my rucksack, rather than under my open coat.  I could…

Hang on!  Wait a minute!  What am I doing?  What am I thinking?!  The obvious answer to badger watching in the rain, BWM old chap, is NOT TO DO IT!  Stay at home.   Drink tea.  Watch TV.  Read books.  Don’t sit in a cold, dark, wet wood.  They’re only badgers, after all.  In the midst of this stark moment of clarity my beloved camouflage umbrella snapped in a gust of wind, and my disillusionment and misery were complete.

Don’t worry.  It’ll take about a week for me to dry out all my gear and by then I’ll have forgotten about the discomfort and I’ll be ready to do it all again.  I’ll repair my umbrella (epoxy and aluminium bar should do it).  I’ll try out the umbrella/tarp hide idea.  I’ll get a pair of waterproof trousers and I’ll do all the other things I planned, and I’ll be out in the wood again, come rain or shine.  The call of the wild is too strong to ignore for long…

Read Full Post »

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

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

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »