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.

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...

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…

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

Spring lambs

Spring lambs

Today has turned out to be a glorious, sunny spring day.  A day for being outdoors, if ever there was one.  Mrs BWM kindly took parenting duty and I headed off up to the wood.

It’s definitely spring now.  The first leaves are on the trees, the lambs are playing in the fields and the primroses are in flower in the glades in the wood.  We’ve had a week of warm, sunny weather, and everything seems to be bursting into life.

By way of a contrast to my usual pictures of badger poo, here’s some fox poo instead.  At the top of the wheat field there is a large stone, presumably thrown there after being uncovered by the plough.  It’s a very handy stone for knocking the mud off your boots after the walk up the field.  A fox has chosen it as a place to deposit its poo.  Like badgers, foxes use scat as a territory marker.  Unlike badgers, who put their dung in holes, foxes invariably choose prominent places such as stones, molehills or tufts of grass.  More extrovert, I suppose.

Fox poo

Fox poo on a stone

The wood itself was busy, with muntjac and fallow deer, plus a hare that I startled out of cover.  Hares are usually thought of as a species of open fields and grasslands, but I’ve seen them quite a few times in the middle of woodland now, and they seem perfectly happy there.

The badger sett also seemed to be doing nicely, with signs of activity at five of the holes at least, including one with a huge new mountain of a spoil heap at the east end.  I’m hopeful that there’ll be cubs this year, so this sort of excavation is a good sign.

At 6.20pm a good hour or so before dusk,  a badger appeared across the ravine at the east of the sett and was soon lost among the trees.  A good start.  At 6.54 another badger appeared briefly by the big new spoil heap.  It sniffed for a minute or so before vanishing back underground.

Badger by the big spoil heap

Badger by the big spoil heap

At 7.40 the badger reappeared, accompanied by another.  One badger trotted off to forage; the other stayed by the hole.  So far, so good.  All three badgers at the sett ticked off, albeit at a distance and quite briefly.

Badger on the move

Badger on the move

One minor mystery remains.  All three badgers were in the east end of the sett.  The west end holes, however, showed clear signs of activity, with fresh spoil and dung pits visible.  Does this mean that one of the badgers is spending time here as well as at the other end?  Or might another badger be in residence?  This goes right to the heart of my ongoing questions about movement within a sett, but as always, only time will tell.


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.

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.

Hi E J – that’s an impressive list you have now.  Good work!

By way of response, here’s my own efforts, which consist mostly of feeding the ducks at Woburn Deer Park.

Feeding the Ducks at Woburn

The Canada Geese are acting strangely, honking and hissing at each other.  I think it must be something to do with mating season.  Here’s what a Canada Goose threat display looks like:

Canada Goose Threat Display

And the swans are getting friendly too – being a protective Dad I kept Scarlett firmly behind me as this one came bullying me for bread:

Swan - getting a bit too close

Now, contrary to popular opinion, I don’t believe that a swan can break your arm with its wing.  But I still didn’t want it anywhere near my daughter.   Luckily they don’t move too fast on land.

So – still no Reed Buntings or Common Scoters, but at least it keeps me out of mischief…

Snowdrops in the churchyardThe 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.Greylag Geese

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.

Fresh badger latrineThe 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(!)

There’s a badger sett near my house.  I don’t know where it is (although I have my suspicions) but I know it is there and I know it is near.

For some years now, I’ve been tracking a badger across the field behind my house, where at least one has a regular foraging route.  There have been a couple of dung pits here too.  And finally, there have been three dead badgers in a small patch just down the road over the past three years.  All of this points to an active sett in the near vicinity.

Finally, this morning, I caught sight of one of my local badgers.  As I started my drive to work at 6.00am, a badger was digging a snuffle hole on the verge by the road.  It was in exactly the same spot where the road casualties occurred, showing what creatures of habit they are.  I slowed down for a quick look – eye to eye a few feet away – and then I was past and on my way to work.

It’s nice to get another piece in the jigsaw of my badger map of the area.  I knew from the tracks and signs that I’d see a badger here eventually – it just took longer than expected.