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Posts Tagged ‘badger cub’

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.

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Young badger at the west end of the sett

I suppose this is a badger, watching man...

It’s been a confusing day.  It’s October, but it’s felt like July.  The hottest day in October ever, apparently.  Mrs BWM and Scarlett are away, so I’ve been doing what any man would do – cutting the grass, tidying the vegetable beds and visiting plumbing shops.  And, what with it being such a nice day, watching badgers.

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This is late in the season for me to be badger watching, but I haven’t been out much lately so I took the opportunity.  Partly to see how the badgers are doing, partly just because it’s nice to be out in the woods.  It may have felt like a summer’s day, with the warmth and the smell of fresh-cut grass, but it is definitely autumn.  The wheat field on the way to the wood has been sown with winter wheat, and it is already a couple of inches tall.  In the wood itself the trees were alive with the scurrying of squirrels, busily gathering food for the winter.  Having now seen red squirrels I can allow myself to feel a little blase about ordinary grey ones.  The badger sett is surrounded by chestnut trees and the squirrels were working them hard.  The still evening was punctuated by a steady rain of chestnuts dropped from the treetops above.

I was interested to see that the western end of the sett is in active use again, as so far this year the badgers have confined themselves to the east end only.  At 6.10pm the young badger emerged from the west end, had a good scratch and a snuffle about, and went back in.  It looks very much like the cub has moved out of the parental home and set up on his or her own.

Young badger at the west end of the sett 2

Young badger at the west end of the sett

The movement of badgers within the sett continues to fascinate (and puzzle) me.  This is as clear an example as I’ve seen of this movement, made more visible by the low number of badgers this year, but I still don’t know what drives a badger to change from one hole to another.

At 6.16 a badger emerged from the east end of the sett, followed a minute or so later by another.  My best estimate is that there are only three badgers in residence this year, so here they all were – daddy badger, mummy badger and baby badger – a proper family unit.  Here’s hoping that the numbers continue to build up next year.

I sat for a while against a tree and watched the badgers foraging as the light faded, getting bitten by late mosquitoes and half-expecting to be hit by a chestnut dropped by one of the squirrels.  Despite having watched badgers for some years now, I never get tired of sitting in a wood at dusk, sharing the evening with badgers as they go about their business.

Adult badger at the east end of the sett

Adult badger at the east end of the sett

I sat and watched as one of the adults slowly snuffled closer and closer.  When it reached about 20 feet from me it stopped and sniffed the air before trotting back to the sett.  There was no wind, but it had obviously got my scent.  I took this to be my cue to leave.  So ended a pleasant evening – sitting out in just my shirt, watching badgers in October.

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Badger CubSaturday evening was warm without being oppressive, with a light breeze blowing.  Around the world financial markets crashed.  Tanks rolled down Syrian streets.  London was in flames as rioters burned and looted.  And me?  I walked up to the wood to watch badgers.

The wheat in the wheat fields is ripe now.  The badgers are making full use of this seasonal resource, with all the latrine pits full of wheat-filled dung.  They’ll need to make the most of it quickly, as the farmers are starting to harvest.  They’ll carry on late into the night while the dry weather lasts, with spotlights on the combine harvesters.

By 7.35pm I was happily sitting up a tree at the main sett, listening to tractors in the distance, muntjacs in the wood and the buzzard in the trees.  You see, it isn’t that I try to escape from reality by watching badgers.  It’s just a different reality – one that’s been here far longer than the troubles of our modern world.

Having had little luck with the badgers at this sett I wasn’t expecting too much – maybe a quick glimpse.  But it turned out to be a very good evening of watching.  At 7.45 there appeared a badger cub.  It ambled over from the east end of the sett and snuffled contentedly around my tree as it foraged in the undergrowth.  This was good news indeed!  Remember that a couple of years ago I regularly saw 8-10 badgers at this sett, which has gone down to just 2 or 3 this year.  I’ve been concerned about them, to be honest.  A cub is an excellent sign that things are picking up again.

I thought I saw a cub last time I was here, but I only got a brief look so I wasn’t sure.  This time there was no doubt.  Here’s a quick video of the badger cub foraging:

As the cub was under my tree I could hear the whickering sound of badgers at play from the other end of the sett, so that makes at least another two badgers in residence.  At 8.00pm I saw another badger walking off from the east end of the sett, which confirmed things.

The cub spent the next half-hour foraging, snaffling up the odd morsel of food from the ground.  Apart from the delight of getting a good look at a real live badger for the first time in ages, I also got a few new insights.  At one point the local buzzard settled into a tree overhead, calling loudly.  The badger cub reacted visibly to this – it scampered to a disused sett entrance at the west of the site and crouched there.  A badger – even a half-grown cub – has nothing to fear from a buzzard, whose food is mostly carrion and small creatures such as worms, but this one looked visibly nervous.

Badger cub crouched in sett entranceAfter a few minutes the cub disappeared underground, only to reappear from the middle entrance to the sett five minutes later.  This is the first time I’ve seen this, but it means that the middle and the west of the sett are linked underground.  They’re at least 25 yards apart, so there must be a fantastic network of tunnels underground.

All in all, a very satisfying evening.  It must be a record for the latest view of a badger cub (I normally see the first in April) but it was good to see it nonetheless.  It’s a good sign and I feel like a proper badger watcher again.

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The tiny badger cub foragingOn the face of it, it wasn’t the best of days. The wind was gusty and the dark clouds threatened rain, as if a summer storm was brewing. But it had been a couple of weeks since I’ve been down to the wood, so I went anyway. A short (but very enjoyable) walking holiday and the inevitable long hours at work have conspired to keep me away until this evening.

One of the fields I walk through on my way to the wood has wheat in it this year, and there are signs that the badgers are already starting to feed on the ripening grain. Feeding on cereals is often seen as something that badgers do in drought conditions when worms are hard to come by. This year hasn’t been especially dry, so I imagine the worms must still be fairly plentiful, yet they seem to be eating the corn anyway. Perhaps it is just an easy source of food. Perhaps they just like it.Badger dung showing cereal diet

The best indicator of cereal eating in badgers is to examine their dung. I’ve never stooped so low as to start poking around in it, but you can tell a lot about what the badger has been eating just by looking at it. I took this picture this evening. The dung is green and full of cereal grains, in clear contrast to the brown, earthy dung you typically get with an earthworm diet.

The wind was blowing from an odd direction, so I had to approach the sett from a different way to usual. I’ve mentioned before that you should always approach a sett quietly and from downwind. This proved to be very true today, since one of the badgers was out and about early. I arrived at about 7.00pm, and since the badgers have usually been emerging about 8.00pm or so, this one was very early.

With my best attempt at cat-like stealth I crept up behind a tree about 20 yards from the sett. I was downwind, so I was pretty safe from discovery, and if I didn’t make any noise the badger was unlikely to notice me.

It was a badger cub, and from the size of it, it was the tiny cub I had noticed last time. It was busy foraging, pushing its nose into the leaf mould and grubbing about; indeed the ground all around was pock-marked with dozens of little snuffle-holes where it had rooted out worms or bugs. I don’t know if it is the runt of the litter. Do badger litters have runts? Is its small size connected to the fact that it was out early, and obviously feeding with some enthusiasm? Perhaps it is a younger cub from another litter and has some catching up to do before the lean months of winter. I have a lot of questions, but no answers yet.

I peered out from behind my tree and took a quick video. It became clear to me now I was here that the wind was entirely wrong for any decent badger watching tonight. There was nowhere downwind that offered me any cover and yet allowed a view of the sett. The only cover available was virtually on top of the sett, or nearly as bad, right next to the main badger paths. If I stayed there until the rest of the family came out I was certain to disturb the badgers in one way or another, so reluctantly I backed away and left the little cub to it.

Click here to visit YouTube and click on ‘watch in high quality’ for a better view.

It was frustrating not to get my fix of badger watching for the night, but that’s how it goes. There was no point in staying and trying to make the most of a bad situation.

As a consolation I sat in the field for a while and watched the local buzzard performing acrobatics, swooping and diving in the strong wind. All buzzards are quite spectacular birds, looking as they do like little eagles, but this individual is quite a show off. I’ve watched it before as it’s flown through the wood itself, swerving and dodging around the tree trunks and crying out its mewing call, and that’s a sight to see.

I watch the buzzard slowly disappear eastwards, and for a change I walk home while it is still light.

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