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Posts Tagged ‘badger watching’

Summer sunset

Summer sunset

I’ve been in Scotland for a few days, but today I was most definitely back in England.  As I walked through the village there was a game of cricket being played on the village green, while the church bells rang out in the summer evening air.  It was the quintessential English scene.  If I was John Betjeman I would have written a gentle poem about it.

But I’m not.  Just a simple (very) amateur naturalist.  I was on my way up to the wood to see how the badgers at the main sett were getting on.  It’s been a while since I looked in on them, having been spending time at the Pine Tree sett.

As it turned out it was a frustrating evening.  At 8.53 a badger emerged from the west end of the sett and promptly trotted off into the impenetrable jungle at the east end.  Another badger emerged and did the same, then another.

I waited for another half an hour but nothing else happened.  The badgers did not come back and no more emerged.  I could hear nothing from the eastern part of the sett – normally if the badgers are congregating there you’ll hear rustling or whickering noises.

Perhaps the recent dry weather has got the badgers more preoccupied with food than with sitting around or playing.  They have to work harder and longer for worms in these dry spells, which means they tend to start foraging earlier.

One point to note is that all three badgers were quite small.  I can’t confidently say they were cubs because I didn’t see them for that long, but they had that look about them.  The third badger also had a noticeably long tail, which I can’t remember seeing before.  If this is a distinguishing feature I’ll have to look out for it in the future.

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Damp, still nights aren’t the best for badger watching.  The moist air carries your scent further, and since badgers rely heavily on their sense of smell there’s a greater chance of them detecting you.  Nevertheless, 7.30pm found me in my favourite tree.

It was good to be back again, to put on the camouflage jacket and assume my secret identity.  There’s something liberating about it.    I was the Badger Watching Man once more.  I imagine that Superman must feel the same way when he casts away Clark Kent and becomes himself again.

At 7.58pm a fox appeared from one of the holes in the middle area of the sett.  This is an interesting development.  I wonder if he’s taken up residence permanently?  I’ll see if this is a regular occurrence.

At 8.20pm the first badgers appeared.  Two adults ambled across from the eastern end of the sett, joined almost immediately by three others from what looks like a very active entrance on the west.

I am pleased to say that I still get a thrill from seeing badgers.  This is my fourth year of badger watching, but the sight of these big, bold beasts still impresses me.  The idea that such animals can exist almost under our noses is amazing.

In no time at all there were at least seven adult badgers outside the sett (badgers are notoriously difficult to count).  There were at least ten badgers last year, including cubs, so I’m curious to see how the number has changed.  This time of year is when the male badgers tend to leave the sett, so I’ll see if I can get a better idea of numbers and try and work out if this has happened.  I’ve got a better understanding of how badgers leave and join other setts since reading Hans Kruuk’s The Social Badger, so when I get a chance I’ll put a brief summary on here.

As well as the usual scratching and rolling round, I was treated to a view of badger sex.  At the risk of being labelled as some sort of wildlife peeping tom, I watched this with interest.  Badgers have a complex reproductive life, but the females are fertile very soon after cubs are born, and badgers can mate at any time of year.

Badger under my tree

Badger under my tree

By now it was getting dark, and I had badgers all around me.  It was still just possible to see them using binoculars (binoculars gather more light than the naked eye, hence you can often see more with them when the light is failing). I took my first ever picture of a badger using the flash on my camera.  I’ve never done this before for fear of spooking them, but after taking a few flash pictures in the pasture field in November without any serious impact on the badger, I decided to give it a go.  Luckily, the badger didn’t seem bothered.

The badgers were still snuffling around me quite happily, which put me in a dilemma.  My number one rule of badger watching is ‘don’t disturb the badgers’.  Unfortunately, if you’re up a tree with badgers all around, this means that you’re pretty much stuck there.  To climb down and appear in the middle of them would be very bad style.

By the time the snuffling and scuffling sounds had moved away it was pretty much dark.  If you’ve ever been in a rural wood on a dark and misty April night then you can imagine just how dark it gets.  Of course, it is just these occasions that make it a good idea to take a torch when badger watching.  I had one with me, but out of a perverse desire to avoid disturbance I didn’t use it.  Climbing down the tree by feel wasn’t elegant, but I got down in one piece.  Luckily I know these woods very well, but even so there were a few Blair Witch Project moments as I crept out, using my tracking stick in front of me like a blind man.

But that’s the joy of the whole thing.  To be out in a wood at night, with the deer barking and the tawny owls crying – I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.

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It’s been a beautiful spring day – warm and sunny.  It’s a great feeling after the cold winter we’ve had.  The daffodils and the blackthorn are blooming, the hazels and hawthorns are in bud, and the first butterflies are up and about.  There was even a skylark up in the clear blue sky, giving a wonderful summer feel to the day.

I decided that today would be the perfect day for my first badger watching session of the year.  It is still a little early, as the badgers will only be emerging just as it is getting dark, but I thought I’d give it a go and see.

It was good to be back in the wood again.  A small herd of fallow deer crossed the path a hundred yards or so ahead of me, and the buzzard was flying round the trees.  I can never tire of watching the buzzard when it does this; there is is something truly wild about seeing and hearing such an impressive bird of prey at close quarters.

The wind was blowing from the right direction for me to sit in my favourite tree.  The good thing about watching badgers at this time of year is that the undergrowth has not yet grown up to block the view, so I could see the whole sett from my perch.  It looked like a number of sett entrances were in regular use, and the paths and play areas looked well trodden.  The badgers have obviously been busy.

I sat in the tree from 6.30pm until just after 8.00, but sadly the badgers did not oblige.  I did not see so much as a whisker on a stripey nose.  I guess they are still emerging after dusk.

By 8.10pm it was getting too dark to see, even with binoculars, so I called it a night.  Even without the badgers it was good to get out again, to just sit in a tree in a wood and do nothing.  And besides, it shows that even after four years of watching badgers I still can’t guarantee anything.  I’ll try again in a week or so.

Note to self: even though it’s a warm day, and you’re too hot when walking, after the sun has gone down and you’ve been sitting still for an hour it gets bloody freezing.  Wear your waistcoat or an extra jumper next time!

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I don’t know what it is, but I always find this time of year a bit melancholy and dreary.  The leaves are gone from the trees, the woods are quiet, the vegetable garden is sleeping and there is a cold, damp stillness over everything.  Summer seems a long way off.

Because of this, I decided that I needed to shake off the urge to sit in front of the fire for the next three months and get out and do something.  Over the last week or so the lack of badger-watching has been nagging at me, and I made up my mind to try and get a peep at the stripey devils.

As I’ve said before, I am not keen on the idea of using artificial lights by the sett for fear of disturbing the badgers, so I hatched a plan to try and see them as they foraged in the big pasture field.  There would still be a risk of disturbance, but not so great as there would be by shining lights on them as soon as they poked their noses above ground.  So – it was time for another late night excursion to the fields.

I’d seen a badger here the last time I tried it (see Fieldnotes: 2nd August 2008) so I was at least partly confident.  The problem was that sitting in a field for half the night in August is one thing.  Doing it in November is quite another.

As anyone who has spent time outdoors will know, it is perfectly possible to keep warm when you’re walking around.  Indeed, the challenge is often to avoid getting too hot.  When you’re just sitting in one place though, the chill seems to seep into your bones and even a mild night can be very cold.  Tonight was a cold night to begin with, with a sharp wind and a damp mist hanging over the fields.

What every badger watcher is wearing this season...

What every badger watcher is wearing this season...

In anticipation of the cold, I dressed up in almost every article of clothing I possess – fleece trousers, thermal T-shirt, mountain walking fleece top (which I never wear when mountain walking because it gets too hot), army extreme cold weather shirt, jumper, waterproof jacket, mittens and fleece neckwarmer.  To top everything off I put on the furry Russian hat that my wife gave me.  I was all dressed up with somewhere to go, and at 10.30pm I headed off towards the fields.

God only knows what I looked like.  A couple of cars passed me as I walked through the village.  To the drivers I must have appeared in the headlights like a cross between a German soldier in the last days of the siege of Stalingrad and some strange Bedfordshire sasquatch!

Sitting on a log at the top of the field I was surprisingly warm and cosy.  As well I should have been, given the amount of gear I was wearing!  In an odd way it was nice to be there in winter, especially after having spent quite a bit of time on the same log over the summer.  It seemed to be taking things full circle in some way.

Night-time badger

Night-time badger

I sat there for an hour or so, occasionally shining a torch around the field.  And then, just before midnight, a badger appeared.

It seemed quite unconcerned about me being there as it snuffled about finding worms in the grass.  I turned on my red torch and crept closer, until I was about 20 feet away.  This is the first badger I have seen for a few months now, and it was good just to stand there and watch it.  It was particularly interesting to watch it feeding, working methodically across the field with its nose to the ground, obviously sniffing out the next earthworm.

I took a couple of photos.  They aren’t the best badger pictures ever taken, but they are a first for me.  The badger didn’t seem too put off by the flash, but I didn’t want to make a nuisance of myself.

Night-time badger 2

Night-time badger 2

After about five minutes it ambled off and I let it go.  For me, it was enough to have been out and about on a winters night, and to get a glimpse of one of these fascinating creatures.  I had satisfied my badger cravings for the time being.

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It is definitely autumn.  It hasn’t felt like we’ve had much of a summer this year, but the seasons are definitely turning.  The blackberries are in full flow, the leaves are starting to turn on the horse chestnut trees (always the first to get leaves and the first to lose them) and the evenings are drawing in.

Sadly, the badger watching season is coming to an end for me.  Badgers don’t hibernate, so they’ll be out and about all winter, but it is now pretty well dark when they emerge from the sett.  Fine for the badgers, not so fine for badger watching.  I may try and see if I can watch them using an artificial light – red light is not supposed to bother them very much – but I’m always wary of disturbing them.

Today I’ve been for a wander around the woods and fields.  All the summer crops have now been harvested, so everything is looking a bit bare.  No doubt the badgers are hard at work getting in their harvest, eating as much as they can and putting on as much weight as possible for the leaner months ahead.

Badger dung with elderberries

Badger dung with elderberries

The badger dung in one of the latrine sites was dark red and a mass of pips, a sign that at least one badger has been gorging itself on elderberries.  Apparently elderberries are edible for humans, but I’ve tried them and they aren’t very nice.  I’m happy to leave them to the badgers.

I visited the far end of the wood today in search of the neighboring badger setts that I am sure are there, based on my mapping of latrine sites and territories.  Sure enough, about 700m from the main sett I came across what looks very like a badger hole.  This fits in very nicely with my estimate of 350m for the radius of a badger territory.

Unfortunately the rain had washed out any tracks from the vicinity, but the hole looked badger-ish to me.  There were old dung pits nearby, and some fairly well-used paths.  Of course, the only proof would be to go there one evening and see if a badger comes out of it.

The interesting thing is that this is a single hole, compared to the dozen or so holes at the main sett.  There has been a fair amount written about subsidiary setts – setts connected by kinship to a main sett, so I wonder if this is an example.  To be honest, I’ve always found the literature on main, outlying and subsidiary setts a trifle confusing, but I’ve got a reason to go back and re-read it now.  I’ll also try and get down here one evening and see what happens.

The new badger sett

The new badger sett - note the spoil heap and paths

As I was sitting contemplating this new sett, a Chinese Water Deer wandered up.  These are small deer, about the size of a muntjac, but more graceful.  Their most distinctive feature is that they have two long ‘fangs’ or tusks on the upper jaw, which gives them a strange, vampire deer appearance.  My camouflage jacket was obviously working today because this one wandered to within about 15 feet of me.  Chinese Water Deer are less common than the other species around here.  Like so many unusual species they were introduced by the Duke of Bedford in Woburn and subsequently escaped.  Now it’s estimated that the UK has something like 10% of the total world population, so they have obviously become scarce in their native country.

Elsewhere, I’m still practising my tracking.  The field behind my house is great, as the sandy soil is always full of the tracks of rabbit, muntjac and roe deer.  This evening I came across what looked very much like badger tracks.  This in itself is not unusual, but they must have been made this afternoon, as the heavy rain this morning washed out all last night’s tracks.

I'd swear this is the forefoot of a badger - look at the claws - but from the freshness it was made this afternoon

Looks like the forepaw of a badger to me!

Does this mean that my local badger has taken to wandering around in the daytime, or have I misidentified the tracks?  There’s still more work for me to do on my tracking.  If nothing else, it’ll keep me occupied over the winter.

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I’ve spent the evening hugging a tree. And no, it wasn’t a joyful spiritual experience.

The central sett area - note the badger paths and undergrowth

The central sett area - note the badger paths and undergrowth

As I mentioned in the last post, the badgers have taken up residence in the overgrown craters at the centre of the site, which means that they are practically invisible from anywhere on the outside.

In order to get a good view of them, I spent the evening up a tree on the edge of this overgrown central area. This tree is next to one of the main badger paths, and gives just enough elevation so that you can look over into the craters.

The downside is that this tree only has one side branch from the trunk, about six feet off the ground and facing away from the sett. This side branch grows up at a narrow angle to the trunk. It is dead, so I only trust it to support my weight at the point where it joins the trunk. Sitting down on it is out of the question, so the only possible position is stand on one leg on the branch. After some experimentation, I found that the most secure and comfortable stance was to reach my arms around the trunk and literally hug the tree.

The advantage of this tree was that I was much closer to the sett than usual. I felt like a soldier in enemy territory. For a long time I’ve looked at this patch of ground from a distance, and now I was right here in the middle of it.

The disadvantage was that it was excruciatingly uncomfortable. Having all my weight on one foot wedged into a narrow branch became surprisingly painful after only about ten minutes. I found that by hugging the tree tightly and going through some sort of slow motion hopping manoeuvre I could change legs and ease the pressure a little, but since I was very close to the sett I couldn’t afford to move too much.

The tree did help me to stay out of sight. Even the local rabbit hopped underneath without suspicion.

One of the local rabbits

One of the local rabbits

At 7.50pm I heard the unmistakable whickering of badgers from the deep undergrowth. This was repeated again shortly afterwards.

It meant two things. Firstly, that the badgers were above ground, and engaged in some relaxed and happy play fighting. Secondly, that they were on the other side of the foliage to me.

By 8.15 the light was failing. No badgers had appeared on my side of the sett. I decided to call it a night, and stiffly and gracelessly I slid down the tree on my cramped legs. The badgers carried on yipping and whickering. With their mocking laughter ringing in my ears I slunk off home.

Curse these stripey devils yet again…!

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Once again I’ve been neglecting my badgers. Or leaving them in peace, depending on your perspective.

Badger print

Badger print

I actually had a little trip up to the wood last weekend, but although I could hear the badgers, I couldn’t see them. Let me explain. The sett itself is on a small rise in the ground There is a small valley to the north of the sett, with parallel gullies running into it on the east and west of the sett. This means that if you are in the low ground on one side you can only see that side of the sett, as the rise in the ground makes it impossible to see the other side.

The badgers have moved to a part of the sett in the centre of this rise, which, to make matters more difficult, resembles an overgrown first world war battlefield. There are big craters dotted around, no doubt the result of spoil heaps and cave-ins at the sett many generations of badgers ago. This local geography is making the badgers very difficult to watch, so it was not a great surprise that I could hear the whickering noises of badgers at play, but to my frustration they were invisible on the other side of the sett.

This evening everything seemed right for badger watching. It was a Friday evening, my wife was working late, and for once it wasn’t raining. There was a nice breeze blowing in from the west, which meant that I could sit in one of the easily climbed trees on the edge of the sett.

And sure enough, I did see the badgers. The first pair, an adult and a cub, came out of the tangle of undergrowth in the middle of the site at about 8.10pm and sat around the central sett entrance. At about 8.30pm I could see movement in the undergrowth, and through binoculars I could see four or five badgers rolling about, grooming and fighting. With the two that had come out earlier, this made a total of six or seven out at the same time.

I couldn’t make out much detail through the foliage, but the badgers seemed happy and healthy enough. The light had gone too much for any photographs. The long exposure required in dim light means that the badgers are inevitably blurred – they rarely sit still long enough.

By 8.45pm they had moved out into the open, but it was getting too dark to really see what was happening. I use 7×50 binoculars, and they are very good at collecting the available light so that things seem brighter than they with the naked eye, but even so I was struggling to see.

This evening won’t go down as one of the best badger watching sessions ever, but it was nice to get out to the cool freshness of the wood, and good to see that the badgers were still going strong.

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This post continues my thoughts about watching badgers. I’ve examined my reasons for doing it, and so far

Seeing the wood for the trees

Seeing the wood for the trees

I’ve discussed the fact that badgers are amongst the most striking and impressive wildlife to be seen in Britain (Part 1 – click here to jump to it).

I also think that for those people who are curious about wildlife, there a few better animals to study than badgers. As social carnivores they have such a wide and fascinating range of behaviour that you could watch them for years and still not fully understand them (Part 2 – click here to jump to it).

In this final post I discuss some of the more personal reasons why I watch badgers, or more particularly, why I enjoy being out in the woods at night.

There is something deeply rewarding about spending time in a wood. It is something that few people do, and I’ve always got a perverse enjoyment out of doing things that other people can’t, or won’t, do. More than that, watching badgers is so different, so far removed from my everyday life that it provides a welcome change. During the day I wear a pinstripe suit and talk to people about high matters of business strategy. In the evening I put on a tattered pair of green trousers and a camouflage jacket and lie in the mud. Oh, if my clients could see me then!

Watching badgers gives me time to think. I spend large chunks of time sitting waiting for badgers, just patiently watching as the sun goes down. In our modern fast-paced lives, how often do we get the chance to just sit and think? Really think, I mean. No television. No mobile phone. Nothing. I don’t think very intelligent or deep thoughts, but that isn’t the point. I just sit and think and that’s enough.

There’s also all the other experiences of nature that I’ve had while badger watching. I’ve sat and watched herds of wild deer as they’ve foraged through the woods. I’ve watched a fox stalk and catch rabbits. I’ve listened to tawny owls as they call to each other. I’ve watched in amazement as a buzzard skims between the trees. To me, all these experiences are priceless. They are out there for everyone to see, if only they’d go out and look for them.

Badger tracks on a fallen tree

Badger tracks on a fallen tree

Being ‘close to nature’ is a hideously trite and overused phrase, but watching badgers has helped me to be just that.

Think about it. Who, in today’s modern world, really takes notice of the time of sunset, or thinks about the direction of the wind or when the berries will ripen? I think about all these things now as a matter of course, and I wonder why other people do not. When other people see a wood they see a patch of trees. For me the wood comes alive and I see it for what it is – a great web of interconnected plants and animals all working together. I don’t claim this as a great spiritual insight, by the way. It’s a natural result of spending time watching wildlife.

Finally, there’s something deeply and fundamentally satisfying about creeping around in woods, trying to outwit wild and wary animals. It talks to something ancient and primal within you. Maybe this is because I grew up reading Jim Corbett’s tales of stalking man-eating big cats, or the stories of Victorian poachers, but I believe it goes deeper than that. For hundreds of thousands of years man lived as a hunter, and that sort of background is hard to shake off. We’ve only had two hundred or so generations of farming and twenty generations of civilised life. The wild still calls to something in all of us.

G.K. Chesterton wrote that every modern European was made up of three separate men – three separate parts to our character. I suppose he meant women too, but he wrote in different times.

The first man is the Christian. Whether we believe in it or not, we are the products of a thousand years of Christian thought, and our view of the world is always coloured by this. Man and God, heaven and earth – it is all there in the back of our minds somewhere.

The second man Chesterton called the Roman. This is the logical side of our character, the man who values order and reason and laws and straight roads.

And Chesterton’s third man?

‘And the third man: he has no name, and all true tales of him are blotted out; yet he walks behind us on every forest path and wakes within us when the wind wakes at night. He is the origins — he is the man in the forest’.

We all hear the call of the wild. I’ve found my way to answer it.

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At last, the summer is back, and it’s been a long, hot day. Having done my chores in the garden, it was time for a trip to the woods for a spot of badger watching.

“You’ve got to watch badgers”, I explained to my wife, “badgers need watching! If you don’t watch them, they’ll get up to all kinds of mischief!” How true this turned out to be!

It being a nice day, and inspired by reading Pablo’s Woodlife Blog, I decided to have a bushcraft adventure and spend the night in the wood. I stuffed my hammock and a light sleeping bag into my small rucksack and I was off.

It was a warm, airless evening in the wood. I climbed my favourite tree, sat on my cushion, and waited. And waited. And waited a little bit longer. By about 8.15 the sun was sinking and there were no badgers in sight. By this time they should be up and out and sitting around the sett entrance. Where have all the badgers gone?

Eventually, a badger ambled into view. Not from the sett entrance, but from the east side of the sett. It was the little tiny cub, and as usual it was busy foraging. I couldn’t see what it was eating, but every now and then it would pounce on something, much like a fox pouncing on mice. It didn’t seem to eating anything large, so it could have been catching beetles or insects.

The tiny cub (which is less tiny now) seems to be out on its own quite often, but where was the rest of the clan? On an impulse, I turned round and looked behind me. There, about 50 yards away, was the whole pack of badgers.

Curse these stripey fiends! They had obviously come from one of the eastern sett entrances, and there they

Badgers a long way off, by the eastern sett entrance

Badgers a long way off, by the eastern sett entrance

were, rolling around in silent badger laughter, no doubt delighted at having tricked me into watching an empty piece of woodland for the last half an hour!

Obviously, they have moved back into the other part of the sett. When I first started watching this sett, three years ago, this was the main area of occupation, but since then the badgers had moved to western end. Now they seemed to have gone back. Is this normal? Did they move to the western end because of the cubs? Had I disturbed them? I shall have to check up on this.

Anyway, the badgers were making the most of the fine evening. There was plenty of running around, play fighting and general high spirits. The annoying thing for me was that I was too far away to get a very good view except through binoculars, and several large patches of nettles hid the badgers from sight a lot of the time.

Badgers playing

Badgers playing

They all seemed happy and healthy enough, which was good. The little cub still seems to be a bit of a loner, staying away from the main pack. It’ll be interesting to see if it comes back into the main group later in the year.

Of course, because the badgers were in a different place, they were potentially downwind of me. There wasn’t much breeze, but probably enough. Having satisfied myself that all was well, I left them to it and ambled off myself.

Here’s a video montage of the badgers this evening:

Having decided to spend a night out of doors, I circled around so that I was upwind of the badger sett, found a couple of suitable trees, and put up my hammock. This is a very comfortable way to camp, especially in a wood where the ground is littered with fallen trees and debris. I chose a spot overlooking a deer trail in the hope of spotting some deer in the morning.

I’d love to say that I spent a restful and refreshing night in the wild, but it would be a lie. No sooner had I turned off my light and put down my copy of Jim Corbett’s The Man-eating Leopard of Rudraprayag (a book describing nights spent stalking man-eaters in the jungles of India, and possibly the best thing to read in a wood after dark), than the muntjac started.

Generally, I like muntjac. I’ve a soft spot for these little deer. With two exceptions – firstly, they have a habit of sneaking into my garden and nibbling my sweetcorn plants, which I take very personally. Secondly, the barking.

If you have never heard a muntjac bark before, then it is hard to describe what it is like. The sound is a cross between a bark and an unearthly scream, and in a quiet wood it is unbeliveably loud. It is hard to imagine that such a small deer could create such a loud noise. I was walking out of the wood one day when a muntjac started barking, and I could still hear it when I reached my house, three-quarters of a mile away as the crow flies. The terrible thing about muntjac barking is that they bark about every five seconds, regular as clockwork, and they can keep it up for hours.

A munjac track - I've been trying my hand at tracking

A munjac track - I've been trying my hand at tracking

I honestly don’t know why muntjac bark. It may be as an alarm call, or a way of attracting other muntjacs, or a way of warning them off. I suspect it may be for all of these reasons.

So there I was. I had one muntjac barking away about a hundred yards to my left, and another barking back at it about a hundred yards to my right. To add to the cacophony there was a tawny owl crying somewhere overhead.

I may sound a bit churlish. You would think that as a naturalist I would enjoy this. This is what being close to nature is all about. Perhaps you’re right, I should appreciate it more. Nevertheless, it wasn’t the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had. I’ll have to work at this bushcraft thing.

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A good scratch at the sett entrance

A good scratch at the sett entrance

The summer monsoon weather has been continuing, with rain all week. I swear that the vegetables in my garden have all grown a foot since last weekend, and everywhere the plants are lush and green. On the downside, the fields are muddy and the roads have been flooded for half the time, but at least there are now some sunny intervals in the rain.

I made a quick visit to the wood this evening. There was a party going on in the village somewhere, and they’d obviously hired a DJ and a PA system. I could hear the music clearly from the wood, which is about 3/4 of a mile away. I’m not sure whether the badgers were affected by the noise. They came out as usual just before 8.00pm. It was slightly surreal to be sitting in the trees amongst the timeless wonders of nature, watching badgers frolicking to a soundtrack of Macarena, Reach for the Stars and Is this the way to Amarillo?. They didn’t seem to show a preference for any particular tunes, so a golden opportunity for research into badgers’ preferences for cheesy pop music was lost.

To be honest, the badgers were in a jittery mood, but I put that down to my presence and the possibility that they could smell me. The damp weather and a slight wind meant that there was every possibility that my scent was being carried around unpredictably. Nick (see last post) was out and about, so it was good to recognise a particular badger. He was obviously suspicious. He would pace up and down, stopping to sniff the air every few seconds. I think that by moving backwards and forwards he was obviously trying to track down a particular scent – no doubt mine.

I left early, not wishing to disturb the badgers. I wonder how long it would take for the badgers to get used to my presence? I mean, I’ve been coming to this sett for a couple of years now, so they must know about me. You’d think that the fact that I’ve never lunged out of a tree and attacked them would put them at their ease a bit, but they still seem very wary. Perhaps they will one day learn that I’m not a threat, or perhaps they won’t. I suspect that badgers, like many wild animals, are strongly ‘neophobic’ – in other words they are afraid of anything new or different. Being quite a remote and undisturbed sett, they don’t see many people, so we’re all still quite new to them. On the other hand, I’ve watched them bolt in fear when a muntjac has barked nearby or when a wood pigeon has crashed through the trees, so maybe they are just timid by nature.

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