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What madness is this?

The frog by the path, happy in the rain

The frog by the path, happy in the rain

It’s been raining all day. It’s raining now. I’m sitting on a rotten log underneath a tall oak tree, and everything is wet.

There’s only one dry space in the entire wood, and that’s the three inches under the brim of my hat. I’m sharing this dry space with what seems like every mosquito and bug for miles around, but for once, thrown together by a common need for shelter, they don’t seem to be biting me.

It is 7.30 in the evening and I’m watching at the eastern sett entrance. There’s no sign of the badgers, but then I hardly expected there to be. All my experience tells me that they’ll be snug underground. There’ll be no playing tonight – just a quick exit and then off to feed. Badgers dislike the rain as much as I do. Some foolish instinct has drawn me up here, but I don’t hold out high hopes.

A rabbit hops by about 30 feet away. It shakes itself like a dog and disappears for a moment in a fine spray of water droplets. Even the rabbit is soaking.

The rabbit and I play a quick game of Who Can Stay Still The Longest. To be honest, this is not a very exciting game, and it probably won’t make it onto television any time soon, but it passes the time.

The rules are simple. The rabbit looks at me. I look at the rabbit. The first one to move loses. If I move first, the rabbit confirms its suspicion that I’m a threat, and it hops away. If the rabbit moves first, it means that my camouflage is working and I get the chance to watch the rabbit’s natural behaviour. I’ve played this game many times, and the rabbits always take it very seriously. Winning or losing can literally be a matter of life and death for them in this game.

This time I win, and the rabbit hops a few yards closer to me and sits under a tree. It’s easier for me today because any movement of my head sends a trickle of water into my lap, so I’ve got a real interest in staying still. The trick of the game is to avoid looking directly at the rabbit. Rabbits, like most prey animals, seem to have a paranoid sixth sense that tells them when they’re being watched. If you focus your eyes on the ground and watch them out of the corner of your eye they seem to be more relaxed.

At 7.50 the little badger cub appears. It trots quickly by me and into the foliage on the east. The little cub always seems to be doing its own thing, and this evening is no exception. I don’t think it’s hurrying because of me; it just doesn’t want to hang around in the rain.

By 8.30 it is getting dark, and no more badgers have appeared. I’m cold and I’m wet. My waterproof jacket has done a great job, but the water is coming in down my neck and up my sleeves, and for once I decide that sitting at home with a nice hot cup of tea is the perfect way to spend the evening. I know that my last few badger watching sessions have not been a success, but on the other hand I don’t want to be remembered as the man who came down with hypothermia on an August evening in the south of England. I’ll return soon and get back to some proper badger watching.

As I leave I come across a frog on the path. He’s the only creature who seems genuinely happy with the weather at the moment. Nice weather for frogs indeed!

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