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Posts Tagged ‘night vision’

Spring is definitely here.  The weekend has been clear, sunny and warm.  The vegetable garden is coming along nicely, the trees and hedgerows are coming into bud, and last night was the first of the year when you got that lovely smell of vegetation and growing things in the air.  But we shouldn’t forget that we’re still in what my Dad calls the ‘blackthorn winter’, the cold snap that often accompanies the flowering of the blackthorn.  On Friday I scraped the ice of my car before I set off to work.  Tonight I went out to the badger sett and nearly froze myself.

My days follow a consistent pattern at the moment.  Every evening at 7.00pm I give Scarlett her bath, feed her and put her to bed.  The days have grown sufficiently long now for me to be able to follow my usual routine and walk the mile or so up to wood before it gets dark.  And that’s what I did tonight.  I wanted to try the night vision scope again and check the effects on the badgers.

I settled down at the base of a tree.  Badger watching means always having the wind in your face.  Tonight, there was a bitterly cold wind knifing through the leafless trees.  It was one of those evenings when I put on my camouflage face veil; not to keep out of sight, but merely to try to keep warm.  At 8.21pm a badger trotted over from the eastern end of the sett and went down into a hole in front of me.  A few minutes later it reappeared, and soon there were four badgers scratching and rolling and play-fighting in front of me.

(One of the main reasons for writing this blog is to document and journal my badger watching experiences so that I can look for patterns.  One of the things I always try to record is the time at which the badgers emerge from the sett. Interestingly, if I look back in the archives to last year, I see that I visited this sett on the 10th April 2009, almost exactly a year ago.  On that occasion the badgers emerged at 8.20pm, almost exactly the same time.  When I get a chance I’ll have to make a chart of emergence times and see if there is a consistent pattern across the year.)

There was still just enough light to see by, but I turned on the NV scope and watched for a reaction from the badgers.  There was none.  They carried on playing and grooming happily.  I gave them a few minutes and then turned on the infra-red illuminator.  Again, no reaction.  I could see the badgers eyeshine from the infra-red, but they didn’t seem in the least bothered.  At random intervals for the next ten minutes I turned the NV and infra-red on and off, but the badgers carried on regardless. After a while the badgers romped away out of view, and I took this as my cue to leave.  I had seen what I wanted to and I was happy to head back towards the light and warmth of home.

Based on tonight’s watching, the badgers did not react to either the NV scope or the infra-red.  In fact, the NV scope proved to be a very useful aid to watching as it grew dark.  This was the opposite of my earlier experiences. Does this mean that I was mistaken about the badgers being spooked by the infra-red?  I don’t think so.  I’ve been watching badgers too long for that.  Let me try a few more evenings like this and I’ll see if I can come to some sort of conclusion.

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After pondering the infra-red question for a week, I decided to try and get some answers in the field.  I decided to pay another visit to the sett, to observe the badgers as best as I could without using the infra-red and then, once I was sure that the badgers were comfortable and that there was nothing I was doing that was disturbing them, I would turn on the IR and observe any reactions.

It was a great plan.  The problem is, to paraphrase Helmuth von Moltke, no plan survives contact with badgers.  I made my way through the wood as stealthily as possible and arrived at the sett by 8.00pm.  Unlike last week, when the weather was very clear, the night was quite cloudy.  This meant that there was more of a glow in the sky – the horrid orange reflections of the streetlights in distant towns.  This glow was enough to make it possible to use the night vision scope in passive mode, without the infra-red illuminator.  There was just enough light for it to work properly – I could see trees, undergrowth and the spoil heaps of the sett.

Unfortunately I couldn’t see any badgers.  I waited for 40 minutes but saw and heard nothing.  If the badgers had come out I would have seen them.  Maybe they were frightened by my approach, but I don’t think so.  Maybe they had left already and were out foraging.  Maybe they didn’t emerge until after I had left.

It was a pleasant enough evening, listening to the lambs in the field and the tawny owls in the wood behind me, but I didn’t get to test my theory.  I’ll try again next week and see what happens.

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For anyone who has any questions about wildlife in Britain there is a fabulous resource that’s free and available to anyone.  This is the Wild About Britain website, and in particular the forums there.  You can ask any question and get an answer from a huge range of experts and enthusiasts.

I asked the question about badgers being able to see the infra-red light from my night vision scope, and one response seemed to match my experiences exactly.  This is from a WAB member called stripee:

Yes they can see it and always react. Some more nervously than others. I have a night vision scope with infra red. The badgers, foxes etc don’t like it shone in their eyes. I try to shine it for short periods and not directly at them.

If you look at your scope when the red light is on from the front it can be seen for a long distance at a certain angle. I had heard that badgers don’t see red light, but it just isn’t true.

This is good.  This backs up what I have observed.  It isn’t scientific proof yet, but it adds to the anecdotal evidence.

I’ll keep searching and see what else I can find out.  In the meantime I’ll also try some informal experiments  and see if I can get some more evidence.   There are more formal experiments that could be done to prove the matter one way or another (I’m thinking of a version of the Skinner Box with an infra-red stimulus) but I’d need a fairly captive population of badgers to try it on.  If any biology students are looking for an idea for a project, let me know…

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This is an open question to any and all badger experts out there.  Can badgers see infra-red?

I’ve used my night vision scope twice now (see Fieldnotes: 25th July 2009 – First night vision session and Fieldnotes: 6th March 2010 – A frosty night at the badger sett).  On both occasions the badgers have been visibly spooked, presumably by the infra-red light.  Of course, this is purely anecdotal evidence – I haven’t done any sort of scientific study – but I’ve spent enough hours watching badgers to know when one is disturbed by something, and all the ones I’ve seen through the night vision scope have indeed been disturbed.

Of course, it might not necessarily be the infra-red.  The night vision scope (it’s a Bresser, by the way) may be doing something else to frighten the badgers.  It may make a noise that is inaudible to us but audible to badgers, for instance.  I don’t know.

So, has anyone had experience of using a night vision scope to watch badgers, particularly with an infra-red torch?  Did you notice any signs that the badgers were aware of it?  Does anyone know of any research or literature on the subject?  Does anyone know if any other animals can see in the infra-red end of the spectrum?

If you have any ideas or experiences, please do let me know.  I’ll keep searching myself and let you know if I find anything.

Thanks

BWM

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When Labour MP Ron Davies was asked to explain what he was doing visiting the countryside at night in a well-known gay meeting area, he famously replied that he was ‘watching badgers’.  I mused on this as I walked through our village last night.  If for some reason I had been stopped and asked to explain what I was doing, how would I explain why I was carrying a red light and a night vision scope while wearing (among other things) a camouflage jacket and a pair of ladies’ tights?  I expect I would have weakly stammered out the same reason that Ron did.  I can’t vouch for him, but in my case it happened to be true.

It has been a while since I have seen a badger.  Partly this is due to family commitments, partly because I’ve confined my badger watching to the summer months when it is possible to observe them in daylight in the long evenings.  I’ve always tried to keep the main badger sett I watch as wild and undisturbed as possible, and for this reason I’ve never used artificial lights there.  However, I bought myself a night vision scope last year, so it should be possible to watch the badgers in complete darkness.  Everything came together at the same time – I now have time to go out in the evenings, I have the means to watch the badgers in the dark, and I had an itch to see a real, live badger again.  I know from visiting the sett in the daytime that the badgers have been busy – it was time to get out and see what they were actually doing at this time of year.

This explains why I was out after dark and why I was carrying the night vision scope.  The reason I was wearing ladies’ tights was purely and simply to keep warm.  Last night was beautifully clear – the stars of Orion were shining brightly over the wood as I walked up the hill – but it was very cold and frosty with a bitter wind that seemed to be blowing straight from the arctic circle.  If you’ve ever sat still in very cold weather then you’ll know how the cold can seep into your bones after a while.  And if you’re up a tree watching badgers then you can’t even move around to keep warm.  Hence I was wearing as much warm clothing as I could.  I got the tights for an impromptu fancy dress outfit a while ago (Superman – they’re thick, blue tights) and I was struck by how warm they were.  Despite the possible cross-dressing implications I wore them under my normal trousers, and very effective they were too – warm yet lightweight.  This may become a habit…

Arriving at the wood I picked my slowly through the trees.  I use a small red LED headtorch, which is just bright enough to see by but is less intrusive than a white light.  Badger folklore says that badgers cannot see red light very well and are not as disturbed by it.  It also adds a wonderfully other-worldly feeling when walking through a dark wood.

I arrived at the sett at 8.00pm, none too stealthily, I’m afraid.  Walking through a winter’s worth of dead leaves and fallen twigs by the light of dim torch without making a noise is pretty much impossible.  As I neared the sett I could see the red eyeshine of an animal at the edge of the torchlight – a badger!  With no real stealth at all I climbed up my favourite tree to get a good view over the sett.  I set up the night vision scope and turned off the red torch.

Now, the last time I used the night vision scope it seemed to cause a reaction in the badgers (see Fieldnotes: 25th July 2009 – First night vision session).  Although the infra-red light from the scope is supposedly invisible, the badgers seemed to be spooked by it.  Last night, the exact same thing happened.  When I looked at the badger through the scope it froze, looked straight at me and bobbed its head up and down.  This is the classic sign of a nervous badger trying to scent something that it is suspicious of.  After a few seconds it turned around and fled underground.

I am now convinced that badgers can see the infra-red light from my NV scope.  Think about it – the badger was not put off by my noisy approach, it was not put off by the red light of my headtorch, nor by the noise of my climbing the tree.  It was only when I was sitting quiet and still with my torch turned off that it bolted; and this at the exact moment I shone the infra-led light on it.  I’ve spent a lot of hours watching badgers, and the way that this one looked straight at me tells me that it was aware of me, and this could only be due to the infra-red.

I sat for 40 cold minutes to see if the badger reappeared but it didn’t.  I could hear the rhythmic scuffling noises of a badger gathering bedding from the other end of the sett, but I didn’t see anything else.  It was a little frustrating:  there I was, all dressed up, and I seemed to have scared off the only badger in sight.  I can confirm that the badgers were out at 8.00pm and that there was bedding being gathered (the east end of the sett seems to be active, based on what I heard and from inspecting the sett in the daylight) but I can’t add much more than this.

The business with the night vision scope was frustrating too.  I am sure that the badgers react to the infra-red light, and this makes it much less useful.  In fact, they seem more disturbed by the night vision scope than by an ordinary red light.  I can use the scope in ‘passive mode’ so that it gathers ambient light rather than illuminating the scene with infra-red, but it isn’t very effective in the darkness of a dark wood.

There is definitely an opportunity for more winter badger watching, but I need to sort out the night vision first…

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I’ve been busy building shelves today so I didn’t have time for badger watching in the evening.  However, this did give me the perfect excuse to go out after dark and try out my night vision scope.

Having used it out in the field I’m now in a better position to evaluate it.  Like most NV scopes it enhances the natural light, so on a moonlit night it should be pretty effective, and for darker nights (like tonight) it has a built-in infra-red torch which really does make a difference.  The manufacturer’s claimed range of 100m seems quite accurate.   Actually using it took some getting used to.  The image is fairly bright, so although it does allow you to see in the dark it pretty well destroys your night vision at the same time.

I decided to see if I could spot any badgers feeding, so I went up to the pasture field.  I know there are badgers here every night, so it seemed a good place to try out the scope.  I went to my favourite haunt – the stag-headed oak at the top of the hill.  The wind was blowing in my face as I looked towards the wood, so I was well placed to watch any badgers as they came out onto the field.

Night Vision TreeThe church clock was just striking eleven when I saw the first badger.  Success!  It was in a hurry, and trotted past me quickly.  I found out another limitation of the scope, and that is the relatively small field of view.  I lost sight of the badger when it went behind the tree, and try as I might I couldn’t find it again.

Standing up, I saw two more badgers by the edge of the wood, but as I watched they went back into the trees.  Since the wind was in my favour I decided to get closer so that I could spot them as they came out again. Ten minutes later another badger appeared from the other side of the field.  Like the others, this one turned and trotted off almost as soon as I focused on it.

Now I was getting concerned.  All the badgers I’d seen had run off pretty quickly.  This wasn’t supposed to happen.  The idea of having an NV scope wasn’t so I could see in the dark (I’ve got a perfectly good torch for that, and it only cost £10 from Tesco), it was so that I could see in the dark without disturbing the wildlife.  So far it seemed that the badgers were fairly disturbed.  Can badgers see infra-red light?  The IR torch on the scope gives out a dim red visible light, but surely not enough to scare a badger?  I’ve shone red torches on them before and they didn’t seem to mind as much.

Perhaps I had committed some basic error of fieldcraft.  Perhaps the badgers could see me silhouetted against the paler sky.  I returned to the tree so I would be less conspicuous, poured a cup of tea from my flask, and gave the badgers time to settle down again.

Ten minutes later I scanned the field again.  There was another badger, and once again it ran off when I focused the scope on it.

I didn’t want to disturb the badgers’ feeding, so I decided to head down to the wheat field and see if I had any more luck.  Sure enough, when I got there I saw two more badgers just inside the field.  Both scampered off quickly but they were downwind of me, so this is perhaps excusable.  I waited a while but they didn’t return.

The church clock rang midnight and I decided to call it a night.  I didn’t want to disturb the badgers any further, and besides, even badger watchers need to sleep at some point.  I kept the scope on though, and at the bottom of the field I came across yet another badger who promptly disappeared into the corn.

In some ways it was a good night.  I’ve seen more badgers away from the sett than ever before.  The bad news is that I’ve only seen their backsides as they’ve turned and ran.  Rather than opening up a new dimension in my study of badgers, the scope has so far only helped me on my way to becoming an expert on badger tails!  It was frustrating to be in a field full of badgers but not to get a good look at them.

So was it the scope, or was it something I did wrong?  Can badgers see infra-red, or was it just one of those nights?  I need to make a few more trips before I can really answer this.

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I mentioned that my efforts to track down and watch badgers after they have left the sett have only been quite fleeting so far.  Well, things are going to change.

To celebrate my 2½ week anniversary in my new job, I’ve bought myself a night vision scope.  Check out this bad boy:

Night Vision MonocularActually, I’ve been thinking about getting one for a while.  I’ve just been waiting until one came up cheap on eBay.

I haven’t tried it out properly yet, only around the garden, but it really does work.  The image is green and a bit fuzzy but you can see in the dark.  This could potentially change my badger watching habits a lot.  I’m definitely going to spend some time out in the fields this weekend.

Night Vision View

If people think it’s suspicious that I go out in the evenings with a camouflage jacket and a pair of binoculars, what on earth will they think about me going out with a night vision device too?

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