Springing forward

With the clocks going forward an hour for British Summer Time today, badger watching also moves forward an hour. Unless of course the badgers have changed their clocks too. I must admit that thought did cross my mind shortly after I arrived at the sett this evening. I got there just before 7.30pm and, as I could not see any badgers around, started scattering peanuts and raisins. This did not go unnoticed by a badger who was in fact already out and who had been foraging in the brambles on the east side of the sett!

Once this badger had retreated underground I served up the remainder of the badgers’ breakfast as quickly as I could and hoped that I hadn’t caused too much disturbance. I need not have worried: before very long I was watching three yearling badgers. And as the evening progressed I saw more, with seven badgers out together at one point.

Most of the badgers were yearlings. Several seemed to have parasite problems and frequently stopped munching to have a good scratch. There’s something about watching a badger lying on his back while he scratches his belly that brings a huge grin to my face, and I was reminded that I had photographed a similar scene at this sett last summer.

Another reminder of 2009 came when one of the yearlings briefly investigated a tree in the middle of the sett, the trunk of which splits into two. Smearing peanut butter on the lower parts of these twin trunks would not escape the attention of Radar, the sett’s resident peanut butter addict. When one of the cubs investigated the tree this evening, I immediately wondered if this was Radar, still living at the sett and missing his peanut butter!

Not all of the badgers I watched tonight were yearlings, as there was definitely some adult behaviour going on. During a part of the evening when there were five yearlings foraging just a few metres away from me (some approaching to within one or two metres), I could hear a very distinctive sound emanating from the part of the sett furthest away from me, where there is an entrance which (frustratingly) cannot be observed properly. It is difficult to put the sound into words, although a page on the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit website (Badger vocal communication) refers to it as the churr and describes it as an “insistent, deep, throaty, vibrant purr with an oily, bubbling quality.” While I can’t easily convey in words what I heard – and the vocalisation continued for a full five minutes at least – I can give you a fair idea of what it meant. It is the call made by a boar badger who has just one thing on his mind (and if I haven’t made my meaning clear, bear in mind that this is the time of year when Brock’s breeding season is at its peak). Almsot certainly, there was a sow badger in oestrus present at the sett.

Whether there was (as Bill Oddie might put it) some hot badger action going on, I can’t say for certain. A few yelps did rather suggest that there was. The boar did eventually make an appearance, and he looked massive in comparison with the yearlings (some of whom he probably fathered).

As well as the rather large boar badger, there was a much smaller creature active at the sett this evening. Several times I heard rustling sounds in the leaf litter close by and swung my torch round to take a look at what I assumed to be a badger, only to see nothing at all. Finally though I caught a fleeting glimpse of a wood mouse, who was making the most of the peanuts which had been missed by the badgers. No doubt the mouse was moving quickly to avoid ending up on the menu along with the nuts.

My time at the sett had been a great start to British Summer Time, wonderful compensation for losing an hour when we ‘sprung forward’ this morning. But as the badgers had now mostly disappeared from view I decided that it was time for me to fall back and head for home.

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