A week in the life (Part 1)

An afternoon’s sett checking, a 33rd anniversary badger watch and a call-out to two apparently orphaned badger cubs was just the start of an eventful week in the life of a Brockwatcher. The week would go on to include a Brockwatch committee meeting, the outcome of the Judicial Review of the decision to cull badgers in Wales, the rescue of an injured badger, and an evening of badgers, bats and other wildlife…

This blog entry was originally going to be called It’s an ill wind. A good south-westerly breeze is ideal for watching badgers at my regular setts, as I can observe those setts from the best vantage points without being detected by the badgers’ sensitive noses. A north-easterly wind is therefore bad news. Unfortunately that’s exactly what we’ve had around here from last weekend onwards. I first noted this just over a week ago, on Friday April 9th, when I tried watching my usual woodland sett. At first it was difficult to judge the wind direction, but soon it became apparent that a successful watch was out of the question. When you see a badger emerge, raise his nose to test the air, then look straight at you before turning around and diving back below ground – which is exactly what the boar in the photo below did – you know you’re in the wrong place.

Sunday April 11th was, as I described in my last blog entry, the 33rd anniversary of my first ever badger watch. To mark the occasion I decided to go for a late afternoon walk around the wood where I watched my first Brock, checking the setts along the way, and to end the day by attempting to view badgers at one of those setts. The day was beautiful and sunny, but with a raw edge to it thanks to the increased strength of that north-easterly breeze. Thankfully, the more sheltered parts of the wood provided some welcome respite from the chilly wind, along with views of spring wildflowers including wood oxalis (Oxalis acetosella), the first bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) and these primroses (Primula vulgaris) (larger image on Flickr):

The first three setts on my route all showed signs of fresh activity since I last checked them at the beginning of March (see Badger family fortunes). One of those setts is situated at the top of a bank, at the foot of which is a large tree. The badgers have excavated so much earth that the tree is now half buried. And as you can see from the photo below, additional heaps of fresh, orange sandstone soil had been brought out during the week prior to my visit (larger image on Flickr):

The fourth sett I checked was the one I watched back in April 1977. Having been abandoned some time ago, it would not be the venue for my 33rd anniversary watch. However the next sett looked more promising. I scattered some peanuts and raisins around the entrances and spoil heaps then continued on my way, to the sixth and last sett. Having checked that, I retraced my steps. It was now just after half past seven, and as I neared the sett where I hoped I would see badgers (a sett I had never watched before), I wondered how long I would have to wait, and indeed whether I would see anything at all. I need not have worried. When the sett came into view, so too did the unmistakeable black and white head of a badger!

I could not approach the sett too closely, so my views were rather more distant than I am used to, but over the next three quarters of an hour I was able to observe at least three badgers in good light. This was definitely an improvement on the brief glimpse of a badly-lit Brock that I had experienced 33 years before.

All the badgers I saw last Sunday evening were adults. On the following Monday afternoon however, I thought I was in with a chance of seeing – and rescuing – some badger cubs. Two cubs had been seen out during the day in the garden of a house in a village not far from where I live. Indeed, they were pottering about when the lady of the house phoned me at around quarter past four. It seemed likely that they were orphans, so I set off prepared for a rescue. Of course, when I arrived the baby badgers were nowhere to be seen. The descriptions I heard and the photos I saw indicated that these were very young cubs, just old enough to be making their first forays above ground, so there had to be a sett nearby. A close examination of the steep, shrub-covered bank along the edge of the garden where the cubs had been seen eventually revealed a large pile of sandy soil. Almost certainly this was the spoil from a single-hole nursery sett excavated away from the main sett by a subordinate sow (a good strategy as dominant sows will sometimes kill the cubs of their subordinates).

Now we knew where the cubs had come from – but was their mother at home? I suspected that she was, and that her offspring had gone exploring while she was asleep. If this sett consisted of a single tunnel and chamber, the cubs’ wanderings would soon have brought them out into the world beyond the sett entrance. However we could not be sure that the cubs were not orphans, so the householders agreed to keep watch and call me again if the cubs appeared to be in need of help.

An update on the cubs, along with details of the Brockwatch meeting, the Judicial Review, the badger rescue and my badgery and batty evening will follow in A week in the life (Part 2).

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