Winds light to variable

“Winds light to variable” is a phrase I remember from an episode of The Goons entitled The Greenslade Story. A light breeze, variable in direction, was exactly what I experienced yesterday evening while attempting to watch badgers. This made it difficult for me to remain at one sett for any length of time. On the plus side however, because of this I ended up watching Brocks in three different places!

My evening started at the usual woodland sett. When I arrived, I could feel the wind (such as it was) in my face – so far, so good. The first badger emerged just after eight o’clock, and foraged for the peanuts and sultanas close to a couple of entrances in the middle of the sett. I recognised this badger from my previous visit to the sett, due to a mark on the animal’s face, below the right eye. This may be an injury of some kind, and can be seen in two of the three images on the right, taken from a short video clip which I captured during my watch (view on Flickr or YouTube). These photos also show that the badger’s spring moult has started. The difference between the new fur on the shoulders and the old fur on the back and flanks, stained brown by the sandy soil in which the badger lives, is very noticeable.

As I watched ‘Scarface’ another badger put in an appearance, emerging from an entrance closer to me. I was able to take a reasonably good photo of this one (see below). By around half past eight however, both badgers had disappeared below ground. Not long after this, I realised that the direction of the wind had changed and was taking my scent towards the sett. Realising that it was very unlikely that I would observe any more badger activity at this location, I returned to my car and drove to another wood not far away (the sett which had been blocked up earlier this year).

I entered the wood at around nine o’clock and walked carefully along the track towards the main sett, trying to be as quiet as possible. Sensing something to my left I turned to see two muntjac deer, who had also sensed me and were bounding away in different directions. I waited for their inevitable barking alarm calls, but could only hear the songs of robins and other woodland birds, until I drew level with the sett where the distinctive sounds made by badgers in the leaf litter were also audible. That was the moment when one of the muntjacs decided to announce my presence to the whole wood! The first bark caused one of the badgers to lift up their head, giving me a brief but good view of a Brock in the bluebells. As further alarm calls rang out, the badgers trotted away and out of sight.

Silence returned to the wood, but not for long. Having already put the badgers on edge by barking repeatedly, the muntjac deer then decided to run past me and across the sett! I was not having an “at one with nature” experience here, and this was reinforced (after a couple of further glimpses of badgers) by another change in the wind direction. It was time to leave the sett and its inhabitants in peace.

Back out on the road, I walked not to my car but towards another sett. This particular sett is not situated in the wood but on the other side of the road which forms one of the woodland boundaries. I have watched badgers crossing the road in the vicinity of this sett on previous occasions, including one night in July 2009 when I saw the two cubs in the photo below. As I approached the crossing point I looked away to take in the views across the fields and woods, then returned my gaze to the road to see the back end of a badger disappearing into the wood. I drew closer to the spot where the badger had crossed and a few minutes later, at twenty past nine, the same animal reappeared, trotting back across the road towards the sett. After a brief stop to look in my direction, the badger continued on his or her way. Knowing that the light, variable wind could change direction yet again, and grateful that I had observed badgers from three different setts over the course of the evening, I decided to retreat and leave badgers everywhere to continue with their nocturnal activities.

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