Two nights to remember – and one to forget?

Encouraged by my observations last Friday evening of badgers at a sett I had never watched before (see Some enchanted evening), I decided to try my luck elsewhere in the same wood on Sunday evening. That turned out to be a night to remember – as did Tuesday evening’s watch at my regular sett thanks to a star performance by the badger I know as Radar. Last night on the other hand (Thursday 27 May) … well, I’ll tell you about that shortly.

Let’s start with Sunday evening’s Brockwatching session. This took place at a large, sprawling sett with more than a dozen open entrance holes – any of which could have been in current use by badgers – situated in coniferous woodland (the photo below shows one of this sett’s entrances in March 2009). Not knowing where the sett’s occupants were most likely to emerge, I scattered peanuts widely and retreated to an observation point from where I could see most of the holes. I close enough to get a reasonable view, but not so close that I would be easily seen by the badgers. Then I waited. Robins, chaffinches, thrushes and goldcrests sang. Woodpigeons, the fidgety schoolchildren of the bird world, took off from their perches with clattering wingbeats and settled elsewhere for a few minutes before taking off again.

About an hour later, just before nine o’clock, the first badger appeared and was soon feasting on the peanuts I had provided. A second then emerged, but disappeared from sight fairly quickly. Ten minutes later, scuffling and yapping, two cubs joined the peanut hunt, along with another adult (possibly the one who had vanished earlier). By 9:20pm, one of the adult badgers was grooming while the other three continued their quest for nutritious nuts. To begin with I watched these beautiful creatures with the aid of a monocular, but eventually the fading light made the use of a torch necessary.

At around 9:35pm I became aware of something moving over the carpet of conifer needles not far away from me. I swung the torch round to reveal a fox cub. The little fox carefully made his or her way past me, just a few metres away to my right, and was soon away through the trees, paying no heed to me or the torchlight. Back at the sett meanwhile, the badger cubs and one of the adult badgers (presumably the cubs’ mother) continued to forage for peanuts for a further ten minutes or so before they too left the sett. I followed their example, pleased that I had confirmed the presence of a breeding pair of badgers at this location. While driving home, I briefly saw another badger scuttling along the roadside and then across the verge and under a hedge.

Tuesday evening’s watch at my usual woodland sett was arranged for the benefit of an old friend of mine, Andrew Haynes. The primary goal was to see the badgers, but should the opportunity for a photograph or two arise, then Andy was prepared. We saw between three and five different badgers altogether, including Scarface (see Winds light to variable). The highlight of the evening however was of course watching Radar, the peanut butter addict (see The ultimate Radar detector).

I am not able to recognise Radar from his appearance, but his behaviour in the presence of peanut butter is unmistakeable. He spent a long time licking and nibbling every last bit of the peanut butter I had smeared on a tree stump at the sett. Then, as I expected, he made his way to the twin-trunked sycamore nearby to find out if there was any of his favourite food there too. There was of course, and that enabled Andy and I each to take a few fabulous photos. (View this image on Flickr.)

And so to Thursday evening. Having now watched badgers at two setts in the wood where I saw my first badger in 1977, and feeling that I was on a roll, I wanted to find out how many badgers were living in another of that wood’s setts. I arrived not long after 8 o’clock, cast a few handfuls of peanuts over the sett, and found a good vantage point nearby. I listened to the songs of robins, chaffinches, thrushes and blackbirds, and to the calls of greater spotted woodpeckers.  At about 8:45pm a tawny uttered a kee-wick call followed by a hoot. Nearly 25 minutes later a muntjac deer wandered past the sett, head down and unaware of my presence. It was probably this deer who I later heard barking some distance away. For 15 to 20 minutes up until about ten o’clock, the muntjac barked every three seconds. Badgers however remained conspicuous by their absence. After two nights to remember, this was surely one to forget.

The night was not quite over however. As I drove home, I caught a brief glimpse of a badger along the same road where I saw one on Sunday. A few hundred metres further on another animal appeared, this time a roe deer. Finally, almost at my journey’s end, a fox dashed across the road in front of me. So in the end, the night was worth remembering after all.

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