Another blast from the past…
19 June 2008. Tonight, knowing that the forecasts were for two or three days of wet weather, I decided to make the most of the evening sunshine by going for a walk and then attempting another badger watch. The first sett I visited was the woodland sett where I had recently experienced close encounters of the furred kind.
At about 9.25pm, some five or ten minutes after my arrival, a black and white face appeared near the sett entrance furthest away from me. More tantalising glimpses of distant badgers followed over the next ten minutes. Then an adult came into view, and trotted away from the burrows and the piles of sandy soil, off into the brambles. She (I felt certain the badger was a sow) did not go far. I soon heard the sound of grass and herbage being torn up, and then listened as the badger reversed back towards the sett with her cargo clasped beneath her chin. Up onto the spoil heap she went, and then down into the sett. Within minutes she was back out and repeating the process. And then again. When she left the sett for the fourth time however, Mrs Badger had a different objective. The light was fading fast now, and the badger was heading further afield to look for food, under the protective cover of the gathering darkness.
The sett fell quiet. The cubs who had been active over at the furthest hole (where I couldn’t see them properly!) had gone. But soon another cub appeared, a really small individual. The little guy appeared to be searching for the other badgers, trotting from one part of the sett to another … gradually heading closer and closer to me. Soon the cub was standing by a sett entrance just two to three metres away from me, oblivious to my presence and of the bright light of my torch. The cub then went below ground, and the moments of magic were over. I took the opportunity to leave without disturbing the animals I had been watching.
Tiny, photographed in July 2008
Arriving at a sett after the time when the badgers are likely to emerge is generally not a good idea. There is always the risk that you might alert the badgers to your presence as you approach, or that they may already have left. However I decided that I would call in on another sett in the hope that I would be able to see more badger activity there. Thirty years ago when I first watched the sett, it was part of an open field and bereft of cover. Nowadays however it lies within a small copse of young trees. This means the final few paces to the top of the bank within which the sett is dug, must be trodden with care: there are plenty of leaves and twigs ready to sound the alarm should one false step be taken. Fortunately, a stiff breeze took away some of the inevitable crackles – and the badger who was out when I reached my watching position was collecting bedding and so making a lot more noise than I was!
Soon I found myself once more watching a badger shuffling backwards into a sett, clutching a large bundle of grass. Clearly I was not the only one making the most of the dry weather – although I doubt the badgers had seen the weather forecast! A few minutes later the badger emerged from another hole. Long claws were soon busy gathering another load of grass. A second badger came out. This one looked younger. Too big to be one of this year’s cubs – probably one of last year’s. The yearling didn’t seem interested in collecting bedding, but instead put his claws to use in a different way – scratching to relieve the effects of parasites. Badgers can reach most parts of their bodies with the claws on their front or back feet, and this one lay on his back and scratched his belly while I stood watching with an enormous smile on my face!
Soon my smile became even bigger. A third badger emerged. This one followed the example of the first and got to work raking up grass. Before long I was watching something I’d never seen before: synchronised bedding collection. The sight of one badger reversing back to a sett dragging a bundle of grass is amusing enough. The sight of two badgers engaged in this activity simultaneously meant that I had to put my hand over my mouth as I tried not to laugh out loud.
Time passed and the badgers gradually disappeared from view, either wandering away from the sett or retiring below ground. I carefully retraced my steps and headed away from this enchanted place, through the leaves and twigs and then through the long grass, to my car and the world of humans. But I took with me memories of an unforgettable evening in the world of the wild.
A sequence of images captured from some video I filmed a few years ago, showing a badger taking in bedding.