Brocks, a fox, and oh, deer!

I was too busy with Willow to post this article on its anniversary, but no matter…

13 July 2008. There’s a guy on the internet who advises would-be badger watchers to arrive at their sett of choice well before the resident badgers are due to emerge. He also suggests that watching from behind a tree may not be a good idea, as the silhouette of the watcher’s head may be seen by the badgers (who are familiar with the shapes of everything that surrounds their sett).

So on Tuesday night (8 July) I arrived at a woodland badger sett, at just about the time I thought the badgers might be emerging or maybe even a little afterwards (9.25pm), and stood behind a tree to wait and watch. The poor timing was due to a spur of the moment, last-minute decision to try a spot of badger watching. The decision to stand behind the tree was taken because it was, in my judgement, the best place to watch from. (Just because I’m the guy who wrote all that stuff on the internet doesn’t mean I have to take my own advice!)

I was definitely a bit too late to catch the badgers who were first to leave the confines of their underground home that evening. I’m pretty sure they had already ambled through the brambles and away from the sett before I got there. But I was in time to catch some of the stragglers. My views of them were brief and a little distant, but better than seeing no badgers at all.

Then I caught sight of another animal to my left, towards the edge of the sett, and swung my torch round to see who the new arrival was. A beautiful juvenile fox was making a tentative exploration of the badgers’ home. Zigzagging across the sett towards my right, the fox disappeared from my view on the other side of the tree I was standing behind. I edged to my right – there was the fox, just a few metres away from me, and now heading back towards my left. Which meant I lost sight of my vulpine visitor again and now had to move quietly back to where I had been in the first place. I spotted the young fox at about the same time as the fox detected me, and I think we both jumped at the same time! We were only a metre away from each other. Not for long of course as the fox quickly trotted off, looking back from time to time as if uncertain what I was. Soon after that I crept away too and headed for home, thrilled that I had got the closest I have ever been to a wild fox.

Tonight I arrived at the same sett a little earlier (9.10pm), just as the tawny owls were waking up. A characteristic “kee-wick” call was followed by a few gurgling hoots. A matter of moments later I spotted a badger out and about at one of the lowermost entrance holes. Shortly afterwards there was a cub outside another entrance. I lost sight of both, but a few minutes later I became aware of some noises coming from the brambles over to my left on the other side of the sett. Almost certainly the sound of one or more foraging badgers.

The minutes ticked by. It seemed I was now a badger listener rather than a badger watcher. Suddenly however there was a commotion, a kerfuffle even, in the brambles. Two animals came dashing out of the undergrowth. One was a badger, who stopped outside a sett entrance while considering what move to make next. The other was a muntjac deer, and a very small one even by muntjac standards. I have seen very few muntjac fawns over the years but now there was one standing about four or five metres away from me!

Badger and deer must have surprised each other in the brambles and taken fright. Now however each one of them seemed to realise that the other was not a threat. The little muntjac headed back across the sett, past the badger, into the brambles, and over to the woodland margin just beyond. As the badger also disappeared among the blackberry bushes, I caught sight of an animal moving along the very edge of the wood. Two animals in fact – a muntjac mum and her offspring. What a wonderful sight.

Soon I was badger listening again, although I did now and again catch a few glimpses of black and white faces or grey bodies in the light from my torch. I also did a bit of deer listening. The two muntjacs had put some distance between themselves and the sett and now the mother was reminding me why her species is also know as the barking deer. Her drawn-out barking call was repeated several times.

Over the next five minutes or so, the sounds made by the foraging badgers became more distant. At the same time, I became aware of movements beneath the trees off to my right. I could also hear a squeaking call. What on earth was I listening to? Soon my torch revealed the answer – mother and baby muntjac had made their way back towards the sett. They disappeared from view within a minute or so, but they remained fairly close by for a while as I could still hear the squeaking sounds.

Finally, I could hear neither deer nor badger. A good time to go, I thought. As I didn’t see all the badgers who live in the sett, I suspect I probably arrived a little on the late side again. Maybe, if I had followed the advice of the guy on the internet and arrived earlier tonight and on Tuesday, I would have seen more badgers. But having watched Brocks, a fox, and deer too, I am without doubt a very happy wildlife watcher.

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