Sunday, 6 March 2016

An unexpected encounter

After some nice sunny days during the week when I was unable to go out wildlife watching today's overcast weather seemed somewhat of a let down. As usual I went down to my patch and despite the cool wind made my way along the rivers edge, it was fairly quite to begin with. I noted that the Long-Tailed Tit families which are usually seen in numbers of 8-10 where now reduced to just pairs. One such pair was investigating an old willow with a view to nesting.

Not far from here I came across a large number of scrapes in the soil and several dug up bulbs as well as a small hole. One of the pits had some excreta which suggested Badger activity. I have seen Badger signs nearby before but was unsure if 'my' badgers from a sett in a hedgerow some 800 m away came this far or whether other individuals from a different sett were responsible. The problem was where this sett was. There are no obvious locations except on the other side of the river and although Badgers can swim I find it unlikely that this would be the case.

As I stalked up to the rivers edge to see if I could see some Teal that I knew often lurked there I picked up a rustle in the undergrowth. Beneath another willow tree through dense vegetation, the remains of old nettle  and cow parsley stems, I could make out a grey shape. The undergrowth broke up its form remarkably well and I could not make out any distinguishing features. The flash of grey suggested to me a Grey Squirrel although the tone was off and the behaviour most definitely wrong. By being so close a squirrel would surely have bolted for the tree and not remained on the ground. I raised by binoculars and focused them as closely as I could on the shape.

At first little more than a flash of fur could be seen, but it came apparent that the animal was larger than a squirrel, my mind started to run down the checklist of British mammals, resting briefly on rabbit, but again the colouration and movement was off. Finally the creature moved and I realised I had been looking at its back. As it revealed its side I could see a short white tail grey body with black paws and a distinctive black and white face.

Many of you who know me or read my blog will know that Badgers are my favourite species and to see one at 10.30 in the morning filled me both with elation and concern. To see a normally nocturnal animal during the day is usually a sign of illness or injury. From what little I could make out there seemed to be no obvious injuries. I would have loved to have gotten a photograph but it was so deep in the undergrowth that a shot would show little and the action of my getting my camera out would surely have startled it.

Then came the moment that many wildlife watchers have. What I call the moment of engagement. It is good practice not to make direct eye contact with any species as this often unsettles them and cause them to bolt, instead you remain still and look at them askance. In this case as the badger went about its business I saw him turn and look directly. We held each others gaze for a moment and in that fraction of a second we had a connection, I could feel his apprehension  at my presence and could almost see him weighing me up. He did not appear alarmed merely evaluative. I passed whatever test he had given me and returned to his activity. For the next minute or so he remained with his back to me intent on his activity before suddenly he disappeared and everything went still and silent.

Carefully moving position I got a better look at where he was and discovered a small spoil pile beneath the tree. I surmise that he has made a burrow there. I doubt it is a sett more a day lay up as the location is appalling, little space to expand a full sett and too close to the river which floods regularly.

The individual seemed small for a badger and it is my guess that the arrival of cubs in the main sett has caused several of the older youngsters to either leave the sett willingly or been chased out.This particular one hadn't traveled far and was using small holes in which to lay up during the day.

I have seen badgers before, we used to visit a sett at my uncles but this was a more intimate encounter rather than the previous glimpses caught there. And what of the Teal? well they were there as well but as usual they saw me long before I saw them and flew off down river before I barely had time to react.