A quirky look at wildlife. To be taken with a pinch of
salt, but with more than a grain of truth!
Many of you will know that I have been privileged to have badgers (and foxes) visiting my garden since August 2005, and probably before that, but I wasn't aware of them.
I have written almost daily bulletins in my journal since then, in an attempt to share my pleasure with other people not so fortunate. I have been amazed and pleased at the level of interest these 'musings' have attracted from all over the world. At first I watched in the dark with binoculars, with an eye patch pirate style, even falling asleep with the patch still on! However, the strain became too much. I invested in a night vision scope which meant I could watch the badgers interact without eye strain.
They soon became confident that the food would be there and their times began to vary throughout the night, so
I also set up a movement sensor with an alarm to alert me of their presence at any time. The 'vibes' they sent out frequently got me up without the alarm but this meant I was hopping in and out of bed at all sorts or unearthly hours, eager not to miss a trick.
For some time this has been taking its toll, leaving me a bit like a wet lettuce during the day, so my son and I have been investigating CCTVs or outdoor cameras with Infra-red sensors so that we can see more of what is going on. It has been extremely difficult to find a camera (within my price range) which would do the job without too much wiring and electricity use. It also needed to be simple to operate for a duffer like me .
Quite by accident, a couple of weeks ago he stumbled upon a 'trail camera' which needs no wiring, DVD or fancy gizmos. It has a rechargeable battery, can run day and night and takes very passable photos. A memory card fits snugly inside to store pictures and video. It is a very neat, light single unit which can be set up anywhere. Some of the results can be seen in my photos under 'Night Visions'. 'Trail camera' sounds good: I almost feel like a proper wildlife person at last!
I can't tell you the pleasure it has brought me and my friends who were queuing up to badger watch! Unfortunately the badgers' timing is so unpredictable that live human visitors have not been a viable option. They would have to stand for hours to see them. My sons and a friend are the only people lucky enough to have seen them live to date. I managed to capture a few photos with a digital camera previously, being very stealthy and sneaky, but it was time consuming and a bit stressful, since I didn't want to frighten them away.
I was delighted to discover that the night vision scope picks up when the infra-red trail camera lights up, giving me a really clear view, and the chance to judge whether the positioning of the camera is right. The joy is that the infra-red LED lights do not show up to the naked eye, so the neighbours won't cotton on. Not everyone is as pleased as we are to have such visitors, and we are also aware that there have been badger baiters in the area on occasion.
Watching the activity next day on video is great fun. Last night I finally had confirmation that our badger pair, Boss Man and Mrs B appear to have two cubs this year, which is a real thrill. I have read that research has shown that badgers who receive supplementary feeding from humans do better in the fertility and survival stakes, so hopefully my efforts will make up just a little for the destruction caused by anti-badger activists and motor cars.
Unfortunately, the garden faces south-west and gets the sun all day, which makes the camera little use during the day unless it is dull. The colour is not brilliant, but the picture quality is such that it doesn't really matter. Facing the camera the opposite way would not produce much action either, and at night we would just see the rear ends of the animals!
The badgers visit almost daily from mid March to late December, even January on occasion, after which they disappear underground. After three days of 'no show' I withdraw food, and take a rest from night viewing, though the foxes still come.
In the past I have seen three badgers together, two adults and one cub, possibly two, and felt there may be more. Yet I could never see them together and it is very hard to distinguish between animals. The males do have larger, broader heads and bigger tails than the females, and obviously, initially, the cubs are smaller. The cubs soon find their way around by scent and their hearing is acute, so quite rapidly they begin visiting without a chaperone, getting larger before my very eyes.
I have researched the food they eat, and do my best to give a variety far beyond the usual peanuts and raisins, and it seems to be very much appreciated. I have to use stainless steel dishes to prevent access to rats, and the antics as the badgers open them are great fun to watch. The dishes are left clean apart from the odd bits they can't get out with tongue, teeth and foot, and these are soon eaten by early morning visitors such as squirrels, magpies and wood pigeons.
Sometimes the badgers will share a dish, the adults indulging in some pushing and shoving, and the cubs squabbling a little. They are sometimes plagued by foxes who delight in sneaking up behind and giving them a swift nip, but there is absolutely no doubt that 'badgers are king' as they soon give them short shrift and chase them off.
In the early days there were fights between foxes and cats, with the badgers joining in for good measure, but for some time now the cats seem to have given the garden a wide berth during badger hours. It will be interesting to see if any unwary cats venture in to be photographed in the future.
It has been interesting too, to see how many bats and moths are flying around. I have had the odd rat in the past, but now I will know the minute one trespasses. What I would really like to catch sight of again is the wood mouse. She is so cute, and well able to dodge the badger at speed. She grabs food from right under the brock's nose. Of course, I never say never to seeing something new in the garden, a Muntjac deer or rabbit perhaps, though I am not sure how welcome such destructive visitors would be here! They are certainly in the area, so I will watch with interest.
In spite of all the gadgetry I still get to see the wildlife for real when they come early enough, and, of course, when the dark nights get longer I should see even more. I hope to have some worthwhile photos as souvenirs of my wildlife days to pore over when I get too old to continue all the physical activity it involves. I don't intend to depart this place for a while yet, however, and I shall continue to share as much as I can.