Wednesday 29/7/09 - Naff Weather

It has rained for most of the day today. Not looking forward to going out in this, but hey, tonight must be better than last night. Got togged up with the waterproofs and wellies only to find that when I go out to the car, it's stopped. Down to the Barn Owl Centre, load up with nuts and raisins, pick up the radio and off to the hide. It's quite dark already and I'm running a little late. On the way to the hide I see a solitary badger on the path. I take an alternative path to avoid the badger, but it sees me and disappears into the hedge. It's about 9:45pm and this is the first time I've seen badgers here before the feed. Into the hide, radio on, but very quiet. I'm worried the radio had something to do with last nights poor showing.Sat there for forty minutes and no sign of life. The hour comes up, still no life. At eleven, feeling very tired and still no badgers, I shut up the hide and head for the farm. Disappointed at my first "no show" I was hoping to see something on the way back up. I didn't see badgers, but noticed some eyeshine watching me. I shine the torch directly at the eyes, but apart from noticing the eyes were further off the ground than the badger, couldn't make out what it was. I squeaked at it, but no response, so I took a few paces towards it. At this point, it turned and ran, but a few steps further on I noticed it was back looking at me. The eyeshine was green, but it's quite exciting being out there in the dark, not knowing what the animal was. I had earlier seen the footage on the BBC re a large cat sighting. I doubt it was anthing more than a fox, but you never know!

Tuesday 28th July - introducing the radio

After last nights success, although I was on my own tonight, I thought I may take the camera over and test the water, so to speak. I figured if I fired the flash and the badgers tolerated that, I could fire the shutter on the camera and if they tolerated that, put the two together and take a shot! Anyway, we decided that it would be good to introduce a radio into the hide to create some background noise and to slowly increase the volume to see if the badgers would tolerate it. This would obviously hide any noise created by spectators and hopefully the badgers wouldn't mind. I didn't take the camera as you can't introduce too much in one night. So, sat in the hide, Radio 4 on quietly and all set. I was quite excited already as on the way down to the hide I thought I had seen something fly into a nearby tree. Having a good idea as to where it had landed, I flicked on the LED spotlight I use with the badgers and walked towards the tree. I was only about 15 metres away when some movement in the middle of the beam caught my eye. A gorgeous, wild Tawny Owl was there looking down at me and not seeming to care in the slightest what was happening. This was lovely to see as although you hear them fairly regularly, you don't see them that often.

Anyway, the time was ticking by and 10:30 came and went. 10:45, and still no sign of badgers. A couple of minutes later a small badger appeared from the path. He was eating nuts and slowly moving towards the hide. Just after this I noticed a larger animal approaching from the path to the left of the hide. This is where things didn't go so well. The larger animal could obviously hear the radio. It was very nervous and glancing over at the hide repeatedly. Eventually it ran away from the hide sticking very close to the long grass around the edge of the feeding area. The smaller badger had moved towards the hide, but after only three minutes, it disappeared off to the right. That appeared to be it. I left the hide and noticed plenty of food still on the floor. As I walked back up towards the farm I found three badgers feeding on the path, but they were aware I was there and kept a reasonable distance between me and themselves. Not the best of nights, but we couldn't expect the introduction of the radio to go that well.

Monday 28/7/09

Today's visit was a bit of a milestone in what we are trying to achieve here at the Barn Owl Centre. Having discovered the badgers and get them regularly visiting a feeding area, tonight was the first paying customer. This is what the idea was based on from the beginning, although I quite liked having the badgers to myself! Karen, a friend from work who is very keen on wildlife, decided to come along to see the badgers. My daughter also came along so not only the first paying customer, but the first time with three in the hide.

We arrived down at the hide at about 21:50. It was a lovely evening weatherwise, with a barely noticeable breeze which was blowing onto the hide from the feeding area. This is handy as the prevailing wind seems to blow that way meaning the hide is usually downwind of the feeding area. Unlike last night, it was still reasonably light at 22:00 as the skies were pretty much clear. Along with the usual peanuts, we had added some raisins to the menu which someone had donated to the centre. If we are feeding the badgers, we might as well make it a bit healthier than just nuts.

We settled into the hide and as 22:10 approached we all stopped whispering to each other. Shortly after this a small badger appeared to our right. He was very close to the hide, but being to one side, we couldn't really see it that well, but you could hear it eating something. Whilst this one was eating something just out of sight, to the left of the hide I spotted the large boar which I had briefly seen the night before. He had us on his radar and didn't approach the feeding area, but skulked off behind the hide somewhere. The small badger, probably one of this years cubs had now moved into view and was noisily feeding a few yards away. A few minutes later, a much larger badger joined from the left of the hide. Slightly cautious at first, but once the peanuts and raisins were discovered, this one relaxed. Although badgers are very difficult to sex in the wild, I would guess this was a sow. Both badgers were within about four or five yards of the hide. A third badger then joined the feast, this one coming from the normal path down to the hide. Again a guess, but this was larger animal and again female. We now had three feeding in the small mown area in front of the hide. The small one was coming ever closer and we were getting some great views of it eating. You could clearly see it's teeth as it was chewing! At one point a small noise from the hide spooked this one and it ran towards the back of the feeding area. It didn't stay there long and was soon back where it was earlier. Another badger then joined in, again a fairly large animal. Shortly after this one arrived one of the other larger animals left the area. Perhaps these were the two that had been squaring up last week? There is a set hierachy in a clan and these two may not have decided quite where they sit in that as yet. The small badger was now getting very close to the hide. It was doing the usual sitting down whilst eating, which I think looks quite comical. It also sneezed at one point which we all found amusing, but stifled laughs only! One of the larger badgers joined the small one no more than five or six feet from the hide giving great views. The food was running out now and the three remaining badgers in turn had a final sniff around then within two minutes, all had trotted off back up the main path. We now had a chance to speak and we were all really happy with the show we had just had. We folded up the chairs, closed the hide and began our walk back up to the farm.

We hadn't gone far when we caught some eyeshine in the torchbeam. Three badgers were moving up the path ahead of us, probably feeding on the odd peanuts I had dropped on the way down. We got within about three or four meters of these, although they kept moving up the path, eventually disappearing into the dry ditch which runs under the hedge here. It was then back up to the farm and a cup of coffee and chat with Vince. He's come up with an advert to start letting the general public know about our nightime activities, so things are moving on. I'm now getting more confident that badgers will show up as, apart from the first night I tried this, I've had a 100% success rate. If you're interested, watch this space!

Busy Schedules, No Badgers...

Due to a concert I am unable to even feed the badgers on Thursday, but having seen the badgers last night, my wife has offered to go over and put the peanuts out for me! At least there will be some continuity with their feeding.

I managed to get out on Friday and put the food out, so again, they have been fed, but no-one there to watch. I wonder if they did show up?

Saturday was a no hope day as spent all day at the Silverstone Classic race meeting with gig by Carlos Santana in the evening. Great day out and Santana is a class act. However, a twenty hour day doesn't bode well for a late night on Sunday, my next chance of watching the badgers. I'll have a lie in on Sunday to see if that helps!

Sunday night is here, but not feeling that great (Swine Flu?). It's also pouring down with rain and getting dark early due to the cloud cover. It's gone off quite cold as well. On with the wellies and waterproofs and over to the hide. I've decided to try and concentrate the feeding in front of the hide and not put nuts on the paths leading to the hide. This may be slowing the badgers arrival at the hide. We'll see how it goes. Peanuts now in front of the hide, sitting in the rain (the hide only has scrim netting on the roof). Even in this weather, it's quite relaxing sitting in the hide, on my own tonight, and listening to the rain falling. Quite dark now, but I see some movement to my right. I peer round and there is a large badger, the biggest I've seen, stood there and starting to feed. Is this the boar from the clan? He certainly looks like an impressive animal. I decide to put a light on him and as I switch it on, he's gone. Damn. This is first time I've spooked one with a light and it sort of confirms he hasn't been here before whilst I've been watching. Do boars roam and feed alone? Or would they normally stay with the rest of the group? All stuff I need to find out.

Disappointed at missing an opportunity to watch this animal, I sit and wait. It's still raining, hard. There is some movement out at the bend in the path. A single badger is coming towards the hide. I sit and watch the shape, for that's all it is in the dark, reluctant to put the light on in case I spook it. I decide to risk it as it's definitely not the same animal as I spooked earlier. In the beam, a small, wet badger. He's enjoying his feast, though, and quite relaxed. He stays for about twenty minutes and, before the nuts are all gone, he wanders off, back the way he came. I decide to call it a night now, check there is nothing around and leave the hide. Using a headtorch, I start walking back up. I pick up some green eye shine, but it's probably the badger who had just left. Apart from that, I have an uneventful walk back up to the farm, home and bed!

From now on, as I'm up to date with postings, I will try and post each day as it happens, hopefully making it a little more interesting.

Confidence Regained

Haven't posted for a few days due to a very hectic schedule and not very much badger watching.

On Tuesday 21st, my daughter decided to come over to see the badgers again. Although we did see four in front of the hide last night, they weren't very settled and I wondered if it was because a "new scent" was in the air? Would the badgers have got used to my scent already? I would doubt it. Anyway, off we set, usual pattern of events. We quietly sat in the hide and at about 22:15 three badgers came around the corner on the path. This was two smaller animals and one larger and looked like the same three as I'd seen on the first night I saw them. Tonight, they were much more relaxed and were feeding confidently three or four meters away. They fed for a good twenty five minutes, mopping up the peanuts. There is something very relaxing about watching badgers at this range. Sat there in the dark, with a smile on your face and gently moving the spotlight from animal to animal and seeing them relaxed and apparently enjoying themselves.We didn't see any activity on the way back up to the farm.

Wednesday night and this was my last night for a few days due to other commitments. Tonight my wife came along with me and again the usual fears about a "no show". Much the same as Sunday night, nothing had appeared by the 22:15 slot when they can start to appear. Another fifteen minutes and still nothing, but at 22:35, shapes coming around the corner. It looked like another good turn out but until I turned the light on, not sure on numbers. I switched the light on, pointing at the sky, and slowly lowered it onto the feeding animals. Seven again! This was almost identical to Sunday; a later visit, but with good numbers. Tonight was great. Seven badgers all feeding contently and coming quite close to the hide, maybe three meters at the closest. Two larger animals did show some agression between themselves as the nuts were running out. They were making quite a strange noise, a bit like a horse when it does a quiet whinney, if you know what I mean! They faced up to each other a couple of times, but one always backed down, eventually being chased off by the more dominant animal. All interesting stuff, but not for the other badgers who seemed to find every last nut and they quietly ambled off as group back the way they came!

I can't watch the badgers until Sunday now, so hopefully things won't have changed too much!

Why Keep it to Myself...

Having had a couple of good nights viewing the badgers I thought it was time more than one person attended. These things are great to see, but even better if you share them with someone else. The ultimate aim would be to charge visitors on prearranged nights to come in and see the badgers, raising much needed revenue for the centre, so there will need to be more than one person viewing anyway. My daughter was keen on coming along as she has only seen the odd badger in car headlights, or dead at the roadside. So, the two of us set off and having had a chat with Vince, we headed off towards the hide with the usual sprinkling of nuts en-route and a good pound or two in front of the hide. Unlike the previous two evenings, tonight was almost still with very little wind. It was still blowing onto the hide from the feeding area, so hopefully they wouldn't get our scent. Having built up her hopes of what she might see I was worried we'd have a "no show". We needn't have worried. About 22:15 a single badger turned up from the left of the hide. None had appeared from there before. It seemed hesitant and not very relaxed. He started eating peanuts, and another badger appeared from the normal route. This one hung back for several minutes, again seemingly concerned at something. I wondered if the two badgers were from different clans maybe? Eventually the second badger came into the feeding area and began eating. Both badgers didn't stay long; they both ambled off in different directions just as two more arrived. Again, something was bothering them, but I'm not sure what. These stayed for about ten or fifteen minutes before wandering off with plenty of peanuts still on the floor (I did have seven the night before, so was making sure they would have enough!). We called it a night at that point, but one more treat lay in store.

On the usual route back up to the farm, my daughter stopped and pointed. Near the edge of the path, four or five metres way, a badger was sniffing around. I put the spotlight onto it at which point it turned around, looking at us. It then moved closer by a metre or more and stopped in a perfect "pointer" position, its head pointing directly at us with a front paw raised. After a few seconds, it trotted diagonally towards us and headed for the cover of the hedge. In doing so it passed within two metres of where we were stood. Fantastic!

I did wonder later why the badgers had all seemed a bit unsettled and didn't stay too long. Either they could smell us because of the very light breeze, maybe? Perhaps there were badgers from more than one clan? Once I can start to recognise individuals (if ever), I can answer that one for myself...

The Day After the Night Before

Having had my very surprising, but very welcome success on Saturday night, I couldn't wait for Sunday night to come around. I think at this point it would be good to let you know where this is taking place. As mentioned in my first post, I originally offered my help to sort out the computers at this charity. I admire the work these guys do and it seemed right to volunteer my services. The charity is The Barn Owl Centre. It is a charity which promotes conservation of and education about native birds of prey. Don't let the name put you off, they have many different birds here from Barn Owls, Tawny, Little, Eagle, Long-Eared and Snowy to Buzzards, Harris Hawks, Peregrines, Lanner and Big Ron, the Golden Eagle, amongst many others. It is now being called a Birds of Prey Centre too, for good reason! The site is 12.5 acres and is also a nature reserve with many native birds found onsite including Kestrel, Little Owl, Tawny Owl, Barn Owl, Buzzard and even Red Legged Partridge. Amazingly this site is only two miles from the centre of Gloucester. Please have a look at the website and if you are interested in photography, make sure you check out the Photograpy Days.

Anyway, back to the badgers. I did go over to the Centre on Sunday afternoon to see some birds flying and have a wander around the site during the day to do some detective work as to badgers and their habits. I saw the resident dog fox looking great in the afternoon sunshine between the showers. I didn't really find any conclusive evidence as to where the sett may be, but found several well used pathways. Kestrels, Buzzards and Little Owl were also spotted.

This is a picture of Kaln, one of the stars at The Barn Owl Centre. This shot hopefully shows the fantastic natural habitat here and the natural-looking photographs possible.
Image Copyrighted

Home for tea and back round as it's getting dark and the usual "peanut run". I was inside the hide by about 21:50 and settled down for the wait. The previous night the badgers had been out at about 22:15. This time came and went and no sign of anything. Perhaps it was beginners luck. 22:30 came and went and then out of the darkness I could make several shapes coming around the bend in the path. I waited for a couple of minutes and couldn't believe my eyes. I counted six badgers, all together, coming into the feeding area. I switched on the spotlight and actually there were seven badgers. I was enthralled watching this family unit sniffing, chewing belching, growling and scratching. Seven! They systematically cleared the area of peanuts, the odd squabble taking place. I don't put peanuts right up to the hide, but they contentedly ate peanuts no more than ten feet from me. Eventually they dispersed and the show was over. I heard plenty of movement the undergrowth whilst walking back up to the farm. Both Tawny and Barn Owls were out calling this evening as well. What a night!

How close?

Following on from my last entry, I had just seen badgers feeding just where I wanted them, but as I entered the hide, they ran off. Anyway, just putting my chair up and about to sit down and one badger was already back out on the peanuts. This was barely two minutes since I had walked past and scared them off. Within a minute, all three badgers were back and noisily snuffling around and chomping peanuts. As it was dark, seeing any detail was a bit tricky so as they were nearing the end of their feast I whistled a few times and also switched on my handheld LED spotlamp. The largest badger immediately looked around at me, but then carried on feeding. The two smaller ones didn't even flinch. So now I had three badgers, a female and two of this years cubs, by the look of it, feeding no more than four metres from me and brightly illuminated by my spotlight. I couldn't believe my luck; watching badgers at close range and seeing every detail of their faces and how, at times, they sit down like a dog. With their short legs, they looked quite comical to say the least!

Anyway, all things must come to an end and in this case the peanuts ran out and the badgers ambled off. Feeling quite good about things I moved the scrim net that covers the door of the hide, put the chair away and started the five minute walk back up to the farm. I hadn't gone far when I came across two badgers moving in the same direction as me and feeding on the odd peanuts I had scattered on the way down to the hide. I stuck my neck out and again used the spotlight. No reaction, phew! I was following them about five metres behind them. What happened next blew me away! One of the badgers turned around and started heading back towards me. Sniffing his way back down the path looking for any missed peanuts, he seemed completely unaware of my presence. Remember, I had a spotlight illuminating him and still he came. Four metres, three, two. Would he bite my leg? Would he suddenly realise I was there and react making me jump? No, he sniffed his way past me no more than three or four feet away. What a buzz! I didn't follow him any further and continued on my way back to the farm. When I told Vince of my success he seemed really pleased, although I'm not sure he believed me at first! I had been putting nuts out for six days and this was the result. Surely it must be beginners luck?

Nut spreading...

To bring you up to date with my attempts at getting badgers to feed in a specific area with a view to allowing others to come and see these wonderful animals up close and personal.

I set out on the first night, Monday 13th July 2009, with a couple of pound of peanuts and high hopes of seeing some badgers. The previous Friday we had seen several badgers around the site and I took this as a good sign. I arrived at the hide at about 20:40 and had starting leaving a small number of peanuts on the paths down to the hide. In front of the hide I then spread eight or ten good handfuls. I retreated into the hide and the wait began. It's quite pleasant, sitting on your own in the countryside with the anticipation running high. I hadn't thought of taking a chair, so the floor had to do. The night started to draw in and at around 22:00 the light was almost gone. I stuck it out until about 10:45, but nothing showed up. I felt I was in for a month or two of baiting with nuts with little to show. Hey ho, first night and all that. At least I had made a start...

The following two nights I could only find time to go down to the hide and leave the nuts. It was sort of reassuring to find that all the nuts had gone. Was it badgers, or would we have fat pigeons and pheasants staking the hide out waiting for a free feed? I then had to miss a night and only managed to bait up again on the Friday. I hadn't seen a badger for a week although I was thinking the ground looked a bit "roughed up" in front of the hide where the majority of the nuts were placed.

Saturday night I was able to sit in the hide again for a couple of hours. I wandered down the usual route, but having baited the area I felt it was still quite light and having discussed with Vince where the sett might be, went for a wander at the other end of the farm. Although it was getting quite dark, I had a scan of the field with the binos and actually saw a badger out rummaging for food! I was pleased; a badger had been spotted! It disappeared into a hedge just where Vince thought the sett was, but didn't reappear. I walked back down to the hide, but didn't see anything on the way.

As I walked along the meandering path, the mown area in front of the hide came into view and there was a lump on the grass! I moved a little closer and something was there. Barely containing my excitement, I knelt down on the grass and began watchig two badgers feeding on the nuts I had put there not an hour before. I was ecstatic! I sat and watched them for about 15 minutes and it suddenly dawned on me that I should be in the hide. Vince had mentioned that you should make some noise whilst there as this will warn the badgers someone is about and they will, hopefully, get used to it. I stood up and whistled and took a couple of steps forward. No response. I whistled again and took another couple of steps. No response. I was now able to see a third badger with not a care in the world. The closest animal was no more than four metres away! Again, I stood and watched for a couple of minutes. I then whistled again and moved closer. The nearest animal turned around at this point and ran for it. I don't blame it! The other two looked around wondering what the threat was, saw me and ran. I was still very pleased that they had come to my area and thought that would be it for the evening. How wrong I was...

First Ramblings

There are lots of blogs out there, aren't there? I've never been driven to put my thoughts and experiences onto the web. That was until recently when I had a lucky break and I thought other people interested in nature, and possibly photography of said subject, may want to share some of my experiences.

I had recently offered my help to a "nature charity" on the IT side of things. I had visited this site as a normal punter as it had recently opened about a mile, or so, from where I live. My offer of help was accepted and I got to know the the guy who runs the charity, Vince, and felt privileged to be able to help. One night last week, we went for a wander around the farm, pretty much in the dark. He had mentioned some of the wildlife on the site, including badgers, and within a couple of minutes we had found two feeding badgers. We got quite close to them and they were wonderful to see up close. As we continued walking we saw another couple of badgers, possibly the same ones. As we were walking we could hear badgers moving through undergrowth quite near us. Then, we came across a young badger, on it's own chewing on a worm, or something. It was making quite a racket! This animal was not further away than two or three yards. It did notice us after about twenty or thirty seconds, but fantastic to be so close to a wild animal.

I mentioned to Vince that if we could start feeding the badgers we may be able to make a small charge for people to come onto the site and share this experience raising some much needed revenue for the charity. He was quite keen on this idea and mentioned a hide at the end of the field. We had a look at this and it looked pretty good. A nice area in front of the hide which was mown grass, nice and short. We decided this would be a good place to try and get them feeding and the plan was hatched!

I will update the blog over the next few days as to the success of our idea, so please come back for more.