The hide is familiar territory. When I remember to ask for the key, I can spend a quiet hour here during the day: enter quietly; open a hatch slowly and carefully. Ahead is a sloping patch of grass bordered with huge oaks and bracken. On the left is a fallen tree – fallen for so long it is very slowly sinking back to its origins. It has a curve which forms a natural arch over a deer and badger highway. As it sinks and decays it becomes a home to brambles, ferns, mosses and grasses, and a huge variety of insects. Wrens and great tits nest in its hollows and nuthatches and blue tits are regular visitors. This is how it looked in February:
Tonight there are ten of us, all keen to see Badgers leaving their setts and foraging for food in the long mid-summer evening. It’s been a hot cloudless day and its still warm, but from a technical perspective the light is fairly low, which means slow shutter speeds or high ISO or both. Anticipating this I’ve brought my full-frame Canon 5DS with the 400mm f4 telephoto and the newer Sigma 105mm f2.8 macro lens. Modern full-frame cameras can operate at ISO levels in the thousands and still produce little digital “noise”.
We settle in to our positions on the long hard bench – positions we would keep for the next 90 minutes. Sarah, the group leader tonight, goes out to lay a trail of peanuts and peanut butter – foods irresistible to most warm blooded creatures. As soon as she is back in the hide the first badger appears under the arch.
It is soon joined by others from the same sett who move slowly towards us snuffling up the peanuts. Soon there are six, and a further two from the sett below us. Suddenly there is a great commotion and a Fallow doe leaps through the arch, scattering the badgers. She settles on the open grass below and feeds nonchalantly.
The resident Jays know all about peanuts. There are two of them picking up any the badgers leave and flying off with them. I wonder if they bury them like acorns – if so, unlike acorns they will soon rot.
As the peanuts get harder to find, there is more interaction amongst the badgers: some scuffles, scratching, climbing over logs.
One youngster appears to have some paralysis in its front legs – doesn’t stop it getting around in a shuffling kind of gait, but it has a sad look. (Actually most badgers seem to have a sad look!)
One has had enough and lies down to scratch its stomach.
Another doe appears – darker with less spots. She too grazes peacefully.
Nobody speaks. Only shutter clicks break the silence. We sit and watch until the badgers begin to move away, and there is nothing new to see. What a magical evening!