Saturday, June 28, 2008

As the evenings have become so long at this time of year, I have found that I am not really staying in the wood into the night. At most now I stay until dusk. As such I have been missing the shift change-over that occurs as dusk fades into true night.
Last night, it was an interesting badger watch, where I witnessed the cubs leave the sett area for the first time. I have noticed the badgers are slightly later in their emergence now just by 15 minutes or so which has surprised me as I thought that the equinox may have been a trigger, but we are little more than a week after that event. Possibly it could be the moon phase. Either way, all these events I should perhaps record at each watch. Anyway, back to the cubs; they are certainly more adventurous and even 'grown-up' in their actions, although one still appears very immature and I wonder if this one
is at more risk of not surviving. The others, however, are more confident and less playful and last night after their emergence at 20.17hrs along with several adults, how many I'm not sure as they were in and out all the time but I think I counted up to 9 including the cubs. After a brief scratch and sniff, they all filed south down the dry stream bed, looking like a line of mongeese, mongooses, mongi (??). Thinking the show was over for the night I started packing up and leaving when 3 of the cubs filed back onto the sett. So, they are growing up it appears but still gravitate back to that area of safety. It was also interesting from the fact that I moved from one area to another without disturbing them and managed to exit the area while the cubs were feeding.
By now it was fully dark in the wood and I investigated a call I have not heard before. It was a bit of a 2-tone screech and after a while realised it was immature tawny owls repeatedly calling. They were occasionally answered by the adult female but only faintly. I mimicked the male call and brought them in closer and got occasional glimpses of them. The calling was incessant and although I felt that they were very, very close by now as is often the way with tawnies, you can never find them. I went back to the van and grabbed a torch and after some searching and tripping over branches and brambles located one of the young perched on a branch 12m away. It was great to see the head weaving and circling to get a better view that owls do as the light hit it. Apart from that it was not concerned at all and gave fantastic views. The tawny owl is quite easily our most numerous owl but due to it's very nocturnal habits and the fact that it is normally in deep woodland it is rarely seen only heard, so it was fantastic to view one as well as know that they have successfully bred.
Another interesting sight last night was a female glow worm standing out like a tiny torch in the low undergrowth next to the main ride coming out of the wood. Using the light from my mobile phone I could make out that the glowing body of the female also had a smaller male on top of her! These are again increasingly rare creatures to see and I have never seen a mating pair before so more good news.
Therefore, I am actually looking forward to the nights getting a little longer as it means that I will be more often in the woodland during the early night and hopefully experience a few more spectacular and rarely seen creatures.
A nice treat was that there was no disturbance from dogs either, phew!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


It has been a bad week for badger watching!
Last week, leading another Sussex Wildlife Trust badger watching event, the night was curtailed very dramatically when the 3 dogs that have for months chased wildlife repeatedly across the woodland ran right across the sett during the watch. One of the terriers even tried to enter one of the sett entrances. They then turned growling and barking at the group once they realised we were there and I had to throw sticks at them to get them away from the sett as well as the people.
This cannot be allowed to happen, so on the weekend I made extensive enquiries to trace the owners of the dogs. It appears that these dogs are notorious and many people are fed up with them. I even spoke to one landowner who stated that she had lost sheep in the past but obviously did not have direct evidence of the culprits. Eventually, I was given the contact details of the owners and was wished 'good luck!'. On speaking to the owner, she seemed oblivious that her dogs had strayed so far but was apologetic and assured me that it would not happen again.
Unfortunately, last night, the same thing occurred. This time the dogs were chasing deer relentlessly, while I was trying to photograph the badgers. Again, I phoned the owners and she admitted that she just lets the dogs out every day and does not exercise them properly.
This is an unfortunate situation and one that I think will go on for some time. I feel that I have given a reasonable opportunity to the owners and that they are in effect continuing to allow the dogs to run out of control. My next recourse is to seize the dogs and hand them over to the local dog warden. This, I believe incurs an £84 fee for restoration, for each dog! Maybe, this is the way to get the message across to the owners.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

In an attempt to get better images of the badgers, I have been trying to get closer to them and use flash. However, it means setting everything up long before the time of emergence. So, with this having been done on Monday with a great view down the sett from a viewpoint I have never tried before, I got to the site and waited. Unfortunately, within minutes of getting into place, the wind switched to almost the opposite direction and was blowing my scent across the sett. GRRRRR! As well as meaning no shots, I feel it may cause undue disturbance to them, so it was a case of get out of there as quickly and quietly as possible and leave them in peace.
Last night, however, with another SWT group, it was a different story. Although, the wind was again not favourable, I moved the group mid-watch to another viewpoint and within minutes the badgers were out. It was a memorable watch as at one stage we had 7 badgers all grooming each other in a tight huddle. I have seen pairs do this but never as many as 7! One of the cubs was lying on its back being groomed by various members of the family while it waved its paws in the air in apparent enjoyment. Most of the time only 6 badgers were visible but every now and then this one cub would poke its head out through the huddle. While we watched, the group were also lucky enough to see one of the barn owls come in with prey and perch on a branch. I still cannot confirm whether the barn owls are breeding successfully yet.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The rising temperatures as well as the different shades in the wood now mean that it is summer at Scrag Copse. This means that the canopy is a harder shade of green and spring flowers such as bugle and garlic mustard are no longer in bloom, but I assume and hope that their leaves are being munched by butterfly larvae. So, yesterday I went in search of new things in less visited corners of the wood. It is still early for some of the classic woodland butterfly species such as white admiral but I was happy to see a meadow brown hanging around the 'Scrag Copse' sign along with a speckled wood. I think I need to bash a bit of the bracken here too to guarantee more flowers in this clearing next year as this appears to be a favourite basking spot for woodland butterflies. In the bracken area itself I was very pleased to see a female broad-bodied chaser dragonfly exploring the area. These are very dynamic dragonflies and seeing one scouting around prompted me to make a consider my decision soon regarding ponds!
I was most surprised though, when exploring a boggy area near the stream to find 27 (yes, I'm so sad I counted them!) common spotted orchids. I knew I had orchids popping up but wow, 27! I noticed that most of them were very pale in colour and although there is a lot of variation in common spotted orchids, these were almost white. Maybe it is something to do with the wet ground and the low light as I normally see this species in drier habitats.
However, the find of the day, was several ragged robin plants in flower; this really is a lovely plant which particularly like damp edges and I never considered that I would find them at Scrag. The camera gear was already set-up in place for badgers, so I couldn't record them and I'm not sure if I will be able to get there in the next few days, so they may have to wait a year. This boggy patch is turning up a lot and could potentially be another spot for a pond, a small one maybe just to encourage wet loving plants such as ragged robin.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

A couple of images of one of the most lovely butterflies at Scrag Copse; the speckled wood will sit in a sunny spot and then spiral into the canopy either chasing a potential mate or chasing off a potential rival.
It has been another spectacular and eventful week at Scrag. One of the most important events for me personally was lifting the corrugated iron sheet left in New Meadow in the summer last year. This was placed for reptiles as they like to shelter under sheets like this but for the last 8 months the best I have had is a vole under it. But, lifting it the other day revealed 2 slow worms, a small grass snake and a sloughed grass snake skin (it's yours Mark, I seem to remember you offered money if I ever found one!). This is great news for me and reinforces the whole reason of why I laid the sheet there in the first place. If you encourage wildlife you will invariably get it!
I had a great badger watch with Bob Gray and his party on Tuesday; the wind was initially not good for us, so we moved position mid-watch, something I've not attempted before. Consequently, a 'shaky' badger watch turned into one of the most rewarding I have done with an adult snuffling within 3m of the group and a total of 7 badgers out. The image itself was taken on Thursday evening showing how the cubs are now getting. I am understanding the badgers and their habits more and more. As the year progresses and I do more watches, both with groups and alone, I am increasingly aware of how much disturbance and the type of disturbance I can either get away with or mask in some way. Although, I am very sensitive to their presence, I want to be able to produce great images of them as well as show them to as many groups as possible. This in itself brings in welcome income which guarantees their preservation at Scrag at least.
The barn owls have not disappointed this week either. Thursday, saw the male again quartering the field from 5pm onwards in full sunlight and it flew repeatedly within 10m of me! It was one of those situations again when I was ferrying gear from the hide to the storage shed and the camera was already set-up in place for the badgers! Grrrr! That night as well, as I left the badger area I heard a female and male tawny owl calling to each other. I called the male in, mimicking the hoot, and then heard and almost felt him call back from within several metres of me before he glided past me, obviously checking out the intruder.
The coming week itself has more badgers and hopefully some more barn owls, possibly with camera and long lens this time!

Monday, June 2, 2008

A spectacular weekend camping at Scrag. The weather perhaps wasn't ideal in the forecast but, so what, once you're under the canopy it makes little difference unless it's pouring down. During the weekend I was thrilled to see the male barn owl out hunting in the early evening around 18.30 or so. The wet and windy weather over the last few days has meant that he probably needed to get out as early as possible. In honesty, I have grown increasingly concerned recently that the box had been deserted as I had not seen either male or female and there appeared to be no tell-tale signs around the box itself. Admittedly, I have been a little preoccupied with badgers of late and have maybe not given the owls the attention they deserve but that may have worked favourably giving them some time free of disturbance in their crucial first breeding season. So, it was a great relief to see the owl quartering the long grass and regularly diving down to catch prey and as it grew darker screeching the eerie call that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. On Sunday morning I got up at 4.20am to check out the owl activity and got another 3 reasonable views as the owl carried prey back to the nest box. I don't know what breeding stage they are at now; I'm hoping that the female is either still sitting on eggs or they now have young. The amount of food going back does not appear that great, so I suspect the former. I would be happy with either just so long as they are breeding!
I had reasonably successful badger watching night on Saturday night. The dominant sow came out feeding and then 2 cubs. The wind, however, was very changeable and they kept catching whiffs of scent. I don't risk disturbing them unnecessarily, so we pulled out and left them to feed in peace. Annoyingly, on the path to the badger area, a branch has been neatly sawn and removed. This branch was blocking the path but acted as a deterrent to trespassers to this very sensitive area. The question is who did it? There is no public access to the area and it means that someone is probably regularly visiting this area which certainly is not to the benefit of the badgers or to any projects I have with them. Grrrrr!

I am indebted to my old school friend Jason and his girlfriend Terri who really attacked the bracken in New Meadow yesterday, we covered a huge area and have hopefully dealt with it for another year. This will guarantee more and more grasses and wild flowers in this area next spring and summer. This is the second season of bashing and apparently it will only be one more to effectively control it. As an incentive, a large skipper butterfly settled on a leaf in front of us as we worked. The little vibrant flash of orange reinforced what we were doing and spurred me on, certainly for another hour or so!