Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Saturday 19th July
Sat outside an outlier sett this evening in the hope of discovering where the cubs are. Sadly, it was a cold, fruitless wait. In the night, however, I did hear a badger pass through the woodland near to my tent and the barn owl screeched.
Sunday 20th July
Set up to take photographs at the main sett but again by 21.30 there was no sign of a badger!!! However, tonight I slept, for the first time, on the badger platform. I tied a tarpaulin over the railings in case it rained and slept on the platform in a sleeping bag and under a duvet. It strangely felt less vulnerable being 3 metres up than being inside a tent unable to see anything. Throughout the night I was woken up twice by noisy badgers, one at 2am and the other sometime before. It was quite magical looking out at the woodland illuminated by the blue-white moonlight from an elevated position.
Monday 21st July

It seems that today there are more silver-washed fritillaries than I have seen in the wood before. I even saw 3 males on one sprig of bramble blossom. At one stage I witnessed a female on a bramble blossom being courted by a male who was quivering his wings slightly. After a couple of minutes she flew off slowly but was pursued by the male who made rapid and repeated vertical loops around her as she went up and down the ride. She was not trying to get away and it appeared to be some sort of dramatic courtship flight. After 5 minutes or so, with me actually running after them, they just split and went their separate ways! I was a little disappointed as I would have liked to have photographed the mating.
As the sun got lower there were purple hairstreaks in the tops of the oaks but no emperors; it may now be the end of their flight time sadly.

Friday, July 18, 2008

SWOG Meeting

I look forward to seeing everyone tomorrow at Plumpton College for the Small Woodland Owners Group (S.W.O.G.) meeting where I shall be giving a short talk about, yes you guessed it, Badgers!!
Thursday 17th July
Another group of 4 for Sussex Wildlife Trust and it was good to see that Stephanie, David and Derek had all been on one or more of my photography workshops and courses. Claire had been on the first badger watch I did for the Trust in April and had come back for more. I made it clear as I always do that there is no guarantee of badgers on any of these watches but made it doubly clear in light of the recent 'dip outs' I had been having.
We need not have worried; we had only been on the viewing platform for 12 minutes when the regular sow (I must think of a name for her), came again from the north and gave us a reasonable show, pulling over logs with ease and even catching an animal in the bole of a tree. The creature she caught was quite possibly a small mammal but it was too fast to ID properly and she ran straight to one of the 'separate' for want of a better word entrance holes.
She soon reappeared and was apparently digging under a log. My view wasn't great as she was obscured by the carpet of dog's mercury but it became evident and Steph and David confirmed this, that it was actually 2 badgers mating! I have never witnessed this before. The act went on for 4 or 5 minutes before the boar moved away and foraged for a long time south of the sett just in view of couple of us. For me, having carried out many sett watches being able to witness their activities somewhat removed from the sett is fascinating.
Throughout the evening we saw at least 3 individual badgers coming to or from the sett and my impression is that they, the clan that is, are gravitating back to the main sett. However, I have still not seen Honey, the dominant sow or the group of cubs back yet. By the time I see them it is going to be difficult to tell the cubs apart from other adults as they will have developed so much in preparation of winter. Yes, Autumn is coming, I ate my first blackberry on Wednesday!
As we left the platform, we were stopped dead in our tracks by the return of another badger who sniffed and huffed around the area before moving to the south. Derek and Claire, who were actually on the ground, said they could hear the swish of the badgers gait like a pair of trouser legs brushing together as the badger approached! Overall, it was a great evening and I am happy that the clan is safe and finally returning to the area, I am questioning though, why do they move away? My personal theory is that it could be to allow the parasite level to diminish inside the sett following the most busy and densely occupied period of the year.
Tuesday 15th July
Leading a group of 8 for one of Sussex Wildlife Trust's An Evening with Badgers. As we entered the main wood complex it was like going under water; the exterior was clear and bright with low sun but inside was a filtered dark green shade. The clearing on the track that I now call 'Butterfly Corner' was also shady at ground level but the tops of the oaks and ashes were bathed in yellow sunlight. I stopped the group and pointed out a couple of purple hairstreak butterflies chasing each other from one treetop to another. Then a different much larger butterfly glided out and perched on the foliage at the top of a crack willow - a white admiral? No. As I got my binoculars onto it I felt that it was a purple emperor! But, as soon as I made this wishful ID it glided out again and was chased by another, this time definitely a purple emperor as I saw the flash of purple indicating a male. These two were joined by a purple hairstreak and they formed a chain of chasing butterflies. In the next few minutes myself and the group saw up to 3 male purple emperors glinting in the sunlight as they clashed and glided across the canopy. This is fantastic news as it indicates that I have found an 'assembly area' and it is an an area I have eyed for a the past year suspecting it was a perfect spot.
It was hard to drag myself away but I was eager to get the group on site for the badger watch. Unfortunately after a 2 hour wait there were no badgers!! Oh dear!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Emperor!

Huge thanks go to Mark, Kate, Jason, Terri, Mark and Sarah for their massive efforts over the working weekend. Overall we managed to bash the bracken down across New Meadow and on Sunday finally dig a pond. The bracken will ensure more and more grass and flower species get a chance to grow through as well as more bramble around the edges, beneficial to both wildlife and myself as some of those blackberries are beginning to form. It is a slow monotonous task and I am massively grateful to both Mark and Kate for their help and company.
The pond is now dug, and the old donated and repaired liner is down; I'm sorry but I am praying for rain to fill it as soon as possible, one of those huge torrential downpours would be perfect, overnight if possible, or maybe I'm asking too much. While we worked, as if to encourage us, we were joined by an emperor dragonfly and 2 brown hawker dragonflies that hunted across the top of the bracken, occasionally clashing with each other. One of the brown hawkers even had an interspecies spat with a silver-washed fritillary!
Overnight we had a short badger watch with the regular sow providing excellent animated viewing as she yanked over logs to get at the hidden peanuts. There is still no sign of the rest of the clan yet and although I am certain that no disturbance has led to their, hopefully merely temporary move, I am a little concerned and would very much like to see them back.
For me the highlight of the weekend and also a very significant event for the woodland as whole occurred while taking a short break from pond digging. A large, active butterfly caught my attention because it was repeatedly flying around me, very close. At first it had the appearance of a white admiral but was too big and flew too aggressively. After a minute or so it eventually settled on my sweaty shirt, presumably to lap up the salt. I was amazed. It was a male Purple Emperor butterfly. It snapped open it's wings and revealed the iridescent purple on the upperside. This is a magnificent insect and I have only seen 2 before, so to actually have one land on me and in Scrag Copse is a coup by any standards. Even if I had had a camera to hand it would have been way too close to take a shot. After a while, it flew onto a camera bag for enough time to allow everyone to respond to Mark and myself's insistent shouting and run over to get a good and close view.
So, a truly royal insect has graced Scrag Copse and this means that there could easily be more across the whole complex. Purple Emperor males adopt territories and chase each other around assembly areas. These assembly areas are at canopy level and as such are hard to find. I know, however, that I will be losing a few hours this week in my search for more Emperors!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Well, it hasn't been the most summery of weather this week; my boots are still drying on the windowsill from Wednesday's torrential rain! However, from the badger's perspective it is probably very welcome. One of the main dangers to badgers, especially young ones, is drought. Dry weather forces the earthworms deeper and ultimately leads to starvation because at this time of year there still are not many fruits or nuts available. That being said I am finding fallen wild cherries and the odd wild strawberry that hasn't been grabbed by the mice or voles! So, this week of wet weather has probably guaranteed the badgers survival for a few more weeks and then hopefully there will be more alternative foods for them.
In between the wet periods however, I managed to record a new butterfly for the wood; a
couple of purple hairstreaks were chasing each other around the top of an oak. Admittedly, I have been scanning the canopy level for elusive purple emperors and after unsuccessfully searching the most likely spot with high oaks and a few sallow in the shrub layer, I went to the shed for a cup of coffee. Leaning back in my chair and looking up at a couple of unlikely oaks I was surprised to see 2 purple hairstreaks chasing each other. This butterfly is not particularly rare in the right location but they are difficult to see due to their habit of staying up in the canopy layer. I cannot offer you an image I'm afraid as I have never photographed this beautiful little butterfly before. I also saw yesterday 2 silver -washed fritillaries and one of my favourites the white admiral (pictured). These butterflies will come down to areas of bramble in clearings and are a little easier to photograph. It is a weekend of bracken bashing and pond digging this weekend and so I'm going to make good use of the coffee breaks and try to get a purple emperor!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Never work with children or animals!!!

Friday 27th June I was lucky enough to witness up to 9 badgers interacting and grooming outside the main sett. Then for the 1st time I saw the cubs file south along the dry drainage stream with the other adults. This is the first time I have seen them leave the sett area and is a significant milestone in their development. Within a few minutes 2 of them came back and fed around the sett area as usual. So much for independence!
Saturday 28th June, only 2 badgers emerged, the dominant boar and what appears to be a handsome yearling male, who has been nicknamed 'Prince.' They both came out late and did not wait around for long before leaving the sett area.
Tuesday 1st July - a disappointing Sussex Wildlife Trust watch. A 2 hour wait resulted in 1 adult badger seen faintly in the darkness. Another 30 minutes thankfully resulted in 2 cubs coming from the north and feeding around the sett area. My suspicion grows that the dominant sow 'Honey' has move the cubs to an outlier sett.
Thursday 3rd July - a watch with Steve Bottom from the British Wildlife Centre. This was a cold, wet watch resulting in a 2 hour wait and zero badgers! Where have they gone? I am confident that it is not human or animal disturbance that has led to their disappearance but clearly the group has moved. I have cancelled the SWT watch for the coming Sunday, sadly.
Saturday 5th July - joined by my parents, I warned them that the chance of seeing badgers was slim and to just enjoy the dusk in the woodland. However, within 20 minutes of arriving we had an adult out and scratching. He was followed by 3 or 4 others including 1 cub who fed around the sett. For me this is an enormous relief but still begs the question - where is Honey and the other cubs?
As a result of this turn of events, it has caused me to read and research more widely and it appears that soon after weaning, the sow moves the cubs to another sett for 'a few weeks'. This may be to allow the main sett to be cleaned after the breeding period but in reality it is not truly understood why this occurs.
These events have also caused me to travel more widely in the local area to locate 'outlier setts'. I have found a possible 3 in total as well as several latrine areas and this has given me a better idea of the overall territory of the clan.
In summary, the badger's behaviour has truly concerned me especially as I have come to rely on their behaviour for the SWT badger watches. It will teach me to become complacent I suppose. However, for me personally, the week has fascinated me and deepened my admiration of these dynamic animals I just wish they wouldn't decide to disappear when I have paying customers!