Badger Run

Out this morning at 6.15am, just as the first birds were starting to call. The Snow was falling very gently and very wetly, like it had been doing for most of the night. There was not such a lot of snow on the ground; just enough to cover the previous soggy layer. I walked towards the sit~spot as usual, which is about a five minutes walk from my house, following the tracks of my neighbour and his dog, who I know had walked up that way half an hour before me. Following, following; enjoying seeing evidence of the dog running around chasing snowballs in that crazy way only dogs can do, trying to work out my neighbour’s mood from his prints, when all of a sudden another track appeared alongside them. I knew instantly it was something not-dog.

badger prints in snow 2

What a treat! It was a badger’s tracks running up the same path as I was walking and he must have passed no more than a couple of hours before, considering that the snow was filling the tracks at a rapid pace. It’s funny how, once you have been following and closely observing tracks for a while, you instantly know when something is different from the norm and how distinctive badger tracks can be. I’m chuffed because I have actually been searching for badger since it snowed and these were absolutely gorgeous prints, the first ones I have seen this winter.

badger and dog prints in snow 6

You can tell the difference between badger and dog quite easily from the photo above; to the left is the badger track and to the upper right is one dog print. The dog’s is very defined, like a four-leaf clover almost; neatly placed with the two central claws being the most obvious, sitting right at the top of the print (fox’s print are more delicate, narrower and have a clear division between the top two pads and the bottom three). The badger’s tracks are more chaotic; it places its back paws on top and slightly forward of its front paws when walking and directly on top of each other when it trots, so the prints seem large and smudged. One thing that is unmistakable though, it has very long claws, which can stick out 2cms from the print and are often very deep. When the animal starts loping, you will find single prints too. This badger was doing a trot mixed with a gentle canter up the path on his nightly foray into the woods. Note below that another dog print has snuck into the shot, on the top right alongside the badger’s.

badger prints in snow 4

These were the most beautiful badger tracks I have ever seen. I was so excited about them that I had to rush back home and grab my SLR camera and start at the beginning again. You can see below that the snow had turned to rain during the early hours and under the trees it had left pockmarks in the snow. The tracks always remind me of a small bear’s.

badger prints in snow 5

badger prints in snow 1

I kept following the tracks for nearly a mile along the ski pistes. It used the main thoroughfare, which is also used by people, dogs, foxes, deer and hares but the difference was that instead of just walking in a straight line, it made an arc towards every bare patch of soil underneath the trunks of trees by the side of the piste. It was obviously digging around for roots and whatever grubs and other insects had already started to emerge in the warmer weather, shown by lots of disturbance in the earth. The tracks followed a definite pattern; clean paws walking towards a tree, dirty paws walking out the other side, away from the tree and on to the next one. The trail was easy to follow and I thought that I may find some hair snagged on a low branch where the badger had passed under but unfortunately, there was nothing.

badger prints in snow 3

Two hours later, I realised that I had completely missed my sit~spot and walked straight on past, so absorbed was I in following the tracks of the badger. But not to worry, that can wait for another time.

12th March 2018

The bird feeder has become overrun. It’s too much. The great and blue tits have pushed out all of the other birds and now they are fighting one another for food and the aggression is awful. There is not meant to be such a concentration of birds in such a small area and it makes me a little sad. I am going to wind it all down slowly, to coincide with the snow melting. It’s just another lesson in how we think that we are doing some good for animals but in reality we are just upsetting the natural balance of things.

The crag martins are back. I looked out this morning and saw one or two diving past the window and all of a sudden there seemed to be hundreds in the air, swooping and wheeling. Such a beautiful bird; sandy brown and dark grey, broader than swallows, they always appear at this time and then again for a few days in the autumn, I assume they are moving on up to higher cliffs in order to breed and nest. This is the furthest North their range allows them to go, and they come here just to breed, they are not resident.

I went out for an extended walk this afternoon on the pretext of searching for pine marten tracks and scat. I drew the tracks beforehand so that I would recognise them should I come across any:

journal 3

I went up into the forest and the snow was just in its worst state; slippery and claggy, the soil and leaf hummus was deep and wet, I slipped again and again, so the search did not last very long. No pine marten tracks, although I did see a lovely trunk that had been completely attacked by black woodpeckers:

journal 1

And lots of red deer activity:

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The snow has lots of yellow patches at the moment, which is the result of the pollen from alder trees dropping down onto the ground. It often gets very dark under the trees (and for some reason the dog loves to roll in it):

journal 2

Alder catkins in abundance:

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11th March 2018

Woke this morning to hear a weak dawn chorus, the most I have heard so far this year. It started with a blackbird at 6.15am and then went onto the song thrushes and eventually the sparrows in the hedge woke up cheeping to each other.

The birds are loving the higher position of the bird table. There is so much activity going on right now, birds everywhere, not seeming to be phased by anything at all. I heard the call of a chaffinch (the first one this year) and then saw him quietly sitting on a branch next to the table, sussing out what was going on as the more boisterous birds (great and blue tits) were swooping in here there and everywhere.

I went out to the sit~spot this morning at about 7.30am, which was the one I sat in when I waited for the fox to return to his deer leg the other day, and I heard much more bird activity this morning. there were many chaffinches singing a half-hearted song, thrushes and the myriad calls of other birds. It all sounded very exotic. I saw a jay on the top of a pine looking up at the sky and knew that there was a buzzard somewhere around as I had heard its call. I sat for about 30 minutes, but it was extremely cold and there was a steady west wind blowing that felt like it was bringing more snow. Two very vocal great tits came a scolded me, they were so close, perhaps only a metre above my head and it was nice to be acknowledged. I heard constant drumming going on a way away, and was not sure if it was a bird tapping the trunk of a tree or some human activity going on further away.

As I walked back, I saw some activity going on over the cliffs at the back of the house, I saw a golden eagle swooping high up towards the mountains, its broad-ended wings making a distinctive silhouette against the sky. Walking over the bridge, not even 100 metres from the house, I scanned the rocks along the riverbank as I knew that the dipper would be out and about and sure enough, I spotted him. He was washing himself in the shallows and carried on for a while, not having seen me standing on the bridge downstream of him.

I have been doing some research on pine martens as I want to try and attract them into the garden or at least see them in the forest. So today will be the day for going out and trying to find some signs of them; scat, footprints etc. I know that they are present in this valley as I saw one running across the road a few years back and my friend had a family lodging in an abandoned next door house.