Sunday, 3 June 2012

Badgers by Owl-Light

2 Tawny Owl Fledglings
 Tawny Owl Fledgling
 2 Badger Cubs (c) 2012 Richard Whateley

After the excitement of finding a Corncrake at Struncheon Hill, that evening was Robert Fuller’s first Owl and Badger Watch of the season.  Luckily, Chris Cox had booked, and he volunteered to drive, again rescuing me from dropping off at the wheel, after being on the go since 4.50 than morning.  We arrived at the gallery in good time to find most of the attendees already assembled.  The original plans had to be altered.   One of Robert’s Little Owls had been eaten in March, probably by Tawny Owls, and his Tawny Owls hadn’t nested in their usual box, probably because one of the adults had been electrocuted during the winter.
Everyone followed Robert to the new Owl location in their own cars.  On arrival we headed to the area where Robert had seen 2 chicks that morning.  Down in the valley we could hear an adult Great Spotted Woodpecker calling from higher ground where there had been a scout minibus a few minutes before.  However, we were near recently fledged youngsters, and Robert pointed out these calls to the assembled throng, but we didn’t manage to get a visual fix on them.  A Chiffchaff called nearby and sang fitfully a few times.  At least one person fell over trying to look up for Owls and walk at the same time, but no one was seriously hurt.  So, that is what Healthy & Safety is for!  We started to go uphill again on an uneven track & Robert said that the Tawny Owl chicks were calling quietly.  It was much more difficult to find the chicks in this large Beech tree, than those which had frequented the long line of trees outside Robert’s gallery.  One of my students, Richard W, was the first to spot one of the chicks.  We eventually all had views of these fledglings, but they were flighty, and moved about several times before they remained still long enough for most to get good views in Robert’s telescope.
The Badgers had been coming out shortly after 8pm, so we switched our attention to them.  We settled down on the hillside near the sett they had been frequenting.  However, we were spread out, so Robert wasn’t able to regale the group with tales of Badger lore and behaviour.  We waited for 75 minutes before anything happened.  It was thought they could smell us, so they refused to come into the open, or that we were too close to the sett.  In fact the Badgers were already abroad because after an hour and 15 minutes the sow and 4 cubs headed back down to the sett.  Everyone got to see them as a couple of cubs stayed in the open for some time.  However, they all went back into the field above their sett again and were lost from sight.  Robert went up the hillside and walked along the side of the fence and this caused the return of the cubs and the sow.  She froze and looked over her shoulder because of the excessive noise caused by the nearby scouts, but soon headed back to the sett following her cubs.
The return of the badgers brought an end to our vigil.  On the return journey we stopped to listen for Quail without success, but I’ll be trying again on our next visit.

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