Wild Badgers in the English Lake District.

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Wild badgers in the Lake District

We stay in a large permanent caravan in the Lake District (north west England) as often as we can escape and can afford to go and in the woodland nearby is a badger sett. We have been visited several times over the years by an assortment of the local badger community. Often they would simply take the food and leave new footprints and we wouldn't get to see them in person, other times they'd be scampering about the fields and farmyard, clearly visible at dusk.

Over the Easter period in 2003 we had a nightly visit from what looked to be a young male in rather poor shape - he'd appear around midnight every night and we were usually alerted by his noisy and impolite snuffling and gobbling of the peanuts we left for him. He had a nasty injury on his back above his tail, hence I chose to crop the photos to exclude it as it was rather unsightly, although we were encouraged that over a ten day period it appeared to heal and improve significantly.

I've tried to photograph our nocturnal visitors on many occasions using various techniques and if they arrive after dark, I had no option but to use flash. In the past this has alarmed them and they've left after only one, often unsuccessful, image. This particular chap didn't seem in the slightest bit concerned by our presence, he never even acknowldeged our voices, the flashlight we used to frame the photos in the dark or the flash gun itself, totally oblivious to us only three feet away through an open window, in his quest to fill his belly.

Badger, click for a larger view.  Badger, click for a larger view.  Badger, click for a larger view.  Badger, click for a larger view.
Badger, click for a larger view.  Badger, click for a larger view.  Badger, click for a larger view.  Badger, click for a larger view.

Summer 2003, more visitations

We were delighted to be visited by the badger again during the summer. His horrendous looking injuries had healed to visible scars and he appeared in pretty good shape. He still loves his peanuts and as the plums were ripe on the nearby trees, he helped himself to any fallen fruit, eating noisily and messily and then licking any juice that had dripped from his mouth.

The first photo unfortunately shows a significant reflection of the patterned seat cover inside the window, but was the best I managed of his stripey face. Our eyes met on two occasions through the glass, only a foot or so apart and I spoke to him softly and he was nothing other than curious - twitching his noise and weighing up the situation. I never once felt he was stressed in any way. I was honoured to have experienced the brief and direct connection, it was a very powerful experience for me and I was moved to have been visited in such close proximity by a wild animal, that many people never even see.

Badger, click for a larger view.  Badger, click for a larger view.  Badger, click for a larger view.  Badger, click for a larger view.  Badger, click for a larger view.  Badger, click for a larger view.  Badger, click for a larger view.

October 2003, he's fattened up for winter!

After all the sightings in the summer, we were unsure, with the deteriorating weather, if we'd see him again during our October stay. We put out peanuts each evening and it was very cold for the first few nights and a heavy frost greeted us each morning. By about the third evening the weather was milder and when we awoke one morning, the food had gone. So we continued to leave out nuts and did see him on the remaining nights.

We were delighted to see, after he'd been so unwell, thin and injured at Easter, that he was looking much healthier, his scars were even less visible than in the summer and he has gained a great deal of weight with all the delights available to him at the end of the summer. Again, he seem untroubled by our presence and on the second night he came, I decided to try and photograph him through the open patio door - I wanted to ty and get some eye level views and was really hoping for a full on facial shot - his total preoccupation with filling his face precluded that!

I opened the patio door a few inches and lay on my belly with the camera through the opening, firing off shots as often as I could ascertain focus and framing - difficult when he was largely in the dark. Even though I was only three feet from him and he must certainly have smelt I was there, he was far more concerned with his supper than me. I would never jeopardise the well being of any wild animal or do anything that would cause them distress for the sake of a photo, but he really doesn't seem to notice me - as you can see from his body language in the photos and seems happy to trade a belly full of peanuts and fruit for a few photos - sounds like a pretty fair trade for both of us!

His long claws glisten wet from the web grass.  By the time he leaves us, there's not a single peanut left!  He makes sure he gets very single peanut, none remain!  I got down to his level for some of the photos, laying on my belly.  He really does love his peanuts and retrieves every last one.

We were delighted that when we visited the area again at Easter 2004, he was still around and in good shape, albeit slimmer than in the autumn, as you'd expect. I'm afraid the pictures don't vary much, he's always so intent on filling his belly and continuing on his way. I did manage one rare shot of him looking up when a noise we made just caught his attention very momentarily. I wasn't able to repeat the process despite very many attempts.

Badger supper time.  Please click for a larger view.  Those peanuts must be jolly good.  Please click for a larger view.  At last, a rare facial shot.  Please click for a larger view.  His old injuries are still visible on his back.  Please click for a larger view.

We've been duped!

There was us thinking that our badgery visitations were one pour soul with a healthy appetite - but no, it became evident during our summer 2004 visit that we did in fact have three different badgers visiting daily; what appears to be two boars and a smaller, rather timid sow. The two boars have now taken to coming at the same time, sometimes happily enjoying each others company, other nights squabbling and nipping each other over the available food or patio territory.

The little sow only ever visits alone and in fact leaves if she gets even a hint that the others are around. We only know there are definitely three as she was eating one evening, before it even went dark, became very nervous and dashed off and as we watched her disappear into the dusky gloom, the two boars appeared from the opposte direction together. She came increasingly early each evening to avoid an encounter with them. That was our only sighting of all three. When you view the photographs above, taken over 2 years, it is evident from the facial markings that there is more than one shown, I'd just never spotted the differences before.

The two boars that we saw almost every night this summer appear to be brothers, their markings are very similar indeed and the only way to distinguish them are the scars our initial injured badger still bears and his sibling has a slightly longer snout with a rather upturned nose.

As you can see below, our summer sojourn in 2004 was blessed with some very inclement weather and the badgers were not their most photogenic and you'll have to take me on trust when I say that a wet badger does not smell good. I have always been curious as to why they seem totally unconcerned by my flash going off so close to them, but having sat through several violent electrical storms this trip, it became obvious why, my flash looks exactly the same to them as the lightning, to which they also appeared totally oblivious.

I have often wondered why they always appear on about the third night of any trip and I speculate that this is down to our scent, it takes a little while after our arrival for them to smell us around and come looking for food they have come to associate with our stays. The property owners tell us that other visitors to the caravan do not see them in the way that we do and they themselves don't see them as often when we're not in residence. On the early evenings of our summer fortnight, I tried initially working with a strobe flash on a small tripod which would be triggered by the flash on the camera - each evening they snuffled this all over, invariably knocking it over and displacing it with their snouts, making it unusable - this suggested that they knew my scent on it and were investigating for delicacies. I've always handled the food I leave for them so that they get used to my presence and associate it with food treats.

I wondered if I could use this and hide food for them to find, so I started laying a trail by walking in bare feet and placing handfuls of peanuts behind stones or tuffets of grass, so it wouldn't ordinarily be chanced upon. It was immediately evident that my scent was the key and our original injured badger religiously followed my trail each evening and on subsequent evenings he'd re-visit the same spots in case he found another cache there. They became so attuned to my scent with the food, they'd even sniff the door handle of both the car and caravan, one evening even standing upright to the car boot to sniff along the edge of the lid where I'd handled it and along a seat I'd used.

This is the original injured boar.  Please click for a larger view.  One of the rare evenings it was dry!  He bears the wound of another confrontation.  Please click for a larger view.  The smaller sow was nervous listening for the others and would often come in daylight to avoid them.  Please click for a larger view.  Some evenings the boars squabbled loudly and bit each other.  Please click for a larger view.  We believe this is a sibling to our original boar, his snout is longer and more upturned.  Please click for a larger view.  They often raise their heads to crunch a morsel, possibly some fruit.  Please click for a larger view.  They're largely oblivious to me, but occasionally we make eye contact.  Please click for a larger view.  Some evenings they'd greet each other with little growls and barks.  Please click for a larger view.

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