Wildlife Notes 2003

The herd of fallow deer I saw before Christmas have obviously merged with another herd of a similar size and now total 14.  They were seen yesterday, just over the county boundary in Warwickshire, grazing on a field of ‘set-aside’ during daylight hours.

The weather has improved and the sun is now out!  Yesterday I managed to construct a new “badger winter bedding holder” with my 12-year-old son, Michael.  Hopefully, we have chosen the right place this time.   The badgers hardly ever used one of the old ones (maybe once in six years);  the other fell prey to the constant badger rubbings and eventually collapsed.   As the latter serviced only the lower setts, we’ve not repaired it.  Instead, we’ve constructed a larger one  – with two-storeys – which should service both setts.

While walking with my three springers yesterday, I found a dead buzzard hung up in a thorn bush.  My first thought was that it had been shot.  I could not, however, find any evidence of wounds so presume that it died from natural causes.  We still have a pair of adult buzzards in the locality.  I saw them this morning hunting rabbits on our lower badger sett.  Maybe the dead buzzard was the youngster they reared last year and succumbed to starvation as the rabbit population has diminished dramatically.

The badgers are now spending a lot of time underground, hopefully preparing for the arrival of some new cubs (as they’re normally born during February).  They do however appear on frost-free nights to dig up our lawned areas and break apart decaying logs in their search for grubs and worms.  I have increased the size of our ‘badger playground’ by installing yet another tree trunk for the badgers to rub and play on.  The tree was donated by Bill Sabin (our neighbour) and was part of a large beech tree – situated close to our house – blown down in the gales last autumn.

The wind- fall apples (amounting to about two tons) in our orchard, disappeared over three days – 8th, 9th and 10th January ‘ 03.  The apples had been lying on the grass under the apple trees since October’s 85 m.p.h. major storm (when we had guests watching badgers during the storm!).  The apples had remained largely untouched with only the occasional nibble from various wildlife – and Molly, our springer spaniel – until the 8th January, when a large flock of field- fares descended upon them.  Within three days they had all been eaten – pips, skins, stalks and all.  I noticed about 15 to 18 blackbirds and a few mistle- thrushes within the large flock of field-fares (about three hundred altogether).  Now that I know there’s wildlife who appreciate our surplus cooking apples, I shall ensure that, in future years, they will remain on the ground until they too disappear !  ( I have read that wind- fall apples should be removed as the acid content remains in the soil thereby making the soil more acidic;  it didn’t happen this year, as all the apples disappeared before they rotted.)   All of our sweet eating apples, plums and damsons were consumed by badgers and foxes during September and October ‘ 02.

27th January 03

Pleased to report that their are badgers in out top sett! There has been no obvious signs (like digging bedding removal etc) the badgers have now taken half the straw from the new two storey straw holder down into the sett. I will be helping them a little food wise from this weekend as any female badgers with pups will only be leaving the sett for minutes at a time  if at all.

I saw two buzzards hunting worms last evening (about 5pm) I watched them soaring into a 20 knot wind fairly low (about 50 feet) along the ditch hedge lane bank for 20 minutes. They both dropped on to the wheat  field several times picking up what appeared to be worms.

I was delighted to see a snipe take off from a wet patch that is situated in the plantation. The snipe is the first I have seen here for years. I am surprised how quickly the wildlife returns once the conditions are favourable, we now have lots of smaller varieties of birds feeding on the various food sources that I have arranged for them. The only one that seems scarce this year is the yellow hammer, last year we had about 75 of them ‘over winter’ here.

February 03

The rabbit population is back on the increase with a lot more activity being seen around old bury. I am seeing two buzzards sitting up in the trees near the rabbit warren at 7-45am each morning just waiting for a rabbit to come within range.

I have now repaired the old straw holder/badger bedding holder so that they have two permanent sources of dry bedding. I repaired the old bedding holder as it became very obvious that the straw was being taken into three separate setts, so to save any possible arguments between the different family groups, I thought it wise to repair the lower holder. I am feeding the badgers nightly now as the ground is frozen solid most of the time and always by the time the badgers emerge. The badgers are turning to the hedge bottoms and sides of streams in their nocturnal hunt for food. the evidence is plain to see with rotting branches pulled out and fair sized holes appearing by the time I take my spaniels in the morning.

February 20th 2003

I had a letter and a poem from one of our senior badger watchers who made two visits here over a period of 4 years, some years ago. I was delighted to hear from her after so long and was pleasantly gratified that the memories of the badger watching holidays she  had remained for so long. I will be including the badger watching poem on the web site shortly.

February 24th 2003

College Barn Farm badgers are becoming more active and have taken bedding straw from the repaired bedding holder as well as the new holder. There is now evidence of straw being taken into five sett entrances! Their trails are more easily seen as they are being used more (every night) It is amazing how the badgers stick to one route come what may. They will scour and scavenge off the track but always return to where they left before advancing further.

I heard a robin, thrush, and chaffinch singing and a wood pigeon cooing on my dog walk this morning, while a greater spotted woodpecker was providing the background drumming. I could not see any of them as there was quite a thick mist swirling around me. The bird song only lasted for a few minutes (a quick practice for spring may be?) I was really pleased to hear the birds sing, I also found Elder coming into leaf so presume spring is just around the corner. The mist cleared at lunch time enabling me to plant the last of 50 of the 500 mixed Black thorn and Hawthorn hedging plants that the persistent frost had obstructing me from planting.

27th February

Between 23 and 25 fallow deer ran across the set aside that surrounds Traitors Ford cover yesterday (I guess they heard me and the three Springer’s walking up the road) They were a mixture of colours black, white, tan and brown and some a mixture of all colours. There was one very prominent stag in amongst the herd, he had antlers with at least six points on each antler and stood six inches taller then any of the other deer. (and like most other gentlemen he waited until all the females reached relative safety before following on)

9th March 2003

Our badger watchers last week end were heroic! Fortunately they have been before when the weather was better. On Friday it rained most of the day and evening and the wind blew so hard that the power failed at 7-45pm (badger emergence time) the power was not restored until 9-15pm, too late the badgers were up and cleared the peanuts and gone. On Saturday evening there was a tremendous storm just before 7pm with lightning thunder and torrential rain for about an hour. Once the storm passed the badgers emerged and went about their nightly business to the delight of our watchers (who had come from Liverpool) It seem like the badger watch season started similar to how it finished last year when a storm of great magnitude descended upon us with 80-90 mph winds and driving rain.

While out with the dogs this morning at 7-45am I saw a white (ish) hind sheltering in the cover down below our badger setts and fresh deer spore marks amongst the newly planted trees (I am so glad I planted the trees in deer proof shelters) the spore marks were made by more than one deer so I guess the others were using their camouflage to their best advantage. My Springer’s put up two hen pheasants and two cock pheasants as well as lots of ground feeding birds;-  yellow hammers, green finches, linnets, chaffinches etc. The morning bird song is more audible every morning,  I am now hearing the rooks talking/arguing with each other morning and evening. They will of course be hatching their young in early April.

April 20th 2003

Badger cubs were seen on the evening of the 18th April!! this is the earliest date that badger cubs have ever been seen here!! I had an idea that the badgers in our top sett had cubs, as I had received reports from our watchers that any fox that came within 10 yards of the sett entrances were immediately put to flight by a simultaneous attack from three badger guards that were positioned in different sett entrances. How the badgers managed to communicate with each other to launch a simultaneous attack I do not know and it was not a fluke as it happened several times.

Our resident kestrel has become very adept at striking pigeons on the ground around the bird feeding areas near our ponds. I have seen a successful kestrel strike on one occasion and found the evidence of other strikes on other occasions recently. You will all probably say that I am confusing the kestrel with the sparrow hawk. I am not, the sparrow hawk is also striking birds, but  in a much more random area. I have seen the sparrow hawk strikes (and attempted ones ) they are normally air strikes and happen randomly all around the farm.

28th April 2003

It is all happening this week, I heard the cuckoo last Wednesday morning at 6-45am and again on Friday morning.

Gerry and Gill inform me that we have 6 badger cubs in our top sett!! yes 6cubs from three mums. The cubs are distinctly stepped in size from small to half grown. Lots of badger activity this last week, one of the highlights was  the mum of two of the cubs lying across the set entrance to ensure the cubs stayed out in the fresh air?

A Tawny and Barn Owl were seen every evening. On one evening badgers foxes and the tawny owl were all out in front of the flood light together.

The barn owl is a male and is roosting in the owl box that I installed last year. He apparently makes his exit from the box at 9pm prompt. I will be installing another owl box later in the year as I did not realise that barn owls do not roost together and that the female will probably be roosting not far away.

The warm sunny weather brought our carp to bask on the surface of  the ponds. They all appear in good condition and seem to have gown even bigger! The ghost quoi were around 7lbs in body weight last year, I will be interested to find out what they weigh later on in August this year (12 months on from the last weigh in)

30th July 2003

The early part of last week (in the heat 86%F) 11-12 badgers were observed out feeding together. The rain on Thursday  seems to have spread the community as they forage for slugs and worms that have been brought out by the moist conditions.

Baldy Butt put in an appearance last night (the first time he has been sighted for 6 weeks) He was around for all of two minutes when with a quick dash he grabbed a dead Perch (that I had found floating in the pond the previous morning) and disappeared into the plantation presumably to eat it.

Barn and tawny Owls, foxes, buzzard’s green and greater spotted woodpeckers skylarks, kestrel and sparrow hawks as well as a myriad of smaller birds, butter flies bats and moths have all been seen by Diana and Joan during this past week.

More badger ‘tails from Brailes’ 2003 version

A friend of ours telephoned me two weeks ago with a  strange badger tale.

Mark had gone to bed early (for him) around 11pm leaving his good wife to do all the wifely things that they have to do, like put the dog out and prepare every thing for necessary for the  next day. The last job of course was to put the (springer spaniel) dog out. So out went Milly to her secure kennel/dog run, and Mary Jane went to bed. Milly started to bark and bark and bark and Mark was accompanying her (Milly) with his snoring. Mary Jane not being able to go to sleep and having concerns about disturbing the neighbours thought to herself I can fix these two problems with one big dig in the ribs. Mark was so awakened by the swift dig in the ribs and the instruction that he should go and see what was bothering HIS dog. Mark leapt out of bed and went downstairs (cursing and apparently in all his glory not even a dressing gown) to sort Milly the dog out. Mark had to unlock the back door then unlock the steel dog run door to find Milly with her behind protruding from the dog kennel barking fit to burst at the content of her kennel. Milly was persuaded to retire back to the house while Mark still in all his glory went to investigate the cause of the disruption. With the aid of a large torch Mark investigated underneath Milly’s bean bags only to find a growly hissing badger tucked up in one corner. Mark then decided that discretion was the better part of valour and retreated back to his bed leaving the dog run door and his garden door open. The badger  left the dog run before dawn. How the badger managed to get access Marks garden through a locked gate and then access the dog run also through a locked gate will never be known. I have been told however that Mark’s neighbours now know exactly what he looks like!!

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