Many people I speak to have never seen a live badger. Their only view of a badger is likely to have been deceased by the side of the road; and that’s no one’s favourite wildlife sighting. Aside from running across the farm road, I myself had never seen a live badger until only a few years ago. I was in Northern Ireland doing some gull surveys and the accommodation my colleague and I were staying in advertised a hide nearby that could provide good badger views in the evenings, if you were lucky. It was a bit of a no brainer.
The hide looked out into a large thicket of young trees a small distance away. We were pretty comfortable with a flask of tea to keep us toasty so sitting around for a couple of hours, if required, wasn’t going to be a problem. Within 30 minutes, we had excitement. Something was moving off to our left. A tall area of grass was quaking as it’s inhabitant moved closer towards us. A snuffling noise suddenly became very evident. Surely this was a badger rooting around for worms. After an agonising minute or two it crashed through the grass and came into full view. It of course, not being a badger, but a rabbit. Cute, but no cigar. After waiting for a further 90 minutes, at around dusk time; movement in the trees! Hearts racing we leaned forward to peer at the muffled grey shape that was moving slowly behind the trees. Undeniably, a badger.
The badger teased us, barely visible behind the thicket. By this time it was starting to get really dark and we were worried after waiting for so long, we would lose the light just as the badger appeared; we could scarce make it out already. But, at the last moment, she (as, for obvious reasons, we could now see it was a sow) appeared out from the trees, right in front of the hide. Hot on her heels were two young cubs. One of the cubs paused briefly to nip the other on the tail. They retaliated by rolling the first over before mum came and broke it all up. And that was that. We saw them for maybe 60 seconds before the family exited stage left and we lost all of the light. We sat for a moment in a sort of stunned silence. The view had been very dark and very brief but still more than I had ever dared hope for. Our walk home was full of excited chatter and I slept well that night with my first proper badger view under my belt.
In the years following that I got very involved with the Scottish Badgers and my love for badgers increased tenfold. I took part in dozens of sett monitoring sessions and had my camera trap set up left right and centre. One issue is that these all take part in the day – no chance of seeing an actual Scottish badger. Friends that ask me how my volunteering has gone always ask “so did you see a badger today?”. When I try and explain that that was never going to happen, I can see the confusion only increasing. But they’re right – It was getting far too long since I had last seen a badger in-the-flesh. Scottish Badgers, and other organisations, do at times run sett watching sessions but I, frustratingly never managed to get out on one. Back at my family home in Northumberland, I had found a sett in some fields nearby. For quite a few nights I did sit out on a slope overlooking the holes and, on occasion, managed to catch a glimpse of a badger scurrying from one entrance to another – I knew I could do better.
I have recently moved further afield than Glasgow, moving up into the Highlands to live a life in fabulous rural employment. And what is near my new home is a hide, specially set up for watching badgers and nightlife with small spotlights lighting the area in front. How perfect. Me and some of my colleagues visited the hide one night with full thermoses and lots of layers, fully prepared to sit for a long time. And a long time we did sit. After nearly 3 hours of watching absolutely nothing we decided to call it a night. Nothing is maybe a bit harsh, one moth did give us some excitement before it too wandered off. But ultimately, we left disappointed. Not put off we tried again some days later. This time we managed 2 and a half hours before we called it a night. On the plus side, we’d seen two moths this time AND we believe we had seen a very quick flash of a badger. A tail perhaps. Something to give us more hope anyway.
Our other colleagues, ones who have been here a while, were all astounded that we had not had good sightings yet – it is a very good place to see them, as well as pine martens, and for us to have seen just one quick glimpse was uncommon. With renewed vigour we tried again a few days later. 4 of us determined souls. Within 10 minutes we had a barn owl land in front us and perch for a minute or so. A very good sign of things to come. Thankfully only 30 minutes passed before we got our prize. A badger waltzed in from left, bold as brass. A large, handsome male with some terrific wounds. Obviously he had recently been in the wars with another male badger. Across his face and neck he had deep scars going right through the flesh – he must have been in a lot of pain. He snuffled around for around 20 minutes, uprooting the earth while we all sat with mouths open. Eventually, clearly late for a pre-arranged engagement, he quickly turned and lolloped off stage right. There was silence in the hide. All of us were saving the sight to memory and just enjoying the energy that encompasses you during a fantastic wildlife sighting. What we certainly didn’t expect was a second badger around 10 minutes later. This one, a female, appeared from a broom bush in front of the hide. She sniffed about for a few minutes before deciding this wasn’t her scene and exited the way she had arrived. 2 badgers in one evening was more than I could have hoped for and It truly felt a privilege.
If you get a chance to go and view these beautiful mammals in the wild – take it. The way they move sticks aside with ease and amble their way through the woods is a real treat to see while the noises they make as they eat are joys to hear, if not slightly hilarious. It is a true shame that most people will normally see badgers dead by the side of the road but they are out there if you are willing to sit still and quiet for long