Spring Matters

There are two trail cameras in the vicinity of the badger sett in the meadows and every spring we are treated to fleeting glimpses of cubs as they are moved between burrows. We think that, in all likelihood, the different tunnels do connect under the ground, but that it is just easier to move the young if they are brought up above. It certainly then means that we are treated to early, tantalising cameo appearances of the little cubs that will soon be joyfully romping around the meadows.

Here is our first sighting of this year’s baby badger, tiny and hairless, at ten days old on February 21st:

We then had to wait until the cub was thirty-five days old before we saw it again, now much grown, on 18th March:

This week, on 28th March, it has been moved again. Now forty-five days old, the mother badger was struggling to stop the cub from dragging on the ground:

There were two surprising things about this. The first was that the cub was being moved in the same direction as last time. But the second, bigger surprise was that, this time, there was a second cub that was moved fifteen minutes later. This second one was carried facing its mother which worked better without the cub’s legs sticking out forwards – but that did mean that we didn’t get such a good view:

Two days later, on 30th March, the plot thickened further. Now, a single cub was carried in the same direction that the other two had been a couple of nights earlier.

This baby badger seems smaller and easier to carry. Perhaps the answer is that there are two different litters, one with one cub and the other with two?

I have looked in my records for the dates that the young badgers have been officially allowed above ground in previous years: 7th April 2017, 17th April 2018, 16th April 2019 and 23rd of April 2020. Last year there were no cubs. So we have a little while to wait yet before we get to see them properly and solve the mystery of what on earth is going on.

All across the meadows are shallow little pits where badgers have pawed the ground to get at the earthworms that make up 70% of their diet. On a damp and misty morning this week, we realised that every single one of these holes that we looked at had a spiderweb strung across it as a sort of pitfall trap. There must surely be several thousand of them.

The web highlighted by water droplets in the mist

But what are the spiders hoping to catch in these webs? Possibly ants, ground beetles and other invertebrates bumbling along the ground and falling by accident into the hole and thus into the clutches of the spider?

Depressingly, the One-eyed Vixen seems to have got mange again and has now lost a patch of fur on her back:

This will be the third year in succession that I have had to treat her for mange. In the past, I have sought advice from The Fox Project charity and, as previously suggested by them, have started a week’s course of medicine-laced honey sandwiches that go out at dusk with the peanuts. She is an easy fox to treat since she is always ready waiting for the peanuts and so fingers crossed this will once more be successful.

The One-eyed Vixen’s handsome mate at the badger hole.

Another year of being Red Mason Bee guardians is commencing. The bee cocoons have arrived in the post and are now out in the release box, ready to hatch:

The cardboard tubes that we hope they will nest in are in position above the release box:

All we need now is some warmth to get things going.

Bird nesting season is always an interesting time in the wood and this year particularly so. There has been another photo of a Tawny Owl in the nest box:

It is now impossible for me to not be excited about this. Typically Tawnies lay their first egg around the third week of March, with chicks hatching thirty days later and fledging around the end of May. I feel like I should whisper this question: Could there already be eggs in this box?

The buzzard has also been sitting on the horizontal branch where we see it a lot. In the summer before we bought the wood, buzzards nested at the top of one of the tall silver birches here. However, this nest has long ago been blown away by the winds and the birds have made no further attempts to nest in our wood. There is a lot of buzzard activity here, though, and I feel sure that they are nesting in woods nearby.

The camera looking at this box is old and slightly temperamental so we decided to replace it with a newer, hopefully higher resolution one, and set it to take videos.

The new camera going up into position

We have another camera on a pole looking at a cherry tree where Green Woodpeckers have nested for the last two years. It seems that something intriguing is going on here as well.

As we approached the tree, there was a scurrying noise such that the claws of a squirrel might make as it scrabbled up a tree. The dog heard it too:

On reviewing the camera footage, we saw that a squirrel had been carrying nesting material up the tree:

The woodpecker nest hole is just below that skinny branch coming off the trunk

Because this tree currently has no leaves, we could clearly see that there isn’t a squirrel drey being constructed up in the branches. There are, however, many old woodpecker nest holes in this tree and one entrance is really quite large. Could the squirrels be nesting in here? If so, they would be very close neighbours of the woodpeckers:

We attached another camera to a pole and trained it on the possible squirrel nest.

The cherry tree and its two paparazzi cameras looking at different holes

On returning to review the cameras, we can now confirm that squirrels are indeed nesting in the large, higher hole:

Nesting material going in
There was a lot of squirrel activity in and out of the hole

The Green Woodpeckers also came to look in this squirrel hole from time to time, possibly to check out the neighbours…

…as well as only occasionally looking into the hole they traditionally nest in. Perhaps they won’t now nest here this year – after all, squirrels are major predators of young birds in nests.

As we step around the wood, the dog always carries out an in depth investigation of every one of the numerous rabbit holes that we pass. But one burrow in particular called for extended scrutiny this time and it was difficult to get her away. Once we did, though, we noticed that there were pheasant feathers at the entrance – the dog had possibly found us a fox den:

A very active-looking hole with a wodge of feathers at the entrance

Having established that squirrels were definitely nesting in the cherry tree, we have now moved that camera onto a shorter stick and trained it onto this potential fox den to see what we got.

This morning we visited the wood again. I went to check the camera and how about this for the first shot?

A fox sticks its head out of the burrow at dusk

One of the foxes using the den looks to be pregnant:

We will leave this camera here for now to see if we can see cubs emerge this spring

In the meadows, there have been an alarming number of rabbits seen in the mouths of foxes recently, but this has only ever been seen once on the cameras in the wood. The wood does have both foxes and rabbits:

However, there are less foxes and more rabbits than in the meadows, and these rabbits have so very many burrows to escape down if being pursued. The woodland also has good numbers of pheasant and squirrels as alternative prey for the foxes. All these factors must lead to there being a very different ecological balance in the wood which is probably good news for the rabbits.

Another rabbit lost in the meadows this week

Since birds are currently busy building their nests, we have set them up a wool dispenser in the wood. The dog’s food arrives frozen, insulated by wool blankets, and it is this packaging wool that we have teased apart and stuffed into the wire box to be reused by the birds. This dispenser is proving very popular with the Great Tits and Blue Tits and it is nice to think that their babies will be sitting cosily on the dog food wool in due course.

We have set a wool cage up in the meadows as well:

A Horse Chestnut tree unfurling new leaves in its own inimitable fashion

One of our sons, travelling the world for a year with his girlfriend, has spent the last two weeks on the Galapagos Islands but has now reached Peru. He sent us a photo of this enormous blue wasp:

It is difficult to judge the scale of the photograph but these blue-black Tarantula Hawk Spider Wasps are around 5cm long – one of the largest parasitic wasps in the world. They use their sting to paralyse Tarantula spiders and then drag them off to their nest. A single egg is then laid on the unfortunate spider, which then hatches and the wasp larva feeds on the still living prey. Luckily these insects rarely sting humans without provocation but, when they do, their sting is among the most painful of all insects. One researcher has described this pain as ‘immediate, excruciating, unrelenting pain that simply shuts down one’s ability to do anything, except scream’. 

I am enjoying being sent selected natural wonders from Central and South America without having to leave my comfortable armchair. Soon they will be moving to Bolivia, and then on to Florida en route to Africa. More wildlife wonders no doubt await….

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