Badger watching at Wytham Woods.

Oxfordshire Mammal Group runs various educational events throughout the year. Yesterday was an afternoon of looking and learning about signs of Badgers, followed by an evening of Badger watching in Wytham Woods.

Wytham Woods is located just outside Oxford and owned by Oxford University.  It is 426 hectares of woodlands, both ancient and semi natural, grasslands, with ponds and mire.

The wood is used for environmental research and is one the the most studied woodlands in the world. The public have access to the woods via a permit.

IMG_0031
Our group met around 4.30pm and walked through a small part of the wood to look for signs of badgers.
IMG_0022

One of the first signs was droppings, which although wasn’t in a latrine, it did appear to be badger droppings.

Bob spent some time dissecting the poo.

We stood at the top of a steep hill looking down at a sett at the bottom. Where we were standing there were a couple of entrance holes which brought up a discussion about whether these holes connected to the sett and whether badgers could dig vertically.

We looked at various entrance holes and discussed how badgers often dig their holes around tree roots and in one hole we looked at it even appeared that the badger had chosen that precise spot, using a large tree root like a lintel and smaller roots like scaffolding.

IMG_0006IMG_0009

IMG_0004

We looked for foraging paths and discussed how badgers will try to continue to use  a foraging path even when blocked.

My local badgers had hay bales temporarily stacked up on one of their foraging paths and instead of going around they dug a tunnel through the hay.

While back at the Chalet for a picnic, I got chance to show my film for the first time that I have made for National Badger Week (24th June to 1st July). I was quite pleased with how it looked on a big screen.

IMG_0002

Around 6.45pm we drove through the woods out to one of the Badger setts to settle down to watch.

Wytham has roughly 22 setts with between 200 and 250 badgers. These badgers produced between 20 to 80 cubs per year. WildCRU’s Badger Project have been studying Badgers in Wytham Woods since 1987.

With so many Badgers within this wood there was a high chance we would get to see some.

Each of us settled down against trees a short distance away from the sett. The sett was a made of a huge spoil mound amongst conifers.

Earlier in the day my mum and I had decided that she would film and I would take photos to save us disturbing the badgers if we swapped.

After about 15 minutes the first badger appear, leaning up against a tree and frantically groomed himself for a few minutes. Even laying on his back to scratch his belly. After every part of him had been itched and scratched he plodded straight passed us and away from the sett.

A second badger followed the same way. The third slightly more wary, sniffing the air and cautiously coming out, returning to the sett, then finally leaving in a different direction.

In total we had 9 badger sighting which were probably 6 or 7 individuals.

One of the most exciting parts of the badger watch was when a Tawny owl landing on a branch very close to us causing uproar amongst the local small birds.

IMG_0012

 

Big thank you to Oxfordshire Mammal Group for organising the event. You can click on the link to find out more about Oxfordshire Mammal Group

Posted in Animals, Badgers, Blogging, mammals, nature, outdoors, Oxfordshire, photography, science, Uncategorized, Wildlife, Wildlife photography, Woodland, Wytham woods | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

If you go down to the woods today

This will be the third month I have been writing a short paragraph for my local Parish council website promoting our village woodland.

The wood is owned by the Council but managed by the local community.

The woodland covers 24 acres and has a huge variety of species. The wood is mainly a Broadleaved woodland include oak and ash. Parts of the wood are noted as ancient woodland and this time of year has it has an amazing display of Bluebells.

Over the past couple of years various surveys have been conducted on bats, small mammals, moths and butterflies, insects, plants, fungi, as well as a continuing monthly bird survey. It has been really interesting being involved in a lot of these surveys.

It is a fantastic piece of woodland which I enjoy watching change throughout the seasons.

May 2017

If you go down to the woods today………

As the Bluebells just pass their peak, other woodland flowers are starting to appear amongst the carpet of purple. Adults birds are busy feeding their demanding chicks and can be spotted carrying caterpillars and other insects in to nests. More varieties of butterflies can now be seen in the open areas.

IMG_0183

IMG_0203

Blue tit exiting nest

IMG_7238

Long tailed tit with caterpillar

IMG_0208IMG_0197

IMG_0188

Red Admiral

IMG_0187

I started to think about a few things I will be doing for this years 30 Days Wild as I wrote this article. I’m looking forward to trying out a few new things.

IMG_7057

You can find out more about doing your own 30 Days Wild here

http://www.mywildlife.org.uk/30dayswild/

 

Posted in 30 Days Wild, birds, Blogging, Butterfly, nature, outdoors, Oxfordshire, photography, Uk nature, Uncategorized, Wildflowers, Wildlife, Woodland | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fox cubs

Barely taller than the Bluebells themselves, three fox cubs play while their mother watches over them.

I slowly creep closer until I’m hiding behind a tree trunk that conveniently splits into two giving me an ideal viewing point.

 

 

After my last blog about the different calls the Vixen uses when around her cubs I was really excited to finally find the whole family.

I left the trail camera down over night which kindly had the lens washed by one of the cubs.

I’m really looking forward to watching these cubs grow up

IMG_0042

IMG_6997

IMG_7007

Vixen

Posted in Animals, Blogging, fox, mammals, nature, outdoors, Oxfordshire, photography, trail camera, Uncategorized, Wildlife, Wildlife photography, Woodland | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Foxes

IMG_0004-001

Red Foxes (Vulpes Vulpes) are a member of the Dog family, but have many similarities to cats, being mainly solitary and using a pouncing method of hunting.

As well as communicating using body language and facial expressions, foxes communicate using around 28 different calls which included screaming and barking. Eight calls are only used by cubs which begins with a whelping noise. As they grow older this becomes a yelping and a warbling to get attention from their mother.

An adult fox’s call varies from a rhythmic bark to mark territory, to a yapping long distance contact call, to a high pitch chattering known as gekkering used for communicating close up, as well as the well known scream of the mating call, which both male and female foxes make, plus various yelps, howls, yips and whines.

The vixen uses different calls to her cubs including rumbles, coughs, barks, low growls, mews, churrs and purrs. It has been recorded that a mother uses different calls for each of her cubs suggesting that each cub has its own name.

A foxes hearing is incredible, they can hear a mouse squeak from 100 meters away, but they also use the earth’s magnetic field to hunt. Studies have shown they are more successful if they pounce on a north-easterly line. It is thought that they use the magnetic field to judge distance, matching up sound and the magnetic field to locate prey.

On my local patch I think I have a least two foxes that often come right up to our garden. They spend mornings and evenings hunting and I often find them after school lying in the sunshine napping.

 

Posted in Blogging, mammals, outdoors, Oxfordshire, photography, trail camera, Uncategorized, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Neighbourhood mammals

Back to school this week so I’ve not been able to get out much with my camera.

I heard a rustling amongst the dead leaves, expecting it to be a blackbird searching for food, I was surprised to see a little wood mouse staring back at me.

IMG_6891

The rat has been back after bird food, the scar has healed up on his nose but I can tell it is the same rat as he has a piece missing from his right ear.

IMG_6877

Despite the cold and dry weather there are still a few worms to be found.

One of the local foxes has been coming up to the garden gate to drink. Both nearby ditches have dried up so a good water source is important.

Last Saturday I went down to Bristol to join in with the March for Science. There were some fantastic speakers with some important messages. Marches took place around the world, highlighting to the government and public the vital role science plays in everyday life. Anna Starkey (one of the speakers) said ‘try living a day without anything that involves science’.

It was great to meet up with some Twitter friends.

Posted in Blogging, garden, Hedgehogs, mammals, nature, Oxfordshire, Rat, science, trail camera, Uncategorized, Wildflowers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Easter Holidays

It’s the last day of the Easter holidays. I’ve not been too far off my local patch as my sister is revising for her GCSE’s, but we did have a trip out to Westonbirt Arboretum. Not much wildlife but it was amazing to look around the trees and plants.

I came across this Chaffinch with what looks like the warty growths, Fringilla papillomavirus which affects Chaffinches and Bramblings.

Sometimes these growths are small warts but they can grow to larger warts over time that engulf the whole leg. While some birds appear quite healthy, some birds may become lame.

IMG_6746-001

Back in the garden I’ve been keeping a watch out for the Hedgehogs from last year. Others are posting Tweets and photos of their hedgehogs, but mine had yet to appear. Finally the trail camera managed to capture the hedgehog coming to drink from the dish of water.

IMAG0001-002

The weather has been so dry and the ground is now fairly hard and dusty. The stream alongside the badger sett has dried up and it must be quite difficult for them to find worms.

I visited the sett this week and enjoyed watching a fox and a badger wandering around in the Bluebells.

I noticed that the badgers have been taking Bluebells down in to the sett for bedding.

Two of the local hares have paired up and I quite often see them together. The male is the one in the photo below, while the female, which is hidden in the dried grass, is very pale in colour, so they are easy to recognise.

IMG_6781

IMG_6803

Wheatear

During the first week of the holidays I got to talk on a local TV station called That’s Oxfordshire about ‘blogging about nature’ and getting young people involved in wildlife.

IMG_6814

Yesterday I was really pleased to get some of my footage of Badgers on BBC South Today during an article about the impact of development on Badgers in Oxfordshire.

The Oxon Badger Group highlighted how Badger setts and long established foraging paths are being disrupted by the building of houses and roads.

IMG_6810-001

Posted in Animals, Badgers, Blogging, garden, Hedgehogs, mammals, nature, Oxfordshire, photography, Uncategorized, Wildlife, Wildlife photography | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Badger identification

Identifying my local badgers can be difficult. After spending so much time with them and watching so much footage of them from the trail cameras, I can nearly always work who is who.

With the adults it is not only the facial markings, but their size, the tail, scars and ear damage, the way they move, their behaviour and also which other badgers they are normally seen with. Putting that altogether gives me a good idea of who I’m looking at.

However the cubs are impossible. Last year there were 6 cubs, one of which died after a few months. I haven’t managed to catch up with the cubs since October and often wonder whether they survived, stayed at the sett or moved on, especially as Arrow has had cubs this year.

Last night as we walked back through the wood I spotted this Badger. Straight away we could tell it wasn’t Pirate, Smee, Bog, either of the twins, Arrow, Stick, and not Small as she died last week.

N.B. I found Small half in and half out of one of the sett entrances a week ago. Looking at her it didn’t look like foul play, (dogs or humans) but she had quite a few injuries to her rump, suggesting she had been picked on by the other badgers, possible underground in the tunnels as she had no injuries to her ears, head or front legs. – Please feel free to suggest other possibilities. Small wasn’t a family member, but joined the clan last Spring.

I wondered whether this new badger (photo below) could be one of last years cubs, so I’ve cropped some photos of the cubs to try and match the facial markings. I think looking at the way the black strip indents sharply under the eye, it could be the cub we named Blue in the top left photo of the cubs. Some badgers have straight black strips, sometimes the black finishes half way across the ear, other times the black strip continues under the bottom of the ear. Each face is subtly different.

I have spent ages looking closely to see if I can come up with a system of measuring the markings. Perhaps a grid I can put over the photos, or measuring the distance between black and white parts against the setting of the ears, eyes and nose. But that all depends on having the photographs the same size and the face pointing at the same angle.

Does anyone use a system that works? If so, I would be really grateful if you could share it. Thank you

IMG_0005-001

 

Cubs from 2016

Footage of unidentified badger

Posted in Animals, Badgers, Blogging, mammals, nature, outdoors, photography, Uncategorized, Wildlife, Wildlife photography | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments