Monday, 24 February 2014

The Mystery Of The Missing Badgers

On the outskirts of the village there is a large mound of earth. It is not much to look at, and in the summer an eruption of nettles protects it from human intruders, but for at least the last three years now it has been shared by both a family of Foxes and a family of Badgers.

This year I assumed would be no different. However, on a recent visit to the mound I made a surprising discovery. The entrance to the Badger's sett, which at this time of year I would normally expect to find littered with the disheveled straw and bracken that made up their bedding over the winter, was bare and lifeless. There was no sign anything lived there at all. Upon closer inspection, the reason for this absence of Badger activity became woefully clear- the holes into their sett had flooded!

The entrances into the Badger sett were completely flooded!
So what had become of the Badgers? Strewn across the entrance to the den that is usually inhabited by a family of Foxes (on the other side of the mound) were the tell-tale scraps of straw that suggested somebody was home. With that in mind, I decided to set up my trail cam. Forty-three of the forty-four files it recorded that night were corrupted (I should really invest in some better equipment!), but the one video it did manage to store was enough to answer my question:

The mystery of the missing Badgers was solved! Having been flooded out of their own sett, probably soon after the storms started in January, they must have found their way into the Foxes' den which is only occupied while they raise their young. The chances are that the two chambers are connected by a subterranean network of tunnels, so it would have been very easy for them to do so. 

And with our local vixen probably looking to settle down to give birth sometime very soon, it remains to be seen whether she and her partner will move back into their old den to bring up their young alongside the Badgers (it has been known to happen), excavate a new one in some other part of the mound, or move somewhere else entirely. I will of course keep you posted on this as I find out more over the next few weeks. 

Meanwhile my search for a Barn Owl has continued to prove futile. Last week I went out every evening in search of the elusive bird, yet it was still nowhere to be seen. I even bumped into a couple of local wildlife photographers who were also looking for the owl, but they had had no luck either. This week I think I may have to go one step further, and start searching for the owl through the fields at night.

It's time to fix my head-torch!


Monday, 17 February 2014

Big Schools' Birdwatch!

On Friday I helped a year 7 science class take part in the RSPB's 'Big Schools' Birdwatch'. For many of them it was the first time they had ever paid any attention to birds before, and once they had stopped giggling at the funny names members of the family Paridae are unfortunate enough to have, I was pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm with which they took up the challenge.

To start with, each student was given their own bird to look out for and a tally chart to record how many they saw. Unfortunately the storms on Friday prevented us from seeing as many birds as we might have done, but those that did manage to identify their species were left buzzing by the experience (reminded me of something). 

Even those that didn't were still captivated by the few birds that we did see. They would all run to one window to see a Crow, then to the next window to see a Magpie. These were species that I'd probably overlook nowadays, but the astonishment the students showed for them has made me realise that perhaps I should pay more attention to the more familiar things out there. After all, there is no reason why a Sparrow should be any less interesting than a Sparrowhawk! And even if only one student has taken away from that lesson a greater appreciation for the natural world, this planet can only be a better place for it. 

The students were amazed as a small murmuration of starlings rippled over our heads on Friday 
This week I have also been stepping up my search for a Barn Owl. Seeing as this is my first month as a local patch reporter, I thought I'd set myself a bit of an easy 'wild challenge', safe in the knowledge that a Barn Owl can often be seen gliding across the fields next to my house in the evenings. Worryingly however, I have not seen the Owl once this year so far. 

Barn Owls have been doing very badly these past four years, undermined by continuous bouts of extreme weather. It is estimated that as few as 1,000 breeding pairs still remain in England, so to lose the one in the fields next to my house would be another devastating blow to a species in serious decline.

Let's hope my search proves more fruitful in the coming weeks!


Monday, 10 February 2014

Welcome to Filming Foxes!

People always laugh when I tell them how I became interested in wildlife. You see the truth is, I’d be a very different person today had a certain bird book not fallen on my head when I was 12....

I was searching for a DVD under my brother’s desk when the small green field guide found its fateful way to my face. On the front cover was a bird unlike anything I’d ever seen before. It was colourful, with a bright red face and yellow wing bars, and striking white spots along its jet black wings. For all I knew it could have been some exotic bird of paradise. And what's more, it was sitting in a tree right outside the window!

A sunset through the lens of my first video camera

I quickly skipped through the pages of the field guide until I came across an image of the mesmerising bird: a Goldfinch! I had made my first ever identification. The buzz it gave me was like nothing I had ever felt before; a buzz that I have been hooked on ever since. It has driven me to take up filming wildlife so that I can keep a record of my encounters forever, and share them with other people.

It has also driven me to start up a wildlife rescue organisation, called Oakley Animal Rescue, which responds to wildlife casualties in the local area. Over the past four years we have rescued countless wild animals, from Pipistrelle bats to Muntjac, and have become very well known for our work in the community. I will post more about O.A.R over the coming months.

'Jim' the Blackbird was rescued after he fell foul of a cat in 2012

Thankfully, I have a local patch that is brimming with nature to fuel my passion for wildlife. Nestled in the quiet Buckinghamshire countryside, my small village is home to a plethora of species which I am lucky enough to encounter on a daily basis.    

For example, not too far from my house is a mound of earth shared by Foxes and Badgers who have cubs every spring. I hope to film these for you later this year. And being quite close to the Chilterns, I am reminded of the success of a certain reintroduction programme every day as I see Red Kites gliding over the rooftops outside my bedroom window. Last year a pair nested in the village,so it would be nice to see them do the same again this spring.

A Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) has a yawn in the shade

Just outside of the village there is a very large forest which is home to Fallow, Roe and Muntjac Deer, as well as, Adders, Sparrowhawks, Buzzards and all sorts of Butterflies in the summer. We are also fortunate enough to have an old WW2 airfield very near us which has become a haven for wildlife. Birds such as Skylarks love it there, and it’s a great place to see Hares boxing in March!

I hope to bring you all this wildlife and much more in my blogs throughout the year. I’ll also be setting myself a ‘Wild Challenge’ every month. This month: To film a Barn Owl hunting!

Wish me luck!