Lockdown at the Badger Hide | Brock behaviour and NEW wildlife!

From intriguing badger behaviour to brand new visitors, Haweswater Visitor Development Officer Heather Devey shares the secret lockdown happenings at our Badger Hide, all caught by our Badger Cam.

With lockdown restrictions in force these past couple of months, most members of the RSPB Haweswater team have joined others across the country in working from home, with select staff visiting the site to undertake security checks. Being away from Haweswater at arguably one of the most active and fascinating times in the Nature’s calendar – spring – has certainly been a challenge for us all!

For me, it’s the comings and goings of our much-loved badgers that I’ve been particularly missing, who I’ve got to know closely this past year. Wondering whether they are still visiting our Badger Hide on their nightly forages, pondering whether Beatrix has had cubs again this year, musing whether Porridge and Mudhoney still forage close to each other, or if they’ve ‘fallen out’, as is often the case in the complicated social lives of badgers.

Thankfully, we have a spy at Haweswater… one which tells us exactly who visits the hide and when; Badger Cam, a camera trap to help us monitor the behaviours and individuals visiting us. Recently, and with much excitement, I was able to get my hands on the hundreds of files it had gathered since the start of lockdown

I opened the first few files with bated breath. Would the badgers still be popping by, or had the grass grown *just enough* to trigger the camera trap’s sensor? Did I face HOURS of twitching grass?

With a gasp, my worries vanished, the first file of a badger. And another. And another! Not only have the badgers continued to visit our hide to forage naturally, but they’ve been showing off some interesting behaviours too, which are shared below. We’ve had a few extra visitors to the hide to boot, one which is a particular treat so I’ve saved until last. If you really can’t wait, I’ll let you skip ahead…

I can happily confirm that at least 4 different badgers have been continuing to rummage around the Badger Hide viewing area on their nightly escapades! This excellent news means that we may be able to re-open the Badger Hide for exclusive bookings when it is absolutely safe to do so later in the year, and should this fit with government guidance at the time.

But for now, I’ll leave you to enjoy some updates from our brocks and our other visitors, all captured by our Badger Cam since the start of lockdown.

Tinder for Badgers

Badgers frequently scent mark in the area, particularly “subcaudal gland scent marking”, where they will squat their hind legs, raise their tail, and rub a concoction of scents, exclusive to that individual, on the ground or a promenant object. This is more commonly known as ‘squat marking’, which I think you’ll agree, rolls off the tongue a little smoother – captured by Badger Cam below.

However, when collecting the SD card from the camera trap it looked as though the badgers had created a “dung pit” in one of the holes in the viewing area (second image below). A collection of dung pits is called a latrine, however the presence of just one pit remains an important stop-off point for clan members to gain the latest information; who’s in breeding condition, who’ dominant, who’s new on the block? A sort of Tinder for badgers.

Amongst the hundreds of images, a couple showed a badger ‘adding to’ the pit, proving that my eyes hadn’t fooled me, and it was in fact a new, small dung pit. Hopefully this will become an established stop off point for badgers to pop by and discover more about each other.

Question is, which of our Haweswater Badger Fans out there will be the first to get a photo of this new behaviour…?

Catch me if you can!

We often get birds popping up on the camera trap. They stop by to see if the badgers have left any tasty morsels, and forage for the invertebrates that have taken up residence in our log piles. However this is the first time this particular behaviour has been caught on our Badger Cam, a badger (female Porridge) attempting to catch a crow! Scroll through the images below to see the stages of the chase.

Haweswater Badger Fans will know there are certain individuals which are more prone to hunting the odd rat or mouse that passes, but this is the first time Porridge has been caught displaying this behaviour. Go girl!

A Trio of Brocks

Badgers are primarily solitary feeders, heading out onto their own nightly foraging journeys, so we tend to get one to two badgers visiting our hide at a time – in keeping with their natural behaviour away from a sett. However, early in the badger watching calendar last year we had three badgers feeding at once at the hide, which Badger Cam picked up returning again in March (trail cams were dated incorrectly, images taken late March!). Since then, one to two badgers visit at a time, but this early group emergence seems to be a recurring behaviour at the Hide in early spring.

Hare-raising!

That’s right, we have a new mammal to add to our list of visitors to our Badger Hide; a Brown Hare!

HUGE gasps when I opened the first two image files below, where our beautiful visitor lolloped through the viewing area for a couple of minutes one evening (30 April) to sample the ruderal plants that have emerged.

The gasping continued when a later file showed our Hare had returned three days later (3rd May) for a spot of breakfast!

Now, I wonder who will be the first to photograph a Hare at the hide?

So, we can add Brown Hare to our existing list of wildlife seen from our Badger Hide which includes: Badgers (of course), Roe Deer, Red Deer, Fox, Brown Rat, Wood Mouse, Tawny Owl, Robin, Wren, Pheasant, Jackdaw, Crow, Wood Pigeon and migrating Pink-footed Geese.

As I always say on our Badger Watches, every night is different at the Haweswater Badger Hide, and Badger Cam has shown that lockdown certainly hasn’t stopped our beloved brocks from putting on a show!

For now, our Badger Hide remains closed to ensure the safety of our visitors, staff and volunteers, however if you’re looking forward to visiting our brocks, or know someone who’d love to meet them, take a look at our Badger Hide Gift Vouchers – which can be redeemed 12 months after purchasing.

Heather

RSPB Haweswater Visitor Development Officer | heather.devey@rspb.org.uk