There we were badger watching; sitting in Wytham Woods with a small group of folks. My 5 year old and 7 year old were fidgeting, but trying their hardest to stay as quiet and still as possible. Almost 2 hours; It was a long time to sit still, especially on a chilly evening!
It all started with a postcard I picked up at the Natural History Museum; on the back were dates of different activities at Wytham Woods, Oxford University’s forest for scientific studies.
I had noted the dates, but not much more. A quick glimpse at Facebook said:
Badger watching Tues, Thurs and Friday this week, Turn up in the carpark and find out more about our stripy friends: OX2 8QQ at 6.30 pm”
Cool! We can do that with Angelina and Hugo! They’ll be in bed by 9!
Ha! Little did I know that this wasn’t a nature walk with a promise of seeking out traces of where badgers had been and maybe, just maybe, getting a chance to see one flash up in the distance!
There were about 50 people at the car park when we got to Wytham Woods. All mulling around, most looking slightly lost, like we felt. After 15 minutes or so of waiting several old 4-wheel drives and pick ups showed up, and a kind-looking gentleman gave a briefing by the information board.
He told us that we will be helping count the badgers at Wytham Woods, something that has happened every first week of May since 1976. The penny dropped: this wasn’t a nature walk we were here to do, but serious scientific contributions. We were to count the badgers and report back. Then they’ll know what the population is doing, how many traps to set for them to capture them after the breeding season to tag, weight, measure and then to release them back to their sets.
After we split into groups we headed up into the forest. Before going to our designated set we were given some more information. Our guide looked slightly worried at the sight of Hugo and Angelina, asking how old they were. Then only I found out- we were to sit still for almost 2 hours and this was an activity recommended for children over 8 years, purely for staying power.
A brief discussion with my children- can they stay quiet for a long, long time? do they want to? Their answers were a resounding YES!, so I decided to trust them and stay.
Our set was at the base of a steep hill. We propped ourselves up on roots and by trees to stop us slipping down and snuggled down. (Thank goodness I carry a picnic rug in the car and I realised we needed it in time to bring it!)
After about 15 minutes of waiting a large deer crossed the forest below us. Then nothing, but bird song, the sound of the wind whipping up the forest, jingling of little metal tags that mark the trees.
Hugo fidgeted, but occupied himself with finding bugs. Woodlouse are his favourites, so he was, sort of, sorted.
It was chilly! I was happy to have dressed both kids in our outdoor gear with layers on. Walking boots were very handy on the slippery slope.
After a 45 minute wait we glimpsed it: one cautious stripy head peering out, just below us. Then it disappeared. 5 minutes later 3 badgers appeared- one baby from this year and two older ones.
For the next hour we sat still as we could. (Hugo lay down at one point wanting to sleep, which he didn’t.)
We were treated to observing some of the antics of the badger family- there was one big papa, three babies and three or four older family members. They played, had a family chat, forage, ducked in and out of their set and finally went off on a hunt.
As we got up to go back to the carpark we heard an owl say “tootoo”, as if to bid us good night.
My children had been amazing! …the bribe of an ice cream of their choice did help. 😉
See you next year badgers for the annual badger count!
What fun have you had in the great outdoors this week?
If you need inspiration for your weekend, pop over to the blogs linked from Fiona’s site at Coombe Mill: