Back at the end of June, I headed south with my friend Steve for three nights of badger photography. This was at the same site I had visited last autumn (see HERE) and when I struggled to get a few photographs due to various problems including failure of flashes. Armed with the experience of my previous visit I was hopefully much better prepared for this visit.
The site we visited has long been established for badger watching and photography and so the badgers are well accustomed to flash photography which we needed to use to capture the images during the hours of darkness when the badgers emerge. I am not a big fan of using flash on wildlife but I can assure you that this group of badgers are completely indifferent to it.
We arrived around mid-afternoon which gave us plenty of time to set ourselves up. We put up two hides on either side of the clearing in the woodland where the badger sett is located. I decided to use a long. low hide for the first time as it has openings at ground level to permit a low angle of photography. The approach for photographing the badgers was to us remote wireless flash. For my set-up I used three flashes complete with external battery packs (I was determined not to run into the power failure problems again!) mounted on camouflaged bank sticks arranged in an arc in front of the hide. Dark clouds were gathering overhead and with heavy rain forecast the flashes were wrapped in cling-film to protect them to a degree from water. The flashes are controlled and fired through an infra-red pulse from a wireless controller mounted on top of the camera. A few tests shots showed all was working as it should be. This is not my favourite kind of photography as you need to try and predict how the area will be lit at night and you also have a fairly limited working area. Peanuts were scattered around in front of the hide with small trails radiating outwards to entice the badgers into the limited flash lit photography area. For those who like a bit of technical information all the photographs were taken with either a 300mm or 70-200mm F2.8 lens, in other words the badgers would be close.
The rain started as we entered our hides on the first night before dark and what can only be described as an intermittent monsoon followed for the next few hours. The rain pounded down, although it didn't seem to deter the badgers who probably had thoughts of the earthworms brought to the surface by the rain.
Out of the darkness soggy badgers emerged.
The badgers appeared on the far side of the clearing in front of Steve and it took a while before I got a couple over towards me to photograph. With the water pouring from the sky I quickly found a major problem with the long and low hide. The sloping front and open flap was letting water in fast and this was rapidly accumulating on the build in waterproof groundsheet. A large puddle around 3cms deep quickly developed in the front of the hide and everything was getting rather wet and unpleasant. I took some emergency action and found a spare ground peg and punched some drain holes through the groundsheet which helped a little. It was fairly quiet in front of my hide on that first night and I managed around 30 images of some very soggy and bedraggled badgers. We eventually packed up around 2 am beaten back by the torrential weather and in need of some rest.
The first job the next day was to get everything dried out and fortunately the weather was kind to us in a very wet UK summer and stayed dry for the following two days. The next evening, was a repeat of the previous with the badgers appearing in front of Steve with only one or two wandering around in front of my hide producing another 30 or so images. Half way through the night I noticed the reappearance of a puddled in the corner of the hide which was odd as it was dry outside! I found the source of the liquid, a large bottle of diet coke had emptied its contents into the hide and soaked everything in its path as it had flowed from the back to the front of the hide, oh great! The badgers were looking drier although had taken on some staining of the red clay soils where they had been down their wet burrows during the day.
For the final night, we decided to swap hides. At around 10pm the first badger appeared and I soon had up to eight in front me, six cubs and two adults. This included a very memorable moment when one of the cubs came to within a metre of where I was as sat in the hide. It was a productive photography night for me with the badgers. On the other side of the clearing there was very little activity in front of Steve. That evening the wind had dropped right off and I had a good view of the badgers approaching Steve's position. Many would make their way to within about 20 metres, stop and start sniffing the air, turn around and move away. We think, given the direction of the wind and the slope of the land that the lack of activity in front of Steve may resulted from them picking up his scent. There was certainly something in the air that were stopping them getting close to him.
Overall it had been a great few nights. It is always a memorable experience spending time in close proximity to these wonderful animals.
Lets hope some sense comes to pass very soon and the senseless culling of badgers to prevent bovine TB is stopped and what to me seems a more sensible approach of vaccination is adopted.Otherwise the sight of a cub emerging from the sett as below will very sadly become a less come sight in our countryside.