Summer is good for the long days; but that’s about all for the average hunter longing for the season to come around again. I’m normally wide awake around 5.00a.m. and I am always up and about before 6.00a.m. which is great now it’s light of a morning. Likewise the long summer evenings when it doesn’t get dark until late allows you to get so much done outdoors. The downside is it’s often too hot for dogs. The crops are also now up and other cover is high making it difficult, in many places, to see what’s about. Despite this I still manage to get out and about in the field everyday but at this time of year I am mostly armed with just my camera. Whilst we may grumble that it isn’t the hunting season there are still always things to be learnt about our quarry. The best and maybe the only place to learn any such things is in the field.
I normally take my young lurcher on exercise at dawn and dusk in the summer as it is cooler then. I’ll sometimes take her with me at other times if it isn’t too hot, but as she has such a strong prey drive she’ll be constantly hunting and disappearing into the crops and cover. There are so many young rabbits about this year that she can’t help but catch them, no matter how much I try not to let her. Most days she comes carrying one back to me. Out of season rabbit catches aren’t really a problem when there are lots of them and they are all put to good use. I do have to watch her with game and other ground nesting birds which I definitely don’t want to harm. I miss my terrier as she was a good companion on out of season treks when trying to photo nests or wildlife as she was steady to rabbits so wasn’t constantly disappearing on hot scents. I just had to watch I didn’t take her near any drains or dens that might hold cubs.
During a recent mooch I came across a badger sett that looked very active. I was going through some Cheshire woodland accompanied by my lurcher. I was actually looking for a sparrowhawk nest and hoping to get some pictures. I was soon distracted by this big old sett. It is on the top of a steep bank and comprises of about twenty plus holes. I already knew of it but it hadn’t been in use for a few years; until now. There were massive mounds of fresh spoil outside most of the holes and well-trod paths through the bluebells and wild garlic which covered the woodland floor. There were also plenty of clear five toed pad marks plus the usual signs of bedding traces in certain holes. I remember chatting to the old keeper here once about badgers. He used to keep terriers himself for foxing. He told me that in the days before the badger act he’d regularly find diggers in his woods who had often travelled from far flung places. In those days he’d generally leave them to it after telling them to make sure they back filled properly.
I returned to this woods a couple of nights later without the lurcher. After ensuring the light breeze was in my favour I sat against a tree trunk to hide my silhouette. I had the camera all set and fully expected to get a few pictures of the badgers, hopefully before dusk when I still had some light. To my surprise the only thing to emerge from the sett was a fox. A few nights later exactly the same thing happened again. This time I managed to zoom in with the camera but the autofocus made a barely audible (to me) beep and the fox, with his superior hearing spotted me and vanished. Despite all the ‘signs’ no badgers showed. Perhaps they are either emerging when it’s fully dark or are just visiting the sett during the night and not in residence? If it’s the latter it just shows what a grey area it is when trying to determine the occupants of such sites.
A week or two later I got caught out by foxes again, this time at a traditional fox den site which was just a single sand hole. I arrived in good time to enable me to gauge wind direction and conceal myself in a suitable spot. It was a good three hours before dark as I off roaded along the farm track. I stopped the vehicle and turned the engine off on an elevated section of the track. I intended to have a scan with my binoculars before proceeding further. I wanted to see if there were sheep in the field (there were) and if the gates were open or closed. I noted just a single rabbit was sat out on the closely cropped grazing and it was squatted down. I’d expected to see dozens of them? Why was it squatted I wondered? An oystercatcher was circling giving its alarm call. What’s upset that I thought? Then I saw what it was. The cubs and vixen were all out and about in broad daylight. They were frolicking around and playing hide and seek amongst the tall clumps of nettles. I had no chance now of getting into the position I’d planned to get into without them seeing me. The wind direction wasn’t helping me either. I had little choice but to watch them from where I was and settle for some long distance pictures.
After watching their antics from a distance for about half an hour I decided to try and stalk down a fence line. I’d hopefully get myself into a better position for some closer pictures. Some bad weather was coming in fast and reducing the light. I knew I’d have to move soon anyway as I didn’t fancy getting drenched so this was my last chance. The vixen who appeared relaxed clearly had one eye on her cubs and the other looking out for danger. She’d spotted my movement straight away. Despite me freezing she was staring right at me. She gave a series of barks and the cubs all instantly fled and didn’t reappear. With the foxes gone it took about ten minutes before the rabbits started to appear in number again. The heavens had opened by then and I headed for home, out witted again by the crafty fox in the sense that I didn’t quite get the pictures I wanted. I did however learn some more about the ways of our adversary with the red coat and the bushy tail.