For some reason, in my mind, badgers live in shady forests and hedgerows. This idea may have evolved after my early encounters with them at Fyne Court in Somerset. When I imagine them emerging from their underground homes (setts) at dusk, they are following well worn paths across rolling open green fields and along hedgerows to find worms and frogs, among other tasty things. In my mind they aren’t hill walkers, view hunters, exploring the wet marshy ground found on our open Irish hills and mountains. These places, I assumed, weren’t the chosen habitat of this black and white striped mammal.
However, the more I see, the more my preconceptions about nature are being challenged. Nature surprises us at ever possible moment. Yesterday while stretching our legs on the Cooley mountains in county Louth (part of my #30dayswild efforts), we came across some very nice footprints at around 520m elevation! The soft boggy ground of the Irish uplands is the perfect substrate for footprints!
However further reading revealed that this is not unusual, and that badgers are found in upland and boggy habitats, but there are fewer of the hill wandering, view seeking badgers, or in scientific terms, they are found in lower densities.
Maybe I might take a late evening wander some time, to see if I could spot these fascinating creatures. At least they usually attempt to put their droppings in a hole, but didn’t quite make it on this occasion!
A very nice quote from Dave Williams, Surrey County Mammal Recorder, which I found here tells me off for jumping to conclusions about badgers and nature in general:
“When surveying for mammals there are always surprises and strange occurrences. Never believe that all animals behave the way they are supposed to. Badgers digging setts in an open flat area, and in heavy clay soil, or on the side of a very busy road. I have rescued badgers from unusual places, behind a garage in a busy town, stuck in a drain on a building site, places where you would not expect them to be. But its not just badgers. Dormice that nest in a garden full of bamboo and laurel, one fast asleep and trapped in the polythene wrapping of a pallet of paving slabs that had travelled via three depots. Last year whilst checking a dormouse box a very angry weasel leapt out. I even found a wren caught in a longworth trap. Keep an open mind and beware of expecting the obvious.”
Yesterday while soaking up the afternoon sun at the back of the house an exciting natural drama unfolded before my eyes. It began when I spotted a hooded crow (Corvus cornix) behaving a little odd. It appeared to be hovering over the adjacent field which is filled with knee high rapeseed plants. As I sipped my tea, I became a little confused as crows don’t generally hover, a behaviour I associate with birds of prey like kestrels (Falco tinnunculus) and common buzzards (Buteo buteo).
I kept watching closely and suddenly the crow dived into the field and disappeared out of view. When it reappeared in the air, something was dangling in it’s grip. Straight away I knew it wasn’t a small mammal, like a mouse or a vole, it has seized, it was far too big! And it was making a strange noise, something I can only describe as a cross between a squeal and a grunt.
The crow began to fly with it’s catch across the open fields above the house (where the horses and sheep are grazing), and right behind it in hot pursuit was an adult hare (Lepus europaeus)! Suddenly what I was seeing made sense! The crow had spotted a young hare (leveret) hiding in the rapeseed field, swooped down and snatched it and one of the parents was, of course, not happy!
The baby hare was a fighter and was struggling in the crows grip. As I watched in amazement it managed to wiggle free, and landed on the ground in the open field. However by this time, the adult hare had vanished. I took this as my cue to intervene. I jumped into my wellies and ran to rescue the tiny hare. Yesterday I stood firmly on the side of adorable baby mammals, as opposed to hungry foraging birds, that must be said.
The tiny leveret sat motionless on the grass, breathing rapidly, stressed from it’s ordeal. It was now a very easy target for the hungry crow, that was still hanging around, hoping for some lunch. I carefully picked it up and placed it in a box. As it recovered, I realised it was not as defenceless as I had first imagined. It began to “attack” everything and nothing by launching itself across the box and making a strange barking noise. Tiny but fierce! (We took this rare opportunity to take a few photos and two short videos before releasing it – see videos here and here.)
Not exactly sure what to do, we decided to return it to the place it had been taken from, as there maybe a sibling in the area that the parents would return to. From my later investigations, I learned that hares don’t use dens or burrows like rabbits. To avoid attracting predators (like foxes) the young are left alone most of the day in “forms” (depressions in a sheltered location) close to where they were born. The mother returns once a day at sunset to feed her young. We released the leveret into the knee high rapeseed plants. Fingers crossed it found a good hiding place, and was reunited with it’s mother again at sunset.
From the doorstep of the house we witnessed this amazing drama, first hand. Not on a television screen, in a zoo or even a nature reserve. Just outside the back door (granted we do live on a farm). Yesterdays “nature in action” drama reminded me of how much we can experience and connect with nature if we simply spend more time outside. Here’s my message: turn off the screens and get outside – you never know what you will see!
During our travels in South America, we did some thinking, as you do when you are on holiday, removed from being occupied by daily life. On new years eve we considered our lives, what we held dear and discussed our future options. We would return to Europe with many choices before us, without work or a place to live, free to choose the next step. It’s not often you find yourself with so free, with so few connections or commitments. At the bottom of Colca Canyon in Peru, with Condors soaring above us, as a final decision for 2014, we decided our next chapter would be in Ireland.
There are many reasons for me to reconsider Ireland as my home, the main one being my family. My mother, sister and two brothers live on the east coast, in a town called Dundalk. Living abroad for the past 5 years, it hasn’t been easy for me to stay involved in their lives, and I want to be part of family life again. Sentimental, but true. I am also looking forward to reconnecting with my close friends and extended family and following their lives a little closer too. I was truly honoured that so many helped me to celebrate my 30th birthday last July in Ireland, it was a very special day for me.
Another factor that calls me back to Ireland is nature. Ireland has always held a very special place in my heart when it come to green, wild open spaces. After travelling to various corners of the world, for me there is simply nothing that compares to the green rolling hills and wild coastline of Ireland, especially when the sun shines! Linked to that, I’m very excited about rediscovering Irish wildlife and nature in a professional way. My interest in wildlife, (birds, mammals, trees, bugs, flowers, the lot) exploded after I moved to Somerset to work with the National Trust in 2010. Since we made the decision to relocate, I have followed with a renewed sense of excitement the developments in Irish nature, though the wonders of the internet, social media and some wonderful podcasts from RTE!. I hope to become a certified bird ringer with the BTO, and to become an active member of conservation and environmental groups and generally integrate into the “wildlife family” in Ireland.
Over the last 6 years I have been involved in many different projects. From environmental monitoring and volunteer coordination to environmental education. With the skills I have collected, I hope to find a job that allows me to contribute to protecting and sharing Irish nature with everyone. My big passion is “local nature” as I like to call it; the wild and wonderful which exists under our noses and is accessible, free for all to see and enjoy! In the past I have created opportunities to share our wonderful world with children, and the results were amazing. I look forward to creating more connections between nature and people, in my home country.
From the comfort of a small farm in Denmark we are remotely building our new lives in Ireland, which will begin in May 2015. We are learning about Irish nature and heritage along with the unique challenges and opportunities that exist on the green island. It’s very exciting as there are so many places I look forward to visiting, and sharing with as many as possible.
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