Over the last few weeks, I have been spending much time immersed in woodlands on the fringes of Kinross-shire in search of badgers.
Cubs are being born about now, and more for peace of mind than anything else, I like to check that my local setts are still occupied. Thankfully, most of them are and it is always exciting to find signs of badger activity, including fresh digging. Other indications I frequently encounter include discarded bedding, comprising grass and bracken, that has been removed from their underground chambers during spring-cleaning.
Badgers are fastidious creatures and constantly change their bedding. Last year one of my trail-cameras filmed a fascinating clip of a sow badger bundling grass and other vegetation under her chest, which was held in place with her forepaws, before she then jerkily moved backwards to carry the material underground.
Wandering through these badger woodlands brings many other rewards, with song thrushes and blackbirds now tuning-up with their beautiful spring songs. Great spotted woodpeckers are also making their presence felt, and I adore the machine-gun like rattling that resonates through the air as they furiously drum their bills against hollow tree boughs to advertise their presence to other woodpeckers.
In one established pine forest in my local area, the signs of woodpeckers are everywhere, with the remnants of long-dead standing trees pocked-marked from their pecking as they search for grubs and other invertebrates lying deep within the decaying wood. Woodpeckers play an important role in forest ecosystems, with their excavation work on tree trunks aiding the decomposition process by breaking down wood and providing nooks and crannies for fungi and wood-boring insects to find tenure.
During a short spell of heavy snow and hard frost in the middle of February, this same woodland was literally bursting with woodcocks. During an hour’s walk, I inadvertently flushed more than 10 of these mysterious birds, exploding into the air from under my feet on brown-blurred wings. Woodcocks are a real natural enigma – a long-billed wader that lives in our woodlands. Many, if not all, the birds I glimpsed were most likely winter visitors from Russia.
This damp woodland is characterised by an abundance of boggy margins, some of which remained ice-free, despite the bitter cold. I imagine this proved attractive to the woodcocks, providing a place where they could still eagerly probe for worms in the soft earth.
Apart from snowdrops, the first spring wildflowers have still to emerge. They will do so in the next few weeks – lesser celandines and wood anemones being the precursors, especially those found on sunnier south facing slopes.
In the darker, damper woodland recesses, opposite-leaved golden saxifrage is also starting to carpet the ground. Each flower is subtle and small, and hard to discern individually, but when growing together, they form a distinctive floral tapestry that sweeps across the forest floor like a golden sea.
Badgers have a broad diet – with earthworms being one of their main staples. They also eat large insects, including bees and wasps, as well as small mammals and berries.