The neighbors

The badger is a discreet animal. Until recently, it was a victim of the road: I never saw one, except dead on the side of the road.

Since the beginning of the year, the badger is alive and well. It even lives in pairs. And since spring, it is a family animal: around the father or mother, five wimpy but valiant badgers set off our photographic traps every night (or almost every night) in a nearby wood.

The quality of the image is not extraordinary, these cameras are deaf as pots (except for the wind, one would say), but how can we be more aware of the life of our wild fellow citizens? Our time and space seem to coexist without crossing paths.

The area is populated by all the fauna that can live in this biotope (a deciduous wood): pheasant, rabbit, hare, fox, roe deer, rodents and various mustelids, including the badger. The only one that does not set off the traps is the wild boar.

The paths are shared, everyone uses them at their own time. The same goes for the burrows: Mr. and Mrs. Badger never close their little labyrinth. Mice, rats, rabbits, muskrats and foxes frequent them with asynchronous rhythms.

Of the badger

Two small personal observations about the badger.

An amazing technique for bringing clean litter (grass, leaves) back to the burrow: with the package wedged between the front legs and the chin (third claw), the badger happily backs up. The animal has mastered reversing.

A nice face, a little bit of a bad walk, but teeth, claws and a little bit of light armour that don’t necessarily make you want to go and have a chat. I understand that hunting dogs don’t always do well.

Yes, the badger is still hunted in France, on the grounds that it is likely to cause damage to crops. The nearest farmer doesn’t complain, but tells how he nearly tipped a harvester (a heavy one, that is) over the edge of a field mined by a badger quarter. No harm done in the end, but lost time for one and off accommodation for the others.

Watching our wild neighbours for six months, with Fred Genty (and the children of both), we find these badgers clean (with their little poop pots dug here and there), discreet, well behaved. No doubt a little hard by parents who are not necessarily buddy-buddy with their offspring, but attentive, that’s for sure.

The Wikipedia page on the European badger tells us that the average adult badger weighs 12 kg, can clear forty tonnes of earth (!) to dig its burrow, the galleries of which can go down to 3 or 4 metres.

One marvels, while emptying the memory cards on Sunday afternoon, at the quiet passage of a roe deer at about 4.30 pm in the sun, or at the earthworks, the supply of hay, the furious scratching and sliding sessions of badgers, or even the race of a tiny eye, dazzling in the infrared. The video is then colour coded with the mouse because the detail of the image does not allow for much identification of the small animals.

Vidéo surveillance

At night, the traps light up and film in infrared. The (human) eye does not see it: what about the animals we observe?

For our year-round badgers, night is that moment of darkness, in the open air, punctuated by minutes of infrared. As to whether this wavelength gives them sunburn, well, that’s a mystery!

Badgers are known to have poor visual acuity. There is no record of them seeing the cameras. We have sometimes set a trap at nose height and yes, they can be seen sniffing around and then scurrying away as soon as our alien scent hits them. Conversely, the attitude of the foxes (and cats) suggests that they could see the infrared light of the traps.

A mix of movement and temperature change triggers the recording. We lift the traps once a week, to empty the memory cards and recharge the batteries. A quiet survey, collecting a time that is not ours on a territory that we share (more or less).

One night in April, a badger left alone started to cry. The poor microphone of the trap testifies to this. It’s time to get out more clever equipment.

Monochrome but sound

It is with the animal documentarian Yannick Cherel, also from Trégor, that we attempt a sound recording in binaural. An infrared-sensitive camera on the ground, two infrared projectors and a binaural head monitor one of the main mouths of the burrow network throughout the night.

As with the swallows, the cycle is interesting. The sun went down at 21:18, the recording starts at 22:24. Quite quickly, we have some small movements in the leaves, a little solidian (sound transmission by the ground), an owl, barking at several hundred meters, the acoustics of the corner and the rumour of road of the axis Guingamp-Tréguier because the wind blows nicely of the west. The ground is dry. The sound pick-up system is fixed to a tree by a rigid link: the whole tree is a transmitter of the low frequencies that propagate in the ground.

At 1.00 am, the badgers are out, for half an hour of their mini-puggles, as brief as they are intense: these little things growl quite severely. One last tinker for ten minutes and the whole team is underground.

At 5.46 am, the first day bird is heard, the sun rises at 6.59 am. Nice episode of owls around 5:30, with already the recrudescence of the distant car traffic.

Night of the Badgers – around 1am on 28 April 2021 – Light & image : Yannick Cherel – Sound : Pascal Rueff
Night of the Badgers – around 1am on 28 April 2021 – Sound: Pascal Rueff
Categories: Nature