Spring Camera Trapping 2022 – Pt. 2: Badger Alley

I sit flicking through the new photos and videos of rabbits, pheasants, active adult foxes, territorial badgers, and female roe deer passing through by my camera trap. Exciting, but wait what was that? I stumble across a video taken at night. There an adult fox is climbing the outside of the sett with a special surprise for me. Two dark long-tailed fluffy bundles. I could not believe my eyes to see my first cubs of the year this young!

This year I have had the best year yet for camera trapping on my family’s farm in Dorset. With 8 sites, ranging from woodland to hedgerows, and now using 2 camera traps, I was able to capture some fantastic moments from March through to June. Highlights included 2 setts both with badger cubs, an illusive fox, feeding female roe deer, and a fox den discovery. Check out my blog post from last week to find out more!

My favourite site from this spring was one I have used regularly over the last few years. Badger Alley is a 210m stretch of bridleway bordered either side by hedges that have grown up to form an arch over the path. Along this tunnel lies two separate badger setts that were both once active, but are now mainly abandoned by badgers. Though less frequently used by badgers themselves, these setts are now home to a whole host of other animal species, whilst also being a busy highway for wildlife.

With infrequent use by humans, it is unsurprising that Badger Alley is a haven for wildlife. To explore, I ended up keeping my brand new camera trap at the site over 67 days from 17th April to 16th June, changing the set up between 4 angles during this time. This camera takes both videos and photos, so keep an eye out for the full videos coming soon. For now, lets find out what species call Badger Alley home in 2022.

The Characters of Badger Alley

Amongst the species that call Badger Alley home, a number of birds nest along its length. During the 67 days my camera was observing this site, I captured evidence of 4 common non-native and native bird species. Amongst these, there were 6 sightings of pheasants released from a local shoot, all males strutting their stuff and showing off their bright breeding plumage. There were also 5 sightings of woodpigeons feeding, 3 sightings of blackbirds defending territories, and 1 sighting of a robin carrying food in its beak. These are just a few of the birds that frequent Badger Alley.

Along with birds, lots of different mammal species also make use of Badger Alley. This year my camera trap caught sight of two smaller mammal species: grey squirrels and rabbits. Non-native grey squirrels were only seen on my camera 3 times, but made their presence known rushing around in a hurry. The rabbits were a more common sight, being seen 23 days out of the 67 recorded. These rabbits populate both Badger Alley setts and are increasing steadily in numbers. My camera watched on as rabbits fought with each other, mixed with other species, and raised their babies. Though a less common sight for many people now, our successful rabbit populations have become an important food source for other species in our area.

Deer populations have been experiencing increases in the countryside over the last few years, and Badger Alley has become a popular throughway as a result. This year my camera trap recorded roe deer sightings on 22 days of 67, with different variations of individuals, from lone males and females to males following females around. Some of the highlights include a deer being particularly interested in my camera, a female feeding alone, and the unusual sight of a female with a missing back leg. An individual that stole the show though, was not a roe deer, but a muntjac. I have never seen a muntjac on our land before, so my camera caught my very first sighting for me!

Badger Alley was once named for an active badger population, but in more recent years the setts have become abandoned. This year my camera trap caught 4 separate sightings of badgers, with all the individuals taking a particular interest in the lower sett. One day saw a badger passing through and scent marking, another saw two badgers being interested in the camera, and the last two saw a badger looking very interested in one entrance to the lower sett. Maybe one day these satellite individuals will return to form a family in Badger Alley once again.

This year’s most observed species in Badger Alley was by far the fox, being recorded 37 days out of 67. During this time it was really lovely to see some fantastic photos and videos from my camera trap, of adult foxes living in and passing through Badger Alley. In particular one family was shown to be living in the lower sett, whilst another was living around the corner from Badger Alley in Cowleighs. This allowed me to watch the daily lives of different foxes, such as bringing food in the form of pheasants or rabbits, and I have really enjoyed it.

The highlight for me of the whole of this spring season has to be the fox cubs. To add to the photos from the Cowleighs’s fox family (check out last week’s blog post), for the second year running fox cubs were born in Badger Alley. They are the reason I first set up my camera there this year, following a sighting of little cubs by my dad in person. My camera trap gave me my first sight of the family on the 18th April, with an amazing video of the female walking up the path followed by two little brown cubs trying to suckle her.

Over the next two months, my camera allowed me to watch the two fox cubs grow from small brown things following their parents around to two large mini foxes exploring their surroundings together and solo. These cubs were little delights to observe, giving me some special moments and mood boosters along the way. I hope these two cubs in particular survive their first winter and go on to have families of their own in the future.

Spring Dorset Camera Trapping 2022 – Pt. 1: The Farm

“The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera” – Dorothea Lange

“The two most engaging powers of a photograph are to make new things familiar and familiar things new” – William Thackeray

As each year passes, and spring rolls around once again, I set out with my trusty camera trap to record the wildlife that call my family’s Dorset farm home. Remote cameras are a great way to delve into and explore the hidden worlds of the wildlife that live alongside us, without causing disturbance. You never know what you may discover, and so there is nothing quite like the excitement I feel each time I check my cameras.

For the last few years I have spent an increasing amount of time using my camera traps to explore and survey my area of Dorset, and each year the results have got better and better. Species recorded range from small mammals and birds up to larger more iconic mammal species, such as badgers. These adventures have allowed me to open my eyes to the species that goes unnoticed on the farm each day, and to help my family forge a deeper connection with the wildlife we strive to manage and protect. Check out my blog posts from 2019, 2020, and 2021 for more!

This year I have visited 8 locations on my family’s farm, using both my old camera trap and brand new model to see what I could discover (check out next week’s blog post for the 8th location). Last year 6 locations were used that were all visited this year also. Some of these sites were used with a set purpose and question to answer, whereas others are just great sites to use for exploring wildlife. This year 9 species were recorded, with 1 new one to add to the collection. Read on to find out what my camera traps found!

Camera Trapping 2022

Little Wood Field

This year I set up my camera trap 12 days earlier than last year, beginning with a new site. I had spotted an interesting tree at the edge of a small field, where a hole had been dug between its roots, and I wanted to know who may have dug it. So I set up my camera watching the track in the field leading to the hole, and left it from 22nd-26th March to see what I could find.

It was a good start to spring camera trapping, but with mixed results. Different arrangements of male and female pheasants made an appearance every day, birds in the form of magpies, a woodpigeon, and a carrion crow were seen, and potential home owners came in the form of a fox and a badger. Though the badger may have possibly been using the hole, in the end I came to the conclusion that the hole was not currently in use.

Monkwood Field

For my next site, I returned to a new site from last year, a small abandoned satellite badger sett that had been home to a family of foxes. When I went to put out my camera, I could see that a new hole had been dug in the sett, so I set my camera to watch the track heading from the field directly to this new hole over 2 nights (26th-27th March), due to stormy weather.

In the short time it was operating, my camera trap was productive, with a displaying male pheasant, a fox passing through (maybe the same from Little Wood?), and the sett’s current resident. My camera was able to show that the new hole belonged to a lone badger, most probably a male.

Later on in the season I decided to see where the fox may have been coming from, and returned to Monkwood Field. I chose to set my camera trap in the corner of the field on a tree trunk within the hedge, looking at the animal tracks that run through it. I did not know what results I would get, but after nearly a week (8th-13th May), my camera actually did quite well, despite not pinpointing where the fox may have been coming from. I caught sight of the fox a few times, and got some nice photos of a territorial male bullfinch and territorial male blackbird.

Quarry Field Badger Sett

For the last 3 years running, I returned my camera trap to my highly successful site at the active Quarry Field badger sett. Each year I have set my camera up on a fence post in an open space within a hedge lying directly above the sett, pointing in one of 2 directions. Previously, it has been a great site to capture the resident badger family and the other animals sharing the sett, in particular fox families. Last year, in this way, I got to watch the antics of 2 fox cubs living in the sett.

For a week during April (16th-23rd), my camera trap watched this site. During this time, rabbits were a common sight every day, day and night, along with a busy badger every night. So far there was no sign of any foxes at the sett, as in past years.

As this site still seemed to be a productive one, I returned to the sett with my camera trap for a second round once some time had passed. For 2 weeks (6th-20th June), my camera was very busy, capturing rabbits, male and female roe deer, a territorial male blackbird, and at least one fox passing through. The best photos though came in the form of the sett’s resident badgers, and two small editions. An active family, it was amazing to watch the cubs and adults feeding, grooming and playing each day.

Gill Hill Copse

This copse has been another of my regular camera trapping sites over the past 3 years. At this site, I tend to set my camera up on a tree, as with this year where I set it watching an animal track passing through the copse.

This year, over 6 days (23rd-29th April), my camera was not particularly busy, but did capture one of the many male pheasants in the area, as well as a fox passing through.

Dorset County Council Wood

The small piece of wood close to my home is another site that I have used over the last 3 years, situated next to this year’s new Little Wood site. This year, I first visited the wood at the beginning of May, setting up my camera on a tree to face an animal track coming off a quiet road into the wood. After a week (2nd-8th May), my camera had caught photos of a one off woodpigeon and a regular badger.

As spring passed away, I decided to give my camera trap one last go in the wood, over 4 days between 20th and 24th June. This time I set up my camera further within the little wood, facing a clearing. Though the only animal photographed during this time was a fox, I was still excited to see the charismatic species passing through.

Badger Field Badger Sett

My oldest camera trap site is an active badger sett in a hedgerow between two fields. Over the years this sett has given me badgers, fox cubs, and even a field mouse. This year I returned and set my camera up in its usual spot on the trunk of a small tree in the open space within the hedge above the sett. Within a week (13th-21st May), I caught sight of a blackbird, a fox, and a badger. Though no fox cubs, this active sett excitingly had badger cubs again, like the Quarry Field sett.

Cowleighs Paddock

Towards the end of my spring camera trapping, I tried another new site in the hope of capturing sight of a particular species. This year has been a very good year for foxes on our farm, for example with 3 potential breeding females living along the same connecting hedgeline. Though at the beginning of spring I had discovered one litter of fox cubs (check out next week’s blog post), I had yet to find any others. I had a hunch about one den though, potentially situated in a ditch alongside a small paddock. I set up my camera trap and waited 2 weeks to see what I would find (22nd May-4th June).

My camera trap did not fail me. Alongside a showy male pheasant, my camera caught the photos I had hoped for. At least one fox cub can be seen playing and exploring in the long grass in the paddock outside the ditch, along with photos of an adult female bringing food to the same spot. Though from these photos I cannot confirm how many fox cubs are in this litter, it is great to know that they are there and doing well! A great spring this year!

30 Days Wild 2022: My Wild June

Every June the Wildlife Trusts hold their annual 30 Days Wild challenge, aiming to connect more people with nature. It is free and easy to get involved with, and is a great way to have fun, relax, and learn something new. It is completely up to you how you spend your 30 days, with every ‘Random Act of Wildness’ counting. Now in its 8th year, the Wildlife Trusts hope that this year will have been the challenge’s best year yet.

For the last 3 years, I have been taking part in 30 Days Wild each June. From baking to birdwatching, this challenge has been an opportunity to slow down and spend more time out in nature. If you want to read all about my previous years participating in 30 Days Wild, check out my blog posts from 2020 and 2021.

For this year, I wanted to try something a little bit different. Instead of intentionally trying to do something wild every day, I wanted to simply appreciate nature in my everyday life. Being a very active, outdoor person, I wanted to see how in 30 Days I naturally connect with nature on an average day-to-day basis. Read on to find out all about my 30 Days Wild 2022!

30 Days Wild 2022

Wednesday 1st: The first day of the month was a busy one, but in my downtime I spent part of my evening exploring my farm’s and neighbours’ buildings for occupied swallow nests ahead of monitoring them over the coming weeks. So far I have found 4 that were either lined or already had eggs laid or chicks hatched.

Thursday 2nd: I spent my Thursday working, but also taking some time to relax out in nature. This included going out for a hack on my neighbour’s lovely mare Marsha with a friend and her horse, and watching a spectacular sunset with friends on Okeford Hill for Okeford Fitzpaine’s Platinum Jubilee beacon lighting.

Friday 3rd: This Friday was my first Wild Friday of the month on my blog. For this one, I went back to one of my very favourite times of the year: the blooming of the bluebells. This post had a twist though as I explored a little further and focused on the life amongst the bluebells this year.

Saturday 4th: As the breeding season for birds continued, I took some time today to check some of my nests. My barn owl nest box was looking good, and I discovered an interesting new nest tree on the farm (stay tuned!). I also discovered a robin’s nest hidden in the middle of a rubbish pile where the chicks are close to fledging.

Sunday 5th: On a more chilled work day, I began reading Simon King’s book ‘The Shetland Diaries’ and continued sketching butterflies and their caterpillars for my next blog post. A little bit of escapism!

Monday 6th: Today I got to ring my first swallow chicks of the year, with one nest that has done well and is 2 weeks ahead of all the others. I hope the chicks continue doing well and fledge successfully! The rest of the day I was out working in nature, until I ended up hurting my knee and going to A and E!

Tuesday 7th: Despite a stitched up knee, between rest and easy jobs, I still went to check my current bird nests. I now have 5 swallow nests, 1 with my ringed chicks and 4 with eggs, and discovered my second kestrel nest of the year.

Wednesday 8th: My wild highlight of the day came in the form of fluffy goslings. At lunch my neighbour’s family of Canada geese got spooked and the parents flew off. The 6-8 goslings fled in fright and I did my best to catch them back up. I only found 4, but I was able to successfully release them back to their lake and their parents thankfully returned to them later on in the day.

Thursday 9th: I began my busy day, that included some habitat maintenance, bright and early with the dawn chorus and a wonderful sunrise. It was a great start to the day, listening to the songs of robins, song thrushes, chiffchaffs, and more.

Friday 10th: Today’s wild time was spent out in nature walking a lovely little dog called Kaya for the Cinnamon Trust. It was also Wild Friday on this blog once again, and this Friday’s post was one of my favourites to put together. With a collection of facts, my photos, and my own drawings, my post was a How to.. guide to identifying common British butterfly species.

Saturday 11th: Today I had a lot on my mind, weighing me down. So I thought it was the perfect time to take a break and be mindful in nature. It was just what I needed to clear my head and calm my body, allowing me to pick myself up and carry on.

Sunday 12th: I took the day easy, giving my knee some more time to rest. I did though check my bee hotel, which is currently being well used, and spent a really lovely summer’s evening with my brother and his family in their wonderful little garden.

Monday 13th: Today was another day when I got to walk the little dog Kaya, and this time we escaped the hot day by walking in the shade of a huge avenue of trees and looking out for all the wildflowers we could find.

Tuesday 14th: Today was a special day on the farm for me. I got to ring the first of this year’s barn owl chicks, which is always a real pleasure, but I also got to ring our very first kestrel chicks on the farm! Stay tuned to this blog later on in the year to find out how our barn owls (and kestrels) have fared this year.

Wednesday 15th: My wild highlight of today’s work day was seeing fox cubs. On my daily travels around our land, I saw not one family of fox cubs, but 3, all out playing and exploring. Whatever people might think of foxes, fox cubs are a real joy to watch.

Thursday 16th: Though a day late, today I made my usual swallow nest checks. My 5 nests are doing well, 1 ringed brood of 5 staying close to their nest, 2 nests nearly ready to be ringed, and 2 more that are just hatching.

Friday 17th: I was outside most of the day, but my wild highlight has to be watching 4 red kites swooping over the fields following grass being cut by tractors. It was also Wild Friday on this blog, and so this Friday’s post was a collection of some of my favourite photos from spring 2020.

Saturday 18th: In between work hours, I used my free time to finish hand painting the bee hotel I had been working on for my niece’s 4th birthday. I really enjoyed painting it and I was very happy with the end result! Maybe I will have to do more wild wood painting in the future!

Sunday 19th: As I had a more relaxed day, I headed out and collected recent photos and videos from my two camera traps that are out and active at the moment. This is my favourite part of camera trapping, and my cameras did not disappoint. Check out my blog posts coming in the next few weeks to see all about my camera trapping adventures this spring!

Monday 20th: Around work today, I picked the first gooseberries of the year, explored what flowers are currently out right now, and watched a lovely sunset.

Tuesday 21st: Today I spent most of the day working away from the main hub of our farm, provided with wild moments including listening to yellowhammers sing, watching adult kestrels feeding their chicks, and escaping a swarm of honey bees. To finish the day, I got to ring another 2 of my 5 swallow nests. I am enjoying monitoring my small swallow population!

Wednesday 22nd: As Wednesday rolled around once again, I was back checking on my swallows that have yet to reach the ringing stage. Now 1 nest has completely fledged, another 2 have been ringed, 1 is ready to ring, and unfortunately 1 of my nests has been predated. This year has definitely been a tough one for swallows once again, but it is good to have seen some chicks fledge already.

Thursday 23rd: After a couple of weeks resting up from my knee injury, I was finally back out on horseback. I went for a lovely chilled hack out around my local area on Marsha, taking in lots of wildlife, including singing greenfinches and a hunting buzzard.

Friday 24th: Today I enjoyed sharing the last Wild Friday on my Laura’s Wild World blog this June. This particular post celebrates spring by looking at how spring happened in 2022. It was an interesting post to put together!

Saturday 25th: For the first day I had had off in a long time, I had been invited to a ‘Greylag Goose Roundup’. This event was being held at Poole Park to catch geese for a project where each year as many as possible of the current population are being coloured ring. It was a great day of catching up with other bird ringers and getting to ring my very first greylag goose!

Sunday 26th: Today I woke up to the rain falling and quenching the thirst of the land right now. It was great to take some time to appreciate the falling rain, before getting some drier spells to walk the countryside.

Monday 27th: Again another day begun with rain, before heating up and drying out. After a busy day, I enjoyed taking a break from life and walking around our land, exploring nature. Flocks of juvenile goldfinches, knapweed blossoming into purple flowers, and hares grazing in the fields, just some of the few sights to be beheld.

Tuesday 28th: This morning I had another lovely ride out on Marsha, with some of my wild highlights being a buzzard trying to hide in a tree, painted lady butterflies on the wing, and hedgerows full of wildflowers. This afternoon I had a good walk with my Dad watching butterflies and birds, including meadow browns and red kites.

Wednesday 29th: Today when I was not working or going to appointments, I spent time organising my wildlife photos and camera trap photos, and playing outside with my young nieces, who both love nature in their own individual ways.

Thursday 30th: For the last day of this year’s 30 Days Wild, I have been travelling up to London by bus to spend a few days exploring with my mum. For something a little different, I challenged myself to my annual A-Z of wildlife, but a travel edition. Here’s how I got on:

Looking back at my June this year, I was very busy, but the month shows that I naturally take time each day to connect with and appreciate nature. This could be through harvesting food, walking out in nature, or even getting involved in conservation projects. Being outside out in nature is important for my mental health, for my inspiration, and for my lifestyle, and so after this year’s 30 Days Wild, I now appreciate our natural environment even more so. Here’s for living every day a wild one!