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.