…And the best bit: I’m not even exaggerating.
I’ve heard it’s difficult to get your blog started, and I’ve certainly suffered from bloggers-block for well over five months now. So, I’m going to start with one the greatest wildlife moments I’ve had this year, or ever. Let me take you back to a muggy June evening, in the Highlands of Scotland…
A fabulous week spent in Scotland, initially at the Aigas Field Centre near Inverness, was about to get a little better. This was my first trip to the Highlands, and I had already been blown away by several encounters with wildlife – up close with Scottish wildcats (I was lucky enough to witness ‘playtime’ for a young kitten, born in captivity but who would in eighteen months’ time be released into the wild). Later on I had staggering views of another shy Scottish rarity, a pine marten, followed by an otter feasting in the river, and an indignant stoat diving across the road.
My most memorable encounter came as dusk closed in; I was initially disorientated by the long daylight hours, and it was gone eleven o’clock before I took up my perch on a low wall that encircled the lawn. I was no more than a foot above the grass, and my only company came from the midges, who had decided that I tasted rather nice and had not desisted in their attack since I first arrived. 103 bites in four days: great. It was another warm, humid and completely still night. In the gathering dark, my keen eyes could still make out the shapes of the bushes, the dovecot, a wooden chalet, a movement –
I caught my breath as my black-white companion ambled into the open. The badger, somewhat surprisingly, is a mustelid; his bumbling gait, rounded midriff, snuffling nose and short tail put him closer in appearance to a foreign relative, an anteater perhaps, but his softly pointed face and rounded ears bear a slight resemblance to his smaller, skinnier relations. His humbug snout makes him a symbol of the British countryside, and the logo of the Wildlife Trusts. Unfortunately, most people are aware of the badger’s presence only through bodies at the roadside – I know naturalists and farmers in Norfolk who have never seen a live badger.
Either the badger was not aware of my company or he did not mind it. He pottered about in front of me, working his way logically across the lawn in my direction; he stopped short at about five feet to play tug-of-war with a juicy earthworm. The badger triumphed, and the worm snapped out of the ground. Delicious. Bumbling closer – three feet: I could see the individual hairs, hear his low, foraging grumble; two feet: his large paws and claws were clear against the grass; one foot: I didn’t dare knock away the midges. My legs were crossed, one foot hanging over the wall. The badger raised his head, cocked it to one side enquiringly, and sniffed the air. A step closer – he sniffed my toe. Goodness knows what would have happened if I’d dared to move.
The moment seemed to last an age, but seconds later the sound of voices sent my companion scurrying for cover. His cuddly form moved with surprising agility across the grass, and his outline melted away into the dark. It took a minute to recover myself, and realise that my hair, arms, face and legs were crawling with midges, an unpleasant annoyance certainly, but a necessary one for such an intimate moment.