As autumn takes hold and the nights draw in, I’ve been thinking back to what an amazing summer of wildlife it has been here on the Yorkshire Wolds. The long, warm evenings meant I could stay out until dusk most nights watching badgers or deer, and cameras hidden in my garden meant that even on rainy days I could continue to follow the lives of the animals living on my doorstep.
Even rainy days are wildlife days
Among my most memorable moments were those I spent watching a litter of stoat kits as they tore round my garden, bounding in and out of the flower beds and even bouncing on my children’s trampoline. I’ve been following the lives of stoats in my garden for years now and this young family belonged to a beautiful female named Hazel, who also grew up here. She too enjoyed bouncing on the trampoline when she was a kit, so I expect she was keen to introduce her litter to the playground as soon as they were old enough.
They seem to love exploring and playfighting on its slippery surface and when it got really hot, I brought out the paddling pool for them and watched as they swam round it, even pushing some of the floats around it with their noses like children at a swim park!
Wildlife indoors and out
These wild kits were not the only stoats I watched this summer. I was also given five tiny stoats to rehabilitate. Each had been brought to me separately after becoming separated from their mothers. This is something that happens often to this species since stoats move home often to avoid detection. I fed them, kept them warm and then slowly introduced them to the world outside. These rescued stoats were fortunate to have each other with since this meant they could develop together in the same way as most stoat litters in the wild. It was amazing to watch them play and fight together as they learned important life skills from each other, and it was with mixed feelings that I eventually watched them go to begin their new lives in the wild.
A wild summer meadow
One of my favourite parts of the garden is a wildflower meadow located just behind my painting studio. On warm afternoons I left the back door open to hear the hum and buzz of bees that swarmed there. I planted this patch of grasses, scabious, knapweed, oxeye daisies, and clover, in what was an old carpark, and it is one of several wild areas in the garden. In summer the diversity of flowers makes it a real magnet for birds, butterflies and bees. I’m often distracted from my easel by the linnets, goldfinches, and even yellow hammers as they flit about it, feeding on seed heads.
Summer evenings with badgers
But my favourite time in summer is just before sunset when I would leave the hum of the garden to head down the slope into a nearby valley. Here, there is an ancient badger sett and I usually take the badgers there a snack so that they feel comfortable with my presence as I sit and watch them. The young cubs are especially fun to see. These animals have poor eyesight and often if I stay down wind I can get really close. On one occasion a cub was almost on top of me before he noticed I was there. Then, when he did he puffed up his fur until he looked like a porcupine!
Some evenings I headed to a different valley, where I know of a big badger sett. This sett is one of the largest around here, and back in the spring I counted eleven individuals. It is located on the side of a very deep Wolds valley and so by sitting on the opposite slope, you can watch the badgers quite easily without disturbing them.
Badger cubs at dusk
A group of badgers is called a clan, and there’s always a dominant male, known as a boar, and female, known as a sow. Beneath this pair is a fascinating hierarchical family structure made up mostly of related sows and cubs. The young boars tend to leave once they become adults to look for new territories, but it can take years before they are powerful enough to take over a new clan. In general, only the dominant sow will breed, however sometimes a lower-ranking female does also mate with the dominant boar. At this sett there are at least five adults and six cubs, and since the average number of cubs one sow will give birth to is three, I suspect more than one sow gave birth to cubs this year.
The cubs are especially playful and sometimes their behaviour is really quite comical. One evening I watched as a boar sat down to scratch and then one of the cubs came alongside it and also began scratching. Their synchronised movements were hilarious to watch.
And owls after dark
It is usually dark when I get home from watching badgers, but that doesn’t’ mean the wildlife spectacle is over. As the stars come out, I often settle with a cuppa and watch out of my living room window as barn owls and tawny owls swoop across the night sky.
This year two barn owl pairs had late broods and most nights I also tune in to the cameras hidden inside their nests to see how these chicks are doing. The owlets are not due to fledge until at least November and so I hope the autumn weather will be kind to them when they begin their adult lives.
It’s been a wonderful summer packed with wildlife adventures and it is nice to remember these magical moments. But autumn is also an amazing time to see wildlife here in Yorkshire and already I’m enjoying watching hares bound across the stubble fields and am looking forward to spotting winter migrant birds arriving.