Counting Ducks

A mud splattered jeep, blue with the words Land rover unconvincingly fingered into the mud on the side panel and a black low slung model occupy the lay-by where I normally park. Cursing I drive on past. It is gone 9pm and despite the warm sunny weather, I had hoped that there would be no one around.

I am into the fifth week of a monitoring and rescue exercise to help a badger that got her front paw entangled in bailer twine.

We managed to trap her early one Wednesday morning, after a week of pre baiting the traps and desperately trying to avoid the hordes of folk who, unlocked unexpectedly by Johnson and his clowns, felt empowered to descend on anything that remotely resembled the outside world. They left piles of empty beer cans, bottles, Nitrous Oxide canisters, cardboard and far worse, threatening anyone who dared to ask them to take what they had brought with them away.

Whilst all this disturbance was taking place we continued to monitor with cameras and put peanut bait points out, hoping that the badgers would not be freaked out and abandon their precious little sett.

This involved much sneaking about, and on one occasion pretending to count the tufted ducks on the lake, while waiting for a group of young men from Manchester to stop throwing rocks at the cliffs and leave.

I said we managed to trap her. Georgie and Debbie from Derbyshire Wildlife Trust Badger Vaccination programme had activated the traps on the Tuesday after the Bank holiday.

It was with trepidation and my usual pessimism that found me standing next to the lay-by with Sheila at 4 am the next morning waiting for Georgie and Debbie to report back on whether any of the badgers had obligingly been caught.

It felt like waiting for an exam result. One for which I had done no revision and could not possibly have passed.

As the robins opened the dawn chorus, as the light from the sun edged out the dark, Debbie, masked and gloved, emerged from the pre dawn gloom and strode towards us.

“We have got her. Her and the cub”

I could have cried for joy. For that split second nothing else seemed to matter. My entire happiness was centred on the fact that a poorly badger had wandered into an open cage in search of the peanuts that she knew would be hidden under a rock and had now found herself trapped.

She would get help.

We followed Debbie into the clearing that I knew so well. Georgie and Debbie’s partner were bending over the cage with the cub. I walked past the cage with the injured badger. She was quiet, almost asleep in her cage, waiting her turn, resigned to her fate, indifferent perhaps.

The cub was dealt with first, vaccinated and then released. Instead of heading for the sett entrance she raced off through the undergrowth. This was slightly disappointing and another thing for me to worry about. But the injured one needed to be looked at.

She was very calm. We used a wicker contraption to gently move her to the side of the cage so that Debbie and Georgie could assess her injury and see what could be done.

It was not good. Bailer twine had dug deep into her paw and it was already infected. But with great patience and skill they managed to cut the twine away and remove it.

The badger hardly flinched. She was calm and still, it was almost as if she knew that this was help and she needed it and it was going to be all right. I gently stroked her head. She was so much smaller that she seemed on the video footage that I had trawled through these past few weeks.

Once the twine was cut free, antibiotics and pain killer were administered and then she was set free.

She seemed a little reluctant to leave but a gentle prod and she raced, low slung, like Dougal, from the magic roundabout straight down the entrance to her sett.

And that was that.

In the two weeks since, she has only appeared on the camera three times. The paw is swollen but she has slowly begun to put a little weight on it.

The decision was made to administer more antibiotics orally.

So that is what I am doing at 9pm on a Sunday night.

I turn the car round and decide that I have to chance it. I drive back past the lay-by, the cars are still there and park a few yards away on the grass verge.

Grabbing my bag with cameras, peanuts and two bread balls filled with peanut butter with the tablet and painkillers in, I pick up my binoculars, my cover story, counting ducks, and climb over the fence.

There appears to be no one around. But rather than dive straight in to the clearing where the sett is, I walk past and then cut back through the trees.

Still no one around.

Quickly I set to work, laying out bait points, peanuts hidden under flat stones, and putting the precious meds under the one that based on previous observations the injured one is most likely to head for. I set up two cameras and then less than two minutes after I started, I head out ,but not the usual way, I take the longer route out through the trees, and it is a good job that I do because just as I am about to rejoin the path I hear voices.

What to do?

Stay where I am seems the best option. So I pick up the binoculars and survey the lake, pretending to count the ducks. The view is better from where I am, would be my reply to anyone asked what I was doing up on the bank by the woods, but the voices belong to two lads and their dates (can I say dates?) And apart from a “you alright mate?” they awkwardly and self consciously walk on past. I expect to hear a snigger, but I am forgotten, my strangeness lost in the hormonal rush of anxiety.

I continue to watch the ducks because I suspect they will have to come back the same way, it’s a dead end. Sure enough a few minutes later they do. Only this time one of the girls is trailing some way behind the threesome.

The pain and confusion of young love.

I wait for a few more minutes and then I hear the sound of engines being rev’d up and they are gone and a wonderful peace and quiet, punctuated only by a blackbird singing from one of the trees, calmly falls back into place.

I head home. I can relax.

Until tomorrow.

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