Most evenings I visit a badger sett close to my gallery in Thixendale, North Yorkshire. Over the years they have accepted me as one of the clan.
As I walked towards the sett last week, I heard foxes calling from the field above. Through the red filter on my head torch I saw two barn owls fly into the darkness. A kestrel was roosting on my tree-top hide and tightened its feathers as I shone the torch at him.
I climbed over a stile at the approach to the sett and three pairs of badger eyes shone back at me. One of the badgers came to greet me. It was ‘Humbug’: my favourite badger, the friendliest of the clan.
I threw a few dog biscuits down to her. Then I set about putting some mice on a fence post. I had brought them for a pair of barn owls that I have been supplement feeding over the winter.
I walked to my usual spot at the edge of the sett and sat down. I have a hide in the tree overlooking the sett, but I actually prefer being on the ground with the badgers - it seems more real.
I drew my hand gently away and she placed her front paws on my legs, searching for more biscuits with her nose. I stroked her back and she turned her head at my touch, but I gave her another handful of biscuits and whilst she was distracted I scratched her.
There were small bits of matted fur in her undercoat and scabs on her side and front – a clear sign that she had been fighting. This was surprising because Humbug is only a year old. Already she has had to fight for a position in the clan.
It explained why she had been a little wary over the last month. Any unrest in the clan can make badgers afraid of their own shadow.
Another badger then appeared, its nose poking tentatively out of the a hole. It was Humbug’s sister and the two greeted each other warmly and then began to groom one another.
They stood side by side nibbling each others backs and necks. I was relieved to notice that there was no reaction from this sibling to my scent on Humbug.
Humbug began foraging for worms. She pushed her nose into the ground, pushing it in so far her eyes were below ground, before digging deeper with her powerful claws.
Then a barn owl flitted across the starlit sky. I watched as it hovered over the post with the mice on - just three metres away from where I was sitting. As it picked up the mouse, I felt a real privilege that I have been accepted into the secret nocturnal world of these wild animals.