This section is from the book "Creatures Of The Night: A Book Of Wild Life In Western Britain", by Alfred W. Rees. Also available from Amazon: Creatures Of The Night: A Book Of Wild Life In Western Britain.
Our patience was in vain. Once more the badger came in sight, but my companion did not see what I myself had noticed, for sleep had sealed his tired eyes, and when I nudged him he awoke with such a start that the badger instantly withdrew into the burrow.
By the glow-worm's lamp, I found from my watch that midnight had long passed; and so, since the hour was towards dawn and the moon was not favourable for close observation of the " earth-pigs," even if they crossed the open glade, 1 whispered to my friend that the proceedings, in which his interest had manifestly waned, were over for the night. His disappointment was keen, and though to me the night seemed warm, he, accustomed to a tropical climate, chattered with the cold. He had not even noticed the first appearance of the "earth-pig," and henceforth night watching held no charm for him.
My own disappointment, if only for my friend's sake, was also keen; but, on the evening following those hours of fruitless watching, I discovered the vixen's lair in the furze-brake, and learned why she resorted thither with her cubs, before the badger family had awakened from their day-dreams, or the pale glow-worm's rays had lit up the dew-besprinkled spider-webs.
Knowing that badgers are, as the country folk say, pwdu (pouty) creatures, likely to sulk at home for several nights if they consider it unsafe to roam abroad, I carefully-examined the mound of earth and the beech-trunk near the "set," that I might learn whether the animals had been out of doors since my previous visit. On the soil, fresh footprints could be seen, their outlines clearly lit and deeply shadowed as the sun sank in the west, and, in some of the scratches on the beech, the pith had barely changed its colour from creamy white to the faintest tinge of brown. I concluded, therefore, that the badgers had been out, as usual, some time before the dawn. My eyes, however, were not sufficiently trained to detect any sure evidence of the recent movements of the vixen and her cubs.
Walking along the tracks, I chanced to notice that the path by which the vixen sought the shelter of the furze-brake branched off at a sharp angle, and led into the thicket at a bend that was hidden from my sight while I watched near the "set." Picking my way in a line straight through the tangle and parallel with this path, I came to an opening where the grass was beaten down for about six square yards—more particularly for two or three yards in the part nearest the spot at which the tunnelled run-way entered it. Along the margin of this open place, I could find no second entrance; everywhere at the foot of the surrounding gorse-bushes the long grass grew in an unbroken line, except close to the mouth of the run-way. There I found a shallow depression, not unlike the "form" of a hare, but longer and broader, and I determined to keep strict watch evening after evening, till I learned the reason for the occasional visits of the vixen and her cubs to the brake. But I little imagined that the secret would quickly be disclosed, for it was my belief that, should the vixen venture to the mouth of the "set" before the gloom was deepening into night, she would cross the line of my scent, and either move away from the direction of the furze-brake or return to her underground chamber. And yet previous experiences led me to hope that, if certain atmospherical conditions should prevail, the scent would probably become so weak that she would recognise no cause for alarm.
It was the work of a few minutes for me to make couch of grass and twigs behind a screen of broken furze-branches well in from the grassy opening. Then, by raising with a prong - shaped stake the grass I had trodden down, and by thrusting back the bramble-trails and fern-fronds I had brushed aside, 1 carefully removed as far as possible all traces of my visit.
I had scarcely settled down to watch and listen, when the faint snap of a twig reached my ears, and I saw that the vixen with her cubs had arrived on the scene. She walked around the enclosure, sniffing now and again in the grass, while the young foxes frisked and gambolled with each other, or trotted demurely by her side. She was at first suspicious, but for some reason she soon gained confidence; then she squatted in her lair, and surrendered herself, with patient motherhood, to be the plaything of her healthy, headstrong youngsters.
For more than a half hour I watched the happy family, the little ones climbing over the mother's back, and licking or biting her ears, her pads, her brush, or racing over the grassy plot, frolicking with each other till some little temper was aroused and play degenerated into a fight. In general, they behaved like wild children without a thought of care, yet they never went beyond the grass-fringe into the thicket, and to each low note of warning or encouragement from their dam they gave immediate attention. Sometimes the vixen bounded gaily about the edge of the gorse, stooping again and again to snap with pretended rage at one or another of her offspring. But for most of the time she remained in her lair, listening intently for the slightest sound of danger, and guarding the only approach through the bushes.
I longed to discover what she would have done had I suddenly come upon her and cut off her retreat, but I dared not move for fear of raising alarm. It is more than likely that, finding me in the path, she, snarling and hissing, would have dashed without hesitation into any part of the furze - brake, and her young would have followed with desperate haste and vanished at her heels within the shadows.
By - and - by she led her little ones back through the run-way, and when, a few minutes afterwards, I stole to the outer edge of the thicket, I saw the merry family stooping in a row beside the rill, and lapping the cool, delicious water, which refreshed them after their rough-and-tumble sport. From the rill they wandered off into the gloom beneath the beech-trees, and I, satisfied with having added to my knowledge of the life of the woods, returned homewards in the light of the rising moon.